San Jose Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), San Jose

San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, was founded in 1736 by an edict from the Catholic Church of Spain. The Cabildo de Leon, as it was called, wanted to create a central area for all inhabitants of the valley. The first construction in San Jose was a small chapel that was dedicated to St. Joseph of Nazareth. This is how the city was given the name San Jose.

The city officially became the capital of Costa Rica in 1823. The city flourished with the growth of agriculture, especially coffee plantations. Much of the architecture of the city continues to bear the influence from the Costa Rican coffee age.

Today, San Jose is known for its culture, education and comfortable living environment. It is considered one of the safest cities in Central America. This has lead to an increase in population as well as an increase in tourism.

The city is home to a number of tourist spots that are popular among visitors. The Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, Metropolitan Cathedral and Municipal Craft Market are just some attractions that are well worth adding to your San Jose itinerary.

Take this self-guided walking tour to explore the beautiful city of San Jose, Costa Rica.
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San Jose Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: San Jose Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Costa Rica » San Jose (See other walking tours in San Jose)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.2 Km or 2 Miles
Author: john
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Plaza de la Cultura (Culture Square)
  • Museo del Oro Precolombino (Pre-Columbian Gold Museum)
  • Teatro Nacional (National Theater)
  • Mercado Municipal de Artesania (Municipal Market of Handcrafts)
  • Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Cathedral )
  • Central Park
  • Iglesia de la Merced (Church of Our Lady of La Merced)
  • Mercado Central (Central Market)
  • Avenida Central (Central Avenue Boulevard)
  • Museo del Jade (Jade Museum)
  • Parque Nacional (National Park)
1
Plaza de la Cultura (Culture Square)

1) Plaza de la Cultura (Culture Square)

Plaza de la Cultura, or Culture Square, is located on the Avenida Central Pedestrian Mall. North of the National Theatre of Costa Rica, Plaza de la Culture is a popular place for people watching, feeding pigeons and enjoying live entertainment.

Visitors can walk around the square or take a break beneath a shade tree or on one of the benches. There are plenty of shopping and dining options nearby as well.

Construction on the square began in 1977 using a design from architects Jorge Bertheau, Jorge Borbón and Edgar Vargas. The purpose of the square was to use the existing Central Park, which had fallen into disrepair, and turn it into a distinctive meeting space. It was completed in 1982.

Along with the Plaza de la Cultura, a museum was erected to share the history of Costa Rica's pre-Colombian days. The Museo de Oro Precolombino, or Pre-Colombian Gold Museum, was completed in 1985. It has more than 4,000 exhibit pieces. It rests beneath the Plaza de la Cultura.
2
Museo del Oro Precolombino (Pre-Columbian Gold Museum)

2) Museo del Oro Precolombino (Pre-Columbian Gold Museum) (must see)

The Pre-Columbian Gold Museum is located in a subterranean building underneath the Plaza de la Cultura and is managed by the Costa Rica Central Bank. The museum has a substantial collection of over 1600 Pre-Columbian gold artifacts dating back to 500 AD.

The collection includes Costa Rica's first coin, the Media Escudo which was minted in 1825, animal (notably frog) figurines, amulets, earrings, erotic statuettes and El Guerrero, a life-sized gold warrior figure adorned with gold ornaments in a glass case. In Costa Rican history, gold was considered a symbol of authority and the items on display are a testament to the craftsmanship of the Pre-Columbian period. There is also a replica of a pre-Columbian grave containing 88 gold objects which was unearthed on a banana plantation in southeastern Costa Rica in the 1950s.

The National Coin Museum is also located in the same building on the ground level and features displays dating back to 1236 AD, including coins, banknotes and unofficial items such as coffee tokens. You can see the first coins created Mexican Mint which were established in 1535 by Spanish viceroy Antonio de Mendoza by a decree from the Spanish Crown to create the first mint in the Americas.

The mint's silver eight-real coins and its successor coin, the silver peso, circulated widely in the Americas and Asia well into the 19th century and became the basis of the modern national currencies of many countries in these parts of the world, including the United States Dollar.

The museum is relatively small, but the items on display are very interesting and extremely informative. This museum is a must-see in San Jose.

Operating Hours: Tue-Sun: 9:15 am - 5:00 pm
3
Teatro Nacional (National Theater)

3) Teatro Nacional (National Theater) (must see)

The construction of the National Theater building started in 1891 and the first theatrical presentation took place in October of 1897, when Wolfgang von Goethe’s “Faust” debuted to the delight of the crowd there.

