So by now, you know I was in Costa Rica last week.
And from my post Sunday, you know the trip was great. Maybe short, but still a great time. After flying into San Jose, the capital of the beautiful Central American country, we picked up our car and drove to the inn we snagged in Alajuela. We dropped off our bags, and drove straight into the heart of the city for a quick taste of San Jose.
Boston to Baltimore to San Jose
Boston Logan to Baltimore (Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport) is a quick hop south, only an hour and a half. We’ve done the same exact flight a time or two before. Unfortunately, the only lounge at BWI is in Terminal E, housing international arrivals and international airlines. With a layover of only about 1 hour 30 minutes, it didn’t bother us too much. Plus, I did get a chance to check out the Copa Club in San Jose (SJO)!
We settled in by the gate with a quick breakfast, and waited for our plane to San Jose to board. We had about a 30 minute delay in Baltimore, and then the rest of the flight was smooth. Coming into San Jose, the mountainous landscape really took me back to arriving in Cusco. I couldn’t get a good picture in due to the angle of the sun, but trust me. Just seeing the mountains from the window got me primed for a few days of exploring the new landscape.
On arrival at SJO, we ran into some problems due to the late flight. Our car wasn’t there. Great. You see, the shuttle was supposed to pick us up at the airport, and then we’d drive down the road to pick up our rental car and sign the papers. By the time we landed, we were about 45 minutes late to the curb, no wonder they left!
Luckily, one of the locals lent me his phone, and I called Service Car Rental. “No problem, we’ll be there in 10 minutes.” Great people over at Service, check out their reviews on TripAdvisor!
The City – San Jose
Once we had the car, we drove over to the Hotel Santa Maria Inn, just outside Alajuela. Since I can’t sit still very well, we only stayed long enough to tear off my jeans and put some shorts on, before jumping in the car and heading into San Jose proper.
I’ll be honest, I was nervous about going into the city the night before Easter. Would the city be too quiet? Would anything be open?
To my surprise, the city was alive with people all evening! We got the best of both worlds – walking through the crowded markets and snacking on street food, we stumbled upon an Easter procession the next street over, sandwiches in hand. All of this added up to a great walking tour of the city that evening.
We stopped at el Teatro Nacional first. Not having much time in the city, we settled for exploring the grounds, and admiring the architecture from the outside and in the lobby, but we didn’t go in any further. In case you’re wondering, $10 USD to enter per person, kids too. Not bad, but we opted to skip it and continue exploring. I think this is one of the many things we missed out on the trip due to our condensed schedule. You’ll see that sentiment a bit more throughout these trip posts. I loved exploring Costa Rica, don’t get me wrong. I just think a 5 day trip is too short to try and see a whole country. Obvious to some, but apparently not to me when I was planning! Next time, a trip 5 days or shorter probably warrants only one city, or at the most, one area of a country.
Anyway, we continued strolling east on Avenida Central to the National Craft Market a few blocks away. Wandering through the local markets is one of my favorite ways to pass the time when I’m travelling. Craft market? I’m there. El Mercado Nacional de Artesanias had all the usual inventory – a healthy mix of tourist traps, useful everyday items, and interesting handicrafts.
On the other side of the Plaza de la Democracia y de la Abolición del Ejército (roughly, Square of Democracy and the End of the Army, fun fact: Costa Rica has no formal standing military) from the National Craft Market, lies the National Museum of Costa Rica. The museum, affectionally known as the Yellow Castle for its exterior paint job, houses a range of archaeological, historical, and cultural exhibits. Although we didn’t get to go into the museum (it was 6PM on a Saturday), we enjoyed seeing the iconic building.
One block north, along Calle 15, lies the Parque Nacional. A small space, we stopped to admire the bird calls and the leaf cutter ants running along the sidewalk. Though completely surrounded by the bustling capital city, the park was still bursting with birdlife. Sitting on the bench, just listening, gave us a good appetite for the next few days of hiking the cloud forests.
After all that walking, we started getting hungry. Realizing that all of the small, interesting restaurants were closed early for Easter Sunday the following day, we turned back toward the city center. We settled into a table at El Patio along the pedestrian portion of Avenida Central for our first Costa Rican meal. Catering a bit to tourists, El Patio’s food was a bit dialed down, while the price was pushed up a bit. Some excellent food, but I can’t say I’d choose it again. I’d much rather stop by a more flavorful joint, maybe with a bit of local flair to it.
We rounded out the night with some frozen yogurt at a net little spot called MoYo. With only the one night in Alajuela, there isn’t much else to say. Next time I’m in San Jose, I’ll be planning at least a full weekday there, to check out some of the museums, and try to get a feel for the city’s culture.
The next morning, we hit the road for La Fortuna, where volcanoes and waterfalls waited for us!