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Central Valley - Heredia

Once the coffee capital of Costa Rica, Heredia has managed to retain a provincial quality, despite its 11-km. proximity to San Jose.

"The City of Flowers," Heredia was founded in 1706, and is the country's fourth largest. Downtown is a jumping-off point to the charming mountain towns that dot its periphery, where tradition is reflected in the faces, customs and architecture. Buses leave from San Jose Parque La Merced, near the Catholic church of the same name. The trip takes about 30 minutes.

What to do?

An 1876 brick fort tower makes a great landmark in downtown Heredia on Av. Ctrl., just north of tree-lined Central Park. The tower, featuring comical wrong-way peepholes, was never actually used in battle and is closed. Nearby, the 1843 home of former president Alfredo Gonzalez now houses a small collection of local art in Casa de la Cultura. Overlooking Central Park, Church of Immaculate Conception showcases European stained glass and historic bells imported from Cuzco, Peru.

In Barva de Heredia, beautiful Museum of Popular Culture  is open 8 am  to 4 pm. daily. It was built using ancient adobe process called bahareque, features exhibits depicting Costa Rica traditions in colonial times.

In the hills in San Rafael de Heredia, Monte de la Cruz lookout point sports huge cross and picnic area, and Castillo Country Club  offers fine dining, country's only ice skating rink, sports facilities.

Hiking to Barva Volcano's crater lake in Braulio Carrillo National Park is tough but beautiful trek through rain and cloud forest. Take San Jose de la Montana bus behind Central Market to Sacramento and start two-hour hike to park entrance, or drive up in 4-WD.

Plaza Real Cariari has 70 stores, 16 Outlets,  food court, off the General Canas Highway, northwest of San Jose. Monty's Recreation Center  in San Joaquin de Flores has the country's largest roller-skating ring, weightlifting gym, kiddie ring, play area, cafeteria.

Take a drive through Heredia's surrounding villages and up narrow mountain paths for spectacular views of Central Valley, area farms. Charming central parks in Barva, San Isidro, Santa Barbara, Santo Domingo, San Rafael, San Joaquin de Flores and San Jose de la Montana all good places sit and watch small-town life.

Banco de los Mariscos delicious fresh seafood in Santa Barbara, Penguins  creative mexican/american menu, eclectic atmosphere in Santo Domingo-Fresas  near the National University, lunch menu, bocas at the bar. Le Petit Paris  great French cuisine specializing in crepes, garden side dining. Añoranzas  moderately priced rustic restaurant/bar, tica fare in San Rafael. Las Tinajas  Tica favorite, friendly atmosphere, live music on thursdays. Champs Elysee Discotheque  live music, tues-friday, occasional special occasions, American favorite.

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