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Central Valley - San José

Teatro Nacional - San Jose - Costa Rica

San Jose is located in the central valley,  the country's main business and cultural districts are here, as well as most of the population; this is the main stopover destination for travelers exploring the coasts and mountain ranges of this beautiful country. San Jose is also headquarters for all government  institutions, and guardians of the country's most precious monuments and landmarks.

San Jose has fantastic historical sites, easily accessible by foot or using one of the countries public transportation systems. It's here where old-world meets digital-age, many aged houses and buildings made by the first "ticos" (Costa Ricans) are still up, right next to all the new constructions.  Traditional markets and artisans operate besides computer cafes and micro-breweries  all around the central valley.

San José is divided into north to south by the Central street (ca. or st. is short for street), east and west by Avenida (avenue or av.) Central, which becomes Paseo Colon west of the San Juan de Dios Hospital. Streets west of Valle Central are even-numbered, those to the east end are odd. In the same way,  avenues lying south of Avenida Central are even-numbered, those to the north end are odd. This system makes for an orderly grid pattern that comes in handy, considering that few of the streets and avenues have signs, and no one relies on numbered addresses. Costa Ricans, as you will see, use reference points such as churches, schools and bars, it's possible to hear people say "...from the old this and that building..." (which may now not even exist). Downtown district is surrounded by residential and commercial districts, or barrios, each with its own name and ambience, but the main divisions are  Pavas/Rohrmoser & La Sabana (central), Escazu & Santa Ana (west), and San Pedro & Curridabat (east)

Walking Tour

Museo Nacional - San Jose - Costa RicaThe following description takes adventurers through the city's main landmarks and historical monuments, as well as provides a sight-seen experience for those interested in learning more about this beautiful, pacific country.

Start at the National Museum. Currently housing pre-Columbian art, including pottery and gold work, the structure was once the Bellavista Fortress. Bullet holes still mar the turrets from battles leading up to the successful 1948 revolution, after which the national armed forces where dissolved by its leader, legendary three-time President Jose "Pepe" Figueres. A statue honoring don Pepe was unveiled last year behind the museum overlooking the Plaza de la Democracia. This mufti-level plaza was built in 1989 to receive the presidents who participated in a hemispheric summit hosted by then President Oscar Arias. This soft-spoken, brilliant president received the Nobel Peace Price the following year for his Central American peace plan, which lead to the end of armed regional conflicts.

From the museum entrance, mosey two blocks north to the Parque Nacional past  the Legislative Assembly buildings and adjacent Castillo Azul (Blue Castle), where Congress convenes and try to resolve the countries problems. North of this shady National Park is the Atlantic Railroad Station. A small museum tracing the railroad's history. Just outside the station, a bust of Tomas Guardia, who started the railroad project, stands alongside a small-scale obelisk commemorating the abolition of capital punishment. In the heart of the park, the Monumento Nacional displays five striking Amazon representing the five Central American publics as they expel invading U.S. filibuster William Walker from their land. The statue the work of an apprentice of France's Rodin Studio, of U.S. Statue of Liberty fame.

Museo del Jade - San Jose - Costa RicaA westward route along the park's northernmost boundary leads past the curious-looking National Library to the old Liquor Factory, newly transformed into National Cultural Center (CENAC), a performing arts complex that combines Ministry of Culture office. Go inside for a stroll. The old factory, one of the oldest buildings in the city, it was closed after lightning destroyed the distillery. Farmers drove their oxcarts piled high with sugar cane to the distillery, then headed to Parque Morazan, across from where today's  Aurola Holiday Inn is located. The park, twice redesigned, was originally an open-air waters reservoir used by the distillery.

The park's namesake, Central American hero Francisco Morazan, was an apostle of regional unity. He overthrew President Braulio Carrillo in 1842, and planner to force other countries into unity. But Costa Ricans rebelled and overthrew him six months later, shooting him in cold blood in Parque Central - three blocks west and three south of Morazan Park.

España park, adjacent to the CENAC, is smaller and more charming. Winding paths paved in brick lead past a bust of U.S. steel baron Andrew Carnegie, who financed construction of the Casa Amarilla, or Foreign Ministry, just across the street. The Mediterranean-style building was built to house the Central Pan-American Court of Justice, a regional United Nations that disbanded after several years. Out front, an enormous Ceiba tree was planted by U.S. President John  Kennedy during his trip here in 1963, when he founded the Alliance for Progress. The Casa Amarilla also houses a piece of the Berlin's Wall. 

Museo del Oro - San Jose - Costa RicaJust west of the Parque España, the Edificio Metalico (metal building) was one of the country's first schools. Built in Brussels and imported through France, the prefabricated all-metal structure is still a public elementary school today. Just behind the school, the National Insurance Institute (INS) building features "The Family," one of two sculptures in the city by renowned Costa Rican artist Francisco Zuniga, who died in his adopted country Mexico. The impressive Jade Museum is on the top floor of the INS building.

Now head east a few blocks to the Mexican Embassy (Av. 7b, Ca 9). Not just an esthetically pleasing structure, it is the official site of the armistice of the 1948 revolution. That will lead you into Barrios Otoya and Amon, San Jose's historic districts, where the oldest homes are seeing the most sensitive renovations around town.

Other things to do

The recently revamped Plaza de la Cultura (Av. Cntrl-2, Ca. 1-5) is a great meeting place. The large open courtyard features fountains, public telephones and benches. Most of Costa Ricas street performers convene here and entertain audiences every day. Just off the Plaza, the famed Teatro Nacional  is a must-see. Centro Comercial El Pueblo in northern Barrio Tournon offers discos Infinito , Cocoloco , La Plaza  and many eclectic shops and eateries. Risas, is two stories with an oversized dance floor downstairs. El Imam, (Av. 2, Ca. 2) recently expanded with large dance floor.

Parque National de Diversiones (National Amusement Park and the benefactor of the National Childrens Hospital) is a modern amusement park with a lake and innovative "Pueblo Antiguo" exhibit, which transports visitors into the Costa Rica of yesterday, it's near the  Mexico Hospital, just outside of la Uruca. 

To play sports, take a stroll, picnic, exercise or fly kites, try La Sabana Park, in west San Jose and Parque de la Paz on the southeast side of the city. 

Serpentario, a low-cost "snake and lizard zoo" fascinates in a creepy crawly way. Roller-skate the afternoon away at Patines La Sabana  or  Patines Music  in San Pedro. Both  have a especial schedule a for parents and kids. 

Simon Bolivar Zoo, in San Jose , has exotic birds, monkeys, tigers, jaguars, reptiles, and two new African lions that the kids will love. Shopping malls and stores are all over the San Jose metro area, and most  have movie theaters with films in English, food court and video games.

 
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