Costa Rica’s clunky capital is often dismissed as a dirty necessity on route to the country’s more notable beaches and jungles. If you’re on a flying visit to Costa Rica on the whole, you could be forgiven for running from the capital to the surrounding paradisos at double quick time, but if you have a little longer you’ll quickly learn that the backwards yet intriguing capital is a heartwarming – if ugly - place to lay your hat.
You’ll certainly struggle for five star luxury here (in fact, as recently as earlier this century there was not even a four star hotel to be found in the capital), but what you will find is a sense of community and a city littered with intriguing – if hardly classically beautiful – attractions. Of course, it’s worth weighing up the risks of San Jose’s mammoth crime rate when considering a longer stay, too, and keeping a close eye on your back pocket in the crowded markets.
Downtown buses can take you to the nearby attractions on the cheap (again, keep an eye on your wallet), dropping you at San Jose’s butterfly farms or coffee plantations, as well as giving you an unofficial tour of the areas of the city you might otherwise miss. There’s also rafting, volcano visits and ample waterfalls all within a short ride of the capital if you’re feeling adventurous, as well as plenty of flamboyant street performances to guzzle some culture.
Museums around the capital feature an impressive selection of modern art, as well as a vast array of Columbian gold and a national museum hosted inside an impressive fort. The historical archiving leaves something to be desired (plenty of exhibits lack any label at all), but it’s impressive nonetheless. Another favorite pastime of visitors to Costa Rica is, of course, learning Spanish, which can be affordable if slightly unprofessional through the many home stay arrangements, or more costly through the well-tuned schools.
San Jose is a run-down, practical place rather than a beauty to write home about, but it does fulfill its role and offer plenty in the way of extracurricular activities. While it lacks Costa Rica’s notable natural beauty, then, you’ll certainly not be bored.
Alajuela is just west of San Jose and is the gateway to western sites like the Vulcan Poas, Grecia, and to the port of Puntarenas for charter a boat ride through the Gulf of Nicoya to islands…