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Alajuela: Gateway to Northern Costa Rica
From the flattering title, you might think that I recommend Alajuela as a tourist destination. Well, I do, but only as a matter of fateful convenience. Most tourists in Costa Rica fly into the Juan Santamaría International Airport which is only 3 kilometers from the center of Alajuela, opposed to about 20 kilometers to downtown San José. This proximity to the airport makes Alajuela a smart destination for travelers who are looking to branch out away from San José from the get-go (especially those who are heading north). From the airport your taxi will be much cheaper to Alajuela than to San José ($3 instead of $14 in 2006 prices). Taxis leaving the airport are the official airport taxis (orange instead of the standard red), but if you are in Alajuela before a flight, you can call an Alajuela taxi at 442-3030. (If you have a problem with your Spanish you can have the receptionist at your hotel call, but make sure that they don't purposely patronize their own "tourism" taxi service that may charge more than the normal local cabs) Before you even leave the airport, however, you need to figure out where you're going. Alajuela has many different hotels to choose from. My personal favorite is the Mango Verde Hostel, a nice, cheap, friendly hostel in the heart of downtown Alajuela. (telephone: 441-6330; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org;) If you want convenient location and American-style accomodations, the Hampton Inn, a mere kilometer from the airport on the free hotel airport shuttle, is the place for you. The Hampton is also located right to Denny's and the casino/posh night club "Fiesta" that lives up to its name.
Things to do in Alajuela
There aren't an incredible number of things to do in Alajuela. On a short trip to Costa Rica, Alajuela will likely be a necessary (the airport is actually located in Alajuela) yet short stop. Nonetheless, there is one tourism/educational attraction that I highly recommend. Zoo Ave—which is a zoo, an ambitious environmental education program, and a uniuqe animal rescue project—is a short bus ride from Alajuela. So, check out Zoo Ave to get your money's worth out of Alajuela.