Welcome to the Best Attractions in Cartago, Costa Rica's First Capital

What better way to celebrate than by tasting and toasting over Costa Rica's Craft Brewing Company's artisinal beers, riverrunning the Reventazon River, or refreshing in the thermal pools at Balneario Aguas Termals Los Patios? In Cartago, Costa Rica, there is spirituality, history, and adventure in the air; this precious land land has survived and thrived after two natural disasters -first an earthquake, and then the fiery eruption of Volcan Irazu, resulted in the demolishment of most of its structures, and many of its people. Today, Cartago is alive and well Every August, over 2 million pilgrims make a 22 kilometer spiritual journey to the Basilca de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles, many of them on their knees, originating from various points throughout Costa Rica

Cartago also contains Costa Rica's rainiest and wettest places within the rainforests at the Tapanti National Park, where the tiniest species of orchid were discovered growing in the tropical humid pre-montane in 2009. If you miss them as you tour the park, you can see them on display at Lankester Botanical Gardens, alongside the rest of Costa Rica's world-class orchid collection. For adventurers, riverrunning down the River Revantazon River is the most intimate way to experience Costa Rica's wildlife.


The Lankester Botanical Gardens (Jardín Botánico Lankester) was created in 1973 as a center for the exhibition, conservation and research of tropical air plants, with an empahsis on orchids. Recognized worldwide for its stunning collections of bromeliads, orchids, and other air plants, the Lankester Botanical Garden takes up 11 hectares , hosting more than 3,000 species of plants. On the walking trail, look for sloths eating in the trees above the extra large leaves of the Cecropia tree. Hours: 9:00 a.m. with last entry at 3:30 p.m. every day except for the Easter holiday week, Christmas and New Years day. Entrance fee is approximately $3, with discounts for students.

Recommended for Cartago's Best Attractions because: The gift shop sells some orchids that are pre-approved for export by both Costa Rican and US Agricultural authorities.

Sophia's expert tip: Bring a hat or an umbrella for walking the garden trails during green season.

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Located just far off the beaten path to feel deserted and a bit creepy, the old Sanatorio Duran is hidden between the two districts of Tierra Blanca de Cartago and Potrero Cerrado de Oreamuno, just outside of Cartago, Costa Rica. In its heyday, the sanatorium was a treatment and recuperation center for those suffering from tuberculosis, but it also served as a quarantine, nowhere near the center of town and out of sight of the public. Today, the Sanatorio Duran draws tourists to its grounds for tours and exploration. Founded in 1915, the place originally housed patients in 300 beds, but was closed in 1963 once the epidemic was over and there weren't enough people to treat.

Recommended for Cartago's Best Attractions because: Sanitorio Duran stands out as one of Costa Rica's creepier attractions, especially if you believe in ghosts.

Sophia's expert tip: Check out the graffiti art that decorates some of the walls, left over from the Sanatorio's stint as a prison.

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Las Ruinas de la Parroquia, or Las Ruinas as they are commonly called, are one of Cartago's greatest calling cards; only the skeleton of a Romanesque church including some walls and staircases remain, but ever since its inception Las Ruinas has been an attraction to all who know about it. Originally, the church was intended to be devoted to the apostle St. James, but an earthquake interrupted progress, and though re-construction began in the second half of the nineteenth century, another earthquake in 1910 halted further building for good. Even without being finished, Las Ruinas have always drawn the attention of visitors and locals.

Recommended for Cartago's Best Attractions because: Costa Rica afficionados will appreciate the history of this ancient site at the seat of the nation's original capital.

Sophia's expert tip: Dont't forget to bring your camera to this highly photogenic historical site.

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Iraz-- Volcano National Park encompasses the area around the Iraz-- Volcano in Cartago Province. The volcano is not far from the capital city and makes for an excellent day trip attraction from San Jose. Iraz-- Volcano National Park is a National Park in the Central Volcanic Conservation Area of Costa Rica, and the volcano is Costa Rica's highest at 3432 meters. Still considered active, Volcan Iraz--'s last major eruptions were in the 1960s, but occasionally minor eruptions cause some small lava flows. There is a visitor's center and a scenic overlook at the volcano area, which also has a small coffee shop and tables, and is open from 8:00am to 4:00pm.

Recommended for Cartago's Best Attractions because: Iraz--'s hottest attraction is a must-see-and-do for visitors of all ages.

Sophia's expert tip: On a clear day, the Pacific and Caribbean are visible from the smaller crater, Diego de la Haya, where you can witness its mineral-rich lake amazingly transform its color from emerald-green to crimson-red.

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There may be no more memorable an experience that riverrunning the Reventazón River in Costa Rica. Flowing from its mountainious source down 145 km before emptying into the Caribbean, this is the river that gives the capital city of San Jose its drinking water, and generates a significant amount of the country's energy through its water powered generators. The intimate view you'll get of the untouched rainforest and wildlife as you float, roll, or rush along these rapids is one that is not likely to be easily forgotten. For first time paddlers, this river offers unparalleled opportunity to become familiar with the sport while immersing in Costa Rica's bounty of lush habitats.

