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Though it might seem unbelievable, there was a time when people did not want to live in San José: it was around the 18th century. At that time, a comprehensive irrigation system was built, which is why today it is a metropolitan area of about three million people that stands out for its infrastructure and its economy.
In fact, the University of Loughborough (United Kingdom) calls it a global gamma city.
Currently, San José is the sixth most important tourist destination in Latin America (in 2017 it was visited by 1,740,000 tourists, who spent 1,160 million dollars, according to the Annual Index of Global Destination Cities).
In addition, Mercer's Quality of Living Surveys studio named it the second Central American city with the best quality of life. When it comes to business, it is also the second in the region: this was the conclusion of the 2016 Urban Competitiveness Index after evaluating 50 dynamic cities in terms of economy, infrastructure, GDP and employment.
The Jade Museum (the best collection of its kind with 2,500 pieces), the Central Market (founded in 1880) and the 'sodas' (traditional restaurants) that give out a smell of gallo pinto (mix of rice with black beans, pieces of meat, ripe plantain and fried egg) in the mornings, are icons of the city.
This bar's specialty is kombucha: a fermented drink that is obtained from tea mushrooms, also known as the 'Chinese mushroom'. For this liquor and for its beer, the site proclaims itself as the house of ferment. Other drinks offered here are the ginbucha (a gin and tonic with a hop tea base and hibiscus flower petals) and a margarita mixed with lavender kombucha lemonade. On Thursdays, the night is usually sparked by live music shows.
This is the place where Isaac Montero, winner of the Best Bartender Award in Costa Rica at the Diageo World Class Competition 2018 works. Improvisation is part of the spirit of the place: customers can name a taste or an emotion and Montero will give them a drink under these specifications.
Some of the most popular drinks on the menu are the Bendita calavera (a tequila-based drink served in a ceramic skull, with light touches of pink pepper and pasilla chili, and smoked with rosemary sprigs), or the Skull fashion (a variation of the typical American whiskey that is accompanied with cocoa and blackberry syrup).
To visit Bebedero is, first of all, to enter one of the architectural landmarks of the city: it is located in the Steinvorth building, of modernist inspiration, which was built in 1907 by the Italian architect Francesco Tenca Pedrazzini.
Here you can have a classic Martini or a Negroni, or you can create your own cocktail (which can also be non-alcoholic) with the help of the local bartender.
The philosophy of the place is that classic will always be good. That's why its cocktails, more than being a show or an experimentation, seek to offer known experiences with the best possible ingredients.
Among the drinks at the bar you can find the Moscow Mule (vodka with ginger beer, lemon and mint) and the traditional Martini and Gin and Tonic. In addition to the cocktails, the place is also known for its dishes (not by accident was it born in 2016 as a clandestine restaurant) such as the meatballs in natural tomato sauce and the homemade paté with macadamia.
This brewery has been recognised several times during the America's Cups Beer competition: in 2015 it received a bronze medal for its Mascarada beer; in 2016, a silver medal for its Funky Joseph (a mixed fermentation saison), and in 2017, the gold medal for the Botánica (a saison with tamarind).
Founded in 2013, it’s 100% Costa Rican production and the products of its ferments come from national soil, mostly highlighting the use of fruits in its preparations. Another house flavor is Coffee Oatmeal, a coffee-scented drink that pays homage to one of the country's flagship products.
San José cares about conservation. The city has 1,532 ecological points distributed among parks, squares, sports complexes, forests, tacotales (uncultivated lands) and gardens, which represent 23.6% of its surface. Social initiatives such as Río Urbano and Amigos del Torres seek to preserve water sources, ecological corridors, fauna and flora. Here are some of its natural attractions.
Its name honors the brotherhood between San José and the Japanese city of Okayama. There you can find the statue of the character of an oriental legend according to which an elderly couple found a giant peach in a river. Upon rescuing it, they discovered inside a baby they called Momotaro, who grew up to be a hero accompanied by a dog, a monkey and a pheasant.
The park has 7,709 square meters: it was designed by the Costa Rican architect Mayela Fallas (inspired by the fengshui gardening precepts) and inaugurated in 2002.
