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San José

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San José

HISTORY

Like it or loathe it, Chepe, as the capital is affectionately known by Ticos (Costa Ricans), is
the beating heart of Costa Rica. Somewhat unjustly, it receives a bad rap among visitors to
this part of the world. True, the rapid transformation from prewar agrarian coffee town to
late-20th-century urban sprawl was somewhat unkind to the city – its architecture, especially.
But it certainly isn’t the offensive monstrosity some would have you believe.
San José‘s charm is in the raw hustle and bustle of its downtown streets. Here, vendors
selling everything from handbags to hacky sacks try to out-holler the tooting horns and
spluttering bus engines that provide the harmony to the city’s soundtrack. The central
markets are beehives of energy, where old women shuffle around squeezing mangos and
inspecting fish gills. There’s diversity, too: Nicaraguans, Colombians, Panamanians and others
from around the continent have flocked to the city’s relative prosperity, making it Central
America’s most cosmopolitan capital. Yet it’s small enough to be covered on foot, and from
every part of the city you can see the towering verdant hills around it.
San José’s reputation may suffer most as a result of its surrounds: visitors come to Costa Rica
for the sloth-filled rain forests, crocodile-infested backwaters and gnarly surf breaks – none
of which are found in the unavoidable capital. But in a country that’s somewhat culturally
diluted by vast amounts of tourism, there’s nowhere better to truly get in touch with the
guts-and-gravel of Costa Rican culture. You’ll find that most Ticos agree: to truly love Costa
Rica, you must first learn to love its capital.

HIGHLIGHTS
108

Ogling shiny precious objects at the
Museo de Arte y Diseño Contemporáneo
(p84) and the Museo de Jade (p85)
Taking in the historic Barrio Amón (p86)
or kicking a ball around the extensive
greens of La Sabana (p86)
Partying all night long in Centro Comercial El Pueblo (p104) and on Calle de la
Amargura (p116)

