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Alajuela, Costa Rica

Central Valley views, volcanos, coffee, waterfalls, and more!

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 the beautiful Central Valley surrounding the city is amazing!

We suggest staying here for a few night at the very beginning or end of your trip if flying in/ out of Juan Santamaria International Airport.

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. 

Alajuela at a Glance

Nearest International Airport

Juan Santamaria International Airport in Alajuela

Popular Things to Do

visit Poas Volcano, take a coffee tour, visit La Paz Waterfall Garden

Best Way to Get Around

Rental car, walking in the downtown area

Best Time of Year to Visit

Dry season is from late December until mid-April

 

Getting to Alajuela

Flights to Costa Rica

The easiest way of getting to Alajuela is by flying in to 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.

 


 

Transportation From San Jose International Airport

Rental Car

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

If you book your Adobe car through us you will get a 10% discount plus several other great perks!

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

BOOK YOUR CAR HERE

car rental

Taxi

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.

Uber is now illegal here and the police have been known to pull over Uber drivers. Also, there are plenty of people pretending to be taxi drivers who will then charge you way more than you should pay.

Hotel Shuttle

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 pf charge while others might charge a small fee.

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

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 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. You can find out more about it here!

Book Your Transportation

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.

Grab a free copy of our Costa Rica guide

(with great Alajuela tips)

Alajuela Hotels

Booking.com

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.

Things to Do in Alajuela

britt coffee

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. 

Visit Poas Volcano

Poas Volcano is an active volcano located north of Alajuela city.

Just note that it has been active in recent years so sometimes it is not open. Check out our full Poas Volcano guide for the most recent info. 

Also, it is such a pain to pre-book tickets on the Costa Rica national park website. 

I suggest pre-booking via Viator. It is a few dollars more but will make your life easier. 

Enjoy Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center

This wildlife center was previously called Zoo Ave. They take 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. 

You can prebook your tickets here

Visit La Paz Waterfall Garden

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. 

You can prebook your La Paz tickets here.

We have a complete La Paz guide for more info. 

Tour Corso Dairy Farm

This is a great family-friendly activity! This dairy farm offers daily tours at 9:00am, 11:00am, and 1:30pm .

This tour lasts two hours and includes a delicious lunch, a chance to milk the cows, a fun ride through the farm, and information on their cheese and milk production process. 

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 plantations 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.

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

Walk Under Waterfalls at Los Chorros 

Los Chorros is a series of waterfalls that you can walk under. Just a warning, the path down to the falls is steep and it can be very slippery to walk under the falls. It will take you about 30 minutes to get down to the falls.

You will have to pay about $5 to park your car. If the person at the gate asks for a donation, it is up to you if you would like to give more. We have heard mixed things in recent years that this property is now considered protected by the government and legally this man is not allowed to collect money, but we honestly have no idea what the truth is. So, we just pay for parking and enjoy our time here. 

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. 

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 at night to get the full effect. There are also usually vendors here selling food.

Visit the Farmers Market 

On Fridays from 10am to 10pm and Saturdays from 6:30am to 2pm you can visit the city farmers market. Just do a Google search for “Plaza Ferias Alajuela” and you will find the location.

This market is huge and a great opportunity to try some crazy Costa Rican fruits. We love going here!

 

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.

CityMall in downtown Alajuela has a cinema that often shows films in English with Spanish subtitles. 

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. We like to bring a picnic lunch and just pull the car over when we find a nice lookout spot.

Catch Your Lunch

From downtown Alajuela, you can take a 40-minute drive to a trucha called Los Arroyos. 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.

Take a Day Trip to Sarchi 

Sarchi is a small town near Alajuela that is best known for the beautiful bright oxcarts that are produced here as well as the impressive woodworking shops. It’s a fun place to walk around and possibly buy some souvenirs. 

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 FoodGo 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?

Remote Working in Alajuela

If you plan on working while in Alajuela there are a few things you should know.

– In general the internet is usually really good in the downtown area, but it’s always a good idea to ask about the internet speed before booking a place.

– Another thing to keep in mind is that the downtown area can be loud. There are a lot of cars. If you have a lot of online meetings this could be disruptive. 

Packing for Alajuela

Bug Spray – The second the sun goes down the mosquitos come out in full force. Don’t forget, aerosol cans are not allowed in luggage, so bring spray in a normal spray bottle. 

Sun Protection – Costa Rica is not too far from the equator. The UV index here is high! We suggest bringing a wide brimmed hat, UV protecting shirts, and of course high SPF sunscreen.

A Rain Jacket – If traveling during rainy season you might have some rainy afternoons. We like to bring a lightweight jacket because even when it rains it stays hot!

…for more packing tips check out our complete packing list for women and our packing list for men.

packing alajuela poas
waterfall alajuela

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.

Don't Forget Travel Insurance!

We strongly suggest you purchase travel insurance for a wide variety of reasons. 

Travel insurance doesn’t just cover you for medical issues and accidents during adventures it is also there to help if your flight gets cancelled, if your luggage gets lost, if something gets stolen, or if you get sick and need to extend your stay in Costa Rica.

We always use WorldNomads for our travel insurance and highly suggest them to you. 

You can get a quote and secure your insurance below. ↓

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4 Responses

  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!

    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. 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. 🙂

      1. 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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