Visiting the Orosi-Cachí Valley in the Central Highlands

The mostly intact walls of a limestone church with a neatly manicured lawn.

The ruins of Nuestra Señora de la Limpia Concepción, built out of limestone between 1681 and 1693. Photo © Raúl José, licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.

Map of the Orosi-Cachí Valley, Costa Rica

Orosi-Cachí Valley

South of Paraíso, Highway 224 drops steeply into the Valle de Orosi, a self-contained world dedicated to raising coffee and centered on a huge artificial lake drained by the Río Reventazón. Highway 224 divides below Paraíso and loops around Lago Cachí: one way drops to Orosi, the other to Ujarrás; the valley thus makes a fine full-day circular tour.

For a fabulous view over the valley, call in at Mirador Orosi (tel. 506/2574-4688, 8am-4:30pm daily, free), two kilometers (1.2 miles) south of Paraíso. This park has lawns, topiary, and picnic tables.

If you’re traveling to or from Turrialba, take the dramatically scenic road that links Ujarrás with the main highway about two kilometers (1.2 miles) east of Cervantes; this roller coaster snakes through boulder-strewn countryside farmed with chayote. Awesome!

Orosi

The village of Orosi, eight kilometers (5 miles) south of Paraíso, is the center of the coffee-growing region. Its main claim to fame is its charming Iglesia San José de Orosi, built by the Franciscans in 1735 of solid adobe with a rustic timbered roof, terra-cotta tiled floor, and gilt altar. The restored church, adorned with gilt icons, has withstood earth tremors with barely a mark for almost three centuries. The church adjoins a small religious art museum (tel. 506/2533-3051, 1pm-5pm Tues.-Fri., 9am-5pm Sat.-Sun., $0.75) displaying furniture, religious statuary, paintings, and silver. Photography is not allowed.

Balnearios Termales Orosi (tel. 506/2533-2156, 7:30am-4pm Wed.-Mon., $2), two blocks west of the plaza, has 30°C (86°F) thermal mineral pools; it’s clean and well run. Another hot springs, Balnearios Los Patios (tel. 506/2533-3009, 8am-4pm Tues.-Sun., $2.50), about one kilometer (0.6 miles) south of Orosi at Río Macho, has simpler pools but packs in the locals on weekends. Across the road, the Beneficio Orlich (tel. 506/2533-3535, fax 506/2533-3735, 9am-noon and 1:30pm-4pm Mon.-Fri.) offers one-hour tours (by appointment, $5 pp) of the coffee-processing plant. Afternoon is best.

Vivero Anita (tel. 506/2533-3307, 8:30am-5pm daily, $1), next to Orosi Lodge, raises orchids and welcomes visitors.

South of town, the road divides at Río Macho: The main road crosses the river (a small toll is collected on Sun.) and turns north to continue around the lake’s southern shore via the village of Cachí. A side road continues south nine kilometers (5.5 miles) to Parque Nacional Tapantí via the Río Grande valley, where just west of Purisil, four kilometers (2.5 miles) southeast of Orosi, a dirt road clambers uphill two kilometers (1.2 miles) to Monte Sky Mountain Retreat (tel. 506/2228-0010, 8am-5pm daily, $10), a 56-hectare (138-acre) private cloud-forest reserve with trails and waterfalls, and camping ($10 per tent) with shared cold-water baths. It’s great for bird-watching. A 4WD vehicle is recommended for the rocky uphill clamber; you have to hike in from an unguarded parking lot, so don’t leave any valuables in your car.

For insights into sustainable agriculture, call in or volunteer at Finca La Flor de Paraíso (tel. 506/5234-8003), near Paraíso. Its 10 hectares (25 acres) include botanical and medicinal gardens, regenerated forest, and animals husbandry (goats, chickens, horses).

Around Lago Cachí

Lago Cachí (Lake Cachí) was created when the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad built the Cachí dam across the Río Reventazón to supply San José with hydroelectric power.

