The capital of Costa Rica, San Jose is a city of contrasts. It is the geographical center of the country and its cultural heart but, as any Tico will tell you, if you want to see the real Costa Rica you have to get out of San Jose. The reasons for this are varied. San Jose is a young city, even by Costa Rican standards.
Although the city was founded in 1737, its importance to the people and the culture didn't start until the end of the nineteenth century. Since then it is almost as if joséfinos (people who live in San Jose) have been in a mad search for a civic identity. Nowhere is this more evident then in the city's most famous landmark, the National Theater. Built in the 1890's by the fortunes and increasing wealth generated by the worldwide boom in coffee consumption, the building is an exact copy of a Paris opera house. In fact, much of the architecture of the city is a hodgepodge of different styles from different areas. This makes the feel of the city almost disjointed, but at the same time it has a certain vitality and spirit of adventure.
A very common first reaction to San Jose by tourists is one of disappointment. But later, after they have traveled around the country and seen the natural wonders of nature, they are glad to get back to a place where they can watch CNN and have a Big Mack. San Jose is a place that grows on you. It is a perfect stopping over and transition place for those travelers needing a break to recharge their batteries.
Beneath the surface of the San Jose beats the heart of a city with a great deal to offer. The city's night life is lively with plenty of different bars, restaurants and dance clubs from which to choose. Also, there are more theaters in San Jose than anywhere else in Latin America. It's museums are many and varied, with something to offer just about any interest. From the Gold Museum's excellent display of Pre-Columbian artifacts to the funky and sometimes disturbing exhibits at the Criminal Justice Museum, no two are alike.
Nowhere is the spirit and feel of San Jose and its people more evident than in the public parks, squares and markets. Spreading like fingers all throughout the city, this is where the common people of the city congregate to trade stories and opinions about everything from the weather to the failings of the current president. Joséfinos are proud of their country and their city and they aren't afraid to tell you what is wrong and how to fix it.
As the people and the country face the challenges of the next century, San Jose will be at the forefront with a daring and style that says they are willing to try new things and ideas. San Jose, the city that stretches across Costa Rica's pastoral past and connects it to its technological and economic future.