San José, Costa Rica
San José is a bustling and bustling capital city with a provincial feel, plenty of small museums, pocket-size plazas, and intriguing edifices from the halcyon days of coffee. An interesting mix of history and modernity, vast cultural offer and wonderful natural surroundings are sure to delight you!
To get the most out of your adventure, please make sure to read this itinerary from front-to-back. It is sectioned into three parts: prep, daily itineraries, and an appendix identifying everything you need to print (lodging, train tickets, etc).
PLANNING & BOOKING
The dreaded part of any vacation - planning! Every savvy traveler knows that it’s always better to plan and book early in advance to bag those irresistible bargains. Not only do you get to save up to 25% on flight and hotel prices, but you also get to never settle for second-best! Lower flight prices, room deals, and early bird discounts are only some of the many benefits of booking your tickets, excursions and accommodation early on. We recommend planning and booking 3 to 6 months in advance – a surefire way to have a worry-free pre-holiday buzz when the time to travel is near!
Unforgettable Moments - San José Highlights
Although San José offers suburban temptations, the city's main offerings are concentrated in a compact nucleus spread out in a grid, which makes it easy to explore the attractions. Use Avenida Central as an axis to find major nodes of interest sprinkled handily along its route. Perched among a crescent of mountains, San José enjoys an enviable setting in the heart of the Meseta Central at 3,773 feet (1,150 m). The compact city of around 300,000 enjoys what National Geographic dubbed one of the three best climates in the world, with temperatures that hover around 70°F (21°C) year-round.
Day 1: Arrival + Getting Acquainted
Buenos días! Welcome to San José! We know the feeling, having your excitement of landing at a new place being replaced by the dread of customs, luggage and how you’ll be reaching your hotel. Don’t worry though, if you have everything planned beforehand, you’ll find that you’ll be done in no time.
Nearly all visitors who fly into San José fly through Juan Santamaría International Airport. The airport is located 11 miles north-west of Downtown San José.
We suggest taking a flight that arrives at the Airport as early as possible so you can spend the rest of your day getting acquainted with the city.
The airport is linked to the center by both bus and train. The buses take the shorter route and bring you to the city in 30 minutes while the train takes the longer route. Both cost around $1.
A taxi to the city center takes 20-25 minutes and costs $25-$30. Alternatively, you can use an Uber.
A good place to start is Plaza de la Cultura, not least for the sensational Museo del Oro Precolombino, glittering with pre-Columbian gold. The nondescript Plaza de la Cultura is the center around which life in San José whirls.
Hemmed by Calles 3 and 5, it lies at the heart of a pedestrian-only shopping zone extending seven blocks along Avenida Central. The plaza is a gathering spot for young people, and jugglers and musicians entertain the crowds who gather here on weekends. A clock tower and fountain stand at the junction of Avenida Central and Calle 3.
Stroll to the east side of the plaza, on Calle 5, where steps lead to the subterranean Museo del Oro Precolombino, the gold museum, which is best explored using the audio-taped self-guided tour. Some 2,000 pieces of pre-Columbian gold jewelry, as well as life-size figures adorned in gold, glitter under spotlights.
The collections of the adjoining Museo Numismático, include coinage dating back three centuries.
On the south side is the neoclassical Teatro Nacional, the jewel in Costa Rica's architectural crown. It owes its origins to a fit of local pique when operatic prima donna Adelina Patti bypassed Costa Rica during a Central American tour in 1890.
The ruling clique promptly voted a tax on coffee exports to pay for the construction of a theater in the style of the Paris Opera House. The resulting edifice was sumptuous enough to tempt the Paris Opera to perform Faust at the inauguration in October 1897. Statues of the Muses of Dance, Music, and Fame decorate the Renaissance facade Beyond the pink marble foyer, the intermezzo has a colorful mural of an idyllic coffee harvest, while in the lavish triple-tiered auditorium nude deities prance across the ceiling.
The theater and the landmark Gran Hotel open onto tiny Plaza Mora Fernández, where you can catch a performance by one of the marimba bands that frequently perform here. The hotel lobby has a 24-hour casino fronted by the balcony of Café 1830, a popular spot for people-watching.
Day Two: Get Cultured!
Start your day in Parque Morazán. Situated between Avenidas 3 and 5 and Calles 5 and 9, this small park is highlighted by the domed Temple of Music and makes a quiet retreat. Named for Central American federalist Francisco Morazan, the park features statues and busts of Latin American notables, including the South American liberator Simón Bolivar.
Parque Morazán is bordered to the east by tree-shaded Parque España, featuring busts of conquistador Juan Vásquez de Coronado and Queen Isabella of Spain. You can hear songbirds roosting in the densely packed trees.
To the northwest is the green Edificio Metálico, made in Belgium of prefabricated metal and shipped to Costa Rica in 1892. Now a school, it took four years to weld together.
