The picturesque little town of Grecia is noteworthy for its unusual metal church—painted a deep red with white gingerbread trim—just off the town’s central park.

Sarchí is Costa Rica’s main artisan town. This is where the colorfully painted miniature oxcarts you see all over the country are made. Oxcarts such as these were once used to haul coffee beans to market. Today, although you might occasionally see an oxcart in use, most are purely decorative. However, they remain a well-known symbol of Costa Rica. In addition to miniature oxcarts, many carved wooden souvenirs are made in Sarchí with rare hardwoods from the nation’s forests. The town has dozens of shops, and all have similar prices. Perhaps your best one-stop shop is the large and longstanding Chaverri Oxcart Factory (tel. 2454-4411), which is right in the center of things, but it never hurts to shop around and visit several of the stores. Souvenirs Jardin Sarchi (tel. 2215-1439) is another good option, offering a wide variety of handicrafts and meals at a cafeteria-style restaurant.

Built between 1950 and 1958, Sarchi's main church is painted pink with aquamarine trim and looks strangely like a child’s birthday cake. It’s definitely worth a quick visit.

Beyond Sarchí, on picturesque roads lined with cedar trees, is the town of Zarcero. In a small park in the middle of town is a menagerie of sculpted shrubs that includes a monkey on a motorcycle, people and animals dancing, an ox pulling a cart, a man in a top hat, and an elephant. Behind all the topiary is a wonderful rural church. It’s not worth the drive just to see this park, but it’s a good idea to take a break in Zarcero to walk the gardens if you’re on the way to La Fortuna and Arenal.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.