Central America, Travels

World Capitals: San José, Costa Rica

Alternate title: In Which Diana FINALLY Gets a Stamp in Her Passport!

Welcome to the third installment of my World Capitals series. Today’s post is all about the highly contradictory capital of Costa Rica.

Our trip to Costa Rica began with our mid-day arrival at the airport in Connecticut, meaning we didn’t land in San José until well after dark. The hotel desk staff spoke English (tourism is #1 in their economy so most people in the service industries do), so it wasn’t really until the next morning when we opened our curtains to see palm trees that it truly hit us that we were in Costa Rica! The sun was shining, the sky was bright blue, and we were ready to do some exploring.

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After a delicious traditional Costa Rican breakfast at our hotel, we hopped in an Uber (by far the cheapest way to get around the city) and headed into downtown San José for the day. Our general plan was to see some of the beautiful architecture, wander the streets, and visit Museo Nacional de Costa Rica.

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Our driver dropped us off at Parque Central, which was a pretty good central point for what we wanted to see. We began wandering the streets and taking photos, and promptly proceeded to get completely lost. After grabbing a map from the tourist information center, we figured we’d be able to reorient ourselves fairly easily… after all, I have a pretty good sense of direction.

Not so much, as it turned out.

It wasn’t a big deal, because we had all day and didn’t need to be anywhere in particular at any certain time. Plus, in our failed attempts to find the museum we ended up wandering through an open-air market and past some lovely buildings. Of course, we also walked past the sewage pumping trucks, complete with some of the sewage leaking down the block, so that was gross.

The diversity of San José is amazing. One block looks like a flea market and the next has a beautiful old stone church; the next has modern high rises and the one after that has run-down shops and houses with bars on the windows. Everywhere in the city, it was the old mixed with the new, the fancy mixed with the dilapidated. It’s quite the contrast.

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It was also impossible to go anywhere in the city without noticing the utter insanity of traffic. As one of the locals explained to us, their roads just weren’t built for so many people to have cars, and though the infrastructure has improved in recent years, it can’t keep up. To the locals, I’m sure navigating the traffic is simply a lesson in organized chaos; they seemed to know which rules of the road to follow and which ones to fudge, they knew what the different horn beeps meant, and that motorcyclists would be running up between lanes and weaving in and out. But to us, it was just pure chaos.

Anyway, back to our navigation skills… or lack thereof. Once we realized that odd-numbered streets were on one side of Calle Central and even-numbered were on the other side, we finally got our bearings and found the museum.

Admission was $8 per person (USD), which is completely reasonable given the size of the museum. You begin by walking through a butterfly pavilion, which opens up onto what I guess would be considered a rooftop courtyard. From here, there are doors all around leading to different museum exhibits. One portion was closed for remodeling, but we spent a solid 3.5 hours learning the ancient (humans have been in Costa Rica for at least 12,000 years) and modern (Spanish colonization, independence, military, etc.) history of Costa Rica. It was far more information than I possibly could have retained, and though I don’t remember all the details, I at least got the gist of it.

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Museo Nacional de Costa Rica

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View from the roof of the museum

After saturating our brains with information, we left the museum and began wandering back in the general direction of Parque Central, figuring we’d stop somewhere along the way for food. We ended up at a little place that I can’t remember the name of, where we had amazing strawberry smoothies (the fruit in Costa Rica was so fresh and delicious) along with our meals.

And this wrapped up our first day in Costa Rica. This was the first day I ever spent outside of the US or Canada and I definitely spent a good part of it feeling out of place and bumbling my way through a few basic Spanish sentences. But Pat had previously done some international traveling so even though he doesn’t speak Spanish, having him there helped me stay calmer than I otherwise would have been.

This entire trip was definitely a learning experience for me, but by the end I was starting to feel a little more comfortable and I’m certainly excited to return to this beautiful country someday soon!

9 thoughts on “World Capitals: San José, Costa Rica”

  1. Brings back wonderful memories for us, went 1st time to Costa Rica couple years ago & loved it! Only thing I’d add re the traffic in San Jose (whose roads haven’t caught up to modern traffic) is here in Austin, the city has caught up to San Jose in traffic, lol! We want very much to return to la pura vida soon 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That first passport stamp is a memorable moment! Mine was from Montréal four years back 🙂 San José looks like a real mix of old and new, and I love those colourful buildings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nice! I feel like it was an especially memorable moment for me because I’ve been to Canada multiple times on my passport but when you cross by land from the US they don’t stamp it ☹️

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Interesting they don’t stamp it for land crossings if you’re a US citizen. Maybe they think you’d fill your passport too quickly if they did? I had mine stamped when I crossed into the US from Canada by land (on that same first passport stamp trip), but I guess that’s because I’m not a Canadian/US passport holder.

        Liked by 1 person

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