Central Valley: Cartago’s National Monument, Volcano, Valley and National Park
Cartago was founded in 1563 by Juan Vásquez de Coronado, who was the first to establish its limits, and colonial architecture can still be spotted in Costa Rica ‘s first capital city. The climate is cool year-round and the soil is perfect for growing fruits and vegetables, mainly potatoes and onions.
Cartago’s main cathedral is at the center of the country’s biggest pilgrimage. Each year on August 2, nearly one million people visit the church.
According to Costa Rica’s religious history, in 1635 Nuestra Señora de los Angeles (Our Lady of the Angels), traditionally known to Ticos as “La Negrita” (the little black Virgin), appeared as a small doll to an indigenous girl. The Basilica that shares her name was built at the site of the miracle.
Other places to visit are Las Ruinas (the ruins) of the unfinished church of San Bartolomé, which was destroyed by a large earthquake in 1910. The Central Market, with small food stands, clothes stores and picturesque daily life, is a colorful tour.
Guayabo National Monument
Turrialba is a quiet town located 36 miles east of San José. It is surrounded by mountains, volcanoes, farming lands and the spectacular Pacuare and Reventazón rivers. The Guayabo National Monument, Costa Rica’s most important archaeological site, is located 12 miles northeast of town, covering 539 acres on the forested slopes of the Turrialba Volcano.
In the late 19th century, scientist Anastasio Alfaro excavated important graves containing stone pieces. Then, in the early 1970’s, archeologist Carlos Aguilar began restoring the site, recovering circular foundations, long causeways, water-storage tanks, a striking aqueduct system, sculptures, monoliths, coffin graves, tombs, knolls, bridges and petroglyphs.
These wonders are tucked among the forest and the area’s rich flora and fauna include bromeliads, orchids, butterflies, toucans, woodpeckers, rabbits and coyotes.
Researchers believe Guayabo was inhabited from 1000 or 1500 B.C. to 1400 A.D. by a population of approximately 10,000-30,000. The reason for their disappearance is still unknown.
Guayabo is a journey into the nation’s past with secrets waiting to be discovered …
“Iztarú” means “thunder quake mountain” in the native language of the ancient inhabitants of Cartago.
As the years passed, Iztarú became Irazú, but the meaning remains the same, as this thundering mountain honors its name with continuous activity and repeated eruptions over the years. It first erupted in 1723, then in 1963 and 1965, interrupting periodical calm with violent explosions. The most recent eruptions devastated the crater’s surrounding territory and expelled volcanic ash upon San José and Cartago.
With an irregular semi-conical shape that reaches 11,260, it forms part of the Central Volcanic Mountain Range Conservation Area. Due to altitude, agriculture and volcanic activity, wildlife is not abundant in the area. The road to the summit provides panoramic views of the Cartago valley and precious landscapes, as it weaves through green pastures, vegetable and flower plantations.
The evergreen landscapes of the Orosí Valley dazzle everyone with large coffee, fruit and vegetable farms; small houses scattered in the slopes; and the magnificent Reventazón river.
The town of Orosí features an antique colonial church built by Franciscan missionaries in the mid-18th century. The town is also home to a religious colonial museum with sculptures, paintings, historical documents and other Catholic objects.
The Ujarrás ruins, 12 miles southeast of Cartago, are the remains of the oldest church in Costa Rica, built in between 1680 and 1693 and damaged by several earthquakes. The ruins were declared a National Monument in 1920.
Tapantí National Park
Within the districts of Paraíso, Jiménez and El Guarco lies Tapantí National Park, part of the La Amistad Pacific Conservation Area.
The park’s 6,000 acres protects more than 45 species of mammals, including endangered species such as the tapir and wildcats, 300 species of birds, 32 species of amphibians and an immense variety of butterflies and other insects. The wealthy foliage is composed of ferns, palms, orchids, bamboos, poor man’s umbrellas (its giant leaves are helpful when rain catches unprepared visitors) and countless other plants.
The park has two sectors, the Tapantí, established in 1992, and “Macizo de la Muerte” (Mountain of death), established in 2000. Both are within the Río Macho Forest Reserve, the first protected national park, created in 1963. The Tapantí sector is distinguished for being one of the rainiest areas in the country.
Camping is not allowed inside Tapantí, but there is a rustic house with capacity for 15 people. Picnic areas are available for complete day trips.
For your own safety, don’t descend to the Irazú craters.
Costa Rica Travel: Travel Information & Tips
No matter how beautiful a destination may be, it needs easy access and be reachable within the limitations of an average vacation period. Costa Rica is only two and a half hours away from Miami!