As the capital of Costa Rica, San Jose straddles the line between grandeur and down-to-earth appeal. It’s where the country’s major airport is located, and it offers a wealth of things to do and see, whether you’re in town for a while or just have an hour before exploring the coastline. Here’s what you need to know about travelling to San Jose.
San Jose was founded in 1738 by the Spanish Colonial council. In its early years, the town’s infrastructure revolved around tobacco farming though it became a mecca of coffee production in the 1840s through the 19th century. In 1813, the Spanish Parliament bestowed the title of “city” to San Jose, though King Ferdinand VII revoked it two years later. Finally, in 1820, the local government restored its status, and over the centuries it grew from into the bustling capital of Costa Rica it is today.
As the heart of Costa Rica, it’s fitting that San Jose is located in the center of the country. It’s situated in the Central Valley, with the Poas Volcanos in the north and the Talamanca Mountains in the south. Despite being surrounded by nature, the San José, Costa Rica, map is filled with city streets and colonial-style buildings.
You’re going to want to remember your shorts and sunscreen when you visit. San José, Costa Rica, weather is almost always toasty. This is true even during the rainy season from May through October. Typically, the warmest month is March, while the coolest is September (though September can also get soaked by rainfall). Average temperatures tend to hover between 19–29 degrees Celsius. Unsurprisingly, the best months to travel here are during the dry season between December and March, when the weather in San José, Costa Rica, is the most amicable.
Fun Facts About San José
San Jose is the largest city in Costa Rica, housing one-third of the country’s population. This is partly why the city has an abundance of attractions while still maintaining a certain amount of local grit. Real people live and thrive here, and it’s not yet a city overrun by out-of-towners.
Another thing you’ll notice? When you walk around town, you’ll keep hearing the word “Chepe.” That’s the nickname of the city—it means “busybody” in Spanish.
Does the National Theatre look familiar? If you’ve done some travelling through Europe, it probably will strike a bell. It should; the San Jose Theatre is modeled after the Paris Opera House.
Get ready to dive in to the local culture. With some sunblock on your face and Spanish food on your brain, it’s time to visit Costa Rica!
How to Get Around San José
Flying Into the City
There are few things better than the flight attendant telling you to move your tray table to the upright and locked position, as it signals that you’re minutes away from landing in your dream destination. Flights to San Jose, Costa Rica, arrive at the Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO), and you won’t have to worry about being too far away from a celebratory margarita; the airport is only 20 km west of downtown. Fun fact: The airport is named after Juan Santamaria, the drummer boy whose heroism helped the Costa Ricans win the victory at Rivas in 1856.
How to Get From the Airport to Your Hotel
Once your flight to San Jose, Costa Rica, lands, it’s a quick trip to your hotel. Due to the close distance from the airport to the downtown area, not only is it easy to find fast transportation, it’s also cheap. Here are some of your options:
The main bus station of the Juan Santamaria Airport is just steps outside the exit gates. The main lines run 24/7, with downtown buses arriving every five minutes. Hop on and travel to downtown San Jose (a 35-minute journey), downtown Alajuela (a 15-minute journey), or downtown Heredia (a 40-minute journey). When you’re ready for the reverse trip, the most direct line is found at the 2nd Avenue Bus Station. Just tell the driver you’re headed to the airport, and you’ll arrive in no time.
Another cheap transportation option is the Easy Ride Airport Super Shuttle. The shuttles are large enough to accommodate a bevy of suitcases, so you’re not squished against the seat in front of you. The shuttle companies tend to be open 24/7, though they recommend calling ahead for reservations.
Keep your eyes peeled for red taxis with yellow lights on top. These are the official taxis of Costa Rica and are quick means to get where you need to go. The ones at the airport tend to be orange, which indicates that they’re a bit more expensive, but they’re also the most experienced with the route to the hotel area. Word to the wise: Look out for pirate taxis. These are people driving regular cars, masquerading as taxi options. They can charge what they want and don’t always have insurance.
Transportation Around San Jose
The recommended means of travelling around San Jose is bus. The bus system is frequent, reliable, and well spread throughout the city. Alternatively, hiring a car and driver isn’t an unusual prospect. This is a great option for zipping around the countryside without having to worry about translating road signs. San Jose is an older city, so the streets are often windy with retro infrastructure, so if you chose to rent a car in San Jose, you’ll want to order one with GPS.
