Cartago is the largest town in the Southern Mountains and one of Costa Rica’s most historically important towns. Founded in 1563 by Juan Vásquez de Coronado, it was the country’s first Spanish settlement and Costa Rica’s original capital. In 1823, shortly after independence, the citizens of San José defeated the citizens of Cartago at the Battle of Ochomogo and the capital was moved to San José. Although the hard feelings have long since vanished, Cartago has been overshadowed by San José ever since. Located just 22 km (14 miles) east of San José, Cartago (pop. 160,000) is technically considered part of the Central Valley. But thanks to the Ochomogo Pass, a narrow mountain pass that separates Cartago from San José and separates the Atlantic and Pacific watersheds, Cartago feels largely disconnected from the Central Valley’s urban sprawl. Although the downtown is dirty and congested, the small urban core is surrounded by farms and forests.
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