Things to see in San Jose

Tourist offices

Instituto Costarricense de Turismo (ICT)

Plaza de la Cultura, San Jose, Costa Rica
Tel: 223 1733.
Opening Hours:

Mon-Sat 0900-1700.


www.visitcostarica.com

Barrio Amón

Heavily damaged in the 1888 fire that destroyed much of San José, the historic neighbourhood of Barrio Amón was rebuilt during the wealthiest and most architecturally creative decades of the coffee boom. Today, the old mansions display an ornate mix of neo-colonial, art deco, federalist, Porfiriano, and other era architectural styles. Many of the buildings are quite well maintained, and several have been remodelled into hotels, restaurants, and cafes. The neighbourhood is quite nice during the day, attracting businesspeople and bohemian types, but gets a bit sketchy after dark – stay alert.

Opening Times: Daily.
Admission Fees: No.
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: Barrio Amón, Bordered by Avenida 13, Avenida 7, Calle 9, and Calle Central, San Jose, Costa Rica
Catedral Metropolitana

San José, an impoverished agrarian village during the height of the Spanish colonial period, lacks the grandiose Catholic churches boasted by other Latin American capitals. It’s still worth stopping by the simple but harmonious 1871 Metropolitan Cathedral, overlooking San José’s original Central Park. The façade is pretty enough, but step inside – the Moorish tiles, fine stained glass, and ornamentation all seem to echo the rainforest. A sculpture in the gardens commemorates Pope John Paul II’s visit.

Opening Times: Daily.
Admission Fees: No.
Disabled Access: Yes
Unesco: No
Address: Avenidas 4 and 2 and Calles Central and 1, San Jose, Costa Rica
Telephone: 2221 3820.
INBioParque

INBioParque is located just outside San José in the high-tech suburb of Heredia – a 20 minute, US$20 cab ride from downtown (they can arrange transport). The project protects a small swathe of recovering rainforest, dedicated to the study of ecosystem management and alternative technologies. A guided tour on mostly paved pathways takes in extravagant foliage from Costa Rica’s many different biomes: tropical rainforest, wetlands, savannah, and more. There’s also a model organic farm and a butterfly garden. It’s not cheap, but it’s a piece of pretty and rural Costa Rica.

Opening Times: Tues-Fri 0830-1400, Sat-Sun 0900-1530.
Admission Fees: Yes.
Disabled Access: Yes
Unesco: No
Address: Santo Domingo de Heredia, 400m norte y 250m oeste de la Estación de Servicio Shell, San Jose, Costa Rica
Telephone: 2507 8107.
Museo de Arte Costarricense (Museum of Costa Rican Art) and and Parque La Sabana

San José’s largest greenspace, Parque La Sabana, anchors the bustling west end of the city. Originally, however, this shady expanse of football fields, small lakes, gardens, and even a canopy tour, was once the international airport. The gorgeous, mission revival-style Museum of Costa Rican Art was once the airport terminal. The museum reopened in 2010 after a lengthy restoration, and was exhibiting its exceptional collection of paintings and sculptures for free; this might change. Also in the park, the Museo de Ciencias Naturales LaSalle (LaSalle Museum of Natural History) has kid-friendly displays about Costa Rican wildlife and ecosystems ecology.

Opening Times: Tues-Fri 0900-1600; Sat-Sun 1000-1530.
Admission Fees: No.
Disabled Access: Yes
Unesco: No
Address: Parque La Sabana, contiguo a la estatua de León Cortés, San Jose, Costa Rica
Telephone: 2256 1281.
Museo de Jade (Jade Museum)

Arguably the most important collection in Costa Rica, the Jade Museum displays some of more than 8,000 pieces dating back to around 500BC. Unfortunately, the museum doesn’t really do justice to the exquisite pieces, thanks to rather unimpressive displays and poor signage. Worse, they recently relocated the museum, once on the 11th floor of the INS building, with fantastic views, to the ground floor. Regardless, it’s worth visiting to see Central America’s largest collection of jade, most of it originally imported from Guatemala by Costa Rica’s original residents. Other artefacts – ceramics, shells, fabrics, and more – are also on display.

