Heredia (pop. 32,000), 11 kilometers (7 miles) north of San José and colloquially known as La Ciudad de las Flores (City of Flowers), is surrounded by coffee fields. A pleasant atmosphere pervades the grid-patterned town despite its jostling traffic. The National University is here.The 90-minute Classic Coffee Tour concludes in the tasting room, where you are shown how experts taste coffee.Heredia is centered around a weathered colonial cathedral—the Basílica de la Inmaculada Concepción—containing beautiful stained-glass windows as well as bells delivered from Cuzco, Peru. Built in 1797, it is squat and thick-walled and has withstood many earthquakes. The church faces west onto lively Parque Central, shaded by large mango trees and with various busts and monuments. On the north side of the cathedral, across the street, is the bronze Monumento Nacional a la Madre (National Monument to the Mother), by contemporary artist Francisco Zuñiga.
El Fortín, a circular fortress tower, borders the north side of the plaza. The gun slits widen to the outside, a curious piece of military ineptitude—they easily allowed bullets in but made it difficult for defenders to shoot out.
The Casa de la Cultura (tel. 506/2261-4485, 9am-9pm daily, free), next to El Fortín, contains a small art gallery and historical exhibits. It was once the residence of President Alfredo González Flores (in office 1914-1917), who was exiled in 1917 after a coup d’état. He was later welcomed back and ran his political activities from his home, where he lived until his death in 1962. Refurbished, it is today a National Historic Monument.
Midway between Heredia and Barva is the finca and beneficio of Café Britt (tel. 506/2277-1600), where you can learn the story of Costa Rican coffee from the plantation to the cup. The company roasts, packs, and exports to specialty stores around the world and welcomes visitors to its coffee fields and garden by reservation only. Vastly entertaining tours are offered, led by staff in traditional country costumes and highlighted by a Flavors of Costa Rica multimedia presentation telling the history of coffee. There’s a cinema for private events, and more in-depth private tours are offered by reservation. The factory store offers mail-order delivery to the United States. It has an elegant gourmet restaurant.
The 90-minute Classic Coffee Tour (9:30am, 11am, 12:45pm, and 3:15pm daily, adults $22, students/children $17) concludes in the tasting room, where you are shown how experts taste coffee. The four-hour Coffee & Nature Tour (11am Fri.-Sun., adults $68, children/students $68) includes a visit to INBioparque.
You can also visit the company’s historic Beneficio Tierra Madre, above San Rafael de Heredia, about six kilometers (4 miles) northeast of Heredia; it is also open to individual visits by prior arrangement (tel. 506/2277-1600). Here, at Costa Rica’s first certified organic-only beneficio, you can witness firsthand the processing of coffee in a facility adorned with exquisite murals by the nation’s leading artists. A coffee-bush maze was being created at last visit, and an open-air coffee museum will have a live theater.
INBioparque (tel. 506/2507-8107, 8:30am-2pm Tues.-Fri., 9am-3:30pm Sat.-Sun., adults $25, students $19, children $15, includes guided tour) is an educational park two kilometers (1.2 miles) southwest of Santo Domingo, a historic village three kilometers (2 miles) southeast of Heredia and three kilometers (2 miles) north of San José. It’s run by the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad, a nongovernmental organization devoted to cataloging Costa Rica’s biodiversity. One exhibition hall focuses on the planet’s biodiversity; the second lets you observe how Costa Rica was formed and inhabited. Interpretive trails lead through native habitats, with wildlife exhibits. Botanists will have a field day, and there are caimans, frogs, iguanas, and a butterfly garden. Visitors can opt for guided tours ($3 for 2 hours). Last admission is one hour before closing. Transfers cost $10.
A zona rosa—a night-scene hot spot—has evolved around Avenida Central and Calle 7. Among the several bars popular with Heredia’s many students are La Choza (tel. 506/2237-1553, 4pm-1am Mon.-Fri., 3pm-1am Sat.-Sun.), which packs ’em in nightly for music, from salsa to rock, and for U.S. football and Costa Rican soccer games on the big-screen TV; and lounge-bar-style Chill Out Place (Ave. 1, Calle 7, tel. 506/2560-5112, 1pm-1:30am Tues.-Thurs., noon-2am Fri.-Sat., noon-midnight Sun.), the hippest place in town, with live music on Sunday and Reggae Roots Night on Wednesday.
The city’s largest and most stylish disco is Moon Nightlife (tel. 506/2265-1078, 8pm-2:30am Fri.-Sun.), in a former warehouse with a fantastic light system and space for 2,500 patrons to dance to techno and salsa. It’s in San Joaquín de Flores, on the road to Alajuela.
Where to Stay
The modern Hotel América (Calle Central, Aves. 2/4, tel. 506/2260-9292, $60 s, $70 d), 50 meters (165 feet) south of Parque Central, is a good mid-range bargain. It features 50 air-conditioned rooms and suites, all with pleasing decor, phones, and private baths with hot water. It has a steak house and offers 24-hour room service, plus tours. Rates include breakfast.
Outside town, the superbly run Dutch-owned Hotel Bougainvillea (tel. 506/2244-1414, $99-109 s, $109-119 d), about 800 meters (0.5 miles) east of Santo Domingo, is a splendid bargain and appeals for its fabulous setting in vast landscaped grounds (with a hedge maze) surrounded by a sea of coffee plants, with a beautiful view of the mountain ranges and San José. This gracious contemporary three-story hotel has 78 spacious rooms and four suites, a gift shop, a swimming pool, a tennis court, and an elegant restaurant. A shuttle runs to San José.
Things to Know
Hospital San Vicente (Calle 14, Ave. 16, tel. 506/2261-0091) and the Red Cross (Ave. 3, Calle Central) provide medical services. There’s a pharmacy at Avenida 2, Calle 7. The police station is on Calle Central, Avenidas 5/7. Criminal investigation is handled by the OIJ (tel. 506/2262-1011). The post office is on the northwest corner of the plaza.
Excerpted from the Tenth Edition of Moon Costa Rica.