With your cheap flight to San José, Costa Rica, booked and your bus routes mapped, you’re more than ready to see everything the city has to offer.
San José Nightlife
San Jose’s nightlife is a mix of college kids, nocturnal adults, and everyone in between, so you can expect a healthy amount of activity after dark. Here are some of the best spots of the San Jose, Costa Rica, nightlife.
Old-school Britney Spears karaoke sounds much better in Costa Rica than your neighbourhood suburb. Travel into the heart of San Jose to El Steinvorth, a multi-level building that plays host to hundreds of clubgoers. Experimental art adorns the walls, colorful drinks splash on the floor, and the sounds of karaoke and live music waft through the club until the wee hours of morning.
Find thunderous live music and colourful patrons hanging out in the crowd when you visit Key Largo. It’s a high-energy place with live music nearly every night. Pop tunes blast during the week, with tropical jams scheduled on Thursdays and 1960s classics on Saturdays.
El Cuartel de la Boca del Monte
Locals love El Cuartel de la Boca del Monte. Not only is the brick-lined club filled with beautiful people, it’s also home to enormously talented bartenders. The bar is known for its 152 unique cocktails, which are often poured with bottle tricks.
Since opening in 2009, Jazz Club has garnered a ton of respect amongst jazz fans. Musicians from San Jose and the country as a whole play live music throughout the week, making it a top stop for fans. Not only is the music good, but the food is yummy too. Grab a bite to eat at a table near the stage, and enjoy the show.
Whether you’re looking for lively bars or karaoke clubs, you won’t be disappointed with the nightlife in San José, Costa Rica. Additional advice: Gambling is legal in Costa Rica, so you might even want book a casino hotel in San Jose where you can play and stay at the same time. Just remember to gamble responsibly if you choose to partake.
San José Sports Scene
Get out into the sunshine and give your body a good stretch—whether you want to work on your birdies or aces, this is the place to test your skills. With that in mind, here are some of the top sports in San Jose, Costa Rica.
Pick out the best irons and head to the greens, because golf is one of the most popular sports in the city. For the crème de la crème, book a room at Marriott Los Suenos and step outside onto their Los Suenos Golf Course, which situated in the lush rainforest and has a healthy blend of short putts and long drives to match any skill set. Other top golf courses in San Jose, Costa Rica, include the Reserva Conchal Golf Course, Hacienda Pinilla Golf Course, and Four Seasons Golf Course.
Whoever said you can’t play tennis like a Williams sister? Give it your best shot during your vacation. The best way to swing a racket on your trip is to stop by the tennis court at your hotel or country club. Some of the top picks in the city include the Costa Rica Tennis Club and Hotel, as well as Cariari Country Club.
Is there a better place to watch a soccer match than in Latin America? No, there isn’t! Make your way to a match at the Costa Rica National Stadium. The enormous arena has played host to top soccer tournaments since it opened in 2011, including the 2013 Central American Cup and the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup. It’s also a top choice for world-famous musical acts, so check out the concert calendar during the time you’re in town.
For a little bit of everything, make a visit to the La Sabana Metropolitan Park. Located in downtown, the park offers wide open spaces if you want to play Frisbee, soccer, or just walk around for a good amount of exercise during your vacation.
It doesn’t matter whether you prefer nets or rackets—there’s always something to do in San Jose.
Most Popular Parks Around San José
With the warm sun outside and the buzz of the city just beyond your window, a day out in the park is an excellent way to see the town. Leave your hotel room for a bit and make your way to any of these popular parks in San Jose, Costa Rica.
Parque Nacional (The National Park)
Ask any front desk agent where to find a good park in San Jose, and the National Park will routinely come up as the best of the best. This is the kind of place where families play, couples steal kisses, and older folks chat the afternoon away. As you walk around, you’ll also see a myriad of statues dedicated to legends like Jose Marti, Miguel Hidalgo, and Juan Santamaria.
Parque Nacional de Diversiones (The Amusement Park)
One of the most popular amusement parks in San Jose happens to be the top carnival park in Costa Rica. The Parque Nacional de Diversiones is a great spot for families, as the 80 rides are geared toward ages ranging from toddlers to teens. Attractions include roller coasters, bumper cars, and arcade games.
