San Jose will be a pleasant surprise during your visit to Costa Rica. It is the land of the never ending spring and the most cosmopolitan city in Central America. Shopping, museums, restaurants and natural attractions can all be found within a small and convenient perimeter. With a little planning you can get to know San Jose in one day, so follow our lead and make the most out of your trip.
You've just returned to San José from a trip into the rainforest, from an isolated pristine beach, or from a white water rafting expedition. One pair of clean shoes left will do: take your time to stroll around in our nation's capital city, and to experience what Costa Rican urban life is all about: Rush hours, rewarding shades, restaurants, a smiling face, architectonic jewels, a helpful vendor, winding streets, and more. This is San José, with its bits and corners. No question as to why spend a day in Capital City, your casual visit will turn into an unforgettable cultural experience.
The National Museum offers an hour-long journey through Costa Rica's history and culture with displays ranging from pre-Columbian jewelry and pottery to a secret butterfly garden.
The museum is housed in the old Bella Vista Fortress, the historic site where three-time president Jose Figueres Ferrer abolished the army in 1948. The building has become an icon of peace in spite of the exterior bullet holes.
Plaza De La Democracia
The concrete plaza was built in 1989 for the Hemispheric Summit and has since symbolized the union of the American continent. Benches laid out throughout the park are a great place to people watch. On the street adjacent to the plaza you'll find a small souvenir market featuring the work of Costa Rican and Central American artisans.
The National Park is an oasis amidst concrete giants with its trees, benches and gardens. It revolves around a white-marble monument honoring the heroes of 1856 that died protecting the country from foreign invaders.
The National Palace houses the country's Legislative Assembly. The building features Moorish-style architecture. Visitors are welcome to see the building's interior and witness the country's congressmen in session.
Museo Nacional del Ferrocarril
A quick detour takes you to the National Railroad Museum, housed in the old Atlantic train station built in 1907. Photographs and valuable artifacts recall the grandeur of Costa Rica's extinct railway system.
Museo de Arte y Diseño Contemporaneo
The National Museum of Contemporary Art and Design focuses on current artwork of different sorts, ranging from video and traditional techniques to installation and performance. There are six exhibit rooms that display different pieces of the museum's permanent collection.
The old government liquor company now houses the National Arts and Culture Center (CENAC). The complex is artistic from the inside out, including the colonial architecture that dates back to 1850. The CENAC has three art galleries, several display spaces and two theaters. There are different exhibits and presentations every week.
Grandeur surrounds the Yellow House, a XIX century architectural wonder that now serves as the Foreign Ministry's headquarters. Internal gardens and artwork fill the building where international policy is implemented.
Museo de Jade Fidel Tristan
Located in the national insurance company's building, the Jade Museum displays the largest exhibit and only existing pre-Columbian collection of the precious stone. There are also valuable archaeological artifacts made of stone, ceramics and gold.
A breath of fresh air in the middle of a crowded city, the Morazan Park is a good place to take a break from the walking. The sound of the birds in the trees and occasional concerts in the acoustically perfect Temple of Music, a domed bandstand built in the middle of the park, make you forget you're downtown.
Plaza de la Cultura
The concrete Culture Plaza is the center of San Jose's hustle and bustle. The pretty layout and sitting areas attract locals, tourists and hundreds of pigeons. Artists also display their work in the sidewalk and souvenirs can be found by the dozens.
Museo de Oro and Museo de Numismatica
Both venues are located underneath the Plaza de la Cultura. The Gold Museum displays a collection of gold artifacts dating back to 500 years before Christ and the arrival of the Spaniards in the XVI century. The Currency Museum illustrates Costa Rican economic development through its artistic bills and coins.
The National Theater is Costa Rica's architectural pride and joy. It was built 1897 as a symbol of the economic prosperity brought by coffee exports. Inspired on the Paris Opera House, the theater is reserved for performances of the highest quality. A tour allows you to see the pink marble foyer, statues, murals and the impressive auditorium. Enjoy the sumptuous atmosphere while sipping on a cup of coffee in the theater's cafe.
Teatro Melico Salazar
A quick detour will take you to Costa Rica's prime popular arts venue. Built in 1927, the Melico Salazar Theater features intricate architecture and perfect acoustics. It was initially intended to be movie theater, in fact, it presented the first motion picture ever shown in the country. It currently provides a stage for performing artists and visitors are welcome to relax in its historical coffee shop.
Catedral Metropolitana And Parque Central
The religious headquarters are located in the Metropolitan Cathedral. The church's interior, including stain-glass windows, wooden details and majestic altar are a testament of the country's spiritual preferences. Mass is celebrated everyday with great solemnity. Across the Cathedral you'll find the Central Park, a bustling plaza with all kinds of trees and a domed bandstand.
No cars are allowed on San Jose's main artery, the Central Avenue. The street was turned into a pedestrian boulevard lined with stores, restaurants and charm. As you walk in the Costa Rica of today, catch a glimpse of its days past through a display of historical pictures featured on the street.
The Central Market is a bee's nest of swarming ticos in search of produce, meat and all kinds of trinkets. It will probably be your closest encounter with true local culture, especially if you have lunch at one of the little sodas found in the market. You'll be pleasantly surprised by an affordable, satisfying meal.
Museo de Arte Costarricense
Central Avenue becomes Paseo Colon and then leads you to the old international airport, a beautiful neo-colonial structure built in 1940 that now houses the Costa Rican Art Museum. The collection dates back to late XIX century and includes more than 2500 pieces from national painters.
Parque Metropolitano La Sabana
The Sabana Metropolitan Park provides much needed fresh air to San Jose and its inhabitants. Tall trees, a man-made lake, fountain, running tracks, swimming pool, gymnasiums, soccer and baseball fields, and tennis and basketball courts can be found at this park where downtown businessmen take a break. This leafy green retreat with its picnic tables is the perfect spot to end your walking tour.
+ Many of the museums are closed on Mondays, so plan your walking tour accordingly.
+ Although the museums are pretty self-explanatory, guided tours are recommended to get the most out of your visit. If possible call ahead to set up an appointment.
+ Buy coffee, lots of it. The freshly roasted bean has exquisite taste and makes for a very unique souvenir.
+ During rainy season, the mornings will be sunny but light rains may start in the afternoon. Plan your walk early in the morning and always carry an umbrella or a raincoat, just in case