On the southern shore, just east of Cachí village, Casa del Soñador (Dreamer’s House, tel. 506/2577-1186 and 506/8955-7779, 9am-6pm daily, free) is the unusual home of brothers Hermes and Miguel Quesada, who carry on their father Macedonio’s tradition of carving crude figurines from coffee-plant roots; the carvings are offered for sale. The house—with carved figures leaning over the windows—is made entirely of rough-cut wood. Check out the Last Supper on one of the walls.

Ujarrás, on the north shore of the lake, seven kilometers (4.5 miles) southeast of Paraíso, is the site of Las Ruinas de Ujarrás (8am-4:30pm daily, free), the ruins of a church, Nuestra Señora de la Limpia Concepción, built out of limestone between 1681 and 1693 to honor the Virgen del Rescate de Ujarrás. The church owes its existence to an imagined miracle. In 1666 the pirate Henry Morgan led a raiding party into the Valle de Turrialba to sack the highland cities. They were routed after the defenders prayed at Ujarrás. The ruins are set in a walled garden. Thousands of pilgrims from Paraíso flock here each Easter Sunday to honor the imagined intercession of the Virgin Mary in the pirate attack.

Sports and Recreation

Orosi Lodge (tel./fax 506/2533-3578) offers excursions and rents mountain bikes ($3 per hour, $10 per day) and canoes ($30 per day, including transportation to the lake). Montaña Linda (tel. 506/2533-3640) also rents bikes ($4 per day).

Santos Tours (tel. 506/8855-9386) has a highlands fruit tour and bio-coffee adventure, among others. You can fish for trout at Montaña Trucha de Cachí (tel. 506/2577-1457), 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) south of Highway 224, near the village of Cachí.

The Adventure Lodge (tel. 506/2533-1195), on the south side of the lake, specializes in multiday adventure packages, combining sightseeing with mountain biking and hiking. And Aventuras Orosi Rafting (tel. 506/2533-4400) guarantees you white-water thrills. You can book through Orosi Tourist Info & Art Café (OTIA, tel. 506/2533-3640, otiac@ice.go.cr) in the village center.

Accommodations

You can camp at Montaña Linda (tel. 506/2533-3640, camping $5 pp, with tent rental $7), one block north of Balnearios Termales. Run by Dutch couple Sara and Toine Verkuijlen, it’s a rustic yet welcoming place primarily catering to backpackers and language students at their Spanish school. The hostel (dorm $10 pp, private room $15 s, $25 d) has three dorms and eight private rooms with hot water; a separate guesthouse three blocks away has three upstairs rooms (two with double beds, one with a double and a bunk, $30 s, $40 d). Meals are provided, but guests get kitchen privileges.

I recommend the delightful Orosi Lodge Cabinas y Cafetería (tel./fax 506/2533-3578, low season $51 s/d, high season $58 s/d), next to Balneario Martínez. Inspired by local architecture, with clay lamps and locally crafted hardwoods, it has six simply furnished rooms in a charming two-story whitewashed structure. All have bamboo furnishings, firm mattresses, ceiling fans, tile or wooden (upstairs) floors, minibars, coffeemakers, colorful little baths with hot water, and a balcony with views. You can also choose a two-bedroom chalet (low season $75 s/d, high season $85 s/d). Its coffee shop is a delightful place to relax.

Similarly intimate, the Hostel Casa del Café (tel. 506/2533-1896, $25 s, $30 d), three blocks southeast of the plaza, is a small bed-and-breakfast run by Dutchman Walter and his Cuban wife, Sucel. Comfy and simple sums it up.

Sanchiri Mirador and Lodge (tel. 506/2574-5454, low season $58 s, $70 d, high season $66 s, $82 d), on the Paraíso road above the valley, has five barebones cabins plus 12 sophisticated hillside rooms with walls of glass. Spectacular views combine with a delightful contemporary aesthetic and spacious modern baths in the newer rooms. Three rooms are wheelchair-accessible. It has a kids’ playground, and the owners—nine brothers!—have been implementing sustainable systems, such as biogas from their own pigs. Rates include tax and breakfast. Noise from barking dogs and trucks negotiating the hill can be a problem.