For a compact but still relaxing green space, head to La Sabana. There, you can walk around the manicured grass while checking out the statue of Leon Cortes and the 5-m high menorah. While you’re strolling, you might also want to pop into the Museo de Arte Costarricense, which is home to eclectic art pieces from famed Costa Rican painters.
In the heart of city life is Parque Morazan. The small park is named after Francisco Morazan, a 19th-century general who tried to unite the countries of Central America into one nation. The main attraction of the green space is the Temple of Music, a bandstand that’s the star of many photographs of the park.
San Jose is known for its historic buildings and lively avenues, but you can still find some solitude amidst the bustle. These San Jose, Costa Rica, parks provide a place to relax while taking in the city’s grand past.
Where to Shop in San José
Forgot to pack something cool and trendy for your vacation? You’re in luck, because there’s plenty of good shopping in San Jose, Costa Rica. Here are just some of the top malls and plazas to find your new favourite outfit.
If you want to shop where the locals shop, you have to go to Avenue Central. This pedestrian-only street mall offers a wide range of clothing stores. The local threads are inexpensive and can clothe everyone from babies to adults. Depending on the zoning laws, you might see an active number of street vendors along the avenue, selling wares to passersby.
San Pedro Mall
Western-style malls have sprouted up in Costa Rica in recent years, and you can visit one of the major ones in San Jose. Walk into San Pedro Mall, which has multiple levels and plenty of recognizable name brands. There’s also a food court on-site if you need a calorie boost before giving your credit card another round of swipes.
Plaza Real Cariari
For another shopping centre full of purses, shirts, and good food, make your way to Plaza Real Cariari. The mall has everything you need during your vacation, like flip-flops and hats, as well as the items you never knew you needed, like neon-coloured pants. The plaza also includes a carousel to help you entertain the kids before one more round of shopping. If the weather’s nice, head to the outdoor Mall of Flowers, which offers Latin American styles at cheap prices.
If there is one thing you absolutely must purchase in San Jose, it’s coffee. You’ve probably heard that they send all the best stuff up north—don’t believe it. No, the real goods are right in town. More importantly, the beans sell at a good price. You can find the top-selling brew, Café Britt, in most souvenir shops, but you can just as easily locate it in city grocery stores—and often at a cheaper rate. Trust us, it’s worth the buzz.
When you’re ready to get your San José, Costa Rica, shopping on, you’ve come to the right city to do it. Good luck on the bargain hunt!
Restaurants in San José
Pack your appetite along with your gym socks and sundresses, because you’re in for some classic Costa Rican dishes in San Jose. Here are some of the top foods to try on your vacation:
One of the most popular dishes in all of Costa Rica is simple but delicious. Casado is a plate comprising scoops of beans and rice, topped with bell peppers and onions, and served with a side of chicken or beef and fried plantain. No need to look far; you can find casado at nearly every restaurant in San Jose, Costa Rica.
Olla de Carne
Dig into something hearty when your tummy gets rumbly. Order up olla de carne, a stew made with beef, potatoes, carrots, plantains, yucca, and local fruit chayote, which tastes like sweet squash. The cuts of meat will vary upon availability, but you’ll often find it made with short ribs or flank steak, which tenderize in the broth. The longer the meal cooks, the better, so you might want to order it for a late dinner versus an early lunchtime snack.
For breakfast, don’t be surprised to see gallo pinto on nearly every menu of San Jose, Costa Rica, restaurants. The dish features rice and beans mixed together, along with scrambled eggs on the side, and a few tortillas in a separate basket. You see that brown liquid on the table? Toss it on your dish. Most locals tend to drizzle the sweet brown salsa (called salsa lizano) onto the meal, which gives breakfast a slight bite.
Lengua en Salsa
We don’t want to hear lip service: lengua en salsa is a Costa Rican classic you have to try. And yes, your rudimentary Spanish translated the dish’s name correctly. It is beef tongue served in a tomato-based sauce. Don’t worry; it’s not just a tongue splashed into some juice. The meat is boiled, then seasoned, and stewed with cinnamon, cloves, celery, cilantro, and Worcestershire sauce, until you have a decadent, stew-like dish.
Bring your sense of adventure and appetite to restaurants in Costa Rica! You’ll leave full and happy, and with a story to bring home.
