San José at Night: La Plaza de la Cultura
San José´s social and cultural hub is undoubtedly the Plaza de la Cultura. It seems that all activity emanates from this square. Naturally, this is a wonderful place to take a break, get your bearings, and watch the world go by.
Plaza de la Cultura is a relatively new public space in Costa Rica´s capital city; it was opened in 1982. Part of its unique design is that the Gold Museum is housed in several stories beneath the plaza. Earlier this year, the plaza underwent a remodeling that included new pavers, better accessibility, and a fountain on the northeast corner.
Kid Tested, Parent Approved
And how kids do love that fountain. At just about any time during the day or evening you are bound to find parents watching over (and photographing) gleeful children splashing among the 52 water spouts that dance and shoot at different heights. Once the sun goes down, the streams are lighted, providing a dynamic element to the already-bustling park.
Teatro Nacional in San José
If you´re in the plaza, you´ll see San José´s Teatro Nacional, a gilded monument to the arts that draws performers and gawkers from around the globe. Take a peek inside. Take in a show, if you can. This theater is a testament to 19th-century Josefinos who wanted to add some international cache to their city. In front of the theater is another sitting area. Currently, you´ll find that the Gran Hotel Costa Rica is undergoing renovations, but once those are wrapped up this public space will become even more splendid.
From here, you can head east down the Avenida Central towards the Plaza de la Democracia, or west towards the Mercado Central. Go south a block and you´ll run into the 4th Avenue pedestrian mall.
Advice for Travelers in Downtown San José
Downtown Chepe, as San José is locally known, is a relatively safe place to walk. Still, as with any crowded urban area, you should keep an eye on your belongings; pickpockets and petty theft are the biggest issues here. Don´t show off money or jewelry. I know this sounds like basic advice, but you would be surprised by the number of foreigners I have seen counting wads of cash in the middle of the street.
The other issue is traffic. Exercise extreme caution when crossing the street, as aggressive drivers and loosely enforced traffic laws make life difficult for pedestrians.
But traffic and petty theft are small worries. Get out and enjoy San José. It´s a city on the upswing, the heart of Costa Rica, and is a hidden gem among Latin America´s cities.