COSTA RICA  |  San Jose, Costa Rica Travel Guide
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Otoya Barrio

Otoya Barrio

A quick jaunt into the Otoya Barrio up Calle 9 leads to Parque Zoologico Simon Bolivar, the local zoo. Until a remodeling in 2000, this was a disgraceful and dirty little zoo, but it’s been transformed into a more pleasant stop with enhanced landscaping and much-improved conditions for the animals. Good stop for kids. It’s set down in a hollow basin with thick vegetation and plenty of songbirds around. Just north of the park is Spyrogyra, a butterfly farm that features live butterflies and hummingbirds in a natural garden environment. It’s accessible from El Pueblo shopping plaza on the hill above. The zoo and butterfly farm are open Tuesday through Friday, 8 am-4 pm, and on weekends, 9 am-5 pm. Admission, $1. There is a larger butterfly farm in Alajuela and others around the countryside, but this is convenient and inexpensive (US $6) if you’re in town.

Parque Nacional

Head back south on 15 to the Parque Nacional, San José’s largest urban park, which was remodeled in 2000-2001. It had a worn-down look from over-use until replanting and improved paths brightened it up. It’s a popular place for students and strolling lovers under its tall tropical trees. Important statues include the 1856 National Warrior Monument, cast in Rodin’s Paris studio, which commemorates the battle against William Walker. Also in the southwest corner is the statue of Juan Santamaría, the boy-hero who helped rout Walker’s army. Farther east from the park is the National Train Museum set in the old Atlantico train station of the line that once went to Limón.

Plaza de la Democracia and the Museo Nacional

Due south from the park, across Av Central, is the Plaza de la Democracia and the Museo Nacional, housed in the historic old Fuerte Bellevista. Only in peace-loving Costa Rica would they name a military installation “Fort With a Beautiful View.” The Plaza has a good flea market daily, but it is especially big on weekends. The old yellow Castilian fort was constructed in 1887 and used as the nation’s military headquarters until the abolition of the armed forces in 1948. Notice the side walls and look up at the balustrades to see all the gun shot holes around the gun slits, evidence of the serious nature of the 1948 Civil War. The museum has four sections in salas, or large rooms. The first features archeological artifacts from Costa Rica’s pre-Columbian peoples and their history (most explanations are in Spanish). Precious gold figures and jewelry are housed in a separate Sala de Oro. Another section of colonial life features artifacts and displays of the first Spanish conquistadors and early mestizos. Historic photos and implements from the recent past are featured in the last area. A stroll around the fort’s interior, towers and old jail shows the conditions faced by turnof- the-century soldiers. Located in the central courtyard you’ll find a good example of the traditional brightly painted oxcarts (carretas), as well as several varied-size, mysterious stone spheres – made by a long-forgotten people in the southern zone. Entrance is on Calle 17 between Av Central and Av 2.

Go 2½ blocks south on Calle 17, which brings you to the Court Administration buildings, specifically the Organismo de Investigación Judicial, between Av 6 & 8. What better place for a Criminology Museum – a fascinating graphic history of crime in Costa Rica – and perfect for people like us who look for more uncommon things to do and see.

Last updated November 21, 2007
Posted in   Costa Rica  |  San Jose
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