As you move towards the north, you can see the glass-fronted National Insurance Company (INS) Building.
Pop into the nearby Key Largo to sample the bordello flavor that belies the beauty of the 20th-century mansion, which features exquisite stained-glass work as well as a metal crest crowning the roof.
Take a taxi to Jazz Café. Although it is small in size, this redbrick building is Costa Rica's premier jazz venue. International stars such as Chucho Valdés and The Yellowjackets often perform alongside the nation's own accomplished musicians.
Day 3: Take out your walking shoes!
Today, you'll be exploring Barrios Otoya e Amon on foot. This walk explores two contiguous barrios - Barrio Otoya to the east and Amon to the west - that form the city's historic district, replete with Victorian-era mansions squeezed into narrow one-way streets in a hilly area north of Avenida 7.
The neighborhood contains much of the city's finest domestic architecture, inspired by the French style of New Orleans and Martinique. Many of these mansions once faced demolition. The area has been popularized in recent years by the wealthy class, including hotel owners, who have conjured beautiful mansions into homey inns. A few of the streets are steep, but the ambling is peacefully pleasant.
Begin at the Legación de México, a splendidly restored neoclassical stone gem 50 yards (45 m) northeast of Parque España, on the edge of Barrio Otoya. Immediately west, pause to admire the stuccoed facade of the Casa Amarilla - the Yellow House, an 18th-century neo-baroque edifice bequeathed to Costa Rica by Andrew Carnegie to serve as the Pan-American Court of Justice. Later the Residencia Presidential and then the Asemblia Legislative, it now houses the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Walk to the northeast corner of the ministry to view a large section of the Berlin Wall. After visiting the Museo de Jade Marco Fidel Tristán, turn up Calle 11, which snakes uphill to Avenida 9.
Turn left and walk downhill one block past the Hemingway Inn to Calle 9, then peek inside the Hotel Don Carlos, an exemplary wooden home, blending art deco and neoclassical elements with colonial-style grillwork Built as the residence of President Tomás Guardia, it is run by art connoisseur Don Carlos Balser and brims with pre-Columbian treasures and Sarchi oxcarts. An exquisite ceramic in the lobby shows a quintessential bucolic scene - a theme that continues along Avenida 7 as you go downhill past walls inlaid with hand-painted tiles depicting coffee pickers and the like.
One block west, to your right at the corner of Calle 7, in Barrio Amón, is La Casa Verde de Amón, which is intriguing for its antique details and a soaring lounge with stained glass.
One of the trendiest nightspots in San Jose, Rapsodia Lounge Night Club is a stylish bar with multiple rooms, from lounges to dance and live music venues, and it also has outdoor patios.
Day 4: Escazu Day-Trip!
The soaring hills southwest of San José are a dramatic setting for hip Escazú, which combines Old World charm and contemporary chic. This bewitching town is beloved by expatriates and wealthy Ticos alike for its luxury living, trendy restaurants and nightclubs, and well-stocked shopping plazas.
Escazú is only 5 miles west of central San José and can be easily reached by taxi.
Start with Calle León Cortes, the main road, that leads a mile uphill to San Miguel de Escazú, the tranquil heart of Escazú laid out around its own colonial-era square. This is the original town and one of the oldest settlements in the nation, dating back to at least 1711 when a chapel was built as a nucleus for an adobe hamlet.
Many of the red-tile-roofed homes are extant; likewise, the red-domed 1799 church commanding the square and fringed at its base by a strip of blue to ward off witches. Don't be surprised to see cattle or ox-drawn carts laden with coffee beans being led through the streets.
Calle 1 snakes sharply upward 2 miles to the smaller community of San Antonio de Escazú, where rolling clouds swirl around the church. Every second Sunday in March, the square is the focus for an annual fiesta, the Dia de Boyeros, when traditional gaily colored oxcarts (carretas) parade in honor of the boyeros (oxcart drivers), and young girls and women put on traditional garb.
The tony suburb of Bello Horizonte, northwest of San Rafael, is a center for charming country inns plus Biesanz Woodworks, where carvers conjure masterly hardwood bowls and boxes under the genius-level guidance of Barry Bisanz.
Escazú sprawls haphazardly up the northern slopes of its namesake mountain, Cerro Escazú. Head to the modern San Rafael de Escazú at the base of the hills, near the freeway. It is a trendy neighborhood with deluxe villas and condominiums, restaurants, the Costa Rica Country Club (members only), and upscale shopping areas such as the Multiplaza, Costa Rica's largest mall. Incongruously in San Rafael's midst is a grassy plaza with a gleaming white colonial-style church built in the 1930s. The hip restaurants and nightclubs draw crowds at night.
Day Five: – a little bit of history!
