San José

San Jose, called Chepe by locals, is Costa Rica’s hub. It is not only the capital, but the economic and cultural center as well. Nearly one third of the country’s population lives in or near San Jose, and even more in nearby cities. Many visitors use San Jose as a gateway to the country’s natural wonders, since the urban area is only a short drive from the geological and biological attractions that draw many visitors to Costa Rica. The unique ecosystems of the mountaintop cloud forests are only a day trip away. So is Irazu Volcano National Park, with its eerie moonscape extending above the cloud cover. Manuel Antonio National Park with its gorgeous beaches and its four species of monkeys is only about eighty miles from the capital.

City View of San Jose Costa RicaBefore Europeans came to the Americas two great empires dominated the hemisphere. The intersection of the cultural influence of Aztecs and Incas lay in what is now the nation of Costa Rica, just north of the Isthmus of Panama. The country remains urbane and cosmopolitan even today. Costa Rica is the oldest democracy in the region. It abolished its standing army in the middle of the twentieth century and today hosts the headquarters of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The capital, San Jose, hosts a large expatriate community, and short term tourists flock to the city for its natural beauty, cultural opportunities and delightful entertainment.
Possibly the most distinctive attraction in San Jose is the Museum of Precolumbian Gold located in an underground structure beneath the Plaza de la Cultura. For a more modern take on precious metals, visit the Coin Museum in the same building. The most extensive collection of American jade in the world is housed in the Jade Museum. History buffs will be fascinated by the National Museum, and art lovers will appreciate the Museum of Costa Rican Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art. For a more unusual but equally fascinating display, check out the Museum of Criminology.

After the indoor attractions many visitors choose to enjoy Parque la Sabana, a reclaimed airport with trails, an artificial lake and an assortment of playing fields. Others seek out the shopping venues of Barrio Amon or the Avenida Central. Many of San Jose’s best restaurants are conveniently located in these same neighborhoods. After dark locals and visitors alike enjoy the El Pueblo entertainment complex or the dance floors of Los Yoses or San Pedro.

Costa Rica is located deep in the tropics, less than ten degrees of latitude from the equator, but San Jose’s 1000 meter elevation and the prevalence of mountain breezes means its temperature is mild enough to enjoy the whole year round, although from May until November the Costa Rica weather is quite rainy. At any time of year a few days spent in Chepe make a great vacation and a priceless introduction to the real Costa Rica.

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