Recommended for Cartago's Best Attractions because: The El Carmen section is accessible in Cartago, and its a fun way to get your feet wet.

Sophia's expert tip: Exploradores Outdoors will pick you up at your hotel and drop you at your next destination after your day on the river.

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When the weather heats up, sometimes there's just nothing like a swimming pool to cool you off, even in Costa Rica, with it's bounty of beaches on both coasts. What's even better, is that Balneario de Aguas Termales Los Patios has 6 pools to choose from, 4 of which are warm water pools, two that are cold water. Since 1966, this swimming pool park has been a mecca for dippers, swimmers and divers, and floaters who come to get wet and frolic in the pools. Set against the backdrop of Cartago's rolling green hills, these pools invite all ages to partake in their refreshing waters. Picnics are invited, but there's always the Bar Balneario to order a bite from. Pool hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 8am to 4pm Entry for those over 3 years old: 2000 colones, or about $4.

Recommended for Cartago's Best Attractions because: The pools are a refreshing way to spend a day keeping cool in Cartago, fun for all ages.

Sophia's expert tip: Get their early to stake out an umbrella covered table for your picnic lunch.

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Tapantí National Park is considered one of the wettest places in Costa Rica. Only an hour's drive from San Jose, Tapantí covers more than 117,000 acres of the Cartago area on the edge of the Talamanca range. This expansive park is surrounded by the Rio Macho Forest Reserve and home to some of the world's most exotic miniature orchids, which were only discovered in 2009. Tapantí contains part of the Orosi river, which has many smaller subsidiaries that generate hydraulic power for much of the metropolitan San Jose area through the Orosi Aqueduct. Wildlife lovers will appreciate the 260 species of birds, 45 species of mammals, and 28 species of reptiles that inhabit Tapantí.

Recommended for Cartago's Best Attractions because: Hikers will enjoy the many trails here, each can be walked within 1.5 tho three hours, some lead to swimming holes.

Sophia's expert tip: Trout fishing is permitted from April to October; visitors can purchase a fishing license from the park rangers.

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Mountain bike enthusiasts can rejoice with the opening of Finca La Angelina, a solo course through lush tropical vegetation that was previously trodden mainly by horses. The basic circuit is approximately 11 kms, and takes about an hour and a half to complete, however you can customize your course to be shorter or longer. The conditions are suitable for riders of most levels, though it is probably most appropriate for those seeking to improve their condition. Runners are encouraged to visit Finca la Angelina and try to improve their time on the trails, too. Open Saturdays and Sundays and for special events.

Recommended for Cartago's Best Attractions because: Get your mountain biking fix satisfied on this scenic and challenging solo course on a lush farm in Cartago.

Sophia's expert tip: Map your ride at Finca La Angelina here:

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The Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles is a Roman Catholic church in classic Byzantine style, located in the heart of Cartago, Costa Rica. Built in 1639, this basilica is officially sanctified to the Virgin of Nuestra Senora de los --ngeles, a small statue of the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus. Soon after it was built, the basilica was partially destroyed by an earthquake, and a series of earthquakes that followed kept it crumbling and incomplete. In 1912, The Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles was restored by architect Lluis Llach Llagostera, a project that lasted 12 years and was completed in 1924. Each August, over 2 million pilgrims make a 22 kilometer spiritual journey to the basilica, many of them on their knees, originating from various points throughout Costa Rica.

Recommended for Cartago's Best Attractions because: If you're going to visit just one church while in Costa Rica, this beautiful Basilica should be the one.

Sophia's expert tip: If you have a health problem, bring a silver medallion in the shape of the body part to leave in front of "La Negrita"- legend has it she can cure it.

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In an old refurebished factory an hour outside the city of San Jose, a couple of beer afficionados are going against the grain, crafting artisinal beer using only whole grains, hops, yeast, and water. The concept is novel in a country that loves its national beers, Imperial and Pilsen, but CRCBC's beers stand up to high tasting standards. Every Wednesday through Friday from 4pm to 6pm they offer a tour of the premises where they explain the hands-on artisinal process and offer tastings of more than seven different types of beer. Tours are by appointment, which can be made by calling (506) 2573-3724 or emailing

Recommended for Cartago's Best Attractions because: This is Costa Rica's first and only artisinal brewing company, and their beer is delicious.

Sophia's expert tip: CRCBC's first beers, Libertas Golden Ale and Segua Red Ale can be tasted on a tour of the brewery.

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Meet Sophia LaMonica

On Sophia's first trip to Costa Rica, she came face to face with white-faced monkeys, gasped at the sight of giant purple crabs, and rode horseback through plunging waterfalls. Costa Rica...  More About Sophia