Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Places to visit in Cartago Costa Rica with kids

As promised on my list of fun things to do with kids in Costa Rica I am sharing all about Cartago today. Costa Rica has 7 provinces or states:

San Jose 

Located in the Central Valley is the province of Cartago, within the province is the City of Cartago, it was the capital of Costa Rica until 1823 when San Jose was named the new capital. Cartago is also known as "the old metropolis", the City is beautiful and has lots of history, it is also home to several landmarks.

The Ruins

In the downtown area where Plaza Mayor is located are the ruins of the temple of the Santiago Apostol Parish, he was the first patron saint of Costa Rica. Sadly each building that ever sheltered the temple was always destroyed by earthquakes {there have been 3 major earthquakes to this area: 1822, 1841 and 1910}. We had the opportunity of visiting the ruins of the temple which remains unfinished since the last major earthquake of 1910 called Santa Monica. The Ruins show a roman influence in the structure and now house beautifully landscaped gardens and a small pond in which visitors throw coins while making a wish. Admission to the ruins is free.

The Basilica

Last August we had barely just arrived 2 months prior to Costa Rica and were fairly new to the culture, however on the last week of July we began seeing posters about the pilgrimage from all over the country to the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles in Cartago. To put this into perspective in 2013 they had over 2 million pilgrims walk to the Basilica from all over Costa Rica. On August 2 each and every year Costa Ricans walk on their feet and some on their knees in hopes of a miracle and/or to thank her for a miracle they had asked for, this is commonly called "La Romería".  

The Virgin of the Angels a.k.a. "La Negrita" was found by an indigenous girl in 1635 the story says she found a statue of the Virgin and brought it home several times although it would mysteriously reappear at the place the girl had found her which was a large rock. The rock is located in the back of the Basilica and is considered sacred. When you visit you will see visitors praying and maybe even leaving a little charm to represent the miracle she did for them.

Costa Ricans also visit the Basilica to collect holy water. The Basilica is a beautiful site, on a sunny day it is stunning with its colonial style architecture although there is also byzantine influence too. Admission to the basilica is free. 

The Irazú Volcano

Costa Rica has 6 active volcanoes, the Cartago province has 2 of those 6: Irazú and Turrialba. Irazú which in indigenous dialect means "mountain of the thunder and earthquake" is located high atop the mountains surrounded by clouds. From downtown Cartago the volcano is a short 30 mile drive, it is the tallest volcano in Costa Rica {11,259.84 ft above sea level!} allowing you to see on a clear day both the Pacific and Caribbean Coast from its summit. When we visited it was a partly cloudy day, sadly we couldn't see the two coasts.

The drive up is pretty easy and smooth a little curvy though with stunning views of downtown Cartago, when you arrive to the main crater area there is a short walk to the main viewing point in fact you can see the parking lot area from there.  There is also another viewing point which is higher, you have the option of driving to it or walking however this road is in very bad condition with huge pot holes. We tried driving so I could take pictures but halfway there decided the road was in such bad condition that was not worth it. I would've walked but for me the altitude had a bit of an impact as I kept feeling queazy and the earth moving, but the kids loved it.

We were excited to see the lake the main crater has as we'd read it changes colors from deep emerald to dark red, unfortunately due to the rising temperatures of the main crater today the lake is non-existent we were told by a park ranger that the pictures we've seen are from 5 years ago which means that it has been dried up for a while. All we could see was different formations around the crater and a very thin and loose dirt film all around us, it felt almost sand like.

We walked in the Playa Hermosa area too which is located in the middle of the park and at the moment is dry except when you dig a little in the dirt you can see a bit of humidity, while walking in it we found several lava rocks that did not weigh at all! The kids were very excited to pick up rocks and find out if it was a heavy or weightless rock.

During our time at the volcano it got cloudy, then sunny and then cloudy again. We could see the clouds roll in with the winds. It is fascinating to us how quick you can see clouds move from side to side, we've always enjoyed watching clouds drift by but for some reason here in Costa Rica it seems they move quicker. 

Since moving to Costa Rica our family had only visited the Poas Volcano until this past weekend when we finally visited the Irazú Volcano. Temperatures are similar at all volcanoes the are around 14ºC - 17ºC which is about 57ºF - 62ºF it may seem like it is warm specially if you are visiting from a cooler area, however when the average temperature in Costa Rica is in the 80s this drop feels even stronger. We suggest you dress in layers because for some it feels like the perfect weather but for others it is a bit cooler. We also highly suggest you wear sunblock, as this is higher and even with clouds you can get sunburned.

The Irazú National Park has a picnic area and a little shop in which you can purchase snacks, souvenirs and coffee/hot chocolate or if you prefer you may bring your own food and enjoy it at the picnic area with the view of the main crater. There are restrooms and a park ranger office with a first aid team in case of emergencies.

All national parks/volcanoes are open 8:00 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. daily. Just keep in mind that any volcanic area could be closed without previous notice if the park ranger feels you could be in danger as some of these volcanoes are still active. Admission to the Irazú National Park is as follows:

¢1,000 Nationals and Residents*
¢400    National and resident children ages 6 - 12*
$10 USD Non-Residents
$1 USD non-resident children ages 6 - 12

Mi Tierra Restaurant

As our day in Cartago was coming to an end, it was time to enjoy a delicious Costa Rican meal. We had asked friends of ours what restaurant they recommended and they all agreed on Mi Tierra which is located on the road up to the Irazú volcano. We arrived to our destination easily and were overwhelmed with all the delicious meal choices we found in the menu, this restaurant is family friendly with it's small indoor playground to entertain kids while parents enjoy live marimba music. 

The only thing to keep in mind when visiting this restaurant is that the bathrooms locks are hard for kids under 10 to unlock, we had a little incident where our 4 year old ran back to the bathroom and locked himself in.

* ¢ is the symbol for the national currency in Costa Rica, which are called Colones. 


  1. Looks amazing. We're really hoping to get to Costa Rica in the not too distant future. We'll have to check out all your recommendations!

    1. When you do, let me know I can tell you all about the Central Valley! :D and a little bit about the coast.

  2. If I know of anyone going to Costa Rica anytime soon, I'm definitely sending this link! And now I want to make the time to go visit too!

    1. It is beautiful, very green and lots of wildlife. Our family loves visiting volcanoes and the beaches of course.

  3. Ooooo! We were just talking about our next adventure last night! I will add Costa Rica to the short list...if for nothing else than that delicious looking food!

    1. Well all this is perfect for an adventure! :D The weather is starting to change to rainy season, which makes it even more fun! :D the food is delicious too.

  4. Looks like Costa Rica is a beautiful place...hope to be able to visit one day! Would love to visit a volcano too!!!

    1. The volcanoes are pretty spectacular for us, they're something we hadn't seen. Hope you make it soon! :D

  5. Because of you I never really knew how big Costa Rica was.. I hope to get there one day =)

    1. Jamie, Costa Rica is about the size of West Virgina to give you more of an idea :D it has an approximate population of 5 million! Which is roughly the population of Mexico City. :D