San José’s Museums Make Good Rainy-Day Excursions
If the weather throws a wrench into your outdoor plans, take advantage and visit some of the nation’s museums. While they may not stand up to world-class museums in Europe or the United States, they do offer charm and a wide variety of temporary educational and art exhibits.
Most of the country’s major museums are in downtown San José, making for an easy walk or quick taxi ride between them. Here is an introduction to some of the biggies. For information on locations, hours and admission prices for these and other museums, see the “Museums of Costa Rica” sidebar on the following page.
Central Bank Museums
Undoubtedly one of the nation’s finest offerings, this is really two museums in one – the CoinMuseum and world-famous Pre-Columbian Gold Museum. The facility’s three floors, located beneath Plaza de la Cultura in downtown San José, also include three separate temporary exhibit spaces.
The collection of gold – more than 2,000 ceremonial items, animal totems and funerary offerings – elicits raves from many visitors.
While the collection is stunning, dating and explanations of the items’ importance leave something to be desired.
There is also a hands-on pottery lab and temporary exhibit of medicinal plants that runs until August.
The medicinal installment explains how to prepare plants such as avocado, cocoa and certain gourds to treat ailments like hemorrhoids, sinusitis and gastritis. Video reenactments of shamanic ceremonies depict the healing practices of the Bribrí and Cabécar indigenous people.
The Coin Museum, which houses an old coin collection, is currently closed but is set to reopen May 15, after the end of a highly popular exhibition of original Rembrandt prints.
Through July 13, one whole floor is dedicated to presenting nine of the country’s younger artists, who earned the right to have their work exhibited worldwide after they won a competition sponsored by the Inter- American Development Bank and Banco Nacional last year.
Upcoming exhibits include “Money of Costa Rica and Ecuador,” starting June 30; “Perceptions of Color,” Aug. 14 to Dec. 14; and “Pre-Columbian Birds,” starting Oct. 15.
Your kids might never let you hear the end of it if you let them frolic in this 40-room museum housed in the country’s former Central Penitentiary (1910-1979). You can’t miss the yellow, castle-like structure at the north end of Calle 4.
With so many intensely educational exhibits on display, getting through this 14-year-old museum in one full day may prove difficult even for adults. This fully grown reporter fell in love with the four-room optical illusion exhibit, “La Casa de las Torrejas,” a house built on a 20-degree angle.
The dizzying array of permanent exhibits include model supermarkets, banks, health clinics, computer labs, flight simulators, and radio and TV studios where your kids can get more hands-on fun than they’ve probably had in months. They can even have a guide help them produce their own TV and radio programs. Playrooms are available for rent.
Costa RicanArt Museum
This small but charming museum on the east side of western San José’s La Sabana Park has a long history. Once part of the country’s only international airport, including a VIP room for visiting dignitaries, it now houses permanent and temporary exhibits showcasing Costa Rican art.
Among the museum’s permanent exhibits is the exquisitely detailed Féron necklace, made of 24-karat gold by Frenchman Louis Féron in 1936. The art on the necklace details Costa Rica’s pre- and post-conquest history. Féron, a celebrated goldsmith who worked in Costa Rica and the United States, originally created the necklace and two gold earrings for U.S. citizen Walter Klippert, who gave them to his wife as a present. The piece made its way back to Costa Rica in 2002 after being donated to the museum by the Klipperts’ daughter, Martha Brewster.
On display through May 25 is “Las Posibilidades de la Mirada” (“The Potential of the Glance”), a collective exhibit by some 50 Costa Rican artists. The display includes a sculpture by Leda Astorga of a hideously dressed, obese tourist, called “Conquistador.”
Another temporary exhibit, “Conjunciones,” which runs through June 8, seeks to explore the brotherhood between Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans (TT, April 4).
The museum is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year with a special exhibit set to be inaugurated June 19.
Housed in the Bellavista fortress off Plaza de la Democracia in eastern San José, this underrated museum is still pockmarked with bullet holes from a 1917 coup d’état. It has five different areas – Pre-Columbian, Gold, Motherland, Colonial, ButterflyGarden – as well as multiple temporary exhibit areas. Monthly music performances put the building’s acoustics to good use.
