For art lovers, there is a museum in downtown San Jose that you won’t want to miss. Unique in its history, it used to be the terminal of Costa Rica’s old international airport, at the east end of where Sabana Park is today.
The Costa Rican Art Museum (Museo de Arte Costarricense) is housed in a beautiful Neoclassical-style building built in the late 1930s. The gorgeous building, a work of art in itself, stages a permanent display of 3,200 national treasures in all media by Costa Rica’s most celebrated artists from the past two centuries. Temporary exhibits fill side galleries, and in the back garden are sculptures with works by Francisco Zuñiga, Jorge Jiménez, Max Jiménez, Edgar Zuñiga and José Sancho.
Costa Rica has a laudable tradition of turning unlikely buildings into museums. Case in point, the Costa Rican Art Museum was once the principal airport terminal. The Children’s Museum was a prison. The National Museum was an old fort that even has bullet holes from the 1948 Civil War, and the Contemporary Art Museum is located in what used to be the National Liquor Factory.
The Costa Rican Art Museum served as the international airport terminal from 1940 until 1955, when the airport moved out to Alajuela and the area was turned into La Sabana Park. Originally designed by architect Jose Maria Barrantes Monge in 1937, it opened as a museum in April 1978; the Sculpture Garden was added in 2003.
Today, the museum displays exceptionally beautiful pieces in a wide range of styles – paintings, printmaking, watercolors, drawings, sculptures and photography. There is a featured collection of more than 4,000 drawings and sculptures by famous Costa Rican artist Juan Manuel Sanchez. Plus, you can see more than 560 permanent international works by leading artists from around the world.
One gem not to be missed is the Golden Room, remarkable for its beauty and detail. The room used to be the arrival area for visiting foreign diplomats. Its walls are adorned with a bas-relief in stucco, carved and painted bronze, by French sculptor and goldsmith, Luis Féron Parizot. The 1940 mural summarizes the history of Costa Rica from Pre-Columbian times to the 1940s.
The Costa Rican Art Museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. Admission is free! You can easily spend an hour or two discovering its art treasures. From there, spend a pleasant afternoon walking the lush grounds of Sabana Park or visit another of San Jose’s cultural attractions.
For a small country, Costa Rica offers a large number of museums, dedicated to everything from Pre-Columbian jewelry made of gold and jade, to art in all media, to natural taxidermy collections and bizarre criminology displays. All of the main museums are in the downtown San Jose area or very close to it, and can be accessed easily by bus or taxi.
Your “home away from home” in the center of downtown San Jose is Hotel Ritzli. This clean, comfortable, affordable and charming European-style guesthouse offers one of the best locations for seeing the metropolitan area. Hotel Ritzli is positioned only 2 blocks away from the Cathedral and Central Park, where the city’s main cultural centers converge.