Alajuela, Costa Rica: Complete Travel Guide

Alajuela Costa Rica is a bustling city next to the San Jose Airport and a great jumping-off point for so many fun activities.

alajuela costa rica valley

The Alajuela Costa Rica Vibes

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 the beautiful Central Valley surrounding the city is amazing!

Background Info About Alajuela Costa Rica

Nearest International Airport

Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose

visit Poas Volcano, take a coffee farm tour, visit La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Best Way to Get Around

Rental car, tours with transportation included, taxi

Best Time of Year to Visit

Dry season is from late December until mid-April but, it is hard to predict when the best weather will be here

Grocery Stores

There are several grocery stores in town. We personally like Aotomercado. They have the widest selection of food items.

Alajuela, Costa Rica: Complete Travel Guide

We’re Thomas (the German) and Sarah (the US-er).

We met in Virginia, moved to Germany, and now live in sunny Costa Rica. It was a spontaneous decision to move here, but it was the best decision!

Want the whole crazy story?

Alajuela, Costa Rica: Complete Travel Guide
Alajuela, Costa Rica: Complete Travel Guide
Alajuela, Costa Rica: Complete Travel Guide
alajuela map

Map Of Alajuela

Alajuela is located in the Central Valley region of the country next to the capital city of San Jose.

It is one of the biggest cities in the country and is the location of the main international airport. 

Flights to Costa Rica

The easiest way of getting to Alajuela is by flying into the biggest international airport in the country, Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO).

In fact, the airport is usually referred to as being in San Jose, but it is actually located in Alajuela.

For flight booking we suggest Skyscanner. They are our go-to flight booking site for great rates.

For more info on landing and departing from this airport, check out our complete guide to Juan Santamaria International Airport.

Driving to Alajuela

Rental Car

(Most Flexible Option)

We like renting a car in Costa Rica because it will definitely give you the most flexibility for exploring. In general, you should feel comfortable driving here if you are a somewhat experienced driver.

Our favorite rental car company is a local company called Adobe-Rent-a-Car. They are the most honest, trustworthy, and just overall amazing rental company we have found here. 

Because we like them so much we asked if they would like to work together and they said, “yes.” 

So we have a 10% discount plus other great perks to pass on to you if you book through us! 

Our #1 Car Rental Choice
Alajuela, Costa Rica: Complete Travel Guide

Adobe Rent-a-Car

  • 10% discount for Costa Rica Vibes readers
  • Free second driver
  • 0% deductible on Liability Protection Insurance
  • Excellent customer service
  • New fleet of well-maintained vehicles

Yay to saving money!

Even if you are considering renting through another company, please read through our rental car page first. There is mandatory car insurance here that you need to know about. 

The Driving Route

Downtown Alajuela is located about ten minutes away from the San Jose Airport (Juan Santamaria International Airport).

Just keep in mind that traffic can be really bad here especially during rush hour.

Check Out Our Guide to Renting a Car from the San Jose International Airport for More Info!

Which Car to Rent

For downtown Alajuela area, all cars will be fine. If you plan on visiting the hills above Alajuela, most roads are paved but they can be steep. A 4×4 is most likely not necessary, but an SUV is always a good idea. 

Hotel Shuttle to Alajuela

If you are staying at a hotel near the airport you may be able to get a shuttle provided by your hotel. Some hotels offer this service free of charge while others might charge a small fee.

Your driver will usually be waiting for you with a sign when you exit the airport.

Taxi to Alajuela Costa Rica

If you are not planning on renting a car, the best way to get to Alajuela from the airport is by taxi.

When you exit the airport there will be a lot of mean asking if you need a taxi.

We suggest asking if they are a legal registered taxi driver before proceeding.

You NEED to make sure that your driver has a red or orange vehicle with a yellow or green triangle on the front and passenger side door. This is a legal taxi driver.

You can find out more with our guide to Costa Rica taxis.

Alajuela, Costa Rica: Complete Travel Guide
Alajuela, Costa Rica: Complete Travel Guide
alajuela costa rica

Transportation 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 taxi. 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.

Alajuela, Costa Rica: Complete Travel Guide

Alajuela Costa Rica 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 beach towns.

Things to Do in Alajuela Costa Rica

Here are tons of great ideas for things to do in Alajuela!

Just note that most of these are not located in downtown Alajuela but rather in the surrounding towns of the Alajuela Province.

These activities will require some driving, but we tried to keep all things on this list within an hour’s drive of the city of Alajuela. 

Enjoy Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center

⭐️ RATING: 4.5/5 Stars on Viator | ⏳ TOUR LENGTH:  3 to 4 hours | ✅ Book it!

This wildlife center takes great pride in rescuing and rehabilitating over 3,000 animals a year.

It is possible to visit their sanctuary every day between 8:00am and 5:00pm. This is the perfect place to visit as a family. 

Visit La Paz Waterfall Garden

⭐️ RATING: 4/5 Stars on Viator | ⏳ TOUR LENGTH:  2 + hours | ✅ Book it!

This is the perfect outdoor activity for the whole family.

Here you can walk to an impressive waterfall, see rescued animals, and learn about Costa Rican culture.

Just note that the animals are kept in somewhat small cages. They claim that these animals are rescued and otherwise would have been killed, but if you are sensitive about this type of thing I suggest skipping this place. 

We also have a complete La Paz Waterfall guide for more info.

