San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

A flower helps repair a shattered community

Streets once ruined by an earthquake will soon be lined with tens of thousands of hydrangeas. The community surrounding the popular Poás Volcano, northwest of San José, started the ambitious “Ruta de las Hortensias,” or “Hydrangeas Route,” to enhance the area’s recovery after a 2009 earthquake.

“Every route in these neighborhoods rises toward Poás Volcano,” said Isabel Vargas, president of the Poás Region Tourism Chamber. “We assume the responsibility to beautify it.” 

The massive project includes the support of municipalities in Alajuela, San Pedro de Poás and Heredia, the Public Works and Transport Ministry, local businesses and more than a dozen schools. Elementary school students have helped plant the treasured ornamental flower in pueblos such as Poasito, Vara Blanca, Fraijanes and the hardest-hit area of Cinchona. 

A magnitude-6.2 earthquake hit the region on Jan. 8, 2009, leaving 25 dead and eight missing. The tremor displaced thousands of people, as houses and roads were razed. 

Vargas explained that the hydrangea has special meaning to the area. Hydrangeas grow in mountainous regions. However, it’s the way the flower forms that has turned the plant into a symbol of recovery. 

The popular tourist region used to be a disparate group of independent businesses. After the quake, the community grouped together to repair the region. Young hydrangeas sprout as separate buds. But as the flower matures, it blooms into a giant dome of handsome pastels. Vargas called Poás a previously “scattered bunch of communities and distant neighbors” that are “now united, integrated.”

Already 11,000 hydrangeas have been planted. In 2012, the goal is to add 50,000 more. 

According to Vargas, “If everybody here takes part, the countryside is going to be transformed into a diverse landscape that’s very beautiful – a breathtaking path that stamps our identity on the region.”

To donate to the Hydrangeas Route, contact Isabel Vargas at 2482-1211, 8383-0948 or

Contact Matt Levin at

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