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San Jose Costa Rica Walking Tour

San Jose Costa Rica what an interesting place to visit.  We always enjoy a walking tour when we arrive in a new city, you learn so much more from locals than reading from a book. As we were in between Housesitting assignments we decided to spend some time in San Jose, Costa Rica before moving to Panama. We stayed at Casa 69 just a 15-minute walk from our meeting place for the walk.

Our San Jose Costa Rica Free Walking Tour

We met with Jeff Meza the owner of Polis Walking Tours for a 9am start outside the National Theatre of San Jose. Jeff was recently a guide for the National Theatre but had started up his own tour business.

Jeff and Duncan inside the National Theatre San Jose Costa Rica
Jeff and Duncan inside the National Theatre

National Theatre

The most impressive building in San Jose Costa Rica.   Apparently, the rich coffee barons of San Jose, returning from visiting theatres in Europe, approached the government in 1890 with an offer of 200,000 gold pesos to build a theatre in San Jose. The government replied to the coffee barons asking them to increase their offer to 3 million gold pesos, they refused saying the increase was too high and that they would stay with their original offer.  A tax was levied on the citizens of Costa Rica to help pay for the theatre which was a copy of the Paris Opera House.  They imported gold leaf from Germany, crystal from France and the floor laid with Carrara marble whilst Italian sculptor Pietro Bulgarelli’s statues adorn the lobby.

Inside the National Theatre San Jose Costa Rica
Inside the National Theatre the Heroes de la Miseria

An important sculpture Heroes de la Miseria can be found on the ground floor, it was the only sculpture by a local Costa Rican Juan Ramon Bonilla who was 18 years old.  The theatre was completed in 1897.  As Costa Rica does not have an official presidential palace the theatre is used as the meeting place for all official visits and meetings. It houses one of the ten greatest ceilings in the world.

Location: 2nd Avenue 3rd and 5th Street

To Travel Too tip:  on Tuesdays the Theatre holds a performance at 12pm.  Cost USD4 per person.  A tour will cost you USD10, if you arrive at 11.30 and purchase your ticket you have half an hour inside to visit the theatre without a tour.

Plaza de la Democracia San Jose Costa Rica
Plaza de la Democracia

Plaza de la Democracia

A plaza constructed in 1989 to commemorate 100 years of Costa Rican democracy. A good vantage point at sunset to view the mountains surrounding San Jose.

Location: Central and 2nd avenue, 13th and 15th Street

The National Museum San Jose Costa Rica
The National Museum

Costa Rican National Museum

Originally a private home constructed by German born Alexander Von Frantzius in 1870 and later acquired by Mauro Fernandez in 1876.  On the slopes in front of the property a coffee plantation existed, today you can still see some of the coffee bushes located in the gardens at the front of the property.  It lay vacant between 1910 and 1914 before being purchased as military barracks by the government.  Look up at the Tower and you can still see the bullet holes from the country’s civil war in 1948.  In 1948 the military was abolished in Costa Rica.  In 1950 the building was dedicated as a National Museum displaying Pre-Colombian history and the history of Costa Rica over two halls.

Location: Central and 2nd Avenue, 15th and 17th Street

The Costa Rican Spheres San Jose Costa Rica
The Costa Rican Spheres

The Stone Spheres of Costa Rica

During the 1930s workers clearing grounds for banana plantations around the Diquis Valley came across 300 perfectly round stone balls varying in size and weight.  They have been estimated at about 1600 years old.  Questions still remain, what was their purposes, who created them and what for?  There are many myths surrounding the stones e.g. they came from Atlantis, or made by nature or that Tara the god of thunder used a giant blowpipe to shoot the balls at the gods of winds and hurricanes to drive them from the land.

There is a fine example of one of the stones that sits outside the Costa Rican National Museum, others are located in private homes and even Washington DC has one.

Location: Central and 2nd Avenue, 15th and 17th Street

The Blue House San Jose Costa Rica
The Blue Castle

The Blue Castle

Originally a private home constructed in 1908 by Maximo Fernandez a well-known politician and lawyer and later rented to the state as the home of various presidents from 1914 to 1923.  In 1923 it was sold to the US Government and used as a consulate until 1989 when it was taken over by the Legislative Assembly.

location: Central Avenue and 17th Street

Grafitti project at the Blue House San Jose Costa Rica
Grafitti project at the Blue House


The National Park San Jose Costa Rica
The National Park

National Park

The National Park is located to the east of San Jose and is the largest inner city park.

