Cartago's most important site, and Costa Rica's most venerated religious shrine, this basilica exudes Byzantine grace, with fine stained-glass windows, hand-painted interiors and ornate side chapels featuring carved-wood altars. Dating from the 1630s, the structure retains an unharmed central relic: La Negrita (the Black Virgin), a small representation of the Virgin Mary, that was found on this spot on August 2, 1635.
As the story goes, when the woman who discovered the statuette tried to take it with her, it miraculously reappeared back where she’d found it. Twice. So the townspeople built a shrine around her. In 1824 she was declared Costa Rica’s patron Virgin. She now resides on a gold, jewel-studded platform at the main altar. Each August 2, on the anniversary of the statuette’s miraculous discovery, pilgrims from every corner of the country (and beyond) walk the 22km from San José to the basilica. Many of the penitents complete the last few hundred meters of the pilgrimage on their knees.