Tags: alajuela costa rica
Should I Include Alajuela, the City of Mangos
Alajuela is Costa Rica’s second largest city with a population of around 50,000. It’s biggest advantage is that it is located only two miles from the international airport Juan Santa Maria. It’s a great place to spend the first night in and your last night out, before departing Costa Rica. You don’t have to get into the San Jose traffic to search out a hotel. There are many small hotels around the airport as well as in and around Alajuela. You can find them in your favorite Costa Rica travel guide, or just ask some locals since Alajuela is a small town everyone knows where things are located.
Alajuela is very Costa Rican with the main business focus being downtown, with lots of cars beeping their horns and people walking around. There is only one small mall with about 40 stores and a movie theatre, and is located just outside of downtown on the main road to the international airport. What is unique about Alajuela? It is the home of Juan Santa Maria, Costa Rica’s national hero. As a young drummer boy in the Alajuela militia, to save his country, he volunteered to burn the fort in Rivas, Nicaragua This happened at the Battle of Rivas in 1855 resulting from the invasion of a north American named William Walker who was planning along with his band of filibusters to invade Costa Rica and claim it for themselves. The Costa Rican militia, made up of poor peasants marched north, pushing Walker and his men back into Nicaragua, then they stormed the fort. Juan Santa Maria volunteered to carry a burning torch to set fire to the fort. However, this poor drummer boy was shot as he ran toward the fort, but the bullets did not stop him as he carried the torch and burned the fort. This drove the enemy into Honduras where Walker was shot and killed. Today, Juan Santa Maria’s statue stands in the Alajuela park as a constant reminder of his bravery and dedication to his country.
What should I see and do in Alajuela? Walk around downtown and through the central park lined with mango trees, which gives the city the nick name, “City of Mangos” The beautiful Alajuela cathedral faces the park and it’s nice just to rest on a park bench and watch people walking by. See the old men playing checkers or just sitting together catching up on all the town’s gossip. Also, here every Sunday morning at 10 a.m. the municipal orchestra plays a mixture of popular music and classical. It’s fun to come out in the fresh morning sunshine, sit on a park bench, listen to the music, and watch the “dressed up in their Sunday best” children run around and play. I remember my Costa Rican father-in-law who passed away at age 94. He loved to walk two blocks from his home to the central park and pass the time talking to his buddies, and he never missed a Sunday concert. Afterwards, he and Donna, my mother-in-law would go to the soda adjacent to the park and have homemade vanilla ice cream topped with strawberry jello. This soda was run by two sisters who never married, but dedicated their lives to their little business. Today the soda no longer operates. Why? McDonalds with it’s golden arches appeared one day and set up shop one block from the sisters…and the rest is history.
Don’t miss the central market located downtown, bustling with music and Costa Ricans of all ages wandering around doing their daily shopping. The stalls in the market are full of fresh fish, fresh vegetable and fruit, meat markets, as well as herb and spices and quaint little food stalls selling typical Costa Rican food, such as black beans and rice, arroz con pollo (rice and chicken) fried yucca, all kinds of tacos made of beef or chicken. Desert is usually flan which is an old fashioned egg custard. Or three milk cake which is a white cake with three different milks heated and poured over it. Typical drinks are natural pineapple in water, mango, watermelon, papaya, lemon, orange, and many more. All fresh and juicy. You can ask for these drinks to be made with purified bottled water. Is it safe to eat in this market? I recommend that you order food that is cooked. Don’t eat raw salads, etc. In addition, you will see other interesting items sold in the central market, from clothing and shoes to local artist displaying their work.
What else is unique to Alajuela? Well, the locals say it is the weather which in my opinion is hot. But the seniors love it and come here to escape the “cold weather” of San Jose. It’s not unusual to find residents who are in their nineties or even live to be one hundred years. The other secret they say is the natural foods, fresh vegetables, fruits, and fish, all easily found in the central market or the local farmers markets on Friday afternoons and all day Saturday. Plus the “no stress” life style, and lots of exercise since most people walk everywhere.
Is it easy to find my way around Alajuela? Very easy. The streets run north-south and east-west. The curious things is the streets have no names. But the locals know where everything is located, thus no need for street names.
If you have a morning or afternoon free before departing for home, stop in Alajuela and simply explore around the city central park and market.
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