the lunar landscape of the volcán Iratzú seemed really charming as I had been said... for what I could see under the fog...
the entrance for not resident is 7 US$ and for the parking you are asked 500 colones (when I was there 1US$ = 380 colones ).
and if you haven't a car of your own, from San José you can find everywhere offers of day tours to this volcano.
anyway the path to the crater is a perfect example of equatorial forest, telling you the different plants with little signs under them.
and when it begins to rain, you realize that the words you read on school books about "the equatorial forest being characterized by a unique season, warm and humid" is exactly so, and it's an unusual, funny even pleasant feeling for an European, at least for this European...
At 19 kilometres north of Cartago you cannot miss the highest active volcano in Costa Rica: the Volcán Irazú. This volcano has an altitude of 3.432 metres above sealevel. At this height you have a great view of the crater of the volcano that has a diameter of 1.050 metres and is about 300 metres deep.
The climb up the volcano is already fantastic. Different from many other volcanoes in Central America you don't need hiking shoes here: the public road leads all the way to the entrance of the "Parque Nacional Volcán Irazú" and from here you can park the car at only 300 metres from the crater. The road up the volcano offers great views of Cartago and the environment. You pass small villages and slowly you see the vegetation change from tropical into alpine vegetation.
At the top of the volcano you can see two different craters. The main one if the most spectacular of the two: you can look straight into it and see the steam coming out of it. Every once in a while you can even smell the sulpher. It's also nice to see the vegetation that grows here: only some small bushes and flowers and some grasses. And then there is also the fauna at the top: only some birds but also the bigger coatimundi, a racoon-like animal. We spotted one around the garbage-cans at the parking lot.
The entry of the park costs 7 dollars per person, for foreigners only.
The most famous landmark in Cartago is the "Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles". This church can be found just east of the town centre at the end of a big square. The reason why this church is so famous and important can be found inside. Here lives "La Negrita"; a small statue of the Black Madonna. This "Negrita" is the patron saint of Costa Rica and she attracts dozens of pilgrims from all over the country every day.
La Negrita's statue dates back to the 17th century, but the church she lived in in these days was destroyed by an earthquake in 1926. The church was rebuilt afterwards in a Byzantian style. The outside is very impressive: white and grey colours, lots of arches and several domes on the roof. Also interesting to see: on the frontfacade you'll find several angels "guarding" over the square. This is where the church gets its name from: "Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels".
Inside it is impressive too: lots of wood and gold are used to decorate the interior. And: in the centralpath you'll probably see lots of pilgrims heading for the statue of the Black Madonna on their knees.
This garden is run by students of the university of Costa Rica. Their mission is to preserve to epiphytic flora, emphasising on orchids. Beside the orchids the garden host other important plant collections, patches of natural secondary tropical premontane forest, bamboos, cactusses, a butterfly garden and facilties intended for botanical research.
It is a nice place to visit, despite it being a bit of the beaten path.
Admission price is US $5.00 for adults and US $3.50 for students.
The opening hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Visitors may remain inside the Garden until 5:30 p.m.
There are also a shop in the garden where you can buy souvenirs.
The ruins of Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Limpia Concepcion lie at the bottom of Orosi valley. Driving east from Paraíso to Cachí our first view of the ruins was from high up. To reach them we took the turnoff back west down into the valley.
The original church on this site was built between 1575 and 1580 and constructed of adobe, sticks and tiles. A century later under governor Miguel Gómez de Lara it was replaced by one of stone masonry. It became part of a complex comprising a sacristy, a convent, a school and a cemetery. But in 1833, because of heavy flooding in the valley, the people of Ujarrás resettled to Paraíso and the church was abandoned. In 1920 it was declared a national monument and some repair work was done. But it is still a ruin; best preserved is the front in Renaissance style.
Behind the ruins runs the small Reventazón river, around the ruins a pretty park has been established. On holidays it is a popular spot for an outing by locals. According to popular belief in the 16th century an effigy of the Holy Virgin was found here. On the Sunday closest to April 14th the feast of La Virgen the Ujarrás is celebrated with a procession from Paraíso and a Mass at the location of the ruins, But on an ordinary day we found the site very tranquil.
The most popular thing to do near Cartago city is a visit to 3432 m high Irazú volcano. But once you are in the area there is more. With our rented car we made the round trip of the Orosi river valley, said to offer the most beautiful vistas.
The round trip starts at Paraíso south-west of Cartago. Going clockwise we stopped at the lookout overlooking Ujarrás, then went down to see the ruins of Ujarrás church. Near Cachí we passed the Orosl river barrier. From there the loop turns south along the border of Cachí reservoir lake to Palomo where we crossed Orosi river once more by an old hanging bridge. Halfway to Palomo was a popular stop at a hanging pedestrian bridge. From Palomo heading north back to Paraíso we shot the photo's of flowering trees.
fog or not fog at the volcanos, stop in Cartago for a meal or a break and don't miss to "circumnavigate" the ruins of the old cathedral, las Ruinas which was destroyed by an earthquake and never restored...
