Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A guide to Costa Rica's 7 provinces.

San Jose.

Located in the Central Valley region of Costa Rica is the province of San Jose. It is where the country's capital since 1823 and where all economical and industrial activities are located. It has the largest population of the country appoximately 1.7 million inhabitants. 

This province is one of the two that don't have volcanoes in its region. San Jose is surrounded by 5 out of the 7 provinces, to put this into perspective there is a cross street where 3 differences provinces meet. It is both interesting and confusing at this corner if you are not familiar with this fact, the province of Alajuela, San Jose and Heredia meet at said corner and it is also one of the most driven by streets of Costa Rica. 

San Jose is the largest province of the country with 20 different cantons {think cities}. This region has the some of the coolest temperatures, it has only 2 seasons throughout the year: rainy season and dry season. Locals call rain season "winter" and dry season "summer". San Jose has the most rivers running throughout its territory, one of which is used the most to generate electricity this river is called Virilla. Even though it is the most utilized river, the Virilla river is also the most contaminated of the country. 

San Jose is home to many multinational companies: Intel, HP, Walmart, IBM, Amazon to name a few. It is also home to 2 national parks: Parque Nacional Chirripo which has the highest peak of the country and Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo. The Downtown area of San Jose is the perfect area for you to shop for beautiful artisan made souvenirs. 


Guanacaste is the second largest province of Costa Rica, it is also the westernmost state of the country. The province features lovely beaches and plains. Due to its prolonged dry season, this region is perfect for agriculture amongst the most important crops are rice, sugar cane as well as other grains and cattle farms.  

It is part of Costa Rica since 1824, when the Nicoya and Santa Cruz region {aka Partido de Nicoya} decided to voluntarily annex since it was not clear if the territory was part of Nicaragua or Costa Rica. This resulted in major growth in population and land for Costa Rica. In addition with the annex, the access to ports and tourism grew, positioning the country amongst the top beaches of the world. 

Culturally Guanacaste is rich in music and folk dances and tales that are now part of Costa Rican culture and history such is the case of the marimba. 

As you travel through the roads of Guanacaste you can't help but notice the differences it has to the central valley region, for starters it is much warmer and drier even though it is mostly bordered to the west by the Pacific Ocean. The main road connects through mountains to the most beautiful, most of them hidden from each other. In fact at most beaches you will see local touring companies offering daily 2-3 hours boat trips to see several beaches that may only be accessed by sea. 


It is one of the three provinces that is bordered by Nicaragua, it has 15 different cantons {cities} within it. It has just a little under a million inhabitants. Alajuela is home 2 active volcanoes: Poas which is 2,737 meters above sea level and Arenal 1,633 meters above sea level. 

Alajuela has the most varied weather, it is has cooler temperatures in the Poas Volcano and Zarcero region. Warmer weather and rainy in the northern plains, dry and hot weather in the Northern Pacific and hot in the central region. 

The Alajuela province is mostly an agricultural region, amongst the most important agriculture is: rice, beans, tobacco, sugar cane, sorghum and fruits. It is also a milk producing and cattle growing province. 

It is home to the main airport of the country, Juan Santamaria, although locals will always have an open debate if the airport belongs to San Jose or Alajuela since it is located in both provinces. 


Cartago is a historical province, it was the first one to receive news of Costa Rica's independence and it was the first capital of Costa Rica. It has suffered several natural disasters, due to this it has several ruins in its region. It is the coldest region in the country and by cold I mean temperatures average 60-70ºF year round. 

Cartago is home to the "Basílica de los Angeles", a catholic temple with Costa Rica's patron virgin "La Virgen de los Angeles" aka "La Negrita". Every August the "romeria" takes place, this is a major religious event in which people near and far pilgrimage to the temple some walking on their feet, others walking on the knees to pay homage to the Virgin. 

The Irazú volcano one of the tallest volcanoes of the country standing high at 3,432 meters above sea level, is also located in Cartago. The Orosi Valley is also part of this lovely province, just a few miles South of the downtown area you will find hidden between the mountains the oldest standing church of the country.

Recently, Cartago has begun exporting tropical flowers to other countries, due to its weather and location you will find many different types of flora in many colors. 


It is the smallest province of Costa Rica, it has roughly 500,000 inhabitants. Home to the Barva volcano with a height of  2,906 meters above sea level. It is considered the perfect location for healthier living in the country due to its moderate temperatures.

The largest coffee producer Britt is located in this province as well as many other coffee producers. Next time you shop for Costa Rican coffee and see the word Barva -as in the Barva volcano- included in the name, you'll know it is from the Heredia province.

Most flower producers and exporters are also located in this lovely province, which is why it is called "flower country". 


It is the longest province of the country, home to one of the main import/export ports: Caldera. Before the Spaniards arrived it didn't exist, as it is the result of a geomorphic process {between rain, humidity, earthquakes, etc.}. It is bordered by Panama to the South and the provinces of Limon, San Jose, Alajuela and Guanacaste.

Puntarenas' name means sand point or in Spanish "Punta de Arenas" because it is mostly a coast. It is made up of peninsulas, mountains, valleys, ports and Islands. 

3 major seaports are in Puntarenas: Caldera, Golfito and Quepos. Caldera is used mostly for container shipment meaning imports/exports of goods, Quepos is mostly a recreational port. There are also many islands that are part of this province: Bejuco, Venado, San Lucas, El Caño, Los Negritos, Guayabo, Los Pajaros, Cabo Blanco, El Coco, Cedros y Chira. 

In Puntarenas you will find Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, this national park is one of the top best places to visit while in Costa Rica. It is rich in flora and fauna, you will see sloths, vipers, basilisk and more! It is one of our favorite beaches in Costa Rica. Parque Nacional Corcovado is another national park in Puntarenas. 


It is the least populated province of Costa Rica, with a little over 400,000 habitants. In 1502 this province received the first visit of Christopher Columbus, it was the fourth trip to America. Limon which means lemon in English is the only region in the country with indigenous groups, the main group is called Bribri and they are found in the Talamanca region. They were able to avoid colonization by staying deep in the jungles. 

It is the only province of Costa Rica in the Caribbean and bordered by the two neighboring countries of Panama to the South and Nicaragua to the North. It is the most humid and rainy region of the country, due to the caribbean winds that bring in the moisture of the ocean. 

Limon has two very important national parks: Tortuguero, which is located in the most rainy area and is where you will find the most turtle population in the country and Cahuita National Park which was the first official national park and it is the only one with a coral reef that is protected by the government. Most of the beaches of Limon have white sands as opposed to the black sand on the Pacific Coast. 

Within Limon is Guapiles which is a banana producing region, all of the exported bananas, pineapples, cacao and coconut come from this area. It is also a petroleum rich area. Limon has a big afro-caribbean influence in its culture, it is where you can enjoy delicious rice and beans, pati {like an empanada} and live reggae/calypso music. 

Limon is beautiful because of its Caribbean beaches, however it is the poorest province of Costa Rica. 


  1. This is kismet! My husband and I were just talking about going to Costa Rica! Sending this to him now!

    1. Well that is total kismet! So happy to help you guys decide and plan your vacation! :D

  2. Qué lista de lugares en Costa Rica tan increíble! Espero tener la oportunidad de visitar en cuanto los niños estén más grandes.

    1. Hay muchos mas lugares! Pero seria interminable mi lista, jaja con 300,000 playas hay para visitar una playa distinta cada hora durante mas de 20 años! :D