The Ruins of the Temple of the Santiago Apostol Parish // © 2013 Devin Galaudet
Let’s face it, Costa Rica is known for its nature — the sound of monkeys howling overhead next to a quiet sloth, chatty toucans flying over beaches and jungles. Impressive flora and fauna keep Costa Rica at the top of any travel enthusiast’s list of exotic places to go. For travel agents selling Central America, the typical itinerary looks like this: Land in San Jose, Costa Rica’s bustling capitol city, and leave immediately by boat, bus, car, raft, scooter or another plane to go anyplace other than San Jose.
But perhaps San Jose has gotten a bad rap for its crowded boulevards and lack of wildlife. Fortunately, San Jose is not nearly as gruff as many have labeled it. There is plenty to do in Costa Rica’s capital city worth a traveler’s time. Here are a few day-trip suggestions for agents within an hour or so of San Jose:
At an elevation of more than 11,000 feet, the summit of Irazu Volcano might be the chilliest part of Costa Rica and, on a clear day, it is possible to see both coasts. The area features a variety of walking and hiking trails and is open from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Admission is $7 per person.
The Museum of Cartago is a converted jail that tells the story of the massive earthquake that devastated the city 100 years ago. Not to be missed is the spectacular historical mural by Guadalupe Alvarez.
Some say the Ruins of the Temple of the Santiago Apostol Parish, located at the city square, may be cursed. After numerous failed attempts to finish the temple, the city gave up and made it into a garden. Legend has it that the ghost of a headless priest wanders the ruins on foggy nights.
By car, Tipanti National Park is located an hour and a half away from San Jose and is one of the more underexplored 12,500 acres of flora and fauna in Costa Rica. Savvy agents will remind visitors to bring a raincoat (the area is known for its frequent rainfall) as well as binoculars for the 45 species of mammal and 260 varieties of bird.
Mirador Orosi offers free admission and the best views of Orosi and Ujarras. Visitors can spend the day picnicking and hiking.
Orosi Church was built in 1743 by Franciscan missionaries and remains one of the very few Colonial buildings in good condition in Costa Rica. While the church is still functional, it has been expanded into a museum with many artworks and sacred objects on display.
While in San Jose, be sure clients visit San Jose’s Central Market along Avenida Central. The market opened its doors in 1880 and is a maze of shops that sell everything from Costa Rican coffee to the freshest produce to machetes. My favorite stops in the market include Soda Tala for authentic gallo pinto and chorreada served on banana leaves and prepared by the octogenarian tica who runs the place. And for the best ice cream in all of Central America, visit La Serbetera de Lolo Mora. The same family has been serving its only flavor since 1901.