San José, Costa Rica

San José, capital city of Costa Rica

For most of the last century, San José was little more than an agricultural city. That all changed following the post-civil war urban migration wave, and the Costa Rican capital was totally transformed in just a few decades. Today, San José is Central America’s most cosmopolitan capital, where the markets are vibrant, the people are friendly and the nightlife shines. Colonial stylings still radiate in many neighborhoods, there are numerous outstanding museums and there seems to always be plenty of reasons to celebrate what the locals call “la Pura Vida,” or the “pure life.”

Costa Rica is known for its incredible flora and fauna, and visitors to San José can experience many of its natural wonders without ever leaving the city thanks to the Parque Nacional. The benches in the shady green space are often taken over by romantic young couples, retirees catching up on the daily news and mothers taking a rest while watching their children play nearby. At the center of the park is the Monumento Nacional, erected in 1953 in a dramatic depiction of the region’s nations driving out William Walker, the American filibuster. The rest of the park features monuments to other key figures in the history of Latin America, including Mexico’s Miguel Hidalgo, Venezuelan poet Andrés Bello and Cuban revolutionary José Martí. The statues stand among lush manicured gardens rich with color and sweet fragrances.

There are a number of impressive museums in the city, but none is more intriguing than the Museo de Jade. The small museum is nearly bursting with the largest collection of American jade in the world. The display cases are crammed with translucent carvings of frogs, fertility goddesses, snakes and shamans, and the pottery exhibit has some highly unusual pieces that show off the local craftsmanship.

For a quick but valuable survey of Costa Rican history, spend an afternoon exploring the Museo Nacional. Located in the old army headquarters, the museum’s collection features pre-Columbian pieces and artifacts from the early republic and colonial eras. The northeast galleries are particularly interesting with their well-preserved early 20th-century décor.

Costa Rica’s Ticos are quite devout, and many worship at the Catedral Metropolitana. The Renaissance-style building is remarkable for its graceful neoclassical interior marked by stained-glass windows, colorful tile floors and hand-carved Guatemalan Christ figure. If you have a prayer, scribble it on a tiny piece of paper and leave it at the Chapel of the Holy One.

The two best places to soak up the local culture are the Plaza de la Cultura and the Mercado Central. While the plaza’s design is quite unremarkable, it is usually packed with locals cooling down with fruity ice-cream cones and taking in the wide array of San José street life. There, clowns juggle balls for change, vendors sell everything from bananas to bootleg CDs, and teenagers gather to play cards and whistle at the ladies walking by. In the central market, a similar scene plays out as locals congregate overcrowded stalls selling coffee beans, spices, souvenir tee-shirts and more. These are the hearts of San José, where the spirit of the capital is most alive.

Other sights worth seeing in the Costa Rican capital include the Museo Homenaje Joaquín García Monge, the Museo de Arte Costarricense, the delightfully whimsical Museo de los Niños, the elegant Teatro Nacional, the Parque España, the Plaza de la Democracia and the Parque Zoológico Nacional Simón Bolívar.

San Jose Geographical Location

San Jose is located in the center of Costa Rica and is its largest city with the metropolitan area accounting for one-third of the national population.

The approximate population of Sane Jose is 1,750,000.

San Jose Language

Spanish is the official language of Costa Rica although English is very common as well, mainly as a second language.

San Jose Predominant Religion

  • 76% Roman Catholic
  • 14% Evangelical
  • 5% Other
  • 3% None
  • 1% Jehovah’s Witness
  • 1% Protestant

The Costa Rican Constitution deems Catholic, Romanic, and Apostolic religions the official religions of Costa Rica.

San Jose Currency

The Costa Rican Colon is the official currency of Costa Rican.

San Jose Climate

San Jose is within a tropical area and experiences high humidity with a rainy season between the months of May and November. The average temperatures do not vary much throughout the year but the hottest months are April and May.

San Jose Main Attractions

  • Pre-Columbian Gold Museum
  • Fidel Tristan Jade Museum
  • National Theater

Other Attraction in San Jose

  • Parque Nacional
  • Central Market
  • Monumento Nacional
  • Parque La Sabana
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