Regions: Central Valley: Attractions
Costa Rican Art Museum
Opened in 1977 and with the goal to have a permanent display of works created by Costa Rican artists during the 19th and 20th centuries. The building which houses this museum formerly was the Costa Rica International Airport and is located in the Sabana Metropolitan Park. Museum is open from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, Tuesday thru Sunday.
National Gallery of Contemporary Art
Located on the west side of the National Library, just across from the National Park in downtown San Jose. The gallery opens from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, Monday thru Saturday.
On display is pre-Columbian art, documents and other objects of cultural and historic significance. And which include exhibits of Costa Rican History, Archeology, Geology and Colonial Life. The national museum opens from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm, Tuesday thru Sunday.
This museum is located in the old penitentiary, and resembles a castle. Inside there are 34 rooms, all with different themes. Guided tours are offered weekdays 9-12 and 1:30-5, and weekends 10-1 and 2-5. Buy tickets a day in advance
The University of Costa Rica presents this extensive display of insect life of Costa Rica . Located in the basement , at the School of Music, University Campus , San Pedro de Montes de Oca. Open from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm, Monday thru Friday.
Legal Science Museum
Located in the OIJ building , this museum displays portraits and items related to the Legal Sciences and the Supreme Court. Open from 7:00 and to 11:00 am & 1:00 pm to 5:30 pm, Monday thru Friday.
Fidel Tristán Jade Museum
This museum is located on the 11th floor of the National Insurance Institute in downtown San Jose and offers stunning views of the central valley .This is the best Jade Collection in Costa Rica, with the addition of ceramics, stone and gold miniatures. Open from 9:00 to 3:00 pm, Monday thru Friday.
Museum of Natural Sciences
Know to be among the most comprehensive collection in the world : it has been divided in four areas: Paleontology, Archaeology, Zoology and Malancology (mollusks). Located southwest of La Sabana Metropolitan Park and administered by the Ministry Agriculture. Open from 8:00 to 3:00 pm, Monday thru Friday.
This is the second largest collection of pre-columbian gold objects in the word and is owned by The National Bank of Costa Rica. This is a permanent exhibit of over 20,000 troy ounces of pre-Columbian gold figures. Located under the Plaza de la Cultura and is open from 9:00 to 4:30 pm, Monday thru Friday.
Teatro Nacional (National Theater)
Truly a national treasure and unquestionably the nation’s most impressive architectural showpiece, the National Theater is a study in harmony and regal splendor and is justifiably a source of national pride.
The theater was conceived in 1890 when a European opera company featuring the prima donna Adelina Patti toured Central America but was unable to perform in Costa Rica because there was no suitable theater. The ruling cafelateros (coffee barons) voted a tax on coffee exports to fund construction of a theater, and artisans from Europe were imported. The theater was inaugurated on 19 October 1897 with a performance of Faust by the Paris Opera and its ballet corps.
Outside, the classical Renaissance façade is topped by statues symbolizing Dance, Music, and Fame. Inside, the pink marble foyer features allegorical figures of Comedy and Tragedy, beautiful murals depicting themes in Costa Rican life and commerce, and a triptych ceiling supported by marble columns topped with bronze capitals.
Art and good taste are lavishly displayed on the marble staircase, with its gold-laminated ornaments sparkling beneath bronze chandeliers. A grandiose rotunda‹painted in Milan in 1897 by Arturo Fontana‹highlights the three-story auditorium, designed in a perfect horseshoe and seating 1,040. The ceiling fresco depicts celestial deities surrounding a giant crystal chandelier.
The theater has magnificent frescoes; much of the mahogany furniture is gold-leaf, and the floor is fashioned in local hardwoods. The auditorium floor was designed to be raised to stage level by a manual winch so that the theater could be used as a ballroom. Downstairs, to the left of the entrance foyer, is a beautiful coffee shop and art gallery.
You can buy tickets for performances at a ticket booth next to the entrance Josefinos treat a night at the National Theater as a distinguished social occasion, so dress accordingly. Guided tours are offered and recommended.
Plaza de la Cultura (On the south side of the plaza, on Av. 2 between calles 3 and 5) San Jose Costa Rica
Telephone: +506 221-1329
Fax: +506 223-4990
Teatro Melico Salazar (Melico Salazar Theater)
Dating from the 1920s, this unprepossessing theater has a quaint appeal. It’s no contender to La Scala, but its fluted Corinthian columns, high balconies, and gilding provide a study in understated period detail. Symphony season normally runs April through October.
