Unlocking the Charms of San Jose, Costa Rica

San José, Costa Rica’s vibrant capital, is surrounded by the enchanting allure of cloud forests and majestic volcanoes. 

Often underestimated as a transit point on a Costa Rican adventure, San José unveils a tapestry of hidden gems waiting to be explored. Fondly referred to as ‘Chepe’ by locals, the city pulsates with the rhythm of urban life, offering a captivating glimpse into traditional Costa Rican culture. 

Immerse yourself in the heart of the city by strolling through its historic downtown, visiting museums, and savoring delectable cuisine and world-class coffee. With this comprehensive travel guide, ensure you don’t overlook any of the must-see attractions and experiences San José offers.


Essential Information for Visiting San Jose, Costa Rica


Exploring San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica’s San Jose Province, calls for a grasp of essential details to navigate:



San Jose Province is home to the bustling capital city, serving as the political, cultural, and economic heart of Costa Rica.



You can Access San Jose via the Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) in Alajuela Province, adjacent to San Jose. Despite its name, the airport is not located in San Jose itself.


Time Zone:

San Jose operates on Central Standard Time (GMT-6), ensuring synchronization with nearby regions.



Spanish is the official language, but English is prevalent in tourist hubs. Additionally, indigenous languages enrich the cultural tapestry.



The electrical voltage in San Jose is 110 V, facilitating compatibility with North American devices.



Transactions in San Jose are conducted in the Costa Rican colón, with an approximate exchange rate of ~530 CRC to 1 USD.



San Jose boasts a city population of around 339,000, with the province housing approximately 1.6 million residents, reflecting its significance as a metropolitan hub.


Driving Side:

Motorists navigate San Jose’s streets on the right-hand side of the road, akin to traffic norms in the USA and Canada.



Despite its importance, San Jose covers a compact area of just 17.23 square miles, contrasting larger global capitals like Paris and Miami.


How do you reach San Jose from San Jose International Airport?


San Jose International Airport is approximately 17 kilometers (10.5 miles) from downtown San Jose, which is roughly a 30-minute drive. Upon arrival, accessing San Jose from the airport sans a car presents several viable options: taxi services, Uber rides, or arranging a private shuttle. Conveniently, an official airport taxi stand is located directly at the terminal exit for easy access.


Expect to pay around 8,000 – 10,000 CRC ($14 – $18 USD) for a one-way Uber or taxi journey. It’s worth noting that Uber requires internet access on your phone, which you can conveniently obtain through the terminal’s free WiFi (located upstairs in the departures area). Nonetheless, for uninterrupted connectivity, acquiring a prepaid SIM card or ensuring you have an international data plan is advisable.


While Uber scheduling is possible, its reliability in Costa Rica remains to be determined, as feedback or experiences regarding this service are limited. Given the unpredictability of factors such as immigration procedures and flight delays, scheduling an Uber immediately upon arrival may not be the most prudent choice.


For budget-conscious travelers, utilizing the public bus presents a wallet-friendly alternative. A bus stop conveniently awaits just outside the airport. Simply descend the ramp onto the main street, where you’ll find the bus stop. With frequent departures and a nominal fare of just a few hundred CRC, this option provides an economical means to reach downtown.


Private Shuttle:


Opting for a pre-booked private shuttle offers the ultimate convenience, safety, and stress-free travel from San Jose Airport to your hotel in San Jose. With prices typically around $64 USD for 1-8 passengers, this option ensures direct pickup at the airport terminal exit, eliminating the hassle of navigating public transportation or arranging multiple transfers. Feel free to contact us if you’d like to secure a private shuttle for any of your routes during your journey.


Getting Around San Jose


Navigating San Jose efficiently requires some know-how. Here’s a rundown of your transportation options:


San Jose boasts an extensive bus network, offering convenient access to virtually every corner of the city. Check out our handy tips for mastering bus travel in Costa Rica.


Uber is famous for getting around San Jose and providing quick and reliable service. Learn how to make the most of Uber with our insider tips for Costa Rica. Additionally, consider Didi, another ride-sharing app available in the city. You can also get a pickup at the airport and a rental car if needed. 


While Uber is preferred by many, traditional red taxis are ubiquitous in San Jose. Explore our tips for hassle-free taxi rides in Costa Rica.


Walking to nearby attractions is often convenient if your accommodations are in downtown San Jose. However, exercise caution, especially after dark, as certain areas may pose safety concerns. It’s advisable to opt for a taxi or Uber at night and avoid deserted streets, alleys, or poorly lit areas. Notably, steer clear of the vicinity around Hotel Del Rey during nighttime strolls.


