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.
Guayabo National Monument
Guayabo National Monument, 19 km/ 11. 5 miles nort heast 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 am and 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.
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.
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