Central Valley of San Jose
From Costa Rica Travel Guide: Vacation and Travel tips
If you are flying into Costa Rica, chances are you’ll be arriving at San Jose International Airport (Juan Santamaria International Airport). Therefore, San Jose is worth taking the time to explore some of its cultural attractions. The city has a wide variety of parks, theatres, museums, universities, nightclubs, discos, casinos, fine dining, etc. – if you’re looking for it, it’s here. The best way to discover what San Jose has to offer is by taking a walking tour through the city as directed by a Costa Rican guidebook or information provided from a local tourism office. There are also driving tours of the city available.
All over San Jose you will find examples of modern, as well as traditional architectural design. Monuments, plaques, and statues located throughout the city offer interesting insights to the history of Costa Rica. There’s also the Plaza de la Cultura, which is the heart of the city, as this large square is a popular meeting place for traders, artisians, street musicians, painter, actors, practically about anybody and everybody. If the plaza is the heart of the city, then the Teatro Nacional is the pride of the plaza, as it’s without a doubt the finest building in San Jose, if not all Costa Rica.
Staying in San Jose will afford you access to many services that can cater to any eco-tourist needs; providing an array of day trips and adventures into the surrounding lands. A visitor has the chance to take guided walking and/or guided horseback tours into nearby rainforests. If you’re looking for more thrills, there is always the more extreme option of bungee jumping off a nearby bridge into the depths of a rushing gorge, or white water rafting down some serious rapids.
If you’re looking to purchase that special something, San Jose is home to many master craftsmen of various trades. If it’s a fine wood carving you’re after, then no problem. A beautifully crafted handmade guitar, it’s here. Meticulously crafted silver and/or gold jewelry, then San Jose is the place.
As always, be aware of your surroundings, like all cities, there are good areas in San Jose, and there’s bad ones too. Like many larger cities around the globe, San Jose has its downsides, such as poor air and pollution, crime, drugs, etc., but San Jose’s pluses far out-weigh any of the negatives.
Museums and Theaters in San Jose
San Jose is home to most of Costa Rica’s museums. They include the National Museum, a former army barracks, but now a traditional colonial-style building with breezy tiled verandas that offer a good view of the downtown area. Inside the museum you will find displays on Costa Rican history and culture from pre-Columbian times to the present day. The collection of archaeological artifacts seems to contest the belief that Costa Rica has little pre-Columbian history. There are many interesting artifacts in the museum, from pre-Columbian gold jewelry and figurines to a 2,500-year-old jade carving that is shaped like a seashell, an assortment of mutates, or grinding stones- some the size of a small bed, and in the courtyard, you’ll have the opportunity to view some of Costa Rica’s mysterious stone spheres.
The Gold Museum, located directly beneath the Plaza de la Cultura, houses a remarkable collection of pre-Columbian gold pieces and is one of the largest in the Americas. There are more than 2,000 gold objects on display.
Located on the first floor of the National Insurance Company building is the Jade Museum, which has the western hemisphere’s largest collection of jade sculptures. In the pre-Columbian cultures of Central America, jade was the most valuable commodity, worth more than gold. The museum also displays a broad collection of pre-Columbian vases, bowls, and figurines. One of the more fascinating pieces incorporates human teeth into the vase itself.
A former airport terminal, the Costa Rican Art Museum sits at the end of Paseo Colon in Parque La Sabana, and displays artwork of all media types done by the most celebrated of Costa Rica’s artists. The collection consists of extraordinary beautiful pieces in a variety of styles, expressing how Costa Rican artists have interpreted and imitated the major European styles through the years.
Smaller museums include the Insect Museum, on the UCR campus and Barrio Amon’s Museum of Contemporary Art and Design.
Theater is very popular in Costa Rica and there are many in San Jose. More often than not, shows tend toward the burlesque, which translates into simplistic sexual comedies. Located in the heart of downtown are two exceptions, the splendid National Theater and the nearby Melico Salazar. Both theaters host highbrow music, theater, and dance performances with stars such as Ricky Martin, rock star Sting and reggaeton superstar, Daddy Yankee.
Museums and Theaters in San Jose
MUSEO DE ARTE COSTARRICENSE (Costa Rican Art Museum) East end of Sabana Park tel. 506/2-222-7175 CHECK IT OUT...Our video review on the Art Museum
MUSEO DE ARTE Y DISENO CONTEMPORANEO (Art and Design Museum) Located in the old prison building (Antigua Fanal) Avenida 3 between Avenidas 13 and 15 tel. 506/2-257-7202
MUSEO DE INSECTOS (Insect Museum) On the UCR campus (San Pedro), in the Music Building tel. 506/2-207-5318
MUSEO DE JADE (Jade Museum) On the 11th floor of the INS Building, between Avenidas 5 and 7, and Calles 11 and 13 tel. 506/2-223-5800
MUSEO DE LOS NINOS (Children’s Museum) Avenida Central, at Calle 17 tel. 506/2-258-4929
MUSEO DE ORO (Gold Museum) Plaza de la Cultura, Calle 5 at Avenida 2 tel. 506/2-243-4202 CHECK IT OUT...Our video review on the Gold Museum
MUSEO NACIONAL (National Museum) Calle 17 at Avenida 2 tel. 506/2-257-1433
TEATRO MELICO SALAZAR (Melico Salazar Theater) On Avenida 2, diagonal from the cathedral tel. 506/2-221-4952
TEATRO NACIONAL (National Theater) Plaza de la Cultura, Calle 5 at Avenida 2 tel. 506/2-221-1329 CHECK IT OUT...Our video review on the National Theater
The province of Alajuela is welcoming and charming with quaint little towns conveniently laid out along the main highway so you can visit them all on a one-day-tour while getting in touch with Costa Rican culture, but its true gift are the natural attractions tucked away in its mountains. Alajuela is conveniently located on your way to the Pacific coast and only a few minutes from San Jose, so feel free to pull over and discover its charm.
Alajuela is known as Costa Rica’s second city. Cradled by the gentle undulations of coffee fincas and tamed jungle parks, the provincial capital of Alajuela lies about 18 km (11miles) northwest of San Jose and only 5 minutes from the Santamaria international airport. In addition to having a rich colonial history, Alajuela is an attractive place resonating with a warm and welcoming vibe that is virtually absent from San Jose. Alajuela is laid back and well organized. In the center of the city sits an impressive park with lots of tall, ancient trees that are a tribute to the city’s splendor. The park is surrounded by several 19th-century buildings and during the afternoon the mango-tree-lined square is the ideal local to sit, relax and socialize with the many ticos drawn by the shade and the cool breeze.
Located two blocks west of the park is the town’s central market. Fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and all kinds of arts and crafts can be found in this large eclectic mix of locals displaying their wares. If you want a cheap local flavor, try one of the soda’s (tiny restaurants) in the market.
The city is hometown to Costa Rica’s only national war hero Juan Santamaria and the museum of the same name is located just a block north of the town center. The museum houses the story of the drummer boy hero who gave his life to protect the country from foreign invaders in 1856. Juan Santamaria day is every year on April 11 when the town celebrates with a parade through town and a public carnival.
Alajuela is not a ‘destination’ for tourists per se, although it is a nice alternative and convenient base if you’re flying into or out of the nearby airport, or if you plan on spending a few days exploring the north of the valley.