Day by Day in San José


Copyright © 2017 by Dennis Hambright

ISBN: 9781543909302


All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form. No part of this text may be copied, reproduced, distributed, transmitted, downloaded, or stored in or introduced into any information retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical without the express written permission of the author.


The author has taken all reasonable care in preparing this book. However, he makes no warranty about the accuracy or completeness of its content, and accepts no responsibility for any loss, injury, or inconvenience sustained by any reader as a result of the information presented.


Cover Photos: Romy Hambright


Cover design:


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To my amazing wife, Romy.


You’ve been my companion, confidant, and helped me to understand the true beauty and wonder of the people and the culture of Costa Rica. This book never would have been possible without your encouragement and inspiration.



I want to give a very special thanks to my son, Dan Hambright, who has worked tirelessly to help corral my ramblings into a proper and presentable work. I couldn’t have done it without you. Getting to work on a project like this with you has been a true blessing. Thanks, son!

Table of Contents


Why I’m The Guy to Write This Book


Chapter 1:      A Little Introduction

…and what this book is and is not about


Chapter 2:      San José, Costa Rica

…and why it’s like dating an ‘ugly chick’ (or dude)


Chapter 3:      Ticos, Ticas, & Pura Vida

…the he, she, & what life’s all about in Costa Rica


Chapter 4:      Getting Around Town

…calles, avenidas, & death-defying acts


Chapter 5:      Avenida Central

…strolling along the heartbeat of downtown


Chapter 6:      Avenida 4

…strolling with the locals


Chapter 7:      A Little about Costa Rican Food

…tipo-Tico foods for your taste buds


Chapter 8:      Where to Eat

…chowin’ down around town


Chapter 9:      Coffee Shops

…this ain’t no Starbucks, baby!


Chapter 10:      Mercado Central

…the shopping circus


Chapter 11:      Teatro Nacional

…the jewel in the jungle


Chapter 12:      The Three Barrios: Amón, Chino, & Gastronomic

…a stroll through the past, the Far East, the gastronomic street


Chapter 13:      Money Matters

…changing it, spending it, and hanging on to all you can


Chapter 14:      Groceries

…fuzzy fruit, $8.00 cereal, and all the necessities of life


Chapter 15:      Cabs, Buses, and Trains

…where to catch them, how to pay them, and riding with a smile


Chapter 16:      Entertainment

…music, movies, comedy, & malls


Chapter 17:      Museums & Parks

…all that culture & a little grass between your toes


Chapter 18:      Odds-n-Ends

…it’s those little things in life that make the difference

- Passport Issues

- Drinking Water

- Electrical Outlets

- Time Zones

- Internet Service

- Cell Phones

- Laundry

- Dry Cleaning

- Post Office

- Long Distance Phone Calls

- Embassies

- Cigars

- Books in English


Chapter 19:      Culture & Language

…a few tips so you don’t look like a complete dweeb


Chapter 20:      Gyms & Great Places to Workout

…hangin’ & bangin’ in paradise


Chapter 21      Where to Grab a Drink

…enjoying the ‘grape & suds’ in paradise


Chapter 22:      Driving

…only for the true kamikaze at heart


Chapter 23:      Security

…where to go if you absolutely, positively want to get robbed on your vacation


Chapter 24:       Medical, Dental, & Good Pharmacies

…getting something pulled, patched, and the medicine to get you through it all


Chapter 25:      A Few Final Thoughts

…out the door, on the road, and enjoy the adventure


About the Author

…a little more about The Guy who wrote this book

Why I’m The Guy to Write This Book


First of all, I’m The Guy to write this book because I actually live here in San José, Costa Rica, and I’ve lived here for years. I’m not just some wannabe knuckle-head who read a bunch of magazine articles and travel guides, studied up on the latest posts on some blog like The Wandering Buckaroo, swung through town on a long weekend, and then declared myself an expert.

I speak the language, understand the culture, and I’ve been through the ringer myself when it comes to learning how to get around town like a local.

Also, my Costa Rican wife and I have managed the historic Hemingway Inn in the beautiful Barrio Amón neighborhood of San José for almost three years. That gig alone keeps me plugged in on a daily basis as to what people are looking for and asking about when they visit this wonderful city.

Before I decided to plant some roots here in Costa Rica, I spent over twenty years working as a private investigator and security consultant all across Latin America. Consequently, by trade, I’m a ground-pounder…a seat-of-the-pants kind of guy who knows what it’s like to hit the ground running in a new country and make the most of the time that I have, and that means being able to get a quick handle on the insider’s track.

