11km northeast of San José lies the lively city of Heredia, boosted by the student population of the Universidad Nacional (UNA). While Central Heredia is a little run-down, its Parque Central is flanked by tall palms, and the Basílica de la Inmaculada Concepción is still standing strong after enduring several earthquakes since 1797. Plan your trip to Heredia with our guide to Heredia — based on the The Rough Guide to Costa Rica, your travel guide for Costa Rica.
The best travel tips for visiting Heredia
North of the parque, the old colonial tower of El Fortín, “The Fortress” (closed to the public), features odd gun slats that fan out and widen from the inside to the exterior, giving it a medieval look.
Although there’s not a great deal to see in town, Heredia is a natural jumping-off point for excursions to Volcán Barva in Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo.
Many tourists also come for the Café Britt tour, hosted by the nation’s largest and most famous coffee exporter, about 3km north of the town centre.
Top attractions and things to do in Heredia
There are many things to do in Heredia, Costa Rica, some popular options include visiting the historic downtown area to see colonial architecture, exploring the La Paz Waterfall Gardens for natural beauty and wildlife, or taking a coffee tour to learn about the local coffee culture and production.
We created a list with the best things to do.
#1 Visit Casa de la Cultura
Free to enter, Casa de la Cultura was once the home of Alfredo Gonzáles Flores, president of Costa Rica between 1913 and 1917.
Today this colonial house, with a large breezy veranda, displays local art, including sculpture and paintings by Heredia schoolchildren. Well worth a few hours of your time when you're in town.
#2 Taste world-class coffee on a tour of Café Britt
Just north of Heredia on the road to Barva, Café Britt gives you an idea of how the modern-day coffee industry operates. The finca grows the country’s best-known brand and is the most important exporter of Costa Rican coffee to the world at large.
Guides take you through the history of coffee growing in Costa Rica, demonstrating how crucial this export crop was to the development of the country. Expect a polished presentation and thorough descriptions of the processes involved in harvesting and selecting the beans.
Once you’ve enjoyed a tour of the plantation, roasting factory and drying patios, it’s back for a coffee-cupping demo and the inevitable stop in the gift shop.
There are also extended “Coffee Lovers”, “Coffee and Adventure” and “Coffee and Waterfalls” tours.
#3 Mooch around Museo de Cultura Popular
Around 3km north of central Heredia the unusual Museo de Cultura Popular portrays coffee-plantation life from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Set in a large house with verandas, and surrounded by coffee fields, it features rooms re-created in the style of that time.
The emphasis is firmly on education, a concept that also extends to the restaurant (Sun 8am–4pm). This serves authentic food of the period, including torta de arroz (layered rice casserole), pan casero (a type of sweet bread) and gallos picadillos (a mixture of meat, vegetables and rice).
#4 Tour Toucan Rescue Ranch
Near San Isidro de Heredia, Toucan Rescue Ranch was set up in 2004 to rehabilitate and release confiscated, sick or injured toucans. Today it supports a wider range of animals, including otters, owls, macaws and sloths – as well as developing breeding programmes and a visitor centre.
In addition to the standard tour, the “Breakfast with the babies Slothies and coffees” option enables you to watch baby sloths being fed. Meanwhile, the “Photo/Artist” tour allows you to sketch, paint or photograph the birds and animals.
It’s possible to stay on site at the simple, but overpriced, guesthouse. There are also opportunities to volunteer at the rescue centre or “adopt” one of the creatures.
For security reasons, the ranch prefers not to publicize the exact address. You’ll be given directions after you’ve booked a tour or a stay.
#5 Hike Volcán Barva in Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo
15km northeast of Heredia, Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo covers nearly 500 square kilometres of virgin rainforest and dense cloudforest.
Yet despite its abundance of natural attractions, it draws few visitors on account of its sheer size and lack of facilities. Most tourists experience the majestic views of thick foliage from the window of a bus on their way to the Caribbean coast.
Those who make the effort to stop here tend to spend their time tackling Volcán Barva. Dominating the southwest corner of the park, it's accessed from the village of Sacramento.
Due to its enormous size and varied altitude, Braulio Carrillo has one of the highest levels of biodiversity in Costa Rica, with over 530 species of birds. These include the rare quetzal (mostly seen at higher elevations), toucans, trogons and eagles. It's also home to 135 species of mammals, such as collared peccary, paca, jaguar and ocelot.
