Favorite thing: Lining up to access an ATM just doesn’t appeal. Fortunately, there is a cluster of six bank machines in a small shopping mall (Pasaje Plazavenida) at the extreme east end of the Avenida Central pedestrian mall at Calle 9. The downside is that there is a $5 charge per transaction. The upside is that there is no waiting, a security guard present, and money available in either colons or US dollars. The mall, and access to the machines, is only open during normal business hours 9am-6pm.
Favorite thing: The Costa Ricans do bakeries right. No two are alike and the pastries are always fresh and tasty. Let’s face it, walking around downtown San Jose is hungry work. My favorite bakery is Samuelito along Avenida Central between Calle 1 and 3.
San Jose is home to about 800,000 people and is the capital city of Costa Rica.
I generally have a good sense of direction, but I would advise against trying to navigate the streets of San Jose with your own vehicle. The central area is pretty much a grid system, but outside of centro the streets are twisty-turny and it is easy to get turned around. Additionally, it looked as though parking downtown would be a great big hassle. Sometimes it is best to fork over the money to the cabbies.
Favorite thing: A reminder that Costa Rica was once a Spanish colony. The country was "discovered" in 1502 by Christopher Columbus on his fourth voyage to the New World. Unlike Guatemala and Mexico to the north, the area that is now Costa Rica was sparsely inhabited at the time. Spain governed Costa Rica as a colonial possession until 1823. Costa Rica gained independence from Spain at the same time as other Central American Spanish colonies. Independence was granted without war and without official bloodshed.
Favorite thing: Like I said in the introduction, San Jose itself is not striking. It is a functional capital city, but the buildings are drab. Lots of buses. Lots of trucks. Lots of asphalt. Lots of diesel fumes. Not exactly a holiday atmosphere. I don't wish to disparage the place, for we found no crime (despite plenty of warnings) or abject poverty (though you can see from my barrio tip that there are poor quarters). I guess my overall reaction is: eh, well there you have it, buses, people and government buildings.
Santa Ana is the area where I was lodged during my trip. It was green all around! Next to my hotel (the Comfort Inn) there was a Pizza Hut and a Rostipollos (where I used to go all nights), and a free shuttle that used to take us in 3-5 minutes to Multiplaza Mall, in Escazú, next to Centro Empresarial Forum. Over there you could find anything for entertaining: cinemas, shops, restaurants, grocery stores ,etc.
Santa Ana is located near 30 minutes from downtown San José (by bus) or 15 by taxi (around 2500-3000 colones per ride)
Fondest memory: I miss the Rostipollos! :) Not only trying their Central American specialities, but also chatting with my bunch of friends around the table. Also miss the Multiplaza's cinema, where I came to see "The Crime of Father Amaro" with some friends.
Costa Rica is one of the top 5 coffee producers in the world. They export several types of cofee depending on the geographical market (US, Latin America, Europe) and the are where it was cultivated (that raised in the higher mountain has a stronger taste than the crops of the lower mountain).
That's why a visit to any of the coffee plantations around San José is mandatory!
Many of the tours include a visit to any of them. One of the most popular in internal market is Cafe Britt's (you can get it at any restaurant of grocery store) but for export the coffee of Tres Generaciones' plantation is one of the most demanded.
Fondest memory: I have already ran out of Tres Generaciones coffee. My favorite one was the Italian roast - yeah, much stronger than the French roast.
Not far from the city, and still in the province of San José, you can enjoy the following ecotouristic activities:
- hiking the Irazú volcano
- hiking the Braulio Carrillo National Park
- hiking the Poás Volcano National Park
- visit the waterfalls formed by river La Paz
- visit the butterfly observatory, next to the trail for the waterfalls.
Another activities implies going to the beaches, but all of them are not in the province of San José. I made an exception while making a tip on Manuel Antonio, because it is easy to go there from San José.
(More info on my Off the Beaten Path tips).
Every block or two in downtown San Jose there is a a small park with a small monument. Presumably, these little parks honor great deeds of heroism in Costa Rica's more bloody past, before they abolished the army and became the American Switzerland.
This photo shows Parque Morazan which is scant on grass and long on pavement. It is close to the Jade Museum. The domed structure is a band pavilion.
This area of San Jose offers a lot of attractions. Among them, you can visit the following
- Museums: just around Avenida Central there are the Golden and Numismatic Museum, the National Museum, and the Filatelic Museum.
- Theathers: You can go to the National Theather (it presents several spectacles at night, during my visti there was a flamenco group making presentations in there) and the Melico Salazar Theater.
- the Cathedral (beautiful in the inside)
- Plaza de la Cultura
- Avenida Central (all types of commercial activity are found in here)
- Central Market (not far from Avenida Central, to buy souvenirs)
Fondest memory: My friends and I went to downtown during my last weekend there, and IT WAS HEAVILY RAINING! Although using my umbrella, I got completely wet, especially in the feet because I was wearing only sandals. But it was crazy fun, because I was with my bunch of great friends :-)
Fondest memory: Cars are not allowed to enter this area, it's a open-air mall of downtown San Jose indeed. You can find bookstore, department store, supermarket, fastfood (such like Taco Bell, Subway, BurgerKing, Pizza Hut, Pollo Campero and McDonald's) and boutiques.
Most hotels have a laundry service, but it is generally expensive, I have thus far found 2 laundromats.
Sixahola launderia: located near the corner Avenida 2 and calle 9, they do you washing for you, it costs 1000 colones per kilo. I dropped mine off at 10:30 they said it will be done by 2pm, in Costa Rica time that meant 3pm, it cost 3000 colones
Central plaza self service laundromat: Located in the plaza de culturala, Avenida 2 calle 3, Cost: 2000 colones wash and dry, extra 200 warm water, 350 hot water, 200 for soap.
there is an internet cafe next door to fill in time while you wash.
Mesoamerica is a great school if you want to learn Spanish in San Jose. It's located just outside of the city in San Pedro and is accessible by the Sabanilla bus and La Periferica.
There is a web page (www.mesoamericaonline.net) which details other information.
I had four weeks of classes and I was in a one-on-one tutorial for two weeks and had one other student for the other weeks. It was great. The teachers are amazing and really pay attention to you.
La directora is Linda Holland. The number in Costa Rica is: 253-3195. Everyone speaks Spanish and English fluently.
One of the taller and more modern buildings in San Jose, the National Bank building sits on the site from which the town of San Jose was born. Surrounded by immaculate gardens and trees, there are also sculptures to admire as you pass by. By the western wall of the bank there is a bronze sculpture of Costa Rica farming people.
Address: Avenidas Central-1 - Calles 2-4
One of the most interesting things we saw in Costa Rica were the stone spheres. About 300 of these mysterious polished orbs have been discovered in Costa Rica beginning in the 1930s, however they are believed to have been carved between 200 BC and 1600 AD. Several examples of The stone spheres are on display at the National Museum.
The spheres come in all sizes, from a few centimeters to more than two meters in diameter. The largest weigh as much as 16 tons. Many different theories abound as to whether the stone balls are man-made or a natural phenomenon. It is the mystery or their origin that that I found most intriguing.
The Mysterious Stone Spheres of Costa Rica