National Symphony Orchestra
April through December is the season for the National Symphony Orchestra, which performs at the Teatro National on Thursday and Friday (8 PM) and Sunday morning (10:30 AM). The price range varies widely: You can hobnob with café society at the symphony or opera for a few hundred colones or spend ten times that for the best seats.
Av. 2 between calles 3 and 5 (At the Teatro National on the south side of Plaza de la Cultura) San Jose Costa Rica
Telephone: +506 236-5396
This commercial center on the North side of the Rio Torres is a dining and shopping area built to resemble a Spanish colonial pueblo. Here you will find all kinds of crafts, art galleries, and restaurants that serve comida típica. We have been alerted that cabs often overcharge tourists leaving this area. Agree on a price before you leave El Pueblo.
San Jose Parque Central (Central Park)
In colonial days this was San José’s main plaza and market square. Today this small park is popular with Josefinos who congregate beneath the looming palms. In 1993 about C71,870,000 was lavished to turn this previously grungy eyesore into a delightful landscaped gem, replete with fountain, bronze statue, hardwood sculptures, and venerable guachipelín, guanacaste, and higueron trees. At its center is a raised platform with a large domed structure supported by arches where the municipal band plays concerts on Sunday. The bandstand is a bit of an ugly duckling, and a recent referendum was taken on whether to tear it down. Fortunately, it lived to see another day and today stands proudly in the center of this urban jewel. Hunkered beneath the bandstand is the Carmen Lyra Children’s Library (named after a Costa Rican writer famous for her children’s stories). (Between calles Central/2 and avenidas 2/4) San Jose Costa Rica
Parque Nacional (National Park)
The largest and most peaceful of the city’s central parks graces a gentle hill that rises to the south of the National Library, between calles 15/19 and avenidas 1/3. At the park’s center, under towering, shady trees, is the massive National Monument, one of several statues commemorating the War of 1856. Like several other San José edifices, the monument originated in France: It was made in the Rodin studios. On Parque Nacional’s southwestern corner is a statue of Juan Santamaría, the national hero. (Between calles 15/19 and avenidas 1/3) San Jose Costa Rica
Parque Sabana (Sabana Park)
The only park of any real scale in San José, this favorite weekend getaway for Josefinos used to be the national airport (the old terminal now houses the Museo de Arte Costarricense). Today, it’s a focus for sports and recreation and one of the few places within San José where you may jog without being hassled by traffic. Sabana Park contains both the Estadio Nacional (on the northwest corner) and the National Gymnasium (southeast corner), which features an Olympic-size swimming pool. There are also basketball, tennis, and volleyball courts, a baseball diamond, a soccer field, and tree-lined paths for jogging and walking. Even fishing folks are catered to A small lake on the south side is stocked with fish, and fishing is permitted. And a small hill has been piled up from Sabana (Flatlands) for kite flyers. The park entrance is at the end of Paseo Colón. Take the Sabana-Cementerio bus, which leaves from Calle 7 and Avenida Central.
Catedral Metropolitan (Metropolitan Cathedral)
Dominating the east side of Parque Central is the city’s main cathedral: whitewashed, with a blue domed roof more reminiscent of a Greek Orthodox church than a Catholic cathedral. The original cathedral was toppled by an earthquake in 1821; the current edifice dates from 1871. Inside and out it’s a statement in modesty. The interior is relatively unremarkable, barring its lofty barrel-arched ceiling, and there is little of the ostentatious baroque influence found in cathedrals elsewhere on the continent. Tucked neatly in its shadow to the south is the marvelously mellowed Archbishop’s Palace, dating from the 18th century.
