The small country of Costa Rica offers a large amount of museums that are dedicated to everything from pre-columbian jewelry made of gold and jade, to natural taxidermy collections, to bizarre criminology displays.
The Museo de Oro Precolombino or Museum of Precolumbian gold is located under the Plaza de la Cultura in downtown San José. The impressive underground building that houses the exhibit creates a mysterious and dark background for the gleaming beauty of the golden pieces. They seem to float because they're suspended by transparent strings. These indigenous jewels depict numerous animals- frogs, birds, snakes, insects, crocodiles, lobsters and even sharks.
The Museo de Moneda, or the Coin Museum, is located in the same building. Its exhibit includes information on coins, as well as interesting samples.
The other museum is the Museo de Jade, or the Jade Museum. It's located in the INS building in downtown (in the National Insurance building). The amazing quantities and the quality of the jade in the country can only be attributed to trade, since the country lacks jade mines. The exhibit in this museum is the largest American jade collection in the world. The collection is extremely valuable because of the rarity of the mineral and of the religious and historical significance that it has for the Indian population and for the Costa Ricans in general. Like the golden pieces, the jade artifacts also depict animal shapes.
The national museum or Museo Nacional is located in an old fort, which was marked by bullet holes during the 1948 Civil War. The archaeological room offers several Aboriginal artifacts made of stone and clay, like pottery. The colonial room presents facts about the conquest and also some examples of religious art brought by the Spaniards.
If you are an art lover, there are two museums that you won't want to miss. The Museo de Arte Costarricense is located in the Sabana urban park, in a beautiful building that was the old international airport. The gorgeous architecture of the building doesn't detract from the fine paintings and sculptures that are on exhibit. Some of the finest Costa Rican art is present in this collection.
The Museo de arte contemporaneo (contemporary art), is located in what used to be the National Liquor factory. This sounds very strange, but believe me, the once industrial place has turned into a very artistic and graceful set of buildings and surrounding grounds. Some exhibits vary all the time, and the small and medium-sized auditoriums offer dance and theater presentations.
For the nature-oriented people, there are the Museo de Ciencias Naturales La Salle (Natural science) and the small Entomology Museum in the University of Costa Rica. The first museum is located in La Sabana, and it presents a taxidermy collection of various animals and a preserved fish and reptile exhibit. The small university museum contains a large collection of insects of Central and South America, including beautiful butterflies. The admission is free in this museum, but better consult the visiting hours.
There is also the Museo Criminológico (criminology museum), also located downtown. There are bizarre pictures and even body parts! Besides these grotesque artifacts, there is a narration of the history of criminology and law enforcement in Costa Rica.
All of the main museums are in the downtown San Jose area or very close to it, and can be accessed easily on bus or by taxi.