All we had experienced of Costa Rica’s capital city was dark streets lined with junkies inside cardboard boxes, barbed wire and broken glass, lentejas and rice dinners in the local supermarket canteen, and a hostel to lay our heads in. Suffice to say that we weren’t enraptured by the short blips of time we had spent in San José.
This time around, we freed up a couple of days to explore the city before our bus ride north to Nicaragua. We had low expectations, but once we escaped to downtown San José and the San Pedro area we found ourselves surrounded by an array of street art and street performance.
San José is a city full of portraits
Wandering around San José, I couldn’t help but notice that many of the murals were facial portraits. In Costa Rica, this is unusual. It’s far more common to see street art and paintings celebrating Costa Rica’s wildlife with monkeys and sloths adorning the walls of hostels all around the country. In the city, the focus isn’t on nature but on the people.
Portraits ranged from familiar local faces of street vendors and farmers to international cultures, from traditional style sketches to more modern representations, from realistic impressions to abstract concepts.
The vibrant, diverse people of San José
I’ve travelled to cities all around the world and never once taken a photo of someone on the street. At home, I traipsed around London with my camera pretty often but mostly spent my time head down en route to my next destination. In San José, it was different…
As we walked through the city, we came across cultural festivities in one of the parks where street performers played music, others learned to dance, free runners practised on the stone walls, skaters flipped their boards on the cordoned off roads, hula-hoopers congregated and even expressionistic umbrella performers ran around the square. I was captivated by the lively, diverse and vibrant people – and I took my first photo portraits.
After some real reservations about San José, we were pleasantly surprised by the eclectic street art adorning city walls and the creative, cultural, lively vibe that we experienced along the way. The saying that you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover is certainly true of San José.
Which cities are your favourites for street art portraits? What do you think of them?