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Costa Rica's capital is definitely not one of the world's most beautiful cities. A lot of colonial buildings have been replaced by boring new ones. The city is, however, a cultural center with interesting museums and impressive theaters. The city is located in the country's central valley, surrounded by green jungle.
The fact that culture plays an important role in San José is reflected by the name of the city's central square: Plaza de la Cultura. On the square you'll find the stately Teatro Nacional. There are performances all year round, but if you are unable to attend a performance, there are also guided tours through the building. The theater hall is simply spectacular, with lots of gold and marble.
Nearby there's another one of San José's colonial icons: The Edificio Correos, the post office. The light green building mainly stands out because of its Corinthian columns. The building's second floor houses the Philatelic Museum, that has special stamps in its collection, including the first Costa Rican stamp from 1863 and a rare British Penny Black. In front of the post office there's a statue of Juan Mora Fernández, president of the young republic from 1824 until 1828.
Underneath the Plaza de la Cultura you'll find the Museo del Oro Precolombino, the Gold Museum with over 1600 Pre-Columbian golden objects. The same building also houses the Museo Numismático (National Coin Museum) showing how people paid in the past: Old coins and banknotes, but also unofficial securities.
More objects from the Pre-Columbian era are exhibited in the Museo del Jade. You guessed right, the emphasis lies on jade jewelry, but there are also objects made out of stone, ceramics and even bones. They also explain how jade used to be processed.
We already mentioned it in the introduction: San José is surrounded by jungle. At less than an hours' drive from the city you will already find yourself in the middle of the rainforest in the Braulio Carrillo Park. Its main attraction is the cable car, which allows you to travel through the canopy of the jungle. It's a fun way to discover the diversity in flora (gigantic trees and colorful flowers) and fauna (reptiles, insects and birds, including hummingbirds).
At a two-hour drive northwest of the capital lies the Arenal Volcano. This volcano still spits out lava and steam on a daily basis, which is amazing to watch, especially at night. Around the volcano there are many hot springs. A bit further northwest you'll reach the next volcano, the Rincón (1895 m) in the nature park by the same name. There are several trails through the park past geysers, waterfalls and sulphur springs. The park also houses monkeys, coatis, armadillos and toucans.
The lagoon coast on the Caribbean in the north of Costa Rica is a protected area that can only be explored by boat. On the beach, tortugas (turtles) come ashore and the park is called after these animals: Parque Nacional Tortuguero. Although you can explore the park by boat on your own, we recommend hiring a guide who knows where to find the best spots. In this wetland you'll find alligators, caimans and water snakes.
A large part of the Osa Peninsula in southeastern Costa Rica is occupied by the Corcovado National Park. Here you'll find truly unspoilt nature with a rich flora and fauna.
And then of course there are Costa Rica's beaches. The seaside town of Manuel Antonio is located on a magnificent bay with a snow-white beach. Right behind this beach there is yet another national park. The beach near Puerto Viejo is also nice, as the rainforest runs up to the beach here.
In San José you can park your car out on the street, but there are some streets where parking is prohibited during morning and evening rush hour. So check the signs carefully. There are many public guarded parking lots where you can leave your rental car.
Juan Santamaría Airport is located 20 kilometers northwest of San José. The Pan American Highway runs along the airport and straight through San José so it is easy to reach the airport by rental car. Outside rush hour it takes you thirty minutes from the city center to the airport; during morning and evening rush hour it takes much longer.