Mercado Central (Central Market)
San José’s most colorful and authentically Central American offering is the Central Market. While it lacks the native quality of, say, Guatemalan markets, it’s heavy on atmosphere nonetheless. Everything but the kitchen sink seems on offer: baskets, flowers, hammocks, spices, meats, vegetables, souvenirs. There are fish booths selling octopus, dorado, and shrimp; butchers’ booths with oxtails and pigs’ heads on display; flower stalls; saddle shops; and booths selling medicinal herbs guaranteed to cure everything from sterility to common colds. Outside, street hawkers call out their wares sold from brightly colored barrows. The market is a good place to order olla de carne, a steaming beef-and-vegetable stew, from a bustling soda (food stall). Remember, pickpockets thrive in crowded places, so watch your valuables. Av. Central & Av. 1 and Between Calles 6 & 8
Parque Zoologico Simón Bolívar (Simon Bolivar Zoo)
A 660-million colones fund-raising and five-stage zoo reconstruction project began here in mid-1992, aided by private donations from individuals and major corporations led by McDonald’s. Friends of the Zoo and Adopt an Animal programs were initiated in 1993, sponsored by Costa Rica Today with the aim of collecting money to improve conditions. Consequently, the zoo (founded in 1916) is becoming more of an educational and aesthetic experience. A nature center opened in 1994, containing a video room, library, and work area for schoolchildren. The amphibians and reptiles recently received a new home, the Joyeros del Bosque Húmedos, designed by the Baltimore Aquarium. The current zoo is gradually being turned into a national exhibition and visitor center with re-creations of Costa Rica’s various ecosystems.
The relatively small number of Costa Rican species on display includes spider and capuchin monkeys, most of the indigenous cats, plus a small variety of birds, including toucans and tame macaws. The zoo’s finest exhibits, surprisingly, are a male lion and a handsome Bengal tiger (neither native to Costa Rica). C. 7 and Av. 11 (Turn right at Av. 11 and follow the curving road.)
San Jose Costa Rica
Telephone: +506 233-6701
Days Open Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday Weekends
Gambling is second only to soccer as a national pastime. There are many casinos to chose from in San José. The most popular in central San José are the Aurola Casino on the 17th floor of the Holiday Inn, arount the corner from the Hotel Santo Tomas , the Gran Casino located in the lobby of the Gran Hotel de Costa Rica, the Club Colonial .
Although movies get to Costa Rica months after they premier in the United States, movies are generally shown in English with Spanish subtitles, making them both educational and easy to follow for the English speaking traveler. If you want a break from San José¹s sometimes rushed pace, sit back in the cool AC and enjoy a flick.
Bellavista: 221-0909 A. Central, C. 17-19 Colón: 221-4517
Centro Colón, Paseo Colón
Laurence Olivier: 222-1034 A.2, C. 28
Magaly: 223-0085 A. Central-1, C. 23
Omni: 221-7903 A. Central-1, C. 3
Rex: 221-0041 A. 6-8, C. Central
Sala Garbo: 222-1034 A. 2, C. 28
Mall San Pedro: 283-5716 San Pedro
Variedades: 222-6107 A. Central-1, C. 5
If you don’t intend to venture into the wilds, this is the place to get a close-up look at some of Costa Rica’s most colorful reptiles. The small but interesting collection is quite impressive. The displays include poison-arrow frogs, iguanas, and Costa Rica’s most feared poisonous species safely on view behind glass cages. After seeing the nasty forearm-thick fer-de-lance, you may lose your taste for venturing into the jungle. Signs are offered in English for some exhibits, others only in Spanish. Radamida Building (On the 2nd floor above the El Gran Chaparral restaurant, calles 9/11 and Av. 1) San Jose Costa Rica
Telephone: +506 255-4210
Spirogyra Butterfly Garden
Butterfly lovers no longer have to venture beyond San José to see butterflies in their natural setting. Bilingual tours are offered every half-hour by biologist Javier Baltodano, or you can opt for a 30-minute self-guided tour. More than 30 species flutter about in the large garden, which is sheltered by a net. In the center is a small waterfall surrounded by orchids, heliconias, and trees. A separate section houses cages where eggs and caterpillars develop, protected from predators. The small natural forest is being protected as a private botanical garden. (About 100 meters/328 feet east and 150 meters/492 feet south of the El Pueblo shopping center. Look for signs from El Pueblo.) San Jose Costa Rica
Telephone: +506 222-2937 Fax: +506 222-2937
Days Open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday Weekends
Childrens Amusement Park ,Rides & Pueblo Antiguo
This grand attraction, on the western outskirts of San José, opened in December 1994. The theme park re-creates the locales and dramatizes the events of Costa Rican history. Buildings in traditional architectural style include replicas of the National Liquor Factory, Congressional Building, church, market, fire station, and the Costa Rican Bank. The place comes alive with oxcarts, horsedrawn carriages, live music, traditional dances, and actors dramatizing the past. The park has three sections: the capital city, the coast (including a replica of the Tortuguero Canals), and the country (with original adobe structures moved to the site, including a sugar mill, coffee mill, and milking barn). The venture is operated by the Association for the National Children’s Hospital, and profits fund improvements to the hospital. You can visit craft shops and a restaurant that serves Costa Rican cuisine. (In La Uruca, about 1 kilometer/a half-mile east of Hospital México) San Jose Costa Rica Telephone: +506 231-2011 Fax: +506 231-6529
There are many great places to eat and drink in San José. This list is by no means exhaustive.
