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No longer relegated to the bottom of travellers’ lists, San Jose is an up-and-coming city with a high quality of life, dynamic arts and culture, and an innovative culinary scene.
Let’s be honest – many travellers skip over San Jose when they are planning their Costa Rican holiday. Eager to explore the beaches, cloud forests, and natural parks, they spend only a few hours in this bustling capital city on either end of their holiday. This is a mistake – San Jose (affectionately known to locals as Chepe) has a lot to offer those patient enough to explore.
Chepe is fast becoming a destination in its own right, with historic areas such as Barrio Amón exploding with art galleries and unique shops. Barrio Escalante is known as the capital’s foodie quarter, known for small eateries offering fresh takes on Costa Rican favourites. Whether you enjoy dancing all night to marimba music, dining on local cuisine, or exploring museums, San Jose rewards those who choose to spend a few days here.
San Jose is located in the fertile Valle Central, and is 1,160 metres above sea level. When the city was first settled in 1736, it was named the Villa Nueva, and grew rapidly in the 20th century. At this time, the city’s neighbourhoods were laid down in a grid format, making it easy to navigate on foot. Today, it is a major transportation hub on the Inter-American Highway, which makes it an ideal hub for any Central American holiday.
Costa Rica is best visited during its dry season, typically falling between mid-December to the end of April. Keep in mind that this is also the height of tourist season, so you will be sharing the city with other tourists, and hotels and guides tend to raise their prices. This peak tourist season boasts plenty of sunshine making it an ideal time for exploring rainforests and lounging on beaches. However, prices are very affordable against the British pound, so you should still be able to grab some relative bargains.
The highly embellished Teatro Nacional is considered the jewel in San Jose’s crown, and is its most famous building. Located on the Plaza de la Cultura, it was constructed in 1897 and was modeled on the Paris Opera. Bedecked in neoclassical statues of Beethoven and Spanish dramatist Calderón de la Barca, the exterior is stunning, but the interiors are even more revered. The lobby and auditorium are dripping in marble, gold, and elaborate paintings, which you can learn all about on hourly tours.
Museo del Jade
Jade is one of Costa Rica’s most important historical industries, and there is a 500 year tradition of mining and carving this stunning material. This museum showcases the world’s largest collection of American jade, with 7000 pieces spread across five floors. If you are looking for directions, remember – jade is pronounced ‘hah – day” in Spanish.
Museo de Oro Precolombino y Numismática
If you visit just one museum while you are in San Jose, it should be the Museo de Oro Precolombino y Numismática, which houses three collections under one roof, including pre-Colombian gold, artifacts, and regional art. You will find this museum beneath the Plaza de la Cultura.
Anyone who has a passion for tasting local cuisines should make a bee line for Barrio Escalante, known for its high concentration of bars, restaurants, cafes, bakeries, and gourmet food shops. The highest concentration can be found along Calle 33, a street that has been nicknamed Paseo Gastronómico La Luz, in honour of a historic grocery store that used to be located on the street. The evenings are busy, when it seems that everyone in San Jose swarms into the neighbourhood to have a drink, restaurant hop, and mingle with friends.
Stroll through downtown San Jose
The city’s downtown area is dotted with unique and interesting architecture, including the Teatro Nacional, the National Museum, and many different plazas, including the Democracy, Culture, and Social Guarantees plazas. The best way to get to know this busy and exciting city is simply to stroll through its streets, chat with locals, visit local shops, and have a drink in the many buzzy bars.
When Do You Want To Go?
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