Viva Costa Rica! A Day in San Jose

You can’t not have a photo with a city sign!

After a several-year involuntary hiatus, I’m back! Welcome to travel in my 30’s.

The National Museum of Costa Rica, set in an old fortress.

Yes, I have finally arrived in the Central American land of Costa Rica for the very first time, starting my journey in the bustling city of San Jose. I’m not exaggerating when I say I have waited so long for this moment, and therefore I’m going to do all I can to embrace the entire experience.

A glimpse of the real San Jose, away from the more touristy centre.

San Jose (translating in English to Saint Joseph) is Costa Rica’s capital city, and by far its largest, sitting within the province of the same name. Founded in 1736, it was originally intended to concentrate the scattered inhabitants of the Aserri Valley, and didn’t even develop its own city government until 1812. Today though, the city is sprawling and vibrant and so full of life.

My First Night in Paradise

The unassuming entrance to Hotel Casa 69.

After landing on Thursday, my main priorities were getting something to eat and finding my accommodation – a small yet beautiful 1930s-inspired B&B called Casa 69. I’d met some other girls who will be on my next Contiki trip here at Gatwick, so we met up again this end and shared a taxi into town. Casa 69 is so unassuming that at night I might have missed it on my own. But that doesn’t detract from its beauty.

Hotel Casa 69.
Hotel Casa 69.

Entering the hotel for the first time is literally like stepping into someone’s private kitchen-diner, adorned with colourful paintings and other vibrant decorations. Stepping through to the rooms, you enter a Leafy courtyard with a gorgeous water feature, before ascending a series of steps to various levels of uniquely decorated rooms. As stunning as the hotel is to look at, the majority of my praise has to go to the owner and host, who made me feel instantly like one of the family and offered all kinds of information, recommendations and friendly chat.

A rasperry beer in an Irish pub (not actually too bad for a non-beer drinker).

Though I was given directions to a couple of nearby places where I could get a much-needed meal following my 10+ hour flight, in the end dinner was a simple affair, a gourmet feast provided by the one and only Colonel Sanders (Please don’t judge me! Chicken and mashed potato hit the spot juuusssttt right.) Those who know me have probably also gathered by now that I also struggle to resist the siren call of the Irish Pub – so that’s where I ended up next for a well-earned post-travel drink. Bizarrely, there was nothing on the menu here except for beer, so I opted for single fruity rasperry-flavoured one, before letting myself back into my room and crashing out in an instant.

Yesterday was when I would really get stuck into Costa Rican living anyway – a full day to explore its capital before setting off on a tour traversing even more of this magnificently green country.

Spirogyra Butterfly Garden

Thanks to the time difference and my resulting 9pm bedtime, I woke this morning nice and refreshed and blissfully content, the sun streaming in through the window, promising a great day ahead.

The entrance to Spirogyra Butterfly Garden.

Following a delicious continental breakfast at the hotel, my earlyish start first took me on a 30 minute adventure through winding streets in search of a local butterfly garden. Now, the streets of San Jose are, shall we say… unpredictable. Parts of the city are perfectly paved, whilst others suffer from broken paving, ankle-risking drops and uneven surfacing. I mean, it doesn’t get much more urban than this.

A close-up of a butterfly.
A close-up of a butterfly.
A close-up of a butterfly.

But, back to the attraction at hand. Spirogyra Butterfly Garden is rather small and inconspicuous, but the concentration of various species of these colourful insects fluttering around you is spellbinding nonetheless. My first glimpse of Costa Rican wildlife without even having to leave the city, and I loved it! Included in the ticket price was even an extra bonus they called Contemplation Walk, a patch of urban jungle that really makes you forget you’re actually in a city. The only contemplating I really got to do was wondering how I got so lost though, and how I’d make it up some uneven steps and slightly dicey walkways!

I would definitely say all of this was more than worth the $6.00 entry fee for sure.

Central Market

No visit to San Jose can really be considered complete without stepping foot in the Central Market, a dizzying array of stalls selling everything from sweet treats to clothing. Therefore, I couldn’t really not add this as a stop. Upon arriving at my next hotel where I would meet my tour group, I did just that. Someone on the tour was checking in just ahead of me, and so we decided to head over to the market together.

The entrance to Central Market.

You can find anything and everything on the Central Market, and it’s much cleaner and brighter than the others that surround it. Clothes, souvenirs, food… you need it, it’s here, somewhere within a sprawling labyrinth of narrow passageways between various stalls and eateries. Here, we met up with a couple of other girls who too are on my tour, and more people just meant more of a buzz about what might be to come.

The Next Chapter

Graffiti in San Jose, a common theme around all areas of the city.

I feel as though I didn’t see or experience as much of San Jose as I’d planned, but I don’t regret that. I still saw some nice things, got to know lots of great people, and had the opportunity to try and catch up on some missed sleep! Next stop today is La Fortuna, so I’ll see you there.

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