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Central Valley - Cartago

Basilica de Los Angeles - Cartago - Costa Rica

Pre-Columbian ruins, twin peak volcanoes, popular white-water rivers, lakes, tropical gardens, the country's oldest churches museums, fertile coffee-growing hills and national parks are just some of the attractions in Cartago, Paraiso and the Orosi Valley, all within a few hours  from San Jose.

Cartago was the capital of Costa Rica for more than 300 years, until the honor was shifted to San Jose in 1823. Today, it is a bustling agro-industrial center with impressive religious landmarks and renowned botanical gardens, which make it well worth the trip. From San Jose, Cartago is a 45-minute drive southeast on the Inter-American Highway. Paraiso is 8 km southeast of Cartago. Buses leave regularly from San Jose. 

What to do?

Garden-filled Ruins of Santiago Apóstol Temple - remains of never finished colonial cathedral - stand in city's center. According to local legend, the structure was repeatedly damaged by earthquakes as punishment for an amorous priest.

Ruinas de Santiago Apostol - cartago - Costa Rica

Awesome shrine of faith and miracles, the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles was built over a rock, where legend has it, a tiny black figurine repeatedly reappeared despite a mestiza girl's attempts to carry it off. The Little Virgin of Los Angeles, now crowned in gold, and fondly known as la Negrita, is honored each Aug. 2 with a mass pilgrimage. 

Tobosi Eco-Museum  exhibits medicinal herbs and regional indigenous traditions; closed Tues. The 2,300-acre Irazu Volcano National Park, 31 km northeast of Cartago, protects one of the most frequently visited active volcanoes. Ricardo Jimenez National Recreational Park, between Cartago and Tierra Blanca, has marked hiking trails. Lankester Botanical Gardens, just before Paraiso, was founded by British naturalist Charles Lankester. 

Under University of Costa Rica's stewardship since 1973, 10- hectare gardens  exhibit orchids, bromeliads, palms, cacti. Kurieti Indian History Museum, in Tobosi del Guarco. Displays Indian sites and medicinal plants.

Where to eat:

Restaurant La Torre, 125 m. east of Cartago ruins, authentic Italian. Cafe Galeria, on Av. 4, Ca. 6-8, paintings by local artists, breakfast, lunch, coffee, pastries. Capuccino del Este, on road to Paraiso, delicious hot, cold espresso drinks, pastries, lunch specialties, friendly service. Restaurant 1910 (tele/fax), northeast of Cartago on the road to Irazú, Costa Rica specialties, wood-baked chicken, historic ambience, friendly service, closed Mon.

Orosi Valley

Ruinas de Ujarrás - Cartago - Costa RicaSouth of Paraiso this lush coffee-producing region contains historic ruins, religious museum, 87-year-old sugar mill, coffee mill, rivers, lake, national park, waterfalls, hot springs, other gems.

Head to Paraiso, turn right at Central Park and follow signs down steep winding roads: left to Ujarras (7 km), straight to Orosi (8 km). Across the lake, Cachi can be reached either way; but faster through Ujarras. Buses leave regularly from San Jose.

What to do?

Costa Rica Tourism Institute's Orosi Mirador, on road to Orosi, and Ujarras Mirador, toward Ujarras, have stunning views of the valley, picnic areas, restrooms. Our Lady of Ujarras Museum, in parish offices of Paraiso, displays religious artifacts from 19th and early 20th centuries; weekends only.

On the northern shore of the Cachi lake, Ruins of Ujarras are what remained of the country's first colonial church. Founded in 1570. Lakeside recreational area, Paradero Lucustre Charrarra, has picnic areas, pool, soccer field, hiking trails, restaurant, camping area.

Near Cachi, dreamy La Casa del Sonador exhibits woodcarvings of late Costa Rican sculptor Macedonio Quesada. Sons Hermes and Miguel have continued their father's work since his death in 1995. 

Church of San Jose de Orosi, country's oldest house of worship still in horse riding. use, built in 1743 and renovated several years ago with United Nations funding.

Next door, former Franciscan monastery houses Museum of Religious Art, which exhibits Central American religious artifacts 1-5 p.m., closed Mon. 

Tapantí National Park 10 kilometers south of Orosi, 6000 of rainforest, rivers, waterfalls, 45 species of mammals, 260 species of birds, hiking trails, picnic areas. Tapanti Ranger Station rents 2-br, 4-bed house , meeting center; guided hikes through ICE tunnel to waterfall, tours.

Truchas de Purist offers small trout ponds for fishing ($5/kilo), and they'll cook your catch. Near the park entrance.

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