The Central Valley's spring-like climate is perfect for the many coffee plantations, market gardens and fruit fields that chequer the landscape. There is lots to see and do in and around the Central Valley and it is well worth spending a few days there.
As well as San José, three of Costa Rica's larger towns - Alajuela, Cartago and Heredia - are also in the Central Valley. It's a busy place, in contrast to almost the whole of the rest of Costa Rica. There are characterful small towns and villages dotted around the Central Valley, and other sites easily reached on day trips from San José:
Grecia's church is made entirely of iron - a novel approach inspired by the fate of its predecessor, which burned down. Individual sheets were forged in Belgium and bolted into position in the early 1890s. Neighbouring Sarchí is a centre of folk art. Souvenirs in its many shops show the colourful kaleidoscopic designs that were traditionally painted on ox-carts. The most elaborate convey the bride and groom from church. The designs can be traced to settlers from Andalucía. Zarcero's town square is jam-packed with topiary clipped into arches which makes for a surreal photo stop.
La Paz Waterfall & Butterfly Garden A popular attraction with 5 waterfalls, large butterfly enclosures and hummingbird garden. Lankester Botanical Gardens holds an internationally renowned collection of the epiphytic flora of Costa Rica including 800 orchid species. They reach peak bloom between February and May. Excellent plantings of heliconia, bromeliads, palm, ferns, cacti and bamboo in extensive gardens.
For hiking both Irazú and Poás volcanoes are good day trips while for the coffee aficionado, there are good coffee plantations to visit. Costa Rica still produces some of the best coffee in the world (for the national economy it is truly a grano d'oro - grain of gold). The most famous exports are from the Café Britt and Doka Estate plantations and both offer popular tours of their fields and the process of coffee production. A number of smaller coffee farms with their own tours provide a more down-to-earth experience.
The Orosí Valley, shielded by steep-sided mountains, is a very pretty place with two main sites of interest: the colonial church of Orosí, one of the few to have survived Costa Rica's earthquakes, and the photogenic ruins of Ujarrás, the country's oldest colonial church from 1575.