Alajuela, Costa Rica

Enjoy the beauty of the Central Valley with volcanos, coffee plantations, waterfalls, and more!
alajuela-map

The Alajuela Vibe

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.

Alajuela Weather

From mid-December until April there is almost no rain in Alajuela Costa Rica.

The weather from December until February tends to be a bit cooler and windy. People here love it. We hate it because we find it cold. In reality, it is still usually in the 70’s during the day, but the wind is annoying.

From February until the start of the rainy season it can be hot during the day and cools off a bit more at night.

During the rainy season, it is difficult to predict. Typically it is sunny and nice until about 2 pm. The rain will then roll in for a few hours. Sometimes these storms are scary with crazy lightning strikes. The evenings are typically dry.

You just never really know here though. Sometimes we will have rain all day and other times we will have several days of no rain during the rainy season.

In all honesty, we love the weather here because it doesn’t typically get too hot and humid like it can in the beach towns.

Alajuela Transportation

Getting to Alajuela

Downtown Alajuela is located about ten minutes away from the San Jose airport. If you plan on renting a car we suggest using our favorite company, Adobe. They will pick you up from the airport and take you to their office to get your car about five minutes away from the airport.

We love Adobe so much that we asked if they could give us a discount for you. If you book your car through us you will get a 10% discount plus several other great perks!

FIND OUT HOW TO GET UP TO 10% OFF YOUR CAR RENTAL IN COSTA RICA!

Adobe is also happy to deliver your car to you for free at your hotel within 12 miles of their office.

If you are not planning on renting a car, the best way to get to Alajuela from the airport is by Uber. Uber is always A LOT cheaper than taking a taxi.

Getting Around in Alajuela

Most people don’t spend an extended period of time in Alajuela, but rather use it as a place to stay after landing in Costa Rica or before leaving. Because of this, you will probably only be exploring this area for a day or two.

The downtown area is easy to explore by foot or with an Uber. If you would like to take a drive in the mountains (which we definitely suggest) you will need a car. Most of the roads are well maintained, but it can be steep in some spots. We definitely suggest a vehicle with some clearance just for comfort.

After some nightmare rental car experiences with other companies, we have partnered with the only company we fully trust, Adobe, to bring our readers a 10% discount. You can find out more about it here!

Things to Do in Alajuela

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.

Tour a coffee plantation: There are two big coffee plantations we know of in Alajuela that you can tour. Doka Estates provides great tours as well as Hacienda Alsackia. Hacienda Alsackia is run by Starbucks. They have a beautiful Starbucks there which looks onto a waterfall. We personally like to do the Doka tour more because we like supporting our small local businesses, but if you do the tour at Doka it is still worth visiting Hacienda Alsackia. They are only a few minutes drive away from each other. You can always go to Hacienda Alsackia just for a drink at their Starbucks. Also, it is worth mentioning that they have some crazy drinks on their menu that you won’t get at any other Starbucks. Last time I had an iced espresso with mint and sparkling water in it. It was actually really tasty.

Alajuela Hotels

High-End Hotels

Pura Vida Hotel- Pura Vida Hotel is located on the other side of the city of Alajuela, but you can still be to the airport in about 15 minutes. There is an excellent Asian fusion restaurant on site. Also, the grounds are so pretty here! There is a free airport shuttle for guests.

Costa Rica Marriott – Hotel Hacienda Belen- The Marriott is located super close to the airport (under 5 minute drive). There is a free airport shuttle, outdoor pool, restaurant on-site, and fitness center. It is beautiful!

Xandari Resort and Spa- The resort features a spa village, yoga lessons, outdoor pools and hot tubs, restaurants, and 4 km of natural trails.  There is an airport shuttle service

Finca Rosa Blanca- Finca Rosa Blanca has been on my “must visit” list for a few years now. Unfortunately, we haven’t made it here yet. If you visit, let us know how you liked it, so we can live vicariously through you. 😉

The hotel features an outdoor swimming pool, garden, a bar, a shared lounge, a restaurant, and room service. There is a paid-for airport shuttle.

Mid-Range Hotels

Hotel Suites Merlyn Airport- There is a pool, gardens, and small outdoor workout area located on site for guests. A free airport shuttle is also available.

Casa Maria Aeropuerto- Cute place near the airport. Breakfast is available for $7. There is also an airport shuttle available.