If you’re traveling with kids, there is probably not a better place to keep the kids happy than Fossil Land. This adventure park thrills adolescents with paintball, ATV rides, and mountain biking. Younger kids can enjoy a fossil trail, horseback rides, and confidence-building hikes with waterfall scrambles.
From there, you can head to Museo de Niños. The Children's Museum offers a range of educational, interactive exhibits covering sciences, technology, the natural world, and human society. Re-creations of a 19th-century farmstead, town plaza, and coastal port provide a fun-filled educational experience.
Grab a quick lunch and head to Pueblo Antiguo theme park. A mixture of Colonial Williamsburg and Disney World, this park re-creates an idyllic past, with urban, rural, and coastal sections staffed by Ticos in period costume. Children can help milkmaids fill their pails. Horse-drawn carriages ply the streets of the make-believe village. Marimba bands perform, and folk troupe recreates historical scenes. Craft shops and restaurants complete the experience. Pueblo Antiguo is part of Parque Diversiones, a fairground with roller coasters, bumper cars, waterslides, and other rides.
There is no more truly Costa Rican experience in San José than visiting the Mercado Central market built in 1880. Maneuver through alleyways lined with artisans' stalls, cobblers, fishmongers, florists, fruit sellers, and trinket sellers. Dine at one of the tiny rodas (snack bars) which offer traditional meals for a pittance.
Start your day at Parque Central - a bustling plaza that draws the locals to converse and flirt beneath the Guanacaste trees and bandstand, where concerts are held on Sundays. The city's blue-domed Catedral Metropolitano, erected in 1871 in an austere Greek Orthodox style, looms to the east. The cathedral replaces an original structure toppled by an earthquake in 1821 and boasts an ornate altarpiece. Attached is the rugged and mellowed La Curia (closed to the public) is the Archbishop's Palace. To the left of the cathedral, entrance stands a marble modernist monument, Homenaje a Juan Pablo II (Homage to John Paul II.
San José's largest square, Plaza de la Democracia is located east of Plaza de la Cultura. Recently restored, it is centered around a small waterfall and a bronze statue of 'Don Pepe" Figueres, inscribed: "He defended the freedom and protected the arts." The large, terraced plaza also hosts events and other gatherings.
To the east, the castle-like, ocher-colored Bellavista Fortress overshadows the plaza. Marked with bullet holes from the 1948 civil war, it is like a vision from Beau Geste. Today the fortress is home to the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica, which traces the nation's historical and cultural development using exhibits illustrating topics that range from region to geology and archaeology. A room dedicated to pre-Columbian gold and jade is the highlight.
The seat of Costa Rica's government is a handsome whitewashed building off the plaza, on Calle 15. The Moorish-style Palacio Nacional, which houses the Legislative Assembly, began life in 1912 as the would-be home of presidential candidate Maximo Femändez.
San José has a nightlife hot enough to boil a pot of Gallo Pinto. Whether you're seeking mellow jazz or sizzling salsa, there's a wide choice of venues. One of our favorites is El Cuartel de la Boca del Monte, a chic, bohemian, brick-lined nightspot popular with both students and the well-heeled alike. It particularly packs in the crowds for live music on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Also a late-night venue, it proudly offers a vast cocktail list and serves meals, too.
Day 7: adiós San José!
We recommend taking an evening flight out of San José so you can have a few extra hours to explore the city.
For the last few hours, we recommend:
· Have breakfast at La Criollita.
· Find peace at Biblioteca Nacional, Costa Rica’s main library.
· See endemic species at Simon Bolivar Zoo.
· Shop for souvenirs at Avenida Central.
Take a train from San José Central to the San Jose Airport, a trip that will last you about 35 minutes. We recommend leaving for the airport at least three hours before your scheduled departure.
The Black Experience
Afro-Caribbean has a deep influence in the art, music, and culture of Costa Rica. The Costa Rican museums and galleries such as the National Museum of Costa Rica exhibit the works of popular native artists and sculptors. The array of techniques, subjects, and styles provides travelers with a fascinating glimpse into how the Costa Rican culture has evolved and diversified.
Afro music is one of the most popular in Costa Rica's. Several African-influenced styles, including reggae and calypso, are played extensively in the region. Musicians often add their own local flavor to the music. The Roots And Calm Bar is a laid-back bar known for live reggae performances.
Luxury Hotels and Villas List
We recommend staying at Downtown San José where several museums, restaurants, nightlife, and shopping centers are located. However, the Downtown can get a bit noisy. If you want a relatively laid-back area without being far from the major attractions, consider Barrio Amón or Los Yoses.
Here are some of our top picks on where to stay!
FLIGHTS / BUS / TICKETS
The best time to book your flight is anywhere between 50 to 90 days in advance to avoid the unpredictable fluctuations of the prices. If you’re traveling in peak season (the summer months or Christmas and New Year’s), make sure you book well in advance as well. We don’t recommend hiring a car as the historic center of the city can be easily covered on foot. Getting a taxi is easy and affordable.
