Although I am sure while you are in Costa Rica, you will do a lot of traveling, it is necessary that you spend plenty of time in the city of San José as well. The city is the capital of the country and also happens to be situated directly in the middle of the country. From this area, one can basically find a bus to any location in the country they desire! While traveling through the country is an important part of learning more about the country of Costa Rica, if you do not spend any time in the city itself you will miss an important part of culture here. For starters, there are people from all walks of life that are present in the center of the city. From professionals to homeless people, the center of San José holds every type of person there is. When walking around at any given time in the day, there are families, couples, and workers walking the street. Having such a large amount of people around really helps you to see the vast demographics of Costa Rica. There is an endless amount of things to do in the city, but in this “review” of San José I will give you the places you have to visit while exploring San José.
- The National Theatre
The National Theatre, opened in 1897, is a beautiful and historic place to visit and enjoy a show. Modeled after the Paris Opera house, this theatre has a classic European feel to it. An interesting aspect of the architecture of this building is that the architects of the theatre coincidently used different popular architect styles from Europe. When walking around the theatre Roman styles, Italian styles, Gothic styles, and many others classic architecture styles are easily identified. To walk around the theatre, you either have to buy a ticket to watch a performance, or pay for a guided tour through the building. In the auditorium each week, there are performances from the National Symphonic Orchestra that are phenomenal. A night attending a show here is such a treat, and gives you a taste of what life was like for upper-class Costa Ricans in the early 20th century.
- Central Market
The central market of San José is located in the middle of the city between avenues central 1 and calles 6 & 8. It is full of venders that sell produce, clothing, and meat. It is also a great place to do some people watching and experience a daily, traditional part of Costa Rican life. If you are looking for a place to buy souvenirs to bring back to the states, I recommend visiting the artisan market close to Chinatown.
- Museums in the city
There are numerous museums in the city. There is the pre-columbian gold museum, the museum of jade, and the national museum of Costa Rica. Of course, there are several other museums but those are a few of the most popular ones. I have visited these museums, and was so impressed. I have not been to a lot of museums, but the ones I have visited here blew me away with their displays and the setup of the museum. Even if you are not a big fan of museums, you need to go to some of these museums! A lot of classes and programs will include visits to these museums in field trips and program outings, but if yours doesn’t make the effort to go on your own. It is so worth it!
The last thing I want to bring up when talking about exploring San José is basic safety tips to ensure your trip goes as planned. San José does not have much violent crime, but it has a lot of petty crime. Never walk around on the phone, texting, or with headphones in your ears. This makes you an easy target for petty theft! The more tucked away your items are, the less of a chance there is going to be that you will get robbed. Also, unless you are with a group, do not go in the center of the city at nighttime. The city is really empty at night to begin with, due to a lack of residential areas in the city center. For that reason among others, there are a lot of homeless people and prostitutes that roam the night. The city really is not a terribly dangerous place. Just make sure you are always aware of your surroundings and always act like you know what you are doing! I find when I walk and act confidently, people do not give me as much as a second look than if I am looking at a map or look confused. If you have to fake it, fake it! There have been a lot of times I am lost, but I do not reveal my unsureness in my body language. Thieves and criminals can usually tell when a person is lost or confused; this gives the criminal more power to steal from you or hurt you.
Anyways, there are so many different places to visit in San José. The ideas above are just the basic, “touristy” destinations you must visit! Not only will you learn great new information, but you will have another window into Costa Rican culture. The National Theatre gives a sample of Costa Rican culture back about 100 years ago and more, the market gives you a view into daily life of Costa Ricans, and the museums demonstrate a mix of ancient and modern artifacts. All of these areas of history and culture are very important and experiencing these places in the city will open your eyes to cultural aspects you may have never realized even existed here. I know they opened my eyes to some fascinating, amazing things when I went!