First step, meet Stacey

Stacey loves San Jose. Like really really loves it, like passionately. I’m never going to forget her hallmark sigh of relief as she sees the twinkling lights of San Jose come in to view every time we crest the hill coming home from a beach trip:

“It’s so good to be back in the city.”

Me: “Girl, you crazy. I can’t wait to drop you off and get out of here!”

But that’s Stacey. Take her out of the city for more than a few days and she gets restless.

Because of her love for the city and her desire to share that and to help the city continue to improve, Stacey started a walking tour of downtown San Jose in 2009. Well, I’ve been hatin’ on San Jose since 2008, and decided to take her Barrio Bird Walking Tour to see if my mind could be changed.

downtown san jose costa rica

Avenida Segunda, the main central avenue in downtown San Jose, Costa Rica. There are 5 to 10 lanes of one-way traffic here, depending on how many vehicles can squeeze on the road.

The Walking Tour

Barrio Bird offers five different types of tours: overview, photography, art, food, and fiesta. Let’s face it, I’ve done the fiesta tour many many many times, bar hopping around downtown, with Stacey leading me here and there. I’ve always had a great time, so already my feelings towards San Jose started to warm up when I realized I’d done one of these “tours” and thoroughly enjoyed it (maybe too much).

I ultimately decided on the overview tour because I wanted to know, in general, what was so great about San Jose.

We started the tour in one of the many parks located throughout San José, where Stacey shared a ton of facts about the city’s history, as well as information about current, past, and future efforts to improve the infrastructure, safety, and culture.

teatro variedades san jose costa rica

Teatro Variedades is the oldest theatre in San José, constructed in the 1890s. Today, you can still go there to see films, plays, comedians, concerts, and more.

She then proceeded to skillfully lead us through the busy streets of San José, stopping at key points to tell us about the architecture of a particular building, the history behind a piece of art, or tidbits about local culture. It was really nice to relax and be lead around, and to be told where to look as opposed to hurrily driving or walking from point A to B. I saw a ton of things I had never noticed before and developed a respect for things that I previously thought were ugly by learning about their history.

student art exhibit san jose costa rica

Stacey says the tours are different each time because there is always something new going on in the city, like this student art show that was on display in one of the buildings we walked in to. I thought this brick sculpture was interesting.

She led us up and down streets, in and out of buildings, through parks, plazas, the Central Market and new Chinatown. I’m surprised by everything I learned and saw in this city that I had been to so many times before, all within about two hours. I can’t believe I’ve been here for three years and missed all this!

central market san jose costa rica

I found this dude crammed in this tiny space behind his fruit stand in the Central Market. Can you imagine working there all day?

My favorite part by far was the realization that San José is like this baby city, or maybe a teenager, but also an old man, that is trying to evolve and that by interacting with it, I am experiencing history in the making. I mean it seems pretty obvious in hindsight – duhhhhh it’s a mix of a developed and developing city with historically significant sections duh duh duh, but I had let the initial impression of too many cars and dirty concrete blind me from the obvious.

So what do I think about San Jose now?

I still don’t like driving in San Jose, but I don’t hate San Jose. I actually like it. Everyone likes to say that San Jose sucks and to avoid it, but so many people stay there for the first or last night or two of their vacation when they fly through Juan Santamaria (San Jose) International airport. I did when I first came to Costa Rica on vacation and I wish I had taken a walking tour instead of limiting myself to the one block that my hostel was located on. Next, I want to take the art tour and see some good graffiti – I hear there are many commissioned pieces in San Jose and I’d really like to know the stories behind them.

Have you been to San José? What was your impression?

For more information about Barrio Bird Walking tours, check out the website: or give them a call: 6050-1952.