San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Free Tour Explores San José’s Cultural Landscape

Olman Víquez observed a display of two dozen overturned flamenco guitars at the Contemporary Art and DesignMuseum in San José. In the next room, he watched a woman float on a black screen, while numerous leaks spouted from her body. Other installations in the exhibit showed examples of flamenco in Japanese culture and a video of women singing while creating traditional flamenco dress.

When Víquez was finished, the Heredia native left to catch the bus. This was just the first of Víquez’s stops on last week’s Art City Tour. The bus would transport him throughout San José to observe the city’s cultural landscape.

The fifth edition of the Art City Tour on April 21 offered a glimpse into downtown San José’s art scene. The free excursion showcased 21 museums and cultural sites around the capital on five different tour routes.

“It’s good because there is so much different about each museum,” Víquez, 44, said. “Not one museum offers it all. They are all different. At Alianza Francesa, we saw paintings. In the JadeMuseum, we saw pre-Columbian art. And here we saw contemporary or performance art.”

An estimated 1,100 people participated in this month’s Art City Tour, said tour organizer Henry Bastos. It’s the first time the tour has reached quadruple digits with participants. The tour attracted 450 people during its debut in 2008. During the last tour in February, event host GAM Cultural counted 800 attendees.

Bastos is thrilled with the tour’s growth and pleased to see the interest in Costa Rica’s art scene. He lauded the large number of younger people he saw taking the tour.

“The objective is very clear: to discover and to recover,” Bastos said. “The circulation of culture is important. In reality it is the role of everyone to care for culture. People like the tour and have responded very well when there are events like this.”

Oscar Barrantes and Mariana Blanco, both 23, sat outside one tour bus stop praising the variety of art the tour had to offer.

“We already came once before (in February),” Barrantes said. “The experience is very beautiful.”

With attendance exceeding expectations, the tour did suffer some hitches. A common common complaint began with the buses, Barrantes said. Too much waiting. Too many lines. Buses were supposed to arrive at each stop every 15 minutes, but many times the wait extended to 20 minutes or more. Blanco added there weren’t enough buses to accommodate the long lines of attendees at some stops.

But even without viewing all 21 sites, it was possible to see a wide variety of art on display. In the Jacob Karpio Gallery, white walls featured paintings smothered in metallic shades of silver, black and gold. This collection of artwork by Swiss-Costa Rican John Juric showed a futuristic, steam-punk style – a sharp contrast from what was found at the Central Bank Museums. There, visitors encountered several exhibits showing the history of indigenous people in Central America, stretching back 1,500 years, as well as intricate gold handicrafts and centuries-old weapons on display. Barrio Escalante’s Hotel 1492 and the highly regarded eatery Kalú, in Barrio Amón, also had exhibits on the tour.

One couple from Berlin, Germany, took the tour as a way to entertain their kids. Helena Radbruch said she enjoyed the history found at the museums. However, she thought originality lacked at some parts, as she had seen similar exhibits in Europe.

“Coming from Berlin, we have a big, big museum from Mexico … and it’s quite similar,” Radbruch, 29, said. “But I find it quite impressive to see it here in context – not stolen things from archeological sites.”

Bastos said he’s received excellent feedback on the tour, with people telling him they’d like to see something like this more often. He plans to add a similar tour in the western suburb of Escazú, he added.

To cope with the bus problems, Bastos said in the future he’d like to start the tour earlier to allow more time to explore all the museums. Last week’s tour ran from 6 to 8:30 p.m.

Víquez would agree with that idea. He said the tour is a great way to take in the culture of San José, and next time he just hopes to see more of it.

“I like the idea principally,” Víquez said. “There are good exhibits at places and bad exhibits. We did not view them all, but all you need to see is several exhibits to know which you like. It’s good to see so many people in all these places.”

The next Art City Tour is planned for June 23. For information, contact GAM Cultural at 8817-3136 or

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