The city of Alajuela, home to the Juan Santamaría International Airport, covers the western side of the Central Valley. Many know the central valley as home to Costa Rica’s Capital, San Jose. But there are distinct areas that connect with San Jose, but have a character of their own.
Alajuela is likely the first and last stop for many traveling into Costa Rica. Although the second largest city in Costa Rica after San José, getting around the city is relatively easy and safe. Known for the best weather in the world, a walking tour in Alajuela could be the best way to enjoy both the history and modern day to day life of the people who live here. Visiting the heart of downtown Alajuela is a cultural tour where you can also learn about the importance of Alajuela in the course of Costa Rica’s history.
1. Alajuela Central Park
Like almost all cities in Costa Rica, the historic center of Alajuela, is situated around the main church and central park. A stroll through the central 6 blocks you will view murals, smaller parks with Costa Rican sculpture, a contrasted spattering of old wooden homes between newer storefronts and the relaxed bustle of contemporary city life in Costa Rica.
The historic center of Alajuela offers several restaurants, mostly typical foods, as well as fusion cuisine with foreign elements. The Central Park of Alajuela is called the “Mangos Park. Frequented by locals, often seen with a copo or Pops ice cream, who relax on a “ Pollo” (bench) under the shaded canopy of beautiful and leafy mango trees. A Saturday or Sunday in the park may include some free entertainment with locals playing live Latin music and a lively group of partnered dancers.
Always colorful and never dull, the streets and parks of Alajuela may even be of greater interest than the old buildings. With the park right in front of a church, you also get plenty of secular indulgences, like a cold beer at the corner bar with an enthusiastic group of futbol fans or on either side of the Cathedral, copo carts with a long line of both adults and children.
Alajuela’s largest church is Nuestra Señora del Pilar Cathedral. Also called Alajuela Cathedral and Cathedral of the Virgen del Pilar, the building is the second largest Cathedral in Costa Rica. The current building has its origin in a small oratory built in 1782. The new structure was designed by Gustavo Casallini and started in 1854. Delayed by the war, the inauguration and consecration of the church took place in 1863. An additional interesting note, the church facade is a copy of the Metropolitan Cathedral in Guatemala City.
2. Museo Histórico Juan Santamaría
Another recommended activity is to visit the historical museum. The museum is named after “Juan Santamaría” in honor of this National Hero, whose heroic deed took place on April 11, 1856 in Rivas, Nicaragua. During your visit, you will learn about the details of Juan Santamaría, his life and place in history; and, a bit about the history of the building.
Originally known as the “Old Barracks of Arms of the city of Alajuela” the jail was built during the government of Tomás Guardia, between 1874 and 1877 and remodeled in 1936. In 1949, when the army was abolished as a permanent institution, the former Alajuela arms barracks was occupied from 1960 by the Jesús Ocaña Vocational College . Then, starting in 1977, it became the headquarters of the Research Center for Technical Improvement (CIPET), an institution of the Ministry of Public Education.
3. Alajuela Municipal Theater
If you have good chunk of time on your visit to Alajuela, go to the municipal theater. This beautiful old building hosts a variety of interesting cultural events from plays of all genres, concerts, popular comedian performances to folk dances.
4. Centro Cultural Alajuelense
The Old Municipal Palace of Alajuela was built during the administration of Ricardo Jiménez in 1914. This was also the first Regional headquarters of the House of the Artist. This beautiful building has an interesting history, which tells the different uses during its history from a seminary of nuns to the Municipal Palace to music lessons, poetry readings and art exhibits.
5. Souvenir Museum
You will find the best souvenir shop in Costa Rica. The name, the Souvenir Museum, implies things you are not allowed to touch, but all is indeed for sale. What you will find is a helpful knowledgeable staff who will answer any of your questions. If you have time, they will give you an introduction to every region and its artists and the crafts you will find in the shop.
The souvenir museum is located 2 kilometers from the central park and is open Monday to Saturday 10 am to 6 pm.
Looking for a hotel in Alajuela Costa Rica?
Alajuela, the so-called “Ciudad de los Mangos”, has the namesake for the number of fincas or Mango Fruit plantations in the province. Hotel Villa San Ignacio is located only 4 kilometers from the historic center of Alajuela and, true to our location, have several mango trees on the property. You can enjoy both the feel of the finca and also the city. Within minutes by taxi you can start your cultural tour of Alajuela’s historical center.