An obligatory stop on the Orosi valley round trip is the concrete arc dam at Cachí. Here the road passes over a steel bridge at the downstream side of the dam. Walking the bridge we looked down in the deep canyon that channels the outflow of the dam.
The upper Orosi River Valley receives an average annual rainfall of 700 cm, making it one of the rainiest areas in Costa Rica. All this precipitation drains into Lake Cachi and feeds the Angostura hydro-electric power plant through the Cachi dam.
With 3432 m Irazú is the highest active volcano of Costa Rica. It is actually a couple of hundred m higher than the (dormant) volcanoes we climbed in Java, Gunung Lawu and Gunung Merbabu. But whereas reaching the summit of these latter takes a hike of 6 to 8 hours, you can drive all the way up Irazú volcano. There is a parking very near the summit from where it is an easy walk along the craters and to the top. At the parking there is an information centre where you pay the admission fee.
We set out from Grandpas' Hotel at 2000 m so as to be on the top early. Even so the views were veiled by clouds most of the time. There was a chilly wind blowing, only momentarily the sun broke through the clouds and we felt more comfy. Yet at this altitude one easily gets sunburnt, so you need to bring a warm jacket as well as sunscreen.
Park admission: USD 10.
Park hours: 8am to 3:30pm.
Directions: The route to Irazú volcano from Cartago is well indicated. If you don't have your own wheels, there is a bus service once daily from San José, departure 8am, arrival at the park 10am; the return journey departs at noon.
The Lankester Botanical Garden is named after Charles H. Lankester. He was a British naturalist who in the 1940's created a garden on his farm for the study of epiphytic plants. In 1973 his heritage was turned into a research centre of the University of Costa Rica.
The garden's focus is on orchids, of which there are over 18,000 specimens of more than 1000 species. However, there are also bromeliads, cacti, helconias, bamboos in a Japanese garden (still under construction) and palms. Half of the garden is occupied by a secondary forest which has regrown since 1973.
Open: 8:30am to 5:30pm (last admission 4:30pm).
Admission: Foreigners: USD 7.50, but foreign students pay USD 5.00.
Directions: On the road from Cartago and Paraiso, 4 km from Cartago. If you come by bus, take the bus from Cartago to Paraíso; walk 500 m from the bus stop.
It was raining when we visited this major archeological site of Costa Rica, even though it was dry season, and it shows in our photo's. It is said that these structures were inhabited from 1000 BC through 1400 AD, with perhaps a peak of 20,000 people by 800 AD. In 2009 they were declared a World Heritage Engineering site. The reserve's area is 232 ha including primary forest and it lies between 960 and 1300 m above sea level.
Everything was built of boulders, at least that is what remains. There are walkways (calzadas) which may have been several miles long, mounds (montículos) on which probably houses were built, aqueducts which led water to storage tanks, and a so-called coffin tomb (tumba de cajón) of unclear purpose. Gold and ceramic aretfacts excavated here are on display in the National Museum in San José.
We followed the advised route - Los Montículos trail - through the forest to a lookout where we had an overview. Then we went down to examine the structures from close by. By then we were already soaked, so we did not mind also walking the Canto de Agua nature trail. But the weather did not allow us to appreciate the flora and fauna.
Open: Daily from 8am to 3:30pm
Admission: USD 6 (February 2012).
Directions: We went by rented car, route #2 to Cartago, then route #10 to Turrialba, and followed the signs for the last 18 km to the monument. We returned by route #230 via Santa Cruz; the road was good enough for a small ordinary car.
By bus it is too long a journey for a day trip, that is what we conclude from the leaflet we received at the site. First 2,5 hours (79 km) from San José to Turrialba. There you have to get on the Rivera bus of 11:15am (workdays, no feasible time on Sundays) for a 1 hour ride; and be sure not to miss the 4pm Rivera bus back to Turrialba. It seems to be possible to camp at the site, then you have more choice of buses.
We recommend to take this road #230 to or from the Guayabo archeological monument, via Santa Cruz de Turrialba. It leads several kms through hillside forest, and across Guayabo river over a bridge only suitable for passenger cars. Heavy trucks have to ford the river.
Directions: See tip Guayabo archeological monument.
the rules on the entrance ticket say that "en esta Área Silvestre no se permite extrar piedras, plantas u otro recurso natural del área silvestre" but you can take all pics you want ;-)
I hadn't much luck against the fog at the volcán Poah... the sign says: do no descend to the crater, which crater? :-P...
the entrance fee is 7 US$