San Jose…is There Anything Pura Vida About It?
San Jose, Costa Rica
So you’ve heard all the nasty rumors about San Jose before you get there, unfortunately most of them are probably true. I won’t lie. The air quality is horrible as you’re constantly breathing in exhaust fumes. Piles of trash line the sidewalks like they could be waiting for a bus. And if that’s not aesthetically pleasing enough, all the buildings, houses, and apartments are sealed off behind bars and gates displaying this new, modern, ever so popular jail cell motif. You know what they say…mi carcel, tu carcel. Sometimes the scene in San Jose is not much easier to stomach than a shot of Guaro, but for every dark cloud there’s always a silver lining…cierto?
Ok, perhaps I’m getting a little carried away. But still, if you only have a week or so to travel around Costa Rica you shouldn’t spend anymore time in San Jose than humanly possible. There’s just too much to see. But if you’re like me and have to live in or around the city or are just backpacking and staying there solely for the convenience of travel, there are certainly ways to enjoy yourself.
Of course the city is home to museums and cathedrals but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about fun stuff. Let’s talk about some of the bars in San Jose. You like to dance? You like to drink? You like to party? There’s plenty of that going on. Now of course I don’t want to reiterate too much of whatever the guide books say and talk about El Pueblo or Calle Armagura. If you’re looking for relentless bar hopping, boozing, and non-stop reggeaton those are the two places for you. But there are other options.
One of the kicks that I got on in San Jose was smoking flavored tobacco out of a hookah, or narguile in Spanish. Two great places to go for that are Lubnan, east of the hospital on Paseo Colon, and Van Gogh, which is across from Plaza Rohmoser in Pavas. The first is more of an Indian restaurant type setup while the latter is your typical bar. If you’re looking for a place for after work drinks, Pollo Cervecero in Pavas pulls in a great crowd and has damn good appetizers with reasonable drink prices. For a great mix of dancing I would suggest Castros in Barrio Mexico. The place gets packed out but throw in a bit of everything with salsa, marenge, cumbia, and reggeaton. Azucar! Once Monday rolls around there’s no doubt about it, head over to Cuartel de la Boca del Monte in Los Yoses. The place has monopolized the Monday night party scene. Check it out for yourself. If you’re a diehard sports fan like me and can’t get the game you’re looking for on regular TV head over to Mac’s American, which is real close to the Contraloria and directly across the street from Parque La Sabana. One interesting common bond shared by all these places is that you’ll find less gringos here than you will in any of the tourist spots throughout the rest of the county. So consider it a cultural activity.
So what about some kind of recreational activity? If you want to be outside and try to get as far removed from the city without ever really leaving there’s only one place to go. Parque La Sabana is huge park that spans the equivalent of about 10 blocks. You can’t miss it since it’s just about the only place you’ll find massive eucalyptus trees towering alongside the skyline. There’s several fields to play football, a couple basketball courts, and pathways to walk or ride a bike on. The park is a good place to go and relax, read a book, or do some writing.
Any other suggestions? Well, if you have time and can work it into your schedule go check out a football game. There are matches all throughout the dry season and definitely go to a partido nacional if possible. They are much more lively and energetic as all the ticos seem to get riled up for these games. Que chiva!
So the lesson to be learned from all this is that if you’re in San Jose…get out. Just kidding. Make the best of it as there is much to see and do which the city does not often get recognized for. When I think about it there are some things that I really like about the city. My favorite being that it’s centrally located so getting the hell out of town when you’ve just about had enough is never a problem…por dicha!