Where to Stay in San José
Where you stay in San Jose is just as important as what you do during your vacation, so pamper yourself with a regal hotel in the middle of the action. Here are some of the top San Jose, Costa Rica hotels.
Hotel Grano de Oro
Walking into a hotel should feel like coming home—especially if that home is fit for a king. This is what Hotel Grano de Oro brings to the table. Mixing together Victorian style with Spanish flare, the mini-mansion sticks out on the main fairway. It’s a 40-room hotel that includes original artwork in the hallways; lush, sweet-scented flower arrangements; and an opulent dining terrace ripe for dinner conversation. Coming back to your room never felt so good.
Torres Del Lago
Location is everything, and that’s the calling card of Torres Del Lago. The towering hotel is 2 km south of the Natural Science Museum and the Museum of Costa Rican Art. Additionally, the hotel is within a 5 km radius of the Spirogyra Butterfly Garden and Gold Museum. Aside from its ideal locale, the hotel includes two swimming pools, a spa, a fitness center, and an on-site café to get the day started with that famous Costa Rican brew.
Barcelo San Jose Palacio
Life is better with thick breakfast meat. It’s a fact. So get a big, heaping pile of it when you stay at Barcelo San Jose Palacio. The 5-star resort is pure luxury, with 254 rooms, an outdoor swimming pool, and a lavish brunch spread in the dining area. It’s also 14 km southeast of the Juan Santamaria International Airport and 4 km south of downtown, making it a prime location as well.
Located about an hour outside of the main airport, the Peace Lodge is a tropical paradise disguised as a hotel. Peace Lodge is located within the La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park, which gives it an extra sense of privacy away from the busy downtown. Wake up surrounded by rainforest, and after breakfast, venture out to the nearby Poas Volcano. Along with its peaceful location, the hotel offers elegant rooms with hardwood floors and killer views.
Make this a vacation for the ages with a perfect San Jose, Costa Rica, hotel. Stay in the city, stay in the jungle, stay somewhere grand. Whether you’re booking a night at a luxury hotel in San Jose or a simple studio hotel, make it yours.
San José Organized Tours & Trips
When you want to explore the city and need a few pals for the journey, join fellow travellers for a tour through San Jose. Many of the organized excursions in the region are filled with English speakers, so you can see a different side of the town while still understanding what the guide is saying. Here are some of the top tours in San Jose, Costa Rica.
Over the forest and amongst the birds are some of best views of the city. With the heat at your back and lush vegetation above and ahead of you, you’ll see why so many people travel here year after year. Many of the top rainforest tours include an aerial tram—an ideal way to spot the wild parrots, monkeys, and sloths.
Arenal Volcano and Hot Spring Tour
It’s been said that it’s not a vacation without a volcano. Drive 90 km northwest of San Jose to witness the Arenal Volcano, with its impressive, cone-shaped top that still spits out lava every few decades. While you’re in the area, you might also want to pop into the Tabacon Hot Spring, as its mineral-rich waters are said to possess healing powers. The water might not turn you into a wizard, but it’s still pretty magical. You might want to even combine the two activities and find an Arenal Volcano and hot spring tour at a discount.
Chocolate Tasting Tour
I dare you to find anyone who doesn’t love chocolate. Can’t do it? Ha! Thought so. This is why you must sign up for a unique chocolate tasting tour during your vacation—like the SIBU Chocolate Tasting Tour, which lasts half a day. The master chocolatiers allow guests to sample cacao fruit and roasted cocoa beans before sipping hot chocolate from a recipe that dates back to the 1500s. You’ll also be able to sample dark chocolate and European-style bonbons that are made on-site. It’s simply a fact: tours in San José, Costa Rica, are better with a healthy serving of chocolate.
Jitters are a way of life in Costa Rica. The coffee is strong, smooth, and has just the right amount of buzz to get your day going. Learn more about the beans and brew on a coffee tour during your vacation. In particular, sign up for the Classic Britt Coffee Tour, which takes you around the coffee plantation and roaster. A coffee-tasting demonstration is included.
Pacuare River Trip
If you don’t mind a day trip further into Costa Rica, sign up for a fast-paced Pacuare River Trip. Most river tours offer to pick you up at your hotel in San Jose, before whisking you to the river’s edge. A safety course is taught in both Spanish and English, and then you’re ready to test your hand at whitewater rafting! The total river time is about five hours, so you can see a range of jungle plants and animals as you float down the stream. Remember to bring sunscreen and a change of clothes, as getting drenched is part of the appeal. Lunch is often included before the tour bus drops you back off in the city.
