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San José, Costa Rica's vibrant capital, serves as a central base for exploration. You'll likely want to stop here before heading to the country's magnificent rainforests and beaches. Soaring offices, apartment buildings and museums will tower above you as you roam through the city's interconnected barrios (districts). Barrio Amón is popular with tourists for its centuries-old mansions and photo-worthy architecture. Barrio Escalante is equally popular for its variety of restaurants, bars, cafes and bakeries. If you plan on staying in the city for a few days before connecting elsewhere consider heading downtown to explore the exquisite collections at the Jade Museum and Pre-Columbian Gold Museum. Both facilities house dazzling and rare pre-Columbian artifacts.
Recent visitors were equally impressed with the Jade Museum's presentation as they were with the extensive collection displayed in its confined space, though they did say it is a bit pricey. Travelers in search of the city's trendier areas may wish to drive about 3 ½ miles west of San José to reach Escazú, a sophisticated spot that boasts vibrant shops, nightclubs and restaurants.
Once in San José, it is easy to traverse the city on foot. Visitors should note that San José's streets are not clearly marked; however, the city sprawls across a grid, making it easy to navigate. Also, you'll want to stay vigilant and watch your belongings: Scam artists are known to run amok throughout the city, particularly in public areas. To reach San José, fly into Juan Santamaría International Airport, which is about 10 miles northwest, and then hop in one of the many cabs or buses headed to the city.
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