Grecia, on Highway 141, some 18 kilometers northwest of Alajuela , is an important market town famous for its rust-red twin-spired metal church made of steel plates imported from Belgium in 1897.
An all-marble altar rises fancifully like one of Emperor Ludwig’s fairy-tale castles. The church is fronted by a pretty park with tall palms, an obelisk erected to commemorate the foundation of Grecia in July 1864, fountains, and a domed music temple.
Just east of Grecia, on the main Sarchí road, the Austrian-run World of Snakes (tel./fax 506/2494-3700, www.theworldofsnakes.com , 8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, $11 adults, $6 children and students) displays a collection of more than 150 snakes from around the world, including many of Costa Rica’s most beautiful critters.
The facility breeds 70 different species for sale and for reintroduction to the wild. It educates visitors to dispel snakes’ negative image with a clear message—don’t harm snakes! The critters live behind glass windows in re-creations of their natural habitats. You can handle non-venomous snakes. There are also caimans, snapping turtles, and poison-dart frogs. The last guided tour is at 4 p.m.
For budget travelers, B&B Backpackers Grecia (tel. 506/2494-2573, www.bandbgrecia.com , $35–45 s, $45–55 d) is 150 meters south of the park. This two-story German-run modern house has simply appointed yet comfy rooms, plus WiFi, kitchen access, a reading room, and a garden with hammocks.
Posada Mimosa (tel. 506/2494-5868, www.mimosa.co.cr , $75 s or $91 d rooms, $118 s/d guesthouse, $91 s or $107 d small cabin, $139 s/d family cabin), in the hamlet of Rincón de Salas, is an exquisite bed-and-breakfast run by Canadians Tessa and Martin Borner. Set amid seven hectares of lush landscaped gardens and forest, the hillside home offers dramatic views; the grounds are fantastic for bird-watching. It has four no-frills rooms in the house, all with private baths, as well as a charming studio casita and two modestly furnished self-catering casitas. Traditional Costa Rican motifs adorn the walls. There’s a small horizon swimming pool and a poolside grill where breakfasts are served. Rates include breakfast.
Buses (tel. 506/2258-2004) depart San José  from Avenida 3, Calles 18/20 every 30 minutes, 5:35 a.m.–10:10 p.m. Monday–Saturday (less frequently Sun.). The bus station in Grecia is at Avenida 2, Calles 4/6, two blocks west of the plaza, where taxis congregate on the north side.