A CAPITAL WITH LATIN ACCENTS
What to do, what to see and what to visit in San José, the safest Latin American capital?
Starting your Costa Rican trip with a visit to the country’s capital can be very interesting from a cultural point of view. Most of the hotels are in the heart of this beautiful city, allowing you to go for a walk and have direct contact with Costa Rican culture and explore the “Ticos” way of life. Bars, museums, restaurants, squares and parks are at your disposal to start or end your visit to Costa Rica.
Capital of Costa Rica and name of the province since 1823, San José is located 1200 meters above sea level in the center of the country.
San José is the most important center of the country from a political, economic and social point of view. With a great Spanish and Italian influence in its infrastructure and culture, this city was home to the French and Belgians – privileged class – who lived there in the late nineteenth century and the twentieth century. It is today considered one of the most cosmopolitan capitals of Latin America.
A PRIVILEGED GEOGRAPHIC LOCATION
San José, and more generally the large metropolitan area, is located in the central valley of Costa Rica. This area is surrounded by the Braulio Carillo National Park (one of the wildest in the country), the Poas Volcano in the north, the Tapanti National Park in the south-east and the mountainous Escazu area and Rabo in Mico Mount in the south south. Its proximity to the Irazu volcano has also affected the capital many times.
WHAT TO SEE AND WHAT TO DO IN SAN JOSÉ?
Among the museums available to learn more about Costa Rican history and nature, we can mention: “El Museo Nacional de Costa Rica”, “Museo de Jade”, “Museos del Banco Central”, ” Museo Filatélico de Costa Rica “,” Museo de Insectos de la Universidad de Costa Rica “,” Museo de Arte Costaricense “… if you do not have the time to visit them, beautiful infrastructures, buildings and architecture can be seen as you stroll through the city these include the Nacional Theater , the Merced Church, the central church, and the picturesque central market of San José where you can buy fruit, taste typical dishes and buy souvenirs.
LIFE IN SAN JOSÉ
San José has a particular structure: it is organized in avenues and streets which are all perpendicular to each other. The avenues go from west to east and the streets from north to south.
The center is relatively small and a good part of it is reserved for pedestrians, which does not make life easy for drivers. If you drive to San Jose, you will have to be prepared for symphonies of horn honking, risky overtaking manoeuvres and be ready to slam on the brakes when confronted with the intrepid pedestrians who have decided to cross the road regardless of the colour of the traffic lights.
The majority of travellers will be especially surprised by the many harrows, barbed wire and other grids present at the front of the houses. We must not forget that we are in Latin America and even if San José is currently the safest Latin capital of the continent, there is still some latent insecurity specific to very large cities. Rest assured, the police are omnipresent and there is nontheless a sense of security in the city.
HOW TO ENJOY THE BEST OF SAN JOSÉ?
It is best to visit San José in the morning. Even if the Costa Ricans are early risers (too early?), the city is still idling in the early hours of the day. In addition, the heat will be less felt and the city center less crowded.
WHAT ARE THE ESSENTIAL VISITS IN SAN JOSÉ?
THE NATIONAL THEATRE
This beautiful building is located in the heart of San Jose, just steps from the Metropolitan Cathedral, at the corner of Avenue 2 and Streets 3 and 5. Its construction ended in 1897 and it was inaugurated with the Opera “Fausto” by Charles Gounod.
The interior of the theatre is as impressive as the exterior, there are many works of art and it is possible to visit it with local guides in English / Spanish.
If you have time, do not hesitate to go see a representation in the theatre to really appreciate the beauty of the place.
Cost of the visit:
Foreigners: $ USD 10
Children under 12: Free
The theater also offers a coffee corner to relax in a sumptuous setting right in the center of San José.
To learn more about the timeline of his creation, I recommend the excellent National Theatre website: Link
THE NATIONAL MUSEUM
Established in 1887, the National Museum was to begin with, a military barracks, a weapon reserve and even a prison.
The museum’s mission is to tell the history of Costa Rica, from pre-Columbian to colonial times, and also the country’s indigenous history.
To learn more about the museum: Link
San José is a city that will give a cultural dimension to your Costa Rican trip. It will be particularly pleasant to stroll through the colonial neighborhoods of Barrio Amon and Barrio Montoya. Or have a sporty getaway at La Sabana Metropolitan Park.
You want to visit San José, we offer these off the beaten track tours.
The possibilities of walks are unlimited. They are an opportunity to observe nature while focusing on the historical, architectural, cultural, religious and commercial aspects of the region.
The most diverse historical and cultural museums are located in this part of the country; for example, the National Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, the Children’s Museum, the Costarican Art Museum, the Gold Museum, the Museum of Popular Culture, the Juan Santamaría Museum, the Orosi Museum, the Entomological Museum, the La Salle Museum, the Jade Museum, etc.
