In the hills just north of San Jose, on the slope of Barva Volcano, is the smallest of the provincial capitals, Heredia. With a population of just over 30,000 people, the city has a slower more mellow pace. As with many Latin towns founded during colonial times, 1706 in the case of Heredia, the central square dominates the life of it's people.
One of the nicest central parks in the country, it is filled with large towering trees, covered bandstand, impressive water fountain and plenty of benches. It is the perfect place to while away an afternoon playing checkers. To the north and east of the park are two of the best remaining examples of colonial architecture in the entire country. To the east is the church, La Inmaculada Concepción, and to the north is a colonial fortress know simply as “El Fortín.” Inmaculada's weather worn and bare stone exterior belies an interior that is tastefully ornamented with high vaulted ceilings and a beautiful, stain glass window encircled dome above the alter. El Fortín is essentially the last remaining turret from a later eighteenth century Spanish fortress and has become the symbol of the town.
Heredia is home to the National University which is on the east side of town and is the second largest university in the country. Located on the campus of tree lined walkways and gently sloping hillsides is the Museo Zoo Marino in the biology department. The school definitely adds to the nightlife and atmosphere of the town with a number of small bars, restaurants and dance clubs in the area.
To the west of town are some of the nicest and most expensive residential neighborhoods in all of Costa Rica. Most of the wealth of the city and its surrounding area is directly attributable to coffee production. The slopes of Barva Volcano are littered with dozens of small and medium sized coffee plantation, or fincas as they are called in Spanish. Café Britt is a working finca, with daily tours and stage shows that explain in detail the way coffee is grown and produced. The stage show is mainly dedicated to the history of coffee and its importance to the culture and economy of the country.
Heredia is an easy day trip from San José with direct bus service back and forth 24 hours a day. Also, buses run to the surrounding mountain side communities and the neighboring provincial capital of Alajuela. Heredia is the closest thing in Costa Rica to an example of a Spanish colonial pueblo.