As Yeison and I were planning our last trip in Costa Rica, we were stumped on the most important question. Where should we go? We’ve been living at the beach for the past two years so we were already beach-ed out and wanted to see something new. San Jose wasn’t an option since Yeison grew up and lived there and the Caribbean was too far.
At the end, we decided to go to the Central Valley to visit local towns and enjoy the fresh mountain weather. The first town on our list? Zarcero.
Zarcero is a small town in the canton of Zarcero in the Alajuela province with just a little under 5000 residents. If you want to see what a Costa Rican town that’s not overrun by tourists is like, visit Zarcero. It’s a huge difference if you compare it to Coco where you see tourists up and down the street everywhere.
I have to admit, it was an incredibly nice change to see just Costa Ricans hanging out and enjoying their Sunday afternoon.
The Topiary Garden
This town is known for their topiary gardens centrally located in front of the church. Called Parque Francisco Alvarado, it was created by Evangelisto Blanco in the 1960’s who was inspired to trim the bushes to turn the area into an amusing park. Since then, the beautifully sculpted shrubs have become the main attraction. Visitors and locals love to stroll through the arches and marvel at the various shapes that have taken form.
You can find monkeys, dinosaurs, elephants and many other animals and don’t be surprised if you find one that looks kind of bizarre or seems a bit off from the real animal.
Another attraction in Zarcero is the church, Iglesia de San Rafael located right up the steps from the park. This pink and blue church built in 1895 is an impressive one with beautiful paintings and decorations inside.
Zarcero is also well known for their dairy products and local produce. As you drive along the road to the town, you will see small stands with what looks like big white balls hanging outside. Those are actually balls of cheese called queso palmito which are homemade and a famous product of this region.
Other yummy local delights are the cajetas (caramel candy), cheese crackers, natilla (sour cream) and various other produce.
Go west on Inter American highway toward Naranjo and continue 30 kilometers to Zarcero. If you get carsick, make sure to take anti-nausea medicine as the road is very curvy and continuously climbs in altitude.
Since Zarcero is located up in the mountains, the weather is incredibly fresh and cool, a nice change from the typical Costa Rican heat. This area is wonderful for a day trip and drive since the scenery is beautiful and the gardens and church are lovely to enjoy for one day.
Read about other towns in Costa Rica!