Planning Your Time
- The Best of Costa Rica
- Costa Rica’s Top Spots for WIldlife
- Costa Rica’s Most Beautiful Beaches
- Costa Rica’s Best Beaches for Wildlife
- Best Surfing Beaches in Costa Rica
- Costa Rica’s Unique Retreats & Resorts
- Surf’s Up in Costa Rica
- Off-The-Beaten-Path Eco-Adventures
- Costa Rica Family-Friendly Adventures
- Adrenaline Rush
The vast majority of visitors to the country spend one or two days in the capital city, whose bona fide tourist attractions can be counted on two hands. After a day or two, it is time to move on.
You’ll appreciate basing yourself in a leafy residential district to escape the noise and bustle of downtown, where the major sights of interest are located. Your checklist of must-sees downtown should include Teatro Nacional, San José’s late-19th-century belle-epoque theater, and the modest Catedral Metropólitana, as well as the Fidel Tristán Museo del Jade and Museo del Oro Precolombino, which displays an astounding array of pre-Columbian gold and artifacts.
The Centro Nacional de Cultura, also downtown, pays tribute to the works of contemporary artists, as does the Museo de Arte Costarricense, near Sabana Park. If you enjoy walking, the historic Barrio Amón district makes for a pleasant stroll. By night, El Pueblo, a shopping and entertainment complex in Barrio Tournon, will prove fulfilling, while the fashionable young energy these days is in Barrio Dent and San Pedro, to the east side of town.
San José’s outer-perimeter sights are few. An exception is Pueblo Antiguo, where the nation’s almost extinct traditional lifestyle is honored in yesteryear re-creations.
Avoid driving in San José. Despite the city’s grid system of one-way streets, finding your way around can be immensely frustrating. San José is ideal for walking: Downtown is compact, with everything of interest within a few blocks of the center.
And be wary when crossing streets—Tico drivers give no mercy to those still in the road when the light turns to green. Don’t take your eyes off the traffic for a moment. Stand well away from the curb, especially on corners, where buses often mount the curb.
San José has a high (and worsening) crime rate. Be especially wary in and around the “Coca-Cola” bus terminal (avoid the area altogether at night) and the red-light district south of Avenida 2 (especially between Calles Central and 10) and the sleazy zone northwest of the Mercado Central. And give a wide berth to Barrio Lomas, in the extreme west of Pavas; this is the city’s desperately poor slum area and the domain of violent gangs. Also avoid parks, especially Parque Nacional, at night.
Don’t use buses at night, and be alert if you use them by day. And never walk around with a camera or purse slung loose over your shoulder.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Costa Rica, 8th Edition