The Orosi Valley is located just a short distance to the southeast of San José. It offers an alluring buffet of smaller attractions—sort of like grazing on appetizer portions of Costa Rican points of interest.
The best place to begin your visit is the Mirador Ujarrás, to the east of Paraíso (Cartago) and before the turnoff to the Ruins of Ujarrás. This is a picnic and observation area with a panoramic view of the Orosi Valley and offers a nice vista of the ruins surrounded by coffee and chayote plantations. Chayote is grown on a framework of posts and cables about six feet high, so the very flat looking fields you see are chayote. Just beyond the ruins you can see Lake Cachí. The Town of Orosi is visible to the south. Please note there are restrooms, but food and drink are not available at the Mirador.
The Ruins of Ujarrás are not well known, even though they were declared a National Monument of Costa Rica by executive decree in 1985. Watch for the sign to the ruins as you wind your way down the hill from the Mirador.
The first church on this site was a rough chapel built between 1561 and 1569. It was upgraded to an adobe structure a few years later (1575-1580). The current building was constructed between 1681 (1686 according some sources) and 1693. It suffered severe earthquake damage in 1822.
In 1832 the town was moved to a place called Llanos de Santa Lucía, which is today known as Paraíso. There are various reasons given for the move—disease, flooding, poor quality local building materials, etc. Some allege there were political and economic pressures behind the decision.
Today, the church is a lovely historic ruin which has been partially restored. It is surrounded by a verdant park with picnic tables and a playground—an ideal spot for a family or group outing. Take a walk through the old church and then enjoy outdoor dining under the many shade trees. You will need to bring your meal with you as no food is sold in the park, but there are rest rooms.
Rather than backtrack through Paraíso, I recommend taking the shorter and more scenic route to Orosi. This means continuing in the direction you were taking before making the turnoff to the ruins—follow the signs to Cachí. This road will take you by the dam and hydroelectric project of Cachí. There are several very nice restaurants along the way.
The main attraction in the Town of Orosi is also a church—still in use. San José de Orosi was built in 1767. It was named part of the National Patrimony in 1920 and a National Monument in 1985. Next to the church, in the old Franciscan convent, is the Museo de Arte Religioso (Museum of Religious Art).
This is one of the oldest and most beautiful churches in Costa Rica. Its beauty is not derived from soaring spires or Baroque ornamentation, but from its simple architectural lines and quiet humility.
Zorba the Greek said the unforgivable sin is when a woman calls a man to her bed and he does not go. I would add the travesty of building a thoroughly modern church—charitably described as nondescript and ill-defined—adjacent to the beautiful colonial-era church of San José de Orosi. I’m sure some bishop is going to have a difficult first encounter with St. Peter over that.
Other menu items of places to see or things to do include rafting; trout fishing—a number of catch and fry operations; coffee tour; scenic overlooks—more than just the Mirador Ujarrás; bird watching; spas—with assorted pools, hot springs, saunas; zip lining/canopy tours; art gallery, etc. A point of special interest would be La Casa del Soñador (The House of the Dreamer), production and sale of small sculptures made from coffee wood and roots. Finally, Parque Nacional Tapantí (Tapantí National Park) should not be missed—it is a huge and very wild area.
The valley is close enough and small enough to make for an easy day trip from San José or its surrounding communities, but I would recommend a couple days to take it at a leisurely pace. Also, there are a number of substantial places worth seeing just outside the valley like Irazú Volcano and the Basilica of Our Lady the Virgen of Los Angeles (Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles). Orosi makes for a relaxing base camp from which to explore the entire region.
On the way to or from the Orosi Valley, you should consider visiting the Lankester Botanic Gardins (Jardines Botánicos Lankester). They are located just off the road between Cartago and Paraíso. The Japanese garden and the orchid nursery alone make it worth the stop. The gift shop is also excellent.
While the portions may be small—like dim sum—the experience as a whole is entirely satisfying. Don’t miss it.