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Cartago & Turrialba

Natural History

Cartago was Costa Rica's first capital city; it was founded in 1563 and governed the region until 1823, when control was shifted 15 miles west to San Jose. Cartago, like so many Central American capitals—Antigua, Leon, Belize City, Panama—has suffered its share of disasters. The city was nearly destroyed by the eruption of Volcan Irazu in 1723, and earthquakes rocked the city in 1822, 1841 and 1910. Following the 1910 quake, the city's original church (which had been rebuilt five times after earthquake damage) was abandoned. Its ruins now form the centerpiece of the city's main park. Three blocks east, the Byzantine-style Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels houses a revered image of the Virgin Mary.

Eighteen miles east of Cartago, the town of Turrialba rests in a volcanic mountain valley. A popular destination for birdwatchers, Turrialba's woodlands and lakes attract at least 150 avian species, among them quetzals, bell birds and hummingbirds. Whitewater enthusiasts are drawn to the nearby Reventazon, Pejibaye and Pacuare rivers for full or multi-day rafting trips. Visitors can also hike the 10,958 foot Turrialba Volcano, historically one of the most active volcanoes in Costa Rica.

Guayabo National Monument, twelve miles north of town on the slopes of the volcano, was created in 1973 to protect a 540-acre archeological site—the most important Pre-Columbian settlement in Costa Rica. The site was occupied from approximately 1500 BC to nearly 1400 AD, with a peak population of 10,000. Guayabo's forested hills have been partially cleared to reveal a monumental causeway, walled aqueducts, circular mounds and monoliths representing a jaguar and a lizard. The surrounding woods draw toucans, motmots, butterflies and coatis.

Mosaico Travel Services arranges personalized travel in the Cartago-Turrialba region and throughout Costa Rica. We organize luxury accommodation, private transportation, domestic flights, and tours with expert guides. Speak with a Mosaico travel planner today at 801.582.2100. We’ll take care of the details.

"The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are."


Samuel Johnson