Find Your Bearings Through Reference Points
Being a Catholic country, many towns in Costa Rica have saints names. San Rafael seems to be the winner since there are 235 villages and towns with that name. Things get complicated as in the case of the two San Rafaels in Desamparados, a district in southern San José. One is San Rafael Arriba and another right next to it is San Rafael Abajo. Newcomers don't know which is Arriba and which is Abajo since both are at apparently at the same topographic level. It's like saying uptown and downtown but no one knows where is which.
It will take you a few weeks to get accustomed to similar cases in other parts of the country. Two other very popular saints are San Miguel and San Pedro so you'll find many towns having those names. Each town and village named after a saint celebrates its feast day with festivities sometimes carried on during an entire week. The turno with its firecrackers, carrousel, chance games, dancing and open air-prepared dishes livens the festivities.
A millionaire coffee farmer, whom I knew in the 1960s, said that while on a trip to London he had cried because he missed the firecrackers and partying that were going on at the same time in his small home town's annual saint's day festivities.
Getting your bearings in the city of San José is not easy until you've lived there during sometime. Many streets have been given names by the government but hardly anyone knows what they are. Even I, who have lived in San José more than 50 years, only know a handful. People get around by using known reference points, but the trouble is that over the years some of these change.
The calles (streets) run north and south while the avenidas (avenues) run east and west. The centre of the city is the intersection where Avenida Central meets Calle Central. The latter is the street running north-south that passes in front of the cathedral. Streets to the east have odd numbers as 1,3,5,7 etc. and those to the west have even numbers as 2,4,6,8 etc. Avenidas to the south of Avenida Central have even numbers while those to the north are odd numbers.
A city block is supposedly 100 varas long which is a little less than a hundred yards. But the word vara and metro (meter) are used interchangeably as if they were the same length. Both are used in giving an address.