Regions: Central Valley: Cartago and Heredia

Costa Rica’s history is everywhere. The rural communities and their people make up one of the most interesting parts of the country. Cartago and Heredia are two other of the largest cities that constitute the Central Valley, and inside their borders you will become part of the essence that has constituted the nation for years.

Situated almost entirely on the Atlantic side of the continental divide, Cartago is directly affected by the moisture the trade winds bring. However, the city of Cartago itself is one of the driest parts of the country.

During the colonial period, Cartago remained the capital of the province of Costa Rica. In 1823, two years after obtaining its independence from Spain, the country’s political center moved to San Jose.

Remmants of the past

During the 1560’s, the first church was built in the Valley of Ujarras, near the Reventazon River. Recurring floods and pests caused people to flee the area. The ruins of the church are still visible and have been declared a national monument. Ask around, for there is a very nice waterfall nearby.

The church in the main city of Cartago didn’t have much better luck. Construction began in 1574, but due to earthquake damage, it had to be rebuilt five times between then and 1910. this same year a quake caused massive damage, and the church was ultimately abandoned. The ruins are now the centerpiece of the town’s park.

A short five blocks East of the ruins stands the Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels. Costa Rica’s national religious shrine, this is an impressive Byzantine style church.

Every year, on August 2nd, thousands of devotees from across the country make a pilgrimage on foot to honor the Virgin Mary. This day is also used to commemorate the miraculous appearance of a small carved image of the virgin mother to a young native girl in 1635. the church was erected on the actual site, and the rock on which the statue appeared can be seen in a crypt alongside the church’s altar.

More in Cartago

About an hour’s drive Southeast of San Jose, just beyond the town of Paraiso, lies the splendorous scenic valley of Orosi. On your way, along the road towards Orosi, you will come upon a lookout point on the valley rim that is worth a stop. You will have an excellent panoramic view of the valley below and the Irazu Volcano to the North. The country’s oldest church that’s still in use, dating back to the 1700’s, can be found in the town of Orosi.

Great Coffee

The province of Heredia is the center of Costa Rica’s coffee production. It is the best way to leave the city, without having to go far. Just 15 miles from San Jose, you will be walking through evergreen or cloud forests. The geographical variations of Heredia (the smallest of the seven provinces) make the climate go from warm and humid lowlands, to cool and damp highlands.

In between San Jose and the city of Heredia, lies Santo Domingo. This quaint area is truly delightful. Several colonial houses have been restored and are focal points of the local architecture.

Heredia, the main city, is popularly known as the City of Flowers. The National University is set here, and has of one the best veterinarian schools in Latin America. The main church was built ion 1796, and is decorated with bells brought from Cuzco, Peru. Stained glass from Europe depicts scenes from the life of Christ, and it is one of the oldest in Costa Rica.

After Cartago, the village of Barva – less than 1.8 miles North of what is now the city of Heredia – was one of the first to be colonized by the Spaniards. Founded in 1561, the introduction of coffee to Costa Rica caused the fertile southern slopes of the Barva volcano to become populated with plantations of this crop. The colonial era adobe buildings that surrounded the central park have been restored, and thus, they still give the town an old style feeling.

Cerro de la Muerte

This name literally means Mountain of Death, and it is approximately a 31-mile stretch of the PanAmerican Highway. From here, you can witness practically all of the country’s highland flora and fauna. Mornings can be very pleasant and sunny, but overnight temperatures can fall to near freezing. Layers of clothing are advised, especially when walking around throughout the day. Don’t forget your sun block; the thinner air and cooler temperatures can burn without you even noticing.

Why the name? It predates the construction of the PanAmerican Higway and refers to the fatalities of those who attempted the arduous crossing from the Central Valley to the Valley of San Isidro del General. The journey entailed an arduous journey on foot or on horseback, through cold and rainy nights.

More in Heredia

Navigating along the Sarapiqui River is an excellent way to come in contact with wildlife such as three and two-toed sloths; mantled howler monkeys; Southern river otters; black river turtles; American crocodiles; and a wide variety of birds. Moving upstream the river becomes one of the country’s finest for kayaking and whitewater rafting. The further upstream you go, the more challenging the rapids get.

On of the best sites for biological studies is La Selva Biological Station. It’s not only for scientists. Bird lovers and serious naturalists can also take great advantage of the state-of-the-art lab facilities on the edge of the rain forest. La Selva is one of three biological stations in Costa Rica, owned and operated by the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS). This is a consortium of 50 universities from the United States and Costa Rica, dedicated to research on the topic.

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!