San José is the lively, modern capital of Costa Rica, and although many bland malls and chain restaurants now cover the city, the city still celebrates its rich and diverse history, with some beautiful examples of restored colonial buildings, colourful street markets, impromptu Latin dance performances and some well maintained and interesting museums.
Like many South American countries Costa Rica has suffered from unstable political base over the years, which has led to violence and upheaval. San José attracts many people seeking an escape from the poverty and unrest of the more rural areas, but this in turn has lead to increased problems with poverty and crime in the city itself, giving it a bad reputation that has put travelers off in the past. However Costa Rica has now enjoyed nearly 60 years of continuous democracy, and has so far managed to avoid most of the relentless violence and upheaval that many of its neighboring South American countries have experience in the last few decades. In recent years city officials have worked hard to improve San José as a tourist destination, with updated transport infrastructures, entertainment areas, and well-funded museums and art galleries:
* Teatro Nacional – this remarkable architectural treasure was built in 1897, and is San José’s most prominent performance venue, hosting traditional dancing, concerts, operas and plays.
* Multicines San Pedro – this large cinema shows a range of international films (dubbed in Spanish or with subtitles), and is situated in the large and busy Mall San Pedro.
* Museo Nacional de Costa Rica – this excellent National Museum has a number of interesting exhibits, including ancient archaeological artifacts from Costa Rica’s rich history, and wonderful displays showing off Costa Rica’s’ beautiful natural surroundings.
* Museo de Jade – the Jade Museum is one of San José’s most popular attractions and has a number of amazing jade artifacts that date back to the Pre-Colonial period.
Costa Rica is known for its cheerful, party mad inhabitants, and you will not have to look hard to have a good time in San José. Lively bars and cafes are dotted all over the place, but some of the best areas to go for a fantastic night out include the Los Yoses and San Pedro, which are in the university districts. There are several top nightclubs in the city including the loud and brash Centro Comercial, and if you like dancing to modern Latin American beats then Club Twister is the perfect spot for you. Most of the nightclubs and popular bars stay open well through the night, and many also serve food up until around 11pm. The live music culture in San José is thriving, and you can hear some excellent jazz, salsa and blues in various bars and clubs in the Los Yoses and San Pedro areas. There are also several large casinos throughout the city.
Shopping is a vibrant experience in a traditional Latin American market, and be prepared to shout over the noise of everyone doing business at the top of their voices. There are lots of American style bland malls that you can get the basics such as toiletries and linens, but Mercado Central (Central Market) is a more traditional Latin America market, with fantastic local produce on offer from seafood through to fresh high quality coffee. You can also get plenty of traditional souvenirs here, including hand woven cloths and jewellery. If you are particularly interested in getting some Costa Rican artwork and handicrafts then you should try Galería Namu in the downtown areas, which is famous for its authentic crafts and more modern pieces of artwork from up and coming Costa Rican artists. Most of the shops and markets are generally open from around 09:30 – 20:00, and this will include the traditional one to two hour closing time for lunch.
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