The Green Pig (256-6367) serves up Southern style barbeque. It’s located on Av. 7-9, Ca. 1, and is closed on Mondays.
Manolo’s (221-2041) is an atmospheric joint that serves up great comida tipica. The downstairs menu is more reasonable than the upstairs menu. Located on Av. Central, Ca. 2.
Antojitos has great Mexican food and 5 locations in San José. The atmosphere is festive, the food good, and the prices reasonable. Ask your hotel or cab driver for the location nearest you.
El Balcón de Europa (221-4841)on Av. Central and Ca. 9 is famous for its delicious and reasonably priced Italian cuisine.
Spoon is a pastry shop chain that can be found all over Costa Rica. It serves deserts that are out of this world, and also serves tasty light lunches.
Café Ruiseñor inside the National Theater is one of the prettiest places to dine in San José. They have light food and drinks.
Café Mundo (222-6190) in Barrio Otoya has an international menu, a great atmosphere in a historic house, and reasonable prices. It’s located on Av. 9 and Ca. 15.
Lukas (233-8145) is in Commercial Centro El Pueblo. It serves big steaks, and is open 24 hours. It’s a very popular place, and we recommend making reservations ahead of time. There are many great restaurants and shops to check out at El Pueblo. Take a cab, since there is not much parking, and soak up the atmosphere.
Ram Luna (230-3060) is muy romántico! It has an international menu, and a breathtaking view of the central valley.
La Tranca (230-3505) has delicious grilled meats and chicharrones. It’s a rustic place with great views.
West of Downtown
Machu Picchu (222-7384) serves Peruvian food. This is a place that you must try, especially if you are a ceviche fan. It’s 125 meters from Kentucky Fried Chicken on Avenida Colón.
La Piazetta (222-7896) has scrumptious Italian dishes, but no pizza! Their risotto with salmon and caviar is a treat! Also try the filet mignon in white truffle sauce.
Marisqueria La Princesa Marina (232-0481) 150 meters South of Canal 7 on Sabana Oeste has delicious seafood for those on a budget.
La Fuente de los Mariscos (231-0631) in Centro Comercial San José is another great place for top quality seafood.
East of Downtown
Marbella (228-0180) in San Pedro (Centro Comercial de la Calle Real) specializes in Spanish cuisine. They have many seafood dishes, as well as beef, chicken, rabbit and pork.
Shiraz in San Pedro specializes in gourmet international food and wine.
Le Chandelier (225-3980) is located in an old restored Mediterranean mansion, and is just behind the ICE building in San Pedro. The menu is French, and the food is out of this world! The fare is expensive, be forewarned. If you are a connoisseur of French food we recommend splurging.
Pizzeria II Pomodoro (224-0966) in San Pedro has great pizza.
Off the Beaten Path
The Lone Star Grill (229-7597) in Coronado has true Texas atmosphere. The air is colder in Coronado, and it’s fun to sit around their fireplace and sip cocktails. The food is a “Taste of Texas.” We recommend the Texas burger.
La Cuenca Steakhouse (292-2344) above Coronado in Patio de Agua has great chicharrones and veal tacos. Open Wednesday thru Sunday. Karaoke Friday and Saturday nights.
Cabernet (229-1113) is above Coronado in Rancho Redondo. This wine bar and French restaurant is in a beautiful old mansion, and has one of the prettiest views of the central valley. The service here is impeccable. This place is expensive, but very romantic!
Costa Rica Travel: Travel Information & Tips
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