Alajuela is the capital of the province of the same name and situated to the west of San José near the international airport “Juan Santamaria”.
Basically, Alajuela is a busy small town with about 50000 inhabitants, surrounded by its own small conurbation in which another 300000 people live. Alajuela is a trading centre for sugar, coffee, pineapple, melons, macadamia nuts, papaya and ornamental plants such as roses and chrysanthemum cuttings. The visit of Alajuela is worthwhile for those who want to get a genuine impression of the everyday life in the densely populated Valle Central, or who want to pay homage to the Costa Rican national hero and son of the city, Juan Santamaria. Alajuela has both set a monument and dedicated a museum in the city’s former prison to the death-defying little drummer who managed to set the enemy’s barricades on fire in the decisive battle against the mercenary troops of the infamous irregular William Walker in 1856. The most important cultural monument of the city is the cathedral, built in the middle of the 19th century, whose choir is spanned by a mighty dome. The church and the green Parque Central also offer the only oases of peace in the otherwise hectic centre of the city.
Nevertheless, Alajuela is still a better alternative to the capital San José – at least for city grouch – as starting point or end point of a Costa Rica trip. But none of the hotels in Alajuela are located in the centre, so that one has to drive to visit the city centre with one’s own rental car or with a taxi and/or public bus. Alajuela is also a good location for visiting nearby attractions such as the Poás National Park or the village of Barva at the foot of the volcano of the same name, which is home to Costa Rica’s sparse colonial architectural heritage. Sarchí, the place of origin of the ‘Carretas’, the colourfully painted wooden oxcarts that have become a national symbol, is only half an hour’s drive from Alajuela. If you want to visit the Poás volcano with its bright turquoise crater lagoon on a clear day, you should do so early in the morning, as clouds prevent the view of the natural spectacle from noon at the latest. The rangers of the national park already provide information at the entrance about the view of “clear views”. The tours offered everywhere for travellers without their own vehicle are only recommended to a limited extent, as they often turn out to be a disguised “sales-event” with several unannounced shopping stops.