Location: 1st and 3rd Avenue, 15th and 19th Street

The National Monument San Jose Costa Rica
The National Monument

National Monument

In the centre of National Park is located the National Monument. It was inaugurated to commemorate the Santa Rosa victory on 20 March 1856 and the battle of Rivas on 11 April 1856.

The Monument made of bronze in France and shipped to Costa Rica is made up of several Centra American countries e.g. the figure with a sword in its right hands represents Honduras, the figure with an axe represents Guatemala, the figure in the middle with the spear represents Costa Rica and Nicaragua is represented by the figure at the front hugging another.  They are pursuing William Walker an American adventurer who became the president of Nicaragua between the years of 1856-1857.  His mission was to control the whole of Central America but failed and in Honduras in 1860 he was executed by a firing squad.  In the Margaret Mitchell novel “Gone With The Wind” in Chapter 48 William Walker’s death is discussed by Rhett Butler and his filibustering acquaintances.

Location: 1st and 3rd Avenue, 15th and 19th Street

The Liquor Company San Jose Costa Rica
The Liquor Company now the Museum of Art and Contemporary Design

Museum of Art and Contemporary Design

The oldest building in San Jose Costa Rica dates back to 1853, it was the former site of the old national liquor factory.

Location: 3rd Avenue, 15th Street

The Americana Apartment Building San Jose Costa Rica
The InterAmerican Apartment Building

Interamerican Apartment Building

Constructed in the 1880s as a flour mill and then converted into a coffee mill in the 1920s the Interamerican Apartment Building was declared a national heritage site in 1998.

7th Avenue 15th Street

La Negrita in San Jose Costa Rica
La Negrita

The Legend of La Negrita (taken from San Jose Costa Rica Star newspaper)

“A young indigenous girl, Juanita Pereira, found the statue of the Black Virgin on August 2, 1635 whilst gathering wood in the forest outside Cartago, which at the time was racially segregated.  The young girl carried the unique stone said to resemble the Virgin Mary with a child in her arms to her home and locked it up.  It is said that the small 6 inch stone image almost immediately disappeared only to return to its original spot on the rock in the woods where it was originally discovered.  This happened not once, but numerous times, including after giving the stone to a local prominent priest, who then proclaimed it to be a miracle and so began it’s high regard throughout the country.  The legend lived on and in 1824 “La Negrita” as the black Virgin image is referred, was officially bestowed as the patron saint by the Costa Rican government.

Location: 7th Avenue half way down 15th street on the walls of the old liquor factory

Espana Park in San Jose Costa Rica
Espana Park

Espana Park

The park was constructed in 1862 and used as a resting place for ox cart drivers that came from the Central Valley transporting bundles of sugar for the making of alcohol.

Location: 3rd and 7th Avenue, 9th and 11th Street

The Metal Building in San Jose Costa Rica
The Metallic Building

The Metallic Building

In 1890 Belgium was commissioned to construct a metallic building in a neo-classical design to be used as the San Jose Costa Rica Graduated School for Boys and Girls.  At the end of 1892 pieces of the building started to arrived and it was completed in 1896.

Location: 5th Avenue, 9th Street

The Templo Musical in San Jose Costa Rica
The Music Temple

The Music Temple

In 1920 the Temple was constructed with re-enforced concrete to house concerts and performances for the city.  The construction lends itself to exceptional acoustic qualities.

Location: 3rd Avenue 7th Street

The Cathedral of San Jose Costa Rica
The Metropolitan Cathedral of San Jose

The Metropolitan Cathedral

The original cathedral was destroyed by an earthquake and replaced in 1871 with the current structure; a mix of Greek Orthodox neoclassical and baroque style.

Location: Central Street 2/4th Avenue


Choula! in San Jose Costa Rica
Chola – local street art

La Chola represents the indigenous womenfolk of San Jose Costa Rica.  Statue by Manuel Vargas.


Mercado Central in San Jose Costa Rica
Mercado Central

Mercado Central

The market is a bustling hive of activity with many cafes, restaurants, fruit and vegetable stalls, meat, poultry and fish and general household goods.  It is open from Monday to Saturday between the hours of 8am to 5pm.

Location: 6th Street, Central and 1st Avenue San Jose Costa Rica

We thoroughly enjoyed our walking tour with Jeff.  This is only a snapshot of the tour, Jeff shows and talks about many more highlights of San Jose Costa Rica. He is extremely knowledgeable and informative.  We highly recommend this walking tour.

Cost of walking tour: USD10 per person

Duration: 2.5 – 3 hours

What to Bring: water, umbrella and hat

Contact: Jeff Mezza poliswalkingtours@aol.com


Why not take our article with you whilst you wander around Costa Rica.  Click our City Walk banner for more information.


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