If you have spare time during your trip to Costa Rica and you need to be close to the airport, you can check out San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica. Even if there are more interesting things to do outside San José, it is still worth checking it out if you have 1 or 2 spare days.
This is what we recommend in San Jose, Costa Rica.
How to get to San Jose from SJO Airport
San Jose is very well connected. You can easily travel by shuttle bus. During your trip, you can take a shared or private shuttle to transfer to downtown San Jose. Interbus offers shuttles to downtown San Jose every 15 minutes from the airport.
You can also take a Cab or an Uber or a Didi (Uber’s competition). You will see many oficial orange cabs at the airport exit.
There is a bus stop at the close to the arrivals ramp that goes into downtown San Jose. The most common bus is a large, red bus called the Tuasa San Jose bus, but there are also other companies offering the service. Travel around San Jose using the bus transportation.
Getting Around San Jose
First of all, you can just walk ! You can have a great pleasure discovering the city at your own pace...
Just be very careful because cars in Costa Rica don’t pay attention to pedestrians.
Driving Around San Jose
Driving in Costa Rica is easy even if the state of the roads is not comparable to that of developed countries: few signs, holes in the roads and drivers a little less respectful of the rules.
About San Jose, Costa Rica
San José is the capital city of Costa Rica. It is a small modern city but if youp ay attention it still has beautiful colonial architecture in some neighbourhoods, nice restaurants, hotels and bars. There is also a nice cultural life. Just beware with pickpockets.
Is it worth visiting San Jose Costa Rica? Best Places to Visit !
La Sabana Metropolitan Park
Former international ariport of Costa Rica, la Sabana Metropolitan Park is an ideal place to take a walk or relaxing in the shade of a tree with a good picnic. You can also visit the Costa Rican Art Museum located inside the park.
Museo de Jade
This is a top visit in San Jose.This museum is known for housing the most important collection of pre-Columbian jade. It is really worth visiting. You will also see many other archaeological pieces that testify to the pre-Columbian culture.
Museo de los Niños
Fun fact: from 1908 to 1979, this museum was the most feared prison in Costa Rica. Today, it hosts the children's museum.
With over 40 rooms and interactive areas, this museum will delight your children. The museum is located in downtown San Jose and costs less than $4 per person.
Costa Rican Art Museum
The Costa Rican Art Museum is one of the most interesting museums in Costa Rica. It houses one of the most important exhibitions of works of art in the country. It has more than six thousand different works and temporary exhibitions, both national and international.
Museo Nacional de Costa Rica
If you want to learn about Costa Rican History from pre-columbian times to aour days visit the national museum of Costa Rica. It is located in downtown San Jose, close to the artisanal market, in the old fortress that once housed the Costa Rican army, abolished in 1949.
Museum of Contemporary Art and Design
The Museo de Arte y Diseño Contemporáneo (Museum of Contemporary Art and Design) exhibits a large collection of contemporary Costa Rican and international art and design.
Also known as "Chinese Park", the park was built to commemorate the thirty years of friendship between the city of San Jose and Okayama, Japan. The design of the park is is based on the Feng Shui philosophy, and its beautiful paths and flowery islands make it an ideal place to walk and meditate.
You will find the Momotaro Statue, a gift that the Japanese city gave to San Jose. It also has several sports facilities, such as a soccer field, and play areas for children; in addition to a bridge-tunnel, a white stone garden, a pond and an amphitheater.
Natural Science Museum La Salle
The La Salle Museum of Natural Sciences hosts some of nature's finest creations in zoology and mineralogy. You will be impressed with the variety of exhibits and sights. He collections will delight your children.
Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo
Located in the north of the Central Valley, you will find the Braulio Carrillo matinal park. Braulio Carrillo National Park is one of the largest protected areas in Costa Rica with 50,000 ha and is located in one of the areas with the steepest topography in the country. The landscape is made up of high mountains densely covered with forests, canyons, rivers, streams and old volcanoes of great importance.
