San José travel guide

San José Tourism | San José Guide

You're Going to Love San José

The capital of Costa Rica is an elegant city, cradled by soaring mountains and within easy reach of beaches and pristine rainforest reserves. It's the ideal place to mix nature trips with urban attractions.

If all you'd like to do is take in musical performances, tour museums, shop for jade craft items, or dance until dawn, San Jose is a wonderful urban destination. But it's more than just another attractive, historical capital city.

Tour operators can take you to the turtle reserves of Tortuguero, you can hike to the summit of awe-inspiring volcanoes, or head into the forest with companies like Rain Forest Tours to world-famous sites of astonishing natural diversity like the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

Top 5 Reasons to Visit San José

1. It's the Ideal Base for Starting a Rainforest Adventure

Costa Rica is one of the best places in the world to visit well-managed rainforest habitats, and there are plenty of tour operators in San Jose. You can join buses to Sarapiquí or La Selva and see gorgeous birds like the Great Green Macaw, as well as iguanas, monkeys, and crocodiles.

2. The Chance to Pick up Unique Jade Craft Items

Costa Rica is also famous for its artisans who work with jade, a rich green gemstone. You can find out everything you need to know about jade production at the Jade Museum, then pick up souvenirs from the masters at Galería Namu, which is just around the corner.

3. Explore Atmospheric Historical Neighborhoods

The center of town is packed with elegant buildings like the Metal School, the Castillo Azul, and the Teatro Nacional, which is a wonderful place to watch an opera, classical concert, or ballet.

4. The City Has Fantastic Nightlife

San Jose has Costa Rica's best nightlife, with vibrant dance clubs in San Pedro, rock music venues in Barrio La California, and lively bars and restaurants in the central El Pueblo neighborhood. It's the kind of place where everyone seems to dance, whether it's to reggaeton, salsa, rock, or merengue.

5. Outdoor Fun Is a Short Drive Away

From ziplines that speed through the rainforest canopy at Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí to climbing Mount Irazú, seeing endangered turtles at Tortuguero, and relaxing on the beaches of Manuel Antonio National Park, there are plenty of outdoor opportunities near the Costa Rican capital.

What to do in San José

1. Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica: Lavish from Tip to Toe

The city's most awe-inspiring building has been around for over a century. Standing tall above the aging facade, statues of Beethoven and Calderón de la Barca invite visitors into this delightfully atmospheric theater. Guided tours take a closer look at the fascinating paintings lining the marble interior, while regular shows offer the most authentic experience. Just across Plaza de la Cultura, the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum takes tourists even further back in history.

2. Museo del Jade: Find the Jade Room

This is the ultimate place to explore Pre-Columbian history, facing the mind-blowing artifacts on display. Ceramic work, ancient ceremonial heads, and unique decorations from thousands of years ago will have you enthralled as they provide insight into a distant culture. The world's largest collection of jade from the Americas is found here, with thousands of translucent pendants for different purposes shaped into animals, shamans and goddesses.

3. Parque Metropolitano La Sabana: A Place to Breathe

Costa Rica's most celebrated urban park is at the heart of San José, surrounded by its most central neighborhoods. This is where people from all over the city come together, with recreation areas for sports, gorgeous fields for picnicking, and even paddle boats for rent. Two great attractions also call this park home: the National Stadium and the Museum of Costa Rican Art. Both of these venues celebrate the nation and the talent of its citizens, right at home in this green oasis.

4. Barrio Amón: Present Past

One of the oldest neighborhoods in the capital, Barrio Amón takes you on a walk through history. Lined with mansions from the 19th and 20th centuries, the streets are an architectural museum. Behind these nostalgic facades, however, gems of contemporary culture are popping up throughout this popular quarter, from charming cafés to art galleries, such as the Teoretica. The National Botanical Gardens and Zoo are at the corner of this delightful neighborhood, and well worth a visit as well.

5. Museo Nacional de Costa Rica: The Exploration of Everything

Also known as the Costa Rican Center of Science and Culture, this fortress of a building is home to a handful of the country's greatest institutions. The National Gallery, an interactive Children's Museum, and a Youth Complex for young adults invite locals and tourists of all ages to explore and learn. Topics from science to art are covered in the galleries, and there is even an exotic butterfly garden on the premises. No matter what your interests, this place delivers.

1. Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica: Lavish from Tip to Toe

The city's most awe-inspiring building has been around for over a century. Standing tall above the aging facade, statues of Beethoven and Calderón de la Barca invite visitors into this delightfully atmospheric theater. Guided tours take a closer look at the fascinating paintings lining the marble interior, while regular shows offer the most authentic experience. Just across Plaza de la Cultura, the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum takes tourists even further back in history.

2. Museo del Jade: Find the Jade Room

This is the ultimate place to explore Pre-Columbian history, facing the mind-blowing artifacts on display. Ceramic work, ancient ceremonial heads, and unique decorations from thousands of years ago will have you enthralled as they provide insight into a distant culture. The world's largest collection of jade from the Americas is found here, with thousands of translucent pendants for different purposes shaped into animals, shamans and goddesses.

3. Parque Metropolitano La Sabana: A Place to Breathe

Costa Rica's most celebrated urban park is at the heart of San José, surrounded by its most central neighborhoods. This is where people from all over the city come together, with recreation areas for sports, gorgeous fields for picnicking, and even paddle boats for rent. Two great attractions also call this park home: the National Stadium and the Museum of Costa Rican Art. Both of these venues celebrate the nation and the talent of its citizens, right at home in this green oasis.

4. Barrio Amón: Present Past

One of the oldest neighborhoods in the capital, Barrio Amón takes you on a walk through history. Lined with mansions from the 19th and 20th centuries, the streets are an architectural museum. Behind these nostalgic facades, however, gems of contemporary culture are popping up throughout this popular quarter, from charming cafés to art galleries, such as the Teoretica. The National Botanical Gardens and Zoo are at the corner of this delightful neighborhood, and well worth a visit as well.

5. Museo Nacional de Costa Rica: The Exploration of Everything

Also known as the Costa Rican Center of Science and Culture, this fortress of a building is home to a handful of the country's greatest institutions. The National Gallery, an interactive Children's Museum, and a Youth Complex for young adults invite locals and tourists of all ages to explore and learn. Topics from science to art are covered in the galleries, and there is even an exotic butterfly garden on the premises. No matter what your interests, this place delivers.

Where to Eat in San José

Costa Rican food can be absolutely delicious (and healthy), with plenty of seafood dishes like ceviche or fish soup and mouthwatering chili con carne. Head to Café de los Deseos for superbly made tortillas or Olio for a Mediterranean-influenced gastro-pub meal. But Al Mercat is the best place to visit. Always sourcing its ingredients fresh from the central market, the menu constantly changes and offers a new window into Costa Rican cuisine. Expect a sit down meal to cost around ₡30,000, and street food meals to come to ₡10,000 or less.

When to visit San José

San José in March
Estimated hotel price
C$ 106
1 night at 3-star hotel
San José in March
Estimated hotel price
C$ 106
1 night at 3-star hotel

The best time to visit San Jose is definitely during Costa Rica's dry season, which lasts from December through to April. However, that's also peak tourist season. If you want to save money and avoid crowded tours, try May or November, although you may encounter a downpour or two.

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How to Get to San José

Plane

Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) is about 15 miles west of the city center and has regular flights from many American cities. Catching a city bus is the cheapest route into town (around ₡500 for a single). However, taxis are much cheaper and more convenient. Expect the fare to come to around ₡15,000.

Train

A few tourists might also think about heading into San Jose from other parts of Costa Rica like Heredia, and these services all run into the Estación del Atlántico, just to the east of the city center. You could also catch a train from Belén, a short taxi ride south of the airport.

Car

If you choose to rent a car at the airport, you'll find plenty of options, with rental companies including Hertz and Budget. Getting into the city is fairly simple. Just follow Route 1 directly into downtown San Jose.

Bus

San Jose has connections to major cities all over Central America, including places as far north as Mexico City, so many travelers choose to arrive by bus. If you do so, companies include Tica Bus, Transnica, and King Quality. There's no central bus terminal, so it's best to plan a route into town before boarding your bus.

