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San Jose, Costa Rica

Great Destination:

Value for Money:

Total Stars:

Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know…?

  • For a short time in the 19th century, Costa Rica rotated its capital among four cities including San Jose.
  • San Jose’s residents call their city Chepe, which is the local nickname for anyone named Jose.
  • San Jose’s addresses utilize landmarks or nearby street junctions, rather than street names and numbers.
  • A third of Costa Rica’s population lives in San Jose.
  • One scene in “Jurassic Park” (1993) features a beachfront conversation said to occur in San Jose — but the city is landlocked.

Excursion capital

San Jose, as the capital of Costa Rica, is the country’s commercial, cultural and political center with a superb location. Although this is Central America, the city is 3,370 feet above sea level and thus enjoys a temperate climate. In addition, its setting is dramatic with volcanoes to the north and a rugged mountain chain to the south, terrain that entices active travelers as well as those content to take in natural wonders more sedately.

As befits a capital city, it offers fine museums, quality art galleries, good restaurants, a vibrant nightlife and a variety of accommodations including charming hotels in former mansions. The city also boasts a selection of unmissable historic buildings, but it does not have many colonial structures.

San Jose has recently established itself as a medical tourism destination, particularly for dentistry at affordable prices.

Tourists come to town for the above diversions, but they more often use the centrally located city (in the country’s Central Valley, no less) like the hub in a multispoked wheel; it is the jumping-off point for day trips, or multiday trips, that can easily reach as far as either the Pacific or Caribbean coast in this small country.

Activities range from hiking on a volcano to whitewater rafting or riding a zipline. Other choices center on special interests, such as bird-watching in a country noted for a plethora of species or visits to banana and coffee plantations. Butterfly farms and a chance to see sloths define other excursions.

San Jose can engage a serial shopper, but even the hunt for souvenirs has potential for a day trip.

A good visit for most is a balanced itinerary that reveals the character of San Jose as well as the diversity of attractions outside the capital.

On the whole, Ticos (short for Costa Ricans) are welcoming and San Jose is relatively safe, but the city has problems with pickpockets and other scammers. It is best to avoid walking alone at night; this applies to hiking deserted trails in national parks, too. Use only licensed taxis in the city.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Take a day trip for whitewater rafting. If you are up for it, take on the most challenging sections of the Reventazon or Pacuare River.
  • It’s possible to party much of the night in Costa Rica’s capital. Look for clubs where you can dance to Latin music. Or find the city’s most popular discos or go for the jazz, depending on your tastes.
  • Attend a soccer game, bearing in mind that this is the one time when locals can become rowdy. The regular season runs from August through May.
  • Consider scheduling your high-cost dental work here for a price break unseen at home.
  • Plan for a multiday hike to one of the area volcanoes.
  • Choose among the options for a ziplining tour of the country’s forest canopy.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Sample local favorites, such as gallo pinto, a blend of black beans, white rice and spices — this is considered breakfast — and the batido, a fruit shake.
  • Sightsee in the downtown area on foot and avoid dealing with traffic. Attractions are within walking distance of one another. Include a stroll in the backstreets of the Amon and Otoya neighborhoods, where coffee-baron mansions house trendy cafes and boutique hotels.
  • Earmark your trip to Braulio Carrillo National Park for bird-watching, and you may even see the famed quetzal. Also, look for jaguars, pumas, monkeys and tapirs.
  • Jog in the city’s Sabana Park.
  • Journey about 45 minutes out of the city to the town of Sarchi, where you can watch artisans and other craftsmen at work in the craft center. Of course, this is a shopping trip.
  • Take a driving trip up the 11,260-foot Irazu Volcano, the most accessible of the volcanoes that ring San Jose. You also can drive to the summit of the Poas Volcano in Poas Volcano National Park.

Things to do for Authentics

  • For one the kids will love: Visit the University of Costa Rica Insect Museum.
  • Try your luck at one of San Jose’s casinos.
  • Take a leisurely look at historic sites such as the Metropolitan Cathedral and National Theater, and allow time for key museums such as the National Museum and those featuring jade and pre-Columbian gold.
  • Attend a bullfight, but forget about blood and gore. Bullfighting here is more like a staged comedy. The bull wins when his tormenters run for cover.
  • Shop for quintessentially Costa Rican souvenirs such as the gorgeous wooden items made using the mahogany, teak and other woods found in the country’s forests.
  • Sign on for a tour taking you to Caffe Britt Coffee Plantation, a working coffee farm and processing plant. Learn about coffee production, then buy coffee and coffee-flavored liqueurs on site.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Costa Rica Tourism Board at