Sunday, May 26, 2013

Grecia, Costa Rica

Invitation to my city: Grecia, Costa Rica

Written by Dovile Vaigauskaite

Grecia, though called after European country (in Spanish "Grecia" means Greece), is a typical Costa Rican town. What I like about it is that it is not too big and not too small - it is just perfect. No traffic jams, only few traffic lights, lots of people walking to take care of their errands in hundreds of little shops. You can find almost anything you need here, even a cinema!


Grecia canton has approximately 78 000 inhabitants, although the city itself is much smaller - approximately 15 000 persons call Grecia town their home. Situated on the southwestern slope of famous Poas volcano, and being only 40 minutes ride from San Jose International airport, Grecia is a perfect touristic spot. Most of the visitors are drawn here for its famous metal church - the Cathedral of Our Virgin Mercedes.

After yet another fire had damaged old wooden church back in the 19th century, the locals decided to re-build the church from metal so that no fire could damage it ever again. The metal sheets were shipped all the way from Belgium in 1890 (although some urban legend states that the Belgian metal came to Grecia by mistake: it was meant to be shipped to Greece, and not Costa Rica). The locals take great care of their beloved monument - the church's facade is being painted every few years, although the color always remains the same, deep bordeaux. If you are interested in the history of Grecia canton, visit Regional Museum of Grecia, situated next-door to the church.

Another local attraction is the snake museum  "Snake World" (Mundo de los Serpientes in Spanish), situated in the outskirts of Grecia. It is quite famous among the snake fans, as this place is known for breeding a variety of species, some of which are quite rare. Snake World has around 150 snakes of 50 different species. I am not a big fan of these reptiles, but even I found the tour very interesting and informative (I could not believe how much of misconceptions we have about these animals). Recently, the museum has become a center for rescued wild animals, which means that you may be lucky to see other than snakes animals too.

Costa Rica is a land of nature, abundant in waterfalls. Grecia is proud of one too - Los Chorros waterfall. You will not be ran over by masses of tourists here, as the place is mostly visited by locals. So if you can, head there on a weekday instead of a weekend. Also, bring your lunch: the place has few spots with tables and benches, great for a picnic. Getting to Los Chorros is best by hiring a taxi.

Grecia is a great place to stay overnight and do some day trips. Sarchi, famous for its woodwork artisans, is only 10 minutes drive away. Make sure to visit the factory of the chariots ("carretas" as they are called in Spanish) and the church in the main square. You can see the Poas volcano, famous for being the most accessible volcano in the world, from Grecia center: it is only 45 minutes drive away. If you do go to see Poas, make sure to stop at La Paz Waterfall Gardens. Although the ticket price is a bit much (35 USD), it is totally worth it. The Gardens do not only have 5 most beautiful waterfalls, but also a butterfly observatory, frog pond (most of the frogs that live there you would never see in wilderness), a hummingbird garden, aviary, snakes (yes, more snakes), monkeys' house and even jungle cat exhibit. This is one of my favorite local attraction.

Local food:

Grecia is a great example of typical Costa Rican life. Most residents work in farming sector, growing sugar cane and coffee. Therefore, Grecia is a perfect place to indulge your thirst for coffee. Make sure to grab few bags of local coffee to bring home (any Costa Rican coffee bought in a supermarket is good). If you are interested in how coffee is grown, visit Doka Coffee Plantation: their tours and coffee are famous worldwide. My favorite place to take coffee in Grecia is Las Delicias, a cafe situated on the corner down from the church. Its a great spot for people-watching and for some tasty deserts.

Costa Rican traditional food is quite simple yet tasty. Most typical dish is a so-called "casado" (translated from Spanish, a married man's meal), which comprises rice, beans, salad, fried plantains, meat/poultry/fish of your choise, and fried egg. With one dish like this you will be satisfied for almost a whole day, and you will pay 4-5 USD for it in Grecia. I recommend "El Rancho de Nelson", a family owned restaurant not far from the church, on the same street as the bus station. Make sure to try their milk shakes.

If it happens to be a warm day (Grecia has a very comfortable climate as it is never too hot or too cold), go to ice cream parlor "POPS". I truly believe they have the best ice cream in the world. My personal favorite is coconut and mango.

Every Friday afternoon and Saturday morning there is a local farmers' market (on the road to shopping mall "El Ingenio"). Visiting the market is an experience of its own, where you will definitely see fruits and vegetables you have never seen before.

Local peculiarities:

Although Grecia is a small town, having a map with you is a good idea as it is easy to get lost. Bear in mind, that there are no addresses in Costa Rica. As shocking and scary as it may sound, locals have lived without them for ages, and most foreigners survive too. You find places through geographic indications, e.g. 100 metros south of the church. Having a compass (or a good GPS) will help a lot. And make sure you know which church exactly is meant...

You can reach places by public bus or taxi. Grecia, and the surrounding towns and villages, are very safe and taxi drivers will not try to cheat you on the fare. Still, make sure the taxi meter is on, to avoid any possible misunderstandings.

Costa Ricans are known to be the happiest people in the world. Actually, the thing that attracted me to this country were its people. They will always smile and help you, even if they do not speak English or are busy with something else. Due to their politeness, Ticos (as Costa Ricans are called) will avoid saying "no" or "I don't know" not wanting to disappoint you. However this can cause some inconveniences when you ask for directions, and a good-intending Tico sends you totally the wrong way. It is always a good idea to ask another person the same thing, just to make sure you are headed the right direction.

People will greet you with "pura vida", which literally translates to "life is pure" and is used as "how are you?" in English. However, "pura vida" means much more than this - it is a Costa Rican way of life. Take things easy and enjoy the moment. I hope you enjoy Grecia, my pura vida town.

central America

1 comment:

  1. Your description of Costa Rica, its places, food and Cost Rican people makes me want to go there right away and I think my next vacation will be in Costa Rica because of your writing....
    Thank you for great text