How I Spent an Afternoon in San Jose, Costa Rica
I have to admit, I wasn’t all that enthused about spending an afternoon in San Jose. I’d contemplated either staying in Alajuela, closer to the airport, or taking the afternoon bus from Santa Teresa so that I would minimize my time. I decided against Alajuela because I wasn’t even sure if the bus would stop there since the bus stop I’d used when heading to Monteverde had been on the other side of the highway and asking the driver about it gave me anxiety. And I decided against the afternoon bus from Santa Teresa since it would involve having to get off and change buses in Cobano and the potential for getting the wrong connection or missing it entirely gave me anxiety so I opted for the 6am direct bus which landed me in San Jose at 1:30pm.
After checking into my room at Selina San Jose I popped open Google Maps to see what was nearby. I didn’t want to mess about with taxis or buses but it seemed a shame to just hang out in the hostel lounge, no matter how chill the place was. It turns out there was more than enough to occupy me until sunset.
National Museum Learning
According to Google, both the zoo and the national museum were about 500m from me, in opposite directions. I opted to visit the museum since I like learning something about the place I’m in and zoos present me with ethical quandaries.
The National Museum of Costa Rica is located in the former Bellavista military barracks. It was handed over and converted to a museum when the army was abolished in 1949. Through the various exhibits you can learn about the natural, social, and military history of the country.
My favourite part though was the butterfly garden just after the admission desk. Since the old military barracks were built before accessibility was a concern, some adjustments had to be made when the museum was installed. As a heritage building they couldn’t just install elevators so they built a big meandering concrete ramp to the main courtyard and exhibits and turned that area into a butterfly garden. I would’ve happily paid my $9USD just to hang out there for an hour.
Street Art Viewing
After the museum closed I wandered down 17th Street and discovered a plethora of great street art between the museum and 1st Avenue. I love street art. It gives a street colour and character and can give you some insight into local issues if you can interpret the pieces.
Big sections of wall had been turned into the equivalent of a free art gallery and the art was impressive. I don’t care much for graffiti but the work you’ll see here is definitely in the art category.
If I had more time I would’ve booked a Barrio Bird walking tour to learn more about street art in San Jose.
Next up I had a little meander through Democracy Square and spotted a souvenir shop on the corner of the square and 2nd Avenue. I can’t resist souvenir shops even though I wasn’t actually looking for any souvenirs. I ducked in and lo and behold, it was actually a large market. It was like the TARDIS of shops. Bigger on the inside.
I’d actually stumbled upon the Mercado Nacional de Artesanias (National Craft Market), which ran the length of a block. There was tiny stall after tiny stall selling the same sorts of souvenirs I saw throughout the country. If you saw something in a previous town but didn’t buy it and now you regret it, there’s a chance you’ll find it at this market. Plush sloths, t-shirts, fridge magnets, hammocks, coffee, wooden mugs, wooden boxes, traditional coffee brewing stands, you name it.
Tip: don’t buy your coffee here. Britt coffee was selling for $18 USD/lb here but $11 USD/lb at the airport.
I kept up my wandering and discovered Plaza de la Cultura, which was on a pedestrian shopping area of Avenue Central. It was full of people at 5pm and I had a lovely wander around the area and then hung out in the plaza for awhile just people watching. It seemed to be a popular hangout spot. I joined the locals until sunset and then headed back to Selina.
All in all I think I had a pretty full afternoon in San Jose. And I discovered that I was a bit wrong around the place. I’d actually like to come back for a day or two and see what else there is to discover.