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The Province

3,124 sq. km
Average Temperature:
20-23 C
Tourist Attractions:
Ruins of Ujarras Orosi Charrarra Basilica de Los Angeles (Patron Saint of Costa Rica)Irazu Volcano National ParkGuayabo National MonumentBasilica de Nuestra Senora de Los AngelesCartago’s central park

About the Capital City Cartago

1,439 meters (4,721 feet)

General Information

Cartago is a Costa Rican city located approximately sixteen miles from San Jose, the country’s current capital. Cartago itself, however, was once considered the capital of Costa Rica and is still the capital of the Cartago province. Located directly at the base of the Irazu Volcano, the city is grouped into several neighborhoods or “districts,” all of which offer opportunities for fun and exploration for visitors and locals alike.

Not Your Ordinary “Central Park”

Cartago features a Central Park all its own, but it’s nothing like the famous one in New York City. Instead of lush, green trees and paved pathways for walking, the park features ruins from the 16th century onward. These ruins are the result of several eruptions from the Irazu Volcano. Cartago’s beautiful first basilica was once located in the park area but was continually destroyed and repaired. Eventually, the basilica was given up on, and now the main basilica is the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles. Every bit as lovely and ornate as the original basilica, this newer one is famous for its statue of the Black Madonna and for the yearly procession, held in August, in her honor. The church is considered a sacred site of pilgrimage, and the saint herself is thought to have great healing powers. It is for this reason that many ill people make it a special point to visit Cartago’s basilica and the statue of the Black Madonna specifically. Whether you are a religious person or not, the statue is definitely worth seeing.

Experience the Beauty of Nature

Vacations are supposed to be a time for rest and relaxation. Unfortunately, many tourists end up trying to pack in so much on their vacations that they end up being stressed and harried for their entire trip. Don’t let a hectic pace spoil your Costa Rican adventure. If you need a gentle reminder to slow down and take in the beauty of your surroundings, then you’ll want to visit Cartago’s Lankester Gardens. The Gardens are technically on the road to Cartago but are close enough to count (practically!) as a part of the city. Maintained by the University of Costa Rica, which is also worth a tour if you have the time, this beautiful garden was established as a private garden in 1917 but has been enjoyed by members of the general public since 1973. In this gorgeous garden oasis, you will find blooming orchids all year round, though they tend to look their best in March, April, and May. You can also take in the tropical Japanese garden on the premises or book a guided tour of the grounds in English or Spanish. And, before you leave, make sure you buy an orchid to take home with you so you can enjoy nature’s beauty all year round. The gardens are one of the only places in the area that legally sells orchids.

Enjoy a Cold One!

Do you enjoy beer? If so, why not have a pint at Costa Rica’s Craft Brewing Company, based in Cartago. Visitors to the brewery can be taken on a guided, informative tour that shows them exactly how one of Costa Rica’s most loved beers is made. There are a wide range of beer types to suit any taste, and you can find your favorite by taking advantage of the free samples offered on the tour. The environment at the brewery is very casual and relaxed, which many visitors find to be a nice counterbalance to the hectic activity of Cartago and the surrounding cities. You can do the tour at your own pace, so you have the option of making it a quick little aside or a nice, long, leisurely event.

Have a Sweet Treat

If beer isn’t your thing or if you just want to line your stomach before or after your trip to the brewery, you’ll want to be sure to visit El Nidio, a delectable little bakery and restaurant nestled in the heart of Cartago. The bakery is a favorite among locals and tourists alike and is an excellent place to sample what sweets are like in Costa Rica. It’s also an good spot to practice your Spanish and maybe make a new Costa Rican friend or two. The bakery features super-fast counter service for when you’re on the go, or you’re welcome to sit down at one of the little tables and enjoy your meal in a relaxed, café style environment. The prices are very affordable, and the bakery is famous for its dulce de leche cake; if you don’t try any other sweets in Costa Rica, try the cake! It’s literally like a slice of heaven.

Food, drinks, cultural sites, nature, and more—Cartago has it all! While it might not be as big or impressive as nearby San Jose, it is definitely a place that captures the true spirit of Costa Rica.