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After Chinatown's inauguration in Dec. 2012 we decided to take a closer look behind the grand entrance gate installed at Av. 2 and Calle 11 to uncover what hides down the road. We visited at different times of the day in order to get a true sense of what happens on these 6 pedestrian-only blocks.
We were truly surprised at the variety of quirky offerings found within the different shops, many not even Chinese. As is customary in Costa Rica, any formal delineation of an area is immediately lost upon arrival as you will always find 'a little of everything' across the entire city. What does set this area apart are the minor details of the stained concrete, Chinese-style benches, street lights, trash cans and an increase in Costa Rican-Chinese citizens walking around. You almost feel like you've left San Jose for some asian world.
We recommend arriving around 4:30 before the sun sets to explore and window shop, and leaving around 6:30 or 7. This is a higher traffic time which is safer. Because the sun starts setting at 5:30 you can take in all of the bright lights coming from the chinese shops. Restaurants are also open at this hour, and if you feel a little risqué you won't have to wait too long for the 'adult' movies.
HOW TO GET THERE
The main entrance to China Town is located along the main drag of Av. 2, 4 blocks east of the entrance of the National Theater (the main marker in San Jose) at Calle 11. Thanks to the newly installed street signs, this isn't difficult to find.
Realistically, this area is safe if you are VERY aware of your surroundings. If you head further south or off the main path please use caution and good judgment. If you are a conservative parent I don't recommend going beyond the first 3 blocks as there are some 'adult' theaters. Take little valuables with you to this area and do not flash fancy camera equipment or cash. Sticking to the main pedestrian road is advisable as a few blocks south/west/east are more abandoned.
TOP TEN SITES
Chinese Cultural Center - For those of you that truly want to experience a variety of Chinese culture, this will be a must. The center operates weekdays and offers courses during the week and weekends. You can enroll in language classes, dance, cooking and other workshops. You can view a full calendar here, and will need to speak some spanish to navigate.
French Creperia - Un Toque Frances - Yes, one of the best places in China Town is a french creperia, like we said above, you always find a little of everything regardless of defined areas. Owned by a Costa Rican who lived in France for over a decade, this is a culinary gem that we hope gets enough business to stay open and expand. Read our recent review.
House of Screws - We can't be mature at this place. All innuendos come to mind at the 'House of Screws'. Good for a chuckle and the outside architecture is 'screwy'. Many other places in the area give their address from this well-known landmark. To see more unique architecture try our Bird's Nest tour.
Variety Shops - This is where you go when you are looking for the 'one thing you can't find'. Product is constantly rotating so if you want it, buy it.
Statue of Confuscius - The most noble thing in China Town, this statue is worth a visit. It anchors the southern end of of the walkway.
Samuelito's Bakery - Shhh......this is a top secret destination on our food tours, the best bakery in town (and yes this is a chain, but this is the best one of all of them!)
Iglesia de la Soledad - One of the few churches to have not suffered much earth quake damage, the structure is original neo-baroque. >>read more.
Statue of John Lennon - Installed in Dec. of 2011, this statue has a history you can learn more about on our walking tours. This is a great spot to rest for a moment, take some funny pictures and eat your pastries from Samuelito's.
Anime - For those of you that love anime, comics and models, there are several shops along the 6 blocks that offer a variety of products in this genre.
Tica Bus Ticket Center - Want to go anywhere else in Central America? This is where you can arrange your travel and buy tickets, located on the north side of the Iglesia de la Soledad.
You'll notice we didn't mention any Chinese restaurants. While there are a few in these 6 blocks, the best are found in the surrounding area. If you are looking for Asian Fusion try Tin Jo, or you can find well-prepared good dim sum at Wong's.
Have other recommendations in China Town? Let us know about your favorite spots.
DAY TRIP I - OROSI - TAPANTI - HOTSPRINGS
6 - 10 hours
Budget $10 entrance fee (foreigners), $3 entrance fee hotsprings, buses $6, cab $40 roundtrip or Rental Car + Gas
Our news site is all about downtown San Jose, Costa Rica and why it's great to live or visit here.
We focus the majority of our news on immediate downtown happenings. However, we've realized recently that a part of why it's so great to be in San Jose is because it is relatively easy to get to many other destinations for day trips, allowing you to escape the hustle and bustle of the city conveniently.
So, this will be the launch of our Day Trips from San Jose Series.
