Your Ultimate San Jose Travel Guide 2023
San Jose, Costa Rica is the perfect spot for a weekend getaway. With its vibrant culture, gorgeous beaches, and unique wildlife, San Jose offers something for everyone. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing beach day or an adventure-filled hike through the jungle, this stunning city has it all. In this blog post, you’ll find a comprehensive list of the must-visit sites and activities to explore during your stay in San Jose. From a visit to the majestic Poás Volcano to a stroll through the bustling Mercado Central, there are plenty of ways to spend your days in this beautiful destination.
Top 5 Things To See And Do In San Jose
- Explore The Central Market: This bustling indoor market is a must-visit destination in San Jose. You can find everything from fresh produce to artisanal crafts, and the market is a great place to immerse yourself in the local culture.
- Visit The National Theater: The National Theater is a stunning neoclassical building in the heart of San Jose that offers a glimpse into Costa Rican history and culture. Be sure to take a guided tour to learn about the theater’s history and architecture.
- Take A Coffee Tour: Costa Rica is known for its delicious coffee, and San Jose is the perfect place to learn more about this important industry. There are several coffee tours available in and around the city, where you can see how coffee is grown, harvested, and roasted.
- Visit The Pre-Columbian Gold Museum: This museum houses one of the largest collections of pre-Columbian gold artifacts in the world, making it a must-see destination for history buffs and art lovers. The exhibits cover the history and culture of indigenous Costa Rican people.
- Explore Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo: If you’re looking for some outdoor adventure, head to Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo. This stunning rainforest park is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna, and there are plenty of hiking trails and other outdoor activities to enjoy. Be sure to bring bug spray and wear appropriate clothing and shoes.
Where To Stay In San Jose
- Barrio Escalante: This trendy and vibrant neighborhood is perfect for those looking for a bustling food scene and nightlife. The streets are lined with trendy bars, restaurants, and cafes serving up local and international cuisine.
- Santa Ana: For a quieter and more suburban feel, Santa Ana is a great option. This neighborhood offers plenty of parks and green spaces, as well as easy access to nearby nature reserves and hiking trails.
- San Pedro: San Pedro is known for its proximity to many universities and cultural attractions, making it a great option for those interested in education and arts. It’s also a convenient location for exploring nearby towns and attractions.
- Rohrmoser: Located just west of downtown, Rohrmoser is a peaceful residential neighborhood with tree-lined streets and elegant homes. This neighborhood is great for those seeking a tranquil and upscale atmosphere.
- Sabana: Sabana is home to many high-end hotels and resorts, making it a popular option for tourists. This neighborhood offers easy access to La Sabana Metropolitan Park, which boasts walking paths, sports facilities, and even a small lake.
Top San Jose Hotels
- Hotel Grano De Oro: This boutique hotel is one of the most luxurious options in San Jose. The rooms are spacious and beautifully designed, with antique furnishings and marble bathrooms. The hotel also features a gourmet restaurant, spa, and rooftop terrace with stunning views of the city.
- Hotel Presidente: Located in the heart of downtown San Jose, Hotel Presidente is a modern hotel with stylish rooms and great amenities. The hotel has a fitness center, rooftop bar, and restaurant serving delicious Costa Rican cuisine. The staff are friendly and helpful, and the location is perfect for exploring the city.
- Hotel El Maragato: This budget-friendly hotel is a great option for travelers on a tight budget. The rooms are clean and comfortable, and the hotel has a restaurant and bar serving traditional Costa Rican dishes. The location is convenient for exploring the city, and the staff are friendly and welcoming.
- Grano De Oro Apartments: These spacious apartments are a great option for families or larger groups. The apartments have two or three bedrooms, full kitchens, and plenty of space to relax and unwind. The location is excellent, just a short walk from many of San Jose’s top attractions.
- Hotel Casa León: This charming hotel is located in the trendy Escazu neighborhood, just outside of downtown San Jose. The rooms are bright and colorful, with local art and traditional furnishings. The hotel has a beautiful garden, pool, and terrace, as well as a restaurant serving delicious local cuisine. The staff are friendly and helpful, and the location is perfect for exploring the city and surrounding areas.
Where To Eat In San Jose
When it comes to finding delicious food in San Jose, Costa Rica, the options are endless. Whether you’re looking for traditional Costa Rican cuisine or international dishes, the city has something to offer for everyone. Here are our top picks for the best places to eat in San Jose:
- Soda Tapia: Located in the heart of San Jose, this casual eatery is the perfect spot for authentic Costa Rican dishes at affordable prices. The menu features traditional staples such as casado (a dish consisting of rice, beans, plantains, salad, and a protein of your choice), arroz con pollo (rice with chicken), and ceviche (raw fish marinated in citrus juices).
