costa rica alajuela
The small country pueblo of Sarchi, located less than one hour from the capital city of San Jose, is the country's most famous artisan town. Popular with both Costa Ricans and tourists alike, excursions to Sarchi often coincide with tours to the neighboring Poas and Barva volcanoes, both agriculturally fertile areas rich with black volcanic earth. On any given day it is not unusual to see numerous tour buses passing by the pretty town church, which sits just across from the small, quaint village square. Painted in a delightful light blue, the church's exterior is decorated in small colorful illustrations, all of which resemble the designs so commonly depicted on the oxcarts themselves. A pleasant day trip from the capital city, tourists are drawn to Sarchi for a number of reasons.
Upon entering Sarchi, just minutes from the neighboring town of Grecia, countless souvenir and furniture stores begin emerging along both sides of the road, each offering handmade artifacts including oxcarts, elaborately painted bowls and trays, natural wood serving utensils, tables, jewelry boxes and carvings. Elegantly worked furniture ranging from rocking chairs, tables, bedroom sets, dressers and chests are also common sightings, all of which reflect the local culture and natural surroundings. Many Costa Ricans make a point of visiting Sarchí in order to buy home furnishings from the numerous furniture factories.
Handmade, the traditional oxcart, or carreta, is the country's most famous type of craft. Ordinarily admired for its decorative qualities, the oxcart plays a very important part in the cultural history of Costa Rica. In the middle of the 19th century, when coffee was first being cultivated in the surrounding countryside, oxcarts provided the only method in which to transport the hand picked beans over the mountains and to the coast. Arduous and timely were these trips, a good, reliable, well-built oxcart could mean the difference between a successful transit and financial ruin. In many cases, oxcarts where a family's only means of transportation, and at times even served as a status symbol. Thus, the tradition of painting and decorating the carts commenced in the early part of this century. Originally each region of Costa Rica had its own particular design, enabling one to identify from which part of the country the driver lived simply by observing the pattern on the wheels.
As highways, trucks and trains have displaced the carreta as the main means of transporting goods, its significance has changed and it is now a symbol of Costa Rican country life. Featured prominently in parades as well as in both religious and secular celebrations, the brightly painted and painstakingly detailed designs now cover every inch of the cart.
The very best Costa Rican oxcarts are made in either of two artisan factories in and around Sarchi. The largest and most frequently visited oxcart factory, better known as the "Joaquín Chaverri Oxcart Factory", opened in 1902 and is recognized as the birthplace of oxcart construction in Costa Rica. With the regions most complete supply of oxcart designs, in all colors, shapes and sizes, this factory/handcraft shop is the most frequently visited by those touring Sarchi. Situated on the town's principal road, the store also contains a very thorough inventory of other handcrafts and items, in an open, spacious setting. In the rear section of the store one can find a enormous variety of pre-assembled oxcarts, all of which can be easily disassembled and packaged for shipment; credit cards are accepted.
A far less commercial factory, open since 1923, is located just minutes from the center of town. Constructing oxcarts upon special request, this workshop might serve your greatest opportunity to view the construction of oxcarts utilizing the same methods applied during the early part of the century. Open to the public, the factory's nearby river generates the energy needed to power the numerous tools required to carve, cut and piece together these magnificent carts. A series of long, wide, and interconnected bands are manually adjusted, enabling the worker to quickly and effortlessly engage or disengage the selected machinery. Difficult to find on your own, it is recommend that one visit this factory with an organized tour.
Nestled in the countryside of Costa Rica's Alajuela province, Sarchi is the perfect place to finish off your trip and find those last minute souvenirs and gifts and souvenirs for family and friends.
How to Get There:
When returning to Grecia from Sarchi there is no sign at the turn-off for you ascent up the hill (*), make a right. When you get to the top, turn left at the sign and make your first right; there is a small park on the far right corner. Continue straight through town with the church on the left side. At the following intersection, red blinking light, go right for the autopista and return the way you came, or left for Alajuela. If you turn left continue for about 5 blocks until you reach the intersection, and then turn right. Stay on this road all the way to Alajuela. There are several signs helping you stay on track. Once in Alajuela, follow the signs for San Jose, which will lead you to the autopista near the airport.