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The opening of the Guápiles Highway via Braulio Carrillo National Park stole much of its thunder, and the town was further insulated when train service to the Caribbean was ended in 1991. The now-rusted tracks still dominate the town, which squats in a valley bottom on the banks of the Río Turrialba at 650 meters above sea level.
Turrialba is a base for white-water adventures on the Ríos Reventazón and Pacuare. The only site of interest in town is the dramatic modernist Iglesia Parroquía San Buenaventura on the otherwise undistinguished Parque la Dominica. The small Museo Regional Omar Salazar (tel. 506/2558-3733, 8:30 a.m.–noon and 1–4:30 p.m. Mon.–Fri., free), with archaeological exhibits, is on the campus of the University of Costa Rica.
Biological Reserve Espino Blanco (tel. 506/2556-1616, www.wageliaespinoblancolodge.com, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily), at La Verbana, eight kilometers north of Turrialba, has forest trails good for bird-watching.
The Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (Center for Tropical Agriculture Investigation and Learning, tel. 506/2558-2000, www.catie.ac.cr), four kilometers east of Turrialba, is one of the world’s leading tropical agricultural research stations. It covers 1,036 hectares devoted to experimentation and research on livestock and tropical plants and crops, including more than 2,500 coffee varieties.
Trails provide superb bird-watching, and the orchards, herbarium, and husbandry facilities are fascinating. CATIE also contains the largest library on tropical agriculture in the world.
The grounds include the Jardín Botánico (Botanic Garden, 7 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Sat.–Sun., $6), with a lake full of waterfowl; guided five-hour tours are given ($20 per person), including a tour by bicycle. It has a café and reception area with exhibition. Weekend visits are offered by appointment.
Buses depart for CATIE from Avenida Central, Calle 2, in Turrialba. You can also catch the bus to Siquirres from Avenida 4, Calle 2, and ask to be dropped off.
Entertainment and Recreation
A university town, Turrialba has plenty of cool spots to kick it at night. Warm up at Charlie’s Sports Bar (Avenida Central, Calle Central, tel. 506/2557-6565,) with the to-be-expected TVs tuned to the latest games. Around midnight you can gravitate to Discoteca Rikaste (Avenida Central, Calles 1/3, tel. 506/25562-2165, 9 p.m.–2:30 a.m. Fri.–Sat., $2–3 cover).
The U.S.-run Serendipity Adventures (tel. 506/2558-1000, in North America tel. 877/507-1358, www.serendipityadventures.com) offers hot-air ballooning, rafting, hiking, kayaking, and other adventures.
Costa Rica Rios (tel. 506/2556-9617, in North America tel. 888/434-0776, www.costaricarios.com) specializes in canoeing and kayaking. Rainforest World (tel. 506/2556-0014, www.rforestw.com) offers white-water trips, as does Explornatura (tel. 506/2556-4030, www.explornatura.com), which also has coffee tours.
The American-run Hotel Interamericano (Avenida 1, Calle 1, tel. 506/2556-0142, www.hotelinteramericano.com, $12 s or $22 d shared bath, $25 s or $30–35 d private bath), beloved of budget travelers, offers 22 clean rooms in several categories with cable TV and hot water. It has Internet access and laundry, plus a small bar and cafeteria.
The rambling Hotel Kardey (Calle 4, tel. 506/2556-0050, hotelkardey [at] hotmail [dot] com, $20 pp) offers two dorms plus 13 simply furnished, carpeted rooms with cable TV and fans. Rooms to the fore are airy and get heaps of light (as well as street noise); interior rooms are somewhat gloomy but have natural stone walls and are clean. No two rooms are the same. It has a pool table. Rates include breakfast.
Similar no-frills alternatives include the Wittingham Hotel (tel. 506/2556-8822), opposite La Roche, and Hotel Alcazar (Calle 3, Avenidas 2/4, tel. 506/2556-7397).
Hotel Wagelia (tel. 506/2556-1566, www.hotelwageliaturrialba.com, $79.50 s, $99 d), on Avenida 4, is the only class act in town. It has 18 well-lit, modestly decorated rooms with air-conditioning, TVs, telephones, and private baths. They surround a lush courtyard. The hotel has WiFi and offers tours locally. The restaurant is one of Turrialba’s best. Rates include breakfast and tax, but have leapt beyond reason and are overpriced.
Its lesser sibling, the Hotel Wagelia Dominica (tel. 506/2556-1029, www.hotelwageliadominica.com, $40 s, $50 d), 800 meters north of town, offers a gauche budget alternative.
Nature hounds should sniff out the more rustic Wagelia Espino Blanco Lodge (tel. 506/2556-0616,www.wageliaespinoblancolodge.com, from $45 s/d), in its own reserve eight kilometers north of town.
For a squeaky-clean room and cozy intimacy, opt for the Turrialba Bed & Breakfast (tel. 506/2556-6651, www.turrialbahotel.com, $55 s, $75 d), half a block northeast of the plaza, a peaceful place with rooms opening onto a rear courtyard garden with Adirondack chairs and hammocks. It also has a pool table and foosball for rainy days, plus secure parking.
You can fill up for less than $3 at Restaurante La Garza (tel. 506/2556-1073, 10 a.m.–11 p.m. daily), on the plaza’s northwest corner; it has set lunches, plus pastas and even Chinese fare.
You can buy baked goods at Musmanni, at Calle 2, Avenida 2, or at Panadería Merayo (5:30 a.m.–7 p.m. daily), 50 meters north.
Banco de la Galleta (Calle 3, Avenidas Central/1, 8 a.m.–7 p.m. Mon.–Sat.) sells all kinds of nuts, biscuits, and candies.
Getting to Turrialba
Buses (tel. 506/2556-4233) depart San José from Calle 13, Avenidas 6/8, hourly 8 a.m.–8 p.m. daily via Cartago ($2). Buses depart Cartago for Turrialba from Avenida 3, Calle 8. Taxis (tel. 506/2556-3434) congregate around the square.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Costa Rica, 8th Edition