Tourism: La Garita
For those of you that don’t know I write a semi-regular blog for The Costa Rica Star online newspaper. I’m going to start posting them for my English speaking followers. Enjoy and thanks for taking the time to read. Cheers
I’ve run into a few people who claim to have gone to Manuel Antonio National Park and didn’t see monkeys. I don’t know how that happens, in fact it’s so unlikely it makes me think that perhaps they screwed up the name or didn’t make into the park itself. I’ve heard stories of exchange students that ate little more than cereal while here—I thought you were legally obligated to eat gallo pinto before exiting the country. Lots of folks wonder what that pretty flower-tree-fern-bush is called. If for some reason your trip to Costa Rica is missing flora, fauna or food I have a quickie family friendly solution: La Garita.
Just about 15 min from the Juan Santamaria Airport you and your family (text-addicted-iPod-encrusted teens included) have a chance to squeeze in a great afternoon while filling in the gaps in your vacation photos. If you live here in Costa Rica it makes a great afternoon getaway or a great place to take out of town guests. La Garita area of Alajuela is easy to get to (follow the highway from the airport towards San Ramon, exit at Recope, turn right, enjoy), lined with lovely estate/vacation homes, nurseries, restaurants and a very interesting animal rescue center.
For the hungry bunch in your group (even the teens may just unplug for a moment) there are a number or typical restaurants but my personal favourite is Las Delicias del Maíz. The food here is well executed classic local cuisine and I’ve noticed that the portion sizes have increased recently. This is a big restaurant that can get quite busy on weekends—often with locals. If this is where we go for our typical lunch it’s definitely the place you need to be, plus they have the stones to put their kitchen on full display right as you walk in. If you have a sizable group try some of the sampler platters (arracache picadillo—score!) and share. No alcohol is served so things stay family friendly, but they have plenty of natural fruit juices to cool you off–try the cas it’s always a hit.
Whether you need to work up an appetite or work off that lunch the countless nurseries in the area offer a great option to stroll, browse and get info. In my case I rarely make it home without some new greenery for the house since prices are very reasonable and the variety is excellent. The big momma nursery here is Vivero Central featuring a giant fountain visible from the highway, beautiful grounds and the main “showroom” in the shade of a massive tree. If you are local be sure what you buy fits in the car before you get carried away.
If you have some of those aforementioned teens in tow the nursery portion of your trip may be the part where you get the most eye rolling, but fear not you have an ace up your sleeve: Zoo Ave. While not a cheap attraction ($20 for foreigners, $10 locals), your admission fee helps fund a number of animal conservation, rescue and breeding programs so don’t complain too much. The zoo houses many more types of animals than the bird-themed name would imply. On site you can find reptiles, birds, big cats, and of course monkeys—who doesn’t love monkeys? Those pesky chain-link fences are the only give away your photos will have that you didn’t actually venture deep into the rain forest to capture rare animals.
As far as those photos go, it’s a tricky place to get good shots. The thick foliage means there isn’t much light and you will have to have your flash off–O-F-F. If you don’t know how to do this consult your teen (if you don’t have a teen, it’s the little button that looks like a lighting bolt). Besides the lighting issues the chain-link fencing will often confuse your auto-focus system meaning that that fence will be lovely focus but the really cool crimson-crested-whatever will be blurry. Bummer. Keep it in mind and review your photos carefully before moving on or use manual focus if you have that option.
With a full belly and a full memory card you’re ready to head home. La Garita is a great place for a relaxed family afternoon and really shouldn’t be skipped if you aren’t booked full, and if you’re local it’s a reminder of just how cool it is to live in Costa Rica. Stop by, you won’t regret it.