Activities to do In San Jose, Costa Rica


  1. Whitewater Rafting: Due to its urban setting, San Jose doesn’t offer immediate access to whitewater rafting sites, making this activity less feasible for visitors looking to explore the city’s attractions.
  2. Zip Lining and Canopy Zip Line: These exhilarating activities typically require forested areas, which aren’t readily available within San Jose’s city limits, making them impractical options for tourists seeking adventures in the capital.
  3. River ATV Adventure: San Jose’s bustling urban environment needs the rugged landscapes necessary for ATV excursions, making it challenging to organize river ATV adventures within the city.
  4. Ghost-Hunted Walking Tour: While San Jose has its unique charm and history, it may offer a different level of paranormal intrigue than other locations with rich ghostly legends, making ghost-hunting tours less captivating in this urban setting.
  5. Sky Tram and Hanging Bridge: These activities thrive in natural settings like rainforests, providing visitors with panoramic views and immersive experiences. However, San Jose’s urban landscape needs to offer a suitable environment for sky tram rides or hanging bridge tours.
  6. Snorkeling: As an inland city, San Jose needs access to coastal waters, rendering snorkeling impractical for visitors. While Costa Rica boasts stunning coastal regions for snorkeling, San Jose’s inland location makes this activity unsuitable for exploration within the city.


Tourist Attraction In San Jose


Explore Central Avenue: 

Central Avenue serves as the bustling heart of downtown San Jose, traversing through the cityscape and offering a prime starting point for your urban exploration. It’s not just a road; it’s an avenue teeming with local life and cultural experiences.

Venturing around 4-5 PM provides a unique opportunity to witness the city’s rhythm as locals conclude their workday—a perfect time for people-watching and immersing yourself in the vibrant tapestry of Costa Rican urban life.

National Theater: 


An architectural masterpiece and cultural beacon, the Costa Rica National Theater stands as a testament to the country’s artistic heritage. Dive into its history and marvel at its grandeur through guided tours, or explore its opulent halls and main stage at your own pace.

After your tour, indulge in culinary delight at the theater’s charming cafe, offering a delectable array of coffee, snacks, and local fare.

Restaurante Tiquicia Dinner Show:


 Perched amidst the hills of Escazu, Restaurante Tiquicia treats you to a panoramic vista of San Jose, nestled among mountains and neighboring towns. Delight in local cuisine, soak in the city lights, and immerse yourself in Costa Rican culture through their captivating “Noche Tica” dinner show, held every Thursday at 7 PM. Reservations are recommended for this enchanting experience.

Central Market: 


Step into the vibrant tapestry of San Jose’s daily life at the Central Market, a bustling hub of activity and authenticity. Sample traditional delicacies, browse local handicrafts, and soak in the lively atmosphere as vendors bustle about their stalls. A must-visit attraction for an authentic taste of Costa Rican culture.

Municipal Craft Market: 


For further exploration into local craftsmanship, venture to the Municipal Craft Market, where a treasure trove of artisanal products awaits. Discover hidden gems among the diverse offerings of local vendors, making for unique souvenirs of your San Jose experience.

San Jose Museums: 


Delve into Costa Rica’s rich history and culture through its museums, each offering a unique perspective on its heritage.

  • Jade Museum: Home to the world’s most extensive collection of American jade, this archaeological marvel housed in the Plaza de la Democracia offers an immersive journey through ancient civilizations.
  • Children’s Museum: Once a jail, this interactive museum now ignites curiosity with its hands-on exhibitions and engaging presentations on science and culture.
  • Gold Museum: Dive into the glittering world of pre-Columbian gold artifacts dating back to AD 500, showcased beneath the Plaza de la Cultura.
  • National Museum: Housed within a former fortress, this historical landmark holds significance as the site where the abolition of the Costa Rican army occurred in 1948 under President Jose Figueres Ferrer.

If time permits only one museum visit, we recommend the Jade Museum for its extensive displays and captivating exhibitions. Its five floors of permanent and temporary exhibits offer a comprehensive insight into Costa Rica’s rich heritage.


Pre-Columbian Gold Museum:

Step into the glittering world of ancient civilizations at the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, a cultural gem beneath the Plaza de la Cultura in San Jose. Housing a vast collection of exquisite gold artifacts dating back to pre-Columbian times, this museum offers a fascinating glimpse into the craftsmanship and artistry of indigenous peoples. 

