The Colourful Streets of San Jose & Alajuela

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I arrived in San Jose a couple of days before my Contiki tour was set to depart, which gave me plenty of time to explore, eat and do a little shopping with some of the others that I would be travelling with.

Staying at the Holiday Inn Aurola in downtown San Jose made it easy to wander the Avienda Central and explore the Mercado Central, which I ended up making about four visits to within two days.

As far as cities that I’ve been to around the world go, I wasn’t blown away by San Jose. There’s some good food, incredible street art, and some cool things to see around town, but it didn’t really need more than a few days on either end of a trip to Costa Rica.

That could also just be in contrast to how amazing the rest of the country is..

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Driving down Avienda 2


The Costa Rican bills are obviously not specific to San Jose, but it is where I first encountered the vibrant little currency and couldn’t help but photograph it right away.

I wish my money had monkeys, sloths, hummingbirds and sharks on it!

But no, even with all those mils, I wasn’t as rich as I looked.


Approximately $9


Approximately $18


Approximately $36


Approximately $3.60

Mercado Central

The central market was a labyrinth of food stalls, shoes, shopping, produce, meat and more shoes. San Jose is the city of shoes.

It definitely wasn’t as visually stimulating as some markets that I’ve been to around the world (no Grand Bazaar or Marrakesh Souk), but it was still a great place to explore in the heart of the city.

I returned several times, sometimes with purpose, and sometimes just to get lost among the chaos. Every once in awhile I would find myself in some quiet little back corner where I could hear myself think and watch it all from a distance.

I quite liked Mercado Central.

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Men on Avienda Central, just outside the market


Street Art

I included a great deal of San Jose street art in my recent post about graffiti around the world, because it was hands down the best city I’ve been to for street art. Reykjavik certainly contends, but I just can’t get over how wonderfully colourful it is here.

I spent hours simply wandering the side streets near my hostel once I returned to San Jose, and probably could have spent several more with a little more time.

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Hostel Life

As mentioned, San Jose makes a good stop on either end of a trip to Costa Rica. Since I was flying in and out of SJO, I made my return to the city a couple of days before my flight, and checked into Casa del Parque Hostel.

It was in the part of town that I already knew quite well, rather cheap for a bed in the dorm and ended up being a pretty cute little place, complete with hostel cat and humorous artwork.

San Jose is a good hostel city, as most people are just passing through.

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Heading into town, just around the corner from the hostel

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Love slow, die whenever. Sloth life sign in the hostel.


As a lover of Guac, I was in culinary heaven in San Jose.

It is literally the only thing I ate for the first three days. Lunch, dinner and snack. With beer, of course. I wasn’t the hugest fan of Imperial, the country’s most popular beer, but it was probably my favourite of what was available.

Aside from Guac, I did manage to taste a few other local recipes of ceviche, nachos, fried shrimp and more. But, I always went back to the Guac.

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On my last day in the country, I wanted to be closer to the airport for the next day’s early morning flight.

Since San Jose is actually about thirty minutes from the airport itself, I booked a hostel in the city of Alajuela, which is right next to the airport.

Alajuela is actually Costa Rica’s second largest city, which shocked me, as I had never heard of it. Having absolutely no expectations or ideas of what to do, I was happily surprised when I set out for a wander around town.

It was bright, colourful, full of happy faces and plenty of interesting public art and bustling squares. I also felt much safer walking around alone than I did in San Jose.


Cab fare from San Jose city to the airport is approximately $20-25

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Alajuela Backpackers Hostel

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Catedral de Alajuela at Parque Central de Alajuela

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An alley near Parque Central de Alajuela

After my last night in the San Jose area, my new hostel provided a free shuttle to the airport, where I boarded my flight and said goodbye to Costa Rica.

My last view of the country I grew to love:

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This trip was made possible by Contiki
All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Visit San Jose on your own Costa Rica Unplugged trip.

Do you like to visit cities when you travel?

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4 Responses to “The Colourful Streets of San Jose & Alajuela”

  1. Jen Seligmann
    June 13, 2014 at 3:52 am #

    Great photos! I love how fun their notes are. I really like visiting cities. I’m a city girl born and bred and while I do love the peace and beauty of the countryside form time to time, it’s hitting the pavement in big cities and discovering amazing architecture, hidden squares and quirky shops and restaurants that motivates me to travel.
    Jen Seligmann recently posted..Fun Fact Friday – Italy (Part 2)

    • Seattle Dredge
      June 13, 2014 at 11:16 am #

      Thanks! That’s very interesting to hear.. most people I talk to prefer to stay away from cities while travelling. It’s nice to see that there are always different types of travellers. I personally prefer to spend the majority of a trip in the countryside/small towns, but still want to spend at least a few days in the big cities too :]

  2. Danielle
    August 2, 2014 at 6:02 pm #

    As you know, I’m honeymooning in the Arenal area ( next month, so excited!) and a night in San Jose and I was curious if you think I should change some money or if I should just stick with US dollars?

    P.S. The street art is so awesome and colorful!
    P.P.S I need to use your contiki code. My best friend just got back from a 25 day europe tour and i’m dying to do a central america one!
    Danielle recently posted..The Day I Finally Went to Hogwarts

    • Seattle Dredge
      August 6, 2014 at 11:31 am #

      I didn’t use any US dollars when I was there, but I would say do a bit of both. They prefer Colones in smaller villages/towns etc., but if you’re staying in a touristy area or at a resort, you would be fine with smaller US bills. Also, their currency is beautifuuuuul and covered in monkies/sloths/sharks etc :] Yeah, use the code for sure! $100 off is never a bad thing and their tours are just the right amount of activities & free time, I want to do the rest of Central/South America so bad!

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