Alajuela, also known as The City of the Mangoes, is the second largest province in Costa Rica in terms of population.
It is situated 11 miles northwest of San Jose.
The climate in Alajuela is a bit warmer than in the capital.
However, Alajuela differs from San Jose as the former has a more rural tone compared to the capital city.
Alajuela’s major export is coffee, but other important products which are cultivated in the region include beans and sugarcane.
The population in Alajuela city is of about 46,000. And there are more than 700,000 inhabitants in the whole province.
Alajuela Brief History
Alajuela is historically famous because it’s the hometown of Juan Santamaria. Santamaria was a local drummer boy who sacrificed himself to save the country.
Such events took place back in 1856 during the Battle of Santa Rosa; a crucial moment related to Costa Rica’s independence.
Cartago was the first big city in the Costa Rica of old (the early 17th century). And as this town expanded to the west, the city of Heredia became the second largest.
By the 18th century, this expansion to the west continued, and the city of Villa Hermosa was born.
This place was also known as La Lajuela. But with time, the first L was dropped, giving birth to the actual name. Alajuela was the capital of the country for a year during this period.
Getting to Alajuela
Coming from San Jose, get to La Sabana Metropolitan Park, and take the Autopista General Cañas.
Then just follow the highway, and before reaching the Juan Santamaria Airport, make a turn to the right. There are enough signs to let you know exactly where to turn.
If you’re not driving, you can take the Tuasa buses (red ones) or the Station wagon (yellow ones). Both can be found nearby the La Merced Church in San Jose.
What to Do in Alajuela
The best time to visit Alajuela is during April when the Juan Santamaria Day festivities are taking place. So, make sure you don’t miss the large parade across town on April 11.
Another event you should check out is the 9-day Mango Festival. It takes place during July and includes large concerts with international bands, parades, and fairs.
The Mercado Central of Alajuela is really old as it dates back to the 1930’s. This is a city landmark where you can get some souvenirs and eat typical food.
There are also museums, like the Juan Santamaria Museum where you can check the history of the city. And you’ll also find interesting zoos to visit near downtown
Another great place to check out is the Ojo de Agua Springs Complex, which is very popular among the locals.
It is also not a bad idea to visit the local parks, the Parque Central, and the Parque Juan Santamaria.
In the latter one, there is a statue of the local hero; whom the locals nicknamed “el erizo” because of his pointy hair, similar to a hedgehog.
And, if you’re on your way to the Central Pacific beaches of the country; don’t forget to make a stop at La Garita; a very picturesque little rural town.
Let’s also not forget about a nice visit to the Poas Volcano!
This volcano is located 23 miles north of downtown Alajuela.
Now, the Arenal Volcano may be the most famous one; but at Poas, you can walk right up to the crater.
Sarchi and Zarcero
You’ll find all sorts of high-quality products here, but their specialty is the traditional oxcarts; which are carefully decorated with multicolor shapes by the local artisans.
Once you get inside one of the many shops in Sarchi; it will be difficult for you not to take at least a couple of souvenirs with you.
To get to Sarchi, just take the Pan-American Highway until you find the exit for Naranjo or Grecia. You can take either, and just keep on following the signs until you get there.
This is the main attraction here, and you’ll find all sorts of figures shaped out of cypress trees.
To get to Zarcero just take the Pan-American Highway and deviate at the Naranjo exit. Then follow the signs and you’ll be there within minutes.
Important Numbers and Websites for Alajuela:
- Municipalidad: www.munialajuela.go.cr
- Alajuela Hospital: 2436-1001
- Buses: 2222-5325 (Tuasa), 2441-1181 (Station Wagon)