San José, Costa Rica is no longer just for visiting the airport or passing through on your travels from one coast to the next.
While we started to see a cultural shift 5 years ago the past two have shown a real change in locals' opinions of the city and their desire to work on its potential as an adorable, culturally vibrant and livable city. Many new projects are underway and we can't wait to see what the next two years will bring. In the meantime we have created a list of 10 reasons to visit San José now.
The entire size of the downtown area is about 2 miles in length. Streets are on a grid, and finally there are street signs to help visitors get around. There are 2 main pedestrian-only routes down Avenida Central and Avenida 4 for sightseeing. There are many historic and tasty treasures hidden on the side streets of these paths so we recommend any of our city walking tours to get a real look at the history and new developments of the city.
2. Nighttime Views
San José sits in a valley and if you can get high enough you can see the lights rising up the mountainsides in every direction. Our favorite choice in downtown is the restaurant on the 17th floor of the Holiday Inn at Parque Morazan. The food is ok and a little more expensive than usual so maybe pop up right at 6:00 for sunset and early drinks and appetizers, or dessert at the end of the night.
3. Affordable Shows
At any moment downtown you can catch concerts and theater shows for a reasonable price. The National Theater offers short performances Tuesdays at noon and Thursdays at 5 for under $8 a person. International acts perform at the National Stadium and Teatro Melico Salazar for usually much less than a ticket in the US or Europe. If you speak Spanish there are dozens of small theaters for live performance and stand-up comedy such as on the Teatro Urbano on the south side of the Plaza de la Democracia. Club Vertigo, El Lobo Estepario, Latino Rock, Steinvorth and Hoxton are also great for live music and DJs.
4. Microbrew Beers
It has been an uphill battle for small brewers to bring beer to the local market between fighting the monopoly beer company La Cervecería and getting Ticos to try something new. Finally, gastropubs are opening and featuring these brewers. An entrepreneur just hosted the first Oktoberfest and this year saw the second annual beer tasting festival. Our food tour gets you 10% off a beer tasting sampler at one of the new gastropubs.
5. Century-old Architecture
Downtown neighborhoods continue to clean up and many historic sites have experienced some form of restoration. A stroll through many streets in the immediate center and Barrio Amon can take you back in time to see the direct European influence and to appreciate the luxuries people had in such a small pueblo.
6. Green Fashion Design
Downtown boutiques display costa ricans' environmental conscienceness via fashion design with recycled fabrics and materials. Tienda Eñe always provides a look at the newest trends in this field.
7. La Sabana City Park
Originally the airport, this city park, now swallowed by urban sprawl, provides a green escape from the noisy city streets. One can run on the marked trails, speed skate on the rink, swim at the public pool or visit the free art history museum on the eastern end. On the weekends you can people watch or join others in pic- up soccer games or sponsored aerobic dance classes.
8. Street Art
Growing as a popular art form, incredible graffiti murals decorate different areas of the city. A new program is even commissioning artists to paint the metal doors of downtown shops, turning ugly security panels into visual stories of San Jose. Works still exist from the Transitarte festival held 2 years ago at the Legistlative Assembly.
9. Free Festivals
At almost any time of year one can find a free festival happening downtown. Every Sat. except the Christmas holiday season you can visit Parque Morazan and Parque Espana for free dance and art classes, and catch concerts. December to April are host to Topes, Festival of Lights, Rock el Farolito, FIA and Transitarte.
10. Day Trip Hub
San José is centrally located in the country and if you have 5 or less days it might be easiest to base yourself in the city and take day trips out to volcanoes, birding, hiking, rafting and beaches. On a side note, we think the Arenal Volcano and Monteverde are two places to stay overnight. Many agencies sell these as a 1 day trip but it's 4-6 hours each way. For closer destinations see our recommendations.
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.
By Stacey Auch.