Budget Hotels

Hilda’s Bed and Breakfast- This place is very simple, but it is always spotless and Hilda is the sweetest. Breakfast is included and Hilda will order an airport taxi for you. The taxi to the airport is included in the rate.

Alice y Juancito Boutique Hotel- Breakfast is included and there is also a shared kitchen that guests can use. There is an airport shuttle service here but you do have to pay extra for it. There is also a cute little garden area for guests to hang out in.

 

For more info about hotels near the airport, check out our airport hotel guide. This will give you tips on transportation, the best areas to stay in etc.

Booking.com

We definitely suggest checking out Airbnb as well. Sometimes you can get some really great accommodation deals at beautiful places on Airbnb. We like Airbnb because often you can get a place with a private kitchen. This definitely helps us to save some money so we are not constantly eating at restaurants. Also, often staying at an Airbnb will give you a more local experience.

Save $30 off your first Airbnb stay here

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Alajuela Restaurants

Mid-Range

Chubascos: Perfect place to go for a typical Costa Rican meal. Just a warning, the portions are large.

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.

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.

Budget-Friendly

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 da Limonta: Totally unexpected amazingness. If you like seafood or fish, this is your spot. We suggest going here for dinner.

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Alajuela a Travel Tips

– 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 in downtown Alajuela. From downtown Alajuela, it is only a five to ten-minute drive to the airport. 

– Alajuela is mostly safe, but don’t walk around the downtown area late at night and always limit the amount of cash that you carry on you. The most common crimes are petty thefts.

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Articles About Alajuela

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Hello Sarah and Thomas,

    On 1st reading about Costa Rica, we were wondering how to get around in the country and were pretty discouraged by what we read about car rentals, but finding your site changed our thinking.
    Your site is really interesting and very well done.

    Thanks for your efforts to improve our trip!
    Stuart and Annie

  2. Hi! We will be staying in Alajuela the first part of September. (7-14th) There will be 13 of us – adults and kids (teenagers), arriving and leaving from the airport, but only 12 of us sight-seeing, etc during the week. One of the adults is participating in a week long massage therapy training at Pura Vida Spa nearby, so won’t be going with us on our daily excursions. We plan to go to La Paz gardens and Poas volcano (if it’s open then) and we’d like to do a coffee plantation tour – probably Doka – and at least some of us would like to do a zip line. My main concern is transportation. To go to any of those locations, would one of those large (12-15 person) vans be ok on the roads? We would prefer to be able to all ride together. The expense of 2 rentals is a lot, but a couple of SUV’s may be easier to handle! Or would we be better off just getting a couple of Uber cars when we want to go somewhere?

    Thanks so much for your help!

    • Hi Leigh! We partner with Adobe and they have a 12 passenger van, but it is a bit tight. That is actually with 3 people sitting in the front seat of the car (with seatbelts for everyone of course). However, you won’t have luggage with you for day trips so you can definitely make it work. We have actually driven that thing all over the country including in Monteverde (where the roads are unpaved and horrible) and it was great! So you’ll have no problem with it on the roads around Alajuela. I just looked at prices for that week and yea, doing the big van is definitely your best option. Also, another suggestion, if you have a day or two at the beginning or end of your trip when you won’t need the vehicle you can always keep the van for a shorter time. Adobe has an office near the airport but they will drop off or pick up the van for free within 12 miles of that office if you need. Here’s the link to the discount if you need it. https://www.costaricavibes.com/renting-a-car-in-costa-rica/
      Also, we just finally visited La Paz last weekend. We should have a post about that coming out in the next few weeks. I’ll send it to you if you want some tips for that.
      And it will take about 1.5 hours but if you want to make a day trip to the Pacific coast, it is definitely doable.
      Let me know if you need more tips. 🙂

      • Fantastic! Good to know the van is do-able for where we want to go 🙂 I guess if needed, we could load up who and what luggage we can fit into the van at the airport and the rest of the crew could get an Uber to the rental house.
        I will definitely look for your blog on La Paz! One thing I would like to know for all of our excursions (except maybe the volcano) is whether we should reserve and purchase tickets before we leave the states, or just purchase tickets when we we arrive at the various sites.
        Thanks so much for the info and quick reply. We are all so excited about our upcoming adventure!

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