This park has been a meeting point since 1873. With its 720,000 square meters, it is the largest park in the city. Its nearly 6,500 trees (between exotic species such as cypress and pine, and native trees such as fig and yellow bark) have popularized it as a green lung.
It has an artificial lake of 30,000 square meters, tennis courts, football, basketball, baseball, beach volleyball and two swimming pools. Every week, around 30,000 people visit the park, located near the Museum of Costa Rican Art.
Between 1855 and 1857, invading troops under the command of the American William Walker tried to conquer the Central American nations to overthrow their governments. In the center of this park is the National Monument of Costa Rica, a sculpture in honor of the victory over the invaders that was made in France by Louis-Robert Carrier-Belleuse and unveiled in the city in 1895. The park is part of an initiative of the municipality of the city to recover public spaces for the enjoyment of its citizens. Here you will find green paths, gardens and a pond.
This space of 70 thousand square meters was inaugurated on July 24th, 1921 on the birthday of Simón Bolívar, one of the leaders of the Latin American independence.
It is part of the association Botanic Gardens Conservation International, which aggregates around 500 botanical gardens in 99 countries. Also on this site is one of the few wetlands that survive in the city; a habitat for plant species such as bijao, paraguita and laurel, and animals such as tree frogs, turtles and herons.
The Costa Rican sky and its tropical forests are crossed by a multicolored avalanche of 1,239 species of butterflies. In the Spirogyra reserve, between trails and gardens, about 30 species of these insects fly, such as the heliconius erato, the owl butterfly and the red spotted butterfly. Due to its proximity to the Torre River, hummingbird species such as the colicolorado and small amphibians are also observed here.
In San José there are 146 buildings considered world heritage sites. Places in which milestones such as the country's independence, the emergence of the fine arts in Costa Rica and the consolidation of national telecommunications were set in motion. This route is a journey through the memory of the city.
The building that protects the art of Costa Rica could be considered, in itself, a museographic piece: it was the control tower of the first international airport in the country (which operated there from 1958 to 1977).
Opened on May 3d, 1978, the museum has the largest collection of Costa Rican art in the country: 1,700 works that trace a chronological journey through national art from the 19th century by artists such as Jorge Gallardo, Francisco Amighetti Ruíz and Olger Villegas.
This temple was in ruins for six years until 1894, when the building that exists today was planned: three naves (the main one reaches up to 15 meters), a single tower and a facade of German neo-Gothic inspiration.
Inside there are paintings by the Italian artist Adriano Arié, three stained glass windows alluding to the Virgin of Mercy and a representation of the crucifixion of Christ by the Costa Rican sculptor Manuel María Zúñiga.
Until 1880 the city's commerce was done in the street. Therefore, as part of the urban plan of San José, this place was opened to group merchants. Today the market has 200 stores offering fruits, vegetables and meats, but also handicrafts such as clay pots, bags of cabuya (rope made with the maguey fiber), jícaros (bowls that are carved in the fruits of the tree of the same name) and souvenirs that recall emblematic places of the city such as the Nuestra Señora de la Merced Church.
In this place, typical dishes like the gallo pinto (rice mixed with black beans, pieces of meat, ripe plantain and fried egg) are sold in the sodas (stalls that sell popular gastronomy). In addition, here you will find El Gran Vicio, the oldest bar in the city, founded in 1880.
This architectural piece from 1897 is one of the national prides: it was declared a national monument and part of the nation's patrimony in 1965.
Its construction lasted six years and many of its materials were imported (such as Belgian iron pieces, French glasses and Italian marbles). In its rooms there are works of art such as Alegoría del café y el banano by Aleardo Villa and the sculpture Los héroes de la miseria by Juan Ramón Bonilla. To one side, located underground beneath Plaza de la Cultura, is the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum with a collection of 1,600 gold figures and about 1,200 ceramic and carved stone objects.
