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Explore San José, Costa Rica - An Exclusive Guide

A perfect day in... San José, Costa Rica

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Costa Rica’s thrumming capital city is a feast for the senses, inviting you to walk among its historic neighborhoods, get lost in its museums and haggle like a local at the vibrant farmers market.

What to see in San José

Start off with a stroll in Barrio Amón, the city’s charming historical heart, which is home to a cluster of 19th-century cafetalero (coffee grower) mansions. Over recent years many of the area’s buildings have been converted into hotels, cafés, bars and contemporary art galleries, making this one of the liveliest spots in the capital. Keep your eyes peeled for everything from Art Deco mansions to the tropical neo-Victorian architecture so typical of Costa Rica.

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Shelter from the midday heat in Parque Nacional, one of San José’s loveliest green spaces. There are numerous monuments devoted to Latin American historical figures dotted around the park, including Cuban poet, essayist and revolutionary José Martí, Mexican independence figure Miguel Hidalgo and 18th-century Venezuelan humanist Andrés Bello. At the center you’ll find the Monumento Nacional, a dramatic 1953 statue that depicts the Central American nations driving out North American filibuster William Walker.

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What to do in San José

There’s no shortage of great museums in San José. Top of the list is the Museo del Jade, which houses the world’s largest collection of American jade. Spread across five floors, there are nearly 7,000 finely-crafted pieces on display, from translucent carvings depicting fertility gods and shamans to extraordinary ceramics. A short walk away is the Museo de Oro Precolombino y Numismática, a three-in-one museum that holds an extensive collection of Costa Rica's most priceless pieces of pre-Columbian gold and other artifacts, including historical currency and contemporary regional art.

Museo de Jade y Arte Precolombino Haakon S. Krohn

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It’s also worth checking out the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica, which offers up some fine examples of Costa Rican history, ranging from exhibits of pre-Colombian pieces from ongoing digs, to relics from the colony and the early republic. The museum itself is located inside the old Bellavista Fortress, which historically served as the army headquarters and saw fierce fighting in the 1948 civil war.

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Aside from museums, the Teatro Nacional on the southern side of the Plaza de la Cultura is worth a look. Constructed in 1897, it features a grand neoclassical facade, flanked by statues of Ludwig van Beethoven and Calderón de la Barca, the 17th-century Spanish dramatist. It’s also home to one of the most beautiful cafés in the city, Alma de Café, which is modeled on an early 20th-century Viennese café. Try the chocolate alma de café, coffee spiked with cinnamon and cloves.

What to eat in San José

Costa Rica is blessed with an extensive coastline, so it’s no surprise that fresh fish forms many of the country’s most popular dishes. At the very top of that list is ceviche, which you’ll find on most menus and is usually made from pargo (red snapper), dorado (mahi-mahi), octopus or tilapia. For one of the most authentic ceviche in San José head to the city’s busy Mercado Central, where you can also pick up everything from spices and coffee beans to ice cream. 

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Other must-try local delicacies include traditional casado, a hearty meat, fish or chicken dish with a side of black beans, rice, fried plantains and cooked vegetable, and gallo pinto, a combination of beans and rice, stewed onions and sweet pepper, usually served for breakfast and accompanied by fried eggs, cheese and corn tortillas.

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For more information, go to visitcostarica.com

This article has been written for review purposes only and does not suggest sponsorship or endorsement of AARDY by the trademark owner.

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