I think of the people who came before me...
they knew the placement of the stars in the sky,
watched the moving sun....
Without written records, they knew the gods of every night,
the small, fine details of the world... and of the immensity above.
~ Linda Hogan, Parabola magazine, 1990
The agricultural town of Turrialba used to be known as a crossroads town
and was the only route from San José to Limón until the Guápiles highway
replaced it in importance in 1978. Before the powerful 1991 earthquake
destroyed the Atlantic Railroad, it also served as an important rail
junction for shipping produce by train. Now, down but not out, Turrialba
(pop. 30,000, 55 km/34 miles from San José) has reinvented itself as the
whitewater capital of Costa Rica, thanks in part to the interest of eco-adventure
tourism. To get here by car, go to Cartago, then Paraíso and make
a left at the park in the center of town. If you’re going to and from the Caribbean
side, consider taking this scenic route at least once.
Proximity of the Río Reventazón, Río Pacuare and Lake Cachí
make Turrialba a good, inexpensive base to kayak, raft and
windsurf. See the Adventures onWater section in San José (page
135) for more details. If you’re staying in town, rafting prices are
cheaper, even from the companies in San José. In addition, there are
some local operators: Loco’s Tropical Tours (. 506/556-6035, www.
whiteh2o.com); Costa Rica Rios (. 506/556-9617, www.costaricarios.
Turrialba . 177
com); and Dos Rios (. 506/556-1575). East of Turrialba, in Tucurrique,
Kayak Costa Rica (. 506/380-8934, email@example.com), owned by
Mike and Sally Swanson, features kayak, raft and horseback adventures
and a couple of pleasant cabins available on a 300-acre reserve.
Since you’re in the area, perhaps you’d like to hike the dormant Turrialba
Volcano, explore the Guayabo National Monument, or just wander free.
Turrialba claims to be the town where they made
the baseball that Barry Bonds hit out of the park
to gain the major league record of 73 home runs in
one year. Babe who? For anyone who is a real fan,
note that Josh Gibson hit 75 in 1931 in the Negro
On the road east of town heading toward Siquirres there’s a swimming
pool, Balneario Las Americas (US $1), and also CATIE (Tropical Agronomic
Research and Education Center), a major hemispheric educational
research facility on 2,000 acres. The grounds have several
pleasant trails (great for birdwatchers), and hassle-free entrance is made
easiest by arranging a low-cost guided tour in advance (.506/556-6431).
Farther east of town in the small town of Pavones is Parque Viborana
(. 506/381-4781), an educational serpentarium and wildlife rehabilitation
center. Owner Minor Camacho’s specialty is snakes, from which he
extracts venom for study and medicinal purposes – quite a sight! Don Minor
worked for years at the university of Costa Rica until setting up his
own center. Large terrariums house Costa Rica’s most deadly reptiles
and there’s a walk-in cage to get close to boa constrictors. Open daily, and
well worth the US $5 admission.
Guayabo National Monument, 19 km/11.5 miles northeast of
Turrialba, is Costa Rica’s most auspicious pre-Columbian archeological
dig. Pleasant, natural and quiet, the cobbled streets, ruined aqueducts,
bridges, and rocky building foundations that have been uncovered from
an early indigenous settlement make for a serene and completely untouristy
attraction. A path resembling a Maya sacbé (a raised road believed
used for holy processions) can be distinguished pointing toward
the top of the Turrialba Volcano in the distance.
Archeologists believe the site was inhabited by as many as 10,000 people
from around 1000 B.C. until 100 years or so before the Spanish landed.
No one knows why it was abandoned. Admission is US $6. Guides are
available and camping is permitted. The only convenient connection to
the ruins from Turrialba is on Sunday, when a bus leaves the main terminal
at 9 amand returns at 4 pm. By car, watch for the park sign on the left
(it’s a rough road), east of downtown. In the general area (but not open to
the public because it’s being excavated by the National Museum) is Angostura
Archeology Area. Please e-mail us if you find this is now open.
178 . East of Town
Turrialba Volcano is now long dormant. The name Turrialba means
“White Tower” in old Spanish, and the volcano was presumably named
after the columns of steam that once rose from its core. With much effort
you can hike to the top and overlook its three craters. To get here, make
your way to the little town of Santa Cruz from Cartago or Turrialba, and
turn at the Bar Cañada. The last 12 km/seven miles of this road must be
done on foot.
Places to Stay & Eat
Our favorite place to stay in Turrialba is Turrialtico (8 km/5 miles east
of town, . 506/556-1111, firstname.lastname@example.org, 14 rooms, restaurant,
$$), a venerable hotel and
restaurant on a hill overlooking
the valley on one
side and Río Reventazón
and its new dam on the other. Since
1968 the García family has run this
rustic, two-story wooden lodge that
has been a favorite of rafters and
tourists who return year after year.
There’s nothing fancy about the
small rooms, but the wonderfully
delicious restaurant (filled with
carved artwork) downstairs draws
many locals at lunch or dinner. The
best room is #1.
Since 1984, the brothers in the García family have run the Pochotel
(. 506/384-7292, restaurant $-$$), much higher on a nearby mountain,
which offers truly impressive panoramic views from its private cabinas.
All accommodations have good views (best is #10), and the new cabins are
especially appealing inside, with warm cedar woods for cool evenings.
Eighty percent of the buildings here were made from wood left as “seconds”
by loggers. The entire family combines art, ecology and accommodations
More luxurious digs can be had in
Casa Turire (. 506/531-1111, www.
hotelcasaturire.com, $$$-$$$$), an elegant
new plantation mansion/hotel
down in the farmlands next to the
Reventazón dam and lake. We could
say more nice things about it, but the
management had a haughty attitude
toward us, so we’re being petulant.
You may fare better.
Turrialba . 179
Prices are per night for two people
[No $] less than US $20
$ US $20-$40
$$ US $41-$80
$$$ US $81-$125
$$$$ US $126-$200
$$$$$ over US $200
Prices are for an average entrée
$ less than US $5
$$ US $5-$10
$$$ US $11-$20
$$$$$ over US $20