A note from the executive editor: Costa Rica Travel Blog has chosen to feature the following article for its well-rounded approach to touring San Jose (and surrounding areas) with a day or two to spare in the capital city, and for drawing the conclusion: “if something looks interesting…STOP and take a look around. You will never be disappointed at the wonders you will find.” Thanks to Michael for submitting his personal account to us. We hope other travellers will be able to experience for themselves much of the same that you were able to experience, and ultimately, travel appreciatively with the same mentality you took away from your trip. Pura vida!
Featured Author: Michael DeWitt (visit the Transcend Life Blog)
Where do I begin? I apologize upfront for the extended length of this post. San José (and it’s surrounding areas) was an interesting experience and there is much to share.
Departure for San José
The trip began Thursday at about 11:00 am (local time). This is an hour later than originally planned. We were running late…aptly referred to as “tico time”. The main road leading to San José was plagued with construction and other potential delays. Alternate route recommended. Heeding the advice, we headed south. I had my good friend Stefy and her father, Jose, along for the ride. An adventure that includes good friends is always better.
We decided that food and drink (non-alcoholic unfortunately) was badly needed. Luckily there was a restaurant (of sorts) about every 10 kilometers along the route. So we stopped and enjoyed a cafeteria style lunch and shared many laughs. Mostly around my attempt to poorly translate otherwise mundane topics. ‘A’ for effort Mike. Back on the road.
It did not take long for our ‘alternate route’ to begin taking FAR longer than originally intended. We met an onslaught of heavy rain, chaotic car accidents, and unplanned road construction. Thrilled. What should have been a 4 hour drive…turned into a 6 hour roller-coaster. This also included many drivers who must have learned how to drive by playing a Grand Theft Auto video game.
Arrival at San José
Upon arrival in San José, I dropped off my travel buddies and picked up one of my new Costa Rican brothers, Gerald, who agreed to show me the city. First I needed a hotel. Following my father’s recommendation, I booked a room at the Isla Verde Hotel near the United States Embassy. A nice and quaint hotel. Friendly staff. Reasonable rates. No mini bar (damn). Alas, I made the best of it.
Once settled, Gerald and I agreed that drinks were of the utmost priority. We walked about three blocks from the hotel and joined some of his Tica friends at a nearby bar. I had some scotch. Shocker. We enjoyed the evening. Granted, I understood about 10% of the conversation but I am pretty sure that the jokes being shared were funny. Regardless, we all had fun. The girls went home. Gerald and I went for some late night snacks at TGI Fridays and then called it a night.
Volcano y Cartago
The next day Gerald had the superb idea to go visit Irazú Volcano National Park. Along the way my driving skills were tested. I was “forced” to speed (shh…) and gently swerve my way through San José and Cartago. It felt like I was a kid playing bumper cars at times. Alas, I remained unscathed. Once outside the city, we witnesses breathtaking emerald-green hillsides and clear blue skies. We eventually arrived, after many switchbacks, at the Volcan Irazú.
I must say that Volcan Irazú is an incredible sight. Large and deep craters. Tall mountain peaks with rolling fog. The slight smell of fresh sulfur. We learned that the last minor eruption there was only a few years ago. It peppered the sky with a few fiery rocks and boulders. No problem though…I had an umbrella on-hand just in case.
Along the way back, Gerald and I stopped at a restaurant we had noticed on the way to the volcano. It stood along the hillside and overlooked the valley. From there you could easily see both Cartago and San José. Once inside, we were inundated by thousands of business cards from all over the world. Wow. You see them pinned against the every wall, pole, and ceiling. Wherever space is available. In addition, they had paper currency (from most countries) strung by string around the room. Everything appeared to be from past international patrons. Oh…and the food was excellent.
Lastly, we stopped at the Basílica de Los Ángeles. It is a beautiful and momentous church that was breathtaking in-person. There, I picked up a rosary and Gerald bottled some holy water for him and his mother. If you enjoy rich history and sheer architectural beauty, I highly recommend a visit to the Basílica de Los Ángeles in the town of Cartago. It is worth it.
Even the best laid plans
Upon our return from Cartago, Gerald suggested a trip to Puerto Viejo de Limón. Puerto Viejo has cultural allure, stunning white-sand beaches and tropical vegetation. Only a few hours east of San José. Hmm. I supposed I can go. Beach-side lounging and unlimited piña coladas sounded excellent at the moment. He even has a friend from there that can give insight about the best spots.
Unfortunately, heavy rains caused mudslides that forced the closure of Route 32 that afternoon. Route 32 is the primary road connecting San José to Limón. Alternates routes do exist but would take far too many hours. Simply put, we had to cancel our plan. No worries…I will just have to come back. Darn.
San José (Plan B)
Every experienced traveller knows to have a plan B (or C, D, etc.). We are typically short on time and intend to make the most of every exploration regardless of weather or any other unforeseen circumstances. So I decided to venture into downtown San José as my plan B in lieu of my trip to Limón. This did not disappoint. Besides being asked continuously by sketchy characters for spare Colones (the Costa Rica national currency) the experience was great. We visited many historic and beautiful places. Including the Catedral Metropolitana, Museo Del Jade, Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica, Plaza de La Democracia, Museo Nacional de Costa Rica, Correos de Costa Rica, and Parque Morazan. So beautiful and worth the time if you are ever in Central America.
Parque Morazan deserves a special mention due to its high cultural and social ambience. We were there on a Friday and saw an incredible community of Costa Rica locals (and mesmerised visitors) converging in this huge park. There, the city provided everything from hula hoops, skateboarding ramps, slack-lines, and table tennis to a drum circle. If you felt so inclined, you could pick one of the many spare drums and join the rhythm…or hula-hoop…or whatever. All are invited.
There are many more people I met along the way and quirky stories to share. Too many in fact. I will simply state that San José was worth the visit. If you go, do not shy away from conversing with locals. Many welcome your attempt (usually pathetic) to speak spanish. While there, watch out of crazy drivers.
If something looks interesting…STOP and take a look around. You will never be disappointed at the wonders you will find.
After 3 days of some priceless San José moments, I headed back to Playa Hermosa with two close friends, Allen and his wife Stefy. The trip back was pleasant and uneventful. Sleep became the primary goal upon arrival. Thank you San José. I will be back soon.
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