The Alajuela province extends from north of San José, Costa Rica, all the way to the boarder of Nicaragua. While the province didn’t score any coastline, it did get Poaz Volcano, Arenal Volcano, part of Lake Arenal, tropical rainforests, famous waterfalls, the town of La Fortuna, geothermal springs, bragging rights for being close to the San José airport (SJO) and for some mysterious reason, Alajuela also has half of Rincon de la Viejo National Park.
For tourists, the main destinations in Alajuela are the coffee plantations and Poaz Volcano in Central Valley just north of San José, and the La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano area that is about 3 hours north of San José. Since Alajuela gets continuous rainfall year-round it is always lush and tropical.
Best Hotel in Alajuela
The Springs Resort and Spa – The Springs has been on everyone’s radar since The Bachelor was filmed there in 2011. It offers travelers an amazing experience – large rooms, even larger bathrooms, stunning views of Arenal volcano, multiple hot springs pools with sloths climbing in the trees nearby, several restaurants and Club Rio adventure center which offers river tubing, horseback riding, more hot springs and an animal sanctuary that is one of the best in Costa Rica.
Best Hotel for Families
La Carolina Lodge – This rustic delight also falls under the categories of best weekend trip, best Off-The-Grid escape and Best for Families. Traditional Tico farm-to-table meals cooked over a wood burning stove. They have recently built new cabins where you can fall asleep listening to the sounds of the baffling river below. While very rustic, they do have wifi at the main lodge and in most rooms, so you’re not 100% off the grid, but you will feel like you are. Great for families as there is a lot of open space for children to run around. They have horseback riding, cow milking, pig feeding, garden tour and massages available.
Best Waterfall in Alajuela
Rio Celeste – Not convenient at all to get to unless you are already at La Carolina Lodge. This waterfall really delivers. A moderate walk to get to the waterfall, but stunning views once you arrive. After the waterfall, you have the option to keep hiking to more stunning vistas.
And although Rio Celeste is the most beautiful waterfall in Alajuela with it’s powerful cascade and teal waters, I have to give a shout out to La Paz Waterfall and La Fortuna Waterfall that are both stunning and would tie for second place. La Paz Waterfall has multiple waterfalls and the La Fortuna waterfalls are great because you can get in the chilly water there.
Best Town: La Fortuna
La Fortuna offers a lot for locals and tourists. Most of the hotels are outside of town, dotted along the road to Arenal Volcano, while most of the restaurant are in the town. La Fortuna is a traditional Costa Rican town with a park and church in the center, restaurants and a view of Arenal Volcano. More on travel to La Fortuna and Arenal Volano.
Best Breakfast in Alajuela
Organico Fortuna – This tiny open air cafe in La Fortuna has healthy and delicious breakfast options. Worth a stop if you are in the La Fortuna or Arenal Volcano area.
Best Breakfast Buffet in Alajuela
Tres Cascadas – The best breakfast buffet in Alajuela is at Tres Cascadas at The Springs. Friendly staff, great coffee, made to order eggs and juices and a phenomenal view of the Arenal Volcano make this restaurant the best breakfast buffet in Alajuela.
Best Lunch in Alajuela
Inspira restaurant is a delicious cafe right across from the main park in La Foruna, near the church. While no breathtaking views, it offers delicious and healthy lunch options in it’s open-air restaurant in the heart of La Fortuna.
Best Dinner Restaurant
Don Rufino – Don Rufino is definitely the best meal I’ve ever had in Alajuela, possibly the best meal I’ve had in all of Costa Rica. Located in the middle of La Foruna, they offer hearty dinner options and require reservations. (Apologies I was so busy eating I forgot to take photo.)
Best Hotel Near Airport
Villa San Ignacio – This hotel is a hidden gem is on the outskirts of San José. Easy to access both the SJO airport, coffee plantations, shopping and Poaz Volcano. If you’re traveling with children, the 2 bedroom modern hobbit style house by the pool is a must see.
Best Budget Hotel
Arenal Springs Resort – For the price, it is an amazing hotel. It has hot pools fed from the geothermal hot springs and cold pools to jump in and get a refreshing chill. They offer stunning views of the volcano from the front rooms. The rooms are little casitas with a Tico feel. They also have a morning yoga class and great hospitality.
Best Sloth Sightings
Club Rio Wildlife Sanctuary Tour – There are sloths all over Costa Rica, but they are hard to see and even harder to photograph. They move slow in the tops of freakishly tall trees so it is hard to notice them, and when you do see them, it’s hard to get a good photo without a zoom lens. And even with a zoom lens it is difficult as the light is usually behind the sloth. All that to say, if you want that perfect snuggly sloth photo for Instagram, you should head to the animal sanctuary at The Springs. You don’t have to stay there to access this, and when you buy a pass it is good for 2 days. So if you miss your perfect sloth photo the first time, you get a second chance. The property here is built on an hill, so the tops of trees are near the hot spring pools, so often you can see sloths in the wild at eye level. But if that doesn’t work, there are always sloths in the animal sanctuary and they come down low for food, so you can get up close with them.
*Opinions are all my own. I am not being compensated by businesses, hotels or services to promote them. No affiliate links. Just sharing my travels of the world with the world.
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