Sights in west-central San José are big on culture. Fans of architecture and history buffs won’t want to miss spending an afternoon here, and those looking for true cultural immersion should definitely hit up the market scene.

Customers entering and browsing the Mercado Central.

Mercado Central: explore this tightly packed warren of stalls and stores selling everything from pig’s heads to saddles. This is a great place to eat for pennies in true Tico fashion. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

Mercado Central

The warren-like Mercado Central (Central Market, 6am-8pm Mon.-Sat.) between Avenidas Central and 1 and Calles 6 and 8 is San José’s most colorful market and heady on atmosphere. There are flower stalls, saddle shops, and booths selling medicinal herbs purported to cure everything from sterility to common colds. The annex has booths selling octopus and seafood, plus butchers’ booths with oxtails and pigs’ heads. Pickpockets thrive in crowded places like this—watch your valuables.

Museo Postal, Telegráfico y Filatélico

There are flower stalls, saddle shops, and booths selling medicinal herbs purported to cure everything from sterility to common colds.Overlooking a grassy plaza, the exquisite Edificio Postal (Calle 2, Aves. 1/3), the main post office, dates from 1911 in a dramatic eclectic style with Corinthian pilasters adorning the facade. On the second floor, the Museo Postal, Telegráfico y Filatélico (Postal, Telegraphic, and Philatelic Museum, tel. 506/2223-9766, ext. 219, 8am-5pm Mon.-Fri., $0.35) features old phones, philatelic history displays, and postage stamps, including Costa Rica’s oldest stamp, dating from 1863. Buy your ticket—a prepaid postcard—at the downstairs counter. The museum hosts a stamp exchange the first Saturday of every month.

A man sits in a pew inside Iglesia Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, San José, Costa Rica.

Iglesia Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes was completed in 1907 and is noted for its slender columns painted with floral motifs. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

Parque Braulio Carrillo

Tiny Parque Braulio Carrillo, between Avenidas 2 and 4 and Calles 12 and 14, is also known as La Merced Park. The park is pinned by a monument honoring the astronomer Copernicus and a statue of the namesake former president of Costa Rica. Rising over the park’s east side is Iglesia Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, completed in 1907 in Gothic style. The interior is intriguing for its slender columns painted with floral motifs.


Excerpted from the Tenth Edition of Moon Costa Rica.