Heredia: Take a walk on the historic side

Lauren Salisbury | September 13, 2015
Central Park is bordered by the looming facade of Iglesia Inmaculada Concepción.

HEREDIA — While Costa Rica is undoubtedly more famous for natural landscapes than man-made attractions, it doesn’t mean the country is bereft of cosmopolitan offerings.

Heredia, a short distance from San José in the Central Valley, is one of Costa Rica’s most historic and charming towns.

Locals may tell you that Heredia is most famous for its traffic, as the city is home to the lion’s share of headquarters for multinational corporations in Costa Rica, including IBM, Hewlett Packard and Dell, and the sheer number of people driving into the area leads to congestion. But morning commute hours aside, Heredia’s downtown is full of Spanish colonial architecture and offers a unique glimpse into Costa Rica’s history.

The city was founded in 1706 by Spanish immigrants from Cartago in search of a location for a new chapel to preach to the region’s indigenous population. The city later grew to prominence because of its location in Costa Rica’s prime coffee-growing region. Indeed, Café Britt has a plantation and roaster in the province.

Iglesia Inmaculada Concepción de Heredia was built in 1797.
Iglesia Inmaculada Concepción de Heredia was built in 1797. Lauren Salisbury/The Tico Times

Spanish settlers originally used a small, wooden chapel for worship. In 1797, it was replaced with the grander, and more solid, Iglesia Inmaculada Concepción de Heredia, which still dominates the city center today. With a Spanish neoclassical façade, Roman-style columns, stained-glass windows from France and bells from Cuzco, Peru, the church feels like a museum with artifacts from around the world.

Churchgoers pack the pews at Iglesia Inmaculada Concepción de Heredia on a Sunday.
Churchgoers pack the pews at Iglesia Inmaculada Concepción de Heredia on a Sunday. Lauren Salisbury/The Tico Times

Despite multiple earthquakes in the region, the church has survived and been in continuous use since it was built, in large part thanks to eight buttresses that help to reduce impact from tremors.

Iglesia Inmaculada Concepción de Heredia sits at on the edge of Nicolás Ulloa Soto Central Park. Here mango trees flank grassy knolls and cobblestone walkways as old men play chess and children chase bubbles. The dominating feature of the park is an iron-plated English fountain, installed in 1885 to celebrate the creation of a water and sewer system in town. Central Park is also home to a gazebo that occasionally hosts local musicians and dancers, as well as a scattering of statues that commemorate the history of the province.

Heredia's Central Park is one of Costa Rica's finest.
Heredia's Central Park is one of Costa Rica's finest. Lauren Salisbury/The Tico Times

Across the street from Central Park is El Fortín, a guard tower constructed in 1867 by the Spanish. The tower is all that remains of a fortress designed by Fadrique Gutiérrez, a commanding officer, artist and architect. He designed many buildings and sculptures found throughout the province, but El Fortín is his most famous work. It is now the official symbol of Heredia, seen on the province’s flag.

El Fortín was designed by architect and military commander Fadrique Gutierrez.
El Fortín was designed by architect and military commander Fadrique Gutierrez. Lauren Salisbury/The Tico Times

In front of the fort is a Monument to Volunteers. Depicting a man carrying a child on his back, the monument pays homage to those who served in the volunteerism movement of the 1860s with the founding of the Red Cross and Half Red Moon organizations.

The Volunteer Monument looks out over Central Park.
The Volunteer Monument looks out over Central Park. Lauren Salisbury/The Tico Times
The Volunteer Monument pays homage to those who help others through organizations such as the Red Cross.
The Volunteer Monument pays homage to those who help others through organizations such as the Red Cross. Lauren Salisbury/The Tico Times

Next to the fort is Casa de Cultura. Once the home of Alfredo González Flores, the 21st president of Costa Rica, this adobe house is now a cultural center. The museum’s exhibits make an essential stop for visitors looking to get a fuller picture of Heredia’s history.

