Called the “cradle of Costa Rican handicrafts,” both international tourists and locals alike visit Sarchi for its more than 200 stores and small family-operated woodworking and leather workshops. It is a perfect Central Valley day tour to combine with the Poás Volcano, a coffee tour, or the Juan Castro Blanco National Park. Sarchi is also an excellent stop on the way to Volcano Arenal.
Located on the slopes of Costa Rica’s Central Mountain Range at the eastern edge of the Central Valley, the quaint country town of Sarchi is 27 kilometers northwest of the provincial capital city of Alajuela, and 46 kilometers from the nation’s capital city of San Jose. The route to get to Sarchi passes through picturesque countryside and some of the largest coffee and sugarcane plantations in Costa Rica.
As Costa Rica’s most well-known crafts center, Sarchi is famous for its colorfully painted oxcarts and oxen yokes – national symbols of Costa Rican folklore and traditions. The tradition of painting and decorating oxcarts started in the early 20th century. Back in the day, wooden carts pulled by a pair of oxen were the main mode of transportation in the mountainous country, especially to transport coffee beans to markets. Originally each region of Costa Rica had its own particular oxcart design, which identified a driver’s origin by the painted patterns on his cart’s wheels. Today, oxcarts still play a principal role in parades and religious celebrations.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization honored Costa Rica’s vibrantly painted oxcarts in 2005 for their contribution to the heritage of humanity. You can see the “World’s Largest Oxcart” – built in 2006 to get the town’s name into The Guinness Book of World Records – in the Central Park in front of the main church.
Travelers come to Sarchi to purchase elegantly crafted wood furniture and souvenirs made from tropical hardwoods, leather, textiles, natural papers, and ceramics.
- Miniature painted oxcarts, beautifully decorated oxcart wheels; or, you can buy an entire small-scale oxcart to put in your garden or home.
- Wood and hand-tooled leather rocking chairs. They fold up into a box so you can take it on an airplane; however, most stores will ship your chair via Fedex or other delivery service to your home. Make sure to check out extra accessories such as padded arm rests, head pillows, leather detachable cup holders or magazine pouches, and footstools.
- Tropical wood boxes, kitchen cutting boards, wood jewelry, or a variety of Costa Rica’s animals made into wooden figurines.
- Hand-painted ceramic plates and pots in the traditional Chorotega indigenous tradition from the Nicoya region of Guanacaste.
- Ornately carved wooden chests perfect for holding all of your treasures.
- Catholic Church – the pink and blue “wedding cake” church features a vaulted hardwood ceiling and carvings by local artisans (on a hill overlooking the north side of town by the central park).
- Artisan Market (“Mercado de Artesanías”) – a large warehouse-like store selling crafts of all kinds, operated by an artists’ cooperative (on the edge of north Sarchi next to the gas station).
- World’s Largest Oxcart – huge and brightly painted, the oxcart rests on a platform in the central park in front of the church in north Sarchi.
- Artisan Plaza (“Plaza de la Artesanía”) – a large outdoor mall of souvenir shops in south Sarchi.
- The 111-year-old Joaquín Chaverri Oxcart Factory (built in 1902), where you can find all kinds of souvenirs and painted oxcarts; see artists painting oxcarts in real life in their workshop.
Planning to travel to Costa Rica? Travel agency Team CRT creates unforgettable Costa Rica vacation itineraries and packages. Visit the lovely town of Sarchi on one of their day tours. Team CRT arranges nature tours, beach vacations, adventure tours, family vacations, relaxation vacations, honeymoons and golf vacations.
By Shannon Farley