- El Patio Del Balmoral: If you’re looking for an upscale dining experience in San Jose, look no further than El Patio del Balmoral. This restaurant is located in the historic Hotel Balmoral and offers a menu of fusion cuisine that incorporates local ingredients. Try the octopus carpaccio or the beef tenderloin with yucca and chimichurri sauce.
- Restaurante Grano De Oro: Housed in a former mansion, this restaurant is a favorite among locals and tourists alike. The menu focuses on fresh, locally-sourced ingredients and features dishes such as seafood paella and grilled lamb chops. Don’t forget to save room for dessert – their homemade ice creams are a must-try!
- Mercado Central: For a truly authentic dining experience, head to the Mercado Central, a bustling marketplace in the heart of San Jose. Here, you’ll find a variety of stalls selling everything from fresh produce to souvenirs, as well as numerous eateries serving up local favorites like tamales and empanadas.
- La Esquina De Buenos Aires: If you’re in the mood for some hearty Argentinean cuisine, head to La Esquina de Buenos Aires. The menu features grilled meats, pastas, and pizzas, as well as a selection of Argentinean wines. Be sure to try the bife de chorizo (sirloin steak) and finish off your meal with a classic dulce de leche dessert.
No matter where you choose to eat in San Jose, you’re sure to be delighted by the city’s vibrant culinary scene. Bon appétit!
How To Get Around San Jose
San Jose is a bustling city with a well-established public transportation system, making it easy for travelers to get around. Here are some of the best ways to get around San Jose:
- Public Transportation: San Jose has a reliable public transportation system with buses, trains, and taxis. The bus system, known as the “Red Buses,” is the most popular way to get around the city. It’s affordable and covers most areas of San Jose. Taxis are also widely available and convenient, although they tend to be more expensive than the buses.
- Rental Car: If you prefer to have more flexibility in your transportation, you can rent a car in San Jose. Most major car rental companies have offices in the city, and driving around San Jose is relatively easy. However, traffic can be congested during rush hours, so plan accordingly.
- Walking: San Jose is a great city to explore on foot. Many of the city’s main attractions are within walking distance of each other, and the streets are well-paved and pedestrian-friendly. Walking is also an excellent way to soak up the local culture and get a feel for the city’s ambiance.
- Bike: For a more eco-friendly way to get around the city, you can rent a bike. San Jose has several bike rental shops, and there are designated bike lanes throughout the city. Cycling is a great way to see San Jose’s many parks and gardens.
- Uber And Lyft: These ride-sharing apps are available in San Jose and offer a convenient and affordable way to get around the city. Simply download the app, and you can request a ride within minutes.
No matter what transportation method you choose, be sure to plan your routes in advance, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the city. San Jose’s streets can be confusing, and it’s easy to get lost. With a little preparation, you can easily navigate San Jose and enjoy all that this vibrant city has to offer.
San Jose Weather
San Jose is blessed with a tropical climate that provides a warm, sunny atmosphere all year round. However, due to the city’s elevation, temperatures tend to fluctuate based on the season, making it necessary to pack appropriately for your trip.
- Spring (March – May): During the spring season, temperatures are generally mild, ranging from the mid-60s to the low 80s. This is the driest time of year in San Jose, with sunny skies and clear days dominating the forecast. It is the perfect season to explore the city’s parks, enjoy outdoor activities and experience the local culture.
- Summer (June – August): Summer in San Jose brings a spike in temperatures and humidity, with daily temperatures in the mid to high 80s. Though this is the wet season in San Jose, most of the rainfall occurs in the late afternoons or evenings, leaving plenty of time to enjoy outdoor activities in the mornings. However, it’s advisable to carry an umbrella or rain jacket just in case of unexpected downpours.
- Fall (September – November): Fall is a pleasant time to visit San Jose with mild temperatures ranging from the mid-60s to the mid-70s. This is a great time to visit the nearby mountains and enjoy the scenery. You may experience some scattered showers during this season, but the days are still mostly sunny, providing ample opportunities to enjoy the outdoors.
- Winter (December – February): Winter in San Jose is still warm, but with cooler temperatures than the rest of the year. Temperatures average in the low 70s during the day, with a chilly nighttime low of around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the rainy season in San Jose, with heavy rains that can sometimes cause flash floods. Make sure to pack warm clothes, waterproof jackets, and sturdy footwear for a comfortable and enjoyable stay in San Jose during the winter.