Hike Barva Volcano

Barva Volcano is part of Braulio Carrillo National Park. It is a non-active volcano located in a protected national park area. You will need a 4×4 vehicle to get here (especially in the rainy season). The hike is nice and there is hardly anybody here

Hike to Catarata Bosque del Nino

The hike to this waterfall is steep and strenuous in some parts, but it is a nice woodsy hike with an impressive waterfall view as a reward.

Just note that it gets crazy buggy here. Bring lots of bug spray. Check out the national park site for more info. 

Tour a Coffee Farm

There are two big coffee farms we know of in Alajuela that you can tour. Doka Estates provides great tours as well as Hacienda Alsacia.

Hacienda Alsacia is the only coffee farm run by Starbucks in the world that you can actually visit. 

We personally like the Doka because we like supporting our small local businesses, but if you do the tour at Doka it is still worth visiting Hacienda Alsacia. They are only a few minutes drive away from each other.

Arrange Your Tour with Transportation at Doka Estates

Arrange Your Coffee Tour without Transportation at Hacienda Alsacia

You can always go to Hacienda Alsacia just for a drink at their open-air Starbucks with a waterfall view. 

Alajuela, Costa Rica: Complete Travel Guide

Poas Volcano

Poas Volcano is an active volcano located north of Alajuela city. It’s one of the country’s most active volcanoes, and the views from the top are absolutely breathtaking!

Just be sure to check the local conditions before heading up. It has been active in recent years and is sometimes not open to the public. Also, it is best to visit in the morning before the fog rolls in.

Check out our full Poas Volcano guide for the most recent info. 

poas volcano
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Have no fear! We are here to help. Check out our FREE Ultimate Costa Rica Planning E-Book that is jam-packed with must know travel info

Alajuela Restaurants

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.

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.

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

Denny’s – Typically I wouldn’t suggest Denny’s as a great restaurant option. However, if you have an early morning flight or land late at night and need some food, this is the place to go. They are open every day from 6:00am until midnight.

Plus, who doesn’t enjoy eating breakfast at any hour of the day?

Alajuela, Costa Rica: Complete Travel Guide
Alajuela, Costa Rica: Complete Travel Guide
Alajuela, Costa Rica: Complete Travel Guide

Alajuela Costa Rica 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

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

Budget Hotels

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.

Alajuela, Costa Rica: Complete Travel Guide
Alajuela, Costa Rica: Complete Travel Guide

Vacation Rentals in Alajuela

We always love renting a home or villa for our vacation in Costa Rica. This gives you more privacy and allows you the flexibility to cook your own meals.

Note: We try to only ever suggest places with good cancellation policies, but always double-check before booking.

Beautiful Apartment in Downtown – A two bedroom apartment which sleeps four guests. This place is located right in the city center, but it’s not typically loud.

Casa Cafetal – A modern condo in a gated community. This place is located in the hills above Alajuela, but you can be in the city center in 15 minutes. The condo sleeps 5 guests in 3 bedrooms. You will also have access to all the community amenities including a pool, ping pong table, and outdoor grill area. 

Casa Cielo Grande – A large three bedroom house which can sleep up to 11 guests. The views are great here, there is a private pool, and you can be to the airport in 20 minutes. 

Casa Cerro Verde – A six bedroom house which can sleep up to 15 guests. The views of the Central Valley are top notch. Plus you can be to the airport in 30 minutes. 

Alajuela, Costa Rica: Complete Travel Guide
Alajuela, Costa Rica: Complete Travel Guide
Alajuela, Costa Rica: Complete Travel Guide

Group Tours to the Alajuela Area

Take the planning, stress, and guess work out of traveling by booking a multi-day tour with an experienced guide.

For more tour ideas check out Tour Radar

Costa Rica Family Adventure

15 day group tour that the whole family will absolutely love. Some of the highlights include Tortuguero, La Paz Waterfall Gardens in Alajuela, and Manuel Antonio National Park.

Alajuela 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.

Packing for Alajuela Costa Rica

Because the Central Valley area tends to be a bit cooler than other areas we suggest bringing some layers. We usually opt for a cardigan, windbreaker, or button up flannel. It can get cold up near Poas!

The mosquitos aren’t usually bad here, but it is good to have bug spray anyway.

Oh, and definitely dont forget a rain jacket if traveling during the rainy season. I have the Venture Jacket from Northface and I love it because it is lightweight, durable, and is great at blocking the rain.

Check out our Alajuela Packing List on Amazon for all the essentials. 

Alajuela Costa Rica FAQ

Is Alajuela Costa Rica safe?

Alajuela is mostly safe, but petty theft sometimes happens. It is best to always keep an eye on your belongings, don’t carry large amounts of cash, and don’t flaunt expensive objects.

What is Alajuela Costa Rica known for?

Alajuela Costa Rica is known for being the closest place to the San Jose International Airport. It is also known for being in the Central valley surrounded by coffee farms, great views, and Poas Volcano.

Should I stay in Alajuela Costa Rica?

A night or two in Alajuela is always nice for easily getting to the airport and for exploring the Central Valley.

You Might Also Like Visiting

San Jose: The bustling capital city in the country’s center filled with museums, restaurants, and culture.

Cartago: An area of coffee farms, beautiful views, and volcanoes

Orosi: A remote area of hiking, wildlife, and volcanoes

….if none of those appeal to you, check out our Guide to the Central Valley for more ideas of places to visit in this area.

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  1. stuart and annie campbell says:

    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. LEIGH GURR says:

    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!

    1. 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.
      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. 🙂

      1. LEIGH GURR says:

        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!