Airlines serving San José

Lufthansa
Good (1,371 reviews)
United Airlines
Good (2,464 reviews)
American Airlines
Good (3,898 reviews)
KLM
Good (292 reviews)
Air France
Good (295 reviews)
Turkish Airlines
Good (1,075 reviews)
Delta
Excellent (2,657 reviews)
British Airways
Good (937 reviews)
SWISS
Excellent (357 reviews)
Qatar Airways
Good (930 reviews)
Iberia
Good (667 reviews)
Air Canada
Good (640 reviews)
Emirates
Excellent (662 reviews)
LATAM Airlines
Good (630 reviews)
Spirit Airlines
Good (2,249 reviews)
Air Europa
Good (95 reviews)
Alaska Airlines
Excellent (1,940 reviews)
JetBlue
Good (1,135 reviews)
Avianca
Good (692 reviews)
Aeromexico
Good (788 reviews)
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Where to stay in San José

There are two excellent accommodation options in San Jose. The first is to stay at city center hotels like Hotel Grano De Oro or the Hotel Don Carlos, which offer a high-quality service in elegant surroundings. The alternative is to stay at resorts or hotels on the outskirts and drive into town. Hotels like Finca Rosa Blanca are set in beautiful gardens, while the Hotel Villas Corcovado has a stunning seafront location.

Popular neighbourhoods in San José

Chepe - also referred to as "el Centro", Chepe is San Jose's downtown neighborhood. It's the nerve center of the whole nation and features institutions like the Teatro Nacional and the Jade Museum.

Barrio Amón - slightly north of Chepe, Barrio Amón is a historic neighborhood that is ideally suited to vacationers. You can shop at stores like the Costa Rica Cigar Store, enjoy gourmet chili at Bar Poas and stay at B&Bs like the Hemingway Inn, which also offers eco-tours of the rainforests.

San Pedro - with a large student population, San Pedro is the liveliest part of town and is the place to go if you fancy dancing all night long. There are also quirky attractions like the Insect Museum along with the Mall San Pedro, San Jose's premier shopping destination.

Most popular hotel in San José by neighborhood

Where to stay in popular areas of San José

Most booked hotels in San José

Parque del Lago Boutique Hotel
Excellent (8.5, Excellent reviews)
C$ 113+
Barceló San José
Excellent (8.4, Excellent reviews)
C$ 85+
Wyndham Garden San Jose Escazu
Excellent (8.3, Excellent reviews)
C$ 130+
Costa Rica Guesthouse
Excellent (8.2, Excellent reviews)
C$ 30+
Hotel Pacande B&B
Excellent (8.1, Excellent reviews)
C$ 38+
Country Inn & Suites by Radisson San Jose Aero
Excellent (8, Excellent reviews)
C$ 110+
See all hotels

How to Get Around San José

Public Transportation

There is an extensive bus network across the San Jose region, which reaches as far as San Pedro, the airport, and the eastern suburbs. You won't find schedules at bus stops, but the destination is shown on the front of every bus. Fares vary by routes (expect to pay between ₡150-400), and you need to pay on board (drivers should give change if needed).

Taxi

If you have to find your way back from San Pedro late at night, a taxi will be essential, but they tend to be expensive. The meter drop is ₡640, then around ₡1,000 per mile.

Car

Renting a car is a great way to visit coastal attractions like Tortuguero or the beaches of Punta Arenas. Outlets in the city center include Avis, Sixt, and Budget, and rates will be around ₡16,000 per day, which is fairly reasonable.

The Cost of Living in San José

Shopping Streets

If you are looking to stock up on jade necklaces or finely woven baskets for the folks back home, try the Mercado Nacional de Artesanías in the city center, where you'll find stands selling almost any kind of handicraft, as well as handy items like shoes and hammocks. For a conventional shopping experience, head to San Pedro Mall, where you'll find a multiplex cinema, and global labels alongside Costa Rican fashion brands.

Groceries and Other

If you need to shop for groceries in San Jose, the best options are supermarkets like Automercado (which stocks a wide range of US brands) and Walmart, which is very similar to the American variety. Expect to pay about ₡3,000 for a gallon of milk and ₡1,800 for 12 eggs.

Cheap meal
C$ 9.94
A pair of jeans
C$ 92.19
Single public transport ticket
C$ 1.06
Cappuccino
C$ 2.98
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