San Jose Central Market
The Central Market of San José is an obligatory stop on your discovery of the city. There is a lot of people here. If you want a change of scenery, go to the central market of San José. Colorful, picturesque and very typical, the market is home to a whole host of merchants of all kinds : souvenirs, various foods such as meat, fish, fruits and vegetables, popular restaurants, but also ribbons and other decorative objects.
Teatro Nacional Costa Rica
This theater is the architectural gem of San José. It is a miniature replica of the Paris Opera House. Built with money from coffee exports, the Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica is a must-see during your visit to the capital.
Inside, you will discover the ornamentation of the walls and coffered ceilings, which are covered in gold, marble and mirrors. You can take a tour with a guide as well.
If you are looking for a very original gallery, you have to come here. You will find objects from indigenous crafts: traditional fabrics, ceramics or masks. The objects you will find there are of unique quality and are sold at a price that allows the economic development of the artisans who produce them.
Simon Bolivar Parque Zoologico y Jardin Botanico Nacional
The Simón Bolívar Zoological Park hosts a great biodiversity. : different species of fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals. This zoo is also known for its work in nature conservation.
During your visit you will also enjoy a large lagoon which is considered a protected wetland in San José, Costa Rica. It is characterized by its green color which is caused by the large amount of small floating plants that cover it. In addition, the lagoon is home to some amazing animals : frogs, herons, turtles and even crocodiles.
Founded at the end of the 19th century by a wealthy French entrepreneur, Barrio Amon quickly became home to San José's bourgeoisie, and the neighborhood attracts visitors from everywhere with its architectural beauty composed of different styles: colonial, Victorian, neo-classical... Many beautiful residences are now hotels and cafes restaurants
Visit the Pre-Colombian Gold Museum
This archaeological museum hosts more than 1600 pieces made of gold dating from 500 to 1500 AD. It is located under the Plaza de la Cultura, next to the Teatro Nacional. You will see wonderful objects of all kinds: from small erotic statuettes to large warrior statues, amulets and jewels that will blow your mind.
Museum del Banco Central de Costa Rica
The Central Bank of Costa Rica hosts one of the most important works in Archaeology, Visual Arts and Numismatics of Costa Rica.
The museum offers wonderful guided tours, through which you will be able to enjoy some of the Costa Rican culture and history.
Parque La Sabana
Considered as the Central Park of San José, the huge La Sabana Metropolitan Park is an ideal place to take a walk, practice sport or organize a pic nic. It is located in the downtown area of the capital. You can also visit the Costa Rican Art Museum located inside the park.
Spirogyra Butterfly Garden
The Spirogyra Butterfly Garden is a beautiful garden dedicated specifically to the breeding of butterflies, allowing for the preservation and care of this beautiful species. In this colorful place you can find an infinite number of butterflies in a beautiful natural setting surrounded by flowers. It is located near the Simón Bolivar Zoo.
Explore La Paz Waterfall Garden
The La Paz waterfall is the most famous waterfall in Costa Rica where visitors can take a walk in the paths that lead to five diefferent waterfalls.
With the construction of La Paz Park, guests have a view from the platforms above, below and in front of the falls for great waterfall sighseeing.
Hike to the giant hand at La Chimba Coffee Farm
Hacienda la Chimba is a coffee plantation transformed into a theme park. You can take a walk in the trails surrounded by coffee plants and leading to brethtaking views.
The famous gigantic hand « La Mano Mantra » overlooking the valley is the most popular spot where tourists often take funny pictures. You will also find the High Ropes : several platforms attached to ropes in the air. There is also a Coffee Tour and a visit of a small old coffee town to learn about old traditions related to coffee in Costa Rica.
Visit a butterfly garden
Costa Rica is home to an abundance of beautiful butterflies. The most famous species are the Morpho Butterflies, a big blue butterfly that you don’t want to miss.
