As part of our compromise to expand the knowledge of the history of Costa Rica. we are starting a series of entries on our provinces. Costa Rica has seven provinces. Each and every one fill with traditions, stories, history and people. Not to mention amazing places and natural beauties to visit. We decided to start with one that once was our first capital. Named after one of the greats ancient cities and empires of the word. Cartago.

Cartago the old metropolis

Cartago located in the Valley of the Guarco, was founded by Juan Vazquez de Coronado in 1563. In a letter to the king Felipe II Juan Vazquez de Coronado says. “The city has the force of Valladolid. Good land and a good sky. I named the city Cartago…” Cartago was the first permanent emplacement for the Spaniards in Costa Rica. And around it. Small towns of Indians, black and mestizos rose.

Arms shield of the city of Santiago de Cartago. During the Colony

Since its foundation in 1563 and until 1821 Cartago served as the capital of the province of Costa Rica. Housing governors and rich Spaniards families. From more than 200 years the people of Cartago felt proud of been recognize as political center of the provinces of Costa Rica.

The first civil war.

During the colony the departments that form the province of Costa Rica lack cohesion among them. And the people in them prefer to identify as Alajuenlenses, Josefinos, Herdianos or Cartagineses instead of Costa Ricans. However they new that in the face of a new independent life unity among the departments was the best strategy.

However two different groups form in 1823. Cartago in conjunction with Heredia form a faction to fight what was to be the first civil war of Costa Rica. This faction was named the “Imperialists.” People in favor of the annexation of Costa Rica to the Mexican Empire. The other faction form by Alajuela and San Jose were the Republicans whom preferred the permanence of Costa Rica as a fully independent country. The Republicans won the encounter. Moving the capital to San Jose. A vastly more develop city principally due to the Tobacco plantations.

To ease tensions between the inhabitants of four main provinces. Jose Rafale Gallegos Alvarado governor of Costa Rica at the time develop the “ley de la ambulancia” [“ambulance or ambulant law”]. That consisted in switching the capital of Costa Rica every two years between the provinces of Cartago, San Jose, Alajuela and Heredia.


Cartago has been heavily hit by several earthquakes trough out its history. The first one happen in the 7th of may of 1822, named the earthquake of Saint Estanislao according to the record it occur around 1:30 am and 2:00am. Then it was hit again almost completely devastated the 2nd of September 1841. And once again the 4th of May 1910. Due to this natural disasters it is difficult to find architecture that predates 1910. Example of this are the ruins of the church of Santiago. Unfinished remains of the church in honor of Santiago never completed after the earthquake on 1910.

Cartago is also home to the beloved Negrita de los Ángeles. An adjudication of the Virgin Mary saint patron of Costa Rica since


The 2nd of August 1635 a  young woman parda of race know known as Juana Pereira was recollecting wood in the forest and she used to do when she found a interesting doll like sculpture, sitting on stone next to a spring. The figure was that of a woman holding a baby in her arms. Juana liked the figure and so she took it to her house. And save it wrapping it on white handkerchief and placing it inside a wooden box.

The next day Juana visited the same place and once again, she found doll quite like the first one sitting on the stone next to the spring. Thinking that now she had two dolls. Quickly and happily she took that one too. As she had done in the past she wrap the figure on a white handkerchief and proceed to open the wooden box to put the new doll next the old one.  To her amazement the first doll wasn’t in the box anymore, the only doll was the one she held on her hands, the first one was nowhere to be found. This repeat 1 more time. And curious Juana Pereira ran to the priest of the community. Whom after locking the doll in the tabernacle return the next day to find the doll wasn’t there.

Quickly he realize the doll was actually a representation of the virgin Mary. And by returning to the place same place day after day the Virgin wanted to stay were it was found. Soon a small church was build in what now is the Basilica de los Ángeles.

Basilica de los Ángeles in Cartago

Cartago Today.

Today Cartago is the third most populated city in Costa Rica behind San Jose in first place and Alajuela in second. Is the location of one of  the biggest industrial zones of Costa Rica specialize in precision mechanics, medical equipment, and technology. At 1430 meters above sea level Cartago is known for its cold climate. And production of coffee, potatoes and other vegetables.

Cartago is home of the Club Sport Cartagines. Cartag0’s Futbol Club that battles fiercely every year to reach the championship but hasn’t been able to do it since 1940. Every 2nd of August becomes the destinations of millions of pilgrims that visit the Virgen de los Ángeles. Saint patron of Costa Rica. In Cartago you can also visit the very active Turrialba Volcano, the Irazu Volcano and the Orosí Volcano. Also the Tapantí National Park. And Guayabo’s National Monument with one of the oldest prehistorians buildings in Central America.

Activities recommendations.

Cartago is an easy going city. Full of one day relaxing activities. If you are visiting the center of Cartago do not forget to visit the Basilica de los Ángeles and the Ruins in the middle and to visit one its many cafeteries. If you are in need of a shopping experience Paseo Metrópoli is near by. A modern mall full with stores, cinemas and a food court.

But if you are planning a more relaxing activity visit the Turrialba Volcano  or the Irazú Volcano. While in Turrialba we encourage you to taste one of its many cheese been the Turrialba Cheese a must. If you choose to visit the Irazu you would also like to visit the Sanatory Duran a “hunted” building once use as a hospital to treat the people ill with tuberculosis. You can also visit Ujarras and the Valley of Orosis and the Orosi Volcano. And always remember to visit the Basilica de los Ángeles in the center of Cartago. Especially if you do that during the first days of Augusts.

Volcan Irazu Cartago Costa Rica

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