Recently, a friend of mine expressed “No one comes to Costa Rica to see San José.” But the more time I spend in the city, the more think to myself how much there is to see, and miss, if you don’t take the time. If Paris is the City of Light, San José has got to be the City of Sight and Sound.
San José can be described in millions of different words, but on the whole, I can think of three that summarize it best: vivacious, educated, and artistic.
Hailing from a relatively large city in the US, I considered myself attuned to the fast-paced nature of city living. When I got to San José, that viewpoint changed pretty quickly. Upon our first tour of downtown, I was taken aback at just how lively it all was. I thought Pittsburgh moved fast! Fruit vendors shouted over the din of honking cab drivers, music wafted through the air from the sodas (small, “fast food” shops in Costa Rica), and locals moved swiftly and quickly through the crowd of newly arrived American tourists. Amidst the bustling city, mothers and their children, couples, and musicians were everywhere, enjoying their Monday afternoon in the city by walking through a nearby park, enjoying an ice cream or coffee with a colleague, or even just relaxing beneath a sprawling tree, as the rest of the city maintained its staggeringly fast pace. Even on Sundays, although considerably less crowded, downtown San José certainly doesn’t slow down. Any day of the week you’re likely to find a nearby festival, fair, or cultural event going on throughout the city. There’s too much liveliness in this city to ever really be bored!
Next, I’ve learned firsthand that San José is one of the most culturally diverse, educational places in all the world. Full of amazing attractions that appeal to all audiences, San José boasts some truly beautiful, fun, engaging sights.
For visitors that enjoy more traditional museums (read: look, but please don’t touch!), the Museum of Pre-Columbian Gold, the Natural History Museum, and the National Jade Museum are perfect must-see sights! Full of amazing artwork and wonderful collections, these museums really are hidden (no pun intended) jewels of the city.
Now, for those who might prefer a less formal, more hands-on approach to a museum, El Museo de Los Niños (The Children’s Museum) is just the place for you. Located in the city’s converted jail, and just a short cab drive away from the center of town, The Children’s Museum is essentially the Disneyland of San José. You can truly spend an entire day exploring, as I recently did! The Museum is a perfect blend of science, history, and fun. For instance, one of the rooms aims to teach visitors about tectonic activity and earthquakes. Rather than just having visitors read and move on, the museum offers an earthquake simulator, set to 5.5 on the Richter Scale! Since I arrived, San José has experienced a handful of strong tremors, with some reaching a magnitude of 4.4, but it was interesting to feel a much stronger quake. Finally, the museum offers some of the best views of the nearby mountains I’ve ever seen, as well a pretty ferocious dinosaur exhibit. Bottom line, be you a kid or kid at heart, The Children’s Museum should not be missed.
Much of the city’s charming artistic quirks are largely hidden and waiting to be discovered by the unsuspecting traveler. While trying to find a local movie theater, I learned of Cine Magaly, a theater well known in the city for offering European art films. In fact, the theater is in the midst of its own cinema festival! Similarly, I’ve stumbled upon fashionable, small, artsy cafés and off-the-beaten-path restaurants while searching for better known, larger attractions. For example, while on break from my four hour Spanish class, I visited La Musa Confusa, a chic, hipster haven near Universidad Verítas. As the saying goes, big things come in small packages: I recommend the awesome brownies with a steaming side cup of mango-banana tea!
While it’s true that many of the main attractions of Costa Rica lie in the gorgeous mountains of Monteverde, the sunny, sandy beaches of Manuel Antonio and Jaco, and the massive volcanoes of Poás and Irazú, San José is just as wonderful a sight to see. Come and see for yourself!