Tortuga Island Tour
While it’s widely known that San Jose is in the heart of the country and not near the sea, you can still enjoy a little island paradise by taking a Tortuga Island Tour. A bus will come pick you up in San Jose before dropping you off at the cruise terminal. From there, you’re just a sail away from the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean and soft sand of the shore. Spend your day swimming, tanning, or napping in the palm tree hammocks. Most of these island tours include food, so you can enjoy a good meal before stretching back out on the sand. Snorkelling equipment is also routinely available.
Horseback Riding Tours
Once you get back home, you know there are some stories about your trip that will stand out more than others. Riding a horse through the rainforest of Costa Rica is bound to rise to the top of the list, and you can find a number of horseback riding tours just a little outside of the city. Trot along a variety of trails, including paths through sugar cane and banana plantations, and forests and small towns. It’s an adventure you won’t soon forget.
As you look out your hotel window at the city below, know that there’s a wealth of things to waiting for you to see. Sign up for a San Jose, Costa Rica, city tour and see a new side of country.
What to See in San José
Be an explorer and see what San Jose has to offer during your vacation! As the capital of Costa Rica, there’s so much more to discover beyond government buildings and urban parks. This is a town brimming with museums and theatres just waiting for you to walk through the door. Options are plentiful, so we created a guide to the best attractions in the city. Rest your feet and prime your afternoon for these top San Jose, Costa Rica, sightseeing options.
Costa Rica Gold Museum
One of the most popular museums in San Jose is the Costa Rica Gold Museum, which was founded by Costa Rica’s Central Bank to display the cultural and archeological wealth of the country’s gold. Originally, the artifacts were showcased inside the bank itself, but when the collection grew, it was only right to move it underground in the Plaza de la Cultura. The centre features collections of Pre-Columbian gold pieces that date between 500 and 1500 A.D. As you walk around, you’ll learn that the metal isn’t just a thing of beauty; different gold pieces indicate a variety of social and cultural messages. No, Kayne West was not the first person to know the value of bling. Aside from the gold, there are also exhibits about current Costa Rican currency and a few pieces of local art.
Sputtering ash and fire is what Arena Volcano does best. This active volcano is one of the greatest attractions in San Jose, Costa Rica, and is well worth a visit on your trip. It’s located roughly 90 km northwest of downtown San Jose, in the district of La Fortuna. It towers at 1,633 m above the ground, with a cone-shaped mouth that spans 140 m. At 7,500 years old, it is considered young by most standards, which can explain its volatile nature. The teenage years ain’t easy for anybody, right? All of the rumbles are enough to make it one of the most active volcanos in the world, so experience a little danger with a trip to the volcano in all its glory.
Costa Rican Art Museum
Founded in 1978, the Costa Rican Art Museum is located inside the tower of the old San Jose Airport. The centre holds the largest collection of works by Costa Rican artists, spanning from the colonial era to modern day. In total, the museum has over 6,000 pieces of art, with top regional names like Max Jimenez, Francisco Amighetti, Juan Manuel Sanchez, and Lola Fernandez. When you’re done walking through the aisles admiring the magnificent pieces, head to the back patio. Here you’ll find a sculpture garden in the grand open space. Best of all, the museum is free, and is located near the La Sabana City Park, if you want to continue strolling around town.
National Theatre of Costa Rica
Commonly considered the most opulent building in the city, the National Theatre of Costa Rica is a true marvel. It was built in 1897, as the upper class wanted the country to see San Jose as a cultural center. A tax was introduced to the entire city, which ultimately gave the population a sense of ownership. The Theatre has a neoclassical structure, with statues of Beethoven and Calderon de la Barca in the interior. Most people stop in front of the “Alegoria al Café y El Banano” mural, which depicts rural Costa Rican life. Locals will point out that the painting was made in Italy, where the painter didn’t have access to proper farming information. For instance, the prominent man is depicted holding the bunch of bananas incorrectly, and coffee beans do not grow by the sea ports. However, the minor errors don’t detract from the beauty and spirit of the piece. The auditorium doesn’t disappoint, either. The intricate gold works and ceiling murals generate a sense of old-world prestige that carries into today. Catch everything from operas to modern dramas when you grab a seat in the front row.
