Mitzi Stark
Mitzi Stark

(by Mitzi Stark for QCostarica) Earthquakes can be scary. Volcanoes are a mystery. At MAGMATICA in Cartago you can experience the thrill and fright of both without a shred of danger.

MAGMATICA is a tourist delight that shows us how the ground shaking movements of the earth produced the continents and the land bridge that makes up Central America, and demonstrates how a volcano erupts by adding vinegar and baking soda to a miniature volcanic cone. MAGMATICA represents Cartago; the city was destroyed by a 6.4 earthquake in 1910 and the province is home to two volcanos, Irazú and Turrialba which has sent ashes flying all over the Central Valley in the latest series of eruptions.

MAGMATICA is interactive and combines traditional displays with new technology that puts us right there in the jungle with toucans and sloths, or out in the Pacific among whales and dolphins. It is a museum that keeps turning up surprises as you move from room to room and from one era of history to another.

Photo by Mitzi Stark
Photo by Mitizi Stark

We see how the earth started out as one big continent surrounded by one body of water, and due to the earth’s movements the land mass broke into continents. We learn how the intensity of the quake and how we feel it depends on the depth and the type of land. The quake of Cinchona in 2009 caused more deaths and destruction than others of the same magnitude because the soft and mountainous terrain gave way.

We get to examine volcanoes, miniatures of the eleven existing in Costa Rica, and get to cause our own eruption by pouring vinegar and baking soda into the cone.

The final part relives the famous earthquake of 1910. In a room furnished as a cottage of that year with newspapers pasted on the walls to keep out the wind, tin cups and a lantern hanging from hooks, tin dishes and simple furnishings. A window in the wall looks out on the cathedral, the one left in ruins to this day.

We hear the rumbling first and then the earthquake begins with a shaking that intensifies as we sit and clutch the bench and hold our breath. Tins cups fall and roll on the floor. The lantern and dishes crash down adding to the noise and confusion and as we stare out the window the cathedral begins to crumble and fall down. We’ve lived through Costa Rica’s most devastating earthquake!

After that there is more to come as we experience the quakes in Alajuela in 1990 and Limón in 1991 but this time we watch through the window as the Richter scale measures the intensity.

Photo by Mitzi Stark
Photo by Mitzi Stark

MAGMATICA was a great idea by businessman Manrique Araya Arrienta who wanted to bring tourism to the area with a Cartago theme. “MAGMATICA is a unique way to do it as the only other earthquake simulator is in Chile. But there is a purpose in it because MAGMATICA teaches us how to react in an earthquake and to better understand the phenomena,” Araya explains.

Adding to the theme is a restaurant, Gallito Pinto, offering traditional dishes at moderate prices in a comfortable old Cartago setting complete with oxcart and newspapered walls. MAGMATICA is close to the center of Cartago on the road to the Irazú volcano, it’s easy to get to by car, train or bus and taxi. For classes or conferences there are meetings rooms and packages to include the tour and lunch can be arranged.

Prices for the tours are ¢5000 for nationals or residents with cedula, ¢4000 for children and seniors, $15 for foreign tourists. MAGMATICA is fun, thrilling and educational. This is one tour you will remember for years to come.

For reservations or information call 2552-0304 or write to Or visit MAGMATICA on Facebook. Open Tuesday – Sunday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.