Visit the Juan Santamaría Museum

Costa Rica National Hero Juan Santamaria
Costa Rica National Hero Juan Santamaria

If you are looking for a museum that has something for everyone, visit the Juan Santamaria Museum in Alajuela. Their comprehensive collections span the gamut of natural, cultural, historical, and artistic interests. Located in the Costa Rican city of Alajuela, the museum opened in 1980 in the space that used to be the city jail. Today, the museum also occupies what used to be an army garrison on the site. Here is a sampling of what you will experience at the museum.

The Museum’s Namesake

The Juan Santamaria Museum is named after Juan Santamaria, a national hero for Costa Rica’s independence. He was a rank-and-file soldier from Alajuela who is credited for saving Costa Rica back in 1856. He did this by burning down the army headquarters of William Walker, who was a self-appointed proponent of manifest destiny. Walker, with his filibuster army in tow, wanted to stake a claim for Costa Rica to expand the territory of the United States of America. Though losing his life in the act of destroying the headquarters, Juan Santamaria continues to be remembered for his bravery against colonization.

Costa Rica History

Highly interactive exhibits highlight the history of the Filibuster Campaign of 1856 and Santamaria’s role in stopping the takeover. One of them is the permanent exhibition titled "Caminos de Libertad,” Streets of Liberty. This nationally-defining war of 1856 is detailed in several exhibition halls. Another permanent exhibition, "Imprenta de Sibaja" highlights Costa Rica’s printing history and brings it alive with locally-sourced vintage printing press equipment that was owned by the Sibaja printing family.

Costa Rica Culture

The Juan Santamaría Museum strives to offer rotating cultural exhibitions of national and international importance. The museum both receives and offers temporary exhibitions in cooperation with museums around the world. In addition, there is lecture space with a stage that accommodates regularly scheduled offerings of theater, dance, and musical performances. This makes the museum a cultural oasis for all types of artistic expression.

Natural Beauty

The museum also houses an incredible butterfly collection and has a multitude of orchid species in its botanical collection. This is a nod to Costa Rica’s emphasis on preserving nature for all to enjoy. The greenery in the courtyards and around the museum buildings adds to the natural appeal for all who visit.

Arts and Crafts

Works of art from some of Costa Rica’s most highly regarded artists are on display at the museum. In addition, skilled craftwork from the region is also displayed. The museum constantly renews its exhibits, giving the repeat visitor something new to discover several times a year.

Juan Santamaria Park

The museum conveniently faces the Juan Santamaria Park, the central public park in Alajuela. The park is a great place to rest in the sunshine and enjoy the scenery after exploring the museum. If you have children with you, there is an adjacent playground that they will enjoy.

The ongoing role of this diverse museum is to continue to interpret the culture, history, and nature of Costa Rica for its visitors and citizens. It is active in continuing to gather historical documents and items for future generations to study and enjoy. The institution’s community programs for local residents and educational opportunities for local school children make it an indispensable part of the local culture.

The museum is a mere three kilometers from the Juan Santamaria International Airport and is adjacent to the Cathedral of Alajuela as well as the Juan Santamaria Park. Well worth a visit, it is open 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. In addition to being conveniently located, the museum is free of charge to all visitors.

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