The most upscale place is Hotel Río Perlas Spa & Resort (tel. 506/2533-3341, $102-180 s, $111-196 d, higher in peak season), on the south side of the Río Agua Caliente in a lush mountainside setting. Red-tiled villas stair-step the hillside and include 6 tastefully decorated standard rooms, 26 superiors, 15 junior suites, and 2 suites. It has two restaurants, a swimming pool fed by thermal waters, ponds for fishing, and a spa offering a full range of treatments.

The neocolonial-style Tetey Lodge (tel. 506/2533-1335, low season $36-46 s, $50-59 d; high season $45-53 s, $58-69 d), on the south side of Orosi, offers nine large, nicely furnished rooms around a courtyard. Two have full kitchens, and there’s a delightful restaurant. The only drawback is the small baths.

El Copal Biological Reserve & Lodge (tel. 506/2535-0047), near Pejibaye, has five rooms with bunks and shared baths. It has horseback riding, and tours of the farming community are a highlight. Costa Rican Association of Community-Based Rural Tourism (ACTUAR, tel. 506/2248-9470) handles reservations and arranges tours.

Food

The open-air Bar/Restaurant Mirador Sanchiri (at Sanchiri Mirador and Lodge, tel. 506/2574-5454, 7am-9pm daily) serves comida típica ($6-10), enjoyed to stunning vistas through plate-glass windows.

In Orosi, Orosi Lodge (tel./fax 506/2533- 3578, 7am-7pm Mon.-Sat.), three blocks south of the church, serves an excellent continental breakfast ($4), pizza ($3.50), sandwiches, croissants, bagels with salami and cheese, natural juices, and ice cream sundaes. On Sunday it’s open to guests only.

The charmingly rustic open-sided Restaurante Coto (tel. 506/2533-3032, 8am-midnight daily), on the north side of the soccer field, serves oven-roasted fare baked over coffee wood, plus casados (set lunches, $4) and dishes from burgers to trout.

Within a stone’s throw of Ujarrás ruins, the rustic Bar y Restaurante El Cas (tel. 506/2574-7984, 7am-7pm daily) is set on a traditional farmstead with geese and goats. It serves typical Costa Rican dishes.

On the south side of the lake, with lovely views, La Casona del Cafetal (tel. 506/2577-1414, 11am-6pm daily) serves crepes, soups, salads, and Costa Rican dishes such as tilapia with mushrooms and fresh-caught trout with pesto sauce. On Sunday, a hearty international all-you-can-eat buffet costs $20. It’s set in lush grounds on a coffee finca.

The Panadería Arce (tel. 506/2533-3244, 4am-6pm Mon.-Sat., 5am-noon Sun.) bakery is three blocks north of the soccer field in Orosi.

Information and Services

Sara and Toine Verkuijlen’s Orosi Tourist Info & Art Café (tel. 506/2533-3640, otiac@ice.go.cr) is a good resource. It has a Spanish-language school (OTIAC).

A medical clinic (tel. 506/2374-8225 or 506/2552-0851) is 50 meters (165 feet) northeast of the soccer field. The police station is on the northwest corner of the soccer field.

Orosi Lodge (tel./fax 506/2533-3578, 7am-7pm daily) offers Internet access.

Getting There and Around

Buses (tel. 506/2533-1916) depart Cartago for Orosi ($0.65) from Calle 4, Avenida 1, every 30 minutes 5:30am-10:35pm Monday-Saturday, less frequently on Sunday. Return buses depart from the soccer field in Orosi. Buses do not complete a circuit of Lago Cachí; you’ll have to backtrack to Paraíso to visit Ujarrás and the Cachí dam by public bus. Buses depart Cartago for Cachí via Ujarrás from one block east and one block south of Las Ruinas.

Taxis El Rescate (tel. 506/2574-4442) is in Paraíso. Jeep taxis (tel. 506/2533-3087 or 506/8378-0357) await customers on the north side of the soccer field in Orosi. A tour around the lake will cost about $20.


Excerpted from the Ninth Edition of Moon Costa Rica.

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