Get the Hell Out of Downtown!

Hey you. Yeah you! Fancy traveler flying across the world only to sit in a swanky downtown hotel. Why are you wasting your time?

OK, let me cool off for a second.  I’m not actually mad at anybody, but I constantly am running into people who do nothing by fly to a great country and waste their time in a large city near the airport. It disappoints me.

Here’s the story inspiring this rant:

A friend of mine, who will remain nameless, recently took a trip to Costa Rica where he spent all but one day in San Jose.  He only spent one day out of the city. This is Costa Rica travel blasphemy.

Maybe I’m a bit biased based on my prior experiences. I’ve been to San Jose, Costa Rica three times and have yet to experience anything better than a mediocre dish of arroz con pollo.  I saw prostitutes literally in the act on homeless men in alleys, heroin addicts shooting up on the sidewalk, survived a mugging attempt by physically overpowering the man who thought he could rob me, was ripped off by not one but two taxi drivers, and last but not least, caught a wicked case of bed bugs.

So if you can’t tell, no, I am not a fan of San Jose, though I have nothing but good things to say about the rest of the country and highly recommend Costa Rica–just beeline it out of the airport and avoid San Jose at all costs.

I’ll give the unnamed friend a break because he was there for a wedding and only had three or four days.  Hardly enough time to truly experience a gem like Costa Rica so he did as best as he could and actually had a good time.

But my point remains.  Nobody can answer what true travel is, but I can safely assume it is not landing in a large city (in nearly any country) and spending money on overpriced tourist meals and following what the guidebook says you must see.  You must get out of the hustle and bustle, meet genuine people, and make experiences that aren’t what the tourist agency or guidebooks shape for you.

Headline photo courtesy of wirralwater (all good)’s

6 Replies to “Get the Hell Out of Downtown!”

  1. I totally agree with you Jeff – I do understand that often people who travel for business (or a friend’s wedding) simply don’t have time to get out and explore, but I don’t understand those travelers who are on a vacation and who go to all the trouble to go to a foreign country – especially one that is known for much to see and do – and just spend their time in a fancy hotel or maybe shopping.

    I try not to judge, because everyone has the right to travel however they like, and at least they are getting out and traveling, but I just don’t get it – I don’t see the point in that type of travel. You may as well stay home, and check into a nearby hotel, and save a bundle of money.

  2. Great post Jeff, I think we’ve all come across people like this and it’s flabbergasting that they don’t think to sometimes even leave the transit lounge at the airport (though admittedly some of those can be pretty cool.. (Amsterdam’s Schiphol being on of them)
    I had similar (though much more tame) experiences in San Jose.. was glad to get out of the city and see some more of Costa Rica, but having said that I’m so glad I did get a few days there so I could make up my mind about it!

  3. It is always important to get out of town and I have seen a good majority of Costa Rica and loved it. But I wouldn’t throw San Jose to the wolves. It’s a town struggling to become modern and with that has pitfalls, but I have never had a bad or boring meal and I found the people very friendly in both my visits. In fact, my first day in SJ, my first meal (and beers!) were bought for me by a stranger who wanted nothing more than to welcome me to his city. Sure I was ripped off by a taxi 3 weeks later on my way to the airport, but overall my experience was great. I love cities, there is so much life there, explore the jungles, the beaches, the mountains, but don’t forget that most of Costa Rican life is inside the city. Cheers!

  4. You have a great point there; I think it’s a shame so many people never leave the tourist trap and miss out on all the great views places like Costa Rica have to offer. Still, I think your rant implies staying in downtown in a city centre means you’re not seeing anything. Sure there’s more to Amsterdam than Schipol, but there are a number of good reasons to, say, stay by the airport.

    I love the urban experience, but I’m also an avid backpacker, so when I’m being a jetsetter, I like to be right in the middle of everything. You’d be a fool to travel to Japan and not even lay eyes on Tokyo, and for all the amazing natural wonders Chile has to offer, you’re missing out if you don’t partake in the beautiful but incredible touristy Valparaiso and spend some time ambling Santiago. On my rail tour through Italy, I found lodging near the train stations was not only cheaper, but more convenient for early-morning departures. I’ve been to New York City several times and my best memories are from being super touristy and never leaving Manhattan. Is it the only way to travel? No, and sometimes you do miss out, but not everyone has the same taste as you, and you don’t always have to get the hell out of downtown.

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