Here's a curated, biased list of activities and places you should not miss if you have a half-day to spare.
ZOO AVE (AKA Bird Zoo though it's not)
10 minutes from the Hotel
Step down San Diego, don't bother Munich, fergetabout it London - your famous Zoos have nothing on the tiny gem of a Zoo right here near Alajuela. Actually it only looks like a zoo - behind the public area is a large bird rehabilitation area. The Zoo fees help fund this activity so you are contributing to a good cause. A beautiful natural environment, lots of room and all the animals are rehabilitated or saved from something or are breeding to reintroduce in the wild. It is sometimes difficult to determine which animals are residents and which are just visiting. Just a few minutes from the hotel - more animals than you'll see everywhere else in Costa Rica. Not a bird zoo despite the name - The Nature Restoration Foundation's work can generally divided into three broad areas - rescue and rehabilitation, captive breeding and release and reintroduction of many Costa Rican animals. Take a break with the animals and birds of Costa Rica - a gem not to be missed! An excellent 1/2 day trip.
POAS VOLCANO AND VICINITY
30km up hill from Pura Vida Hotel you will find Poas Volcano.
Start early, we will make you a breakfast to go. Leaving at 7am usually assures you a clear view. Poas is a strato volcano that soars 2,708 meters above sea level and is one of the most spectacular volcanoes in Costa Rica. Lately some good sulphurous venting can be seen around the sky blue lake in the center. It certainly is the easiest Volcano to get to in Costa Rica and you can see it from your terrace breakfast table most mornings at the Pura Vida Hotel. Extend the trip and make a nice day trip - drop by La Paz Waterfall Gardens (see below) or the Las Colinas canopy tour and have lunch at their fresh trout restaurant - doesn't get much tastier. Finish the day with run over to Doka coffee plantation. OK so you can't do all 4 things in a day - stay another night?
LOCAL TIP: ask as the gate if you can see the crater, if they say no, head for La Paz and come back to Poas in the afternoon.
LA PAZ WATERFALL GARDENS
About 40km up hill from Pura Vida Hotel and makes an excellent day trip when combined with Poas Volcano. With over 3.5 kilometers of walking trails, they recommend a minimum of 1 1/2 hours for the trip. Waterfall Gardens is a primarily a self-guided tour. The facility includes a most excellent butterfly garden (the Blue Morpho in flight is an amazing sight), a hummingbird garden, a snake area, the famous waterfalls, an orchid house and plenty of trails. Usually you will find yourself lost in amusement with the antics of the hummingbirds or perhaps a Jaguar scratching himself and won't want to leave.
LOCAL TIP: If Poas was too cloudy divert your driver over a few kilometers to the La Paz Waterfall Gardens. More adventurous? Tell your driver to keep going to Sarapiqui on the road rarely traveled. Some guests rent a boat up there or stop by a chocolate farm we know.
DOKA COFFEE PLANTATION
This photo of the sun drying platform for coffee at Doka just up the hill from the Pura Vida Hotel. Take a pilgrimage to Doka coffee (20 minutes from the hotel by car or taxi). This is the tour of vintage coffee processing using the water separation method for the coffee aficionados. This is certainly the nicest of all the commercial coffee tours and a great education in the product Costa Rica is most famous for. We have a special trip we can offer you if our "coffee expert" guide is available that day that we call "butterflies and coffee" - a 1/2 day. Doka has 3 tours in the morning and 3 in the afternoon usually just over an hour long each plus some time to sample the coffee and walk the farm.
LOCAL ALTERNATIVE: If you are interested in a family farm trip to understand how a small scale organic coffee farm works in detail - let us know and we can often book you a private tour at El Toledo (see our page My Village Tour). It is a delight - about 30 mins from the hotel if you don't get lost.
GRECIA, SARCHI AND ZARCERO
This photo is of the famous topiary garden outside the Zarcero chruch. One of the great curiosities of Costa Rica - the special work of our own Edward Scissorhands at the Zarcero church. A wonderful photo opportunity not to be missed and a favorite place Ticos go to get married.
Nestled in the countryside of Costa Rica's Alajuela province (30 to 40 minutes from the Pura Vida Hotel), Sarchi is the perfect place to finish off your trip and find those gifts for family and friends. You can also visit the old ox cart factory with the 1923 water wheel but it has now become part of a gift shop and is not so active anymore. This is also the area to pick our traditional wooden and leather rocking chairs - can be shipped as luggage when you return.
Other things you can do this day include the lovely Elsie Kintzler botanical garden - almost unknown to tourists and easily visited about 2km behind the Sarchi church.
LOCAL TIP: don't worry about the day before you start - you and your excellent English speaking naturalist guide can sort it out as you go. If you want to spend more time in one place just let the day (or 1/2 day) take you where it will
SAN JOSE TOUR
Pura Vida Hotel is conveniently situated a good distance from the capital - about 20 km. Many guests want to delve into the famous gold museum or walk down paseo colon or go visit the mercado central. You can get our English speaking taxi driver and see the sights, the sounds and the, well, whatever you want.
The Gold Museum is world class and the national museum, the old Bella Vista Fortress, has been completely redone - well worth the visit if, like us, you have an interest in Costa Rican "exceptionalism".
LOCAL TIP: leave your baggage at the hotel and then the guide can also leave the van and show you more of the underbelly of San Jose.
IN THE "OTHER STUFF" CATEGORY
If you are a biologist you'll want to spend a couple of hours at InBio Parque, the repository of Costa Rican biodiversity. Great book store too. This is maybe 30 minutes from the Pura Vida Hotel.
We like the Alajuela Farmers Market AKA Plaza Ferias. Most Fridays we will take a trip to this excellent market about 10 minutes from the Pura Vida Hotel. On "some Fridays" join Chef Nhi on a trip to Plaza Ferias in Alajuela - the largest farmers market in Costa Rica. Book ahead as space is limited. We leave the Pura Vida at about 2:30 pm every Friday afternoon (though we are invariably late). There we'll select the freshest tropical fruits & veggies and perhaps some fresh Pacific fish from our favorite fish stand. In season we will show you how to select and taste the best mango, how to find great Papayas, the nispero stand (mmmm!), the passion fruit family and if we are lucky our favorite "mamones chino" – red and yellow varieties. We will visit the 3 generations of the coconut family and the herb dude and a host of other market friends and acquaintances. We will return to the Pura Vida around 5pm.
LOCAL TIP: you do not need us to guide you at the market, but if you want to learn about how we use neo-trpical fruits and veggies this is a couple of hours you do not want to miss.