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Central Highlands of Cartago

sunny 28 °C

From Puerto Viejo we traveled to Cartago, which once was Costa Rica’s colonial capital and only a 30-minute drive south of San José. While in Tikal, Guatemala, we met Hellen and her mother Yamileth who were kind enough to invite us to spend a few days visiting them in Cartago over the Easter holiday. Hellen is from southern Costa Rica but came up to Cartago to her mother’s home to see us over Semana Santa (Holy Week). The very religious countries of Central America celebrate Semana Santa with a week of family time, food and church ceremonies. Most stores shut down for a few days, buses stop running from Thursday to Saturday, and prices for all accommodations sky rocket. We felt very lucky to have a nice place to stay and were spoiled with amazing hospitality, food, and company.

Our amazing hosts -Yamileth and Wilfred, Hellen and Samantha

Our amazing hosts -Yamileth and Wilfred, Hellen and Samantha


Hellen, her parents and their Siberian Husky -Max

Hellen, her parents and their Siberian Husky -Max


The beautiful view of Cartago from Yamileth's backyard

The beautiful view of Cartago from Yamileth's backyard

Yamileth built her dream home in the hills above Cartago and the view overlooking the city is beautiful. Her backyard is full of fruit trees, orchids and vegetables which she proudly shows off. We arrived to find our own private guesthouse made up to give us privacy and comfort and after dropping off our belongings we headed out for our first full day of touring around the city. Yamileth, Hellen’s younger and older sister, brother in law, two friends and their nephews all piled into three cars and drove to the Monumento Nacional Arqueologico Guayabo. Guayabo is the largest and most important archaeological site in Costa Rica, and though it lacks the grandeur of other Mayan sites of northern Central America, it features cobbled roads built sometime between 1000BC to 1400AD, ceremonial mounds and a few petroglyphs. Archaeologists are still uncertain as to what this site was used for, but think that it may have been a resting area for people moving towards the larger northern cities. We walked around the site before getting together to have a picnic in the park. They packed all sorts of goodies and we enjoyed being taken in as part of the family. After our picnic we drove through Orosi, a district of Cartago, to see the white washed adobe church built in 1743 which is the country’s oldest functioning church. From here were taken to the first church built in Costa Rica, and though the park was closed by the time we reached it, they allowed us to sneak in and take a quick look. The day was full of history and family, only to be topped off by a lovely vegetarian dinner awaiting us, being cooked by Yamileth’s husband Wilfred.

Hellen, her family and friends, all taking us out for a tour of Guayabo National Park

Hellen, her family and friends, all taking us out for a tour of Guayabo National Park


The only Mayan archaeological site in Costa Rica

The only Mayan archaeological site in Costa Rica


The site where Mayan's set up temporary camps

The site where Mayan's set up temporary camps


A tomb in Guayabo National Park

A tomb in Guayabo National Park


The ancient cobblestone streets that remain intact at Guayabo National Park

The ancient cobblestone streets that remain intact at Guayabo National Park


Ana swinging from vines at Guayabo National Park

Ana swinging from vines at Guayabo National Park


Samantha, Ana, Yamileth, Hellen and Andrew at Guayabo National Park

Samantha, Ana, Yamileth, Hellen and Andrew at Guayabo National Park


A mural in Orosi of the 5 colones bill that is no longer in circulation which depicts the first coffee export from Costa Rica -this bill is a collectable and I was honoured to have one gifted to me by Yamileth

A mural in Orosi of the 5 colones bill that is no longer in circulation which depicts the first coffee export from Costa Rica -this bill is a collectable and I was honoured to have one gifted to me by Yamileth


The oldest church still in use in Costa Rica, found in Orosi

The oldest church still in use in Costa Rica, found in Orosi


The first church in Costa Rica

The first church in Costa Rica


The archway of the first church in Costa Rica, still intact

The archway of the first church in Costa Rica, still intact

The next day Yamileth and Hellen acted as our tour guides as we drove to the Volcán Poás. We drove north of San José, 37 km outside of Alajuela up a scenic winding road. Poás is an active volcano that allows you to drive to the top, and, unlike some of the volcanoes we have climbed, allows you to look into its sulfurous steaming crater. Another 30-minute walk through a forest growing from volcanic soil we arrived at Laguna Botos. The cold-water lake is fed by rain water and fills an extinct crater of the volcano and is surrounded by lush cloud forest.