Although we advise you to book some of your hotels and excursions before you depart, it’s always good to keep somethings spontaneous! Allow yourself the flexibility (and the budget!) to go on an exciting adventure such as a hiking tour, a natural thermal spring, or book yourself into that boutique hotel you just happen to find.
Give yourself peace of mind, and take out some travel insurance for your trip. Although San Jose is a safe destination and popular with tourists all over the world, it’s still best to be covered for the unexpected. Be sure to inform your insurance company if you plan to do some adventure sports.
No VISA, no problem
US Citizens are able to travel to Costa Rica without a visa for up to 90 days. The requirements for entry are simple; make sure your passport is valid for three months after departure and you have two blank pages for stamps.
Most people tend to forget to pack an outlet adapter and/or converter. You definitely need an outlet adapter, so we recommend getting a universal one that works in Costa Rica. If you have any curlers or hair dryers with you, we also recommend using a voltage converter.
International: Dial the international access code (001 in the US, 00 in Europe), then the country code (506 for Costa Rica) then the number. Drop the initial 0 if there is one.
Domestic: If you’re calling from one number to another within Costa Rica simply dial the phone number, including the initial 0 if there is one. No country code needed.
Packing Made Simple!
Packing will completely depend on when you are visiting. For winter, bring warm clothes, gloves, mittens, beanies, jackets and lots of layers. For summer, bring lighter clothes, dresses, light shirts
Remember your camera, charger, memory card and power adapter. Be well equipped to capture all of the beautiful sites when wandering the city.
You’re going to encounter some beautiful beaches, so make sure you pack your swimming gear.
Pack light - using packing cubes and roll your clothes!
Your insurance, passport, copies of tickets and copies of your insurance.
Very comfortable shoes - you will be walking a lot and the streets need comfortable shoes. Skip the heels.
Be sure to have cash on hand—it’s not uncommon to find cash-only restaurants and shops, even in major cities.
For this itinerary, allow 6 nights, 7 days.
ARRIVE: SAN JOSE (SJO) in the morning of DAY 1
DEPART: SAN JOSE (SJO) in the evening of DAY 7
San José has plenty of lodging options available that cater to all types of tastes. From luxury and boutique hotels, to B&Bs, AirBnB’s and hostels - the options are endless. Most places in San José are also very well-connected to the center, so you won’t have trouble navigating around.
San José, Costa Rica | DAY 1 - 7, 6 nights
Tickets & Reservations:
Recommended Airlines & Routes
From the U.S
The main carriers from the U.S are Volaris Costa Rica, Delta, Alaska, American and United Airlines and each have their own advantages. The best airline completely depends on which airline has the best deals at the time you’re traveling. There are direct flights from New York, Miami, Charlotte, Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles and Chicago.
We recommend choosing Alaska Airlines because it rates quite highly when it comes to on-time arrivals, airfare, baggage handling, and customer service. They also have one of the best frequent flyer program.
We recommend Lufthansa for flights in Europe due to their exceptional customer service and baggage handling. They also offer great in-flight entertainment and a clean, polished interior.
Apps, Transportation & The ‘Gram
Tripadvisor | One of the best city guides to use while in San José with real reviews from people. It’s a great app if you want to find less-touristy things to do or if you want to explore areas around you.
Whatsapp | free text messaging and calls to other Whatsapp users
Waze: the world's largest community-based traffic and navigation app and maps.
Costa Rica Traveler: local transit routes and unique one of a kind lodgings, all to navigate you far away from the tourists, to have a truly unique experience.
TRANSIT BOOKING SITES
Barceló San José / Costa Rica @barcelosanjose
San José, Costa Rica@sanjosecr101
Visit Costa Rica @visit_costarica
Costa Rica Experts @costaricaexperts
#sanjosecostarica #sanjosecostaricagram #sanjosécostarica #costarica #costaricalife #costarican #visitcostarica #tripcostarica #costaricafood
Most Instagrammable Spots in San José:
Teatro Nacional Costa Rica.
Cataratas Del Toro.
Manual Antonio National Park.
San José is the capital and the largest city of Costa Rica.
San José was founded in 1738, gained independence from Spain in 1821, and became the capital in 1823.
San José’s municipal area measures 17.2 square miles.
Gallo Pinto is the favourite food of San Jose.
San Jose is surrounded by tropical rainforests.
Costa Ricans call themselves “Ticos” (males) and “Ticas” (females). White foreigners are often called, sometimes derogatorily as “Gringos” (males) and “Gringas” (females).
There are more than 121 volcanoes in Costa Rica, seven of which are active.
Monkeys and bats are the most common mammals in the country.
The majority of the population are of European or mestizo ethnicity. Less than 1% of the people are of indigenous ancestry.