“Travel Diaries: Play, Learn, Serve and Rest Well” is a series about the idea of traveling well in a society that minimizes adventure and exploration to mere Instagram likes.
Costa Rica’s capital city, San Jose, is rarely considered a destination for tourists. When one considers the city’s traffic, it is understandable. However, after spending most of my teenage years reading in its parks, sipping cafe con leche in its cafes and getting to know the locals, I found the city to be misunderstood.
Dispersed throughout San Jose are countless hidden gems: coffee shops, used bookstores and locals with full smiles and stories to tell. Whether you pass through the city en route to a beach resort or the rainforest, San Jose and its surrounding area offers a variety of ways to play, to learn something new, to serve and to find rest.
Costa Rica is most sought out for its pristine beaches, but for lovers of the brisk mountain air, the Prusia sector of Irazu Volcano National Park is the best day trip. Located just over an hour outside of San Jose, Prusia offers 10 miles (16 km) of trails of varying difficulty, wandering cows and twisted trees perfect for climbing and picturesque picnic spots.
The forest of Prusia truly holds a unique magic between its trees. Because of the ever-changing weather, fog rolls in and out of the canopy of pine and cypress, allowing for the sun’s warmth to occasionally peek through. Along Prusia’s many paths, you will stumble upon open fields beneath hills of overflowing green, stand at eye-level with the clouds and gaze down at multi-colored fields and the valley’s cityscape. Reminiscent of many landscapes in Middle Earth, Prusia will leave you feeling as if you’ve stepped inside a place only found in fairy tales.
For more information about directions, what to bring and other recommendations, check out The Tico Times.
Aside from its prestige as a dream vacation destination, Costa Rica is internationally known for its coffee industry and rightly so. Costa Rica’s coffee is known for its complex flavor profiles, including notes of fruit and a brown sugar sweetness with a bright acidity and a creamy mouthfeel. Some joke that Costa Ricans start drinking coffee by the age of 5. After living in Costa Rica for 10 years, I can tell you that this is absolutely true. A Costa Rican’s favorite time of day is cafecito, where coffee is taken with a sweet bread or a local baguette.
For coffee connoisseurs and history enthusiasts alike, The Britt Coffee tour is a wonderful place to increase your knowledge of everything coffee and the Costa Rican culture. The drive is just 25 minutes from San Jose, through quaint towns, past old churches and many coffee plantations—a little taste of Costa Rica outside the busyness of the city.
Another intriguing option is the Sibu chocolate tasting tour. This little restaurant and factory is snuggled into the misty hills of San Isidro in Heredia province. The tour weaves together the history of chocolate and Costa Rica, all the while educating the senses in the rich delicacy. In my last years of living in Costa Rica, this was my favorite place to indulge in delicious food and sip hot cocoa, which is offered in mini enamel mugs upon your arrival. Sibu will charm you, warm you and satisfy your sweet tooth, all at once.
As a result of cultural mentality known as machismo, many women, particularly among the lower class, have lost their sense of identity and confidence. This mindset as well as other challenges like poverty hinder these women from developing skills necessary to improve their lives and the lives of their families.
Transforma is a foundation based in San Jose with the mission to empower women through Wholistic Transformational Education. Its skill development programs include cooking, sewing, entrepreneurship, marketing, sales and many more courses, which enable women to pursue the life they want.
There are many ways to serve this foundation, including donating monthly and giving time as an intern. Whether you have a specific skill you wish to impart or simply want to give your time, this foundation is well worth what you have to give. There are few things as valuable as women imparting their own knowledge and skills to other women who cannot afford an education or have never been offered the opportunities.
San Jose offers countless options for accommodation, but Selina hostel is the place to go for a quiet, cool and comfortable experience. Selina offers everything from dorm style rooms for larger traveling groups to more luxurious suites. Adjoining the hostel is a bar and restaurant with a comfortable lounge area and table space perfect for co-working. Selina’s experience includes a wellness room, yoga classes, a movie room and their own art gallery.
Located in San Jose’s historic district, Barrio Otoya, Selina is within walking distance of the beloved National Theater, Parque Morazan, where local dancers use its dome as their stage. Also nearby is Cafe Rojo, a lovely Vietnamese fusion cafe, where you can hide away with a book and a butterscotch latte.
You might just happen upon Mora Books, one of the few book stores in the entire country which sells used English books. The neighborhood’s architecture alone is well worth a small stroll with a camera.
Have you ever traveled to San Jose? What is a good way to spend time intentionally in Costa Rica’s capital?
Feature image via Nomadbiba