The park, particularly the Barva area, is one of the few places in the country where the bushmaster (matabuey) — Central America’s largest venomous snake — makes its home. The equally poisonous fer-de-lance (terciopelo) also resides here.
And, if you've come to hike, read up on the best hikes in Costa Rica.
Best areas to stay in Heredia
It's fair to say that decent accommodation in downtown Heredia is pretty sparse. But fear not — you don't have to stay right in town.
San José is within easy reach, and there are several country hotels nearby, including Finca Rosa Blanca, one of Costa Rica's finest hotels.
- Hotel Hojarascas: comfortable whitewashed rooms and apartment with incredibly friendly owners.
- Hotel Las Flores: basic but clean and bright rooms make this a fair choice for budget travellers.
- Chalet Tirol: in a pine forest on the edge of Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo, this has ten alpine chalets.
- Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation & Inn: perched above coffee fields, this is one of Costa Rica’s top hotels.
Out of town
Best restaurants and bars in Heredia
With such a large student population, Heredia is crawling with cafés, cake shops, ice-cream joints and vegetarian restaurants.
If you’re self-catering, or fancy an inexpensive meal, head down to the Mercado Central (daily 6am–6pm). This clean, orderly place has plenty of fresh produce and several simple canteens.
- Espigas Cafetería: the coffees, sweet pastries and filling breakfasts will get you off to a flying start.
- Vishnu’s Mango Verde: this rustic vegetarian spot serves tasty tamales, smoothies and sandwiches.
- La Lluna de Valencia Barva: a top Spanish restaurant on the road to Alajuela.
- El Tigre Vestido at Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation: celebrates Costa Rican and Central American cuisine.
- Los Tiroleses Chalet Tirol: one of Costa Rica’s most acclaimed French restaurant, with a Cordon Bleu chef.
Out of town
Find out more about eating and drinking in Costa Rica.
How to get around Heredia
While you can explore a lot of Heredia on foot, you'll be pleased to learn that the Heredia–Barva bus runs past the turning to Café Britt every 30min. From the stop, it's a 400m walk.
IIn addition, a pick-up/drop-off shuttle bus runs from Heredia/San José.
How many days do you need in Heredia?
Although there’s not a huge amount to see in Heredia itself, the city is well-located to enjoy a few rewarding excursions.
With that in mind, you might want to factor in 3-4 days to make the most of the area, and consider it as an alternative to basing yourself in San José.
For example, on day one you could take a morning tour of Café Britt, and make it a coffee-themed day by visiting the Museo de Cultura Popular in the afternoon.
Hikers and wildlife-lovers will want to devote a whole day to Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo. Even if you opt not to hike Volcán Barva, it’s easy (and exhilarating) to spend hours watching wildlife here.
What is the best time to visit Heredia?
If you’ve come for the coffee, the best time to visit Heredia is during the October-February picking season. If you tour a plantation at this time, you might get to see the bright red berries being harvested.
In good news for those planning to hike Volcán Barva, coffee-picking time partially coincides with Costa Rica’s dry season. Extending from December — April, this presents better condition for trekking the trails.
In Costa Rica, wet season runs roughly from May to mid-November, with the rains heaviest in September and October. So, if you're coming to hike you might want to avoid those months.
For more on the best time to visit different destinations in Costa Rica, read our guide to when to go to Costa Rica.
How to get to Heredia
Heredia is not the most visited city in Costa Rica, so if you want to visit, a rental car would be your best option. But even if you don't have your own wheels, there are options to get here.
While Heredia has no bus terminal, several well-signed bus stops are scattered around town, with a heavy concentration around the Mercado Central.
Buses from San José and Alajuela arrive in and leave from Heredia on Av 8, near the market. Local services to Barva (for Café Britt and the Museo de Cultura Popular) and Sacramento (for Volcán Barva) leave from stops along Av 8 and C 1.
Destinations: Alajuela (every 15min; 45min); Barva (for Café Britt and the Museo de Cultura Popular; every 30min; 20min); Sacramento (for Volcán Barva; 3 daily; 1hr 45min); San José (every 5min; 30min).
The commuter train, Tren Urbano, runs from the Estación del Atlántico in San José to Heredia’s station. This is located on Av 10, at C Central.
The journey takes 20 minutes, with trains running Mon–Fri every 30min 6–8.30am & 4–8pm. It returns every 30min 5.30–8am & 3.30–7.30pm.
For more transportation tips, read our guide to getting around Costa Rica.
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Top image: aerial View of Heredia, Costa Rica © Gianfranco Vivi/Shutterstock