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The Rich Culture of Costa Rica

San José’s Must-See Museums
The Rich Culture of Costa Rica
Think Costa Rica is just volcanoes and beaches? The country offers much more: Fascinating museums, old colonial towns, archaeological sites, and surprising culinary experiences await.
Photo by Héctor Calderón
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    San José’s Must-See Museums
    San José’s Must-See Museums
    The National Museum of Costa Rica takes a broad approach to history, one that allows for a butterfly garden, a tour of former prison cells, and a display of pre-Columbian artifacts, as well as a collection of items significant to the country’s modern history. The Central Bank Museums, also in San José, is an underground complex designed by architects Edgar Vargas, Jorge Bertheau, and Jorge Borbón that houses one of Latin America’s leading archaeological collections in its Pre-Columbian Gold Museum. The Jade Museum, created to safeguard and showcase more than 7,000 jade artifacts found at sites around Costa Rica and Mesoamerica, is an impressive archaeological collection, as well.
    Photo by Héctor Calderón
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    100 Percent Costa Rican Crafts
    100 Percent Costa Rican Crafts
    Sometimes the line between shopping for authentic local crafts and learning about a culture can blur a bit. At galleries and boutiques such as San José’s Kúkara Mákara or the fantastic store eÑe in Barrio Amón, you might arrive as an observer but you may well find yourself being engaged by the personalities of the makers and artists behind the works. In towns like Puerto Viejo, in Limón Province, you can notice the creative energy simply by setting foot in some of the galleries, especially Luluberlu, where the inventory ranges from paintings to handmade jewelry or even swimwear, all crafted locally.
    Photo by Héctor Calderón
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    Culinary Culture
    Culinary Culture
    Sometimes food can become the fastest and most direct way to get to know a culture. In San José, at Kalú, home-roasted coffee beans (so Costa Rica!) are used to smoke salmon. In the design-forward Saúl Méndez stores, Saúl Bistro explores the intersection of fashion and food, and the success of the bistros speaks to the community’s willingness to try something new, especially something that gives coffee a starring role. At Bocana, you can taste an array of artisanal beers while admiring the murals of hometown artist Juan Gha, two fun shortcuts to exploring the capital’s lively spirit.
    Photo by Héctor Calderón
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    Very Local Food
    Very Local Food
    Eat like a Tico (that’s what Costa Ricans call themselves). First stop? The market. In San José, head to the Mercado Central to check out the basic ingredients that local home cooks work with (though plenty shop in the city’s supermarkets). The covered market has stalls selling spectacular tropical produce grown nearby, as well as lots of souvenir options. Most locals visit the mercado to lunch at the sodas, informal eateries serving such staples as fresh juices, olla de carne (a beef and vegetable stew), and plates of rice and beans. For fancier palates, local cuisine can also reveal itself in restaurants like Alma de Amón.
    Photo by Héctor Calderón
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    Costa Rica for History Lovers
    Costa Rica for History Lovers
    Most travelers to Costa Rica come looking for outdoor adventures and amazing beaches. They’ll experience them, without a doubt. However, with a trip to a rich archaeological site like the Guayabo National Monument, they may find themselves drawn in by this land’s history before the Spaniards arrived. (Guayabo, uncovered in the late 1800s, is the remaining part of a sophisticated city thought to have been inhabited by more than 10,000 people.) If you’re more interested in the colonial period, head to the town of Orosi, home to the country’s oldest church and a lovely religious art museum.
    Photo by Héctor Calderón
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    A Community That Protects and Honors Nature
    A Community That Protects and Honors Nature
    The people of Costa Rica are rightfully proud of the rich natural resources of their country. They take their role as custodian seriously, knowing it falls on them to defend the land from overdevelopment, to keep the vast number of animal species that live here safe, and to showcase the natural and cultivated beauty of their land. Gardens like the Jardín Sólo Rosas and the Lankester Botanical Garden show off the vivid and magnificent flora of Costa Rica. Lankester Botanical Garden, in particular, promotes the conservation of endemic plants and flowers. At the Nature Observatorio, nature is studied in its wild and uncultivated state from a tree-house perch suspended in the rain forest canopy. Native mammals have not been forgotten, either: Strangely adorable two- and three-toed tree sloths are protected, observed, and can be visited at the Sloth Sanctuary in Limón Province.
    Photo Courtesy of R. Richardson