- For other places with the same name, see San Jose (disambiguation).
San José is the capital and largest city of Costa Rica. The undisputed cultural and economic center of Costa Rica's central valley, where most of the population lives, San José is also the most important transportation hub for domestic travel even though the international airport is in Alajuela. Many international visitors bypass San José altogether or spend only the time it takes to change from one bus to another, but its museums, cultural output and the opportunity to meet the "real Costa Rica" make it well worth staying a few days.
San José is on a plateau in the Central Valley at 1,200 m (3,900 ft) elevation. It is ringed by lush green mountains and valleys. The population of the Central Valley - which could be described as the San José metro area - is probably half of the whole country. It is served by the primary airport (which is in nearby Alajuela) the University of Costa Rica, most if not all embassies, and many museums, cultural venues, hotels, markets, etc. It is the hub of the country.
During the nineteenth century, San José fought with nearby Cartago over the title of capital and the latter lost out on the title but kept more colonial architecture. Most events in Costa Rican history are tied to San José; it was here that Jose Figueres declared the abolition of the armed forces after winning the civil war in 1948 and whenever Ticos have a grievance that can't be resolved locally, they come to the capital to demonstrate and make their plight known.
The value of the colón fluctuates roughly above ₡500 to the US dollar and some locals still call ₡500 "one dollar" in day to day life.
|San José (Costa Rica)|
|Climate chart (explanation)|
Weather in San José varies throughout the year and is affected by Caribbean weather conditions.
Because of its elevation, San José is usually 21-27°C (70-80°F) though it can get chilly at night. The rainy season is from mid April through December.
Juan Santamaría Airport
1 Juan Santamaría Airport (SJO IATA) (The city closest to the airport is Alajuela.). 17 km (11 mi) from the center of San José. The airport is pretty close to what you'd be used to in the US or Europe, including pretty shameless price gouging (a ₡ 6000 burger, anybody?) and tacky souvenir shops. However, the experience is generally smooth, quiet and air conditioned.
There is a local bus stop outside the airport (on the other side of the multi-story car park which you see when you come out of arrivals). It costs less than US$1 and takes you right downtown. However, there is no signage to speak of and you'll have to pass a lot of pretty insistent taxi drivers to get there. The cheapest option is taking the bus into downtown and get a taxi there for your final destination. The bus also has its own lane for much of the way from Alajuela to San José, making it an often quicker option in rush hour traffic. The taxis charge around US$25 to take you to the city, be sure to take one of the licensed reddish-orange taxis that say "Taxi Aeropuerto." Signage telling you of the official color of official taxis abounds throughout the airport, though. There are many unlicensed taxi drivers who will charge you almost twice as much as Taxi Aeropuerto. The taxis gladly take US dollars, but the local bus only takes colones and they would not be pleased to get a ₡10,000 bill. While the rail line passes pretty close to the airport, there is no easy way to get from the airport to the Alajuela train station and it is a rather long walk along unpleasant roads not designed for walking.
There is an ATM by the entrance to the departures that will give you colones (₡) or US dollars. However, it charges a 1500 Colon withdrawal fee, which - while cheaper than exchanging dollars at airport rates - is more than ATMs in Costa Rica usually charge.
Do not exchange money when arriving at the San Jose airport. The exchange rate used there is not the official rate and you will get a lot fewer colones.
Tobías Bolaños International Airport
- 2 Tobías Bolaños International Airport (SYQ IATA). Despite its name, this airport mostly sees domestic flights and a few flights to Managua . The dominant airline is Natureair
Of course most local buses start or end here. There are several bus terminals in San José. It is important to know which bus terminal serves your bus route. Bus stops are usually every few blocks in the city. Take always a taxi, when traveling with luggage:
- Terminal Coca Cola, Av 1 entre Calles 16 y 17. A well known landmark with buses going to all around the country, particularly in the Central Valley areas and the Pacific Coast. It is surrounded by various other stops (as not all buses service the Coca Cola Terminal) and ticket offices in other addresses. Some of the bus companies would have buses leaving and arriving here but the ticket office is in a separate location.
- Terminal 7-10, Corner of Av 7 y Calle 10. This is a newer terminal with buses going to Nicoya, Nosara, Samara, Santa Cruz, Tamarindo, Jaco, La Fortuna, Monteverde and a few other places.
- Terminal Atlatico Norte, Corner 9a Av y Calle 12, ☏ . Located in a small decrepit building with buses going to Puerto Jimenez and the Southern Caribbean.
- Gran Terminal Caribe, Gran Central (Along Gran Central north Av 13a). Serves as the central bus station for buses going to all points along the Caribbean Coast.
- Terminal Tracopa, Calle 5, entre Avs 18 y 20, ☏ . Bus terminal for Tacopa Bus Lines to the southwestern destinations of Neily, Dominical, Golfito, Manuel Antonio, Palmar Norte, Paso Canoas, Quepos, San Isidro de El General, San Vito and Uvita,.
There are additional bus companies that have their own bus stations or stops in/around the bus terminals or in another locations.
International buses typically connect San Jose to Managua. TicaBus is the only company that continues towards Tapachula, Mexico from Managua via San Salvador and Guatemala City; and to Panama City from San Jose in the other direction.
- Transportes Central Line, Terminal Atlatico Norte, corner 9a Av y Calle 12, ☏ .
- Nica Bus, Terminal 7/10 entre las calle 10 y 8 en la, Av. 7, Paso De La Vaca, ☏ . Buses to Managua, Leon and Chinadega in Nicaragua.