This French-inspired neoclassical building was built between 1914 and 1917 under the direction and design of the Catalan architect Luis Llach. Today, this is the location of the Postcard, Telegraph and Philatelic Museum of San José, founded in 1985 to recreate the history of telecommunications in the country. It displays historical pieces such as telegraphs, telephones (visitors can use two telephones from 1932 to experience what it was like to make a call at that time) and stamps such as the first one in the country, created in 1863.
Specialty: healthy food.
In 2012, Lalay Flores-Estrada was a newly graduated chef who sought to break through. She was very interested in healthy food. "I am vegetarian since I was 18 years old. I started selling vegetarian snacks door to door while in college," she says. However, one day while going to the yoga studio where she practiced, the owner of the place saw her dressed as a chef and asked if she would like to set up a restaurant there.
This is how Árbol de Seda was born: a vegetarian restaurant in the Escalante neighborhood that seeks to have 100% natural ingredients, free of pesticides and produced by small farmers.
Some of the most popular dishes on the menu are the 'cuatro por cuatro' bread (artisanal bread filled with four types of mushrooms, four types of cheeses, white wine, walnuts and chives), the Caribbean sollofrijo (rice and beans, patacones, pico de gallo with avocado and soy chicken) and the wrap falafel with roasted vegetables.
Specialty: costa Rican cuisine.
José Pablo González, the chef at Al Mercat, defines Costa Rica as "an edible country": a nation with every climate, a diversity of habitats and coastline in two oceans that allow you to enjoy a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, greens, fish and seafood. The restaurant was born four years ago as a way to explore the Costa Rican cuisine and its ingredients: most of the products come from farmer's fairs and from his family farm in Tirrases, Curibat.
Some of the dishes offered by the restaurant are the hot shrimp ceviche (turmeric and palm hearts with avocado cream, onion, coriander and corn chips) or the grilled chorizo (homemade tortilla with purple cabbage and tarragon salad, guacamole, pickled onions and coriander).
Specialty: fusion cuisine.
Luciano Lofeudo, Isolina's chef, is an Argentinian man who traveled through Peru, Brazil and Mexico before arriving in Costa Rica. "Observing the way they eat in Latin America, as well as my own family heritage (half Italian, half Polish), serves as inspiration," he says.
At Isolina the menu changes every day. Its gastronomic philosophy is that they want to maintain the element if surprise, but also a responsibility with the environment: they only use seasonal vegetables, tubers, grains and proteins. Thus, each experience will always be different from the previous one. Luciano's favorite dish are the pickled sardines, accompanied by laminated fennel, bitter cocoa beans and nasturtium flowers.
A dish with beans, white rice, coriander, chile and Worcestershire Sauce.
Wrapped in corn-based stuffed rice with achiote, carrot, chickpeas, peas, pork, sweet pepper and coriander.
For five years, José Pablo was trained to be a lawyer; however, his passion was gastronomy, so he traveled to France, to Le Cordon Bleu, to become a chef. After five years, upon returning to Costa Rica, he decided to create Al Mercat: a restaurant that rescues the typical flavors of his country by using local ingredients such as achiotes, beans, yucas and fine herbs that José Pablo himself grows in a family farm.
In 2016, he was selected by the financial newspaper El Financiero as one of the 40 people under 40 with the greatest social, entrepreneurial and economic impact in Costa Rica.
Yuca is one of the native ingredients of the American continent: a tuber used in preparations such as soups, purées and, in this case, for a ceviche.
For 4 servings:
Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica.
From february 20 to july 14.
Boulevard Avenida Central, Plaza de la Cultura y Plaza de la Democracia.
During the month of march.
Museo de Arte Costarricense.
Teatro Popular Mélico Salazar.
Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica.
Centro de eventos Pedregal.
Juan Santamaría International Airport, located in the city of Alajuela, 20 kilometers from San José.
25 °C (77 °F)
Buses: there is no integrated transportation system, so each company handles its own schedules and fares. Price: between 145 CRC (0.24 USD) and 465 CRC (0.77 USD) per ticket. Taxis: first kilometer rate: 660 CRC (1.10 USD).
3-star hotel: 38,965 CRC (64.85 USD) per person. 5-star hotel: 45,034 CRC (74.95 USD) per person.