Food market @ San Pedro
The Heart of Costa Rica.
Unlike the Washington DC of the United States, the capital of Costa Rica happens to be a few things rolled in one: it is the political center (like DC), cultural center (New York, Los Angeles), commerce center and the main transit hub (NYC, New Orleans, Chicago, Miami, etc.) of the entire country. The country is roughly the size of New Hampshire and Vermont combined. The city also has the largest concentration of Costa Ricans. It’s easy to get lost in this place.
Downtown is the main feature of the city, filled with shops, casinos, food, people, activities, museums, and historical landmarks. Remnants of the old Spanish colonial era can be found scattered within the city limits, many of them standing next to modern buildings and shacks recently built. Some of the notable places to see in the downtown areas would be Teatro Nacional (National Theater), National Cathedral (with a giant sized statue of the late Pope Paul II), Coca-Cola district (red light district, I’ll write a bit more on that in its own entry), the mercados (be sure to secure your pockets!), art galleries, coffee shops, and many more.
I feel this is worth noting: many things in this city that can be bought is usually priced much higher than if you went out to the countryside and did your shopping. Also, if you have no talent for haggling, then make it a rule to only pull out your wallet for a purchase once. Only once. This trick will make you a seasoned pro in haggling.
Same goes with saying this line: “No thanks.”
Since San José is the international hub for the country, many, if not most, Costa Ricans (Ticos), are able to speak English. Although, English can be found pretty much everywhere, Spanish is the dominant language and it IS recommended that you learn a little bit of it. It goes a long way, especially when you leave the city.
Also, having had this discussion with a couple of people who teaches Spanish in the area (one from Colombia and the other from Spain), I’ve discovered that they speak Spanish slightly different than the others. Their rolling of the r’s aren’t as prominent as it would be elsewhere. In addition, the way to greet people around here would be, “Buenas,” rather than “Hola.” I’m sure there’s tons more I haven’t noticed.
Downtown San José
The Catholic Church has a stronghold here in the country. It becomes more and more apparent to me that being a Catholic is a birthright rather than something you convert into and because of that sentiment, politics are slightly different in this country. Unlike in the United States, social deviancy such as homosexuality, fornication, not attending churches and making laws against the Church’s doctrines isn’t perceived as an affront to their religions.
Be warned though, the Ticos do observe religious holidays and ensure minimal activity goes on during church hours on Sunday.
The People and Culture
As one of the richer nations of Central America, many Ticos are fiercely proud of their nationality and do not appreciate being regarded as a third world citizens. This city has a beautiful diversity of creeds, ethnic groups, and, more or less, all sorts of people around. Most Ticos have the beautifully blended look of the indigenous and spaniard heritage in them.
Telling them they’re beautiful all the time isn’t enough to justify how really beautiful they are.
San José is one of the places I’d strongly recommend anyone going to visit, even if it’s a one time thing, for their bucket list. The nice thing about the city is that is is pretty much located in the center of the country and any bus drive to the order should not take more than six hours (the oceanside towns are usually around four hours away); so, you never really lose a whole day to traveling. Also, the scenery is breathtaking and I would always recommend taking the morning buses anywhere because it gets really dark at 6pm and you will miss out on the beauty.
I love this place so much and have been here for quite a while, to the point where I’m actually planning out different guided tours (in American Sign Language, of course) for the country. A couple packages includes: the Jungle Adventure (Monteverde/Arenal), the Cities of Costa Rica (San José, Cartago, Liberia), and the Pacific Beach Bum (Manuel Antonio, Puentarenas, and Malpais).
Before I forget, I’m sure I probably left a couple things out and if you have any questions or want to add something to the entry, feel free to do so in the comments below (or email me!).