San José, the capital of Costa Rica, isn’t the first city that comes to mind when thinking about creative urban destinations. Travelers visiting this Central American destination often skip the city altogether, catching shuttles to tourist towns like Monteverde or the beaches of Manuel Antonio. But because of the city’s university communities and job opportunities for all kinds of creatives, plenty of talented tattoo artists call San José home.
Tattoo tourism isn’t ideal for most budget backpackers. You have to pay for typical travel costs like transportation and accommodations on top of the artist’s fee. But the experience of supporting a local tattoo artist and receiving a souvenir that will be with you forever definitely makes for a memorable trip.
Rachel Eubanks is a writer, photographer and social media manager currently based in Monteverde, Costa Rica, where she eats beans and rice for three meals a day and captures the cultural practices of a small ecotourism town in the happiest country on earth.
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1. Kevin Poveda
A contemporary tattoo artist and graphic designer, Kevin Poveda creates both nature-inspired blackwork pieces and bold geometric designs. If you can't snag a spot with Poveda during your travels (which could be a challenge considering he has 21k Instagram followers), check out his shop for watercolor-style graphic tees.
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2. Killian Moon
Soon Poveda and Killian Moon plan to open a private shop together in Costa Rica's capital. Killian specializes in illustrative, biomechanical and neo-traditional designs like the Donnie Darko collaboration pictured here. Between Poveda's geometric work and Moon's detailed realism, this pair of Costa Rican artists can create a custom design in whichever modern style strikes you.
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3. Wesly Fernández Parajeles
Wesly Fernández Parajeles' work explores a range of modern tattoo techniques, from geometric designs, dot-work and mandalas to trendy watercolor and sketch styles. If you fall in love with Costa Rica during your trip, you could even get a tattoo inspired by the country's most popular phrase, "pura vida," meaning "pure life."
Wesly Fernández Parajeles/Instagram
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4. Max Rodriguez
This self-proclaimed avant-garde tattoo artist specializes in black and gray realism and portraiture in Heredia, Costa Rica, a town just north of the capital. Check out this full sleeve Max Rodriguez made and start dreaming up your own design.
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5. Jeremmy Soto
Jeremmy Soto creates custom freehand designs at First Love Tattoo Shop in Heredia. If you're in the market for black and gray realism or an illustrative piece, Soto's work just might make the perfect fit.
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6. Luis Bonilla
Luis Bonilla of Dark Phantom Art creates colorful new school tattoos inspired by comic books, religious icons and pop culture. His incredibly intricate work may not be ideal for beginners but each piece definitely tells a story.
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7. Negus of Arte Vida Tattoo
Combining traditional style with new school color palettes, Negus of Arte Vida Tattoo shares his creative vision not only at his tattoo shop but also in the streets of San José as a graffiti artist. Follow his tag around Costa Rica's capital or get a piece to carry with you forever during one of his weekend flash days.
Negus of Arte Vida Tattoo/Instagram
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8. Jana Oliveira
This apprentice at Coki Jara Tattoos makes femme, playful designs like cupcakes, pet portraits and cartoon characters. Visit Jana Oliveira in the Zapote neighborhood of San José for your own permanent pop of color.