(2021) 5 Free Things To Do In Grecia, Sarchi, and Zarcero Costa Rica

Last updated on January 30th, 2021 at 01:31 pm EST

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How to spend a day in Costa Rica’s Central Valley

If you’re like most Costa Rica travelers who fly into and out of the Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO), you may have some time to spare around the cities of San Jose (Costa Rica’s capital) or Alajuela (home to the SJO airport) at the start or the end of your trip. As we touch on in our related blog posts Things To Do In And Around San Jose Costa Rica and 5 Things To Do In And Around Alajuela Costa Rica, there’s plenty to keep you busy in the Central Valley region, but if you’re looking for an inexpensive, low-key way to spend a day, why not escape the big cities and explore a quaint Costa Rican town on the outskirts that’s bursting with character, culture, and charm? Better yet, why not visit three of these appealing locales?

An easy Costa Rica road trip: Grecia, Sarchi, and Zarcero

A pleasant and scenic 1-day road trip that’s worth making around the Central Valley includes visits to the small towns of Grecia, Sarchi, and Zarcero. These three towns sit northwest of Alajuela, so this road trip is ideal if you’re stationed in (or plan to travel west of) San Jose or the Alajuela/SJO airport area.

Using the SJO airport as a model start and end point, you can drive from the airport to Grecia, from Grecia to Sarchi, and from Sarchi to Zarcero in roughly 90 minutes non-stop (3 hours round-trip). Throw in extra time to experience the highlights at each town (continue reading below for details) and this quick and easy road trip makes for a event-filled yet laid back travel day. This road trip is also best experienced in a rental car.

Planning your road trip itinerary

Of the three towns you’ll visit during this road trip, Grecia sits closest to San Jose, Alajuela, and the SJO Airport. If you plan to make a day trip to/from San Jose, Alajuela, and/or the SJO airport, it’s best to visit Grecia first, followed by Sarchi then Zarcero.

Zarcero sits the furthest from San Jose, Alajuela, and the SJO airport. It also falls along Road 141, one of a few roads that lead to the La Fortuna / Arenal region of Costa Rica. If you plan to explore Grecia, Sarchi, and Zarcero before continuing on to northern inland destinations like La Fortuna / Arenal, it’s best to visit Grecia first, followed by Sarchi then Zarcero.

Alternatively, if you plan to start your road trip from a northern inland destination (like La Fortuna / Arenal) and end your road trip at a destination in the Central Valley (like San Jose, Alajuela, or the SJO airport), it’s best to visit Zarcero first, followed by Sarchi then Grecia.

No matter the order in which you visit the towns, you’ll travel the same roads during the journey: Road 118 (to Grecia and Sarchi) and Road 141 (to Zarcero). If you set off on your road trip from San Jose, Alajuela, the SJO airport, or La Fortuna / Arenal, you may also travel over Highway 1, Highway 3, and/or Road 142. All of these roads are paved, don’t require a 4×4 vehicle, pass through small towns, showcase rural communities, and are relatively easy to drive. Note that the section of Road 141 that falls between the towns of Naranjo and Ciudad Quesada (this includes Zarcero) climbs, curves around, and descends hillsides set among cloud forest. This part of Road 141 can be foggy at times, so it’s best to avoid completing the Zarcero portion of the road trip in the late afternoon or after dark.

Things to do in Grecia, Sarchi, and Zarcero

Though you could spend an entire day roaming around Grecia, Sarchi, or Zarcero if you wish to people-watch and get a feel for the local way of life, most visitors explore all three towns over the course of one day. If you want to hit the highlights at each of these picturesque towns in Costa Rica’s Central Valley, and especially if you’re traveling on a tight budget, here are our top 5 things to do in Grecia, Sarchi, and Zarcero. Excluding tips and/or souvenir purchases, the activities we recommend below are 100% free!

Visit Grecia’s metallic church

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