The eclectic mix of anthropology, archaeology, colonial architecture and history exhibits makes for a well-rounded experience.
The supposedly temporary butterfly garden is a nice place to take some deep, Zen-like breaths.
The museum’s history exhibits, collection of stone spheres and ceremonial metates are its strongest points.
This reporter picked up an interesting tidbit here: Costa Rica was the last country in Central America to develop a press presence in 1830, 291 years after Mexico and 170 after Guatemala. Its first newspaper was called La Tertulia.
Museums of Costa Rica
Abangares Mines Ecomuseum: Gold-extraction machines, tunnels, trails, wagons, photos, 2662-1413, La Sierra, Abangares, Guanacaste, 7 a.m.-4 p.m., closed Mondays, ¢1,500.
Central Bank Museums: Made up of Gold Museum, Coin Museum and temporary art exhibit spaces, more than 1,000 pre-Columbian gold artifacts, indigenous objects, 2243-4202, www.museosdelbancocentral.org, below Plaza de la Cultura, Ca. 5, Av. Ctrl./2, San José, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Mon.-Sun., residents ¢1,000, tourists $7, kids under 11 free.
Children’s Museum: Children’s rights, universe, earth, living creatures, interactive exhibits, National Gallery, National
Auditorium, youth complex, guided tours, 2258-4929, www.museocr.com, end Ca. 4, Av. 9, San José, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Tues.-Fri., 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m., weekends, adults ¢1,100, kids under 18 ¢800.
Contemporary Art and Design Museum: Contemporary Central American art, five exhibit halls, 2257-9370, www.madc.ac.cr, CENAC, Av. 3/5, Ca. 15/17, San José, 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Mon.-Sat., foreigners $2, residents ¢500, students with ID ¢300, kids and seniors free, Mondays free.
Costa Rican Art Museum: Temporary and permanent art exhibits, 2222-7155, www.musarco.go.cr, east side of La Sabana Park, San José, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Tues.-Fri., 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Sat.-Sun., foreigners $5, students with ID $3, residents ¢500, seniors and children free, Sundays free.
Costa Rican Volcanology Museum: History of Irazú Volcano, information on the Earth and Costa Rican volcanoes, legends, trails, farm, garden, restaurant, 2530-8023, 8301-3996, www.nochebuena.org, 5 km before entrance to Irazú Volcano, Cartago, adults ¢2,000, kids ¢1,000.
Dr. Rafael Angel Calderón Guardia Museum: In former Calderón family historic mansion, exhibits life of former president Rafael Angel Calderón (1940-1944), 1948 civil war documentation, student library, art exhibits, films, theater, dance shows in auditorium, 2255-1218, email@example.com, Ca. 25/27, Av. 11, Barrio Escalante, San José, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Mon.-Sat., free.
Grupo ICE Historical Technology Museum: Exhibits, documents, photos, about history of electricity and telecommunications in Costa Rica, 2220-6497, www.grupoice.com, 400 m north of ICE, Sabana Norte, San José, 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Mon.-Fri., free.
Historical Farming Museum of Santa Ana: 19th-century farming machinery in 1757 house, with farm, small plantations, traditional sugar mill, coffee-processing plant, 2282-8434, www.fundazoo.org, 200 m north of Liceo de Santa Ana, 8 a.m.- 4 p.m., Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Sat.-Sun., adults ¢1,500, kids 3-7 and seniors with carné de oro ¢1,000.
Insect Museum: More than 500 insects, 2207-5318, firstname.lastname@example.org, basement of University of Costa Rica School of Music, San Pedro, 1-4:45 p.m., Mon.-Fri., tourists ¢1,000, residents ¢500, kids ¢200.
Jade Museum: Pre-Columbian jade, stone and ceramics, 2287-6034, www.ins-cr.com, outside INS building, Av. 7/9, Ca.
9/11, 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-1 p.m., Sat., foreigners $7, residents ¢1,000, kids under 12 free.
Jewish Museum of Costa Rica: Photos, documents, films of the Jewish community in Costa Rica and the Holocaust, 2520-1013, ext. 129, www.geocities.com/museojudiodecostarica, Centro Israelita Sionista de Costa Rica, Rohrmoser, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. by appointment only, free.