Spirogyra Butterfly Garden:

Escape into a realm of natural wonder and enchantment at the Spirogyra Butterfly Garden, a tropical oasis nestled amidst the bustling city of San Jose. Wander through lush gardens teeming with vibrant flora as you encounter a kaleidoscope of fluttering wings in every hue imaginable. Home to a diverse array of butterfly species indigenous to Costa Rica, this sanctuary offers a unique opportunity to witness these winged wonders’ delicate beauty and intricate patterns up close. 

Irazú Volcano National Park:

Embark on a journey of geological wonders and breathtaking vistas at Irazú Volcano National Park, a majestic natural sanctuary just a short drive from San Jose. Towering above the Central Valley, the mighty Irazú Volcano stands as the highest peak in Costa Rica, offering panoramic views of crater lakes, lush forests, and sweeping landscapes below. Explore a tapestry of volcanic landscapes as you traverse rugged trails, encountering otherworldly rock formations and endemic flora. 

Galeria Namu:

Indulge your senses in a cultural feast for the eyes at Galeria Namu, a premier destination for indigenous art and craftsmanship in the heart of San Jose. Immerse yourself in the vibrant tapestry of Costa Rican culture as you peruse a captivating collection of contemporary and traditional artworks curated from indigenous communities across the country. 

From intricately woven textiles and handcrafted ceramics to intricately carved masks and vibrant paintings, each piece tells a story of heritage, tradition, and identity, offering a unique insight into the rich cultural diversity of Costa Rica. Engage with local artisans and discover the stories behind the art as you embark on a transformative journey through the soul of Costa Rican creativity and expression.

Parque La Sabana

Parque La Sabana holds a special place in our hearts as avid city park enthusiasts, and it’s not hard to see why. Revered as the city’s green lung, this expansive park boasts the iconic. 

National Stadium carries a rich history, having once served as the location of the first international airport. 

Following a significant restoration effort several years back, thousands of trees now grace its grounds, creating a serene environment where visitors can leisurely wander along forest trails, marveling at the beauty of native trees and blooming flowers.


Top Accommodation Options in San Jose, Costa Rica

When considering accommodations in San Jose, here are some noteworthy options to help you make the most of your stay:


  1. The Gran Hotel: Strategically located downtown, offering proximity to museums, the national theater, restaurants, banks, and shops, ensuring convenience and accessibility.


  1. Hotel Presidente: A modern urban hotel nestled in the heart of downtown, boasting funky decor and pet-friendly amenities for a comfortable stay amidst the city buzz.


  1. Holiday Inn Aurola: This hotel features a spacious indoor swimming pool, a restaurant, and a bar. It offers relaxation and entertainment just a stone’s throw from downtown attractions.


  1. San Jose Barcelo: This resort-like hotel offers a range of facilities, including a gym, restaurant, outdoor pool, and racquetball court, and is conveniently situated between La Sabana and the airport.


  1. KC Hotel: Located near La Sabana Sur, this charming hotel boasts a pool, restaurant, and bar. Upon arrival, guests are provided with a complimentary breakfast and a welcoming cocktail.


  1. Park Inn by Radisson: This hotel offers comfort and convenience between La Sabana and downtown. It offers amenities such as a hot breakfast, gym, workstation, and more.


  1. Hotel Aranjuez: This is a great mid-range to budget option in downtown San Jose. It is renowned for its excellent restaurant and comfortable accommodations.


  1. Fauna Luxury Hostel: This hostel in Escazu elevates your hostel experience with pod dorms and private rooms, complemented by a co-working space, pool, rooftop, restaurant, and game room.


  1. Hotel Balmoral: Nestled near downtown, this upscale hotel boasts a restaurant and gym and offers standard rooms and apartments for a luxurious stay.


  1. Selina: Known for its hip co-working environment and private rooms, this accommodation is ideally located between Barrio Escalante and downtown and caters to modern travelers’ needs.



Consider renting an Airbnb in a condo tower for a more independent stay. Notable choices include Ambar Torre Condos, Nunciatura Flats, QB SkyHomes, and Condominio Vistas del Robledal. Due to restrictions at Airbnbs, tour companies typically arrange pick-up and drop-off points at nearby hotels.


Unveiling San Jose’s Finest Cafes and Restaurants


Discover some of the culinary gems in San Jose, Costa Rica, where gastronomic delights await amidst vibrant neighborhoods and eclectic dining scenes:


Barrio Escalante:

Barrio Escalante is a culinary hub, pulsating with lively eateries and trendy nightlife spots. Uber Eats and Globo are convenient options for exploring the city’s culinary offerings from the comfort of your accommodation.


