Last Updated on March 12, 2023

Costa Rica has many amazing places to visit, and one such place is the stunning city of Cartago in the south eastern portion of the San Jose district. Cartago is the third largest city in the country and has a population of about 200,000 people. The city, once the capital of Costa Rica, thrives with a great agricultural industry. 

If you are planning a visit to this vibrant city, you will want to know what Cartago has to offer. Here are the very best things to see and do in Cartago:

1. Lankester Botanical Gardens

It would be a crime not to visit the botanical gardens when staying in a new city. It gives you the opportunity to explore the beautiful native plants of the region, and the botanical gardens in Cartago are no exception. 

Visitors are not only encouraged to amble about but to take advantage of the wealth of knowledge on site. The gardens are owned by the national university and double as a research center for orchids in both Central America and the Caribbean. 

2. Santiago Apostol Parish Ruins

View of the ruins of the Santiago Apostol church.
Travel to Cartago to gaze at the ruins of the Santiago Apostol church. Courtesy of Deposit Photos

It is always exciting to explore the architecture of a city, but once a building falls to ruin it is often forgotten. That is not the case with the Santiago Apostol Parish ruins which are open for the public to check out. 

These stunning ruins are a great place to start if you want to learn more about the history of the area. This is a cultural heritage site and is truly magnificent, especially if you enjoy immaculate scenery.

3. Sector Prusia Irazú Volcano

The Irazú Volcano is the tallest volcano in the country and the surrounding national park is a big tourist attraction. 

Volcano aside, there are many green areas for excellent walks with beautiful trees and plants to see. On a clear day it is possible to take in views over both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

4. Central Market

If you want to get a feel for how the locals spend their time, one of the best ways to do this is by visiting the city market. At the central market, you will be amazed at the sights and sounds as well as the colors and smells that this bustling market offers. 

There are over 200 stalls which sell an excellent variety of meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, and much more. Visit for the shopping experience of a lifetime. You will also find a selection of restaurants here where you can relax, have a bite to eat, and watch as the world goes by.

5. Mirador Sanatorium Carlos Duran

Do you have a taste for the paranormal? If the answer is yes, then the Mirador Sanatorium is a must see since it is thought to be the most haunted place in all of Costa Rica. 

Ghosts aside, there is a lot more to this beautiful place. The now abandoned building was erected in the early 1900s as a hospital to treat patients with tuberculosis. It now stands as a historic reminder of how far the city and its public health system has come.

6. Cartago Municipal Museum

Located in a disused jail, the Cartago Municipal Museum is home to a range of artwork, including paintings and murals. While the building may have once been used to house prisoners, it is in fact an aesthetically pleasing building and will interest anyone with a penchant for architecture. 

Additionally, the museum building is surrounded by a stunning garden which is something to be admired in its own right. 

7. Mary Helper of Christians Parish

View at the interior of Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels.
Another Catholic church to visit, the beautiful Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels. Courtesy of Deposit Photos

This traditional church is a spiritual focal point for the city and the more pious residents, and is an excellent place to visit whilst staying in Cartago. 

It is a fully functional Catholic church and tourists are welcome to participate in the services alongside the locals. The striking red building follows traditional Central American design. 

8. Fossil Land

If you are travelling with children, there is no better place to visit in Cartago than Fossil Land. The name may not make it sound like much, but this amusement park has lots to offer. With activities including abseiling, a zip line, and a gravity swing, the adventure never ends. A 1500 foot water slide is a massive draw for visitors.

There are also plenty of educational exhibits that are excellent for young minds.  

9. Pronatura Park

For those looking for some peace and tranquility, Pronatura Park is the perfect spot. There is a great range of bird species here for any ornithologists. 

There are plenty of other things to see if wildlife isn’t your thing. Take a peaceful walk and greet some of the friendly goats that live here.

10. Museo Leone de Ujarras

These fascinating ruins are a great place to go back in time and explore some of the history of Cartago. 

Set in beautiful green surroundings, the museum is dedicated to the rich Costa Rican culture. If you are not interested in history, you will at least enjoy the beautiful scenery.

11. Catarata El Salto de La Novia

Costa Rica has some amazing natural locations, and one of the absolute best is this stunning waterfall which attracts thousands of visitors every year.

The beautiful waterfall cascades down the side of an impressive mountain. 

There is a lovely little coffee shop in the botanical garden opposite the falls which gives an incredible view and a chance to relax with some traditional Costa Rican coffee.

12. Casona de Cartago Steakhouse

This restaurant, with a tasty menu and super friendly staff, is particularly good for families. There is also a very good children’s play area to keep the little ones entertained while they wait for their food. 

The views from the restaurant are fantastic, so the adults have something to keep them entertained too. 

While the food here is a little more expensive than other local places, the reviews are excellent so it is worth that little bit extra.

13. Lake Cachi

Aerial view of Lake Cachi located in the Valle de Orosi on a cloudy day.
Lake Cachi located in the Valle de Orosi on a cloudy day. Courtesy of Deposit Photos

If the hustle and bustle of the city becomes too much, how about a trip out to the stunning Lake Cachi where you can spend an afternoon simply relaxing?  

This artificial lake was built in the 1970s and produces hydroelectric power for the city. However, this is not just a functional place; the beauty of the area attracts many people for walking and relaxing. This is a great place to have a picnic and let the children stretch their legs.

14. Montana Amarilla

Translating to Yellow Mountain, it is easy to see where this place gets its name. With the huge spread of brightly colored yellow flowers that cover the ground, the mountain is truly a sight to behold. 

This is a beautiful location that is great for getting back to nature and the perfect place to take a gentle stroll. 

15. Bar La Nueva Atomica

This proud gay bar in Cartago is one of the nightlife hot spots of the city and should not be missed. They are said to play a brilliant selection of music which is perfect for anyone looking to dance the night away. 

The drinks menu is second to none and the service is great with a very welcoming staff. With its colorful and bright decor, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in some sort of circus or theater.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that Cartago has much to offer anyone paying a visit. There are so many different things to see and do here. From family days out at Fossil Land to relaxed walks and stunning scenery, there is something to keep everyone happy in Cartago.

Author

  • rovology

    Rovology is leveraging advice from Vagabonds, Tourists, Digital Nomads, Wayfarers and Travel Writers to give our readers a guide on the best things to do no matter where they go.