Museum of Contemporary Art and Design
Who doesn’t like a little booze to go with their art? Make your way to the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, which is situated in the old National Liquor Factory Building. The structure was built in 1856, and gives an extra sense of gravitas to the museum itself. It’s the largest contemporary art centre in the region, and is well known for displays of pieces from contemporary Central American, South American, and Costa Rican artists. The museum tends to focus on current trends in painting, as well as graphic design and architecture. There are four exhibition rooms, with an open air space for performances and gatherings. There’s also a full library, where you can check out art books that have been authored by the museum’s staff, as well as members of other famous intuitions. For more information about art, just remember that you can always take a drive to the University of Costa Rica and see if they have books on the topic you’re looking for. The Museum of Contemporary Art and Design is free for kids, and guided tours are available.
Museum of Jade and Pre-Columbian Culture
Sometimes museums are so popular and revered that they need a radical expansion. From Lincoln to Lincoln SVUs: the trip from Washington DC to Los Angeles is always This was the case for the Jade Museum, one of the top tourist attractions in San Jose, Costa Rica. In 2014, the museum moved to a new, five-story building, which is large enough to showcase every piece of jade in their repertoire. Take your time on each floor and admire the 7,000 pieces of jade, ceramic, and stone art pieces. Many of these artifacts aren’t new, either. You can see things from as early as 500 B.C. through 1500 A.D and beyond. Much of the jade is carved into symbols, such as fertility goddesses, animals, and shamans. Other artworks in the museum depict daily life in Costa Rica, such as farming, hunting, and burial rites. The centre is open seven days a week.
Zoologico Simon Bolivar
With the rainforest just outside of downtown, you can very easily book a long tour in the outdoors. However, if you have little ones with you, sometimes making your way down to the local zoo is a win. For something quaint and simple, head to the Zoologico Simon Bolivar. It’s mainly geared towards kids and groups, with a high concentration of regional animals on display. The snake house is a popular exhibit in the park, with a number of slithering creatures just behind the glass. There are also a few lions, monkeys, and raccoons in the zoo, which are a hit with kids and adults alike.
Spirogyra Butterfly Garden
A bit of contrast a good thing when it comes to sightseeing in San Jose, Costa Rica. Take Spirogyra Butterfly Garden, for example. Tucked away from the hustle and bustle is the small sanctuary full of beautiful winged creatures in total paradise. There are over 30 species of butterflies within the garden, along with five kinds of hummingbirds. There’s also a small path called the Relaxation Trail that will make you forget that the country’s busy capital is just outside the walls.
Come see what San Jose has to offer. Between the beautiful animals and decorative art, it’s a world all its own.
Things to do in San José
After feasting your eyes on the best sights in San Jose, it’s only right to give your heart a workout, too. It doesn’t matter if you want to hike through the rainforest or float on a raft, there’s a ton to try in and around the city. Here are some of the top things to do in San Jose, Costa Rica.
Zip Line Adventure
You can see the rainforest from the ground, or you can view the untamed plants and animals while travelling at thrilling speeds on a zip line. We recommend the latter. Since the 1970s, zip lines have provided unparalleled views of the Costa Rican canopies. The steel cables and harnesses are the only things between you and the rushing waters, thick vegetation, and wild birds—and the sense of danger is like no other. Many of the popular zip line adventures are located in the Monteverde, Manuel Antonio, and Arenal areas, out of downtown San Jose. The zip lines at the base of Arenal Volcano are particularly popular, as you can speed over the jungle in the morning and visit the towering volcano in the afternoon. Lava not included.
Through natural erosion, Costa Rica has been carved into twisty canyons, deep dips, and wide spaces. Needless to say, the best known rivers of the region—Reventazon, Pacuare, and Corobici—are prime waterways for whitewater rafting in San Jose. Whether you prefer languid rivers to float down or crashing waters that will jostle you to and fro, you have a ton of options. Sign up for a half-day tour, which will include a tutorial. Just remember to bring a change of clothes so you don’t look like a wet mop as you walk into the hotel lobby.
Tortuguero National Park
After spending a few days in the many museums of San Jose (like the Gold Museum and the Jade Museum), it’s easy to feel the itch to get out into the wild. Consider cruising through Tortuguero National Park. Board a tour boat and keep your eyes open for green sea turtles, as well as howler and spider monkeys. Don’t worry about travelling through the mud and leaves to get there, as hotel pick-ups in San Jose are often available if you don’t have a rental car.
