Introduction to San José

Here’s to pura vida (literally ‘pure life’ – it’s a popular phrase meaning ‘terrific’)! San José, or Chepe as the locals call it, is not just a convenient base for exploring the surrounding wilds of Costa Rica. Charm lies amid the crumbling World War II buildings and potholed streets where you can find historic gems like the 18th-century, Neo-classical building of the National Theatre of Costa Rica and the old haunts of the lavish coffee barons of yesteryear. There’s plenty to keep you occupied thanks to an emerging cultural and longstanding bohemian scene.

San José was founded in 1737. It was nothing but a small forgotten town of the Spanish empire until the region boomed in the coffee business in the late 19th century, thanks to the fertile land. Some 300,000 people reside in this small metropolis today, with over 1 million in the surrounding outskirts. Ecotourism has been Costa Rica’s big earner, boosting the country’s economy and improving the lives of many inhabitants after years of colonial exploitation and a struggling commodity-based economy.

Chepe is a picturesque location in its own right owing much to the lush green Talamanca Mountains that greet it to the south as well as the Poas, Barva and Irazu volcanoes that lie ominously to the capital’s north. The province of the same name features national parks, forest reserves and an impressive pot of coffee reserves.

Due to its elevated position at 1,170 metres above sea level, San José boasts year-round spring-like temperatures and very few showers, just like the rest of Costa Rica’s Central Valley. It’s perfect to stroll the streets and discover what the place is really about before you make your way to some of the best green tourism destinations in the world, although keep your wits about you as there is petty crime and theft about in the city.

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