When I arrived in the country I was fortunate enough to completely bypass the city, instead swept up by my Couchsurfing hosts, able to enjoy a scenic drive into the mountains rather than have to navigate the capital. San Jose seems to be one of those cities that everyone loves to hate, “don’t bother” being a common phrase heard when travelers ask what they should do in the city. I’ve come to realize that I root for the underdog, both in travel and life, most notably and gratefully so with Bangkok. For that reason, and the fact I had cool Couchsurfing hosts whom I wanted to spend more time with, I decided to give the city a few days of my time.
I arrived on a mid afternoon bus from La Fortuna (via a hectic change in Ciudad Quesada), with intermittent rain, not knowing where to go. Since I didn’t have a SIM I had missed the last text from my host about where we would meet in the city, and forgot (or rather ignored) the fact that there are multiple terminals in San Jose. Due to this poor planning I was subjected to a rip-off taxi ride (definitely contemplated walking, but had no idea if I was in a part of town where doing so was safe), taking me only a few blocks to the Teatro Nacional to meet my hosts. Finding free WiFi was harder than expected, but eventually Mcdonalds came through and I was able to connect, locate Joel and his wife and before long we were back at their place in Curridabat.
Aside from Joel and Irene being extremely friendly and welcoming, the fact that they lived outside of the heart of San Jose was another perk. Curridabat is about 20 minutes east of the city, just past San Pedro which is apparently the University area of the city and easily accessible by city bus. I’m not sure what the standard house size in Costa Rica is, but theirs fit them (and their furry friends) perfectly. They don’t have a car and so they transformed the car park out front into an extra sitting area, perfect for afternoon lounging and also where we ate dinner together every night. The first night as soon as we arrived Irene was busy in the kitchen, preparing a delicious pasta which we all enjoyed, as mentioned, outside on the porch.
When we were in Monteverde Irene had mentioned that she works nights, but I didn’t realize Joel and her work together, meaning I’d have the place to myself come evening. After dinner we all hung out for a while until they had to get ready, and eventually were picked up at 9 for a full night of work, only returning around 6 o’clock the next morning. It was a little strange saying goodnight to my hosts as they left for work, but it was also kind of nice to have some alone time in the evening. Of course that also meant being woken at 6 the next morning when they returned and their dogs went crazy, but such is the Couchsurfing life.
My first week of travels must have worn me out because after they came back I fell right back to sleep and was out until nearly 10 am, a full 10 hours. I took a day off, leaving San Jose for the next day and instead did a little yoga, skyped with my parents, and explored their neighborhood. Over another delicious dinner we got into some interesting conversations, politics my favorite, which I think stemmed from the Meryl Streep speech the evening before. One thing led to another and before long Joel was sharing with me a plethora of conspiracy theory information, and while I was intrigued, I don’t think I’ll be spending much of my free time digging further.
The next day I was up early and decided to tackle the city, I was actually planning to get some medical tests done for an application I’m working on, one of which required fasting, so the sooner the better. Ultimately I didn’t do the blood work as it was more expensive than expected, but I was pleasantly surprised with the ease of navigating the bus to the city, finding the hospital and the department I needed. With most of the day still ahead of me I didn’t know where to start, until I heard my stomach grumbling. I walked in a few circles, contemplated Mcdonads (no idea why I had a craving when I’ve eaten it once in the last 10 years), but eventually wound up at a local Soda for a typical breakfast of gallo pinto. The rest of the day was mostly just me wandering around the city, back to Teatro National, a few different parks, “the yellow house” and a failed attempt at the contemporary art museum (I didn’t feel like paying). Eventually I got bored and caught the bus back to Curridabat, knowing I had a place I could just chill, and not feel bad about doing so.
Ultimately my time IN San Jose only totaled a few hours, so I can understand why a lot of people chose to pass, or get out as soon as they can. Even Irene gave me a questionable look when I told her I had spent the morning in the city. “Like downtown?” was her response, and elaborated that it’s an okay place, there’s just not much to do. To which I’d have to agree. I was pleasantly surprised though on my final day, while walking to the Tracopa bus terminal there were multiple locals who helped guide me in the right direction. A refreshing way to start the day, especially after hearing mostly only warnings about pick-pocketing and theft in the city. I managed to survive San Jose for three days, and while I may have cheated a little by staying out of the heart and in a friendly home, I really didn’t mind it as much as some said I would.
Packed with Adventure and Adrenaline, a diverse landscape from mountains to cloudforests, oceans, beaches and waterfalls. It's known for being touristy, safe and expensive, but was for me, a great introduction to Central America.