Yamileth, Andrew and Hellen at the entrance to Volcán Poás

Yamileth, Andrew and Hellen at the entrance to Volcán Poás


The crater of Volcán Poás

The crater of Volcán Poás


The sulphurous steam rising from the crater of Volcán Poás

The sulphurous steam rising from the crater of Volcán Poás


Hellen, Ana and Yamileth hiking on Volcán Poás to reach Laguna Botos

Hellen, Ana and Yamileth hiking on Volcán Poás to reach Laguna Botos


These broad-leaf plants are found all over the Volcano and are called `The Poor Man`s Umbrella`

These broad-leaf plants are found all over the Volcano and are called `The Poor Man`s Umbrella`


Ana entering Laguna Botos

Ana entering Laguna Botos


The rain-filled volcanic crater lake of Laguna Botos on the Vocano Poás

The rain-filled volcanic crater lake of Laguna Botos on the Vocano Poás


Hellen, mi amiga y yo en Laguna Botos

Hellen, mi amiga y yo en Laguna Botos


Hellen and Andrew

Hellen and Andrew


Hellen, Yamileth, Ana and Andrew at Laguna Botos

Hellen, Yamileth, Ana and Andrew at Laguna Botos

After the volcano we went to Zoo Ave, a bird sanctuary and rehabilitation center. I have been on the hunt to see a Toucan and was told Costa Rica is the place to do so. Andrew and I spotted the smaller Toucans with less colourful beaks on our bike trip in Puerto Viejo, but were hoping to spot the larger birds with distinct yellow beaks. The park is located just outside the city of Alajuela, but upon entering its gates you find yourself in the midst of a rainforest. We were able to see countless colourful Macaws, ranging in every colour combination possible. We saw monkeys and turtles and finally, to top it all off, the Toucan I had been so excited to see.

Beautiful Macaw at the Zoo Ave bird sanctuary

Beautiful Macaw at the Zoo Ave bird sanctuary


The golden Macaw

The golden Macaw


Macaw

Macaw


Turtle family

Turtle family


Turtle

Turtle


Large Lizard

Large Lizard


The amazing Toucan

The amazing Toucan


The curious Toucan flew to a branch right infront of me and showed off his colourful beak

The curious Toucan flew to a branch right infront of me and showed off his colourful beak

Our final day with our fantastic tour guides took Andrew and I to the Volcán Irazú. With the company of Hellen, her younger sister Samantha, and their brother-in-law, we drove the 30km north of Cartago to Costa Rica’s tallest active volcano, towering at 3432m. The last major eruption occurred in 1963, blanketing the Central Valley with volcanic ash, causing deaths and crop failures. Since this eruption the volcano only has mild tremors and hisses steam. We arrived to a completely fogged in crater and just as we thought we would be unable to see within, the wind cleared the area and we were allowed the most breathtaking view of two craters with bright turquoise waters. Stunned by the colour and the unobstructed view of these craters, we took countless photos. On the way back to the car we came face to face with a Costa Rican Pizote, which is a bit smaller than the Guatemalan Pizote with its curled tail. We bought some hot-chocolate (the high altitude makes this a chilly outing) and had a little picnic before starting the winding drive back down the volcano. Along the way we stopped off at what once was a mental hospital and is now open to the public with rumors of ghostly sightings. We were surprised by the number of people who were visiting the dilapidated buildings, but giggled as we hid in corridors and took turns scaring each other around every corner.

Andrew at Irazu as the fog begins to clear

Andrew at Irazu as the fog begins to clear


The crater of Volcán Irazu -the highest peak in Costa Rica

The crater of Volcán Irazu -the highest peak in Costa Rica


The incredible turquoise waters of the crater lake in Volcán Irazu

The incredible turquoise waters of the crater lake in Volcán Irazu


Hellen, Ana and Samantha at Volcán Irazu

Hellen, Ana and Samantha at Volcán Irazu


The Pizote

The Pizote


The adorable Costa Rican Pizote

The adorable Costa Rican Pizote


The abandoned haunted house -It started as a jail, was turned into a hospital for people with TB and then ended up as a mental hospital.  Local youth visit it for a scare and a laugh

The abandoned haunted house -It started as a jail, was turned into a hospital for people with TB and then ended up as a mental hospital. Local youth visit it for a scare and a laugh


Inside the haunted house

Inside the haunted house

Our friends took such good care of us and we are thankful for the lovely memories and hope to have them visit us in Canada one of these days soon. After three days of being spoiled it was time for us to work our way south into Panama. We had to catch a bus south to Paso Canoas, cross the border and get another mini-bus to the city of David where we found a hotel near the central park to rest for the night.
With only 12 days to spend in Panama, we will split our time between Bocas del Toro and Panama City. I’ll write one more blog to update our travels of Panama, but we will be home soon and are excited to see all our friends and family!

Sending love,
Ana and Andrew

Posted by A-Team 15:13 Archived in Costa Rica

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