For those who are interested in one location that is historical and scenic as well as religious, the city of Cartago includes it all. Conveniently located approximately 15 miles southeast of the capital city of San José, it has the distinction of being Costa Rica’s first Spanish settlement that dates back to 1563. The population rapidly expanded due to the fertile, volcanic soil in the valley and the proximity to the scenic mountains. This ideal location was established as Costa Rica’s capital and the Spanish constructed some of the most spectacular colonial structures in the country as proof of their power.
|Photo by Dirk Van der Made|
Although there are a number of reputable tour companies based in San José that can take visitors through the area, Cartago can be easily reached by bus, car and even train. The Lumaca bus company provides buses that depart from the Plaza de la Cultura in San José approximately every 10 minutes between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. Buses also depart from the corner of Calle Central and Avenida 3 in San José. Buses back to San José are conveniently located just north of the Parque Central in between Avenidas 4 and 6, and Calles 2 and 4 in Cartago. Depending on traffic, the journey can take up to 45 minutes. For those who choose to drive, the trip is fairly easy. Take Highway 2 east out of San José and follow it until Highway 10, which leads directly into Cartago. There is also a train system that frequently runs from Tren El Atlántico on the eastern side of San José directly into the Estación del Tren (train station) just north of the center of Cartago. They are not as fast as the direct buses, but they are certainly more comfortable.
What to See in Cartago
|Photo by Daniel Vargas|
If you get hungry after taking the five-minute walk from the ruins to the basilica, I recommend grabbing a bite to eat at La Puerta Del Sol on Avenida 4 between Calles 14 and 16. Located downstairs from the Los Ángeles Lodge, this small restaurant has been around since the 1950s and it offers a wide variety of Tico specials in addition to delicious burgers. The menu ranges from breakfast staples such as gallo pitno con huevo to slow-cooked lengua, which is known to us as beef tongue.
Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles: Located at Calle 16 and Avenida 2, this church (seen above at the top of the post) is easily the city’s major attraction and one of the country’s most visited locations during the month of August. According to the legend, on August 2, 1635 a young girl was sitting by the river as the image of the Virgin Mary appeared in the form of a small, black doll on a rock. Despite removing the doll from the spot and locking it away, it reappeared back at the river. This "miraculous" location was chosen by the Catholic Church to be the site of a cathedral and it was completed in 1639.
|Photo by Zack Stack|