This straight-out-of-a-storybook river valley is famous for mountain vistas, a lake formed by a hydroelectric facility, a truly wild national park and coffee – lots and lots of coffee. A well-paved 32km loop winds through a landscape of rolling hills terraced with coffee plantations and valleys dotted with pastoral villages, all set against the backdrop of volcanoes Irazú and Turrialba. If you have a rental car (or good legs for cycling) you’re in for a treat, though it’s still possible to navigate most of the loop via public buses.
The loop road starts 8km southeast of Cartago in Paraíso, heads south to Orosi, then doubles back northeast and west around the artificial Lago de Cachí, passing the historic church at Ujarrás en route back to Paraíso. Alternatively, from Orosi you can branch south into Parque Nacional Tapantí-Macizo Cerro de la Muerte, an end-of-the-road national park with superb river and mountain scenery.