San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Neighborhoods Vary Greatly Around City

WATCHING a pair of Quetzals totally perplexed and jabbering about which tree to build their nest in brought to mind how humans often do the same thing. Many of us are forced to move; because where we chose to live was a disastrous mistake.

If you’re planning to settle in San José, or the surrounding environs, an abundance of choices exist depending on your lifestyle, pocketbook, climatic preferences and means of transportation.

Neighborhoods vary greatly, often within a few blocks, and temperatures change rapidly according to altitude.

Starting in the heart of the city, devotees of downtown living should take a walk around the historical residential areas just north and east of the center.

Barrios Otoya and Amón, extending from Ave. 3 and 11 and Calles 3 and 15, contain the city’s largest concentration of 19th century architecture. Old homes have been sensitively renovated and some subdivided into spacious apartments.

Trendy restaurants, art galleries and nightlife are nearby. The area is also ideal for those who don’t own a car because taxis are easily available and many amenities located within a short walk.

HEADING east from downtown, Barrio Escalante and Los Yoses are upper middle-class residential neighborhoods.

Quiet tree-lined streets spread north and south off the main thoroughfare with its excellent bus service.

These neighborhoods boast some of the best restaurants in town and are home to cultural centers and embassies.

A little further east, the SanPedroMall and La Hispanidad traffic circle designate the beginning of San Pedro, home to several universities including the University of Costa Rica.

Students meander along the streets day and night, rents are reasonable and all types of accommodations available. This is where the action is, whether you’re looking for a vegetarian restaurant, funky bars, or the city’s hottest nightlife.

San Pedro is not only for the young, or young in heart, but also has peaceful, family orientated neighborhoods, just a few blocks from the milieu of the student-flavored environment.

A ten-minute drive east and you’ll find the Plaza del Sol shopping center, marking the beginning of Curridabat – a bustling suburb with an interesting diversity of homes and apartments to suit all tastes and budgets.

Excellent shopping, fast-food outlets, health clubs and a good bus service are all close by.

Still on the east side of San José, those who like a cool climate and stunning views of the Central Valley should consider the higher elevations.

Winding roads starting in Sabanilla lead to the rural, once virtually undeveloped communities of San Ramón de Tres Ríos and Coronado.

Beautiful homes, humble dwellings, new residential developments (see separate story) and property for building your own abode are still to be found in this brisk climatic zone.

The mountainside around Aserrí –south of downtown San José – is often forgotten and has been slow to develop. It offers a similar climate, and spectacular views across the valley with Irazú Volcano looming in the distance.

WEST of San José, the verdant La Sabana Park, a sprawling, tree-lined recreational area, serves as a buffer zone between the hustle and bustle of downtown and the up-market district of Rohrmoser, with its executive-style homes and apartment buildings.

Those who like to jog, or partake in early morning communal exercises, favor the quiet enclaves of residential streets on both sides of the park, known as Sabana Norte and Sabana Sur.

Farther west, you’ll find the more reasonably priced suburban area of Pavas.

Classy restaurants, sports bars, shopping and good bus services are all within easy reach of these residential districts close to downtown.

The fashionable pace-setting western suburb of Escazú covers the gamut from sophisticated opulence to rustic simplicity.

It caters to the nouveau-riche lifestyle with its posh homes, condominiums, fine dining and first-rate shopping.

SAN Rafael de Escazú is a hub of urban expansion, but a few minutes walk or drive west to Guachipelín, and you’ll find tranquility still exists.

Off the main road, family homes and gated communities intermingle with embassy residences and high-rise condominiums. Nearby, shopping plazas and restaurants seem to spring up overnight.

SPRAWLING out in all directions and up the hillside from the old town of Escazú, there’s an eclectic choice of homes. Bello Horizonte appeals to those who seek an upscale, lower elevation environment, or country living found in the hills above the small village of the selfsame name.

In harmony with the rural charm of San Antonio’s hillside setting, adobe houses and village life are still prevalent. But among a maze of steep roads that twist higher into the misty mountains, you’ll find extravagant contemporary dwellings, simple alpine-style homes and rustic abodes.

If you relish a bucolic setting and stunning views, this is the place to rent, build, or buy your nest. But beware! You’ll need a car and probably a fireplace.

EVEN farther west, the small town of Santa Ana nestles in the “Valley of the Sun.” Though still cherishing the customs of Tiquicia, its many small neighborhoods are developing fast, and becoming a trendy place for those who enjoy warmer climes.

Ciudad Colón, even warmer and farther west, is also gaining popularity, particularly with work on the new highway to the Pacific port of Caldera poised to begin (see separate story).

Alajuela and Heredia, northwest of San José, still maintain their small city provincial charm, plus offer excellent amenities and bus services to San José.

ALAJUELA has a warmer climate than Heredia. Residential areas are scattered among the rolling countryside, stretching out as far as La Garita. Houses in all price ranges are available in this convenient and pleasant area.

Downtown Heredia is a jumping-off point to small urban communities, chilly mountain towns and villages that dot its periphery.

Popular with the ex-pat community, particularly those who dote on gardening, the chilly higher elevations of the Heredia mountains offer panoramic views, or are encircled by whispering pines.

The choice of where to live can be baffling, but if you take your time, consider your priorities and look before you leap, you should have no problem finding your very own, “home, sweet home.”


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