Cachí is mostly a farming village in the province of Cartago. Other than being surrounded by the lush beauty of the Orosi Valley, it’s mainly known for its hydroelectric dam and Cachí Lake.
The Orosi Valley is traditionally an agricultural region famed for its exquisite coffee which is exported worldwide. It’s also sometimes referred to as the “breadbasket of Costa Rica.” If you wonder why, visit the main Mercado (market) in Cartago and you’ll see a spectrum of fresh produce and fruits, often organically grown, on valley farms.
Carchi is probably less visited by international tourists as it is by Costa Rican tourists. It’s a favorite place for a Sunday drive or family holiday outing. As such, it is a wonderful place for international tourists to get a glimpse of the natural look and rhythms of Costa Rican culture.
Although the quaint community of Carchi is a striking contrast to the surrounding greenery, it’s an ideal destination as you create your own ecotourism road trip. One of the best ways to explore Cachí is by renting a bicycle. Biking gives you an entirely different perspective of the scenery and local life at your own leisurely pace.
In Costa Rica, Cachí is known for its great man-made lake. Lake Cachí is formed by the Cachí hydroelectric dam. Apart from the captivating views, the lake and the Cachí dam have important functions. First, together, the dam and lake are important controls to prevent flooding in the valley. They function to preserve the bountiful farming lands of the Orosi Valley.
Second, Cachí dam provides an important source of electric power in Costa Rica. It’s one of the first hydrographic structures in Costa Rica and part of Costa Rica’s nationwide sustainable energy system. Costa Rica produces 99% of its own energy. Cachí dam is part of the network of natural, renewable energy sources including dams, wind farms and thermal energy sources. Nestled between volcanic-mountain ranges and breath-taking views, the dam is truly an astonishing and awesome sight.
In recognition of its world leadership around fighting climate change, the United Nations has named Costa Rica as the “Champion of the Earth” in September 2019. This is the U.N.’s highest environmental honor. It is awarded to outstanding leaders from government, civil society and the private sector whose actions have a positive impact to protect nature and combat climate change. The extent of nature conservation in Costa Rica includes a pledge to become the world’s first carbon-neutral economy by 2021.
You can extend your self-planned eco-tour by continuing on to visit other attractions and activities in the area. A next stop could be the historical site of Ujarras which sits along the banks of the Cachí Lake. There are many beautiful churches in Costa Rica, including the Basilica in Cartago city. In Ujarras you can discover the oldest church in Costa Rica. Built in the 1560s, the ruins of the Church of Our Lady of Clean Conception offer a glimpse into the region's past. You’ll find a quiet, beautiful garden around remnants of traditional Spanish colonial architecture.
Speaking of gardens, heading south to other side of Lake Cachí, be sure to visit Lankester Botanical Gardens. The gardens are open to the public, but the University of Costa Rica operates a research center there. It’s a major site for orchid research in both Central America and the Caribbean. From Lankester, continue on in the direction of Purisil (where you’ll find top hiking trails) to reach Tapanti National Park (Parque Nacional Tapantí). This park is home to several lush virgin cloud forests in the region.
Tapanti National Park has excellent ecotourism reviews and is a birdwatcher’s must-see! With about 18 square kilometers of cloud forest and a part of the Talamanca mountain range, Tapanti Park is one of the most biodiverse in the country. In 2009, a University of Costa Rica (UCR) team discovered three new species of Lepanthes orchids in the park. So far, it’s their only known habitat. In fact, the park consists of two life zones: lower montane rainforest and the pre-montane rainforest. It covers more than 12,500 hectares and is the natural habitat for a wide variety of wildlife, including more than 400 species of birds, 45 species of mammals, and 28 species of reptiles.
Paraíso is on the way back to San Jose (turn left/west on Highway 10). Check out Paraíso’s central farmer’s market if it’s open. However, before returning to the city, an excellent lunch, afternoon coffee or dinner stop is Restaurante La Posada de la Luna (The Moon Inn). To get there is a slight detour with a right turn (East) onto Highway 10.
By the way, if you’re not a coffee drinker or just want to try something different, order a hot ”aguadulce” drink. “Aguadulce” is a typical hot beverage made with hot milk (or hot water for the lactose intolerant) and cane molasses. It’s the Coast Rican equivalent to hot chocolate, but you can order that too!
We hope you’re inspired to plan a day wandering through enchanting villages and nature parks in Cachí and the Orosi Valley. It’s located in the province of Cartago, just minutes southeast of the city of Cartago. It’s about an hour from San Jose depending during non-rush hour times. If you’re interested in exploring the true Costa Rican rural culture, Carchí and neighboring towns will give you the chance to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of farm towns. Be sure to try the local foods. The fresh fruits and produce are top quality, and increasingly grown organically.
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