Best Time To Visit San Jose
The best time to visit San Jose, Costa Rica, is from December to April, as these months are the driest and offer the best weather for outdoor activities. The temperatures during this time range from the mid-70s to the low 90s Fahrenheit. However, this is also the peak tourist season, so expect higher prices for accommodations and activities.
If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option, the rainy season from May to November can also be a good time to visit. The temperatures during this time range from the low 70s to the high 80s Fahrenheit. Although the rain can put a damper on outdoor activities, it can also offer a unique experience to see the lush green landscape and wildlife that thrive during this season.
Keep in mind that September and October are the wettest months, so if you plan to travel during this time, it’s essential to bring proper rain gear and plan indoor activities. Ultimately, the best time to visit San Jose will depend on your preferences, budget, and activities planned. Be sure to research ahead of time and plan accordingly to ensure you have a memorable and enjoyable experience.
How To Stay Safe In San Jose
As with any travel destination, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and take necessary precautions while exploring San Jose. Here are some tips to help you stay safe:
- Stay In Well-Lit And Busy Areas: Stick to popular tourist spots and avoid venturing off into quiet or poorly lit areas, especially at night.
- Don’t Carry Too Much Cash Or Valuable Items: Only bring what you need for the day and leave the rest in a safe at your accommodation. Avoid displaying expensive jewelry or electronics that may make you a target for theft. Consider using a money belt to carry your belongings.
- Be Cautious With Public Transportation: While taking a bus or taxi may be cheaper than renting a car, be aware that pickpocketing and scams are common on public transportation. Always use licensed taxis or Uber to ensure your safety.
- Be Aware Of Your Drinks: If you plan to enjoy the nightlife, keep an eye on your drink and don’t leave it unattended. Be wary of accepting drinks from strangers, as they could be spiked with drugs.
- Learn Some Basic Spanish: Knowing a few Spanish phrases can help you navigate situations and communicate with locals if needed. This will also show that you have made an effort to learn about their culture and respect it.
By being aware and taking necessary precautions, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable trip to San Jose.
San Jose Customs and Etiquette
While visiting San Jose, it’s important to be mindful of local customs and etiquette. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Greetings: Costa Ricans are known for their friendliness and warmth like the locals at Sayulita, so it’s common to exchange greetings with strangers. A simple “Hola” (hello) or “Buenos dias” (good morning) goes a long way.
- Personal Space: Ticos (Costa Ricans) are not as concerned with personal space as some cultures. It’s common to stand closer than an arm’s length apart while talking.
- Punctuality: Costa Ricans are generally laid-back when it comes to punctuality. If someone tells you to meet at 10 a.m., they might not arrive until 10:15 or later. Don’t take it personally, it’s just part of the culture.
- Dress Code: San Jose is a modern city, so you don’t have to worry too much about dressing conservatively. However, if you plan to visit churches or other religious sites, it’s respectful to cover your shoulders and knees.
- Tipping: Tipping is not expected in Costa Rica, but it’s always appreciated. It’s common to leave a few coins on the table at a restaurant or round up the fare for a taxi driver.
- Language: While many people in San Jose speak English, it’s polite to try to speak Spanish if you can. Even a few basic phrases will go a long way.
By following these customs and etiquette, you’ll show respect for the local culture and enhance your experience in San Jose.
Other Things To Know About San Jose
San Jose is the capital city of Costa Rica, a beautiful country in Central America. The official currency in San Jose and the rest of Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colon (CRC). The language spoken by locals in San Jose is Spanish, so it’s always helpful to brush up on a few common phrases before your trip.
San Jose is in the Central Time Zone, which is 6 hours behind Coordinated Universal Time (UTC-6). This means that if it is 12 pm (noon) in San Jose, it is 6 pm in London, 1 pm in New York, and 10 am in Los Angeles. It’s always a good idea to carry some local currency with you, as many small shops and vendors may not accept credit cards. You can exchange money at banks or authorized exchange bureaus, and ATMs are widely available throughout the city.
When it comes to etiquette, it is polite to greet people with a friendly “Hola” or “Buenos días” (good morning) and “Gracias” (thank you) when you receive service. Tipping is not required, but it’s always appreciated, especially in restaurants. Finally, Costa Rica is a very eco-friendly country, so make sure to dispose of your trash in the appropriate bins and avoid using plastic bags whenever possible. Additionally, it’s always important to be aware of your surroundings and keep your belongings close to you, as with any international travel.
San Jose Travel Costs
If you’re planning a trip to San Jose, it’s important to know what kind of costs you can expect. Here’s a breakdown of the typical expenses you’ll encounter during your stay:
- Accommodation: San Jose has a range of accommodations to choose from, including budget hostels and high-end hotels. Expect to pay around $20-$30 per night for a budget hostel and upwards of $100 per night for a luxury hotel.
