Alajuela is a charming town just outside the capital San Jose, and one which, in many ways, is s scaled down version of the bigger neighbouring city. Despite that, Alajuela is still Costa Rica's second biggest city.
We were given an indication of local peoples' views of San Jose, when a man told us, with a chuckle, that "the airport [just south of town] is for Alajuela but we don't mind sharing it with the people from San Jose".
Alajuela is a busy place, but is always feel friendly: there are far worse places in the world to live than this bright, cheerful town on the slopes down to the Pacific from San Jose.
Alajuela doesn't feel like its a financially wealthy place, but it makes up for it with genuine warmth and a contentment rarely found these days anywhere.
However, Alajuela does have one brooding, nagging concern. Just behind the city - and barely any further from San Jose is the looking bulk of Poas, a 2700 metre high live volcano. Just a few kilometres east is the dormant but still seismically active volcano Barva. Further to the east still is the active volcano Irazu. Not for nothing is this valley known as the Ring of Fire. The menacing, burping, steaming Poas seems much more threatening than the classic conical volcano at Arenal further north.