Just so you know, sometimes I’m a little sarcastic, and sometimes my sense of humor might come across as being a little warped, but it’s because I’m a right-between-the-eyes kind of guy who believes in telling it like it is. That’s exactly what I look for in a travel guide, and that’s exactly what I want to give you here


Dennis Hambright

The Guy to Write This Book


A Little Introduction

…and what this book is and is not about


I’ve been very fortunate to have traveled a lot in my life, and one thing I’ve learned is, whenever I land in a new destination, there are always those same basic things that I need to know right away to get the best out of my trip. Those are exactly the kinds of things I want to share with you in this book. Things like:


What’s the best way to navigate around town?
Where are the best places to eat or grab a good cup of coffee?
Where can I exchange money or find an ATM?
What about local buses and taxis?
Where can I get my laundry done?
What are some of the local customs I need to understand so I don’t end up looking like a complete dweeb?
What about safety issues, and what parts of town should I avoid?
Where’s the best gym or a good place to work out?
Where can I hang out and meet interesting people besides just other tourists?
…and so on, and so on, and so on.


With Day by Day in San José, my goal is to give you a real insider’s look at getting around town just like a local. I want you to enjoy the sights, sounds, and experiences this great city has to offer, and at the same time help you get the biggest bang for your buck while you’re here.


What this book is:

This is a book for travelers who plan on being in San José for a day, a week, a month, or even those who might fall in love with the place and decide to stick around for a while. It’s a book about navigating the town and finding all those things you really want, and not just all the touristy stuff. It’s about helping you make the most of your valuable time in this great city and offering you information you won’t find in most traditional travel guides.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not just going to point you to all the low-end cheap-o stuff. I want to help you find everything that you need, have some fun, and get the best value for your money. Sometimes that will include things that are definitely worth paying a little extra for.

Bottom line: This is a book about living in the now…Day by Day in San José.


What this book is not:

This is not a book about the history of San José. You won’t find a bunch of dates and details about the founding fathers, the historical significance of buildings and landmarks, and all that other trivia that might win you the big bucks on Jeopardy. You can find that information in a hundred other places. Granted, San José is full of truly interesting history, but that’s just not my bailiwick.

This is also not a book about high-end luxury travel. If you’re more accustomed to calling down to the concierge and ordering up first class, hold-your-hand service and paying an arm and a leg to get it, then there are plenty of guides to point you in that direction. This isn’t one of them.

This is also not a guide for people who just want to hang out with other tourists. I tell people all the time, “If I wanted to hang out with tourists and do all the stuff that I could do back home, then I would have just stayed back home.”

This is not a book about having experiences that you could have without getting a stamp in your passport.


If this is the book you’re looking for:

First of all, thank you for buying Day by Day In San José! Please visit my and send me a message if you have any comments, questions, or suggestions about what you might like to see in future editions.


Pura Vida!



San José, Costa Rica

…and why it’s like dating an ugly chick (or dude)


I love San José. I really do. I live here, write here, and have business here. Of all the places I’ve visited in my travels around the world, I chose to settle here in San José. Obviously, there’s something about this place that hit a sweet spot in my heart.

That being said, let me give you a little inside skinny-on-the-city. Hanging out in San José is a lot like dating an ugly chick (or dude). It’s a little like hooking up with someone who has way too many dents and dings and maybe a couple of long green toenails, and yeah, maybe they’re even a little snaggletoothed and rough around the social edges. But hey, the good news is, those are exactly the ones that will try even harder to make you happy.

Sometimes, when you walk around certain parts of downtown it can seem like a little bit of a dump. You’re not going to find the pristine, trash-less streets that you might encounter in some other Latin American capital cities. And for a country that’s world-renowned as an ecological haven, the river that runs through the middle of town is lovingly referred to as Poop River (and yes, I cleaned that moniker up a little). It’s brown, muddy, full of gunk-and-stuff, and definitely not a place you want to dip your toes.

However, fear not, because once you get outside the confines of the city and into the surrounding countryside, that’s when you’ll start to see the Costa Rica of your dreams; lush green hills, crystal clear rivers, cascading waterfalls, emerald tropical jungles, and endless white sand beaches. Multi-colored toucans, lazy sloths, and playful monkeys abound, and yes, it is absolute paradise.

If you’re expecting to see all of that eco-wonderland stuff within the confines of the city of San José, I’ll tell you right now, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

Now, let me say again, I love this place, and without a doubt, San José is an amazing city. Even with all of its dents and dings, I bet that you’ll find it just as exciting and engaging as I have for all these years.




San José is the capital city of Costa Rica. It’s the largest city in the country and has a population within the city limits that’s estimated at right around 350,000, with a metro area population around 1.5 million. That’s about a third of the population of the entire country.

Although there aren’t many people who actually live within the borders of downtown San José, it is the primary work center of the country, with an estimated one million people a day that come wandering through here. It’s also the seat of the national government and a lightning rod for political and economic activity. Like most big cities that claim those distinctions, it’s crowded, noisy, and congested. Basically, it’s a cluster-hump of activity. However, it also has a long list of great assets on its side for residents and tourists to enjoy.


