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Sarchí, set amid coffee fields 29 kilometers northwest of Alajuela, is Costa Rica’s crossroads of crafts—famous for the intricately detailed, hand-painted oxcarts that originated here in the middle of the 19th century. (The town celebrates them on the first week of February with bull-riding, amusement rides, and, of course, a parade of oxcarts.)
Handcrafted souvenirs—from chess sets and salad bowls, leather sandals and rockers to miniature oxcarts decorated in traditional geometric designs—are sold at shops all along the road of Sarchí Sur, which sits atop a steep hill about one kilometer east of Sarchí Norte, the town center. Many whitewashed buildings are painted with the town’s own floral motif trim.
Sarchí Norte’s church is one of the most beautiful in the nation and has a vaulted hardwood ceiling and carvings. Note the humongous oxcart in the plaza!
At Fábrica de Carretas Joaquín Chaverri (tel. 506/2454-4411, www.sarchicostarica.net), in Sarchí Sur, you can see souvenirs and oxcarts being painted in workshops at the rear.
The Else Kientzler Botanical Gardens (tel. 506/2454-2070, www.elsekientzlergarden.com, 8 a.m.–4 p.m. daily, $15 adults, $10 children and students; $25 guided tour by reservation), 800 meters north of the stadium in Sarchí Norte, displays 2,000 species of flora on seven hectares of gardens. It’s superb for bird-watching. Almost three kilometers of trails wind through the gardens, which represent plants from throughout the tropical world and even feature a small maze. A portion of the garden features a trail for the blind.
Specializing in horseback tours, Rancho Amalia (tel. 506/2463-3335, www.ranchoamalia.com, $10–20) offers three itineraries.
Taller Eloy Alfaro
This piece of living history (tel. 506/2454-3141, www.fabricadecarretaseloyalfaro.com, 6 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon.–Fri.) is the only workshop in the country still making Costa Rica’s famous carretas (oxcarts) featuring the 16-pie-wedge-piece wheel bound with a metal belt. Justifiably, it’s now a national historic treasure.
Here you can witness workers making yokes and 11 different types of oxcarts in traditional manner, with the lathes and tools all still powered by an age-old waterwheel. Go just after dawn to see the red-hot metal frames being put on the wheels. You’re free to wander around at will, but be careful of all the whizzing belts and pulleys!
In 2010, new owners expanded the facility, adding a large souvenir store with an upstairs restaurant.
In Sarchí Sur, the overpriced Hotel Cabinas Zamora (tel. 506/2454-4596, hotelvilla [at] racsa [dot] co [dot] cr, $35 s/d) has seven simple, clean, air-conditioned rooms with small cable TVs, fans, and private baths with hot water.
Appealing to budget travelers, Cabinas Paraíso Río Verde (tel./fax 506/2454-3003, www.hotelparaisorioverde.com, $20 s or $25 d budget rooms, $30 s or $40 d rooms, $40 s or $50 d cabins), at San Pedro, about five kilometers north of Sarchí Sur on the road to Bosque de Paz, has the advantage of a peaceful hillside setting, and a kidney-shaped pool and sundeck with spectacular views of four volcanoes.
Rancho Amalia (tel. 506/2463-3335, www.ranchoamalia.com, $60 s/d) has two lovely and comfortable cabins, each with a TV, fireplace, and kitchen.
In Sarchí Sur there are several eateries in the Plaza de la Artesanía, including the small, homey Restaurant Helechos (tel. 506/2454-4560, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. daily), which serves tacos, burgers, and such tantalizing dishes as tongue in salsa, garlic shrimp, and desserts, natural juices, and cappuccinos.
On the east side of the plaza, La Troja del Abuelo (tel. 506/2454-4973, 11 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–midnight Fri.–Sun.) offers a large menu of típico dishes (try the sea bass in mushroom sauce).
Restaurant Las Carretas (tel. 506/2454-1633, 9 a.m.–6 p.m. daily, $5), adjoining Fábrica de Carretas Joaquín Chaverri, has a shaded patio out back; it serves típico dishes plus chicken parmigiana, pastas, salads, and burgers.
Getting to Sarchí
Buses (tel. 506/2258-2004) depart San José from Calle 18, Avenidas 5/7 every 30 minutes 5 a.m.–10 p.m. daily. Buses (tel. 506/494-2139) depart Alajuela from Calle 8, Avenidas Central/1 every 30 minutes between 5:30 a.m.–10 p.m. daily.
Taxis wait on the west side of the square in Sarchí Norte, or call Sarchí Taxi Service (tel. 506/2454-4028).
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Costa Rica, 8th Edition