The Hidden Gems of San José

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San José, Costa Rica doesn’t have many accolades despite there being so much to see and do all around the country so it has never been high on the priority list, but let me tell you, there are a few treasures to be discovered! Here are my top 5 things to do in San José.

1. Mercado Central (Central Market)

As with many Latin American cities, San José’s central market is easy to get lost in. It’s a huge labyrinth filled with stalls of anything and everything you might ever want or need, from fruits and veggies to fresh seafood to spices, home goods, tools, dried flowers and everything in between. It’s even a decent place to find souvenirs! I love that many people here still visit the central market to buy their goods rather than heading to one of the larger grocery or department stores. Spend some time wandering and get a feel for the ‘old world’. I’m sure you’ll come out with a treasure or two.

2. Feria Verde in Aranjuez (Organic Farmer’s Market)

If you’re ever in San José on a Saturday morning, be sure to check out the colorful Feria Verde at the Polideportivo Aranjuez just north of downtown. It’s a really fun gourmet/hippy/hipster market where you can buy organic produce, but also many specialty items such as hard to find cheeses and spices, but also clothing, jewelry, soaps, yoga mats, and lots more. There’s even a food booth section with all kinds of special goodies including pastries and fancy coffees and juices. It’s definitely worth an hour of two of fun!

3. Teatro Nacional (National Theater)

Located in the heart of the city next to the expansive Plaza de Cultura, Costa Rica’s Teatro Nacional opened in 1897 and is one of the country’s finest architectural buildings with beautiful furnishings inside. It offers regular high quality performances including operas, symphonies, concerts and plays as well as hourly guided tours for visitors and a lovely gourmet café open to the public. We haven’t yet made it to a performance, but it’s definitely worth a visit at least.

4. Museo de los Niños (Children’s Museum)

Okay, I realize this may not be for everyone, but if you have little ones , the Museo de los Niños in San José is definitely a must-see. We’ve been there twice so far and we STILL haven’t explored everything yet. There are tons of cool interactive exhibits from dinosaurs to space exploration to optical illusions to whole areas dedicated to the history, culture and wildlife of Costa Rica such as coffee production, the rise of banana plantations and how they function, historic train cars from the national train system, etc. There’s even a double decker bus, an old fire engine, an airplane and a helicopter that the kids are able to explore! We highly recommend a visit..or two…or three!

5. Barrio Amón

Barrio Amón is a lovely historic neighborhood in San José (check out Avenidas 9 and 11 just west of the zoo and botanical garden) that is going through a sort of revival. The beautiful historic mansions lining the streets were originally built by wealthy coffee growers back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some of them have been beautifully restored into hotels or restaurants, and others are in total disrepair or covered with vines which gives the neighborhood an authentic…or maybe nostalgic…feel.

With every visit we make to the capital, we discover something new, so I’m sure there are other hidden gems just waiting to be uncovered. It just takes a little digging!

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9 Costa Rican Fruits We Love

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Our fruit bowl

We’ve enjoyed so many delicious tropical fruits while we’ve been here! Of course, Costa Rica is known for its pineapple, mango, papaya and coco which are all a regular part of our diet, but here are a few fruits that are a bit different and some you may not have even heard of before!

  1. Carambola (Starfruit) – The carambola trees are full of fruit right now, and we’ve had fun slicing them up to highlight the ‘star’ part for the kids. Ticos enjoy putting them in the blender to make fresco (natural fruit juice).
  2. Jocote – When we first arrived here in late August/early September, there were little jocote stands all over selling bags of this delicious small fruit. I admit I was a bit skeptical as I had never heard or seen these before, but once we tried them, we couldn’t get enough. They are picked when they’re greenish/yellow and they quickly ripen and turn to red after a day or two. The taste is something completely unique – they’re part of the cashew family and the yellow innards have a delicious sweet nutty flavor when ripe.  img_1695
  3. Granadilla (sweet passion fruit) – Palmer’s favorite fruit which he likens to ‘a sweet oyster that grows on a tree’ (Ha! — only a Mainer would come up with that analogy!). The edible slippery insides offer a seedy sack of sweet goodness which you slurp down…thus the oyster reference. img_2827
  4. Maracuyá (passion fruit) – My absolute favorite! Passion fruit is very sour, but makes for the BEST fresco once blended with a bit of sugar and water. On a sidenote, check out its gorgeous flower.
  5. Plátano (plantain) – Plantains are very versatile and used for both salty and sweet meal accompaniments. The salty version is called patacones and are made by using green plátanos which are cut into thick slices, fried and then smashed and fried again giving it a crunchy outside with soft inside – they’re sort of like the french fry of Costa Rica. The sweet version is called ‘maduros’ and you wait until the plátano turns brown before peeling and then frying them whole in oil until they’re soft and sweet. Maduros are often eaten with breakfast. plantains
  6. Cas (Costa Rican guava) – This is another fruit that is often made into fruit juice. It has a mild guava flavor and is super refreshing on a hot day.guava-144145_1920
  7. Guanábana (soursop) – This larger spiky fruit has a white fleshy inside with black seeds that again is used to make fresco. It has a citrusy flavor but also a creamy consistency giving it a unique taste. soursop-2837863_1280
  8. Caimo – We just discovered this fun yellow fruit yesterday at the feria and had to give it a try. It has a soft and super sticky inside with a mild taste that combines melon and pear flavors.
  9. Mamón chino (rambutan) – This is another fruit that was in season in September and October and found around much of the country piled high at roadside stands and at markets. The funky looking fruit has a delicious sweet white center with a dark brown seed inside that you eat around. rambutan-2477584_1280

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Photos from around Atenas

We are really loving our new town as we get to know it better each day. We are located in the Central Valley (picture rolling hills, green mountains, coffee plantations and small towns) about 30 minutes west of the airport and 45 minutes west of San José. Atenas is known for supposedly having the best climate as it’s typically around 80 every day and in the upper 60s at night.

The church
Playground in the main parque
Typical colonial building

Views from near our current house
Weekly feria