Friday, October 15, 2021

[SAN JOSÉ] Just How Pura Is the Vida?


If we are talking about the laidback vibe, then the vida is indeed pura here in San José. I can’t put a finger on it. You just feel it, how chill the city and the people all seem to be. But that doesn’t mean that I love the city. In fact, if I were to rank the capital cities I’ve been to in Central America so far, SJO will rank low, a bit above San Salvador and probably tied with Guatemala and Panamá. So, what’s the deal, then? I see myself residing here. I mean if I were to find a studio at Bambú Rivera where my Airbnb was, then by all means, go. But as a tourist destination? The vibe is very Manila. The city, not the metro.


The thing is, what I associate with the feeling of being at home are skyscrapers. Makati or BGC, yeah, why not. San José doesn’t have those. I’ve only seen one since I got here, and my Airbnb host said it’s the tallest they have. In Costa Rica. Okay. I guess Panamá wins this battle of the Central American skylines. San José also seems a bit too small for me and there are areas downtown that just give off some strong Quiapo/Divisoria vibes.


Another similarity the city shares with Manila are its homicidal car drivers. Simply put, they just don’t care about pedestrians. If you had a death wish, all you have to do is think otherwise and you will eventually become a hit and run victim, I suppose. The weather is also similar. By similar, we mean tropical and humid, so prepare to get drenched in your own sweat. I guess the advantage here is that Costa Rica does not really lie on the Caribbean hurricane belt which, unlike Manila, means less typhoons. That mountain range in the background also means you get some occasional breeze here and there.


As for Tico hospitality, enough has been said for these Costarricenses to earn such a stellar reputation for being a welcoming bunch, and that is apparent with the people you meet. But of course, you need not let common sense jump out the window. Each city has its own group of bad apples. If you are visiting friends or being hosted in an Airbnb, they will make sure to remind you which areas to avoid. As for transportation options, Uber is present here, which translates to a really cheap way of getting around if your smartphone has access to WiFi or mobile data. There are several free hotspots at Plaza de la Cultura.


As mentioned, tourist attractions are few and far between, with just several museums among your choices. I visited two: Museo Nacional and Museo del Oro Precolombino. Neither impressed me to be honest. To make matters worse, I felt shortchanged because of the rather pricy foreigner admission fee despite the museums not offering that much if you have been to neighboring countries and thus already familiar with the culture and history, that is.


Perhaps this is what Costa Rica and the Philippines also have in common. It seems as though the Maya never reached this far south, meaning no precolonial structures and ruins for you like they do in Honduras or Guatemala. Or Cambodia. In the absence of pastel colored houses prevalent in former Spanish colonies in the Caribbean, Costa Rica has to rely a lot on selling itself as an ecotourism destination, pretty much like the Philippines, to compete with its more touristy neighbors. And as you do on the other side of the Pacific, the modus operandi is the same here. Just transit in San José (Manila) and fly/bus to the beach.


Costa Rica has also preserved much of its green cover and there are jungles and national parks abound all over the country. Since San José does not even have an urban jungle to speak of, you are probably better off exploring the green jungles in the surrounding provinces. You also have beaches to explore. Along with Nicaragua and Panamá, CR managed to secure coastlines along the Pacific AND the Caribbean. Feel free to choose your own body of water. Limón has the Caribbean beaches while Guanacaste and Puntarenas have the Pacific.


Final verdict? Well, at least I like the chill vibes here. San José is definitely not my favorite city in the region but I don’t think it could outbore San Salvador.

[SAN JOSÉ] Just How Pura Is the Vida?

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