Opening Times: Mon-Fri 0830-1530, Sat 0900-1300.
Admission Fees: Yes.
Disabled Access: Yes
Unesco: No
Address: Edificio INS, Avenida 7 between Calles 9 and 11, 11th floor, Costa Rica
Telephone: 2287 6034.
Museo de los Niños (Children’s Museum)

The Children’s Museum was originally built in 1906 as a military barracks, hence the medieval castle-style façade. After the 1948 civil war, the building was repurposed as a museum. Most tours at least go by the striking edifice, and it’s definitely worth a visit for families with young children. Exhibits include all sorts of activities and interactive displays designed to teach kids about history, science, music, and earthquakes.

Opening Times: Tues-Fri 0800-1630, Sat-Sun 0930-01700.
Admission Fees: Yes.
Disabled Access: Yes
Unesco: No
Address: Calle 4, al norte de la Avenida 9  , San Jose, Costa Rica
Telephone: 2258 4929.
Website: www.museocr.org
Museo del Oro Precolombino (Museum of Pre-Columbian Gold)

Beneath the Plaza de la Cultura, in downtown San José, is one of Costa Rica’s cultural treasures, the Museum of Pre-Columbian Gold. The museum, an inverted, underground pyramid, sits on the site of the former Central Bank and earlier, one of Costa Rica’s first churches. The museum dramatically displays more than 1,600 pieces, the oldest dating to the third century AD. Later pieces follow the development of Costa Rican culture through the Spanish conquest. Tours are offered in English and other languages. The Museos del Banco Central complex also has a Numismatic Museum, displaying coins from throughout Costa Rica’s history.

Opening Times: Daily 0915-1700.
Admission Fees: Yes.
Disabled Access: Yes
Unesco: No
Address: Calle 5, Avenida Central y segunda, San Jose, Costa Rica
Telephone: 2243 4202.
Museo Nacional de Costa Rica (National Museum of Costa Rica)

The rounded yellow turrets of century-old Bellavista Fortress, rising just east of downtown, are still riddled with bullet holes. They have been left there to commemorate the 1948 Civil War that rendered the former military barracks obsolete. Revolutionaries abolished the military, and gave the building to the National Museum of Costa Rica. Today, it boasts excellent archaeological exhibits, with ornate matates (stone corn grinders) and the mysterious stone spheres for which Costa Rica is famous. The Spanish Colonial period, coffee boom, and modern Costa Rica are also covered. And, yes, there is a beautiful view over the capital city.

Opening Times: Tues-Sat 0830-1630, Sun 0900-1630.
Admission Fees: Yes.
Disabled Access: Yes
Unesco: No
Address: Calle 17 between Avenidas Central and 2, San Jose, Costa Rica
Telephone: 2257 1433.
Museo Para la Paz (Museum for Peace)

The Museum for Peace, operated by the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress, was supposed to be a much grander affair, tracing the entire history of peace. Today, it has a small exhibit about two-time Costa Rican president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Oscar Arias, and you’ll need to knock on the door to see it. It’s too bad, because Costa Rica’s notably peaceful history, in a region regularly rocked by violence, is worth further study. Here, at least, you’ll learn about the 1988 Esquipulas Peace Agreement, which helped end decades of violent conflict in Central America.

Opening Times: Mon-Fri 0900-1630.
Admission Fees: No.
Disabled Access: Yes
Unesco: No
Address: Corner of Avenida 2 and Calle 13, San Jose, Costa Rica
Telephone: 223 4664.
Website: www.arias.or.cr
Parque Nacional

At the centre of San José’s political district, this shady park and its classy collection of monuments is a popular spot for businesspeople enjoying their lunch al fresco. The park, a gift from the government of Mexico celebrating independence from Spain, is centred on a huge statue depicting Costa Rica’s 1856 defeat of filibusterer William Walker. It’s close to several other sites and monuments, including the supreme court’s inexplicably Egyptian-themed plaza, Parque Morazán and the Temple of Music.

Opening Times: Daily.
Admission Fees: No.
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: Avenida 1 and Calle 17, San Jose, Costa Rica
Newsletter