Posada de las Brujas:

Located in Escazu, Posada de las Brujas beckons with generous portions of delectable local fare at wallet-friendly prices, making it a favorite among locals and visitors alike.


Septimo Sentido Gourmet:

Nestled in Escazu, this charming eatery tantalizes taste buds with homemade recipes crafted from fresh ingredients. With a diverse menu featuring vegetarian and vegan options and hearty breakfasts, sandwiches, and tempting desserts, there’s something to satisfy every craving.


The Central Market:

Immerse yourself in the bustling ambiance of the Central Market, where many local eateries beckon. Indulge in authentic Costa Rican cuisine at Soda Tala or Soda San Martin before treating yourself to a refreshing sorbet at La Sorbetera de Lolo Mora.



Located in the heart of Barrio Escalante, Apotecario entices patrons with its array of craft beers, juicy burgers, traditional gallos, and crispy fried yams, promising a memorable dining experience.


Soda Castro:

A beloved classic, Soda Castro is renowned for its tempting fruit and ice cream desserts, offering a sweet conclusion to any meal.


República Casa Cervecera:

Situated opposite the National Stadium, República Casa Cervecera invites guests to savor flavorful brews and delectable fare in a laid-back setting.


Pho Yummy:

Embark on a culinary journey to Vietnam at Pho Yummy, where fragrant bowls of pho and authentic Vietnamese dishes await discerning palates.


Soda Gloriana2:

Experience the quintessential Costa Rican dining experience at Soda Gloriana2, where budget-friendly buffet-style meals showcase the region’s flavors.


Dulce Pecado:

Savor the essence of Costa Rican cuisine at Dulce Pecado, a cozy cafe and soda serving up traditional favorites with a delightful twist.



Treat yourself to a feast of sushi, sashimi, and hearty ramen bowls at Tamura, renowned for its impeccable Japanese fare.



Transport your taste buds to the Middle East at O’Libano, where savory shawarma, crisp salads, and creamy hummus await eager diners.


Craic Irish Pub San Jose:

Step into the warmth of Craic Irish Pub San Jose and savor classic Irish fare paired with fine craft beers, including the quintessential fish and chips.


Stiefel Pub:

Indulge in a selection of artisanal craft beers and hearty bar fare at Stiefel Pub, a haven for beer enthusiasts in the heart of San Jose.


Taste of India 506:

Embark on a culinary voyage to India at Taste of India 506, where aromatic spices and vibrant flavors elevate every dish to new heights of culinary excellence.



Elevate your dining experience at Silvestre, an exquisite fine dining establishment helmed by the same culinary maestros behind Don Rufino in La Fortuna.


Restaurante Machu Pichu:

Treat your palate to the flavors of Peru at Restaurante Machu Pichu, where tantalizing seafood dishes and authentic Peruvian cuisine take center stage.


11.47 Aranjuez:

Savor the innovative fusion cuisine at 11.47 Aranjuez, where Costa Rican flavors meld seamlessly with gourmet techniques to create unforgettable dining experiences (reservations recommended).


Cafe Franco:

A laid-back cafe offering an array of delectable pastries, aromatic coffee, and enticing vegan/vegetarian options, perfect for a leisurely morning or afternoon treat.


Getting Around San Jose, Costa Rica

When navigating San Jose, consider these transportation options to traverse the city efficiently and safely:



San Jose boasts an extensive bus network, providing access to almost every corner of the city. Familiarize yourself with our expert tips for utilizing public transportation in Costa Rica to make the most of your journey.

Rental Car:

Vamos Rent A Car offers airport shuttle service, 4×4 car rentals, and more. We are top-rated for a reason. Let us help you with your trip and get you to Costa Rica’s top destinations. 


While Uber is preferred by many, traditional red taxis are abundant throughout San Jose. Learn valuable insights for taking taxis in Costa Rica to ensure a smooth ride to your destination.


Exploring downtown San Jose on foot is a viable option, allowing you to immerse yourself in the city’s charm and discover nearby attractions. However, exercise caution when walking after dark, especially in areas prone to safety concerns. We strongly advise against strolling down deserted streets or alleys alone at night and recommend opting for a taxi or Uber. 

Mainly, be cautious around the Hotel Del Rey vicinity, avoiding it during nighttime walks. Your safety is paramount, so prioritize secure transportation options to enhance your San Jose experience.


Discovering the Best Time to Explore San Jose

San Jose boasts a consistently temperate climate, making it an ideal destination almost year-round. Nestled in the Central Valley, renowned for its favorable weather, the city enjoys pleasant conditions that beckon travelers. However, October marks the rainiest period across Costa Rica, with San Jose experiencing heavy downpours, thunderstorms, and occasional flooding.