José Figueres Ferrer Cultural Center: Photos, exhibits on 1948 civil war, cultural activities, art exhibits, 2447-2178, www.centrojosefigueres.org, San Ramón de Alajuela, north side of church, 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Mon.-Sat., free.
Juan SantamaríaMuseum: Highlights battles against U.S. filibuster William Walker in 1856-1857 and life of legendary hero Juan Santamaría, 2441-4775, email@example.com, Av. 3, Ca. Ctrl./2, Alajuela, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Tues.-Sun., free.
La Salle Natural Sciences Museum: More than 65,000 specimens of zoology, paleontology, archaeology, mineralogy, dinosaur display, 2232-1306, firstname.lastname@example.org, southwest corner of La Sabana Park, San José, 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Mon.-Sat., 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun., adults ¢700, kids ¢500.
Liceo de Costa Rica Museum: Photos, art collection, trophy room, alumni objects, books, 2233-6784, Boulevard de Liceo de Costa Rica, Av. 18, San José, 8 a.m.-3 p.m., Mon.-Fri., free.
National Museum: In old Bellavista Fortress, pre-Columbian art, colonial period art and furniture, natural history exhibits, temporary art and photo exhibits, butterfly garden, 2257-1433, www.museocostarica.go.cr, Ca. 17, Av. Ctrl./2, San José, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Tues.-Sat., 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Sun., foreigners $4, foreign students with ID $2, residents ¢500, kids under 12 free.
Omar SalazarRegionalMuseum: Anthropology, archaeology and GuayaboMonument exhibits, temporary art exhibits, 2558-3733, email@example.com, UCR Turrialba campus, 8:30 a.m.-noon, 1-4:30 p.m., Mon.-Fri., free.
Our Lady of Ujarrás Museum: History of Ujarrás, religious and indigenous artifacts, books, photo collection, 2574-7258, basement of Catholic church, Paraíso de Cartago, 2:30-5:30 p.m., Thurs.-Sat., 9 a.m.-noon and 2:30-5:30 p.m., Sun., ¢100.
Peace Museum: Created with proceeds from President Oscar Arias’ 1987 Nobel Peace Prize, documents peace successes, explores prospects for peace, 2223-4664, www.arias.or.cr, Av. 2, Ca. 13, San José, 8 a.m.-noon and 1:30-4:30 p.m., Mon.-Fri., free.
Popular Culture Museum: Old wattle-and-daub house built in 1885-1887 by the parents of former president Alfredo González, furniture, domestic/work tools of the era, 2260-1619, firstname.lastname@example.org, Santa Lucía, Barva, Heredia, 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Mon.-Fri. (reservations), 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun., foreigners $2, residents ¢500, kids ¢300.
Punta Islita Open-Air ContemporaryArt Museum: Temporary exhibits, 2661-4044, email@example.com, Islita de Bejuco, Nandayure, Guanacaste, tours at 10 a.m., Tues.-Sun.
Railroad Museum: Photos, tools, AEG German locomotive, 8810-0660, firstname.lastname@example.org, former train station, Río Grande de Atenas, noon-6 p.m., Sat., 7 a.m.-6 p.m., Sun., ¢500.
San Blas de NicoyaMuseum: Religious wood icons in an adobe building, 2685-5109, next to San Blas Park, Nicoya, Guanacaste, 8 a.m.-7 p.m., Mon.-Sat., free.
San José de Orosi Religious Art Museum: Colonial religious art, 2533-3852, Orosi Church, Orosi, 1-5 p.m., Tues.-Fri., 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Sat.-Sun., adults ¢350, kids ¢200.
Santa Rosa Battle House: Site of skirmish with U.S. filibuster William Walker, 2666-5051, Santa Rosa National Park, Guanacaste, 8 a.m.-4 p.m., foreigners $10, foreign kids $1, residents ¢1,110, kids under 12 ¢400.
Stamp and Coin Museum of Costa Rica: Stamp collection, history of telegraph, mail, 2223-6918, www.correos.go.cr, 2nd floor of Central Post Office, Ca. 2, Av. 1/3, San José, 8 a.m.-4:45 p.m., Mon.-Fri., adults ¢150, kids ¢100.
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