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San José Cruises

San José, Costa Rica

About San José, Costa Rica

Rich in graceful architecture, enriching museums and town plazas dotted with green, San José is Costa Rica’s cosmopolitan capital, nestled in the country’s Central Valley amid lush and towering peaks. This colonial-flavored capital was built by coffee barons whose wealth allowed them to hire Europe’s finest architects and artisans. The result of their labor is a picturesque cityscape of plazas and handsome buildings amidst green outdoor parks.

One of Latin America’s youngest capitals, San José’s city government was only formed in 1812. But it was founded long before, in 1738, when the Spanish colonial council of the day wanted to concentrate the population of the Aserrí Valley in one place. They did so by building a small chapel and later, supporting the construction of a tobacco factory. By the turn of the 20th century, the French coffee entrepreneur Monsieur Amon established one of the city’s first districts, lining it with glorious Belle Époque architecture, including the grand National Theater. The latter remains a celebrated centerpiece of the city’s rich culture.

Puerto Limón is the Caribbean gateway to this spectacular cultural center.

San José Lifestyle and Culture

The local Ticos, as Costa Ricans are known, embrace a spirit of pura vida. This relaxed attitude toward daily living literally translates into “pure life,” a sentiment used in both greetings and farewells. Pura vida has come to convey a carefree approach to all things and is typically used to express thanks or appreciation.

Indeed, Ticos have much to be thankful for. Celebrated as one of the world’s most picturesque countries, Costa Rica is home to an astonishing diversity of landscapes and climate zones. About five percent of the world’s species of flora and fauna thrive in this tiny country and locals vigorously protect them by preserving much of their land against development. Few countries are so intimately connected to the natural world, and you’ll witness that deep respect and love for the outdoors wherever you go.

So dedicated are Costa Ricans to peace, tranquility and a positive lifestyle that the country has no standing army. About 96% of the population is literate. Spanish is the primary language throughout the nation, yet locals passionately embrace the traditions of its Mayan and Afro-Caribbean heritage.

San José Sights and Landmarks

Locals call their capital city “Chepe,” a nickname for “Jose.” Resting in a vast valley ringed by mountains, it is the nation’s cultural and economic center. The neo-baroque National Theater, one of the city’s many theaters inspired by the great European concert halls, is the finest historic structure in San José. Costa Rica’s history is chronicled in the National Museum, housed in an ochre-colored former fortress with crenellated walls. The massive stone sphere in its courtyard, carved by the indigenous Diquis culture, is central to the nation’s identity. For outdoor lovers, La Sabana Park makes for delightful strolls along green pathways.

In a country so rich in untouched wilderness, San José is home to a tiny fraction of Costa Rican wonders. Along the Caribbean coast, Tortuguero National Park offers a glimpse of the natural world. Comprising 14 miles of tropical shores laced with a maze of rainforest canals and inlets, Tortuguero is best explored by boat. Caimans, otters and monkeys are typical sightings here as you drift among palm forests and swamps.

San José Entertainment and Activities

Even in the capital city, Costa Ricans enjoy the beauty of the natural world. Half a dozen green parks attract locals and visitors. La Sabana Metropolitan Park is the largest and often called the “Lungs of San José.” Within its grounds, an artificial lake invites shore-side strolls and the Costa Rican Art Museum welcomes art lovers. The Japanese-style Okayama Park features artfully planned ornamental ponds, gardens and architecture. To sample Costa Rica’s rich cultural offerings, stop by one of the city’s several museums, perhaps the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, the Museum of Costa Rican Art or the Museum of Pre-Columbian Gold.

If you prefer to stay in port, the city of Puerto Limón is rich in Afro-Caribbean culture, setting it apart from the rest of Costa Rica. Perhaps you’ll stroll with the locals in the seaside Parque Vargas in the east end. Or browse the main market in the town center, brimming with wood carvings and other souvenirs. Take a break from your exploration to sample local cashew nuts and cashew wine.

San José Restaurants and Shopping

The national dish of Costa Rica is gallo pinto, a mixture of fried rice and black beans. You’ll find it served everywhere, but for an authentic experience with locals, drop by a soda, a small restaurant specializing in traditional food. You may also see casado on the menu, a dish of rice, beans and meat.

For Costa Rican cuisine with Caribbean flair, seek out Maxi’s By Ricky, whose traditional gallo pinto has locals raving. Restaurante Grano de Oro is another city favorite, serving creative fusion plates and a substantial wine list in a flower-filled setting. You can sample a greater variety of Central American dishes at Alma de Amón, where recipes hail from Costa Rica, Brazil and beyond.

For Costa Rican cuisine with Caribbean flair, seek out Maxi’s By Ricky, whose traditional gallo pinto has locals raving. Restaurante Grano de Oro is another city favorite, serving creative fusion plates and a substantial wine list in a flower-filled setting. You can sample a greater variety of Central American dishes at Alma de Amón, where recipes hail from Costa Rica, Brazil and beyond.