San Jose, Costa Rica, from Above

(Trip courtesy of Marriott Costa Rica)

Ah, Latin American cities: what’s not to love? Wide boulevards, awe-inspiring palaces, gorgeous old-world-new-world architecture…packs of stray dogs, beggars, choking smog, bewildering transportation options… San José is better than most, but it can be difficult to maintain perspective while tired and footsore, your head all a-whirl from the noise and traffic and giant billboards.

Check out the view from here.

I was standing on the top of a hill overlooking San José, Costa Rica, a little travel-worn and stressed about a frank exchange of opinions (about Obama’s healthcare plan…how blasé) I’d had with another, wealthier American I had met there. It happened at Tiquicia, a nice, though tourist-focused restaurant serving traditional Costa Rican fare.

There’s a full bar, live music and dancing on weekends—but the real attraction is the view, which, as you’ve already seen, is breathtaking.

It was a foggy night that was beginning to clear as I shot the view. From there, from that distance, perspective was forced into my brain with a jolt, forcing me to recalibrate. San José had transformed from a manic whirlwind of cars and dogs to a sea of twinkling lights and orange-illuminated clouds far beneath me. And, the inevitable analogy: that even my most deeply held beliefs are, in the long run, silly preoccupations. I didn’t even care, as it turned out, about that asshole’s position on healthcare, and I can’t change his mind for him. Proselytizing is pointless. Just, focus on one point, breathe, and enjoy the view.

By: Ben Britz


A San Jose Spa Specializing in Sunburns–Unofficially

When I first scheduled my appointment for a massage at Kuo Spa (a part of Costa Rica Marriott San Jose), I did so idly. “When isn’t a full body massage a good idea?”, I asked myself. I also answered myself: massages are always a good idea. Always. Except for when you have a full body sunburn hot enough to fry a…frittata on.

I’d been out white water rafting the previous day with Exploradores/Swiss Travel. Though normally diligent beyond reason about lathering myself with 50+ sun-block (ear lobes and toes too, I can’t help it, I’m a beaming 5’7 worth of white on white), there’s something about the crashing water of Class IV and V rapids that just wipes that stuff right off. I surrendered to The Pacuare River and baked myself all afternoon. I still don’t regret it. I had a blast.

But did I want someone rubbing me up and down the next day when I could hardly pull on my sheer cotton tee without wincing? No. I did not.

I walked into Kuo spa–a sad sight I’m sure. Frowning, I showed the man working at the front desk my hands. They were blotched with some kind of burn that looked more like I’d spilled boiling coffee all over my hands than been out rafting. I’m not that great at Spanish and he wasn’t that great at English, but the cherry red streaks across my body said it all and this man called in my masseuse.

Speaking in Spanish, they looked at me, exchanged ideas, nodded, and then told me they were going to craft a special “Sunburn Treatment” for me on the spot.
My masseuse used more (all natural) products on me than I can even remember. His hands, which I’d bet are normally strong and forceful on muscle, were like feathers. Fresh aloe. Soothing music. Really good smelling stuff. I half expected the red to have disappeared by the time I hovered, glowing, out of this 60 minute treatment.

My point: The Kuo Spa at this hotel is amazing. If burnt by the vengeful equator sun in the San Jose area, you’ll be hard pressed to find another spa so resourceful with their products and flexible with their menu as to whip you up a customized post-burn treatment. Remember I said this. Take this knowledge with you to Costa Rica. Thank me later.

By: Elizabeth Seward

Hotel San Jose: an Austin Tradition

Famous (and rightfully so) hotelier Liz Lambert crafted a masterpiece on Austin’s South Congress Avenue when she flipped the original uber-modern Hotel San Jose built in 1939.  As chronicled by the hotel’s documentary, The Last Days of the San Jose, Lambert had a seemingly unconquerable task ahead of her, refurbishing the deteriorating and violent scape of the San Jose frequented by crackheads, prostitutes, and once- a stabbing, and all too often guests unable to pay the hotel’s rate offering only what they could.

Everything about the hotel is a contradiction- a beautiful contradiction that is. With stucco walls and cacti aside ivy-covered walls and complimentary baskets of apples scattered throughout the premises, Hotel San Jose is both modern and simple, Feng Shui-appropriate and exquisitely quirky- yet surprisingly calm and invigorating. A place you would go when you want both serenity and hipness, tastefully paired with house-made white wine sangria and Polaroid cameras available for rent to snap nostalgic photos of the cozy corners San Jose has tucked away behind desert flora and ’50s inspired lawn furniture. Vintage typewriters are also available to rent during your stay, so you can write haikus under a shade-tree, a love letter in the comfort of your bed, or maybe a death threat while under the influence. Either way, the unusual amenities are quite romantic.

