Alajuela Province is vast, extending from Alajuela town, 20km northwest of San Jose, all the way north to the Nicaraguan border and west to the slopes of Volcan Arenal. The account here deals only with that part of the province on the south side of the Cordillera Central, spanning the area from Alajuela itself to Zarcero, 59 km northwest, up in the highlands. The area's principal attraction, Parque Nacional Volcan Poas, features great trails, lakes on its slopes and spectacular summit views of the densely populated, heavily cultivated province. En route to the top, you'll pass flower-growing fincas, fruit farms and the occasional coffee field. The region is blessed with a pleasant, temperate climate; Alajuela is considerably warmer than San Jose, and two of the province's towns - Atenas and La Garita - have been deemed by the National Geographic Society to have the best climate in the world.

The crafts factories at Sarchi, famous for its coloured wooden ox-carts, lure many visitors, as does Zoo-Ave, the exceptional bird sanctuary and zoo just outside town on the way to La Garita, and the Butterfly Farm at La Guacima. Alajuela also boasts the little-visited Los Angeles Cloudforest, a miniature version of the better-knowing cloudforest at Monteverde, and Ojo de Agua, as thermal water-fed swimming and recreation complex near the Juan Santamaria airport, popular with Josefinos as a place to escape the city.

Since the opening of the large Hampton Inn near the airport, Costa Rica real estate Alajuela's few hotels are now much less booked up by people with early-morning flights to catch. However, the town's budget hostels still fill up very quickly, and it's important to reserve ahead even in the rainy season. You'll also find several attractive and comfortable apartments, condos including the Xandari Plantation Inn, one of Costa Rica's loveliest hotels.

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