For the first trip I went with friends on a rather ambitious trip SE of the city. Our orginal plan was to take a bus to Orosi, then a cab to go hike in Tapanti National Park for a few hours, and finish in the hotsprings park, Balneario de Aguas Termales Orosi. That same morning my friend found a car, so we skipped the buses and cabs, and we were lucky we did.
Previous write-ups made it sound like we could easily take a bus from San Jose to Cartago, and then Cartago to Orosi (which is pretty easy and takes about 1.5 hours). But the misleading part was that we could take a $10 cab from Orosi to Tapanti, maybe ten years ago this was the case but not now. After stopping in Orosi to see the rustic church which was recently restored and is the oldest building in the country, it took us 45 minutes in a car to arrive to the entrance of Parque Nacional Tapanti. That cab ride would easily cost $20 one way. Keep that in mind when budgeting time and money. It is easy enough to ask people in Orosi to point you to the park and to follow signs to arrive at the park. It is mostly one straight, yet bumpy, road.
The Tapanti Park is well mapped, marked and easy to navigate once you arrive. As you can see in the map above there are 4 hiking trails. We chose to go to the Mirador first, which gives you a view of the waterfall. We caught several vistas of the waterfall coming in and I think they were all better than this Mirador. I'd skip this and focus on hiking the other trails.
We chose to do the Sendero La Catarata first. Catarata in spanish is 'waterfall'. This was an easy enough hike in sneakers but it was pretty slippery so I recommend hiking boots. This area of the country gets rain almost everyday so a rain jacket is a must as well. We quickly reached two different clearings at the river, the latter having a view of the waterfall. Here the rocks are an interesting green. It was pretty cloudy when we were there but on a sunny day it would be a great spot for swimming.
All over this park are areas to grill some food and hang out for awhile. You'll see local families set up for a full day in nature, a great chance to make some friends along the way.
Because the drive in and out took longer than we planned for, we had to make a decision to either hike another trail or hurry back to Orosi to get in some time at the hotspring park. Both Tapanti and the Balneario close at 4 p.m. We were feeling lazy so we chose the hotsprings!
We drove back to Orosi, asked a few people to point us in the direction of Balneario Aguas Termales Orosi which was about 4 blocks west of the church and 1 block north. This hotspring park resembles a community pool. There are 4 different pools full of naturally heated water with different depths for children and adults. With only an hour left in the day, the site was clearing out but we could tell the place had been full of families. If you don't care to be around so many people you might consider a weekday option (during their high months, refer to site). The water was warm, but not hot. It might have been because it was the end of the day, we watched them drain the pools at closing so maybe in the morning the water is hotter.
Overall it was a really nice trip. If you want to get all of those sites in with sufficient time at each stop I recommend leaving San Jose around 7 a.m. Tapanti is definitely worth the visit, I could sit at that river all day.
To arrange your own day trip with a private driver email us at BarrioBird@gmail.com.
image from La Nacion.
In as little as two months riding the bus in the metro area will become a little less sloppy and will start to resemble other metro area technologies that expats and tourists are familiar with. Eight inter-city bus lines will begin to accept payment via a chip on your phone (TAG) or an electronic card.
Many do not realize that each route here is owned by a different company. This makes it more difficult for one central governing body to distribute all route information and maintain well-marked bus stops, which is the biggest problem for visitors, 'how the hell do I find the bus stops or get anywhere in SJO on public transport!'
While there won't be a decent 'bus map' coming out anytime soon, this new payment method will be a foundation-laying collaboration between the Santa Ana, Escazú, Moravia, Curridabat, Tres Ríos, barrio Luján, Sabana-Cementerio and Estadio bus routes.
Users can obtain the chip or card for free in a Banco Nacional or pulperias located near the bus stops. A minimum charge of 6.000 is required for either, and the route price will be deducted each time you board one of these buses. This will help riders more easily track their transport expenditures, and help the drivers move more quickly without having to count change at each stop, not to mention the extra security for drivers not having as much cash on the bus.
This product has already been tested over two years, most specifically with the 'seniors' card currently accepted on buses by the product developer Corporación de Investigación Electrónica. The company is also trying to work with the cell phone companies to reach an agreement to provide extra free minutes or some kind of incentive to users with the cell phone chip.
There are many nuances that have made San Jose feel like such an 'other world' experience for visitors and I would say paying with cash and even receiving exact change on the buses is one. With this change we'll see better efficiencies but a little part of a more simple (yet somehow more complicated) way of life will disappear. Can I be happy and sad about this? If you want specific directions on how to travel by bus in San Jose please contact our concierge staff.
By Stacey Auch.