- Ticabus (Transportes Internacionales Centroamericanos), 200 m north and 100 m west of Torre Mercedes (Paseo Colón) (in front of the Magisterio Nacional Mortuary), ☏ . International bus company going across the Central American isthmus between Panama City and Managua. From Managua one route goes to Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula in Honduras while another continues along the Pan American Hwy to San Salvador, Guatemala City and Tapachula in Mexico. They also have another north-south route connecting El Salvador to Honduras.
- TransNica, Calle 22, entre Avs 3a y 5a, ☏ . Service to Managua and Tegucigalpa
- Panama – There are a few buses a day that leave from David to San Jose. The bus is about $20 and takes around 8 hr, which includes the border crossing at Paso Canoas. At the border, you will get off the bus, have your luggage inspected, get your Panama exit stamp, walk across the border to the Costa Rica immigration, and get your entrance stamp, luggage inspected again, and wait for the bus to get back on. Costa Rica immigration can be strict, and tourists will usually need to provide some sort of confirmation of an onward ticket out of Costa Rica within 90 days of entering. Onward tickets can include a flight out of San Jose, or a bus ticket coming back to Panama.
Trains have made a comeback in Costa Rica and, after being shut down for many years, several routes have been put back into service using second-hand equipment brought over from Spain and some very ancient wooden carriages that look like they have been taken from a museum. Lines are mostly singe-track and level crossings have no lights or protection at all, which has led to several accidents. There's also no signaling. Overall it's an interesting experience if you have the time and it's the best way of getting to Heredia (a lot faster and more comfortable than the bus). There are plans to expand the network. Tickets are relatively cheap; a ride from San José to Alajuela will set you back ₡1005 for example.
For more information see the website of the national railway, Incofer
Heredia and Alajuela: on weekdays, trains run between San José and Heredia every half hour in the mornings (06:00-09:00) and afternoons (15:30-20:00), leaving from Estación del Atlántico near the Parque Nacional. Some of these trains continue on to the UCR and U Latina in San Pedro. The 18:00 departure from San José (returning at 19:00) is a big train, so you can almost always get a seat on this one. A few trains are extended all the way to Alajuela, some 2 km (1.2 mi) from the airport.
Pavas, San Pedro and Curridabat: another line runs through the south of the city, stopping at Estación del Pacifico, Sábana and heading west into Pavas and eventually turning round in a fairly dangerous slum area in the middle of the hills. If you take it east, it stops across the road from Estación del Atlantico and then goes to the UCR, U Latina and Curridabat. Timetables are very limited, with just one train per hour early in the morning and in the evening on weekdays.
Belén: A service to Belén (just south of the airport) leaves from Estación del Pacifico. Services are approximately every half an hour 06:00-08:00 and 16:00-18:00 on weekdays only and take 35 minutes.
The main train stations of San José, named after the coasts they connected to the capital in better times are:
- 3 Atlántico railway station (Estación del Ferrocarril al Atlántico). Despite the Atlantic being the less developed region of Costa Rica, this is the station with most services in the 2010s. All destinations reachable by train except Belén are served at least once daily from here.
- 4 Pacífico railway station (Estación de Ferrocarril al Pacífico). This station only sees service on the Pavas-Belén route, which is extended twice daily to the Estacion Atlantico as well (though in that case Belén is not served)
Public transport system includes buses, various administrations have mulled some type of light rail for the city but as of mid 2018 there has been nothing more than talks on the subject. Bus lines, maps, schedules and ticket prices are available at Ruta en linea San José [dead link].
The bus system is reliable, comfortable, extensive, and very cheap. Buses operate on a system of single ride payment. There are no day week or month tickets and no transfers. The price will be prominently displayed near the entrance of the bus and you pay the same for riding a single stop or riding end to end. Bus routes vary in cost but most are around 500 Colones per ride
Taxis are generally cheap. All taxis should have a meter. The fare starts at ₡570, and is ₡570 per kilometer. A ride inside the city center will normally cost ₡580-2500. Basically a couple of US dollars, which they will accept, will get you anywhere in the city. It is close to useless to give a taxi driver an exact street address. You have to point out some well-known building, park or hotel close to where you are going. Often there are no street signs and addresses are difficult to find, so be sure you know where you are going or you could get lost very easily.
It is also possible to get around by bicycle in San José. If you want to buy a bicycle you find stores in Calle 6 / Av. 5 (Coca Cola) or south of "Avenida Segunda" on the corner or Av.6 / Calle 4. In the south east corner of plaza Viquez you find a small bicycle store.
The traffic lights don't have the yellow border around them and can sometimes be difficult to see, the road network is well utilized by locals (to overcapacity) so don't expect to get anywhere fast, and motorcycles weave in and out of traffic. The pet peeve most tourists have with tico kindness is that oftentimes when a Tico has no idea where a certain destination you may have had in mind is, he or she will simply direct you to a random location. Oftentimes simply incomprehensible, these directions are a reflection on the cultural approach to kindness many Costa Ricans adopt.
Renting a car is usually not recommended for first-time visitors to Costa Rica—the hassle and potential for confusion is usually not worth the effort. However, travellers that are adventurous enough or have been to the country before may want to consider renting a car. Traffic can be bad in cities or on mountainous roads, and signs are sometimes non-existent. It can be easy to get lost (especially if you don’t have GPS or high-quality maps) and is tough to get back on track if you aren’t comfortable handling directions from a local speaking Spanish. There are other things to consider as well, including traffic laws, the price of gasoline, and driving time.
