Naranjo, five kilometers west of Sarchí  and three kilometers north of the Pan-American Highway, is an important agricultural center with a pretty twin-towered, cream-colored, red-roofed baroque church worth a stop.
Coopronaranjo (tel. 506/2450-0138, http://web.coopronaranjorl.com ) has tours of its coffee beneficio (well signed in town) during the October–February harvest season ($30).
North of Naranjo, the main road leads to Ciudad Quesada and the northern lowlands. It is one of the most scenic drives in the country. Beyond San Juanillo, the scenery becomes distinctly alpine, with dairy cattle munching contentedly on the emerald slopes. Higher up, beyond the hamlet of Llano Bonito, the road twists and coils as you ascend to Zarcero, a pleasant mountain town with an impressive setting beneath green mountains.
Dominating the town is the whitewashed church fronted by Parque Francisco Alvarado—a veritable open-air museum of fantastic topiary. The work is that of Evangelisto Blanco, who has unleashed his wildest ideas in leafy splendor: a cat riding a motorcycle along the top of a hedge, an elephant with light bulbs for eyes, corkscrews whose spiral foliage coils up and around the trunks like serpents around Eden’s tree, even a bullring complete with matador, charging bull, and spectators.
At Zapote, eight kilometers north of Zarcero, you reach the Continental Divide, with sweeping vistas of the northern lowlands far below.
Rancho Amalia (tel. 506/2463-3335, www.ranchoamalia.com , 9 a.m.–4 p.m. daily), one kilometer south of Zarcero, offers horseback rides on a coffee finca with forest ($10–20).
Hotel Don Beto (tel. 506/2463-3137, www.hoteldonbeto.com , $25 s/d shared bath, $30 s/d private bath), facing the north side of the church in Zarcero, is a handsome hostelry with eight clean, modestly furnished rooms with TVs, WiFi, and hot water. It offers airport transfers plus tours.
The Restaurante El Mirador (tel. 506/2451-1959, 6 a.m.–5 p.m. daily), near San Juanillo, has telescopes to better enjoy views over the valley and good típico food a la leña (grilled over coffee wood) that’ll fill you up on a dime.
Buses (tel. 506/2255-4318) for Zarcero depart San José  every 30 minutes 5 a.m.–7:30 p.m. daily from Calle 12, Avenidas 7/9; and from San Ramón at 5:45 a.m., 8:30 a.m., noon, 2:30 p.m., and 5 p.m. daily. Buses depart from the southwest corner of the park in Zarcero; the bus stop for San José faces the church.