San Jose

San Jose, founded in 1737, is the center of government, theater, and art, as well as air pollution and congestion. This capital city has beautiful parks and museums, along with a few beggars on the streets. It is big and often noisy, but even from its crowded downtown streets, you can manage a view of surrounding mountains, green against the sky. It is a friendly, interesting city. Increased theft, however, is a reality be alert.

With all the traffic, it's hard to realize that the era of the automobile began here only in the 1950s. It is not uncommon to see carts scattered among the cars even now, though they are generally pulled by people rather than oxen as in the countryside. Walk along Avenida 1 to the area around the Central Market, Calles 6/8, or Borbon Market, Avenida 3, Calles 8/10, in the early morning to see carts being loaded and unloaded.

In recent years San Jose has paid attention to its parks, and it shows. Morazan and Espana parks start at Calle 5 near Avenida 3, a place to join ticos eating their sack lunches and watching schoolchildren play. Do a little bird-watching even here: blue-gray tanagers, a few parrots, and a woodpecker or two. The elaborate bandstand in Morazin reverberates with music on special occasions. The metallic school building you see nearby was built in the 1890s; the plates were designed by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame and shipped from Belgium by boat to be assembled here. The National Park farther down Avenida 3 at Calle 15, is another good place to escape crowds; and the park in front of the Metropolitan Cathedral, Avenida 2/Calle 2, has had a facelift. San Jose moderate temperature makes sitting outside and seeing the sights pleasant: average high is 77'F (24.9'C); low, 61-F (16.3-C).

Because of the country's small size and San Jose central location, a traveler can use it as a base to touch many parts of Costa Rica in one-day excursions. National parklands with easy access are Irazu and Poas Volcanoes, Tapanti, and Braulio Carrillo. Package tours by air bring Tortuguero and Barra de Colorado National Parks into the picture. Guayabo National Monument, the only archaeological park, is also a good road trip. A cruise in the Gulf of Nicoya or a tour to Carara Biological Reserve takes you to the Pacific. Exploring the historical and biological treasures of the Central Valley is possible with tours to the Orosi Valley, Lankester Botanical Garden (for orchids), the colonial capital of Cartago with its religious shrine, and the handcraft city of Sarchi. One-day tours take you rafting or kayaking on the country's waterways and hiking on Barva Volcano.

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