- 1 Museo de Oro Precolombino (The Gold Museum), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Tu-Su 10:00-16:30. An underground museum below Plaza de la Cultura. The collection consists of 1,600 pieces of pre-Columbian gold work dating from 500 AD to 1500 AD. Although not of the quality seen in the Andes, the animal pieces are very impressive and make the museum a must-see for those interested in art or history. The museum explains the processing and production of the pieces as well as their social, cultural, and religious meanings. The entrance fee includes the Numismatic Museum and the Temporary Exhibition Galleries, which are inside the same labyrinthine complex. There is a nice museum shop and a tourist office at the entrance. ₡5,500 or US$11 for foreigners, or ₡4,500 with a student ID card. It is cheaper to pay in colones here.
- 2 Museo del Jade (The Jade Museum), Avenida Central, Calle 13, ☏ , email@example.com. M-F 08:30-15:30, Sa 10:00-13:00. The museum has relocated to a large modern building next to the Artesanal Market. Most tourist maps still show the old location across from Hotel Hemingway, but the new location is 4 blocks away and closer to the Plaza de la Cultura. The brand new complex is now one of the hemisphere's premier museums and is worth the sizable entry fee. It hosts the largest collection of precolumbian jade in the Americas and explains how these impressive pieces were produced. The museum displays a wide variety of other objects made of gold, stone, bone, ceramics, and shells. There is a smattering of objects similar to those at the Museo de Oro (gold pieces) and Museo Nacional (stone spheres and ceramics). You can gain insight into the daily lives of the people in the precolumbian era with numerous bilingual English-Spanish. If you only have time for visiting one museum, this is the recommended choice, albeit the craftsmanship of the pieces at the Museo de Oro is higher. US$15 for foreigners, $5 for locals. It is cheaper to pay USD than colones.
- 3 Museo de los Niños (The children's museum) (Antigua Penitenciaría (the old prison)), ☏ . M-F 09:30-15:30, Sa Su 10:00-16:00. This is an edutainment museum, and it was designed for Costa Rica's children, all the exhibits are in Spanish only. ₡600 for adults and ₡300 for children.
- 4 Museo Nacional, Calle 17 Avenida 2, ☏ . Tu-Su 08:30-16:30. The museum includes a large butterfly garden (with many morpho butterflies) and a collection of large stone spheres from the Diquis Valley near the Pacific Ocean, a permanent precolumbian exhibition, the barracks, the rooms of the army general and his family, and a couple of temporal exhibits at the time. The museum building is an old fort called Cuartel Bellavista, in this place the Army was symbolically abolished by then president Jose Figueres Ferrer on December 1, 1948, after the last civil war and armed conflict in the country. ₡2000.
- Museo de Arte Costarricense (east end of Sabana Park), ☏ . Tu-Sa 10:00-16:00, Su 10:00-14:00. This used to be San Jose's main airport terminal back when La Sabana was the airport. $5 (students $3).
- Insect Museum at the Universidad de Costa Rica. A very elegant collection of exotic bugs. Only a few dollars, but check the times when they are open.
- 5 Museo de arte y diseño contemporáneo (MADC), Centro Nacional de la Cultura, Antigua Fábrica Nacional de Licores. Avenida 3, calle 15, ☏ , . Tu-Sa 09:30-17:00. Definitely the main institution in Costa Rica dedicated to the broadcasting of contemporary art. Information on exhibitions, schedules and admission fees can be found at their website. Nationals and residents ¢1500, foreigners US$3, students (with student ID card) ¢1000, children under 5 years and seniors free, free entrance on the first Tuesdays of each month.
- 6 Parque Zoológico y Jardín Botánico Nacional Simón Bolívar. An almost hidden zoo in Barrio Amón, some of the most representative animals are available in this small zoo. There are many big cats, including a non native lion, the serpentarium is one of the most interesting spots, with colorful (and dangerous) snakes available.
The main downtown area is a bustling collection of well-laid out streets filled with bustling traffic and lined with eclectic, historic architecture. On the surface it is a gritty downtown area, but look inside and you'll find friendly people, quirky spots, and the historic side of San José that change your impression. A walking tour is the best way to see this area.
There are a lot of tours and local events and doings in and from San José, including:
- Butterfly Farm.
- Coffee Farm.
- Canopy Tours.
- Volcanos (Buses to Poas leave from Parque La Merced at 08:30 daily). ₡2990.
- La Paz Waterfall Gardens. An hour away from San José you can find lovely trails through primary rainforest that take you past five beautiful waterfalls. The La Paz water fall gardens also offer a hummingbird gallery, serpentarium, frog exhibit and large butterfly observatory.
- Every Thursday a dozens of young jugglers gather at the Parque Morazan and juggle together. Often with percussion music. It is a free event in public space. Normally you will be invited to play with them. Lovely experience if you like street art.
- Yoga [formerly dead link]. Costa Rica is a top destination for yoga. In San Jose, check out Downtown Yoga near Parque Morazan, which offers accessibly priced yoga and hooping classes for all experience levels.
- Valle del Sol, Santa Ana (In the Lindora area next to Forum Park.), ☏ .
- Gym: Decent gym facilities can be found at the Spa Corobici (+506 231-5542) located behind the Hotel Corobici. The taxi ride from the airport is approximately US$10-20 and entry into the gym is ₡5,300 or Us$10. The club has a good selection of free and machine weights and a cardio theater. The club also has an outdoor swimming pool for lap swimming, a Jacuzzi tub, and a sauna.
- La Sabana, La Sabana (West of San José, at the end of Paseo Colón). Daylight hours. Known as the lungs of San José, La Sabana is the largest park in the city. It has running trails, as well as a number of sports facilities, including football (soccer) and baseball fields, basketball courts, a track, and a rollerskating rink. Find pick-up basketball games here every weekend and holiday, and sometimes during the week. $0.
