- The Best of Costa Rica
- Costa Rica’s Top Spots for WIldlife
- Costa Rica’s Most Beautiful Beaches
- Costa Rica’s Best Beaches for Wildlife
- Best Surfing Beaches in Costa Rica
- Costa Rica’s Unique Retreats & Resorts
- Surf’s Up in Costa Rica
- Off-The-Beaten-Path Eco-Adventures
- Costa Rica Family-Friendly Adventures
- Adrenaline Rush
La Garita, spanning the Pan-American Highway (Hwy. 1) about 12 kilometers west of Alajuela, is important for its location at the junction of Highway 3, which leads west for Atenas, Orotina, and Puntarenas (and east for Alajuela).
The area boasts a salubrious climate, and La Garita is famed for ornamental-plant farms known as viveros.
This splendid zoo (tel. 506/2433-8989, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, $15 adults, $3 children), at Dulce Nombre, on Highway 3, about 3.5 kilometers east of the Pan-American Highway, is a must-see. It covers 59 hectares of landscaped grounds and is a wildlife rescue center for injured and confiscated wildlife. The fantastic bird collection (the largest in Central America) includes dozens of toucans, cranes, curassows, parrots, and more than 100 other Costa Rican species.
Zoo Ave is one of only two zoos in the world to display resplendent quetzals. Macaws fly free. You’ll also see crocodile, deer, turtles, ostrich, tapirs, peccaries, pumas, and all four species of indigenous monkeys in large enclosures. The zoo has successfully bred the scarlet macaw, green macaw, curassow, guan, and about 50 other native bird species with the help of a human-infant incubator. The breeding center is off-limits. A visitors center shows video presentations and offers educational events.
The Atenas and La Garita buses from Alajuela pass by the zoo.
Botanical Orchid Garden
The Botanical Orchid Garden (tel. 506/2487-8095, www.orchidgardencr.com, 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Tues.–Sun., $12 adults, $6 children), abut two kilometers west of the autopista, opened in 2011 after 30 years in the making. This lovely garden displays 75 native orchid species, and about 75 exotics. Educational tours are fascinating; not least, I was surprised to learn about how global warming is affecting orchid flowering patterns. And did you know that vanilla comes from a Mexican orchid? It also displays palms, heliconias, and bamboos, and there is an orchid reforestation program, plus it breeds macaws and parrots. A lovely airy café serves salads, quesadillas, and the like.
The Canadian-run Hotel La Rosa de América (tel./fax 506/2433-2741, www.larosadeamerica.com, $51 s or $61 d low season, $59 s or $70 d high season), in Barrio San José de Alajuela, is a charming mid-priced country-style option 100 meters south of La Mandarina on the main Alajuela–La Garita road. Set amid a lushly landscaped garden, its 12 modestly appointed but recently upgraded cabins have fans, cable TVs, WiFi, tile floors, security boxes, and balconies with rocking chairs. Tropical breakfasts are served in a homey restaurant. There’s a small swimming pool, a day spa, a TV lounge with VCR/DVD player, and free WiFi throughout. Rates include breakfast and tax.
At the top end of the scale is the gracious Martino Resort and Spa (tel. 506/2433-8382, www.hotelmartino.com, $130 s or $145 d low season, $140 s or $160 d high season), in six acres of lushly manicured grounds with classical statuary. The motif melds a Romanesque theme with abundant lacquered hardwoods, as in the majestic columned lounge boasting plump sofas with exquisite Italian fabrics. It has 34 air-conditioned suites with hardwood ceilings, tile floors, double doors for soundproofing, terraces (some facing a lake), spacious bathrooms with monogrammed towels, cable TVs, phones, free Internet, mini-bars, and king-size beds with fine linens. Facilities include a huge swimming pool, an Italian restaurant, a bar, casino, tennis court, and a state-of-the-art gym and spa. Trails access a bird sanctuary.
For a genuine local experience, I recommend Fiesta del Maíz (tel. 506/2487-5757, 10 a.m.–8 p.m. Mon. and Wed.–Thurs., 7 a.m.–9 p.m. Fri.–Sun.), on Highway 3, about one kilometer west of the Pan-American Highway. This large cafeteria-style restaurant is famous for tasty corn meals that include chorreadas (corn fritters), tamales (corn pudding), corn on the grill, and tasty rice with corn and chicken. No plate costs more than $3.
The restaurant at Martino Resort and Spa (7 a.m.–10 p.m. daily, $5–20) serves Italian fare.
Getting to La Garita
Buses for La Garita depart Alajuela every 30 minutes (6 a.m.–9 p.m.) daily from Avenida 2, Calle 10.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Costa Rica, 8th Edition