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What to see in Costa Rica

San José

If you've decided to visit San José in Costa Rica, be prepared to find a city full of history, art, culture, and leisure. It may not be the most beautiful city in the world, but it is the heart of the country. A cosmopolitan city like few in South America, full of contrasts, music, and life. 

The Amón district: the first stop with history

Most of the travelers who choose San José as their destination focus on the Amón district. Partly because it still has buildings reminiscent of the city's colonial past and partly because it's one of the safest areas. 

Here you can see the historic mansions that once belonged to the owners of the coffee plantations and the Parque España is a good place to relax, especially if you come at sunset and watch the flocks of birds gathering!

The Calle de la Amargura in San José

The original Calle de la Amargura, the 'Street of Bitterness' that inspired the Spanish saying "to take someone through the Calle de la Amargura" was located on the island of San Lucas and was a kind of Green Mile. It was the last street prisoners walked along before entering a prison they would never leave again. 

In San José, however, they have turned it on its head, and the Calle de la Amargura in the capital has the liveliest nightlife you can imagine. This is an area with a large student population and is full of bars and places to go dancing. 

Visit San José in Costa Rica and enjoy the art

There's a major cultural movement in San José, both popular and academic. You can see the results of the latter in three of its museums.

Museum of Contemporary Art and Design

This was created in an old liquor factory and exhibits the work of contemporary Central American artists. The outdoor space, the Pila de Melaza, is where performances and happenings take place.

Jade Museum

This is the most famous in San José and has the largest known collection of American jade, a true rarity. Its building, with its imposing dark glass, is both disturbing and seductive. 

National Museum of Costa Rica

This is in the Bellavista Fortress and it has a huge collection of objects belonging to the pre-Columbian era, but there is also religious art and pieces from the colonial period.

Spirogyra Butterfly Garden

Most visitors come to Costa Rica for its nature, its fauna and its incredible landscapes. If you visit San José you will be able to see a small sample of all this in the Spirogyra butterfly garden. It has more than 30 species of butterflies and various types of hummingbirds. 

You'll enjoy the visit more if you go in the morning since that's when they are all fluttering around. End your walk with a coffee in the garden cafeteria, perfect for planning your next steps in the Costa Rican capital. 

The National Theatre

The theatre in San José is one of the most important buildings in Costa Rica. You'll love its neoclassical facade, presided over by the effigies of Calderon de la Barca and Beethoven. Let yourself be seduced by its luxurious foyer and admire the costumbrist-style paintings that adorn the auditorium. 

La Sabana 

La Sabana is a large park in the center of San Jose. This is the venue for many activities that bring the inhabitants of San José together. It has a large pond and it's not uncommon to see families enjoying homemade picnics. You'll find it to the west of the Paseo de Colón. 

Inside the park, in one of the few remaining colonial-style buildings in the city, there is the Costa Rican Art Museum, which has a modest but interesting collection of 19th and 20th-century works. If you have time, take a walk in the outdoor sculpture garden. The feeling of having found a little piece of Europe in the middle of America is as strange as it is intoxicating.

See San José and beyond: Tortuguero National Park

Tortuguero National Park is one of the most important destinations in Costa Rica and one of the most visited, so set aside a couple of days in your itinerary to see it. You can get there by boat from San José itself and enjoy the exuberant Costa Rican landscape. 

Once there, you will find more than 300 species of birds and, with luck, you can see turtles laying eggs or the magical moment when the hatchlings break their shells. The surroundings are of unparalleled beauty, a tropical forest dotted with lakes and vegetation rich in splendid greenery.

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