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San José

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A capital full of museums and 19th century European architecture

San José, Costa Rica
You can find cheap and traditional 'tico' food at the main market in the city center.

San José is the capital and also the biggest city of Costa Rica. It is a rather noisy and dirty city, however, it is considered as one of the safest capitals in Central America. The city is situated in the center of the country and thus also serves as a central traffic intersection. In 1824 the seat of government was relocated from the old colonial city Cartagena to the village San José in order to start a new beginning. As the capital was only founded in the 18th century, it is not full of colonial architecture unlike other capital cities around Central America.


Still, San José offers some interesting sights and architecture, mostly build in the 19th and 20th century, showing an European influence in their neo-classic and neo-baroque styles. Most of these building are found in the historical center of San José. The most outstanding buildings are the neo-classic ‘Edificio de Correos y Telégrafos de Costa Rica’ (Costa Rica post and telegraph building) and the ‘Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica’ (Costa Rica national theater). The national theater is considered as the architectonic jewel of the city, featuring neo-renaissance style at the outside and neo-baroque style in the inside of the building.


San José also has some amazing museums on offer. You can learn about national history, scientific discoveries as well as gold, jade and other precious stones found in Costa Rica. The national museum is located inside the ‘Cuartel Bellavista’, a former fort from 1917. The exhibition includes pre-Colombian and colonial artefacts. Another interesting museum is the Jade museum, with 2500 objects it exhibits the biggest jade artefact collection worldwide. Other museums worth a visit are the modern art and design museum, the Costa Rican art museum and the pre-Columbian gold museum.


Compared to other capitals in Central America or around the world, San José is rather small. Most interesting sights are located within walking distance. In the city center you can stroll along the pedestrian zone and do some shopping or visit the main market hall. Walking east, you will reach the national theater and come across the Plaza de la Cultura (Culture Square), a nice place to take a rest and have some ice-cream, while watching the locals feed the pigeons. Here you will also find the ‘Museo de Oro Precolumbiano’ (pre-Columbian gold museum).


If you keep on walking, you will first reach the Jade Museum and afterwards the national history museum. Now you are also close to the government district, the National Park and the modern art museum. A bit further from the center are the university district and San Pedro neighbourhood in the east. Walking towards the west, you will encounter yourself in the huge Sabana park. The Sabana is a spacious green zone in the city and offers everything for a relaxing day: you can go running in the morning, sit at the lake or use the huge lawn as your soccer field.

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