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Published: March 11th 2015
San Jose, Costa Rica
View of the Central Valley with parts of San Jose below.
Although I have traveled extensively throughout Asia, Europe and the United States, I have never been to the continent of South America. So in March/April of 2013 we flew to San Jose, Costa Rica for a 10 day Easter break holiday.
The small country of Costa Rica in Central America has often been referred to as "the happiest place on earth." I am not sure whether this holds true or not, but we certainly saw a lot of happy looking people when we were in the capital city of San Jose which is also the economic and political heart of the nation.
Our flight from Orlando, Florida by JetBlue took only 3 hours and because of the two hour time difference, we arrived in San Jose just before noon. The airport was smaller than what I had expected, but looked quite modern. Apparently, there weren't that many flights arriving as we seemed to be the only passengers at the Immigration counters. I had a pleasant surprise when the officer who checked our passports actually smiled, and said "Welcome to Costa Rica!" Of the hundreds of times I have gone through Immigration and Customs at airports around the world I
Mural on building as we were coming into town from the airport.
would often encounter surly and dour looking officials, so this was a good first impression of Costa Rica.
I changed some US dollars into the local currency. Most airport money exchange booths are notorious for their lousy rates and this wasn't an exception. Outside the airport there were many taxis, and they were all asking the arriving passengers to hire their cabs. I asked a man who was wearing a uniform of some sort. He had a photo ID pinned to his shirt so I thought he was all right. He wanted USD 30 to take us to our hotel and I bargained it down to $25, not bad! Another fellow who was standing nearby offered to take us for $20, but as I had already agreed with the first guy, I had to reluctantly shake my head at him. San Jose, the cultural hub of Costa Rica
After we checked in at Hotel Vesuvio, we searched for a place to eat nearby, and found a small restaurant about five minutes walk away from the hotel. The menu was in Spanish, but the owner spoke very good English and explained to us what the various food items
listed on the menu were. We ended up ordering a simple meal, and was surprised that the bill came up to $10! Anyway, our stomachs full and map in hand, we began our afternoon walking tour of sights near the hotel. We wanted to go to Parque Espana
which was the nearest park on the map, but ended up instead at Parque Nacional
(National Park) which was all right as it looked like a nice park with a lot of flowers, trees, monuments and statues. We spent some time there taking photos, after which we decided to walk further down to see if we could find the Mercado Central
or Central Market. On the way we came across Parque Morazan,
where there were a lot of mostly young people enjoying a nice afternoon in the park. At that time we felt that we knew our bearings and followed the route on the map with more confidence, stopping at some interesting spots along the streets, one of which was the Post and Telegraph building where we saw a lot of people gathering around. Another stop was at a bank where we changed some more money. As I had expected, the bank
San Jose, Costa Rica
Street scene as we were walking to the National Park.
gave a much better rate than at the airport!
We finally found the big Central Market and what a place it was. It reminded me of some markets in southeast Asian countries as they looked very similar with everything under the sun for sale! I think the pictures posted on this page will give you a better idea. It was getting dark so we decided to head back to our hotel. As mentioned earlier, we thought we already had a feel of the area, and we didn't have any problems finding our way back. As we had a 6 am start the next morning we had a very nice dinner at the hotel restaurant and retired early.
The next day we left for the Sloth Sanctuary in Limon province. (separate blog to be written later)
On the third day we left for Nicaragua by bus. (Nicaragua blog to be posted here later)
When we returned from Nicaragua on the afternoon of April 1st we were so exhausted that we just rested in our room and had dinner again in the hotel restaurant. Went to bed early once more to get ready for the next full day
San Jose, Costa Rica
Small plaza and government building near the National Park.
excursion of our Combo tour to three different places (all of which are already posted here).
On our last full day of our stay in San Jose we walked all the way to downtown San Jose. We didn't know earlier that the city center was within walking distance from our hotel, and on the way, wonder of wonders, we finally found the elusive Parque Espana
which turned out to be just a small park with a few statues. On the way, we stopped at the National Museum at the Plaza de La Democracia
, and did a little shopping at the quaint Crafts Market just across from the museum.
Downtown San Jose was like any big cosmopolitan city with shopping centers, restaurants and the like. Anyhow, we got to see the Teatro Nacional
(National Theater), the Catedral Metropolitana, Plaza de la Cultura, Parque Central
(Central Park) and Chinatown where I didn't see even a single Chinese! However, there is a big church there called Iglesia Nuestra Senora de La Soledad
or Our Lady of Solitude church. We had some pizza and flan
as dessert with a pigeon for company. As I just had a few bites of the pizza
on our way back to the hotel I stopped in at a Chinese restaurant for some chicken fried rice.
In the evening we went to see a cultural performance of Costa Rican dancers on top of a hilltop restaurant, of which I will be writing a separate review later.
In the afternoon of April 4th, we got a cab through the hotel and left for the airport to take the plane back home to Orlando. Check in procedures went smoothly at the airline counter and immigration/security. However, I should mention that the airport departure tax in San Jose is one of the highest in the world, a hefty US$ 29 per passenger! In closing, Costa Rica is not a cheap destination like Nicaragua, especially for food and tours. The good point is the government there emphasizes a lot on eco-tourism (sometimes known as 'sustainable tourism') which I think is wise because its objective is to make sure, or at least attempt that mass tourism in the country does not have a negative impact on the environment and local culture.
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