- Casinos: Many hotels have gaming. The most famous for sex tourism is Casino del Rey.
Costa Rica in general, and San José in particular, is a great place to improve your Spanish language skills. Many people can speak some English and there are many Spanish classes available, including at the Universidad de Costa Rica, and in "immersion" classes in private homes.
- Academia Tica Spanish Schools, with campuses in Coronado (San José) and Jacó Beach (Central Pacific), is one of the longest standing schools in Costa Rica and one of the few with accredited programs. It also offers travel experiences, cultural activities and weekly excursions plus travel services. Groups range 2-6 students and special courses are also offered (DELE Exam preparation, Surf & Spanish, Spanish for specific purposes, etc.) Motto: "fun classes = serious learning!"
- Máximo Nivel, Farmacia la Bomba 75 m sur (San Pedro, San José), ☏ . 07:00-20:00. Small group, online and individually tailored Spanish classes taught by certified native instructors. Spanish students can join free conversation practice with local residents who are studying in intensive English programs. Intensive TEFL/TESOL certification classes each month, to prepare for a job teaching English.
- Intensa. In San José, Alajuela and Escazú, offers conversational lessons and home stays.
- [dead link] Coastal Spanish Institute (CSI), Tamarindo. Spanish language and surfing school. Home-stay or residence available, along with many fun activities.
- Wayra Instituto de Español, Tamarindo Beach. Programs run 1-4 weeks, with an option to include a surfing course.
- Centro Panamericano de Idiomas. Locations in Heredia, Monteverde and Flamingo Beach. The Flamingo location offers a chance to obtain an Open Water Diver Certification.
- Institute for Spanish Language Studies (ISLS), ☏ . Seems to be an association of schools, with 8 in Costa Rica. Language instruction, travel information and services, guest house for students.
- [dead link] Intercultura Language Center, Heredia and Sámara Beach, ☏ . M-F 07:00-19:00. Intercultura offers immersion Spanish programs with daily cultural activities such as Latin dance, cooking, films, yoga, and arts. Homestay or hotel stays are available, and volunteer programs are offered. Two beautiful campuses, one on the beach, one in the colonial city of Heredia, close to San José. Class size 1-6 students, All teachers have university degrees and teaching credentials. US university credit available. from US$199 per week.
San José or rather its metro area is host to the most prestigious universities in the country. By far the granddaddy of them all is UCR which includes most Costa Ricans of rank and name among its alumni, including several former presidents and leading figures in business and media.
- Boutique Annemarie, inside Hotel Don Carlos, is a nice souvenir shop. But don't buy your stamps here, they'll charge you an extra 40% for the "service".
- El Pueblo shopping mall has lots of small souvenir shops.
- Mora Books: A used book store on the corner of First Avenue and Street 3 in down-town San José. They have a great number of guide books, and will buy, trade, or sell books.
- Mercado Artesania, Avenida Segunda by the National Museum. Daily 08:00-20:00. One of the best places for getting souvenirs and handcrafted products.
Throughout the city, there are many shops with wooden and ceramic souvenirs. The wooden pieces, such as masks, plaques, and other forms of wall art, are all beautifully hand carved as well as hand painted and the artisan usually signs their work with their name and where it was made on the backside. The ceramic pottery and dishware is done in this similar fashion and are available in a variety of designs and colors. These make interesting and personally unique gifts to bring home to family and friends for a reasonable price.
San Pedro Mall: A very modern mall east of the city. On the outside it is beautifully constructed and it is three stories high.
The best coffees have deserved reputations for superb quality. Super markets/grocers and small coffee growers usually have better prices than shops that cater to tourists. Often packaged in 12-oz. sealed bags, you should only purchase roasted, whole beans rather than ground; for epicures, "strictly hard bean" (SHB). They will keep flavor longer until you can store them properly at home (Google for methods), and won't include sugar as often found in Costa Rican ground. Roasted coffee also prevents you from running afoul of agencies such as FDA/APHIS that requires special licensing for importing "green"/unroasted beans (may be considered plant material).
Costa Rica is among the more "Americanized" parts of Latin America and you'll find a wide selection of fast food establishments in San José.
Mercado Central is a very old, interesting and bustling food market, which also contains a number of small restaurants and quick-serve counters for the locals. You will find fresh cooked fish and shellfish, corn based dishes, sopa de pescado (fish soup) and such exotics as "squid in his ink", ceviche (small bits of raw fish "cooked" in lime juice), helado de sorbetera (artesanal local cinnamon ice-cream) and more.
Be careful with food being sold on the street. It has been found to at times to have contamination from not being washed properly.
- Bar Poas, Avenida 7, Calle 3 y 5 (Two doors down from the Pangea Hostel, across the street from St. Thomas Hotel in Barrio Amon), ☏ . 12:00-02:30. Photos of regular customers adorn the wall of this dimly lit but friendly bar and restaurant. A decent menu of Gringo and Tico food is available from 12:00 to 02:30. Try the award-winning Chili con Carne. There´s always an interesting group of characters there including proprietor Harry Hart who is always willing to dispense useful advice about San José and Costa Rica.
- Cafetería Parisien (Gran Hotel, between Theatro Nacional and Plaza de Cultura). Not the most exciting food, but elegant settings.
