At first sight, it may be hard to distinguish ALAJUELA from San José, until the pleasant realization dawns that you can smell bougainvillea rather than petrol fumes as you walk down the street. Alajuela was founded in 1657 and remains a largely agricultural centre, with a Saturday market (6am–2.30pm) that draws hundreds of farmers who come to sell fruit, vegetables, dairy products and flowers.
Alajuela’s most cherished historical figure is the drummer-boy-cum-martyr Juan Santamaría, hero of the 1856 Battle of Rivas and subject of his own museum, about the only formal attraction in town; he also has his own festival, the Día de Juan Santamaría (April 11, the anniversary of the great battle), when the townsfolk kick up their heels with bands, parades and fireworks.
Alajuela can be seen in half a day or so, but it makes a convenient base for visiting the surrounding sights (most of the Valle Central’s main attractions lie within a 30km radius, and the city is considerably warmer than San José) or a useful place to stay if you’ve an early-morning flight to catch – the airport is just a five-minute bus ride away, compared to forty minutes or more from the capital.Read More
Set amid rolling coffee fields 10km north of Alajuela, signposted off the road to Volcán Poás, the Doka Estate is one of the most historic coffee farms in the country. The Vargas family have been growing beans here for over seventy years – their beneficio (water mill) is the oldest in Costa Rica – and today produce a variety of roasts for Café Tres Generaciones. Enthusiastic guides cover the entire coffee-making process (the longer Friday morning tour also includes an ox-cart ride around the plantation), and finish with a free tasting – look out for their Peaberry Estate, a smooth medium roast containing the caracolillo bean, a mutation that gives the cup a sweeter flavour. You can also visit their new butterfly farm (included in the price), and grab lunch at the on-site restaurant.
Doka has its own café a couple of kilometres beyond the turning off the main road to Poás, where you can sample the estate’s various brews in an attractive setting (see La Paz Waterfall Gardens).
- Parque Nacional Volcán Poás
In a Liga their own
In a Liga their own
Football (fútbol) is big in Costa Rica, even more so since their near-qualification for the 2010 World Cup (they lost in a play-off to eventual semi-finalists Uruguay), and Alajuela is home to one of most historic teams in the country: Liga Deportivo Alajuelense (t2443-1617, wwww.lda.cr), who ply their trade at the impressive 18,000-seater Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto, northeast of the centre on C 9, Av 9. One of the original founders of the national league in 1921, LDA have won the Primera División 24 times but have lost out in recent seasons to Deportivo Saprissa, their great rivals from San José – derbies between the two teams, known as the Clasíco de Costa Rica, can be fiery affairs, and are certainly worth catching if you can.