When thinking about Costa Rica, incredible wildlife, beautiful beaches, kind people and unique landscapes are what usually comes to mind.
While all of this is true, there is a gem hiding in plain sight that only few travelers have been able to discover. This place is considered a cultural hub where history, cuisine and culture mix into something truly special. Of course, we are talking about Costa Rica´s capital, San José.
San José was also the third city in the world to be illuminated with electric energy back in 1884, right after Paris and New York. The city has always been ahead of its time. Whether we are talking about art, culture, or health, the capital has some iconic landmarks and activities worth mentioning, such as:
The San Jose Central Market, also known as the Mercado Central, is a hub for shopping and dining and a historical landmark. Ever since it opened its doors in 1880, the central market has been one of the oldest and most representative places of San Jose.
At this bustling market, you can find all sorts of souvenir shops and restaurants where visitors can sample traditional Costa Rican dishes such as gallo pinto and ceviche, as well as purchase unique souvenirs like handmade crafts, leather goods, and locally grown spices and herbs.
Overall, the Central Market is a must-visit destination that offers rich culture and history while providing a vibrant and exciting shopping and dining experience.
Founded in 1977, the goal of this museum is to preserve the archaeological heritage of the region, and it features the largest collection of pre-Columbian jade artifacts in the world and to promote the study and preservation of the region’s archaeological heritage for future generations.
The collection of the Jade Museum showcases the importance of jade in pre-Columbian cultures, not only in Costa Rica but also throughout Mesoamerica. There are over 7,000 items on display, and most of the items date back between 500 BC and 300 BC.
Alongside the jade pieces, other works of gold, ceramic, and stone are on display. The Items in the museum are enhanced with detailed graphics, maps, and textual explanations.
The construction of the theater started in 1891, with the funds coming from a coffee tax (the main export at the time). After 7 years of hard work, the theater opened and quickly became Costa Rica’s prized cultural jewel. Designed by an Italian architect, the theater features a neoclassical style with ornate marble, gilt, and paintings.
The main hall is adorned with paintings by local artists, and the ceiling features an exquisite mural painted by the Italian artist Aleardo Villa. The auditorium can seat up to 1,140 people and is renowned for its acoustics, making it a popular venue for plays, concerts, opera performances, and ballets.
Today, you can go visit the theater on private or self-walking tours, watch shows and concerts or enjoy a cup of great coffee at the theater´s cafeteria.
The old Bellavista Barracks, witness, protagonist, and symbol of the history of Costa Rica; It is since 1949, the headquarters of the National Museum.
The birth of the National Museum, at the end of the 19th century, was framed within the liberal project of “order and progress” that implied the reorganization of national culture through reforms in the educational field and the creation of institutions for cultural and scientific purposes.
Discover and build new connections between the pre-Columbian past and its transcendence in the present by visiting the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum. The tour invites you to ask yourself everything from how the first settlers arrived in the territory, from now sharing the reality that descendent Indigenous people’s lives.
The museum’s exhibits encourage visitors to reflect on the connections between the past and the present and to think about the impact of historical events on contemporary society.
One thing that sets San José apart from other destinations in Costa Rica is its urban vibe. While the city doesn’t have the same kind of natural beauty as other parts of the country, it has its own charm and character that are worth exploring. Restaurants and nightlife activities are a must for any traveler young or older that decides to venture into discovering what secrets San José has to offer.
Coffee shops, international cuisine, bars, theaters and clubs are just some of the places in San José where you can go have a good time.
One such places is ¨Barrio Escalante¨. As its name suggests, this is a neighborhood full of restaurants, bars, and markets located at the east of the capital where, as it gets darker, the streets get livelier.
Barrio Amon is a historic neighborhood located in the heart of San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica. The neighborhood is known for its beautiful Victorian-style architecture and charming cobblestone streets, making it a popular destination for tourists interested in exploring the city’s rich cultural heritage. Barrio Amon was originally developed in the late 19th century by wealthy coffee farmers and their families.
Many of the homes built during this time are now protected by the Costa Rican government as cultural heritage sites, and several have been converted into museums, art galleries, and restaurants.
San José is a vibrant and colorful city that offers visitors a unique glimpse into Costa Rica’s rich history, culture, and natural beauty. With its bustling markets, lively street art, and world-class museums, San José is a city that never fails to impress.
Did we manage to catch your attention? If the answer is yes, consider staying a couple more nights in this exciting capital before or after exploring the natural wonders the country is well known for.