Several gardens also open their doors to you: Spirogyra Butterfly Garden, and also the Butterfly Farm, just south of Alajuela (30 min. from San Jose), you can walk through an enclosed garden while the butterflies flap their wings. Here, up to 80 species of butterflies await you, immersing visitors in the different life stages of the species, from egg to caterpillar to cocoon.
Try some Craft Beer or Join a Tour
In San Jose, there are more and more bars where craft beer is made. Explore San Jose’s Barrio Escalante and its collection of awesome local pubs. You can try Stiefel Pub, where you can drink tasting fligths (4 galopins to choose from) or the Costa Rica Beer Factory among others.
Visit Tortuga Island
If you are in San Jose, and long for sun, beach and catamaran boat, you can tke a one day tour to Tortuga Island.
This wonderful island is located off the southeast coast of the Nicoya Peninsula and is only accessible by boat. There are a variety of companies that can take you to the island. As there is nothing else on the island than sand, beach, sun and nature, it is not possible to spend the night there. Tour operators offer food service and transportation.
A Coffee Tour will teach you everything you need to know about coffee
There are many coffee tours in Costa Rica, so find one near where you are going. Most Costa Rican coffee tours are only 2-3 hours long, so you can combine a tour with other activities. These 9 coffee tours are in the Central Valley and near San Jose, Alajuela, Heredia, Atenas and Cartago: Doka, Hacienda Alsacia, are listed.
Visit the Arenal Volcano and Hot Springs
Located near La Fortuna and only 80 kilometers from San José, Arenal Volcano National Park is one of the closest to the capital. You can enjoy different activities to explore this beautiful park, its impressive volcano and its hot springs and then get back to San Jose.
Visit a Wildlife Rescue Center
The new wildlife regulations define zoos as places dedicated to environmental education through the exhibition of animals. It also specifies that rescue centers are non-profit entities that must be closed to the public to avoid contact with humans in order to care for injured, rescued and confiscated animals for release. In this sense, some sites that currently operate as rescue centers but exhibit animals and allow public visitation must also register as zoos, but "Sanctuary" type zoos. Therefore, you will find many Rescue Centers close to San Jose: Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center, Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center, Toucan Rescue Ranch, among others.
Eat Traditional Costa Rican Food
You can go to a « soda » and enjoy local food. “Sodas” are informal eateries and very popular. For breakfast, Costa Ricans usually eat “gallo pinto” which is made of rice and beans. Served with eggs, cheese or natilla (sour cream), gallo pinto is usually inexpensive, filling and sometimes very tasty. Otherwise, many hotels offer continental breakfasts, usually including toast, butter, jam and fresh fruit. Many restaurants also serve American-style breakfasts.
Tips for visiting San Jose, Costa Rica
Don’t walk alone at night past 9 PM especially if you are a woman. If you want to go out, always take a taxi or an Uber o a Didi.
In case of emergencies, the emergency line is 911 and they have an English speaking option.
Don’t wear beach clothes in the city. You should also wear good closed toed comfortable shoes. Sidewalks and roads have a ton of cracks and holes.
Never leave valuables in plain sight nor in a place where you can not see them.
The area around Hotel del Rey is one of the sketchiest. Avoid that area at night.
Where to Go Next
If you landed in San Jose and stayed there for a few days, you can easily go to :
La Fortuna: It is the main town next to the Arenal volcano where you can hike, swim in hotsprings and enjoy nice meals.
Manuel Antonio : One of the most beautiful National Parks in Costa Rica, full of monkeys, hidden beaches and wonderful tropical forest.
Tamarindo: Surf spot in Guanacaste with plenty of restaurants and surf shops
Monteverde: Small farming town up in the cloud forest where you will enjoy nature, hanging bridges, ziplining and birdwatching
How long to spend in San Jose, Costa Rica
San Jose can be visited from1 to 3 days.
What is San Jose Costa Rica known for?
San Jose is known for being the capital city of Costa Rica
Is it safe to walk in San Jose Costa Rica?
Yes, as long as you do not attract attention and keep valuables in a safe place. Avoid walking alone after 6 :00 PM, tale a cab or an Uber or a Didi.