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San Jose, Costa Rica has a wide variety of attractions, from butterflys to bullfights. Read on for information about the top ten…
You’ve flown into San Juantamaria Airport (SJO) in Alajuela and take a taxi or bus into San Jose to your hotel. Once you’re ready to venture from your hotel room, here are a few suggestions:
1. Zoo Avenue
Zoo Avenue is a sanctuary for injured animals on one hand and a bird-lover’s paradise on the other. See colorful macaws, toucans and others from Costa Rica and around the world, mysterious owls, hungry raptors. There are also deer and monkeys and a good-sized crocodile. Time out: 2 hours
2. La Basilica de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles
Though destroyed in 1926 by an earthquake and rebuilt after, the basilica is still a very popular attraction. When Christianity came to Costa Rica, there were many devotees to the goddesses. Because of this, the Virgin Mary became very popular. The legend states that the statue of the virgin appeared miraculously on the site. Even if you aren’t religious, this is a beautiful church
The art of Costa Rica is preserved in several popular museums.
First is the Museo de Arte Costarricense – known as el MAC – is home to the national collection of art which includes over 2,500 pieces. Sculptures, woodcarvings, and paintings can be seen here, as well as traveling exhibits from around the world. Then there’s the Galeria Ocelote. The Galeria was created to promote Latin American handcrafts. Shown here are textile designs, sculptures and ceramics among other things.
Costa Rica is home to an abundance of magnificent butterflies. Two gardens in San Jose will let you get up close and personal with these kaleidoscopic creatures. At the Spirogyra Butterfly Garden, you can learn about the natural history of Costa Rica and see the living relationship between the butterflies and their surroundings. See also beautiful plants and hummingbirds. Stop by the gift shop for lunch, all things butterfly and fabulous coffee. Open 8 to 4.
At the Butterfly Farm, just south of Alajuala, you can walk through an enclosed garden while the butterflies flutter about. You’ll see up to 80 different types of butterflies as well as see the various phases of the butterfly’s life, from egg to caterpiller to cocoon. The cocoons themselves are displayed in the shimmering colors and movement that helps keep them safe from predators. Daily bus tours leave from many San Jose hotels and is included in the admission. 2 hour guided tour.
In addition to these two, there is also the La Paz Waterfall Gardens. This is an attraction that offers not only a huge butterfly garden (claimed to be the largest in the world) but takes you into the rain forest alongside the La Paz River to see orchids and hummingbirds and a series of waterfalls that are nothing short of breathtaking. La Paz may be a bit pricey, but it’s worth every peso. There’s a remarkable hotel here as well. Plan at least 2 to 4 hours to see it all.
5. Café Britt Farm
Coffee Break time? How about a trip to the coffee farm? Café Britt is one of the top coffees in Costa Rica and the company has an interesting tour at the farm 20 minutes outside of San Jose. From the plant to the roaster to the can, see all phases of production. And, of course, a trip to the coffee farm wouldn’t be complete without a taste. Differing qualities of coffee are there for you to try and there’s a gift shop and restaurant as well.
6. Lankester Gardens
Costa Rica boasts over 1000 varieties of orchids and there are over 800 here at Lankester Gardens in Cartago (30 to 40 minutes from San Jose by bus.) The gardens are administered by the University of Costa Rica and the goal is to preserve the local flora. Walk their well tended trails from sunlight to the shadow of the forest, seeing orchids in bloom everywhere. Give yourself up to three hours for this and don’t miss the gift shop.
7. Bull fighting
If you can call it that. Ticos play at bullfighting. Las Corridas a la Tica is a popular sport. No traditional blood and guts killing of the bull here, though. Ticos prefer to just tease el toro. It’s rather an enclosed running of the bulls as up to 150 toreadors improvisados ( improvised bullfighters) scramble to stay out of the bulls way. If the bullfighters are feeling particularly brave, they’ll slap the bull’s behind on it’s way by.
8. Volcan Arenal
Not technically in San Jose, but worth a day trip to see the one of the most amazing volcanoes in Central America. The night view is breathtaking as Arenal throws fireworks into the air.
The soccer season runs from September to June and Ticos – native Costa Rican – are serious fans. Costa Rican soccer is as good as any in Central America and their national team has gone to the World Cup more than once. Games are usually on Sunday at 11:00 a.m. and tickets range from $2 to $15. Better to pay more and get reserved seating in the shade.
The local team is Saprissa (affectionately called El Monstruo, or “The Monster”).
10. The sun has set and it’s time to party. Is there anything to do in San Jose at night?
Absolutely! Let’s face it, where there are tourists and college students – there is NIGHTLIFE! If you want to find out what’s going on while you’re there, where the local ex-pats are hanging out, pick up a copy of Tico Times and have a ball.
Gambling is legal in Costa Rica, so there is a wide variety of places to rid yourself of that pesky extra money. Play slots, poker, blackjack, roulette. Shoot craps. It’s all there for you.
There are discos, dance clubs, and bars aplenty in San Jose. Many of these will draw you to the dance floor with an intoxicating salsa beat. El Pueblo, an entertainment complex in the style of old Spain, offers a smorgasbord of places to try.
Just south of the University is a 2-block stretch called La Calle de Amargure (Street of Bitterness). While the name doesn’t sound inviting, it’s a haven for the suburbanites and college kids. Bars and cafes mixed with shops and bookstores. At night, the place hops.
Feeling a little more artsy than hanging with the wild bunch? Cool. San Jose has a great selection of theater and performing arts. Burlesque, modern dance, theater, symphony, and concerts all vie for your attention. Every March, the country hosts El Festival Nacional de las Artes and each night you will have an amazing selection of things to choose from.
Before you head out, though, a word to the wise. Because downtown San Jose is very compact, you can get pretty much anywhere you want to go on foot. Often, that’s the fastest way to get around. But street crime is a bit of a problem so be careful. Hang on to your purse – better yet, get a fanny pack. Don’t flash your jewelry or camera around. Better to be safe than sorry.
With its wonderful climate, rich growing jungles that are home to abundant color, both in plants and animals, and age-old culture, Costa Rica, particularly San Jose, is a great getaway.
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