Centro
Comercial
El Pueblo

1
3

Museo de Arte y
Diseño Contemporáneo
& Museo de Jade

La Sabana

Barrio
Amón

7

Calle de la
Amargura

Escazú

110
4

Sipping cocktails in Escazú (p122), a wellto-do San José ‘burb
39

213

POPULATION: CITY 350,000, GREATER METRO AREA OVER 1.5 MILLION

AREA: 2366 SQ KM

The future capital of Costa Rica was established in 1737 as Villanueva de la Boca del
Monte del Valle de Abra (New Village of
the Mountain’s Mouth in the Open Valley)...
SAN JOSÉ
SAN JOSÉ
lonelyplanet.com SAN JOSÉ •• History
Like it or loathe it, Chepe, as the capital is affectionately known by Ticos (Costa Ricans), is
the beating heart of Costa Rica. Somewhat unjustly, it receives a bad rap among visitors to
this part of the world. True, the rapid transformation from prewar agrarian coffee town to
late-20th-century urban sprawl was somewhat unkind to the city – its architecture, especially.
But it certainly isn’t the offensive monstrosity some would have you believe.
San José‘s charm is in the raw hustle and bustle of its downtown streets. Here, vendors
selling everything from handbags to hacky sacks try to out-holler the tooting horns and
spluttering bus engines that provide the harmony to the city’s soundtrack. The central
markets are beehives of energy, where old women shuffle around squeezing mangos and
inspecting fish gills. There’s diversity, too: Nicaraguans, Colombians, Panamanians and others
from around the continent have flocked to the city’s relative prosperity, making it Central
America’s most cosmopolitan capital. Yet it’s small enough to be covered on foot, and from
every part of the city you can see the towering verdant hills around it.
San José’s reputation may suffer most as a result of its surrounds: visitors come to Costa Rica
for the sloth-filled rain forests, crocodile-infested backwaters and gnarly surf breaks – none
of which are found in the unavoidable capital. But in a country that’s somewhat culturally
diluted by vast amounts of tourism, there’s nowhere better to truly get in touch with the
guts-and-gravel of Costa Rican culture. You’ll find that most Ticos agree: to truly love Costa
Rica, you must first learn to love its capital.
San José
HISTORY
The future capital of Costa Rica was estab-
lished in 1737 as Villanueva de la Boca del
Monte del Valle de Abra (New Village of
the Mountain’s Mouth in the Open Valley),
though the name was later changed to a more
manageable San José in honor of Joseph, the
town’s patron saint. Interestingly enough, the
founding of San José was the result of an edict
from the Catholic Church, which decreed that
the populace must settle near a place of wor-
ship (attendance was down, times were bad
and churches were cheap to build).
For much of the colonial period, San José
played second fiddle to the bigger and rela-
tively more established Cartago. Following
the surprise announcement in 1821 that
Spain had abandoned its colonial holdings
in Central America, Cartago and San José
signed a series of empty-worded accords
while secretly preparing for battle. On April
5, 1823, San José defeated Cartago at the Battle
of Ochomongo, and subsequently declared
itself capital. (This fierce rivalry is still evi-
dent on the football field when San José’s and
Cartogo’s teams clash.)
Although San José generously offered to
rotate capital status, bitterness ensued, and
on September 26, 1835, Cartago, Heredia and
Alajuela joined forces in an attempt to sack
the city. In a siege that become known as La
Guerra de la Liga (the War of the Leagues),
San José defeated its attackers and retained its
status as the capital.
Recent years have been marked by a
massive urban migration as Ticos (and
increasingly Nicaraguans, see boxed text
Nica vs Tico, p229 ) move to the capital in
search of increased economic opportunities.
Unfortunately, this has resulted in the crea-
tion of shantytowns on the outskirts of the
capital, and crime is increasingly becoming
a way of life for many poverty-stricken in-
habitants. Ticos are quick to point fingers at
the Nicaraguans (as well as the Panamanians
and Colombians) for causing the degrada-
tion of their capital, and although the extreme
poverty these groups are forced to live in is
part of the problem, the total picture is much
more complex.
ORIENTATION
The city is in the heart of a wide and fer-
tile valley called the Meseta Central (Central
Valley). San José’s center is arranged in a grid
with avenidas running east to west and calles
running north to south. Avenida Central is the
nucleus of the city center and is a pedestrian
mall between Calles 6 and 9. It becomes Paseo
Colón to the west of Calle 14.
Street addresses are given by the nearest
street intersection. Thus, the address of the
tourist office is Calle 5 between Avenidas
Central and 2. Note that the map used in
this book shows the streets and avenues.
However, most locals do not use street ad-
dresses and instead use landmarks to guide
them. Learn how to decipher Tico direc-
tions by reading the boxed text What’s That
Address?, p537 .
The center has several districts, or barrios,
which are all loosely defined. The central area
is home to innumerable businesses, shops,
bus stops and cultural sights. Perhaps the
most interesting district to visitors is Barrio
Amón, northeast of Avenida 5 and Calle 1,
with its concentration of landmark mansions,
largely converted into hotels and fine-dining
establishments. Just west of the city center
is La Sabana, named after the park, and just
north of it is the elegant suburb of Rohrmoser.
Further west again is the affluent outer suburb
of Escazú. Southeast of the downtown area
are the lively student areas of Los Yoses and
San Pedro.
Look for maps at Lehmann’s ( below ),
Librería Universal ( below ) or the tourist
center ( p82 ).
INFORMATION
Bookstores
English-language magazines, newspapers and
books are also available in the gift shops of
the international airport and several of the
top-end hotels. The following bookstores are
among the most noteworthy:
7th Street Books (Map p88 ;
%
2256 8251; Calle 7 btwn
Avs Central & 1;
h
9am-6pm) An attractive shop with
new and used books in English and other languages as well
as magazines and newspapers.
Lehmann’s (Map p88 ;
%
2223 1212; Av Central btwn
Calles 1 & 3) It has some books, magazines and newspa-
pers in English, and a selection of topographical and other
Costa Rican maps in the upstairs map department.
Librería Francesa (Map p88 ;
%
2223 7979; Av 1 btwn
Calles 5 & 7) Spanish books and magazines are available
here, and there is also a selection of French, German and
English titles.
Librería Universal (Map p88 ;
%
2222 2222; Av Central
btwn Calles Central & 1) Situated on the 2nd floor of
© Lonely Planet Publications
HIGHLIGHTS
Ogling shiny precious objects at the
Museo de Arte y Diseño Contemporáneo
( p84 ) and the Museo de Jade ( p85 )
Taking in the historic Barrio Amón ( p86 )
or kicking a ball around the extensive
greens of La Sabana ( p86 )
Partying all night long in Centro Comer-
cial El Pueblo ( p104 ) and on Calle de la
Amargura
( p116 )
Sipping cocktails in Escazú ( p122 ), a well-
to-do San José ‘burb
& Museo de Jade
Diseño Contemporáneo
Museo de Arte y
Amargura
Calle de la
Escazú
El Pueblo
Comercial
Centro
Barrio
Amón
La Sabana
108
1
3
7
110
4
213
39
POPULATION: CITY 350,000, GREATER METRO AREA OVER 1.5 MILLION AREA : 2366 SQ KM
78 79
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