Manuel Antonio National Park
When you’re looking for some sand and sea activities to do in San Jose, Costa Rica, take a day trip to Manuel Antonio National Park. The park has four distinct beaches, which peek out from the rainforest. The waves are soft, making it a good spot for swimming with the family. Wildlife sightseeing is another great thing to do. There are over 100 species of mammals and 180 types of birds, including squirrel monkeys, iguanas, snakes, and bats. To see it all, sign up for a Manuel Antonio National Park Coastal Eco-Trek tour, which will show you sloths and monkeys in their natural habitat. Most tour guides will also take you and the group to the beach for snorkeling or tanning.
Stretch your legs, put on some sunscreen, and do more on your vacation. The question is never what to do in San Jose, Costa Rica, but how many things you can squeeze into one trip.
Annual Events & Festivals in San José
It can be winter, it can be summer, it can be fall or spring, and there will be plenty to do in San Jose, Costa Rica. That being said, there are a ton of excellent festivals and events spread throughout the year that deserve to be experienced. Here are the top San Jose, Costa Rica, festivals and when to catch them.
As soon as January arrives, locals get excited for the rowdy Palmares Festival. The event features nail-biting bullfights, carnival rides, and a parade full of horseback riders. The bullfights in particular are worth watching, as, unlike Mexico and other counties, the bulls are not killed at the end. Instead, daring men are brought in to taunt the beasts for the amusement of the crowds. Seeing a man get gored isn’t uncommon, so if you like buffoons and bulls, this really is your event. How big is the festival? Roughly one million partiers show up each year.
September 15th brings widespread celebrations no matter where you are in the country, as Independence Day is one of the biggest events of the year. The holiday is welcomed with everything from live music and a collective singing of the national anthem to parades with people dressed in traditional clothing and tons of good food. It’s a party you won’t want to miss.
The International Festival of the Arts
One of the most anticipated events of the year is the International Arts Festival, which happens in April. Some of the biggest Central American bands perform thunderous shows, while artists sell their latest paintings and modern pieces. If you attend this event, pick up customized jewelry and local delicacies between musical acts and shopping sprees.
Festival of Light
To celebrate the end of the year, San Jose puts on a festival of brilliant lights. The event includes lit-up floats, live music, fireworks, and a thick crowd of all ages. Keep your eyes open for brightly dressed marching bands and street dancers, as well as confetti raining down on revelers. The lights don’t turn off on this parade until about midnight.
The last week of December is when bull riders storm San Jose. In fact, it’s considered a sort of World Cup of bull riding. While you’ll often see the champions with the beasts, amateurs are invited to try their hand at it, too. To say that you’ll see epic fails as these newbies attempt to ride bulls is an understatement. The event also includes other familiar fair sights, like amusement park rides, sweet junk food sold out of street carts, and venomous snake shows.
San Jose, Costa Rica, events aren’t to be missed. When you mix fun, lights, and dash of crazy, you’re bound to enjoy a very good time.
San José Trips
Full of history and lively characters, San Jose offers a ton of unique things to see and do. Whether you’re here for the day, weekend, or week, you’re sure to leave with a story you’ll tell for years to come. Here’s a helpful guide for planning your San Jose, Costa Rica, getaway.
Day Trip to San Jose
If San Jose is your first stop in the country and you only have the day to explore, don’t fret. Here are some of the highlights to experience during a San Jose, Costa Rica, day trip.
Get a taste of Costa Rica—literally—when you pop into a local eatery for brunch. Try out some gallo pinto, which is featured on most breakfast menus in San Jose. The dish is made of rice and beans mixed together, with a side of scrambled eggs and tortillas. You’ll also want to squirt some salsa lizano onto it for an extra kick of spice. If you’d like something meatier, you can order a plate of casado. This dish comes with scoops of rice and beans, crowned with bell peppers and onions, and served with chicken or beef on the side with a fried plantain for extra starch. Olla de carne is also a robust meal to get your day going. The stew is made with beef, carrots, plantains, potatoes, yucca, and chayote—the local sweet fruit.
