On your way back to Costa Rica’s current capital, you’ll be passing through its ﬁrst city and oldest capital, Cartago. Cartago held that distinction from 1574-1824.
Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles
There’s not a ton to do in Cartago these days, but we do recommend a stop at the Byzantine-style Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles. The Basílica is a Roman Catholic cathedral in the center of the city. Every year, 2.5 million Costa Ricans make a pilgrimage here and crawl on their knees to the altar to demonstrate their piety.
Trapp Family Country Inn
It’s always a good idea to book your last hotel within an hour of the airport – you just never know in Costa Rica. If you’ve got a super early ﬂight and want to deal with as few hassles as possible, the Trapp Family Country Inn is a hacienda style lodge just a coconut’s toss (well, 2 kilometers) from the international airport. There’s a nice pool and the property is replete with ﬁg and bougainvillea.
If your ﬂight isn’t until, say, 3pm, there are many Central Valley hotels in neighboring suburbs and even in the mountains – particularly in the Poás region.
Our choice here is Peace Lodge and Waterfall Gardens, an imaginative land of cloud forest, rescued animals and waterfalls with interior design straight out of a fairytale. Every villa oﬀers a Jacuzzi tub on the balcony, and the cavelike showers have a waterfall option.
While you’re in the Poás region, you can also visit the Poás Volcano. It only requires a short hike to its enormous, water-ﬁlled crater (go early in the morning for the best chance for a cloudless view).
And the best lunch spot, a French place called Colbert Restaurant, serves up homemade paté and creamy pastas.
Xandari Resort Hotel & Spa
Another great mountain option is Alajuela’s Xandari Resort Hotel & Spa, an artsy stay with a highly recommended “Welcome to Paradise” massage, which includes champagne, tropical fruit and private Jacuzzi time with a partner.
The upscale restaurant here is one of the best in the country, but if you’re craving something a bit more aﬀordable, Jalapeños Central in Alajuela is the place to be. The Mexican food is amazing and the service is great.