One of the many perks of living in a first world country is that our money tends to go a long way when you cross the border. No matter what your into or what sort of climate you are looking for, chances are you can find a spot somewhere on planet Earth where you get your bang for your buck.
If football happens to be your drug and sunny weather your thing, then look make sure to check flights to San Jose, Costa Rica. In less than half an hour, you can drive to the grounds of the country’s three biggest clubs - Alajuelense, Herediano and Saprissa - making your dollar go that much further.
But is it worth it? Is the level of play all that different than the MLS? In truth, probably not. However, taking a tour of Costa Rica’s Golden Triangle of Football around San Jose will allow you to experience a variety of matchday atmospheres as well as put you within touching distance of world-class beaches and rainforest-surrounded volcanoes. Those three factors make a football trek to Costa Rica a must for any American fan.
What’s even more enticing about the prospect of taking a trip to this slice of Central America is that it’s an easy transition for any novice gringo traveler to make. For years, Costa Rica has been a haven for American ex-pats and retirees looking for the relaxed, carefree “pura vida” lifestyle that defines Tico culture.
The influence of American culture is so entrenched in Costa Rica that major corporations from the United States are some of Costa Rica’s biggest employers. Additionally. it’s not all that difficult to find your favorite American brands and businesses across the country. In fact, on our first night in Heredia (a suburb of San Jose) our hosts took us informed us that Wal Mart would be the best option for us to pick up the supplies we would need for our week long stay.
While the yankeeness was sort of comforting, it wasn’t exactly what we were looking for in Costa Rica. Instead, we were out to find what the trio of close geographic rivals had to offer.
Herediano: A Neighborhood Club
Our first stop was Estadio Rosabal, the intimate 10,000ish seat ground in Heredia that houses Herediano, the third biggest club in the country in terms of titles and fans. While 10,000 some seats doesn’t sound like much, the stadium is a perfect representation of Heredia, a bustling city that maintains a close-knit neighborhood feel.
As our host Gabe Rosales - a lifetime Herediano fan - indicated, the club’s passionate support is grounded in that very neighborhood dynamic.
“It’s a tradition,” Rosales said. “I went to games with my grandfather, father, uncle and my brother my whole life. We can walk to the games, it’s part of what we do as a family.”
For American MLS fans, the family fandom discussion might be a vexing one. It’s a reminder of MLS 1.0 and the old way of thinking regarding how to make the sport grow in the United States. However, at Herediano, the family dynamic works. While you have your pockets of families, it’s not at the expense of the common fan. You can still step foot into Estadio Rosabal and find expletive ridden chants and rambunctious fanatics while still feeling safe. It’s a great balance of intense passion and neighborly welcome that is often difficult to strike.
Inside the Monster's Cave
The second stadium we checked out was more of the same, only to a more incredible degree: Saprissa Stadium, a.k.a., The Monster’s Cave. Over the years, the ground has established a reputation for being the most boisterous place to play in any CONCACAF country, and it’s easy to see why.
Once we checked into the press area for Saprissa’s match against Alajuense (the Costa Rica Classico), we were able to literally see the passion of the ground. Positioned just under where Saprissa’s barra sits, the press entrance has a long slanted wall that literally shakes from the bouncing of the Saprissa faithful above.
You can see it. You can feel it. At that moment, we knew we were finally in the thick of a world that lives and breathes football.
The Perfect Weekend Getaway
If you’re an American looking to catch the soccer bug and take a trip abroad, there are few options as fitting as Costa Rica. Familiar enough for the novice yankee traveler to survive yet foreign enough to get your toes wet on the international scene, Costa Rica is the perfect setting for any fledgling football fan from the states.
So grab a flight to San Jose, take the short trip to any of the three local giants’ stadiums then trek a few hours down to the coast for the perfect weekend excursion. You’ll be happy you did. We were.