Even people who live in Orosi find The Museo de Arte Religioso de San Jose to be a little creepy. Housed in a former Franciscan Monastery built in 1743, the objects are relics of the Spanish colonial period. The walls of the building are several feet thick, the ceilings are low and the light is dim. I took the kids there for a day trip in August.
At the end of the exhibit is a display celebrating the community of Orosi’s relationship with the oldest Catholic church still in use in Costa Rica. Interviews conducted with local residents are quoted on a large mural. Most people talked about how special the church is and how proud they are of their heritage. But my favorite quote was from the woman who remembers that as a little girl, she was terrified in the exhibit and couldn’t wait to get away from the scary old statues. Phineas felt exactly the same way.
After we emerged into the bright Costa Rican sun, we were ready to find the hot springs of Orosi. I had read on many websites about locals-only hot springs along the river. One site claimed you could get a map to the springs at a hostel in town.
When I went to the hostel they didn’t have maps, but agreed to draw one on a little scrap of paper. According to the hostel guy, we should head out of Orosi, pass the hydro-electric power plant and park before the bridge. There we would find a path through a coffee field and along the river. He told me not to take the first left on the path but continue to the second.
We did everything he said to do and still couldn’t find them. I even talked with a lady and her kids who were taking a dip in the river and they had no idea that any hot springs even existed.
Finally we gave up and went back into town to one of the two public swimming pools or balnearios. Both balnearios in town are fed by hot springs and have pools of varying temperatures. None of the pools were actually hot, but they were pleasantly warm and the facilities were clean and well-maintained. If you go there on the right day and the right time, they also have a huge inflatable slide for extra fun. It cost c2,500 per person and there is a small restaurant on site. The other balneario in town was c500 more and was under construction (August 2016) with the restaurant closed.
After our swim we headed over to the neighboring town of Cachi to see La Casa del Soñador or House of the Dreamer. There the brothers Quesadas practice traditional wood carving using coffee plant roots. One of them tried to talk me into buying a $300 modern art painting by his other brother who lives in Germany. I declined and bought the $10 coffee root carving instead.
Two weeks later we returned to Orosi with Carlos to check out Tapanti National Park. I convinced Carlos to look for the elusive hot springs on the river one more time. We asked several more locals and everyone had a different opinion about their location. Maybe they were just trying to keep them a secret because we failed again.
Our disappointment was quickly forgotten when we arrived at Tapanti. This park has fantastic hiking trails through the jungle, waterfalls, a wide shallow pristine river just right for splashing and many covered picnic tables – most with traditional concrete counter/sink combos for food preparation. There is a $10 per person entrance fee for tourists.
We’d brought chicken skewers and charcoal along to grill for lunch. But when we came to the park gate, we found out that all the grills had been removed a month ago. We got lucky though and found one last grill at a pavilion at the end of a path down by the river. The grill is a big hunk of cement too difficult to remove.
Carlos had a rough time trying to get the charcoal hot enough. The kids and I found plenty to do while their father played with fire. A big favorite was beating each other with giant fern fronds. I limited them to one frond each to be eco-friendly.
Update: Fiona tells me they were using the fronds as wings and not actually beating each other.
By mid-afternoon the chicken was no longer raw and we had a delicious lunch. Afterward we hiked down a different trail to enjoy a dip in the river. It was REALLY cold! We took turns laying down and submerging our bodies in the frigid water. Phineas won the prize for doing it the most times (actually Fiona went under more – but I gave her an evil look when Phineas declared himself the winner and she got the hint). The river is wide and mostly shallow with lots of cool rocks to examine.
Don’t just jump into any river in Costa Rica. Waters can be contaminated with a combination of pesticides, herbicides, household cleaning products and animal waste. Swimming is prohibited in many national parks due to safety concerns such as powerful currents at the base of waterfalls. However, Tapanti is a huge park, the water is clean and swimming is allowed.
UPDATE 3/2017: Swimming is not officially allowed in Tapanti anymore. There are signs posted saying “No Swimming.” However – as the ranger explained, this is to advise visitors that if they choose to enter the water and need rescuing, it is too remote and there is not enough staff to rescue anyone. Swim at your own risk!
The Sandi Family highly recommends taking a day trip to Orosi and Tapanti National Park. It’s a beautiful drive and a family-friendly destination with great picnic facilities and a swimmable river. Consider bringing a portable grill if you have one. There are longer more challenging hikes than the ones we did and I read rumors of housing for rent inside the park but couldn’t find any contact information. If anyone knows how to make arrangements to stay inside the park please let me know!