The city of Alajuela located in the Province of Alajuela (yea thanks for that confusion Costa Rica) is not a city that really needs to be on your list of places to visit, but because it is the closest place to the airport for you to stay, I’m sure you will end up visiting. Despite the city not being really amazing, there are plenty of great day trips nearby, good restaurants, and decent hotels.
If you have an early morning flight out of the country or get in late at night, stay in Alajuela. People tend to think that finding a place in San Jose is better, it isn’t. The traffic around San Jose can be a nightmare and you will find cheaper places to stay downtown Alajuela.
THINGS TO DO
Check out the city park: In downtown Alajuela, there is a cute city park which is the happening spot on the weekends. You probably won’t spend more than an hour there, but there is a nice church there that you can go in. There are also plenty of vendors selling snacks. Grab a bunch, get a snack, and do some people watching.
Watch the planes take off: If you want a fun/ unique evening experience, check when the next planes are taking off and head on over to the airport. If you are coming from the downtown area of Alajuela, drive past the airport on the highway and you’ll see parking spots on the side of the road. You can pull off here or turn right on the street at the end of the runway. There aren’t any parking spot there, but you can just pull your car off the side of the road. You’ll probably see many families with picnics set up in the grass. This is (in my opinion) the best spot to watch the planes, but I’ll warn you, it’s absolutely terrifying to have planes flying literally right above your head. We like to go out night to get the full effect. There are also usually vendors here selling food.
Do some shopping: If you’re coming from the US, the prices in Costa Rica will be a bit higher than what you are used to, but if you are coming from Europe they are pretty comparable to what you are used to. In Alajuela, there is a city mall, which has a ton of stores which you’ll love. If you want an even crazier experience, head to MultiPlaza. MultiPlaza is not in Alajuela, but it’s still close by in Escazu. That mall is crazy even by US standards. It is the largest mall in Central America and is super modern.
Catch a film: Not really the optimal thing to do on your vacation, but if you are visiting during rainy season, you might be out of luck finding something else to do on a rainy afternoon. Both malls that I listed above have nice movie theaters in them which show films in English with Spanish subtitles. If you’d like to see what is showing, you can check that out here. Just click MultiPlaza Escazu or City Mall, depending on where you’d like to go.
Take a drive through the Central Valley: From the city of Alajuela, head north and check out the amazing views of the valley. I always feel like I’m in Switzerland while driving through here. There are tons of little places selling fresh strawberries and cheese along the way. If you would like to see a nice waterfall, type in “Catarata de la Paz” into your GPS. This waterfall is free (just on the side of the road) and it’s a beautiful drive to this spot. It is really close to Poas Volcano, but unfortunately, Poas is currently closed indefinitely due to eruptions 🙁
Catch your lunch: From downtown Alajuela, you can take a 40-minute drive to a trucha called Los Arroyos. Now, I’m sure you have no idea what I’m talking about, but this is a super popular activity with locals. It’s a totally unique experience that most tourists aren’t lucky enough to have. At this place, they will give you a piece of fishing line with bait on the end and send you over to their little pond. It doesn’t look like much, but it is stocked with trout. Catch a trout for each person in your group and then they will cook it up for you on site with great side dishes. For about $10 you can have a fun half day activity and a really tasty meal. It’s one of our absolute favorite things to do with visitors.
Play with hundreds of dogs: You may have seen a video of this place that has been going viral recently. Territorio de Zaguates (land of the strays) is located in the valley in Alajuela and is home to hundreds of stray dogs. It is possible to visit this beautiful place and play with the dogs, but only on certain days. They usually do one open day a month on a Saturday or Sunday. Check out their Facebook page to stay up to date on their next open day.
Casa Maki: This hotel is a 5-minute drive from the airport. It also has a shared kitchen for your use and free breakfast. You can expect to pay about $50 for a double room.
Hotel II Millenium: For about $50 you can get a basic double room with breakfast included. This hotel is about 3 minutes from the airport.
Hotel Cortez Azul: For about $25 you can find a room for two people with a shared bathroom. Breakfast is included as well as a free airport shuttle. This hotel is about a 5-minute drive from the airport.
La Villa Rio Segundo: For about $40 a night you can get a room for two people with a shared bathroom. Breakfast is included and there is also a nice pool on site. This hotel is an 8-minute drive from the airport. There is an airport shuttle, but you have to pay for it.
PLACES TO EAT
El Chante Vegano: This place doesn’t look like much from the outside, but get ready for super tasty vegan food. This is the perfect lunch spot.
Yellow Cafe: Great for lunch or dinner. They have good drinks, sandwiches, pasta and more. It has a nice cafe vibe.
La Calle-Beer & Street Food: Go here! This is basically a food truck with outside tables and it is the coolest. They have some great beers and good burgers. It’s not the cheapest (burgers are about $10) but it’s a fun spot to chill.
Pesqueria Qlity Fish: Totally unexpected amazingness. If you like seafood or fish, this is your spot. We suggest going here for dinner.
Jalapenos Central: Quality TexMex style food at super reasonable prices. This place is owned by a guy from the US (Norman) who likes to make his rounds through the restaurant to make sure everyone is happy. Perfect for lunch or dinner.
Denny’s: OK usually we wouldn’t suggest Denny’s as dining option, but it is open 24 hours a day and is close to the airport. If your flight gets in really late or you have an early departure, this is your best bet for a meal.
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