The Casa de Cultura is a great starting point for visitors in Heredia to get a greater understanding of history.
The Casa de Cultura is a great starting point for visitors in Heredia to get a greater understanding of history. Lauren Salisbury/The Tico Times

Other buildings of note in the city include the Government, Mail and Telegraph Building, República de Argentina School, and the remains of a match factory. Heredia is also home to several universities, including National University of Costa Rica and Universidad Hispanoamerica.

But one need not be a history buff to enjoy strolling around the colonial buildings found downtown. Costa Rica is known for its natural wonders, Heredia is a pleasant city escape that offers a change of pace and plenty of eye-catching monuments. Just avoid visiting during morning rush hour.

Contact Lauren Salisbury at lsalisbury24@yahoo.com.

2 Comments »

  1. Hello Laura :
    Thank you for for writing a pleasant”review” of our beautiful area of Heredia.
    But forgive me if I point out that you omitted MUCH of the appeal and natural beauty that lured us ex pats here from All over the world.

    Heredia is known to the savvy travelers or many who decide to make home here is ” Costa Rica’s Best kept secret” but at the risk of turning it into another high priced “Gringo Gulch” I think by now many of you know where they are, Escazu, Atenas, Santa Ana, Guanacaste etc. where many of my friends live but never had as we have the opportunity of learning Spanish by just being naturally absorbed in the Costa Rican Culture as opposed to living just as yu would in the USA with the high priced homes, rents and lack of charm which once existed in this awesome country, learned to speak Spanish because I will let you in on our secret, because after living here 24 years I must alas return to England, I am going to blow the whistle as it IS frustrating to have it only “partially reviewed ” as usual, What not even a photo of the fortunately you also omitted so much of it’s beauty and its benefits
    by not mentioning not Just Heredia center, with the regular free band shows in the main plaza where one can sit and picnic or just sit in front of the oldest church in Costa Rica (recently painted and restored) In this upscale charming plaza with the fort to your left and the bandstand in the center which hosts many free classical and other genres of live music,completely free of charge for the public to enjoy live music, either with their own picnic or with inexpensive delicious food from the stalls food “ferias that often surround with yummy town but the astounding beauty of the surrounding areas all within a 5 mile radius of the town center, which boasts of breathtaking views of City lights, lush coffee plantations and set between 2 of the most famous Volcanoes, NO not the well touted Arenal which you rarely see surrounded by the clouds and cannot hike on the summit and gaze into the craters, as you can in our nearby Volcanoes the Irazu, an hours drive,and the Poas 40 minutes to the base then enjoy the experience of climb above the clouds to the summit and on the way visit the awesome La Paz Waterfalls..Both at the Hotel and the free waterfalls close by, Volcanoes and is within a 20 minute drive from the Airport and the not so desirable San Jose
    and as for Traffic, that must have earned a silly incorrect reputation as did ‘suicide showers” t is a Gringo joke to us because you are speaking without the mention of out famous Universities which ar REAL beauty of our area, such as THINK we have and its surrounding Mountains all close to Malls, an exclusive Country Club, Shopping yet still maintaining the charm which we desired to lure us from in a lovely article regarding Heredia Just a couple of things I would like to point out as a resident from England living in this area for the past 25 years AFTER living practically every area imaginable to find my “Piece if Heaven as my guests call.it,we and many ex pats appreciate the lower prices and the clean, friendly and charming ambiance of Heredia and its lush Surrounding areas ,Many of which the people the crowded expensive areas The More adventurous type KNOW that “Gringo Gulch ” areas where Foreigners play follow the leader are not typical of the the real Costa Rica.

    Comment by Debbie King — September 18, 2015 @ 7:12 pm

  2. Morning

    Great article but the pictures are really old, and the church and other monuments have been changing and right now they look better.

    Would interesting if you can take pictures actualized.

    Regards.

    Comment by Andres — October 26, 2015 @ 9:19 am

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