Zarcero, Alajuela

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In the northern hills of San Ramon in the Cordillera Central lies the scenic town of Zarcero. Located in the San Jose Highlands on the edge of the Central Valley, this town is the capital city of the canton of Alfaro Ruiz and one of the many striking villages in the province of Alajuela. With an elevation of 1,736 meters, Zarcero offers picturesque views of the surrounding coffee plantations and a quiet place for travelers to stop and relax. Its elevation is responsible for the brisk mountain climate that has made it part of the agricultural zone of Alajuela, where the local farmers take pride in their organic farming practices. Because it is only 67 km from San Jose, anyone visiting La Fortuna and the Arenal volcano can take a break in Zarcero to enjoy the lavish rolling hills and soothing atmosphere of this town.

Things To Do

One of the main attractions of Zarcero is the Iglesia de San Rafael, a stunning church both inside and out. Those who appreciate beautiful landmarks must see its gorgeous religious paintings, graceful archways and colorful stained-glass windows. Built in 1895, this Zarcero church features artwork including elaborate pastel stencil work done by Don Misael Solis Alvarado, a local Costa Rican artist.

The entrance to the Iglesia de San Rafael is directly behind Parque Francisco Alvarado, a notorious topiary garden designed by Don Evangelista Blanco in 1964. The gardener and curator of the park, Don Evangelista Blanco turned ordinary shrubs and hedges into figures of animals, people and interesting abstract shapes. After planting cypress tree seeds in the park, Don Evangelista Blanco waited four years until they had grown large enough to be shaped into the creatures he wanted to create. Without any training in cypress sculpting, Don Evangelista Blanco has made everything from dinosaurs and helicopters to Christ carrying a cross. While visitors are amazed by faces etched into some of the bushes and the other shape-shifting whimsical characters, it is the stunning series of 16 shrubbery arches that draw the attention of locals and tourists alike. To this day, Don Evangelista Blanco still curates Parque Francisco Alvarado and can be found trimming hedges throughout these Zarcero gardens to maintain its immaculate condition.

Another attraction of the highland town of Zarcero is the Los Ángeles Cloud Forest Reserve. This private park is fairly secluded and not often visited by tourists, making it a serene escape for visitors to peacefully enjoy. With spectacular trails and the opportunity to observe many different species of wildlife, the reserve sits on land that once belonged to former president Rodrigo Carazo.

Poás Volcano National Park is another favorite local attraction. One of the largest active volcanoes in Costa Rica, Poás is 8,885 feet tall and looks down on 14,000 acres of park that is home to an incredible number of exotic plants and animals. A must-see place for visitors, some say it is the most impressive site in all of Costa Rica. Its close proximity to lodging and food makes it an ideal attraction for tourists.

Where To Stay in Zarcero

Those looking to stay in Zarcero can choose from lodging options including cabins, villas, vacation rentals and hotels. Some of the hotels offer spa services for those looking to pamper themselves, and specialty lodges offer their own activities such as horseback riding.

Getting To Zarcero

To get to Zarcero from San Jose, simply take one of the public buses from the Coca Cola bus terminal in Alajuela, so named because it sits on the location of the first Coca Cola bottling plant in Costa Rica. Buses are the most common form of transportation in San Jose and the surrounding areas, although taxis are readily available. The buses have regularly scheduled stops in Zarcero and also make stops at surrounding sites. There are also private buses & shuttles that can easily get you to Zarcero or can provide lunchtime stop in Zarcero before continuing to your final destination.