Here are just a few of the Oh Hell Yeah! reasons I think you’ll find that just might make you love San José the way that I do:


The climate…the climate…and oh yeah, the climate. San José sits at an elevation of about 3,700 feet above sea level (1,200 meters) on a plateau in an area known as The Central Valley. Although Costa Rica is actually situated in the tropics, those of us who live in San José enjoy a perennial springtime. The Pacific coast is less than two hours away in one direction, and the Caribbean coast is about five hours away in the other. The temperature here rarely gets above 80F (26.6C). Needless to say, air conditioning is something that you can definitely live without. There’s a rainy season that runs from around May to October, and there are days when the rain comes down in buckets, especially in the month of October. But during the rest of the green season, as it’s locally referred to, when it does rain, it’s usually for only a few hours in the afternoon. It actually cools things off a bit and can make for really wonderful evenings. Once again, just in case you missed my enthusiastic endorsement for the #1 reason to love San José…it’s the climate.


San José is one of the safest and least violent major cities in all of Latin America. Sure, there are parts of town where you probably don’t want to go wandering around late at night, but tell me a city that doesn’t have a few of those areas.


Per square mile, San José probably has one of the greatest concentrations of museums, parks, theaters, music venues, historic buildings, and interesting open-air markets of any place that I’ve ever visited. With just a little imagination and slapping some shoe leather to pavement, it’s all right at hand to enjoy.


Costa Rica has one of the highest literacy rates in all of Latin America, and you’ll find an atmosphere where education is a high priority. Institutes like the University of Costa Rica (UCR) are world-renowned for excellence.


The people are warm and gracious and will go out of their way to make sure you have a wonderful stay in their country. As long as you don’t roll into town with that Ugly American attitude that I see far too often when some of my less-than-cordial countrymen decide to cross the border, then I think you’ll find the people of Costa Rica to be some of the friendliest you’ll encounter anywhere in Latin America.


Bottom line: San José truly is a diamond-in-the-rough city. If you’ll take the time to scratch just below the surface and overlook a few cosmetic flaws, I believe you’ll find it to be a wonderfully interesting and fantastic place to visit.


Insider’s Tip: One of the first things that comes as quite a shock to many first-time visitors to Costa Rica is how expensive it is. Costa Rica is a country with an economy heavily dependent on tourism, and there is very little manufacturing. Consequently, anything that’s imported into the country gets hit with a heavy tax. Clothes, electronics, food not locally grown, and many everyday items like razor blades, sunscreen, deodorant, cereal, and the like, carry a surprisingly hefty price tag. Compared to our neighbors Panamá and Nicaragua, the cost of living in Costa Rica can be up to twice as much as it is in those countries, and some items can cost even more than what you might be used to paying back home. That’s not to say that you can’t find some great bargains if you know where to look (which we’re going to help you with in this book), but it is something I want you to be aware of so you can plan your travel budget accordingly.


Ticos, Ticas, & Pura Vida

…the he, she, & what life’s all about in Costa Rica


Before we get into the nitty-gritty details about enjoying your time in San José, I think it’s a good idea to talk about a few things you’ll probably hear or see as soon as you arrive at the airport, and will definitely be exposed to on a daily basis during your time in Costa Rica.


Local Currency:

The local currency in Costa Rica is the colon (koh-LONE). The plural of colon is colones (koh-LONE-ehs). I’ll go into much more detail regarding money matters in Chapter 13, but I thought it might be a good idea to go ahead and let you know what the local currency is since I’ll be referring to it throughout the book.


Ticos & Ticas:

In general, Costa Rican’s are known as Ticos. Just like people from Mexico are Mexicans, people from Germany are Germans, and people from Canada are Canadians…the native people of Costa Rica are Ticos.


More specifically:

- Men are called Ticos (the masculine form).

- Women are called Ticas (the feminine form).


The terms Ticos and Ticas are not slang or defamatory in any way, and in fact, are a point of pride for the people of Costa Rica, so feel free to use them freely.


Insider’s Tip: If you’re from the U.S. and someone asks where you’re from, you do not want to respond, “I’m American.” The truth is, that’s a little offensive in Costa Rica as well as other Central and Latin American countries. People in Costa Rica are also Americans (Central Americans), just like people from

countries further south are Americans (South Americans). Sometimes those of us living in the north seem to forget that. If you’re asked where you’re from, a better response is, “I’m North American” (norteamericano), or, “I’m from the United States.” Or, if you’re like me, you can proudly say, “I’m Texan,” and that always gets a quick smile and a handshake!


Pura Vida:

If a country can have a national mantra and philosophy for living, then Pura Vida would be it for Costa Rica.

Literally translated, Pura Vida