San Jose

All flights arrive at JUAN SANTAMARIA AIRPORT 10 miles from downtown San Jose. Taxis from airport to town are not too expensive. Some hotels provide free shuttle service. All tours of Costa Rica begin here, but, ironically, this capital city does not warrant too much time. One goes to Costa Rica to see the surrounding areas.

PLAZA DE LA CULTUNA. This is San Jose’s bustling cultural and shopping hub.

GOLD MUSEUM: This modern, well-lighted museum contains the largest collection of pre-Columbian gold jewelry in Central America. Hrs. FRI-SUN 10-6.

NATIONAL MUSEUM: This museum was created in 1887 to study, conserve and exhibit representative examples of the country’s flora and fauna, as well as religious, historical and archaeological artifacts. The building overlooks the PLAZA DE LA DEMOCRACIA. Here one can still see bullet holes from the 1948 Civil War. Today the museum presents a look at the historical development of Costa Rica – from the colonial period (1502) to the early 1800’s – through the era of the first Republic from 1821 when Costa Rica gained independence from Sapin – and then on to contemporary times. One of the primary goals is that the National Museum foster the concept of Costa Rica’s national heritage…a comprehensive look at Costa Rican existence.

NATIONAL THEATRE: In the late 1800’s Costa Rica was growing. Society was maturing and a source of cultural activity was missing. The country’s coffee growers volunteered to finance a construction of a theatre by means of a self-imposed tax on each bag of coffee. Three years later the tax was abolished – because it burdened only one contributor – but 5% of the total cost of the theatre was already collected. To collect the remaining 95% another tax was established that would be paid by the general citizenry. This forced taxation became a source of national pride. The result is this magnificent building, declared a national monument in 1965. It was designed by Belgian architects and painters/decorators were brought from France and Italy. Since its inauguration in 1897 this landmark has been host to the principal spectacles presented in Costa Rica. After the devastating earthquake of 1991 it was feared that the building might have to be demolished. The citizens again came to the aid of the theatre, and through contributions, the building was restored to its original splendor.

CATEDRAL METROPOLITANA: Flanked by ugly office buildings, the white corrugated dome of the cathedral stands out. Cream-colored and neoclassical outside, it is decorated inside with patterned floor tiles and bas-reliefs. PARQUE CENTRAL, a tree-planted square with benches fronts the cathedral. It’s a favorite spot for people watching.

VISIT A BANANA PLANTATION: Visitors to Costa Rica return and speak well of tours, which visit a banana plantation. They all say it doesn’t sound too great, but they love it.

PARQUE MORAZAN: …with a neoclassical bandstand in the center.

PARQUE NACIONAL: The most pleasant of San Jose’s downtown parks. Across Avenida I from the park are the buildings housing Costa Rica’s Congress.

MERCADO CENTRAL: Between Avenidas 1 and Central, area of dark, narrow passages flanked by stalls selling exotic spices, fish, fruit, vegetables and handicrafts.

CORREOS BUILDING: The central Post Office. Upstairs is a display of first-day stamp issues. From upstairs, look down on the activity at the post office boxes. An interesting fact: Street addresses barely exist in this country, and Ticos fall over themselves to get a post office box here. Mon-Fri 8-midnight, Sat 8-12.

NATIONAL INSURANCE INSTITUTE BUILDING (INS): Head for the 11th floor for one of San Jose’s best museums. MUSEO DE JADE MARCO FIDEL TRISTAN contains the world’s largest collection of American Jade…produced from 300 BC to AD700. Weekdays 8-3.

BASILICA DE NUESTRA SENORA DE LOS ANGELES: 10 Blocks east of the main square, this is a Byzantine hodgepodge of styles…and the focus of an amazing annual pilgrimage from San Jose. During the night of August 1, thousands of people make their way to celebrate the appearance in 1635 of LA NEGRITA, Costa Rica’s patron saint. The saint appeared at the spring behind the church. Here the faithful fill bottles… and the water has “miraculous healing powers”. Those whom are healed leave their crutches, etc. next to a small statue of the saint.