In case you are visiting Costa Rica, you’ll most definitely fly into the nation’s largest airport, which is in San José. Whereas many vacationers declare that town isn’t value spending greater than a day in, I needed to offer it the possibility it deserves.
Because it occurs, I cherished San José. It’s a bit tough across the edges, however I can respect an excellent quantity of grit in a spot. As a result of I feel it’s a vacation spot that you just shouldn’t skip over, right here’s my tackle how one can have an superior time within the nation’s capital:
Issues to Do in San José, Costa Rica
1. Discover Spirogyra Butterfly Backyard
The Spirogyra Butterfly Garden is actually magical, and I nonetheless can’t imagine it exists in such a busy, city middle. It calls itself the lungs of town, and for good motive. Apart from having an enclosed butterfly backyard with dozens of species flying round, the property encompasses a dense piece of jungle proper on the Río Torres.
The organizers of Spirogyra are working arduous to preserve native butterfly species and maintain the river freed from contamination. Their efforts are evident as quickly as you step onto the footpath. It feels such as you’ve fully left San José and are immersed within the Costa Rican jungle, all whereas nonetheless being within the coronary heart of town.
It prices 3,600 colones ($5 USD) to go to Spirogyra Butterfly Backyard, which incorporates entry to the complete property. Positively put together for mosquitos and a muddy path if visiting within the wet season!
2. Head to Simón Bolivar Zoo and Botanical Backyard
I sadly wasn’t capable of see the within of Simón Bolivar Zoo and Botanical Garden, as a result of it wasn’t open after I visited. Nonetheless, from the park’s web site, it appears to be like like an actual deal with, and it’s simply across the block from Spirogyra. Right here you’ll discover a formidable botanical backyard that includes quite a lot of ferns, orchids, and different native plant species. There’s additionally quite a lot of animals, which is a cool technique to begin your journey in Costa Rica, as lots of them you may solely have the option see within the wild.
3. Go to Hacienda La Chimba
In case you adore espresso as a lot as I do, don’t go up the chance to take a look at Hacienda La Chimba whilst you’re in San José. Right here you’ll discover 65 hectares of nature trails and low fields, and a whole museum devoted to every little thing Costa Rican espresso. The Mantra Path has an superior viewpoint the place you possibly can stroll out onto an enormous wood hand. I needed to discover the paths, however sadly there was a big downpour proper after I arrived.
Even with the rain, I loved visiting La Chimba. The espresso was spectacular, and the surroundings much more so. There are additionally many actions you possibly can participate in, together with zip-lining and happening a coffee-related tour; it appeared fairly costly, at round $25 for simply an hour, so I skipped it and explored by myself as a substitute. In case you have been to go to in the course of the harvesting and processing season for the espresso plantation in September, nonetheless, the tour may be value it as you’d have the ability to really see the place in motion.
4. Find out about Costa Rican historical past at Mercado Borbón
If you wish to study a Latin American metropolis and its folks within the quickest approach doable, go to the largest fruit and vegetable market on the town Mercado Borbón. Right here you’ll additionally discover a mind-blowing number of fruit and veggies, some that appear like they belong on one other planet!
There are additionally a number of areas of Mercado Borbón that maintain an vital place within the historical past and tradition of San José, just like the banana stand above. The market’s historical past is certainly one of resistance and resilience, a narrative that paints a colourful image of Costa Rican grit. This particular banana vendor was one of many first in Costa Rica to promote bananas autonomously, with out the management of multinational corporations.
I visited the market on a food and sightseeing tour. I used to be fortunate sufficient to be the one person who signed up that day, so my information, a San José native, was blissful to reply all of my questions.
5. Benefit from the sights, smells, and tastes of the Mercado Central
Mercado Central is certainly extra well-known than Mercado Borbón, which is obvious in how packed it will get within the mornings. Right here you’ll see locals doing their fruit and vegetable procuring, vacationers trying out the souvenirs, and enterprise folks grabbing a fast empanada earlier than work. My information defined that Mercado Central is the beating coronary heart of San José, and I can see why!
This sprawling market has every little thing you possibly can think about, from unique fruits to natural treatment stands to small espresso outlets, and rather more. It’s additionally residence to Costa Rica’s first and most well-known ice cream spot: La Sorbetera de Lolo Mora.
6. Take a stroll by means of the Museum of Costa Rican Artwork…
The Museum of Costa Rican Artwork is small however mighty, that includes work, sculptures, and mixed-media items by Costa Rica’s most well-known artists. There are each indoor and outside areas, with a variety of works that reveal the nation’s creative range.
The museum is free, which was an enormous draw for me, contemplating that others in San José can value as much as $20 to go to. I solely spent about an hour there, because it’s fairly small, but it surely’s proper subsequent to Parque La Sabana so you possibly can hit up each locations should you’d like.
