San Jose, Costa Rica: A Tale of a City
Photos courtesy of: @recespieces
I've lost count on how many times I have been to San Jose, Costa Rica. I'm lucky to have family ties there but this time, my latest visit was to say goodbye to my beloved father. Thanks to my stepmom and sister, his remaining years were spent living the 'Pura Vida' life.
My father passed during my visit and, as a result, my visit transitioned to an extended 3-week stay with family. In the midst of processing our our loss and making the necessary arrangements, we carved out some time to bond and decompress.
We visited three surprisingly stunning places that were close to home and not too far from downtown San Jose. Our day trips became a way for us to celebrate, memorialize, and commemorate my Father's life together.
Generally, San Jose doesn't get high marks from travelers in terms of sightseeing, nature walks, biodiversity, or grand adventures. San Jose is the location of the main airport in Costa Rica, so time spent here by tourists is generally short. Most visitors pine for volcanoes, tropical beaches, eco luxury resorts, wildlife, rainforest, and unparalleled access to nature. San Jose is a "typical" gateway city with all the accoutrements of a developing Central American country. Nightlife, museums, poverty, crime, casinos, safety concerns, traffic, are the norm. In fact, my father often warned us about venturing out into San Jose on our own.
Personally, I always considered San Jose to be uninteresting. Over the years, there has been significant growth and development. This time around, I really saw the people, the beauty and the potential of San Jose. On the flip side, I can see that it is primarily due to gentrification which is beneficial to visitors but, in the long run, can negatively impact the lives of indigenous/native residents.
Yes, the re-setters, the expats, the real estate investors, the digital nomads, and the hipsters have arrived—making San Jose way more than just a pit stop on the way to Costa Rica's world-renowned tropical destinations. Luckily, my nieces where also on this trip (to be with their Papito in his last moments), so I got some intel on the cool places in San Jose so that I could catch some hipster vibes.
Holy Cow! This Farmer's Market!
I was surprised to find out that one of the best farmer's markets in San Jose is within walking distance of my sister's home! The Feria del Agricultor in Guadalupe gets a 4.7 out of 5 stars on Google reviews and it certainly lives up to its reputation. It's an explosion of culture, friendly vendors, colors, fresh veggies, fruits, plants, cheeses, treats, and crafts. Produce comes directly from farms and the prices are great! This treat for the eyes and the senses has been in operation for years apparently; another reason to appreciate San Jose:
Top-of-The-City Views: Mirador Rama Luna and Mantra
First, kudos again to my nieces for inspiring me to branch out and experience places close to Downtown San Jose. Restaurante Ram Luna is perched at about 5,000 feet high in the hills above the City. After you ascend the stairs and enter the dining area, you will find yourself in a cozy, elegant, ambient space which is reflected in the decor, furnishings—and spectacular view!
Although I was anticipating a hearty meal, the real stunner was the view. Once at the top, there were windows all around. You could also take pictures, sit by the fire pit, and enjoy the breathtaking view on the patio right outside of the dining room. The outside sitting and viewing patio area gave us a panoramic view of San Jose and Central Valley at night:
I took a deep breath, absorbed some mountain energy, and gazed at those amazing cluster of lights before sitting down with my family for a memorable dinner.
Top-of-the-City View Number 2: Mantra
This rooftop restaurant, Mantra, was located atop a snazzy condo complex called URBN Escalante. The elevator to this rooftop restaurant, (located on the side of the building), opens to a dining area filled with a Buddhist-themed decor and a Zen-like ambiance.
This daytime panoramic view of Central Valley from above made me realize just how big and expansive San Jose really is. It is encased between mountains and hills on all sides—sort of like a giant bowl with the populous in the middle. The short clip below (my first attempt at video editing with music) is of the outside portion of the Mantra and a panoramic view from above of downtown San Jose:
Road to Orosi
I have been to hot springs in Costa Rica a fews before. They were enjoyable but quite a distance from San Jose. Once again, my resourceful nieces broadened my horizons by planning a family trip to Hacienda Orosi Hot Springs in Cartago Province which is about an hour from downtown San Jose. We made it a family day trip with sites to see on the way to Orosi—such a treat! (Other sites we visited: Jardin Botanico Lankester & Basilica de los Angeles)
Twenty-fives miles southeast of downtown San Jose is this gem of a day trip. The hot springs at Hacienda Orosi is surrounded by rainforest, vegetation, farms, and homesteads. While you relax in one of the Hacienda's mineral hot springs you are treated to a blissful and luscious view of the valley. Patrons can count on a delightful and serene experience granted it doesn't get too crowded. For an entrance fee of $45, Hacienda Orosi provides a locker, showers, a towel, 4 hot springs of varying temperatures from very hot to tepid, mud baths. There is also a restaurant with food and drinks for purchase situated poolside. So, you can expect to some blissful pampering for the day.
Note: As an added treat... when you leave Hacienda Orosi, I encourage you to have dinner in downtown Orosi. There is a restaurant near The Iglesia de San Jose, the oldest church Costa Rica (still in use). The Iglesia de San Jose church was built in 1743 and is a national landmark. Walking distance from church and community soccer field is the restaurant Bar y Restaurante Coto which has good local eats.
Would I explore around San Jose again? A resounding yes! San Jose, like most urban areas, is not without its problems and challenges. However, San Jose has evolved over the years and is conforming to a world that is more mobile, digital, and entrepreneurial. Personally, and for me... more importantly, my father spent his remaining years in a place he loved. I am grateful for the forever connection. I consider this incredible discovery of the real San Jose and invaluable bonding experience with my family, was one of my father's parting gifts. My father's legacy of love for life, family, and good times, is imprinted on my heart. Pura Vida.