MELICO SALAZAR THEATRE
The Melico Salazar Theatre, whose building has been declared of Historical and Architectural Interest, was created to promote the artistic expressions of popular culture and facilitate the access to shows to the general public.
An architectural metal jewel from the 19th century, this building has housed, since its creation, a school for boys and girls.
Located inside the Morazán Park, this neoclassical construction of 1920 in reinforced concrete has almost perfect acoustics. For a long time, the temple served as a meeting place for the Josefine community, who came to listen to the concerts of the Symphonic Orchestra and the Military Band and to share their traditional New Year’s greetings.
The National Monument was inaugurated September 15, 1895, at the place where, at the time, the Train Station Square was situated. This work by the French sculptor Louis Carrier commemorates the achievements of the 1856-1857 campaign. The characters represent the Central American countries pursuing the North American invader dressed as a slave, of which William Walker was the representative.
NATIONAL MUSEUM (FORMER HEADQUARTERS BELLAVISTA)
The Army Headquarters was built between 1916 and 1930. In 1949, after the Abolition of the Army, it was transformed into a National Museum, with the essential purpose of promoting the study and preservation of the country’s fauna and flora. Archeology, history of the homeland and natural history are currently the main themes. The Museum is located on Calle 17, between Centrale Avenue and Avenue II. It is open to the public from Tuesday to Sunday from 9am to 5pm.
THE CHILDREN’S MUSEUM (MUSEO DEL NIÑO)
The architectural structure of the museum dates back to 1910, but it is a modern complex specially designed for Costa Rican children. It includes more than 50 exhibition halls where national cultural and scientific activities are carried out. The museum is located 800 meters north of Banco Central in San José. It is open to the public from Tuesday to Sunday from 9am to 5pm.
The Jade Museum contains a collection of pre-Columbian art objects (in gold, ceramics, jade and stone). It is the only museum in the entire continent of America to have an exhibition of indigenous jade crafts. It is located in the building of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros (National Insurance Institute).
The Gold Museum displays one of the most valuable collections of indigenous gold coins in the world. It is located at Plaza de la Cultura (Cultural Square), Calle 5, Central Avenue (Calle 5, Avenida Central), in front of the Tourist Information Office of the Costa Rican Institute of Tourism (ICT). The museum is open to the public from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10:00 to 16:30.
MUSEUM OF COSTARICIAN ART
Former airport of La Sabana, this museum exhibits collections of different forms of plastic art. Upstairs, in the Golden Hall (Salón Dorado), you can admire a wooden fresco depicting the country history since the Native American era until 1940. The Museum is located at La Sabana Street 42, Avenue II (Calle 42, Avenida Segunda). It opens its doors to the public from 9am to 5pm.
PHILATELIC AND NUMISMATIC MUSEUM OF COSTA RICA
Located in the Central Post Office building in San José, this museum presents a collection of Costa Rican postage stamps; it also recreates a 19th century post office with the devices of the time, used for the first communications in Costa Rica.
INSECT MUSEUM OF THE UNIVERSITY OF COSTA RICA
This museum exhibits a very diverse selection of Costa Rican entomological samples. It is located in the basement of the Faculty of Musical Arts of the University of Costa Rica.
LA SALLE MUSEUM OF NATURAL SCIENCES
This museum houses an important collection of ornithology, entomology and malacology specimens. It exhibits about eighteen thousand magnificent specimens. Four different rooms exhibit mammals, fish, reptiles, and shells; a fifth room is dedicated to archeology. The museum is located on the southwest side of the Metropolitan Park of La Sabana. It is open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 5pm.
OBSERVATION OF ARCHITECTURAL FORMS AND HISTORIC SITES
The great diversity of the sites and buildings of the whole Central Valley declared of architectural interest, historical or even, National Monuments, offer options of visits to tourists respectful of the national cultural heritage.
In the big cities of the provinces, mainly on Sunday mornings, at 10 o’clock, concerts are organized by the National Fanfares of Cartago, Heredia, Alajuela and San José. Examples of an old historical tradition, these activities generally take place in the Central Park of each city. In addition, other historical, religious, sports, civic or artistic activities are celebrated throughout the year. Fairs are also organized to raise funds for commun development.
INBIO (INSTITUTE OF BIODIVERSITY)
INBIO is an institution dedicated to national biodiversity research. INBIO has had great success in this field, which has earned it several international awards. Located in Santo Domingo de Heredia, this institute welcomes tourists to various facilities specifically designed for this purpose, including the Biodiversity Park.
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