- Hotel Grano de Oro, Calle 30 Avenida 2/4, ☏ . Beautiful but expensive restaurant. A breakfast menu costs around ₡7500 with coffee, or treat yourself to the delicious banana-macadamia nut pancakes (₡7000). The entrees are diverse and creative. Don't hesitate to try the soup of the day, even if it sounds less than exciting. Duck is on the menu, and is some of the best to be had anywhere. Numerous seafood dishes are cooked to perfection, as is the beef and pork.
- Hotel Vesuvio Restaurante, Barrio Otoya, ☏ . Italian food, pastas ₡1900; chicken ₡2000-2500.
- Lukas, Centro Comercial El Pueblo. One of two other restaurants at the El Pueblo.
- Machu Picchu Restaurant, (Paseo Colón) 1st Ave (125 meters north from Kentucky FC restaurant), ☏ . Peruvian food & sea food. Try the Causa Rellena, Cebiche, Lomo Saltado, Ají de Gallina and Peru's traditional and landmark drink: Pisco Sour.
- Pizzeria Il Pomodoro, Cerca de Parque Kennedy y Banco Nacional en San Pedro. One of the best known casual restaurants in Costa Rica. Italian cuisine, very good pizza and pasta, good cheap wine, from second floor great view or the mountains to the west.
- Soda Esnider (Walk a few blocks to the east from Plaza de la Cultura over the Central Avenue and get into Galerías Avenida Central. You will find several stores and if you go down the stairs you will come across Soda Esnider). You can have a wonderful “Casado” for lunch with a natural drink for as little as ₡1600.
- Tin Jo, Paseo de los estudiantes. This is an well-established pan-Asian restaurant featuring Japanese, Thai, Chinese, and Indian food. Don't be put off by its simple exterior. The restaurant is clean, beautifully decorated and offers excellent service.
- Vishnu. Vegetarian and organic restaurant. With very reasonable prices and a varied, tasty menu they are easily the best choice for vegetarian food in SJ. There are three locations downtown San José: South side boulevar, near the Banco popular; across Omni Center; and North side of the Iglesia Del Carmen.
- El Balcón del Marisco (appx 1 km. East of EPA toward to hwy to Cartago). 10:00-23:00. Great place for fish. Always busy. Service very good. No other place comparable. Clean and safe. ~US$11.
- Pupusería Salvadoreña, Avenida 3, Calle 22 (Two doors down from the Pangea Hostel, across the street from St. Thomas Hotel in Barrio Amon), ☏ . M–Sa 06:00–20:00; Su 06:00–18:00. More food—Costa Rican & Salvadoran—for less money than most other places. Lots of workers grab meals-to-go in the morning. Delivery available. ₡1,000–3,000.
- 1 [dead link] El Pueblo (Paseo Colón, Escuela Juan Rafael Mora, esquina noreste), El Pueblo. A shopping center that becomes a clubbing district at night. There are several bars and nightclubs cluttered in the tiny little alleyways. Just mention El Pueblo to your taxi, and he'll know where to go. Can be a bit rough at night, but it has some good places to Latin dance (something that's hard to find in Costa Rica).
- San Pedro is home to many bars and clubs, try to avoid the University of Costa Rica area at night as the many bars in the university district tend to attract brawls and even the occasional bullet shot. The other bars and clubs in San Pedro are free of trouble.
- Barrio La California is the place to be if you're into the bohemian/rock crowd. Many bars have local bands playing every night. Great place to go bar-hopping!
- Ristorante Tutti Li, Plaza Itskatzu, Escazú (Near Multiplaza, Courtyard, Holiday Inn, Residence Inn, Hotel Intercontinental), ☏ . One of the best Italian restaurants in town. Fresh pastas, traditional Italian plates, brick oven pizza and exquisite wine selection, all with a modern flare. A must while in San José. Located in one of the most premium locations in the city.
- Bar La Bohemia (De Lumaca, 100 m al sur. San José.), ☏ . La Bohemia is a classic San José bar, complete with small tapas (called bocas), old men with decades of being regulars, and traveling guitar duos playing for tips. Plus it's dog-friendly. Tip: buy a bottle of wine; it's cheap and better-than-average quality. Closes early some nights. Corner, Art Deco style.
Gay and lesbian nightlife
San José is a very tolerant city. Most bars are gay friendly. There is a small but vibrant gay life in San José from lesbian bars, to saunas and twink discos.
- La Avispa is the oldest gay disco in Costa Rica. Big place with Latin music and dancing, pop. It has the most popular crowd and is recommended if you want to try the local flavor. Sundays late afternoon and evening is the best time to go.
- Club OH: Huge electronic music place with open bar on Fridays and Saturdays. It has a VIP area with better quality liquors and another DJ. Live drag shows at midnight. Best day to go is Saturday.
- [dead link] El 13 (200 metros Sur de AyA Paseo de los Estudiantes Avenida 14, Calle 9), ☏ . 21:00-01:00. Large historic home, with eclectic decoration and clientele. El 13 has some great thematic nights, as well as the very popular "Planchatón," which features classic campy ballads in Spanish. Hours vary depending on the day.
As San José is the undisputed economic, cultural, academic and political center of the country there are plenty of hotels and hostels of all kinds aimed at Ticos and foreigners alike who are here on business or pleasure.
- Casa Ridgway, C 15, Av 6/8, ☏ . A comfortable Quaker hotel with a shared kitchen and dining area available for use, a great place to meet like-minded travelers, a simple breakfast is included. Dorms, singles, doubles, triples available US$10-12/person.
- Costa Rica Backpackers, Avenida 6, calle 21,23, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Great place to meet other travelers in town, affordable and comfortable hostel, facilities include an outdoor pool, kitchen, free internet and bar. Great place to party! Dorm US$9.