- Food And Drink: You can find cheap street food in San Jose, with dishes such as empanadas and tacos costing just a few dollars. For a mid-range restaurant meal, you can expect to pay around $10-$20 per person. A beer in a bar or restaurant will typically cost around $3.
- Transportation: Taxis and Ubers are readily available in San Jose and are reasonably priced. A taxi ride within the city will usually cost around $5-$10. The city also has a bus system, with fares costing just a few cents.
- Activities: There are plenty of free things to do in San Jose, such as exploring the city’s parks and markets. Admission fees for museums and other attractions will vary, but you can expect to pay around $5-$10.
Overall, a budget traveler can get by on around $30-$40 per day in San Jose, while mid-range travelers can expect to spend around $60-$80 per day. High-end travelers can expect to spend upwards of $100 per day. Remember that these costs can vary depending on your personal travel style and preferences. Plan ahead and do your research to get a more accurate idea of what you can expect to spend during your trip to San Jose.
Finding Affordable Flights To San Jose
One of the most important factors to consider when planning your trip to San Jose is the cost of your flights. Luckily, there are many ways to find affordable flights to San Jose that won’t break the bank. Here are a few tips to help you save money on your airfare:
- Book Your Flight In Advance: Booking your flight early can help you snag some of the best deals available. Keep an eye on airline prices and book as soon as you see a great deal.
- Use Flight Aggregator Sites: There are many flight aggregator sites out there that allow you to compare prices across multiple airlines. Examples include Kayak, Skyscanner, and Expedia.
- Be Flexible With Your Travel Dates: If your travel dates are flexible, try searching for flights on different days of the week. Flights on weekdays are often cheaper than those on weekends.
- Fly During Off-Peak Season: Traveling during peak tourist season will inevitably be more expensive. Consider flying during off-peak season to save money.
- Join Airline Loyalty Programs: Many airlines, such as American Airlines, offer loyalty programs that allow you to earn points towards discounted flights. If you frequently travel to San Jose or other destinations, joining an airline’s loyalty program could help you save money on future trips.
By following these tips, you can find affordable flights to San Jose that fit your budget. With the money you save on airfare, you can spend more on experiences and activities during your trip.
Backpacking San Jose Suggested Budgets
Backpacking is a great way to explore San Jose and get a taste of Costa Rican culture without breaking the bank. Here are some suggested budgets to help you plan your trip:
Low Budget: $20-30 USD per day
If you’re traveling on a shoestring budget, you can get by on $20-30 per day. You’ll be staying in dorm-style hostels and eating at street vendors and local cafes. Your activities will be mostly free, such as exploring the city’s parks, wandering through the Central Market, and visiting the National Museum.
Mid-Range Budget: $30-50 USD per day
For a little more comfort, you can bump up your budget to $30-50 per day. This will allow you to stay in private rooms at budget-friendly hostels, dine at mid-range restaurants, and take part in some paid activities such as visiting the Gold Museum and taking a guided city tour.
Luxury Budget: $50-100+ USD per day
If you’re looking for a more luxurious backpacking experience, you can spend $50-100 or more per day. This will get you a private room in a higher-end hostel or hotel, fine dining experiences, and guided tours of the city’s cultural attractions.
Keep in mind that these budgets don’t include the cost of getting to San Jose, but with some smart planning and travel hacking, you can find affordable flights and transportation options. Happy backpacking!
San Jose Money Saving Tips
Traveling to San Jose can be expensive, especially if you’re not careful with your spending. Here are some money-saving tips to help you get the most out of your trip:
- Book In Advance: If you book your flights and accommodation in advance, you’re more likely to find better deals and save money.
- Use Public Transportation: San Jose has an excellent public transportation system, including buses and trains. These options are cheaper than taxis and can take you to most destinations in the city.
- Eat Local Food: Local food is not only delicious, but it’s also much cheaper than eating at touristy restaurants. Visit local markets and street vendors for some authentic Costa Rican cuisine.
- Free Attractions: San Jose has plenty of free attractions, including parks, museums, and walking tours. Check online for a list of free attractions and save some money.
- Avoid Tourist Traps: Tourist traps are designed to attract travelers and charge higher prices. Research your options before making a purchase and avoid the overpriced tourist spots.
- Bargain: Haggling is a common practice in San Jose markets, so don’t be afraid to negotiate a price.
- Travel In The Offseason: If you can, travel to San Jose during the offseason to save money on flights and accommodation.
By following these money-saving tips, you can have an enjoyable trip to San Jose without breaking the bank.