The glory days of the theater came during the time when coffee exports for the country were at their best. There were many good patrons of the arts, and the quality of the performers was at its best. At one point, there was also a tax on coffee dedicated to the arts. That kind of free-flowing money also shows in the design of the building which is well known for lavish furnishings and a beautiful, rich looking interior that was designed to rival the great theaters in Europe.

In the front of the theater is a statue of Calderon de la Barca and Ludwig van Beethoven, which are worth taking a moment to check out. The same statues are featured on the country's currency. The theater performs several times a week.

Tip:
If you have a ticket for a performance, ask for the free English tour included in the ticket price to learn a bit of history about the place. Otherwise you can purchase a paid tour to see the play.

Opening Hours: daily: 9am-5pm
4
Mercado Municipal de Artesania (Municipal Market of Handcrafts)

4) Mercado Municipal de Artesania (Municipal Market of Handcrafts) (must see)

Mercado Municipal de Artesania, or the Municipal Craft Market, is an outdoor market where tourists can buy souvenirs, try local food or sit down and relax. Visitors may even get to watch some of the artisans work on their crafts.

Shoppers will find brightly colored accessories, wood carvings, handcrafted jewelry and art, t-shirts, baskets, pottery and more. The already low prices are easily haggled for even more affordable findings.

There are many open-air markets in San Jose. What makes Mercado Municipal de Artesania unique is the strong focus on handcrafts. While mass-produced trinkets are also available at the Municipal Craft Market, shoppers will find more decorative items than in some of the other outdoor markets in the city.

The market has room for 88 stalls and ample space to walk while browsing. It is located south of the Parque de las Garantías Sociales. The market is open from 8 AM through 7 PM each day.
5
Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Cathedral )

5) Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Cathedral ) (must see)

The Metropolitan Cathedral of San Jose was built in 1802 and has been the seat of the Catholic people of the city since. Sadly, in the early 1800s, the location was damaged by an earthquake. In 1871, it was rebuilt into the current structure that stands today.

The new center of worship combines Greek Orthodox, Neo-Classical, and Baroque styles of architecture together in a way that honors the old and new portions of the church. The Doric style pilasters and neo-classical pediment with steeples located on the side of the building are a fine example of how that melding of architectural styles happened.

You will want to pay a visit to the inside of this church also. The finely tiled Colonial floors and stainless windows are quite lovely. Various biblical themes adorn the windows. You will also want to check out the wooden Cherubs and figure of Christ at the altar.

In 1983, the church received a special visit from Pope John Paul II. You will be able to see a marble statue of him standing guard over the garden on the building's north side. Two former archbishops, as well as a Costa Rican President are buried in the basement of the building.

Tip:
Although not technically part of the cathedral complex, a small statue of Holocaust victim Anne Frank graces the pedestrian mall on the building's south side. It was donated by the Embassy of the Netherlands.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 6am-7:30pm; Sun: 6am-9pm
6
Central Park

6) Central Park

As its name would suggest, Central Park is in the center of Costa Rica. Its location makes it a great meeting spot for visitors who wish to gather in a convenient location to see the rest of the city. It is also an excellent destination on its own.

Central Park has been a public space since 1885. Though it has been added to and revamped a few times over the years, it has long been a place for gatherings and celebrations. The Center Bandstand, added in 1944, created even more room for celebrations as well as a covered area for sheltering during an afternoon rainstorm.

It is easy to reach Central Park by foot, and then explore other parts of the city. The Metropolitan Cathedral and the Melico Salazar Theater are both within a few steps of Central Park.

Because of the park's location off of Main Street, some of the most popular tourist attractions in the city are 10 minutes or less on foot. These include both the Museo del Jade and La Casona.
7
Iglesia de la Merced (Church of Our Lady of La Merced)

7) Iglesia de la Merced (Church of Our Lady of La Merced)

The Church of Our Lady of La Merced is one of the most beautiful churches to be found in San Jose. Its construction began in June 1894 and is one of the oldest standing churches in town also. The tall rising tower of the location can be seen all over town. The overall architectural style is German and neo-Gothic architecture.

You will want to go in and see the stained glass windows, as they are some of the most beautiful in town. There is also a stunning wooden ceiling which is ornately carved. The altar area is also impressive, so take a moment to go in, if you get a chance.

The church is conveniently located next to Merced Park which a popular hangout place for the Nicaraguan people of the city.

This church has been listed as the historical-architectural heritage of Costa Rica since 1996 and is without doubt one of the most recognizable buildings in the city.