- Gaudys Backpackers Hostel, Cnr Ave 5/Calle 36-38 (close to Parque La Sabana, 2 km west of town), ☏ , email@example.com. Free breakfast, internet and WiFi, kitchen and laundry use, storerooms, dorms from US$12.
- Hostel Bekuo, Avenida 8, Calle 40, Los Yoses (325 West of Spoon Los Yoses), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Includes free breakfast, pool table, internet, coffee & tea, and above all a great atmosphere and staff
- Hostel Casa del Parque, On the corner of Avenida 3 and Calle 19 (Barrio La California), ☏ , email@example.com. 40 comfortable beds with real mattresses in dorm style rooms of 6 to 8 beds and one double room. Five full bathrooms with hot water. There is also a common room equipped with cable TV, free internet, and coffee. Excellent hosts, knowledgeable and friendly. dorm bed $8.
- Hostel Casa Colón, Paseo Colon, C 24 North, in front of Torre Mercedes, right in the corner, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Dorms, private rooms, private and shared bathrooms, huge flat screen TVs, big lounge with wire/wireless high speed internet 24/7, video surveillance, international restaurant and cafe-bar, airport shuttle service, free tourist info and travel tips, free maps, free parking, typical Costa Rican breakfast included, plenty of services around the area
- Hotel Danubio, calle 18, avenida 3 (75 m North of estacion Coca Cola), ☏ . Check-out: 13:00. Clean and safe and extremely peaceful. You'll get a good night's sleep here without having to worry about all the hippies in CR, free internet/Wi-Fi, and a friendly knowledgeable staff. Singles from US$18, doubles from $25.
- JC & Friends Hostel, Cnr Ave 3/Calle 34, ☏ . Phone, free breakfast, internet, kitchen use, dorms from US$10. Near Tica Bus Terminal.
- Molino Rojo Hostel, Paseo Colón y Calle 32, diagonal a KFC, ☏ , email@example.com. Hostel in a safe and central area of San José with dorm beds from US$10 and private rooms from $25 per night. Free breakfast, free use of the internet, communal kitchen, garden, lounge and bar. Big party the first Saturday of every month.
- Tranquilo Backpackers, calle 7, avenida 9y11 (250 m North of park Morazán, in front of Kabata Hostel), ☏ , , firstname.lastname@example.org. Clean and safe with a fun and lively atmosphere with guitars and movie everyday at 20:00. Free breakfast everyday, free coffee and tea all day, free internet/wifi, free storage, full kitchen, and a friendly knowledgeable staff. Dorms from US$10, singles from $17, doubles from $24.
- 1 Hostel del Paseo, Paseo Colón, Calle 26-28 (across from Torres Paseo Colón), ☏ . Very clean, hostel in city center. All rooms have free wi-fi and good air conditioning, plus fan. Each bunk in dorms has its own locker, big enough for large luggage, and a bed-lamp with electrical outlets. Premium rooms include free continental breakfast, available to others for US$3, payable when you register. Very helpful, knowledgeable staff. Registration open 09:00–21:00, with night staff on duty 24/7 for entry and exit. Because of drainpipe problems, some bathrooms have air fresheners with a noticeably strong smell. On request, staff will remove them or leave them in, whichever you prefer. Dorms from US$14, premium (private) from $45.
- 2 Stray Cat Hostel, Avenida 9 y Calle 20, Barrio Mexico (7-min walk from Centro Multicultural Botica Solera and 3 km from La Sabana Metropolitan Park), ☏ , email@example.com. Laid-back with a colorful, artsy vibe. The simple mixed-sex and female-only dorms have private lockers and bunk beds with reading lights. Breakfast is included. Other amenities include a guest kitchen, and a dining area with vibrant murals on the walls, plus a common lounge and a reading room. US$10.
- Costa Rica Guesthouse, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. From US$35 a night, in downtown San José, housed in a beautifully restored 1904 building. 23 decorated private rooms with king size beds, semi-orthopedic mattresses and free Wi-Fi access. Especially designed for couples, families and people looking for a little extra comfort, Costa Rica Guesthouse is the upscale hotel at budget price.
- 3 Courtyard by Marriott San José, Autopista Prospero Fernandez, Calle Marginal N., Plaza Itskatzu San José, ☏ . The Courtyard San José is near San José's industrial parks, businesses, international companies and within minutes from shopping, nightlife plaza and restaurants. Spacious rooms, free high-speed Internet, on-site restaurant, outdoor pool and health club.
- Hemingway Inn, Avenida 9, Calle 9, Barrio Amon (behind I.N.S.), ☏ . Former mansion turned into a hotel. Friendly staff. Quiet neighborhood. Safe and secure. Decent price for the area: US$35-45 for a double including traditional breakfast with Gallo Pinto and Tamales. Hotel has a small bar and hot tub on the premises. The hotel will organize eco-tours for the rest of Costa Rica. Free Internet service and Wi-Fi.
- Hotel La Rosa de America (15 minutes west from the San José Airport, in the town of La Garita de Alajuela.), ☏ . This hotel offers sparking clean accommodation in twelve rooms and two family suites arranged in cabinas, located around a large beautifully maintained tropical garden and swimming pool. Breakfast at the restaurant is included.
- Hotel Out of Bounds (Hotel Out of Bounds Escazu), Escazu, ☏ , email@example.com. US$70.
- 4 Hotel Presidente, Central Ave Blvd, 7th Street, ☏ , toll-free: . In downtown San José, on the walking boulevard of Avenida Central and Calle 7 (seven street). 4-star accommodations with rooms starting at US$85 + tax per night. Free internet. Buffet breakfast included.
