Alright, so this isn't the most flattering picture of San Jose to start off
a web page with but it nicely illustrates one of the most interesting aspects
of the city - the architecture. San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, is a city
that has clearly never found a favorite style of architecture, so they've
decided to try them all. Sometimes all in one building, like that gray thing in
the center of this picture. This is actually a view from a side window of the
hotel we stayed in while in San Jose. We arrived in Costa Rica around noon and
the center of San Jose is about a 15 minute taxi ride from the international
San Jose sits in the middle of a high valley known as the 'Meseta Central' which
occupies the center of Costa Rica. Surrounded by high mountains, a majority of
Costa Ricans live in this region. Driving into the valley at night either from
above, or below (we did both) one gets the impression that it is one huge
metropolitan area but actually it's a series of medium sized cities. Downtown
San Jose is crammed with parks, and every park seems to have a featured building
one on side of it. This is the National Theater.
Another nearby park features this building, the metropolitan cathedral. Nearby is
a lively pedestrian mall (Calle Central) which we found to be an interesting mix
of US, European, and Latin American influences. What does that mean exactly?
Mostly that any given block of stores will probably include a department store,
some novelty boutiques, at least one American fast food chain, and one of those
interesting stores that seems to sell one (and only one) of every product ever
manufactured. That's not counting the street vendors selling food, lottery tickets,
hammocks (they sell hammocks everywhere in Costa Rica) and tacky butterfly souvenirs.
Over the course of a couple evenings in San Jose we covered a decent section of the
downtown area and everywhere we went there were people. We mention this because
San Jose is not really a very high-density city in terms of towering condos and
apartment buildings, but somehow it always appeared to be bustling. The frequent
reader of these pages will have already noticed that Melanie does in fact have her
obligatory (in foreign countries) Orange Fanta. We'd also like to plug our hotel,
the Fleur de Lys which is an interesting bed and breakfast style hotel with each
room themed after a native Costa Rican flower. To be fair, we probably would've
considered the hotel a bit pricey during the tourist season (December - June), but
in the off-season all of Costa Rica is a bargain.
Another view from our hotel (the Heliconia room) of the Plaza de la Democracia.
The building lit up on the right in yellow is the National Museum. The building
is called Bellavista Fort and was formerly the army headquarters. Costa Rica
abolished their armed forces in 1949. The museum is one of the truly great bargains
in the world (that we know of). Admission was about $0.60(US) and there are
interesting exhibits on the Spanish Colonization, the indigenous tribes, banana
and coffee production and some spectacular pre-Columbian gold artwork. The towered
building behind the museum is the Costa Rican parliament.