- Summary: Traditional small town off the tourist trail; hotspot for rural tourism and close to indigenous reserves.
- Landscape: Cloud Forest, Mountains
- Attractions: La Cangreja National Park
- Activities: Hiking, Indigenous Cultural Tours, Sugar Cane Tours
- Caters to: Budget Travelers, Culture Aficionados, Independent Travelers
- Quick Facts: 30 miles west of San Jose ; 2,500-4,000 feet above sea level ; Spring-like temperatures year-round ; 64-85 F
Santiago de Puriscal, called Puriscal by locals, was once part of the Western Huetar Kingdom, a Costa Rican indigenous group. The area was an important crossroads, used by the Huetar as a central meeting ground and resting place. Later, after Spanish conquest, the small village continued its geographical roll, serving as a stopping point on the central trade route between Costa Rican and Panama.read more close
Today, this mountain town enjoys a picturesque location as well as easy access to Pacific coast beaches – Puntarenas is just 30 minutes away via the new Caldera Highway. The quiet ambiance offers a relaxing alternative to bustling San Jose and the country’s more touristed areas. At La Cangreja National Park, miles of hiking trails and lovely viewpoints await, while two neighboring indigenous reserves offer a slice of authentic Costa Rican culture.
Puriscal has also grown as an agricultural center and residential community, and the area attracts visitors interested in rural tourism. Tour operators and independent organizations invite travelers to experience Costa Rica's great outdoors as a local: meet farmers, learn to herd cattle, or catch tilapia with just a hook and line. The Central Valley’s historic traditions are celebrated, and cultural visits include trips to a sugar cane farm and a local cigar factory.
Accommodations in Puriscal cater to moderate to upscale travelers and range in price from $50-$200 per night. A popular wellness retreat has beautiful accommodations and offers regular workshops on yoga and organic living. Healthy honeymoons, adventure packages, and holistic health guidance are also a specialty. Several local hotels include food in their rates, and meals are served family-style. Homestay options are also available – stay with a local family, practice Spanish, and dine on food grown locally. Many area businesses accept credit cards, and there are several ATMs downtown.
Don Franklin’s Trapiche Tour
Follow the journey of sugar from the cane field to the supermarket – and participate in each step of the process. Use the trapiche, a traditional sugar cane press, to make sweet sugar cane juice, and sample a variety of goodies made from fresh sugar. This tour must be arranged through a hotel or local tour operator.
La Iguana Chocolate Farm
Located in the quaint village of Mastatal de Puriscal, the family-run La Iguana Chocolate Farm has produced organic chocolate for more than 25 years. Take a tour and learn how cacao is harvested, dried and fermented to produce cocoa powder, chocolate and other delicious goodies. The sustainable farm also welcomes volunteers to assist in cocoa production and service projects in the local community. Phone: 2410-6325; schedule: 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily; $25 chocolate tour.
La Cangreja National Park
Located 20 miles west of Puriscal, La Cangreja is comprised of land once described as “the Garden of Eden.” The park’s fertile soil and virgin rainforest nourish a wealth of flora and fauna, including poison dart frogs, river turtles, basilisk lizards, sloths, armadillos, and more than 2,000 plant species. Be sure to stop at La Cangreja, a stunning lookout point, and explore the lower hiking trails – a series of paths rarely visited by tourists. Volunteers are welcome to assist in various conservation projects. Phone: 2601-0020; schedule: 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.; closed Mondays.
Turu Ba Ri Tropical Park
Enjoy the adventure of a lifetime – choose from a zip line canopy tour, Tarzan swing, or the sensational Superman cable, which sends you flying 4,000 feet at a whopping 55 mph! More serene activities include a nature tour, horseback riding, and a scenic ride on the aerial tram. The park is in Turrubares, approximately 10 miles west of Puriscal. Phone: 2250-0705; schedule: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 2011: Closed until further notice.
Vegas de Santiago Tobacco Tour (Santiago de Puriscal)
Visit a local cigar factory and learn how cigars are made. Discover special tobacco processes, how to roll a good cigar, and other celebrated traditions. The tour also explains the positive impact tobacco has had on the Puriscal region. Phone: 2416-6744/8881-8568; schedule: 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday-Friday.
Zapaton and Quitirrisi Indigenous Reserves
The Huetar indigenous tribe once dominated the zone, and their traditions live on in the small communities of Zapanton and Quitirrisi. Take a tour of the beautiful reserves, learn how the people live, and enjoy a typical meal with a Huetar family. Arrange this special tour with your hotel or local tour operator.
Bus: San Jose to Puriscal: $1.30; direct buses leave when full; nonstop buses leave every hour from 5:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Departs from the Coca Cola bus station at Calle 16 between Avenidas 1 and 3. 2248-1703.
Car: Take Highway 27 west out of San Jose. Shortly after Santa Ana, follow signs south to Ciudad Colon and Puriscal.