Costa Rica is the oldest democracy in Latin America with little or no military. It is highly governmentalised with universal public schooling, health care, a pension system and other aspects of what is essentially a somewhat paternalistic social democratic government.
Its exports were formerly largely agricultural. It has extensive sugar Cane "plantations" and cattle but it is industrializing rapidly. Intel bas built a large chip fab plant there which tells one something of the educational standards. However the service sector is the largest sector now. The GDP per person is roughly USD 5,000 but in terms of purchasing price parity it is double that. The growth rate is a respectable 3%.
Eco tourism is a central focus of development and it shows. The country is stunning and unspoiled and the will is there to keep it that way. However one would hove to exempt San Jose from this assessment. It's pollution borders on Los Angeles!
San Jose, the capitol, is on a plateau in the Central Valley at 1500 meters elevation. It is ringed by lush green mountains and valleys. The population of this city is probably half of the whole country. It contains the primary airport, the University of Costa Rica, the US' and other embassies and many museums, cultural venues, hotels, markets, etc. It is the hub of the country.
Juan Santamaría Airport is located in Alajuela 17km or about 20 minutes by car from the center of San José.
There is a local bus stop outside the airport, but you might have to change buses to get to the city center. The taxis charge around 12 US Dollars to take you to the city, be sure to take one of the licensed reddish-orange taxis that say "Taxi Aeropuerto." There are many unlicensed taxi drivers who will charge you almost twice as much as Taxi Aeropuerto. The taxis gladly take Dollars, but the local bus only takes Colones.
There is an ATM by the entrance to the departures that will give you both Colones and Dollars.
There is a decent, if busy, road from the airport to downtown San Jose. You can rent a car at the airport. Driving is a little hectic but probably not as bad as, say, Boston.
Buses from Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panamá arrive in San José. And of course most local buses start or end here.
Taxis are generally cheap. All taxis should have a meter. The fare starts at 240 colones. Conversion is 470 colones per USD as of early 2005. A ride inside the city center will normally cost 500-1000 colones. Basically a couple dollars, which they will accept, will get you anywhere in the city. Be aware that it is close to useless to give a taxi driver an exact street address. You have to point out some well-known building, park or hotel close to where you are going.
Because of its elevation San Jose is usually 70 to 80 degrees farenheit though it can get chilly at night. The rainy season is in the fall.
Museo Oro Precolombino (The Gold Museum), under Plaza de la Cultura. Tel 243-4202, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.museosdelbancocentral.org. Tu-Su 10:00-16:30. Entrance fee $5 for foreigners. The collection consists of 1600 pieces of Pre-Columbian gold work dating from 500 AD to 1500 AD. Information is given on the processing and making of the pieces as well as their social, cultural and religious meanings. Although nice, the museum can not be compared to the magnificent gold museum in Bogotá, Colombia. At the same place you will also find The Numismatic Museum and The Temporary Exhibition Galleries. There is a nice museum shop and a tourist office at the entrance.
Museo del Jade (The jade museum), Avenida 5-7, Calle 11-13 bis, INS, 11th floor. Tel 223-5800. Mo-Fr 08:30-15:00. Entrance fee 500 Colones.
Museo de los Niños (The children's museum), antigua penetenciaría (the old prison). Tel 258-4929. Mo-Fr 09:30-15:30, Sa-Su 10:00-16:00. Entrance fee 600 Colones for adults and 300 for children.
Museo Nacional, Calle 17 Avenida 2. Tel 257-1433. Tu-Su 08:30-17:00. Entrance fee 200 Colones.
Museo de Arte Costarricense, east end of Sabana Park. This used to be San Jose's main airport terminal back when La Sabana was the airport. Tel 222-7155. Tu-Sa 10:00-16:00, Su 10:00-14:00. Entrance fee $5 (students $3).
Insect Museum at the Universidad de Costa Rica A very elegant collection of exotic bugs. Only a few dollars, but check the times when they are open.
There are a lot of tours and local events and doings in and from San José. Buses ane well marked, pretty reliable and crowded.
Casinos Many hotels have gaming.
Costa Rica in general, and San Jose in particular, is a great place to improve your Espanole. Many, if not most, people speak some English and there are many Spanish classes available, including at the Universidad de Costa Rica, as well as "immersion" classes in private homes.
