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Is Costa Rica’s Capital San Jose possible to like?

September 29, 2009

It may hold capital city status, be the largest urban centre in Costa Rica, have an international point of entry and exit but what happened to San Jose?

As a city San Jose doesn’t compliment the surrounding scenic landscape and natural beauty, if anything it distracts from it; sticking out like an injured thumb in desperate need of repair. It’s a tired city, neglected and aged, a city where the suburbs have taken the wealth and western style plazas from its downtown leaving the area run down with an element of danger.

But to be fair, look at something long enough and it starts to become interesting. Even if only for a brief moment.

Accentuate the positive (and negative)

Positive – Glamorous Spanish Colonial Architecture

The National Theatre (Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica) is a fine example of colonial architecture, old wealth and style. The acoustics astound, the interior amazes as it takes you back in time to when opera, gowns, jewels and top hats were the norm.

Negative – preference for exotics

There are no parrots, toucans or other native Costa Rican birds residing in San Jose’s Central Park. There are, unfortunately, hoards of pigeons, waddling, cooing and flapping. Waiting to be fed or scavenging for feed. Defecating anywhere so that seating is hard to find.

There is no Mary Poppins bird woman calling out to feed the birds, only hawkers screeching for photos and bird feed. It is not a quiet tranquil park.

by Cate

by Cate

Playing games and game playing

Downtown San Jose is packed. Packed with families bargain shopping, vendors, retirees, you name it they’re there, with the exception of the high fashion elite. Kids like to hang around and play games no matter what age.

Boys who dream of big football futures.

by Cate

by Cate

And big boys who play other games, with the police.

by Cate

by Cate

Police presence is high, on foot, on scooters or in trucks. They may be unsettling to see at first but within the chaos there is order.

by Cate

by Cate

My opinion

San Jose is a city I personally dislike. What vibe there is I never felt. It is to me a capital city that forgot how to be a capital city. Downtown has a handful of cafes and upmarket restaurants but the preference is for the typical fastfood joints. Shopping is non eventful with only cheap discount shops and the occasional souvenir shop. Plazas are located outside the central city. Staff in cafes speak English and are friendly and helpful.

Safety points: Don’t walk around with anything expensive including a camera and take extra care you don’t know who is eying you up and from where. My watch – cheap plastic – was scanned several times by young guys. At a set of traffic lights close to my hotel, my bag was scanned and almost grabbed. Luckily and thankfully a policeman walked past at that time.

Caffeinated Traveller

  1. October 7, 2009 3:27 am

    I didn’t like San Jose when I went. It feels unsafe. I don’t know if it is possible to like!

    • October 7, 2009 4:46 pm

      Good to hear that Matt, I was hoping it wasn’t just me. Can’t figure out what went wrong with that city.

  2. October 21, 2009 5:54 pm

    Everyone seems to trash talk it and seemingly with good reason. Being an ” in the know ” traveler seems to mean flying in and getting out of San Jose!



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