San Jose Attractions
San Jose Attractions
Some of the best and most modern museums in Central America are here, with a wealth of fascinating pre-Columbian artifacts. Standouts include the remodeled Museo de Jade Marco Fidel Tristan (Jade Museum) and the centrally located Centro Nacional de Arte y Cultura (National Center of Arts and Culture), featuring yet another museum and several performing-arts spaces. There are also several great things to see and do just outside San Jose in the Central Valley. If you start doing day trips out of the city, you can spend quite a few days in this region.
Outside San Jose: The Juan Santamaria Historical Museum commemorates Costa Rica's national hero, who gave his life defending the country against a small army led by William Walker, a U.S. citizen who invaded Costa Rica in 1856, attempting to set up a slave state. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 5:30pm; admission is free.
Bullfighting: Las Corridas a la Tica (Costa Rican bullfighting) is a popular and frequently comic stadium event. Instead of the blood-and-gore/life-and-death confrontation of traditional bullfighting, Ticos just like to tease the bull. In a typical corrida, anywhere from 50 to 150 toreadores improvisados (literally, "improvised bullfighters") stand in the ring waiting for the bull. What follows is a slapstick scramble to safety whenever the bull heads toward a crowd of bullfighters. You can see a bullfight during the various Festejos Populares (City Fairs) around the country. The country's largest Festejos Populares are held in Zapote, a suburb east of San Jose. The corridas run all day and well into the night during Christmas week and the first week in January here. This is a purely seasonal activity and occurs in San Jose only during the Festejos. However, there are yearly festejos in nearly every little town around the country. Ask at your hotel; if your timing's right, you might be able to take in one of these.
(c) Zagat © 2013, Google.
San Jose Activities
San Jose makes an excellent base for exploring the beautiful Central Valley and the surrounding mountains.
Day Cruises: Several companies offer cruises to lovely Tortuga Island in the Gulf of Nicoya. These full-day tours generally entail an early departure for the 2 1/2-hour chartered bus ride to Puntarenas, where you board your vessel for a 1 1/2-hour cruise to Tortuga Island. Then you get several hours on the uninhabited island, where you can swim, lie on the beach, play volleyball, or try a canopy tour, followed by the return journey.
Exploring Pre-Columbian Ruins: Although Costa Rica lacks the kind of massive pre-Columbian archaeological sites found in Mexico, Guatemala, or Honduras, it does have Guayabo National Monument, a small excavated town that today is just a small collection of building foundations, cobbled streets, aqueducts, and a small plaza.
Rafting, Kayaking & River Trips: Cascading down Costa Rica's mountain ranges are dozens of tumultuous rivers, several of which have become very popular for white-water rafting and kayaking.
Canopy Tours & Aerial Trams: Getting off the ground and up into the treetops is the latest fad in Costa Rican tourism, and there are scores of such tours around the country. You have several options relatively close to San Jose. A less adventurous option is the Rain Forest Aerial Tram Caribbean, built on a private reserve bordering Braulio Carrillo National Park. The tramway takes visitors on a 90-minute ride through the treetops, where they have the chance to glimpse the complex web of life that makes these forests unique. There are also well-groomed trails through the rainforest and a restaurant on-site, so a trip here can easily take up a full day.
Volcano Tours: The 3,378m (11,080-ft.) Irazu Volcano is historically one of Costa Rica's more active volcanoes, although it's relatively quiet these days. There's a good paved road right to the rim of the crater, where a desolate expanse of gray sand nurtures few plants and the air smells of sulfur. The landscape here is often compared to that of the moon. There are magnificent views of the fertile Meseta Central and Orosi Valley as you drive up from Cartago, and if you're very lucky, you might be able to see both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Clouds usually descend by noon, so get here as early in the day as possible.
Poas Volcano is 37km (23 miles) from San Jose on narrow roads that wind through a landscape of fertile farms and dark forests. As at Irazu, there's a paved road right to the top, although you'll have to hike in about 1km (1/2 mile) to reach the crater. The volcano stands 2,640m (8,659 ft.) tall and is located within a national park, which preserves not only the volcano but also dense stands of virgin forest. Poas's crater, said to be the second-largest in the world, is more than a mile across. Geysers in the crater sometimes spew steam and muddy water 180m (590 ft.) into the air, making this the largest geyser in the world. There's an information center where you can see a slide show about the volcano, and there are well-groomed and marked hiking trails through the cloud forest that rings the crater. About 15 minutes from the parking area, along a forest trail, is an overlook onto beautiful Botos Lake, which has formed in one of the volcano's extinct craters.
Night Tours: Most Neotropical forest dwellers are nocturnal. Animal and insect calls fill the air, and the rustling on the ground all around takes on new meanings. Night tours are offered at most rain- and cloud-forest destinations throughout the country. Many use high-powered flashlights to catch glimpses of various animals. Some even have high-tech night-vision goggles. Some of the better spots for night tours are Monteverde, Tortuguero, and the Osa Peninsula. Volcano viewing in Arenal is another not-to-miss nighttime activity.
(c) Zagat © 2013, Google.