What To Pack For San Jose
When planning a trip to San Jose, it’s important to pack accordingly to make the most out of your experience. Here are some items that you should consider bringing with you:
- Lightweight Clothing: Costa Rica is known for its hot and humid weather, so packing lightweight, breathable clothing is a must. Don’t forget to pack comfortable shoes for walking tours.
- Rain Gear: San Jose is known for its sudden downpours, so pack a lightweight rain jacket or poncho to stay dry. An umbrella might be useful too.
- Insect Repellent: With a tropical climate, Costa Rica is also known for mosquitoes, so pack some insect repellent to protect yourself from bites.
- Sunscreen And Hat: Protect your skin from the strong tropical sun by packing a hat and sunscreen with a high SPF rating.
- Camera: San Jose is a beautiful city with stunning architecture, lush gardens, and picturesque streets. Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture all the memories.
- Spanish Phrasebook: Although many people in San Jose speak English, knowing a few basic phrases in Spanish can be helpful. Pack a phrasebook to make communication easier.
- Travel Adapter: The electrical outlets in San Jose are different from North American outlets, so don’t forget to pack a travel adapter to keep your electronic devices charged.
By packing the right items for your San Jose adventure, you’ll be able to focus on enjoying the beauty of this vibrant city without worrying about what you left behind.
Can You Drink Tap Water In San Jose?
No, it is not recommended to drink tap water in San Jose. While the water may be safe for locals, visitors should stick to bottled or filtered water to avoid getting sick. It’s important to note that even brushing your teeth with tap water can be harmful, so make sure to use bottled or filtered water for all your daily needs. Most hotels and restaurants provide safe drinking water, but it’s always a good idea to double-check before consuming anything. Stay hydrated and avoid any unnecessary illnesses by being cautious when it comes to the city’s tap water.
Other Things To See And Do In San Jose
San Jose has so much to offer beyond the top 5 things to see and do. Here are some other recommendations for your itinerary:
- National Museum Of Costa Rica: If you want to learn more about Costa Rica’s history and culture, this is the place to go. The museum is housed in a former military barracks and features exhibits on pre-Columbian art, colonial-era artifacts, and more.
- Mercado Central: A bustling market located in the heart of San Jose, Mercado Central is the perfect place to pick up souvenirs, fresh produce, and traditional Costa Rican food.
- Jade Museum: Dedicated entirely to jade, this museum has one of the largest collections of pre-Columbian jade in the world. In addition to jade, there are also exhibits on other aspects of Costa Rican culture.
- Surfing In Tamarindo: Tamarindo is known for its incredible waves and is one of the best places to surf in Costa Rica. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, there are plenty of surf schools and rental shops in town to help you get out on the water.
- Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo: Just outside of San Jose, this national park is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna, including jaguars, pumas, and tapirs. There are also numerous hiking trails and opportunities for birdwatching.
- Teatro Nacional: Completed in 1897, this stunning neoclassical theater is one of San Jose’s most iconic landmarks. Visitors can take a guided tour or attend a performance.
- La Sabana Metropolitan Park: A sprawling park located in the western part of the city, La Sabana Metropolitan Park is the perfect place to relax and enjoy nature. There are jogging trails, sports fields, and picnic areas.
- Costa Rica Art Museum: Located in a former airport terminal, the Costa Rica Art Museum showcases the works of both local and international artists. The museum has a large collection of modern and contemporary art.
- Pre-Columbian Gold Museum: This museum is dedicated to Costa Rica’s rich history of goldsmithing. Visitors can admire a wide variety of gold artifacts, from simple jewelry to intricate ceremonial objects.
- El Pueblo: Located in the northeastern part of the city, El Pueblo is a popular nightlife destination. There are numerous bars, restaurants, and clubs, as well as a vibrant street scene.
- San Jose Central Market: Similar to Mercado Central, the San Jose Central Market is another great place to shop for souvenirs and sample local cuisine. It’s also a fascinating place to people-watch and get a sense of everyday life in San Jose.
The Bottom Line
San Jose, Costa Rica is a must-visit destination for anyone looking for a tropical getaway. With its vibrant culture, friendly people, and stunning natural beauty, San Jose has something for everyone. Whether you’re interested in exploring the city’s historic sites, soaking up the sun on the beach, or indulging in some delicious local cuisine, San Jose has it all.
From the best places to stay to the top things to see and do, we’ve covered everything you need to know in this ultimate travel guide. So if you’re planning a trip to San Jose, be sure to follow our tips and recommendations to make the most of your time in this incredible city. With a little bit of planning and a lot of adventure, you’re sure to have the trip of a lifetime in San Jose, Costa Rica!