Yeah, that time I met John Lennon in the Costa Rican capital city of San Jose. We went to Costa Rica for the mountains, jungles and beaches, but planned one extra day to see some city life. We just happened upon the John Lennon statue while strolling the walkable center. Where are his trademark wire-rimmed glasses? Either stolen or locked away by city officials, depending on the source of the story. There was plenty of other history and culture to explore — and some great people watching.
Costa Rica National Theater
The National Theater was the highlight of our walk in the center of Costa Rica’s capital. Well-worn seats gave the impression of a trip back in time, and a lovely painting on the lobby ceiling recalls the coffee and banana growers who were the patrons of the arts. There is a charge to go inside and look around but no guide or pamphlet. I would have liked a little more information on the history of the theater, but definitely worth a stop. There were no performances available during our late-summer visit.
Costa Rica National Museum
An airy butterfly garden provides the entrance to a building that has been used over time as both a fort and a prison. Now it offers a glimpse into Costa Rica history, beginning with the ancient indigenous people and their mysterious stone spheres. After a few hours of museum-going, we simply enjoyed strolling the shopping areas filled with colonial architecture, interesting statues and real people, before stopping for a much-appreciated ice cream cone on a hot afternoon.
Terry’s Travel Tips
Staying Safe in San Jose: We paid to park our rental car in a secure lot in downtown San Jose. From there we were able to walk to the National Museum, the National Theater and some splendid churches. We braved the daytime heat, rather than venturing into unfamiliar streets at night. It helped a lot that my son is a fluent Spanish-speaker. We didn’t hear much English spoken.
Where to Stay Near the Airport: After nearly two weeks of jungles, mountains and beaches in Costa Rica, our stay at the Hampton Inn near the San Jose airport eased our transition back to real life. There’s a Latin-flavored Denny’s next door. My family stayed here on points and all of the usual Hampton amenities are here, delivered with a touch of “pura vida.” All of the major rental car companies have their offices nearby, so you will likely pick up and drop off your car here before and after your Costa Rica adventures. Save money by reserving your car on Auto Europe before you leave the United States. Yes, they also help you find the best rates in Central America!
Kindness of Strangers: Most people seem to use this hotel as a necessary overnight because of flight departure times, but the people who work here take pride in sharing what their city has to offer. After a day of being lost on confusing city streets, we appreciated the free shuttle the hotel offered at dinnertime, and it took us to a recommended restaurant in a popular nearby mall. We stayed two nights to allow for one day of walking around the historic sites in downtown San Jose. Check out some of the other hotel choices and reviews on Trip Advisor.
Stranger Danger: The only thing to watch out for is the guy trying to collect your departure tax in the hotel lobby. It’s cheaper if you pay at the airport and the lines were not terribly long. There is also a free shuttle bus to the airport.
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[…] You will probably need to do at least one overnight in San Juan at the beginning or end of your trip, because of when the flights arrive and leave. We took an extra day to check out Costa Rica’s capital city. […]