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San Jose is the capital of Costa Rica and is positioned virtually in the centre of the country, in the Central Valley region, with the Talamanca Mountains to the south and the mainly volcanic region to the north.
The city comprises of commercial block, department stores, chic café and fast-food establishments plus haphazard residential areas characteristic of Latin America. While the city does not have a massive tourism level, it possesses a certain charm, the result of being the nation’s cultural hub. The capital is home to numerous restaurants, museums, parks and large population, thus has a vibrant feel and atmosphere. Another attractive characteristic of San José is its temperate weather, which can be quite a relief, particularly during the summer months.
Population in San José exploded during the latter half of the twentieth century, following the Second World War. Today 309,672 people call the San José home and a million more live in surrounding suburbs, comprising about 40% of the nation’s total population. Historically San José was only a small village that came to prominence because its fertile soil made it for excellent farming. Two years following independence from colonial Spain in 1821, the joint Republican strongholds of San José and Alajuela, defeated the pro-Mexican Democrats of Heredia and Cartago, the previous capital, thus it became the capital.
The introduction of coffee to the Central Valley in the early nineteenth century fuelled San José’s prosperity as the city embraced capitalism.
Due to its relatively late start in development terms, rarely is a building more than 100 years old, so it largely retains a small town vibe.
Due to it being such a large city, tourism services are the most extensive in the country, as most headquarters are located there, plus the National Tourist Board, so it is great place to start a tour of the country. Another reason is that it is the home of the biggest International Airport in the country; Juan Santamaria.
Accommodation is extensive, as in any big city and hotels can be found for whatever budget, however in the high season; December to March, it can be hard to find a quality venue. The Authentico Hotel is a very popular venue and has a great reputation for both tourists and business guests, plus managers to mix a friendly service with professionalism. It serves traditional food in an excellent restaurant, has high quality accommodation, pool and meeting rooms. It is also located close to the city centre and nearby is Parque Central and Parque Metropolitano La Sabana, two popular parks.
Most visitors flock to the city’s downtown area, negotiating the bustling urban streets, using the pedestrian-only Central Avenue (Avenida Central).
Culture Plaza (Plaza de la Cultura) provides an ideal location to begin exploring the city’s urban attractions and is a central meeting point for locals and foreigners alike. Ongoing street acts provide public entertainment, amidst the park’s overall tranquillity. Nearby is the National Theatre, Gold Museum and the Tourism Information Office (TIC).
The National Theatre (Teatro Nacional), which was built in the 1890’s is considered by most to be San José’s most remarkable edifice. The exterior is stylish, but the interior is quite spectacular, with marble staircases, golden ceilings and patterned wood floors alone are worth the visit.
Below the Culture Plaza, is the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum (Museo de Oro Precolombino) that houses a collection of ancient gold pieces and trinkets. Also nearby is the Numismatic Museum (Museo Numismático), which displays pre-Columbian currencies from centuries past.
Between Avenida 2 and 4 on Calle Central is the bustling Central Park (Parque Central) where city dwellers rendezvous and socialize. To the north is the prominent Melico Salazar Theatenar, which is named after the famous Costa Rican tenor. There is also the Soda Palace, a lively 24-hour restaurant that is frequented by local intellectuals. East of Parque Central is the neoclassical Metropolitan Cathedral (Catedral Metropólitano) built in 1871.
Northeast of Central Park is Morazán Park (Parque Morazán), which encompasses four city blocks. The dome-shaped Temple of Music lies at the park’s center, the intersection of Calle 7 and Avenida 3. An authentic Japanese garden and other statues can be found within the park.
Adjacent to the Morazán Park is Spanish Park (Parque España), a tranquil bastion of tall trees from which bird’s perch and sing throughout the day, reaching their apex at dusk. The Belgium made Metallic Building (Edificio Metálico) lies to the northwest and is a striking attraction that required years of assembly and today houses a school.
North of Morazán is the Jade Museum (Museo de Jade), perhaps Costa Rica’s most outstanding museum. Home to the largest collection of American jade in the world, this is one museum that visitors should not overlook. Other ceramic exhibits, stonework and gold pieces complete the museum, which are arranged according to the specific cultural region from whence they came. Located on the eleventh floor of the impressive glass INS Building, the museum offers expansive views of the surrounding cityscape as well.
One of the inner-city’s largest open areas, Democracy Plaza (Plaza de la Democracia) is located in downtown’s east. A statue pays tribute to Jose Maria “Don Pepe” Figueres, the father of Costa Rica’s modern democracy. The National Museum (Museo Nacional) lies to the east, within the bullet riddled Bellavista Fortress, an ex-army headquarters. The museum houses a number of historical exhibits, including jade, gold, and colonial art.
Kittycorner near Plaza de la Democracia is the Moorish style National Palace (Palacio Nacional), where the nation’s legislative assemblies are held.
The pleasant National Park (Parque Nacional), located in east San José, is the city’s largest inner-city park. At the park’s center is the National Monument, which depicts Central American regulars driving out the filibuster William Walker. A statue of Juan Santamaría, a national hero (the airport being named after him), is located to the park’s southwest. The National Library (Biblioteca Nacional), the country’s central library, covers the northwest portion of the park. The National Center of Art and Culture (Centro Nacional de Artes y Cultura) hosts several art galleries, as well as a theatre.
The avenues broaden west of downtown, revealing open spaces and even the occasional tree or garden. The general bustle of the main-drag, Paseo Colón, makes its way past the General Cemetery, an elegant collection of headstones that deserve the attention of passers-by. Families gather on All Souls Day and All Saints Day to commemorate deceased love ones.
Straight ahead is the tranquil Savannah (Sabana) Metropolitan Park, a wonderful place to escape downtown. Woodlands and large open spaces comprise the enormous park that was once the city’s main airport. Its many trails are utilized by the park’s many joggers, kite flyers, soccer players and youth simply wanting to run of some steam. Weekends are dominated by family centred activities, such as picnics and outdoor parties.
Also within the park is the National Gymnasium, a venue for large pop concerts; the biggest mainstream names play shows here for mass audiences. The National Stadium lies to the south, hosting everything from soccer games to presidential meetings. Nearby are courts for volleyball, tennis, basketball, as well as fields for soccer and baseball, and an Olympic-size swimming pool.
The Museum of Costa Rican Art is housed in the old airport traffic control tower and displays a number of works from ‘tico’ painters and sculptors. French artist Luis Ferrón constructed the Salon Dorado, whose metal relief mural depicts the history of Costa Rica.
Located in the southwest quadrant of the park is La Salle Natural Science Museum, featuring a number of exhibits related to zoology, archaeology, as well as the nation’s only palaeontology exhibit.
There are many; cafes, bars, restaurants and clubs, thus providing any type of hospitality required. Plus, being a typical city centre there are a variety of shops, malls and supermarkets.
San Jose is defiantly a vibrate, lively and on-the-edge city, maybe too much for some, but for the thrill seeks, culture vulchers, historians or lovers of urban Latin America, is a fantastic place to see and visit. If tourists are taking part in a tour of Costa Rica, it is advised that they use an official company and not do it unaccompanied. Costa Rica Full Vacation is a very professional and highly recommended tour company and has a vast range of tours and trips to choose from. When exploring Costa Rica try and not miss out on at least a day or two in this surprisingly interesting destination.