Boutique Annemarie, located inside Hotel Don Carlos, is a nice souvenir shop. But don't buy your stamps here, they'll charge you an extra 40% for the "service".
El Pueblo shopping mall has lots of small souvenir shops.
Hotel Vesuvio Restaurante, Barrio Otoya, Tel 257-5411. Italian food, pastas 1900 Colones, chicken 2000-2500.
La Palma, Avenida 9, Barrio Amón. Italian food, recommended by the nearby hotels.
Hotel Don Carlos, the Precolobian Lounge serves some small dishes that you probably should skip.
La Cocina de Leña, Centro Comercial El Pueblo, Tel 255-1360. Cozy restaurant with good typical food and friendly service. 5500 Colones for a steak. Recommended.
Hotel Grano de Oro, Calle 30 Avenida 2/4. Tel 255-3322. Beautiful but expensive restaurant. A breakfast menu costs around 2400 Colones or treat yourself to the delicious banana-macadamia nut pancakes (2000 Colones).
Cafetería Parisien Gran Hotel, between Theatro Nacional and Plaza de Cultura. Not the most exciting food, but elegant settings.
Manolo's Churreria, Avenida Central, Calle 0/2. Popular soda. Try the chicken tacos, but stay away from the hamburgers. You may also see the local bookie here, taking bets from the regulars.
Mercado Central This very old and interesting, bustling food market also contains a number of small restaurants and quick-serve counters for the locals. You will find fresh cooked fish and shellfish, sopa de pescado (fish soup) and such exotics as "squid in his ink", ceviche (small bits of raw fish "cooked" in lime juice) and more. Perhaps not for the faint of heart.
El Cafetal de la Luz, Hotel Plaza Amon, Calle 3 Avenida 11, Tel 257-0191. Cocktails (1700-2900 Colones) served on the balcony. Slow service. This cafe is attached to the Clarion Hotel in Barrio Amon, and namesake of the coffee plantation that existed in this neighborhood when electricity was first introduced.
San Jose is full of hotels from one star to perhaps three. To the east on the Caribbean and the west on the Pacific are numerous tourist hotels and lodgings of every description. To the northeast near Guanacaste , close to Nicaragua, are more.
Casa Ridgeway C 15, Av 6/8, Tel +506 221-8288. a comfortable Quaker hostel with a shared kitchen and dining area available for use, a great place to meet like minded travelers, a simple breakfast is included. dorms, singles, doubles, triples available $10-$12 /person.
Kap's Place Street 19, Avenues 11 and 13, #1142 in Barrio Aranjuez. Tel +506 221-1169, email@example.com, http://www.kapsplace.com Guesthouse with 13 rooms and 1 large apartment. $30 - $80 including taxes. Guests have free kitchen use and free travel planning help! The K in Kap's Place stands for Karla. It's her house and her service is top notch. Bilingual (English/Spanish).
Rincón de San José (formerly Hotel Edelweiss), Avenida 9 Calle 15 Barrio Otoya. Tel +506 221-9702, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.hotelrincondesanjose.com. 27 rooms, $50 + tax for a double including (boring) breakfast. Try to get a 10% cash discount. Free internet service.
Hotel Hemingway Inn, Avenida 9, Calle 9, Barrio Amon, Behind I.N.S. Tel +506 221-1804, email@example.com, http://www.hemingwayinn.com. Friendly staff but a bit over priced. $58 for a double including traditional breakfast with gallo pinto and tamales. Has a hot tub. The hotel will credit your account with $10 if you get a receipt from the airport taxi. Free internet service.
Hotel Don Carlos, beautifully decorated hotel. $67 + tax for a double. There is also a tour operator (expensive) and a nice souvenir shop inside the hotel.
The traffic is dangerous. Cars don't stop for pedestrians, and they generally drive fast. The area around the Coca Cola Bus Terminal is not safe at night, and you should watch your belongings at all times in the city.
Being the capital, San José is the hub for all travel in Costa Rica. You can take the local buses or the more expensive bus services from Interbus or Gray Line Fantasy Bus. There is also a lot of smaller airports dotted around the country.