Costa RicaCosta Rica

Day Trip to San Jose's Pueblo Antiguo

Destination: San Jose

Standing in the central park of a Costa Rican colonial town, I felt like Doctor Who: somehow, I had gone back in time to the late 19th century. Beyond the palm-lined plaza sat a simple whitewashed church, a small market that sold penny candies, a colonial San Juan de Dios Hospital, and a smattering of other buildings typical of the era. 

I was in Pueblo Antiguo, a replica town that recreates Costa Rican landmarks from the 1800 and 1900's. The 12-acre attraction is designed to give visitors a glimpse into the Costa Rica of yesteryear though interactive experiences and nostalgic rides. Located in the nation's premier amusement park, the Parque de Diversiones, Pueblo Antiguo focuses on Costa Rican culture, history and fun – and I couldn't wait to sample all three.

One of my favorite pastimes is exploring the country's Catholic churches; the soaring ceilings, intricate stained glass, and tile work always fascinate me. Pueblo Antiguo's church was captivating not for its grandiose finishes, but rather for its humble details. Ornate candelabra (converted to electric) hung from a simple domed ceiling, illuminating a checkerboard floor and polished wooden pews. Fresh flowers and marble columns decorated the small sanctuary, where weddings are often held.

Crossing behind the church, I came upon the Casa de Escazu, an 1854 replica home from one of San Jose's most popular suburbs. The blue-and-white building sported a traditional clay-shingle roof and a wooden door that once belonged to the Chapui Asylum, a mental hospital in San Jose.

I moved on to the pueblo's farm where chickens, goats, ducks, horses and cows decorated the hillside. I tested out several of the replica antique farming implements, including a giant wood mortar and pestle, before meeting the livestock. An animal lover, I was soon enchanted by the resident Percheron. A descendent of French draft horses, this stocky breed was one of the most common workhorses of 19th century Costa Rica. Today, instead of working, the magnificent animal preferred to nuzzle visitors and accept treats.

My final and most anticipated stop at Pueblo Antiguo was the Casas de Viguetas. These three charming wooden buildings are true antiquities from Costa Rica's 19th century. Transported from the villages of Santa Maria de Dota, Llano Grande de Cartago, and Tierra Blanca, the homes were built using only local woods, an ax and manpower. They have no nails, since they were built completely with tongue-and-groove craftsmanship. Their modest interiors, measuring no more than 700 square feet each, were decorated in authentic antiques like copper pots and rocking chairs, offering insight to how Costa Ricans lived 150 years ago.

As the sun began to set, I returned to central park. Streetlamps, reminiscent of old gaslights, blinked on and once again, I let the fantasy consume me. Pueblo Antiguo allowed me to step back in time, to a bygone era.

Day Trip to San Jose's Pueblo Antiguo in Pictures