Costa Rica for the Weekend

The world's largest oxcart is on display in Sarchi, Alajuela, Costa Rica.

The world’s largest oxcart is on display in Sarchi, Alajuela, Costa Rica.

The clouds parted long enough to reveal the lagoon in the crater below.

The clouds parted to reveal the lagoon in the crater below.

After a two week cruise of the Caribbean and a week playing in New Orleans, we included a stopover in Costa Rica on the final leg of our return to Panama. There was insufficient time for cultural immersion and exploration, so we did all the touristy stuff. First was a tour to Volcán Poás National Park in the mountains north of the capital city of San Jose. We arrived so abruptly at 8,000 feet elevation that we didn’t even notice the rarified air. We were completely immersed in the clouds of this alpine jungle. Fortunately, our patience paid off. A sudden break in the clouds revealed the mile wide crater directly below us with its aqua blue lagoon nestled deep within.

The coffee plantation is decorated with immaculate gardens.

The coffee plantation is decorated with immaculate gardens.

On the return drive we stopped at the Doka Coffee Plantation for lunch and a tour. The weather was perfect, the gardens were spectacular, and the coffee was world class, so naturally we bought some. Our tour took us through Grecia, a beautiful town on the eastern edge of the central valley, and home of the Iglesia Metálica, The Metal Church. Anywhere inside or outside the church, if you rap your knuckles against the church wall, it reverberates just like the sound of an iron-hulled ship. The church was shipped in red-painted prefabricated steel sheets from Belgium and assembled in Grecia piece by piece in the 1890’s. The doors and windows were custom-made in Italy.

The Metal Church in Grecia is spectacular inside and out.

The Metal Church in Grecia is spectacular inside and out.

One last stop was an artisan shop in nearby Sarchi. The wood carvings and paintings on display were beautiful. However, nothing surpassed the intricate craftsmanship of the traditional hand-painted oxcarts or carretas. The oxcart tradition dates back to the 19th century. The carts were the only means available to transport coffee from the fields to the shipping ports. Such pride was taken in their construction that only the finest woods were used and the painted designs were ever more elaborate. The spokeless wheels, modeled after the Aztec-style, were designed to keep the wheels from getting bogged down in mud. The Costa Rican government in 1988 declared the carreta the National Symbol of Work. The tradition is kept alive today and celebrated with an annual oxcart parade and a public display of the world’s largest oxcart at the central park in Sarchi.

Local artists create beautiful hand painted oxcarts.

Local artists create beautiful hand painted oxcarts.

I will say the coffee of Costa Rica is every bit as good as that of Panama. I know saying this sounds a little like rooting for the visiting team, but why not? The two countries are similar enough that whatever grows in Panama will grow equally well in Costa Rica. Now I have to make a confession. Upon entering Panama when the bags of Costa Rican coffee were revealed during our luggage inspection, I told the Panama customs officer that we still preferred the coffee of Panama. The thing is I may have overstated that a little.

living in Panama

8 comments on “Costa Rica for the Weekend

  1. What a wonderful tour guide! I’m ready to book it! 😉

  2. You have to go. Costa Rica values tourists. Strangers driving by our bus would honk and wave at us just for fun. On my recent layover in Costa Rica, I was impressed with how many local residents went out for morning walks, jogs, or bike rides. It’s a nice atmosphere. Even my taxi driver told me he went out for a morning ride before heading off to work.

  3. annewoodman says:

    Wonderful! That lagoon shot is gorgeous… and I had never heard of a metal church! Thank you so much for sharing your travels.

    • My wife gets credit for standing vigil with the camera to get that crater photo.
      BTW – there is also a metal school in downtown San Jose, a gift from France, the Escuela Buenaventura Corrales, which was completed in 1888 and has since been completely restored.

      Thank you for your comments. I will be posting from our new venue starting next week.

  4. nomoremsvanilla says:

    Costa Rica seems like a really colourful and vibrant place – I’m itching to pack my bags!

  5. dgallaher says:

    I was actually on that tour with you and your wife. I remember the great conversation we had on the van ride that day. You got some wonderful pictures, we loved our time in Costa Rica. Hope you both are doing well.

    • What a treat to hear from you! We are doing well in Cuernavaca as we learn more about this historic city and get a feel for all there is to see and do in Mexico. Thank you for sharing your comments.

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