First impressions of San Pedro can be off-putting. Avenida Central (known here also as Paseo de los Estudiantes) appears to be little more than a strip of petrol stations, broken-up pavements and shopping malls. Walk just a block off the Paseo, however, and you’ll find a lively university student quarter, plus a few elegant old residential houses. The area has traditionally been home to some of the city’s best restaurants and nightlife, but an increasing proliferation of dark bars filled with shouting college students means that it’s often not the most relaxing spot to be on a Friday or Saturday night, at least during term time.
Theoretically it’s possible to walk to the campus from Los Yoses, but this entails dealing with the huge, threatening Fuente de la Hispanidad roundabout. This is not recommended, as there are no provisions at all for pedestrians; it’s much better to take any university-bound bus from Los Yoses. Buses to San Pedro from the centre of town stop opposite the small Parque Central, with its bubblegum-orange bandstand and monument to John F. Kennedy. Walking north from the park, through three blocks of solid sodas, bars and bookshops you come to the cool, leafy campus of the University of Costa Rica, one of the finest in Central America, and certainly the most prestigious educational institution in the country. Founded in 1940, the university has in the past been accused of being too rigidly academic and elitist, but the overall campus atmosphere is busy, egalitarian and stimulating.
The best places to hang out on campus and meet both young Josefinos and students from other countries are the frenzied and cheap cafeteria in the building immediately to the right of the library (there’s also an excellent bookstore across from the back entrance of the cafeteria), the Comedor Universitario, or dining hall, and the Facultad de Bellas Artes, which has a wonderful open-air theatre used for frequent concerts. Notice boards around campus, particularly in front of the Vida Estudiantíl office (Student Life office, Building A, fourth floor), keep you up to date with what’s going on; try also to get hold of a copy of Semana Universitaria, the campus newspaper, which is sold in most restaurants and bookshops in the area and lists upcoming events. The three or four blocks surrounding the university are lined with lively bars and restaurants, though in most of them you’ll feel more comfortable if you’re under thirty. For Spanish-speakers this is a great place to meet people, watch movies and browse around the several well-stocked bookstores. One of the best is Librería Macondo, 100m before you come to the university proper; look for the lime-green storefront.