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Grecia
9km (12 miles) NW of Alajuela; 37km (23 miles) NW of San José
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. A famed serpentarium, the World of Snakes, once a major attraction here, is now closed.
Getting There:
By Car: Grecia is located just off the Inter-American Highway (CR1), on the way from San José to Puntarenas.
By Bus: Tuan ((tel) 2494-2139) buses leave San José half-hour for Grecia from Calle 18 between avenidas 3 and 5 (on the east side of the Abonos Agros building). The fare is C1,125.

Sarchí 
7km (4 miles) NW of Grecia; 44km (27 miles) NW of San José
Sarchí is Costa Rica’s main artisan town. The colorfully painted miniature oxcarts that you see all over the country are made here. Oxcarts such as these were once used to haul coffee beans to market. Today, although you might occasionally see oxcarts 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 here 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 in Sarchí is the large and long-standing 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. The Fabrica de Carretas Eloy Alfaro ★ ((tel) 2454-4131; www.souvenirscostarica.com) is another good option, offering a factory tour and meals at a cafeteria-style restaurant.
Built between 1950 and 1958, the town’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.
Getting There:
By Car: If you’re going to Sarchí from San José, head north on the Inter-American Highway (CR1), and take the exit for Grecia. From Grecia, the road to Sarchí heads off to the left as you face the main church, but because of all the one-way streets, you’ll have to drive around the church. Rural roads connect Sarchí to Naranjo, San Ramón, and Zarcero.
By Bus: Tuan ((tel) 2494-2139) buses leave San José for Grecia, with connections to Sarchí from Calle 18 between avenidas 3 and 5. Fare is C1,000. Or you can take one of the Alajuela-Sarchí buses, leaving every 30 minutes from Calle 8 between avenidas Central and 1 in Alajuela.

Zarcero
60km (38 miles) NW of San José
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.
Getting There:
By Car: Zarcero is located along the popular route from San José to La Fortuna. Take the Inter-American Highway (CR1) north to Naranjo, and follow signs to Ciudad Quesada and Zarcero.
By Bus: Daily buses ((tel) 2255-0567) for Zarcero leave from San José hourly from the Atlántico del Norte bus station at Calle 12, Avenidas 14 and 18. This is actually the Ciudad Quesada–San Carlos bus. Just tell the driver that you want to get off in Zarcero, and keep an eye out for the topiary. The ride takes around 1 1/2 hours, and the fare is C1,900.

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.