Bet you didn’t know that there is actually a China Town in San Jose Costa Rica?
Not only that there is, it is full of surprises: architectonic, culinary & cultural. Check out this review that might encourage you to spare a couple of hours on your visit to Costa Rica to get a somewhat different piece of culture.
After Chinatown’s inauguration in Dec. 2012 we decided to take a closer look behind the grand entrance gate installed at Av. 2 and Calle 11 to uncover what hides down the road. We visited at different times of the day in order to get a true sense of what happens on these 6 pedestrian-only blocks.
We were truly surprised at the variety of quirky offerings found within the different shops, many not even chinese. As is customary in Costa Rica, any formal delineation of an area is immediately lost upon arrival as you will always find ‘a little of everything’ across the entire city. What does set this area apart are the minor details of the stained concrete, chinese-style benches, street lights, trash cans and an increase in costa rican-chinese citizens walking around. You almost feel like you’ve left San Jose for some Asian world.
We recommend arriving around 4:30 before the sun sets to explore and window shop, and leaving around 6:30 or 7. This is a higher traffic time which is safer. Because the sun starts setting at 5:30 you can take in all of the bright lights coming from the chinese shops. Restaurants are also open at this hour, and if you feel a little risqué you won’t have to wait too long for the ‘adult’ movies.
HOW TO GET THERE
The main entrance to China Town is located along the main drag of Av. 2, 4 blocks east of the entrance of the National Theater (the main marker in San Jose) at Calle 11. Thanks to the newly installed street signs, this isn’t difficult to find.
Realistically, this area is safe if you are VERY aware of your surroundings. If you head further south or off the main path please use caution and good judgement. If you are a conservative parent I don’t recommend going beyond the first 3 blocks as there are some ‘adult’ theaters and possible sex workers in the evening further south. Take little valuables with you to this area and do not flash fancy camera equipment or cash. Sticking to the main pedestrian road is advisable as a few blocks south/west/east are more abandoned.
TOP TEN SITES
Chinese Cultural Center – For those of you that truly want to experience a variety of Chinese culture, this will be a must. The center operates weekdays and offers courses during the week and weekends. You can enroll in language classes, dance, cooking and other workshops. You can view a full calendar here, and will need to speak some spanish to navigate.
French Creperia – Un Toque Frances – Yes, one of the best places in China Town is a french creperia, like we said above, you always find a little of everything regardless of defined areas. Owned by a Costa Rican who lived in France for over a decade, this is a culinary gem that we hope gets enough business to stay open and expand. Read our recent review.
House of Screws – We can’t be mature at this place. All innuendos come to mind at the ‘House of Screws’. Good for a chuckle and the outside architecture is ‘screwy’. Many other places in the area give their address from this well-known landmark. To see more unique architecture try our Bird’s Nest tour.
Variety Shops – This is where you go when you are looking for the ‘one thing you can’t find’. Product is constantly rotating so if you want it, buy it.
Statue of Confuscius – The most noble thing in China Town, this statue is worth a visit. It anchors the southern end of of the walkway.
Samuelito’s Bakery – Shhh… this is a top secret destination on our food tours, the best bakery in town (and yes this is a chain, but this is the best one of all of them!)
Iglesia de la Soledad – One of the few churches to have not suffered much earth quake damage, the structure is original neo-baroque. >>read more.
Statue of John Lennon – Installed in Dec. of 2011, this statue has a history you can learn more about on our walking tours. This is a great spot to rest for a moment, take some funny pictures and eat your pastries from Samuelito’s.
Anime – For those of you that love anime, comics and models, there are several shops along the 6 blocks that offer a variety of products in this genere.
Tica Bus Ticket Center – Want to go anywhere else in Central America? This is where you can arrange your travel and buy tickets, located on the north side of the Iglesia de la Soledad.
You’ll notice we didn’t mention any Chinese restaurants. While there are a few in these 6 blocks, the best are found in the surrounding area. If you are looking for Asian Fusion try Tin Jo, or you can find well-prepared good dim sum at Wong’s.
Have other recommendations in China Town? Let us know about your favorite spots.