7. …and don’t neglect to take a look at the Gold Room
I virtually missed this, as a result of I didn’t see at first that the museum had a second degree. Up the winding staircase you’ll discover indicators pointing to the “Salon de Oro.” The room has 360-degree golden mural depicting quotidian scenes from Costa Rica’s previous. It was as soon as an airport lounge, because the present-day La Sabana park subsequent door was the location of San José’s airport till the late 1940s. It’s fairly spectacular and value taking a lap round to see the mural’s small particulars.
8. Enterprise out to Lankester Botanical Backyard
Lankester Botanical Garden, a part of the College of Costa Rica, is effectively definitely worth the hour-long drive from the middle of San José. Right here you could find a mind-boggling assortment of orchids, lots of which I had by no means seen earlier than and appeared like magnificent artistic endeavors. There’s additionally a serene Japanese backyard, which features a conventional tea and meditation room duplicate and Zen backyard.
There are tours available, which you must schedule forward of time. This might be nice should you’re particularly keen about vegetation, however I loved merely roaming across the gardens and observing by myself.
9. Take a day journey to Cartago, Costa Rica’s previous capital metropolis
Bathe your self in Costa Rican historical past by visiting the nation’s first capital metropolis, Cartago. The town is only a 40-minute bus experience from San José and is the place to study Costa Rica’s previous.
Instantly upon arrival, I felt the stark distinction between Cartago and San José. The place the latter has tall buildings and an city edge, the previous has a mixture of previous and new, with essentially the most central a part of town that includes the so-called ruins of an unfinished cathedral. They’re as mysterious as they’re photogenic, however they’re solely the start of the historic gems you’ll discover right here.
Head to the Cartago Municipal Museum and browse at no cost. I went there in search of a mural that depicts the historical past of Costa Rica and was blown away by its measurement, element, and imagery.
I counsel visiting Cartago within the morning, grabbing a fast meal within the Municipal Market, and exploring on foot. From there, you may as well simply Uber to the abovementioned Lankester Botanical Backyard to spherical out an superior day journey.
10. Admire town’s road artwork
Like many Latin American cities, San José has road artwork on nearly each block. Apart from merely adorning town with vibrant colours, these murals additionally serve to inform San José’s story. Whereas I used to be capable of come across loads of murals just by strolling round Barrio Amón, Barrio Hen, and town middle, a extra environment friendly technique to study these murals is by taking a tour like this one offered by Barrio Bird Walking Tours.
The place to Keep in San José
I truthfully bought very fortunate with my lodging in San José, as a result of I can’t picture a greater neighborhood to remain in than Barrio Amón, one of many metropolis’s oldest and most secure neighborhoods. There are many different areas, together with downtown San José, that I wouldn’t advocate. In case you’re visiting for the primary time and need to keep someplace central, quiet, and secure, select Barrio Amón or Barrio Escalante.
I adored my Airbnb in Barrio Amón. The situation made it simple to stroll all over the place, plus it was in a secure space with loads of eating places and cafés close by. In case you’re backpacking or simply need to meet different vacationers, Selina is a good choice, and it was simply down the road from the place I stayed.
Staying Protected in San José
Like many Central American cities, San José has a status for not being the most secure place to go to. Pickpocketing is widespread, particularly in crowded areas and at evening. As a solo feminine traveler, I’ve to confess that there have been a couple of moments throughout my brief time on the town after I felt my hazard radar ping. Nonetheless, I nonetheless assume this metropolis is a good one for vacationers like me.
That stated, I don’t advocate strolling anyplace alone at evening in San José, interval. Uber is inexpensive right here, so if you must stroll greater than a pair blocks, simply seize one. I additionally don’t advocate strolling together with your pockets or telephone in your hand or pockets at any time of day. As a substitute, maintain them in a fanny pack or an inside pocket of a backpack worn on the entrance of your physique. Even locals do that, so don’t really feel foolish about doing likewise.
I additionally don’t advocate wandering round neighborhoods you aren’t acquainted with. Apart from the downtown strolling streets in Barrio Amón and Barrio Escalante, I didn’t do an entire lot of exploring on foot right here. That’s as a result of after I walked from my Airbnb to a restaurant solely 15 minutes away, I discovered myself in a neighborhood I didn’t really feel solely secure in. In an effort to not have a repeat of that second, I made a decision to plan my routes earlier than heading out from then on, and took Ubers if there was greater than a 10-minute stroll by means of a neighborhood I wasn’t acquainted with but.
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Earlier than visiting San José, I wasn’t so certain how a lot I’d get pleasure from a Costa Rican concrete jungle, versus the plush inexperienced ones that most individuals flock to. Nonetheless, I discovered that there have been some enchanting pockets that proved flawed a lot of the unfavorable issues I’d examine San José being filthy and unappealing. I stand by giving it an opportunity and having an open thoughts, as there’s a lot to like about this vibrant metropolis.