Top 5 historical attractions in Costa Rica

Cartago, photo by Fred Hsu

Costa Rica’s attractions are many and varied, but a lot of people visit it for its natural beauty and opportunities for various sports. Surfers and swimmers (as well as people who just want to relax) are drawn to the beaches, while adventurers and nature lovers explore the many national parks. However, if you are a history buff or just want to learn more about Costa Rica’s culture, you will definitely want to take a look at some other kinds of sights as well. There are more than enough monuments, ruins, buildings or museums that can help you to better understand this fascinating country. Here are the top 5 historical attractions in Costa Rica.

Museo Nacional de Costa Rica, San Jose

The National Museum of Costa Rica is not only a place where you can learn about the country’s history through various displays and exhibitions, but also a historical site in itself. The building that hosts the museum is called Bellavista Fortress, a former military barracks built in 1917. If you look carefully at the outer walls, you can still see dozens of bullet holes dating back to the 1948 civil war. The most interesting displays in the museum are the collection of pre-Columbian ceramic plates and the gold room, Sala de Oro.

Cartago City

National Museum, photo by Andy Rusch

Cartago City is a must-see for those who want to visit historical sites, as the whole city is one big historical site in itself. Cartago was the first capital of Costa Rica until 1827, when the San Jose took its place. Cartago weathered several earthquakes, as well as a devastating eruption of Irazu Volcano which damaged the fields around town. The historical center of Cartago includes sites like the ruins of Santiago Apóstol Paris, the basilica and the Plaza Mayor.

Guayaba de Turrialba, Turrialba

The mysterious city of Guayaba thrived between 1000 BC and 1400 AD, after which is was abandoned without any explanation. The archaeological site of Guayaba de Turrialba is only a small portion of the ancient city, and much remains to be uncovered. The paved streets, stone platforms and aqueducts and beautiful stone carvings make Guayalbo one of the most important archaeological sites in Costa Rica.

San Lucas Island

Today, Isla San Lucas might be a pretty national park, but it used to be an island prison. From 1873 until 1991, some of the worst criminals in Costa Rica were being kept in this prison. The old buildings of the prison are now cultural heritage sites, and they include and old docks, holding cells and office buildings. And if that’s not enough, the island also has several interesting archaeological sites.

Dr. María Eugenia Bozzoli Museum of Indigenous Cultures, Puerto Viejo de Saraquipi

The indigenous cultures of Costa Rica are not quite as famous as those in other Latin American countries, and if you don’t know much about them but you’d like to find out  more, this is the right place to start. The museum displays 400 artifacts from various indigenous cultures from Costa Rica, such as the Boruca, Bribri, Cabécar, Guaymí, and Maleku people.

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