Once you've paid a visit to Cartago, it's easy to see how it was chosen to be Costa Rica’s first capital in 1563, when it was recognized by the Spanish governor for its breathtakingly beautiful riverbank setting. If it weren’t for a powerful eruption of the Irazu Volcano in 1723 that nearly demolished the town, Cartago would still be the capital instead of San Jose, but alas, nature has a way of taking its course. Today, Cartago is a destination for its Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles, its rich organic coffee, and the expansive- and potentially explosive- Parque Nacional Volcán Irazú.
See & Do
Just 19km northeast of Cartago lies the largest and highest active volcano of Costa Rica, Irazú, named for the indigenous word ara-tzu for "thunderpoint." Since a 1723 eruption that demolished the town, 15 more have followed suit, the most recent of which was in 1963. Established in 1955, the Parque Nacional Volcán Irazú protects more than 2000 hectares around the volcano, and small information center and café are the only buildings within its grounds. Hotels in San Jose such as the Best Western Irazú offer tours to the volcano and can include lunch and a trip to the fertile river valley of Orosi.
Even though it's close to the increasingly modern capital city of San Jose, Cartago is a much smaller and older fashioned city, with none of the fast food franchises nor the five-star resorts, instead classic Costa Rican sodas where casado plates for lunch include rice, beans, and a protein, and sometimes two salads, are a wholesome and hearty answer to rumbling bellies after a day of paying homage to La Negrita at La Basilica de La Senora de Los Angeles. After lunch at a local soda, indulge in dinner at Restaurant 1910 and see some of Cartago's vintage Costa Rican roots through a series of large scale photos on display throughout the restaurant.