Cartago (the English variation of Carthage) is a very old and historic city in Costa Rica. It was the first Spanish settlement, and was the nation's capital for nearly 300 years before it became San Jose.
Cartago is a glamorous city with a population of about 150,000 residents. It attracts fewer expats than San Jose, primarily due to the slightly colder weather. However, you may still prefer it to San Jose and many other cities in the Central Valley – and you’ll enjoy some of the most beautiful landscapes Costa Rica has to offer.
If you’re considering buying a home in Cartago, do some research to see if it’s a good fit for you.
The city was founded in the mid-16th Century by Spanish Governor Juan Vasquez. However, the city was almost entirely destroyed by several volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. In 1823, the capital was moved to San Jose, where there were fewer natural disasters to contend with.
Unfortunately, all of Cartago’s original structures were destroyed by several of the earthquakes and volcanic eruptions that rained down on the city. However, many of the ruins still remain, and natives and tourists still feel a connection to the city's colonial roots.
Many visitors enjoy looking at the walls of Las Ruinas de la Parroquia, which was a church built as a shrine to the Apostle St. James. The Museo Municipal de Cartago was founded a few years ago to showcase many historic artifacts dating back to the city’s colonization.
Cartago is located in the Central Valley. It’s located about an hour away from San Jose, and within driving distance of most other Central Valley cities.
Cartago has an elevation of nearly 5000 feet, and tends to be a bit cooler than most other parts of the country. Temperatures can even reach as low as 65°F. While this is still considerably warmer than most parts of the United States throughout the year, it's rather cold by Costa Rica standards.
Most expats choose to live in warmer areas and forgo the mild climate. However, if you can tolerate the mild chilliness, there are many beautiful things about Cartago to enjoy.
Cartago is home to some wonderful sights that you just won't find in many other parts of Costa Rica. You'll see a wide range of vegetation, most of the country’s few dairy farms, and some of the most majestic mountains Costa Rica has to offer.
If you want to see different species of plants, consider visiting the Lankester Botanical Garden. This project is maintained by the University of Costa Rica and several of its partner organizations. Here, you'll find over 3000 different species of plants that are native to Cartago.
Cartago is also close to the Orosi Valley, which is a beautiful place to visit. Due to the position between the adjacent mountains, temperatures in this valley remain fairly constant throughout the year, so it's worth visiting if you’re bothered by the temperature fluctuations in Cartago.
It’s important to learn about the local economy and customs before moving to Cartago. Here are some factors to take into consideration before deciding to move there.
While the economy is relatively small, it is still growing rapidly. An increasing number of foreign companies have expressed an interest in working with Cartago businesses.
Several years ago, the Special Economic Zone of Carthage announced plans to bolster foreign direct investment in the city. Four dozen other global organizations have invested in the local economy.
While manufacturing became the largest industry in Costa Rica during the 1990s, Cartago's residents continue to rely on agriculture to make a living. Cartago produces a large supply of the nation's gourmet coffee, which is exported throughout the world.
However, the growing technology sector is also creating plenty of jobs for the local economy. The thriving industry attracts many engineers and scientists to Cartago. Silvia Hidalgo, Director of the Center for University-Industry Links at the Tecnológico de Costa Rica College, expects technology to become a more influential part of the economy.
“In the future, the creation of a science and technology park is envisaged to allow further growth in research and production,” said Hidalgo.
Cartago is a fairly safe place to live, especially in comparison to cities like San Jose. The lower crime rate can partially be attributed to local bars closing around 10 p.m., which discourages illicit behavior late at night. Cartago is also less populated, and doesn’t have the same crime rates and issues associated with larger cities.
However, that’s not to say crime doesn’t exist in the region. Regardless of where you live in Costa Rica, it’s important to be on your guard. But authorities are diligent in trying to improve safety for all citizens. For example, federal law enforcement officials have broken up drug operations in the country which have greatly helped to improve residents’ safety.
Food and Culture
Cartago residents eat the same cuisines as most other Costa Ricans. Cartago lures global tourists with its historic charms, mild climate, and beauty. It also features some of the best restaurants in the country.
The center of Cartago features some of the largest fast food restaurants in the city, but you’ll also find plenty of authentic cuisine, too. TripAdvisor compiled a detailed list of Cartago restaurants worth checking out before you plan an evening out. The most highly-rated restaurant is actually an Italian restaurant called Andiamo La, but you’ll also find dozens of traditional Costa Rican eateries to choose from.
Cartago’s old world charm and history is full of fascinating places to visit. Here are some tourist destinations to check out during your stay.
Our Lady of the Angels Basilica
Start with Our Lady of the Angels Basilica, a Roman Catholic Church that opened its doors in 1924. The church marks the site where a young girl claimed to witness an image of the Virgin Mary in 1635. The girl said the Virgin was cast in a black boulder. It took over a dozen years and many artisans to build the iconic structure from the ground up.
Thousands of devout Catholics from around the world make a pilgrimage to this church every August. Nonbelievers and practitioners of other faiths also visit Our Lady of the Angels Basilica to marvel at its wondrous architecture.
Museo Municipal de Cartago
The Museo Municipal de Cartago is quite possibly the most famous museum in Costa Rica. You’ll find exhibits covering the lengthy history of Cartago that highlight its long and celebrated history.
Museo Municipal de Cartago is free to visit, and opens between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Irazu Volcano National Park
Irazu is one of the largest active volcanoes in Costa Rica. It covers nearly 190 square miles, and has an elevation that ranges from 10,827 to 13,124 feet above sea level.
The volcano has erupted several times throughout Cartago’s history. The last eruption took place in 1994.
Irazu is hailed as one of the most famous volcanoes in Costa Rica, and is so popular that the government created a national park for locals and tourists to visit. The Irazu Volcano National Park is open daily from 8 am to 3:30 pm. The cost of admission is currently $10.
Guayabo National Monument
Visit the Guayabo National Monument if you would like to learn more about Cartago before it was settled by the Spanish.
You’ll see ancient artifacts from indigenous people that have been uncovered during archaeological excavations.
The Guayabo National Monument is the largest and most famous archaeological site in Costa Rica, and many of these relics were found around the time Vasquez first settled the area. People travel from all over the country to see the historical landmark.
The monument is open from 8 am to 3:30 p.m. every day. Admission is only $10.
Turrialba Volcano National Park
The Turrialba Volcano National Park is another park built near an active volcano. The park is currently closed to the public as a precaution. The volcano has shown signs that it could erupt and record a new event in history.
As the oldest city in Costa Rica, Cartago is full of historical gems and natural phenomenons.
However, the cool weather deters some expats from living in the area, making it harder to find a community of Americans to socialize with. But expats who enjoy cool weather and an escape from the hot, sunny days of other regions of Costa Rica will enjoy Cartago.
Do you want to move to Cartago? What do you plan to do after your move? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below: