As darkness fell on San José, our group wandered though the near-deserted streets and parks of downtown. We paused in front of statues, fountains and historic buildings to snap photos. Although San José takes on an edge of danger after sunset, ChepeCletas encourages people to explore the city at night by offering Nocturbano, a nighttime city tour.
Roberto Guzmán, Ayal Bryant and Sandra Solóranzo founded ChepeCletas last year with the goal of revitalizing the city through a new urban culture. Their grandmothers had regaled them with stories of “when San José was the most beautiful city in Latin America,” and the trio wanted to show people that that beauty still exists.
According to ChepeCletas’ website, “San José is a rough diamond that requires only a little faith, work and inspiration for it to shine again.”
“People like to walk at night in San José without fear and to rediscover the city on foot,” Guzmán said. “It’s interesting that even though we pass a place many times, it’s not until we walk by and observe it carefully that we come to appreciate it.”
For many, the chance to walk around San José at night is an appealing and novel idea. David Carmona of Alajuela, northwest of the capital, said he likes San José but doesn’t know the city.
“There’s so much history and culture that I didn’t know about,” Carmona said. “It’s too dangerous to walk around alone at night. It’s better in a tour like this.”
The tour began with each person saying what word first comes to mind when they think of San José. Answers in our group ranged from businesses and buses to crime and pollution. Everyone had a different perception of the capital.
Our tour followed a 1.3-kilometer, horseshoe-shaped route beginning at Parque Nacional and ending with refreshments and a snack at the small Cambalache café. Along the way, we stopped at points of historical and cultural interest, such as the Edificio Metálico and Parque Morazán and its Templo de la Música with its classical pillars and domed roof. The guides are knowledgeable about the city and its history and share interesting anecdotes about each site. For example, Bryant told us that if a couple kisses in the center of the Templo de la Música, they will supposedly be transported to another dimension. None of us tried it.
At more than 50 strong, our group seemed a force to be reckoned with, but Municipal Police officers accompany each tour for safety.
“It is a way for [the San José Municipality] to support the project, since it is an initiative that promotes the use of the city,” Guzmán said.
Approximately 90 percent of Nocturbano participants are Costa Ricans, according to Guzmán.
“I find it interesting to walk around San José and discover the city and get a little exercise too,” said Gabriela Rojas, who recently moved from Alajuela to San José for work.
ChepeCletas offers Nocturbano tours in San José at least twice a month and in Alajuela once a month. In addition, the group does a tour honoring Dr. Ricardo Moreno Cañas, the legendary Tico physician who was assassinated in 1938, as well as a bike tour in the capital. The company is planning a new tour involving the history of electricity in San José; Bryant explained to the group that San José was the third city in the world to install electric streetlights, after New York City and Paris. The company also gives private tours in English or Spanish for groups of more than eight people.
Don’t expect to see a large swath of San José during the night tour. The goal of Nocturbano is to encourage people to get out of their cars and walk around a few of the city’s public spaces.
“Those people who just pass through San José for fear of assault or something worse need to stop for a moment, have a coffee and enjoy this space that is ours,” Guzmán said.
The next San José Nocturbano is planned for October. Check the ChepeCletas website at www.chepecletas.com for dates. The cost is ₡2,000 ($4) per person.