- Hotel San Gildar. Next to the Costa Rica Country Club. A beautiful private hotel in the higher end side of San José. Offers mid-range 3-star accommodations, trendy bar-restaurant, souvenir shop, adventure tour desk, free continental breakfast and high speed Internet.
- Hotel Santo Tomas, Av. 7 between Calle 3 and 5, Barrio Amon, ☏ , fax: . Pleasant bed and breakfast inn, English-speaking staff, single rooms are small, some downstairs rooms quite spacious. Rates from US$80, including breakfast.
- Kap's Place, Street 19, Avenues 11 and 13, #1142 in Barrio Aranjuez, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Guesthouse with 13 rooms and 1 large apartment. US$30-80 including taxes. Guests have free kitchen use and free travel planning help. The K in Kap's Place stands for Karla. It's her house and her service is top notch. Bilingual (English/Spanish).
- Residence Inn San José Escazu (15 minutes from downtown San José), ☏ . Complimentary hot breakfast daily, outdoor pool and fully functional gym. The Residence Inn San José also has two meeting rooms.
- Rincón de San José (formerly Hotel Edelweiss), Avenida 9 Calle 15 Barrio Otoya, ☏ , email@example.com. 27 rooms, US$50 + tax for a double including breakfast. 10% cash discount. Free Internet.
- 5 TRYP San José Sabana Hotel, Avenue 3, calles 38 y 40, ☏ , toll-free: (US number). Centrally located hotel with conference facilities.
- 6 Barceló San José, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 12:00.
- Doubletree Cariari by Hilton San José, Canas Highway San Antonio de Belen (5 minutes from the Airport), ☏ . Distinctive architecture with lots of plants and a great swimming pool. US$89-229.
- [formerly dead link] Hotel Don Carlos, Calle 9 & Avenida 9, Barrio Amón, ☏ , toll-free: . Beautifully decorated hotel, run by the same family for three generations. There is also a tour operator (expensive) and a nice souvenir shop inside the hotel. US$70 + 16.39% tax for a standard double.
- 7 Hilton Garden Inn San José La Sabana, Boulevard Ernesto Rohrmoser (northwest corner of La Sabana Municipal Park at the intersection of Avenida de Las Américas and Boulevard Ernesto Rohrmoser), ☏ , toll-free: . Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 12:00. A modern hotel on the 13th-20th floors of a high-rise building in downtown San José, the Hilton Garden Inn offers a gym, an outdoor pool, a business center, a 24-hour mini market and even free parking in a secure parking garage in the building. These amenities come at a price, with rates comparable to Hilton Garden Inns in the United States, but the location is excellent and the staff are very helpful and friendly. US$140-170 per night.
- 8 Hotel Fleur de Lys (50 m north of Drs. Echandi Clinic), ☏ , email@example.com. Comfortable European-style small hotel with eclectic class and grace. Excellent restaurant on site, suites feature jacuzzis.
- 9 Hotel Grano de Oro (Just off Paseo Colon), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Converted from a tropical Victorian mansion, the 35-room hotel maintains the warmth and comfort of a private home. Hallways lined with period photographs and original art meander through the building and present lush tropical flower arrangements and luxuriant plants at every turn. The restaurant is beautiful, opening upon a courtyard with a fountain at the center. Service is prompt and efficient, and the staff mostly speak very serviceable, if not near-perfect, English. The rooms are comfortable, but most lack air conditioning which means you will be awakened by bird calls most mornings. .
- 10 Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton San Jose-Airport, Hwy 1 Airport Blvd, Alajuela, ☏ . Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 12:00. Close to the international airport and many Costa Rican company headquarters.
- 11 InterContinental Costa Rica at Multiplaza Mall, ☏ , email@example.com. Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 12:00. Located amid tropical gardens. It has 261 rooms and suites. Each room is equipped with a mini-bar, hair dryer, air conditioning and a system of electronic key. Services : gym, swimming pool, jewelry shop, tennis court, restaurant, bar, conference rooms and gift shop.
- 12 Quality Hotel Real San José, El Paseo Real, Costado Este Centro Empresarial Forum, Santa Ana, ☏ , fax: . Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 12:00. Quality Hotel Real San José has 154 rooms, 16 mini-suites and rooms for disabled people. Also it has a restaurant, pool, business center with computers, printers and internet access high speed. US$80-140.
- See also: Common scams
In San José and throughout the nation's urban centers, the traffic is wild and dangerous. It is not the norm for cars to stop for pedestrians; in fact, they generally drive very fast, which can make walking across streets difficult and even dangerous.
The area around the Coca Cola Bus Terminal, and most other terminals, is not as safe, especially at night. And some, like this bus terminal, are not safe during the day and night. You should watch your belongings and stay with a group of people you trust at all times if walking through the city.
Don't trust strangers. As an example of a situation which is not uncommon and revolves around some levels of trust, if you have a flat tire on main highways, don't accept help except from an established service station. Many opportunistic petty thieves use these circumstances and (false) kindness to try to steal anything possible, and could even turn the situation into a car-jacking. Petty theft is a high risk, including from valet parking staff and housekeepers in hotels.
If you travel by bus, try not to put your luggage into the storage space above the seats. If you put your rucksack between your knees you will have better control of your belongings. Car theft is a problem in San José; make sure you take the necessary actions to reduce the chances of having your vehicle, or anything within your vehicle, stolen. For example, bring a club (steering wheel lock) or park in locked fence areas or the city's parking buildings.
