It's a trend seen the world over: businesses and residents flee city centers for the space, blissful quiet, and lower-priced real estate of the 'burbs. Although Costa Rica's capital is experiencing this phenomenon, downtown still remains the city's historic and vibrant (if noisy and congested) heart. Government offices have largely stayed put here, as have most attractions. It's impossible to sightsee without finding yourself downtown.

Boundaries are fuzzy. For example, the subneighborhoods of El Carmen, La Merced, and La Soledad are anchored in downtown but sprawl outward from the center city. And, in an effort to seem trendier, several establishments in downtown's northern fringes prefer to say that they're in the more fashionable barrios of Amón or Otoya.

The city has only three must-see sights—the Teatro Nacional, the Museo del Oro Precolombino (Pre-Columbian Gold Museum), and the Museo del Jade (Jade Museum)—and they are simply fabulous. All sit within a three-block walk of each other and could fill a day if that's all the time you have in the capital.

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