One of the most popular attractions in all of San Jose is the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum. Originally designed by the Costa Rica Central Bank, the expansive centre holds a wealth of gold pieces on display. The centre spotlights gold pieces from 500 through 1500 A.D., including the first coin minted in the country—way back in 1825. The museum also makes a point to show the cultural history of gold and how it’s been used for currency, decoration, and social status.
End your night looking fine and feeling classy—make a date with the National Theatre of Costa Rica. It’s regarded as the most lavish building in San Jose, and for good reason. The neoclassic structure includes a heavy hand of gold trimmings and red carpets. Check out the theatre’s schedule before you arrive, as there’s a variety of dramas and operas that perform throughout the year.
Weekend Trip to San Jose
Start off your tour of San Jose in a big way with a visit to the largest contemporary art museum in the country. The Museum of Contemporary Art and Design is located in the old National Liquor Factory Building, and you’ll feel its prestige as you walk through its halls. Take your time examining the blunt and beautiful pieces of art; the museum tends to showcase the most current trends in artistic expression. While you’re there, you might also want to pop outside, where there’s an open space for performances.
Do you have a fussy teen with you on your vacation? Perfect! They’ll love Arenal Volcano, a teenage (in geological terms) volcano that’s one of the most disruptive in the world. Take a day trip from San José, Costa Rica, and visit the 1,633 m beast. While you’re here, you might even want to sign up for a zip line at the base of the volcano before you see its jagged summit.
Put on your spiked shoes and grab a lucky iron, because it’s time to play some golf. For the best in the city, make your way to the Los Suenos Golf Course, which is located in the rainforest and incorporates a healthy balance of short and long drives. Other top greens in San Jose include the Four Seasons, Balley del Sol, and Cariari Country Club.
Week Trip to San Jose
Start your week in San Jose with some serious bling. Make your way to the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum. Here you’ll find over 1,600 pieces of gold, with special attention on objects from 500-1500 A.D. As you’re walking up and down the aisles, stay on the lookout for Media Escudo, which was the first coin minted in Costa Rica in 1825. The museum also displays plenty of exhibits that teach visitors about the craftsmanship it takes to make gold jewelry and coins. Aside from gold, there are also sculptures and artwork throughout the centre.
Give your heart something to pump about when you embark on a whitewater rafting expedition. Three major rivers—the Reventazon, Pacuare, and Corobici—are perfect spots to test out your strength and will. No worries if you’ve never done whitewater rafting. You’re not going to be handed a lifejacket and told to do your best—you’ll receive instructions in Spanish and English before leaping into the river.
Make it Watercolour Wednesday with a trip to the Costa Rica Art Museum. Located inside the tower of the old San Jose Airport, the centre is filled to the gills with bold collections. In fact, the museum holds the largest amount of Costa Rican art in the world. See all 6,000 pieces during your tour.
If you have little ones with you, consider taking them to The Amusement Park (called Parque Nacional de Diversiones by locals). The park is often ranked as one of the best permanent carnivals in Costa Rica. Most of the 80 rides are designated for children, with arcade games, bumper cars, and small roller coasters available for pre-teens and up.
What better way to end a Friday night than with some theatre? Treat yourself to some orchestra seats when you go to the National Theatre of Costa Rica. Once you see the gold trimmings and neoclassical design, you’ll understand why the theatre is regarded as the most opulent structure in San Jose. Before you sit down for the show, take a peek at the “Alegoria al Café y El Banano” mural. It’s a massive art piece that deserves the action it receives year after year.
Spend a warm Saturday enjoying San Jose’s National Park. This expansive city park is a favorite amongst couples strolling, seniors admiring nature, and kids playing around in the grass. As you walk around, you’ll notice quite a lot of statues standing proud in the park. Tributes to Juan Santamaria, Jose Marti, Miguel Hidalgo, and other local legends are scattered throughout the area.
You can’t leave Costa Rica without a visit to its favourite grumpy resident: Arenal Volcano. It’s regarded as one of the most active volcanos in the world, as it’s still young and volatile. It’s located roughly 90 km northwest of San Jose, so you might want to book a tour that will pick you up at the hotel and take you to the base of the beast.
It doesn’t matter if you’re in San Jose for a short day trip or a weeklong sabbatical; there’s a ton to see and do during your trip. You might even want to book a San Jose vacation package to see it all on the cheap. This is your vacation. Make it count!