The courtyard is chill and funky, while hipster servers take orders in high-waisted pencil skirts and short, perfect bangs- orders for fun beers like Ephemere and the new house charcuterie board. Neighboring the hotel pool, the courtyard births an ambience of 1950s eclectic-ness with Jetsons-y touches and rock-n-roll artistic-ness.

Tucked into the overgrown walls of San Jose, it almost feels as if you’ve entered a desert fortress somewhere completely other than this too-hip-to-be-trendy section of South Congress Ave. The rooms are simple and complex, masterfully done. The walls are white. The floors are white. The bathroom is white. A colorful tapestry adds a splash of color to the bed and an antique school desk sits perfectly under the bright window with a single, fresh white flower on its top.  A typed Billy Collins poem called “Morning” on nothing other than plain, white paper is tacked to the bathroom wall with a sewing pin. Simply, yet boldly stated.

The mini-bar offers irresistable novelties as well. My weakness? Cracker Jacks. Cracker Jacks ignite the inner child and when paired with a full bottle of Blanc du Bois (made with Texas grapes) from Georgetown Winery (30 minutes north of Austin), it’s easy to please the aging drunkard as well, similarly to the contradicting presence of San Jose itself.

Within walking distance of some of Austin’s most iconic local businesses, San Jose’s location is prime for those who seek exploration. Nearby is Pink Hair Salon, offering one of the city’s only beehives (yes, really!); Home Slice Pizza, which hand-tosses dough as you wait and is arguably the BEST pizza in town; Boticelli’s, an Italian restaurant with a delightful beer garden and outdoor films on Sundays (my favorite that I’ve caught thus far? Mr. Mom); Uncommon Goods, perhaps my favorite salvage and vintage shop ANYwhere; the Continental Club, featuring great bands nightly; and Hey Cupcake (if they haven’t discontinued it for ethical purposes, the Michael Jackson is my favorite- white on the top and black on the bottom). And those are just a few of the nearby treasures.

San Jose is what happens when the cardigan-wearing librarian girl has a naughty love affair with the leather jacket-clad Jimmy Dean look-a-like. And there’s something sexy about that. Though it makes no sense to those who’ve yet to visit, San Jose is the perfect reflection of an institution and rock-n-roll, truly creating a School of Rock appeal.

By: Ashley Halligan

Safe and Sound Hotels: San Jose, Costa Rica

San Jose, Costa Rica isn’t my favorite city. Nor will it ever be. It, to my knowledge, hardly represents what people go to Costa Rica to see. It lacks the luster of the rain forest downtown, it goes without the wildlife–it stands without the peacefulness. It is, instead, dirtier than I wish and filled with taxi drivers who scam you into paying $60 for a two block ride (this did happen to me and at the end of the day, you have to make a choice between paying an ungodly amount for a taxi ride and taking the risk of getting kidnapped or shot. I decided to fork over my money and grunt about it over beers the rest of the afternoon).

But whether or not you’re charmed by San Jose is usually irrelevant. It’s irrelevant because chances are you’ll have to stop in San Jose if you go to Costa Rica no matter what. San Jose is Costa Rica’s hub. It is the home of their main airport. On my way to Playa Nicuesa, which is located at the bottom of the country near the Panama border, I decided to stop in San Jose for a couple of nights, for a couple of reasons. Reason #1: I didn’t want to go to Costa Rica for the first time without being able to come back to the states with my own opinion of the country’s largest city. Reason #2: I didn’t want to waste any of my precious days in the rain forest being jet-lagged. Instead, I opted to sleep away 14 hours of my first day in Costa Rica in San Jose.

Despite my underwhelmed feelings for the city, I was so lucky to have picked two welcoming hotels, both with filling complimentary breakfasts, for my two nights in San Jose.

Hotel Rincon De San Jose presents much more on the inside than you’d suspect when looking at the hotel from the outside. The musty white exterior does the inner winding paths, completed with tropical plants galore, zero justice. The staff are friendly, the beds are comfortable, and the shower water is warm. For under $60, this place is a perfect spot for crashing without taking any chances.

Kekoldi Hotel, right down the street from Hotel Rincon (or $60 away if you get scammed by a taxi driver like I did), offers comfort and a bright atmosphere. The outdoor garden is beautiful and perfect for an afternoon siesta (or afternoon beers designed to help you ease your PTSD). The staff are welcoming and I’d absolutely stay in the hotel again.

When I took off from San Jose to Golfito, in one of the coolest airplanes I have ever been on thanks to Nature Air, I had some contemplating to do.

I was sorry to have the not-so-thrilled feelings about San Jose that I had. I was not sorry, however, to have spent my two nights there in two steal-of-a-deal, perfectly comfortable hotels.

By: Elizabeth Seward