San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica is a relatively small, busy Central American city with a diverse local culture. For the untrained eye it gives the impression of an unorganized, polluted, messy town, with not much to see or to do for tourists, except using it as a hub to start their journeys towards other parts of the country. To be honest, it is not an extremely exciting or pleasant place to stay, but of course it’s possible to find unusual and interesting things around.
The city center lies along the one mile long pedestrians-only part of the Avenida Central, and this is where most of the cultural institutions are all concentrated like the National Museum, the National Theater, the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum and the Jade Museum, along with several shops and markets like the Mercado Central, which is a perfect place to taste some traditional dishes from the Costa Rican cuisine. Regarding the museums, I have been previously reading good reviews about the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, so that was the only one I’ve visited and I really enjoyed it, there were a lot of interesting artifacts and information about pre-hispanic times and gold craftsmanship, a numismatic exhibition on the local currency and a nice contemporary art exhibition.
There is another pedestrians-only street in the center besides the Avenida Central, it is the Avenida 4, which can also be fun to walk along once, although it is mainly packed with shops selling shoddy clothes and electronic goods. There are also a couple of churches along this street which can be interesting to check during a mass, or a sermon.
Besides being a status symbol, automobiles are the most popular means of transportation, with plenty of gas-guzzlers in traffic – but probably this is a general North and Central American phenomenon, not unique to San Jose. As a pedestrian you better get used to the fact that cars always have the right of way, and it is normal to wait around 5 minutes at the imaginary crossing zone – as usually this is a missing element from the streets – for that unlikely moment when there are no cars in sight to dare and try to cross.
Also watch where you step, as manhole covers are usually broken or missing, creating vicious traps across the town!
If you are planning to get around with a public bus in Costa Rica, from San Jose you will be able to reach any part of the country, but be aware that there is no central bus station as there are different public bus companies responsible for covering the whole transportation to a certain region of the country and they have their own stations in different locations in the town . For example if you want to get to the Caribbean coast, your only option is to travel with the Autotransportes MEPE (this is their station: map).
The global craft beer movement has also found its way to Costa Rica, where it had the crucial task to provide alternatives to the more sophisticated beer-lovers against the three types of locally available mass produced lager beers. In the north-east part of central San Jose, there are now several craft beer pubs and microbreweries offering a wide range of fantastic Costa Rican craft beers and a great atmosphere! Check this map to some craft beer pubs in San Jose.
If you have a spare day and you don’t want to spend it in San Jose but you have to return to the city the same day – for example your plane is leaving the next day – a great idea for a day tour is visiting the still active, spectacular Poas Volcano with a public bus.