On the Road is a weekday feature spotlighting reader photo submissions.
From the exotic to the familiar, whether you’re traveling or in your own backyard, we would love to see the world through your eyes.
This past summer, I took my first trip outside the country since Covid changed everything. I attended a three-week program in Costa Rica as part of my Master’s. Costa Rica had always been on my wish list, though not quite this way; although I spent a few days in the mountains after the program ended, most of my time was spent in San José.
San José isn’t a lovely city, and I think most tourists don’t spend a lot of time there–just a few days stopover on their way to the beaches or the mountains. But I really loved the experience of living there, buying groceries, taking buses and Ubers, going to the museums.
I knew nothing about San José or its neighborhoods, so when I was looking for an AirBnB, I focused on places within walking distance of the language school that was our home base. This meant that I ended up staying half a block from a highway, on the edges of a fairly gritty working class neighborhood where the only restaurants were fast food, and I bought my groceries at, I kid you not, WalMart.
But I found that San José was a city of surprises. This was the unattractive road I walked on on my way to the school in the mornings and back to my AirBnB in the evenings.
In the evenings when we didn’t have a class or an activity, I’d walk home along the highway, but as soon as I turned the last corner, there was this lovely residential street.
There, behind a high wall, was this jewel of a house, with glass walls, surrounded by garden. Some of my friends in the program were staying in apartments in Escalante, a much cooler neighborhood with lots of restaurants, but I think I had the best situation.
Morning light on the leaves in my garden.
I’m no Albatrossity, but I do love to photograph birds. I didn’t get nearly as many good bird photos as I would have liked in a country that is regarded as a birder’s paradise, but this is one I didn’t have to work for. There are flocks of crimson-fronted parakeets everywhere in San José, but the ones I saw were usually in flight or perched on top of buildings and not really photographable. This guy, on the other hand, just showed up in the garden one morning looking for breakfast.
I also had a variety of butterflies and moths.
One thing I did love about San José were the mountains surrounding the city, providing a beautiful backdrop to even the most mundane views.
Look at the patterns in the leaves of those banana plants.
I would love to go to such a place.
Looks like a fantastic trip. I agree with your approach! When staying in a new place my favorite thing is to just walk or run around random neighborhoods; much more interesting to me than finding the hippest restaurant
UGA study abroad?
Costa Rica is..as they say…fantastastico! Oddly, or not maybe, I spent almost all of my 3 weeks in country on the Gulf Coast Side. It was a thrill driving from San Jose along the Continental Divide down to the to coast and Parque Nacional Cahucita…where I stayed…as you seemed to have noted, it is difficult to leave a happy home once you found one…and I loved the image of yours, though mine was considerably more rustic.
I had at the start no interest in sloths or poisonous frogs or any of the flora or local fauna…I principally thought I’d do some casual underwater free diving photography…but alas, stormy weather and grey swells made this impractical…and I met up with a research group…so what the heck, you’ve got to go with what you find and…what you thing will make you happy. Which Costa Rica did, thanks for the memories.
I did get to climb up and around Mt. Arenal….which is still illegal I believe. There is the Coladas Trail which, from its view point, one could make considerable distance towards and up Arenal, (if one were so inclined). The biological park and La Fortuna should also not be missed. I am glad you enjoyed the country…it is pretty good!
@Betsy: I think the plants you are referring to are flowering plants. Here they are called Hanging Balizier. A favorite of hummingbirds.
Me and the missus honeymooned in Costa Rica back in ’05 and spent our last night in San Jose. Another tourist shared their opinion of the city and it wasn’t a good impression of it, but after wandering around the city for a few hours, our bad impression turned against the other tourist. Here’s a few photos from our night there. Wish I could find more of them.
Bonus photo of some horses frolicking on the Pacific coast
@Jerry: The horses are so pretty!
Great photos! When I visit a foreign country I like to visit a grocery store, to see what is different. Your approach to living there is the same.
I visited Costa Rica in 2018 and was taken with the natural beauty surrounding the capital. I had a great time there, using the Spanish that I knew (not that much at that time, but still useful), eating in sodas, and picking up fresh-squeezed pineapple juice next to the highway.
Loving these photos, so charming! okay, maybe the highway wasn’t charming, but the rest are wonderful. Even the highway had that sweet brick road next to it.
@Jerry: That picture with the flag and the misty mountains beyond is a perfect capture of San José.
@WaterGirl: The highway wasn’t charming but I got to walk past the Taco Bell, which cracked me up. (I can’t say I never eat fast food, but I had the best tacos I ever ate in San José, so why anyone would go to Taco Bell escapes me.)
@raven: No it was a CUNY program for teachers.
Universal health care.
One of the most stable governments in Central America.
Welcomes foreign retirees.
And damn if it ain’t beautiful! Even for some reason the random Taco Bell sign.
I like your approach to travel — if I ever need an AirBnB I’m going to ask for a consultation on how to choose!
The pictures give me a bit of a feel for a city I’ll never visit — thanks for that. Even that first one — I wouldn’t want to live next to that spot, but I love the geometry of the picture.
As to Taco Bell — in my month in China, I had one ad hoc meal at an American-style fast-food place (I don’t remember which one). The food was awful. I too wondered by anyone would go there, because the local food was just so unfailingly wonderful.
Love the thread of red-and-green that runs through several of your pictures, and especially the juxtaposition of the “morning light” and parakeet photos!
Love these. Especially the morning light on the leaves.
Gorgeous! And yes, it is supposed to be a birder’s paradise, and I have never been there. Hoping to remedy that next year, but in the meantime, thanks for these glimpses!
When we were in Costa Rica 6 years ago, we had a naturalist guide for a day; it really helps to have a sporting scope to see the sloths up high in the trees. She was originally from Nederland and had married a local; they surfed a lot. She made it a point to tell us (1) there is no army, and (2) there is universal health care, adding “maybe you Americans should think about the lives you all could have if you were like us”. I appreciated her honesty, though right now I appreciate that we can help Ukraine.
Lovely shots! I can’t wait to try the San José Taco Bell, lol.
Mom Says I*m Handsome
Wonderful! The photos of the houses & residential street remind me of living in Caracas in the 1970’s, back when petrodollars kept everything safe for us gringos. (My dad was a project manager on the subway that was being constructed.)