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Crafts, Coffee fields and more crafts and furniture !!

If anywhere in Costa Rica can claim to be an arts and crafts center, it is the town of Sarchí.

This small town, divided into two by the Río Trojas, is located in a deep valley 30 km/18.6 miles northwest of Alajuela. Coffee and farm fields line the valley walls. Its name may be from the Aztec word for “volcano,” xalachi, but its fame is definitely founded on the manufacturing of oxcarts (carretas).

Back in the 18th century, oxen were used to haul multi-purpose, heavy duty, two-wheeled carts up and down Costa Rica’s rough roads and farm trails. In Sarchí, artisans perfected the design and began painting them – solid wood wheels and all – in bright, multicolored intricate designs. The carts have become a national symbol and are still in use in rural areas.

Today, Sarchí woodworkers make furniture and endless useful and decorative items from tropical hardwoods. Leather craftsmen have joined them and the town now fills with tourists and Tico shoppers who move from workroom to gallery to store, searching out bargains. If you see something you like, a rocking chair or a full-size oxcart (they also make small-scale versions and miniatures), they’ll pack it and ship it for you.

La carreta sin bueyes
If you wake up early in the pre-dawn and hear the creak of oxcart wheels pass in the dark, it may be the Carreta sin Bueyes, the Oxcart without Oxen. When San José was first being built, a young man stole the lumber meant for the city’s first church. He built himself a beautiful oxcart, but didn’t count on the divine intervention of St. Joseph, the carpenter. When the thief died he was condemned forever to ride his oxcart alone through the early morning countryside.

Fábrica de Carretas Joaquín Chaverri has been making handpainted oxcarts since 1903. They now have a souvenir shop at the southern end of town, as well as Restaurant Las Carretas, serving traditional Tico food. The idea is to wander and check out the many shops scattered around the city center.

Try to see the town’s church, which looks like an eye-popping cake, painted pink and peacock-blue. Restaurante El Rio, in the Centro Turistico gift shop, serves typical Tico food. Mexican dishes can be had at La Troja del Abuelo, but the Restaurant La Finca, at the north end of town, may do it best. Pleasant, serene surroundings.

A side trip from Sarchí to the Catarata del Toro (Bull’s Waterfall) can be refreshing. Take the road across from the Chaverri Oxcart Factory and follow the signs. The 200-meter/658-foot falls, allegedly the highest in Costa Rica (according to the owner), cascades down on your left, seven km/4.3 miles past the town of Bajos de Toro. You can’t see it from the road, but there are three overlooks on the half-mile hike downhill to its base (entry fee is around US $1). The first half of the route is an easy walk, but the second half is fairly strenuous. There’s a very appealing little restaurant here with inexpensive, clean rooms above. They always have rooms available.

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