It’s not easy to find a place that pleases everyone, from the little kids up to the post-middle-aged generation, a place that’s comfortable, fun and, for those living in the Central Valley, easy to reach.
Parque de Diversiones, 2 km west of Hospital México in the northwestern San José district of La Uruca, is an amusement park that lives up to its name. It’s also a cultural park and a museum, and it’s roomy enough that you don’t feel like you’re in a crowd. With ample benches and whimsical seats shaped like fruit, even resting can be an entertaining activity.
There are rides for all ages and scream levels, some just for tots and some for older children and adults. A separate area, Plaza Tío Conejo, named for Carmen Lyra’s well-known children’s stories, is decorated with fanciful creatures and includes mild rides for all ages.
For the show-you’re-not-scared crowd, there are rides like the Torre (Tower) that rises 40 meters in the air, leaving legs and shoes dangling over a platform, and suspensefully keeps you aloft for an everlasting minute before whooshing downward. Or the Disco, a round disc that whirls while careening back and forth on a huge arc at such high speed that you’re only a blur. These make the roller coaster seem like kiddie stuff.
The Reventazón and the Pacuare are named for two of the country’s white-water rivers, and with good reason.
Rubber rafts plunge down chutes and land in water, making you wet, but perhaps not scared. Then there are paddleboats on the lake, go-karts, bumper cars, oyster-shell and octopus rides and more. Four trains range from tot-type to an old-fashioned one that travels all around the park and is a favorite with grandparents.
Set apart on a hilly area is Pueblo Viejo (OldTown). This is a walk-through museum with a furnished house from 1892, a farm with animals and old implements, oxcarts, a pulpería or country store, a streetcar and train depot, and a church where Mass is said on Sundays at 4 p.m. With luck, you may find a real wedding taking place in the church.
Theater is also a part of the fun. Parque de Diversiones’ own theater company performs children’s plays in one area and classical works in another. Many schools take advantage of the theater and combine it with a “day off” for students.
For lunch or snacks, choices range from bring-your-own-picnic to dinners in the rustic restaurant in Pueblo Viejo or the food court. Several snack bars provide in-between fill-eruppers.
The picnic areas next to the paddleboat lake are pleasant, shady and grassy. Crumbs and bread leftovers can be taken to the designated fish feeding area.
There’s more to Parque de Diversiones than fun. It is well staffed with friendly attendants who see to safety procedures and ensure children meet the right height and age requirements for the rides. An hour before 9 a.m. opening, this army of workers is busy cleaning and checking the rides and grounds to make sure all is ready when the gates open. The grounds and many of the rides are wheelchair-accessible.
While enjoying all the park has to offer, you are also helping the National Children’s Hospital care for sick and injured kids. The idea goes back to the polio epidemics that struck in the 1950s. At that time, there was no pediatric center in the country, so doctors and concerned citizens formed the Association for the National Children’s Hospital to build and furnish a hospital especially for children. Parque de Diversiones opened in 1981 as a project of the association to ensure funds for the hospital’s needs.
Parque de Diversiones is open Friday through Sunday and during the week when school is out for vacation. Doors open at 9 a.m. The park is two kilometers west of Hospital México along the access road in front of the hospital. The green buses that leave downtown San José from Avenida 7, between Calle 4 and 6, for Hospital México and La Carpio stop at the gate.
Admission is free, but parking costs ¢2,500 ($4.70). Passes for an unlimited number of rides are ¢6,300 ($12), with discounts for older adults. Individual rides cost ¢550 ($1) each.
The park has a fun website at www.parquediversiones.com. With the interactive map and all the moving parts, it’s almost like being right there.