The rainy season typically spans May to November, while the dry season extends from December to April. Nonetheless, rainfall may commence in San Jose as early as April, signaling the transition from dry to wet conditions. Daytime temperatures remain comfortably between 75°F to the low 80s°F (23°C – 29°C), while nighttime temperatures range from 60-65°F (15-18°C). This climate invites attire that balances the ease of T-shirts and pants during the day with the coziness of warm sweaters and blankets at night.


What to Pack for Your San Jose Adventure

San Jose’s climate maintains a consistently warm and humid ambiance year-round. Whether you’re on a short visit or an extended stay, it’s crucial to pack smartly:


  • Lightweight rain jacket: Be ready for sporadic showers with a compact rain jacket in your luggage.
  • Mosquito repellent: Keep pesky insects at bay by carrying a reliable mosquito repellent.
  • Sunscreen: Safeguard your skin from the sun’s tropical rays with a high-quality sunscreen.
  • Workout attire: Opt for quick-drying, lightweight, moisture-wicking, and odor-resistant clothing for outdoor activities.
  • Hat: Shield yourself from the sun’s glare with a wide-brimmed hat.


  • Walking or running shoes: Sturdy shoes are essential, especially if you plan to explore the city on foot.
  • Water shoes: Closed-toe water shoes are ideal for water-based adventures like rafting or tubing.

Additional Gear:

  • Waterproof backpack or rain cover: Stay prepared during the rainy season by protecting your belongings from moisture with a waterproof backpack or rain cover.

For further insights, consider checking our guide on preparing for the rainy season in Costa Rica, and explore our comprehensive packing list for additional tips tailored to your trip to San Jose.


Shopping and Supermarkets in Vibrant San Jose

In vibrant San Jose, Costa Rica, shopping enthusiasts will find many options to indulge their retail cravings. The city boasts bustling markets, modern shopping malls, and quaint boutiques, offering diverse products to suit every taste and budget. 

San Jose caters to all shopping preferences, from traditional crafts and artisanal goods to trendy fashion boutiques and upscale stores. Additionally, supermarkets dot the cityscape, providing convenient access to daily essentials and gourmet treats. 

Whether hunting for souvenirs, stocking up on groceries, or simply enjoying a stroll through bustling markets, San Jose’s shopping scene promises an enriching and delightful experience for visitors and locals alike.


Navigating Banks, ATMs, and Laundry Services in San Jose


Navigating banking, ATM services, and laundry facilities in San Jose is relatively straightforward for travelers. The city is well-equipped with numerous banks and ATMs, ensuring easy access to cash and banking services. Most major credit cards are widely accepted in establishments throughout San Jose. Additionally, visitors can find conveniently located laundromats and laundry services scattered across the city, providing a convenient option for refreshing clothing during their stay. 

It’s advisable to carry a combination of cash and cards for flexibility and to inquire about any potential fees associated with ATM withdrawals or credit card usage to avoid surprises.


Neighboring Towns near San Jose:

Nestled amidst the lush landscapes of Costa Rica’s Central Valley, San Jose is surrounded by charming neighboring towns waiting to be explored. 

Just a short distance away lies the quaint town of Heredia, renowned for its colonial architecture, vibrant cultural scene, and lush coffee plantations. 

Further afield, the picturesque town of Alajuela captivates visitors with its historical charm, bustling markets, and proximity to the Juan Santamaría International Airport. 

Meanwhile, the tranquil town of Cartago beckons with its rich history, highlighted by the majestic ruins of the Santiago Apostol Parish and the breathtaking Orosi Valley. Each neighboring town offers its unique allure, promising travelers unforgettable experiences beyond the bustling streets of San Jose.

Maximizing Your Time in Dynamic San Jose

Maximizing your time in dynamic San Jose entails immersing yourself in the vibrant culture, exploring the city’s historical landmarks, savoring its culinary delights, and embracing its bustling energy. 

From strolling through lively markets to indulging in flavorful street food, every moment in San Jose presents an opportunity for discovery and adventure. Whether you’re admiring colonial architecture, browsing local artisan crafts, or simply sipping a cup of freshly brewed coffee at a cozy café, San Jose offers an enriching experience for every traveler. 

So, please make the most of your time in this dynamic city, and let its charm and diversity leave a lasting impression on your journey through Costa Rica. Contact us if you need help planning your trip or get a local perspective!

To top