- Summary: Delightful mountain town known for its topiary gardens, organic produce and other agricultural products.
- Landscape: City, Cloud Forest, Mountains
- Attractions: Juan Castro Blanco National Park, Topiary Gardens
- Activities: Hiking, Nature Tours
- Caters to: Day Trippers, Independent Travelers, Nature Lovers
- Quick Facts: 32 miles from the international airport; 14 miles from San Ramon ; 5,695 feet above sea level ; Moderate and breezy with cool evenings ; 60-79 F
Zarcero’s fresh, spring-like air and high-altitude temperatures are a wonderful respite from the tropical Costa Rican heat. Located along the northern edge of the Central Valley, the small town is known for its crisp climate and dramatic mountain landscapes. Culinary connoisseurs will love the area’s local produce, much of which is organically farmed. Vine-ripened tomatoes, fresh basil, and savory cheese (locally known as queso palmito) are some of the district’s distinct delicacies. Fresh sour cream, sweet buns, and a sugary treat of crystallized grapefruits filled with a creamy condensed milk round out the town’s notable gastronomic delights.read more close
Without a doubt, Zarcero’s most popular attraction is its surreal topiary gardens. Wavy arches carved from conifer cypress invite visitors to explore artist-landscaper Evangelisto Blanco’s latest inventions. Here, spectators are given a rare opportunity to step through the looking glass. Shrubs and trees manifest as dancing animals, stylized creatures and other unique abstractions.
Unusual gardens are not the area’s only draws. Visitors can traverse the countryside’s rolling green hills on horseback, while taking in striking vistas of the Central Valley. Travelers can unwind in Piscinas Apamar’s three thermal hot tubs, Jacuzzi and swimming pool. The nearby Juan Castro Blanco National Park is a fisherman’s paradise, featuring five rivers teeming with trout.
Stretched out along one long street, Zarcero is easy to navigate. Officially designated a municipality in 1918, it attracts history and architecture enthusiasts alike. The town’s pink and blue San Rafael Church was constructed in 1895, demonstrating an interesting mix of Gothic and Renaissance style. Sixteen leafy green arches lead to the entrance – a scene especially dreamlike during a morning mist.
Francisco Alvarado Park
Artist and landscape designer Evangelisto Blanco was inspired to trim the bushes at Francisco Alvarado Park in the 1960s, transforming an ordinary square into a modern day wonderland. A monkey rides a motorcycle, green elephants waltz, and a bullfight scene includes a ring filled with spectators. All formations are crafted from the conifer cypress, which grows well in these higher elevations.
Coopebrisas Cheese Factory
Cheese lovers unite at the Coopebrisas factory, just 20 minutes north of Zarcero. Learn all about the cheese-making process on a free tour given by the production manager – then purchase some extraordinarily fresh dairy products at bargain prices. Open Monday-Saturday from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (tel. 2463 3044).
El Toro Amarillo Waterfall
Roughly 30 minutes outside of Zarcero lies this little-known waterfall. Fed by Poas Volcano runoff, the 300 foot-high falls have a high acid content. Over the years, they have effectively scorched and burned the rocks on their way down. Visitors can descend 500 steps to reach the foot of the cascade. The falls can be difficult to find, so it is advisable to take a taxi for about $15.
Juan Castro Blanco National Park
Juan Castro Blanco is one of the most vital water sources in the country. Located just 15 miles northeast of Zarcero, the park encompasses three mountaintops that feed five rivers running through this 35,323-acre reserve. The streams of Platanar, Toro, Aguas Zarcas, Tres Amigos and La Vieja are teeming with trout. A pair of volcanoes also reside in Juan Castro Blanco National Park: Porvenir (7,437 feet) and Platanar (7,162 feet). Sulfur baths and abandoned mines dot the landscape. While the park is federally guarded, most of the area is privately owned; as a result, there is little in terms of maps and other resources for visitors. Common wildlife sightings include the respendlant quetzal, red brocket deer, black guans, jaguars, and armadillos.
Services & Facilities:
Bank: Banco de Costa Rica has a 24-hour ATM machine and cashes travelers’ checks. Located on the main street. Hospital: Hospital de San Ramon (Tel. 2445-5825).
Internet: Multicomputo Costa Rica, one block south of the park, offers Internet access for about $1.50 per hour. They are open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Open Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (Tel. 2463-1595).
Post Office: Located at the park. Open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. (Tel. 2436-3276).
By car: Follow the Inter-American Highway west to the Naranjo exit; continue 19 miles north to Zarcero.
By Bus: Buses depart San Jose hourly for Ciudad Quesada (Autotransportes San Carlos Tel. 2255-4318) from 5 a.m. until 6 p.m. from the Terminal Atlantico Norte at Avenida 9 and Calle 12. Tell the driver you would like to get off at Zarcero. The trip takes about 1.5 hours and costs about $1.60.