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Painted Ox Carts of Sarchi Costa Rica 

The painted ox carts of Sarchi in Costa Rica are absolutely, stunning.  Just as you will see oxen pulling these beautifully colored carts, you can also visit a number of factories while in Sarchi that make impressive miniature replicas.  If you head to the main factory, you can watch these small versions of the real thing being made from quality wood and each hand painted. 

Also called Las Carretas (the cart), these hand painted oxen carts are designed with two wheels.  Interestingly, the painted ox carts were recognized in 1988 as a symbol of the handicrafts coming out of Costa Rica.  Most are still today produced in private mini-factories in Sarchi, which is a quaint, small village nestled to the north of the province of Alajuela. 

The wooden circles for wheels are painted in small gardens, each created into patterned designs. These carts were commonly seen in many areas of Costa Rica until 1840 when suddenly, the importance of coffee plantations exploded.  Now keep in mind that the Las Carretas were the only source of transportation for the country during the early years.  In fact, they were originally pulled by people, not oxen.  However, as the need for transporting goods grew, the loads became too heavy and the people were replaced by ox. 

During the colonial era, the Carretas were most famous for pulling coffee.  The oxen would pull the carts through some rough terrain and muddy roads that went between Puntarenas and Central Valley.  Then in 1903, people decided to start enhancing the carts by decorating the circle wheels.  However, by 1915, to create a distinct look between families, the entire wheels were painted and decorated. 

Approximately 45 years later, motorized transportation was developed, so the cart purpose changed to one of tourist.  As you travel through Sarchi, Costa Rica, you will see these beautifully painted ox carts displayed in gardens, as well as used for transportation.  Additionally, the Carretas are used in parades and festivals.  Of all the ox carts parades, the one that is best known is called Escazu.  Held annually on the second Sunday of the month of March, the sight of all the beautiful color and creativity is truly an inspiration. 

The wheels of the ox cart are made from Lagarto wood, which is strong.  However, the unique and wonderful sound is what is so distinct.  Although the painted ox carts got their start in the early part of the 19th century, they are still an important part of the history for Costa Rica.  As you make your way through the country, you will see these carts still in use, often driven by old men with leather, tanned faces.



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