The Central Valley is truly the heartland of Costa Rica. Surrounded by active volcanoes to the north and the tall Talamanca Mountains to the south, the valley holds San Jose and several of the major cities of CR as well as outlying villages and foothills festooned with coffee plantations on the flanks of hills and rich volcanic soils. San Jose is the capital and primary city in many respects, storing both the economic and cultural capital and history of CR. Several of the provinces interdigitate into the Central Valley, which makes for a rich, mixing of regional rivalries (such as futbol) as well as political perspectives.
San Jose is a bustling colonial era capital, with crowded streets, cosmopolitan shopping malls, diverse neighborhood barrios (including a recently growing China Town), and museums and plazas. The capital also has what you come to expect to find in many large, western cities, including shopping malls, strip development, and night life districts. Several universities, hospitals, and seats of government are in close proximity, and San Jose is situated in the middle of several of the major historical communities of Costa Rica. Many Ticos will give you directions between towns by noting not only the main roads but also using your GPS to navigate to the central church (Iglesias) that are unerringly located in the central plaza.
Time permitting, the National Museum, Museo do Oro, and central handicraft mall are strongly advisable stops. The Parque Sabana, located in the old airport, is a fine place to see Ticos’ enjoying the outdoors and especially their national pastime, futbol, in the huge stadium.
Viewing San Jose at night from the foothills is an awesome perspective on the city and its outlying towns. On clear nights from the slopes of the volcanoes, you can see 1/3 of the population of Costa Rica in the valley.