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San José, Costa Rica
San José is located in the center of the country at 10.0° N, 84.2° W; it is on a mountain plateau at an elevation of about 1,170 meters (some 4,000 feet) above sea level. In 1997 the city had an estimated population of 329,154 people: the latter half of the 20th century was a period of rapid growth for the city, considering that in 1950 its population was a mere 86,900.
San José was a small village of little significance until 1824. In that year, Costa Rica's first elected head of state, liberal Juan Mora Fernández , decided to move the government of Costa Rica from the old Spanish colonial capital of Cartago and make a fresh start with a new city. This was a time of much optimism in the newly independent nation of Central America, of which Costa Rica was at that time a state (see: History of Central America). The new capital of San José grew rapidly. Because of its late 18th century origin, San José has little of the Spanish colonial architecture common in most other Latin American capitals.
The University of Costa Rica was established here in 1843. San José also serves as the headquarters of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Since then, it has grown rapidly and extended in the Central Valley. Along with Alajuela, Heredia, Cartago and other cities, the population reached 1.5 million in 2004. The cities of Heredia, Alajuela and San José are very close to each other. The Juan Santamaría International Airport and the Palacio de los Deportes are located in the metropolitan area, GAM San José.
Important places in the city include the Banco Central de Costa Rica, La Sabana Metropolitan Park, Avenida Central (which is one of the major commercial areas in the city). The Central Park and la Plaza de la Cultura are visited by thousands of workers and tourists every day. The Melico Salazar Theater (National Theatre) and the Cathedral are landmarks in the central area. In the south, the Clínica Bíblica (a private hospital), la Estación al Pacífico (an old train station used for a cultural festival attended by over 100,000 in 2004) are important buildings.
There are numerous bars around San José, with 3 major 'nightlife centers':
- A street known as the Calle de la Amargura in San Pedro near the University of Costa Rica, with a couple of bars and discos where students like to hang out, thus offering 'reasonable' prices.
- A group of discos in Escazu with more elevated prices.
- Centro Comercial "El Pueblo" which resembles an old, colonial-style town with little alleys and many discos and bars.
San José is Costa Rica's main transportation hub due to its central location, and tourist traveling around the country usually make stop-overs there. It is served by Juan Santa Maria International Airport.
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