Cartago, Costa Rica, located 14 mi/23 km east of San Jose, was the country's capital until San Jose took that distinction in 1823. Later, Cartago suffered more devastating setbacks: two strong earthquakes in 1841 and 1910. Still, a surprising number of old buildings remain, including the ruins of a cathedral in a park in the heart of the city.
A few blocks away is the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles, one of the most important religious sites in the country and home of the country's patron saint, La Virgen de Los Angeles, also known as La Negrita. The patron saint is honored on 2 August by Ticos who make pilgrimages from around the country (having started out sometimes weeks earlier), walking to Cartago to pray at the basilica. People also travel to the basilica to touch and collect water flowing from the site, which is believed to have curative powers.
The nearby Ruinas de la Parroquia de Santiago Apostol form part of Cartago's central plaza. Though just the stone walls remain, the interior gardens are a nice place to wander, and they house occasional exhibitions.
The Lankester Botanical Gardens, near the basilica, has an impressive collection of orchids, most of which bloom in the dry season. It's generally considered the world's best collection of epiphytes. Another interesting sight is the Museo Municipal de Cartago, which is housed in a former military building.
A popular picnic spot with Cartagoans is the hot spring in Aguacaliente.
For more information about Cartago, visit http://www.cartagovirtual.com.
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