Tip:
Be aware that the adjacent park is not a good area to be in after dark.
8
Mercado Central (Central Market)

8) Mercado Central (Central Market) (must see)

The Central Market is one of the busiest places in the center of San José. The market encompasses one entire block and is a fixture of the area since it was established in 1880. You will find stall after stall of almost anything you can think of purchasing.

The isles are narrow and can become very crowded at times, but the atmosphere is still delightful. There are fresh fish, fresh flowers, and delicious freshly ground coffee to purchase along with local bread, fruits and vegetables. Add a nice beer, and you can prepare an incredible meal from local products.

If you need a great souvenir to take home, how about some coffee beans? The best advice is to buy whole beans and grind them yourself as the local grind is too fine for most coffee pots. There are also freshly prepared meals here for those who come here to taste the local dishes.

The market is open from dawn to dusk daily. Make sure to have a map of the surrounding area with you in the market, as it is very congested and it is easy to get lost while wandering and exit from a totally different spot from where you entered the marketplace.

Tip:
Give the traditional ice cream flavor a try! Otherwise, eat where you see the most locals, as they know where the best foods are.

Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 6:30am - 5:45pm
9
Avenida Central (Central Avenue Boulevard)

9) Avenida Central (Central Avenue Boulevard)

Avenida Central, often referred to in English as Central Avenue Boulevard, is a one-mile pedestrian street that sits in the middle of North and South San Jose.

The walkway is filled with tourists as well as local pedestrians making their way through the city. Along with the busy foot traffic, there are often musicians, dancers and other street performers adding to the lively nature of the boulevard.

Visitors can use Avenida Central to find some of their favorite parts of the city. They can walk to the Central Market, Plaza de la Cultura, Museo del Jade and a number of historical buildings.

Avenida Central is a good place to find local restaurants and local art. The pedestrian boulevard has bronze statues, murals and other art installments that offer excellent photo opportunities while touring the city.

Visitors can use this street as part of a walking tour or to simply find must-have items while they are in the city. Shopping centers and supermarkets are just as common as restaurants along Avenida Central.
10
Museo del Jade (Jade Museum)

10) Museo del Jade (Jade Museum) (must see)

The world's largest collection of American jade is located within the Museo del Jade. This museum was founded in 1977 by Fidel Tristan Castro.

The museum is five floors and divided into five permanent exhibits. The first exhibit is called "The Jade." It shares the jade process, routes for historic jade travel and rituals associated with American jade.

"The Day" exhibit shares information about everyday life using topics like agriculture, architecture, fishing and hunting. "The Night" provides insight into cultural and religious beliefs, burials and mythology.

"Memory" is an exhibit that uses music, technology and gender roles to provide understanding about the lives of Costa Ricans. The Collection Room is the area where patrons can see hundreds of items, from carved stone animals to intricately designed pottery.

The Museo del Jade also offers interactive exhibits specifically for the young and young at heart. Tourists are welcome to explore the museum on their own or take a guided visit of each of the rooms.

The museum is located on Avenida Central next to the National Museum of Costa Rica in the Plaza de la Democracia. It is in the Instituto Nacional de Seguros building due to the fact that the INS originally conceived the notion for the museum.

The cost is $8 for adults. Those who wish to visit Costa Rica on a budget can find free admission to the Jade Museum on Wednesdays and the first Saturday of each month. Students with appropriate ID and children under the age of 12 are always free.

Why You Should Visit
- To see the largest collection of American jade in the world
- To learn about the lives of historic Costa Ricans

Tips
The museum is open from 8 AM through 5 PM. Visitors must schedule their trip in advance by reserving a date and time on the Museo del Jade website.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-5pm
11
Parque Nacional (National Park)

11) Parque Nacional (National Park) (must see)

This is the National Park of Costa Rica, located in the downtown section of Barrio La Soledad. It is full of wonderful tropical trees and exotic plants from the country. It is also quite popular among locals, as they often come here to eat lunch, read newspapers, and watch their children play.

You will also want to check out the big bronze monument in the park. It depicts the battle of Central America against the American mercenary William Walker, who tried to invade the area in 1856. Costa Rica took on a primary role in that five-country battle, as prominently displayed in the monument erected in 1895. The monument was designed by French painter and sculptor Louis Carrier Belleuse, who studied under Rodin at one time. For people visiting from the U.S., seeing the monument and the history it displays may be quite a shock, as the country fought against Americans of the time.

Why You Should Visit:
As some of the park areas in San Jose are covered by paving slabs, this one is great to have grass. The sculptures are fun, too, and the koi pond adds further interest. The park has many different species of flora and places to sit.

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