Taxi cabs that you choose to travel in must have a yellow triangle sticker on the front doors with the plate number. This demonstrates that that particular vehicle and the driver are legitimate. If anything were to happen, you (as a tourist) would know who to file a complaint with, etc. Do not enter any vehicle that does not have this larger triangle sticker on it (usually on the door) because the driver is most likely an illegal taxi, which means that you are choosing someone who may not be properly licensed or have met the requirements for transporting other people. The airport is a frequent "hot-spot" for these sort of incidents to occur quickly, because someone can come up to you (knowing that you are a tourist, not aware of their customs or regulations, and will exploit that), grab your luggage, and start loading it into their car. If this happens, be sure to check the vehicle for the yellow triangle as well as wrestling your luggage back out of the car. The orange taxis at the airport are the official airport taxis.
Be particularly careful with your passport and other documentation. Police may stop you and take you to jail for not carrying your passport or a photocopy of the main page and the entry stamp (very recommendable instead of carrying your passport).
Generally speaking if you stick to the tourist spots in the city you will be safe; avoid showing off valuables more than necessary. If you're taking a picture, put your camera away as soon as it is taken; never show large amounts of cash; and avoid at all costs walking at night, either right downtown or in the suburbs. Walking is an unnecessary risk because cabs and buses are cheap.
As with any big city, use common sense and keep your belongings in front or beside you - never on your back. San José is known for its abundance and skill of pickpockets.
San José, as the largest city in Costa Rica, has the largest hospitals, both public and private. Tourists can use the private hospitals, and pay with cash or credit card. The wait is significantly shorter than at public hospitals. The bigger private hospitals in the country are considerably more expensive than the many, smaller private hospitals throughout the city. Most doctors can speak medical English, and they provide translator services. Most private doctors and hospitals do take foreign insurance plans. Ask beforehand. If you are unlucky enough to have your child get really sick he or she will be transferred to the only children's hospital in the country in San José, which is public.
Cable TV channels have many American English language channels. Fox News, CNN, CNBC, TNT, HBO, ESPN, ABC, NBC, and CBS stations are broadcast from New York City.
On Amnet in San José ABC, CBS, and NBC are broadcast on channels 69-71 respectively. The feeds are from Denver, Colorado.
Embassies and Consulates
- China (from the house of D. Oscar Arias 100 m to the south and 50 m to the east, Rohrmoser, Pavas San José), ☏ , fax: .
- Japan, Torre la Sabana Piso 10 (Sabana Norte, 300 m east and 25 m north of I.C.E.), ☏ , fax: .
- Romania, San Pedro de Montes de Oca, Centro Comercial Munoz y Nanne, Planta baja Oficina, No. 7, ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. Honorary Consulate (Does not provide consular services. Instead, Romanian citizens in need of assistance should contact the embassy in Mexico City or the embassy of another European Union member state.)
- United States, Calle 120 Avenida 0, Pavas, ☏ , fax: .
Being the capital, San José is the hub for all travel in Costa Rica. This means you can go anywhere from here. You can take the local buses for local travel within the city or to neighboring cities (such as Cartago or Heredia) or the more expensive bus services from Interbus or Gray Line Fantasy Bus. You can also take buses to other farther destinations (such as Limón or Puntarenas) There is also a lot of smaller airports dotted around the country for minor destination hopping.
There is an exit tax (US$26 for visitors and residents) to leave the country. You can pay for it at a bank (any BCR or Banco Nacional) and get a receipt or wait in the line at the airport. Pay the tax as soon as you arrive at the airport so you don't miss your flight and arrive with cash. Be sure to have a pen, as there is a small form to fill that is going to be requested before check-in.
AirPanama flies from Juan Santamaría airport to David/Panama three times a week.
A trip to Jacó, on the Pacific Coast, is a delight, although the highway that goes there is not a superhighway. Surfing is great, and since many young chefs are surfers, you can get some really great dining at amazingly low prices. A little farther down the coast, a stop at Manuel Antonio National Park is a must.
On your way to Jacó, stop for lunch at "Mirador del Cafetal" (View of the Coffee Plantation), just beyond Atenas. Views are spectacular!
- About 3½ hours by car or 20 minutes by plane south of San José lies Manuel Antonio National Park in Quepos, Puntarenas. Of Costa Rica's dozens of national parks, Manuel Antonio has long been one of the jewels, an idyllic combination of exuberant forest, white-sandy beaches, and rich coral reefs. The guardians of this beautiful wilderness are now attempting to harness its popularity by limiting the number of ecotourists. This park is one of the country's smallest and only remaining habitats for the red-backed squirrel monkey. Manuel Antonio is located along the coast line and offers snorkeling, skin diving, surfing, and fishing galore. After a visit to the rain forest that gets you hot and sweaty, nothing beats jumping in to the refreshing ocean. Open Tu-Su.
- An easy 2-hour drive north-west of the capital, Costa Rica's most favored rain forest getaways in La Fortuna, San Carlos. The Chachagua Rain Forest Hotel is in the Tilarán mountain range. One of the most biologically diverse in the entire country, the Chachagua's 50 acres (20 hectares) spread nestles up against the Children's International Rain Forest which has a great potential for bird and wildlife viewing. The Arenal Volcano and Lake are within driving distance. There is spelunking, white-water rafting, and rappeling for those who aspire to do it all, and the Tabacón Hot Springs for those who do not. Chachagua is fairly self-sustaining: it grows its own fruit and other produce is grown on the ranch. Overall the hotel provides nature guides, nature tours, walks, breakfast, dinner, and a transfer to or from San José. The best times to visit are November through March. Call Chachagua Rain Forest Hotel at +506 239-6464 for more information.