San Jose walking tour

The following tour can take several hours to one day, depending on how involved you get. The route can be traced on the small map of san jose .

We will start out at the Central Post Office ( Correo Central ) on calle 2 between avenidas 1 and 3. The entrance is in the middle of the block. The stamp windows are directly in front of you as you enter. Slots for mailing letters abroad are directly to your left. Philatelists will be interested in the commemorative stamp department on the second floor. The Correo is open from 8 am - midnight M-F and 8 am -12 noon Saturdays.

Walk two blocks west on avenida 1 and you're at the Mercado Central , entering through the flower section. The market is a crowded, bustling maze of shops, restaurants, and produce stands covering the whole block between avenida central and 1 and calle 6 and 8. Although there are quite a few more sedate places to buy souvenirs, at the Central Market you can get a glimpse of the lives of everyday Costa Ricans. Everything from leather. goods to hammocks and fresh fish to mangoes is sold there. Of special interest are the stands where herbs are labeled with their medicinal uses. It's easy to get quite disoriented in the market, but try to come out at the southeast entrance on avenida central and start walking east again. If you don't like crowds, skip the market.

Between calles 6 and 4, you'll pass La Gloria , Costa Rica 's largest department store. Across from that is the huge black marble Banco de Costa Rica . You can take an elevator there to the eighth floor to get a bird's eye view of the city. Turn left at calle 4 and you'll pass a branch of Pop's, Costa Rica 's excellent chain of ice cream stores. At calle 4, avenida 1, turn right, heading for the Post Office again. You'll pass the Banco Nacional on your left. It often has art exhibits. Continuing on avenida 1, a block and a half past the Post Office, you'll pass the Libreria Universal where you can buy almost anything. They sell large-scale maps which are helpful for hiking.

Look to your left at the intersection of calle I and avenida 1. Two blocks north is Radiogrifica , where you can make long-distance phone calls, send telegrams, or send and receive faxes. LACSA airline ticket offices face Radiografica .

But you are still on avenida 1. In the next block after calle I is The Bookshop, which sells newspapers, cards and books in English. Continue east to calle 5. Turn left. You'll pass three excellent crafts stores: Atmosfera , on the comer to your right, Magia , on your right in the middle of the block, and Suraja on your left at the comer of avenida 3. All merit a browse.

Now Parque Morazin is on your right, with its music temple patterned after Le Trianon in Paris . On the northwest comer of the park is the Hotel Aurola Holiday Inn, with its mirrored panels that reflect San Jose 's changing skies. The third floor features a swimming pool and gym. One block south of the Music Temple is the popular Hotel Amstel , with its quiet bar and excellent, reasonably-priced restaurant. Across from the Amstel (a 1, c 7) is a smaller branch of the Banco de Costa Rica where you can cash traveler's checks. It's open until 6 pm weekdays. Three blocks north of the Music Temple is the entrance to Parque Bolivar , San Jose 's zoo. If you are idealistic about Costa Rica 's commitment to wildlife, you will be disappointed in the zoo, which has received widespread criticism for i inadequate facilities. Open 8-4 Tues-Fri, 9-5 weekends.

East of the Music Temple is the green Escuela MetAlica , which was bolted together from parts shipped from France

Next comes Parque Espana with its venerable and beautiful trees. Continue to avenida 7 and the tall National Insurance Institute (INS) which houses a fine exhibit of jade, ceramics and art in the Jade Museum (11th floor, open 9am-3pm , M-F).

Continuing east on avenida 7, you will pass the Casa Amarilla with its wide stairways. It houses the country's Department of Foreign Relations. This building and the park in front of itwere donated by Andrew Carnegie.

On the east side of the park is the National Liquor Factory, founded by President Juan Rafael Mora in 1856. Guided tours of the building, including generous samplings of their products, are available after 4pm during the week.

Now we're going east again on avenida 7, up a gentle hill, passing the Mexican Embassy on the north and arriving at the

intersection of avenida 7 and calle 15. Turn right towards the National Library ( Biblioteca Nacional ). On its western side is the Galeria Nacional de Arte Contemporaneo , which often has good exhibits (open 10am-lpm, 2pm-5pm , Mon-Sat). Entrance to the library is on avenida 3.

The library faces Parque Nacional . To the east of the Park are the bus stations for the scenic trip to Limon. In the center of the Park is the massive Monumento Nacional , depicting the spirits of the Central American nations driving out the despicable William Walker. The statue was made in the Rodin studios in France and shipped to Costa Rica . Across the street from the park you will see a statue of Juan Santamaria , holding aloft his torch in front of the Legislative Assembly building, the Costa Rican Congress. Inside is a small library and an exhibit recounting the momentous decisions in Costa Rica 's legal history.

Two blocks south of the Parque Nacional , on calle 17, is the Museo Nacional , housed in the former Buenavista Fortress. There are bullet holes in the turrets from the 1948 civil war. Inside are exhibits of indigenous gold and ceramics, colonial religious objects and furniture, political history and art. Open Tues-Sun, 8:30am-5pm , admission).

The western entrance to the Museum is on the Plaza de la Democracia built by the Arias Administration to receive visiting presidents during the historic Hemispheric Summit in October 1989. Return to Avenida Central, which borders the northen side of the Plaza. Heading west, you'll pass the popular Mas x Menos supermarket.

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