A lot of people will tell you to spend as little time as possible in San Jose. These people probably haven’t given San Jose a chance though!
Sure, you probably won’t want to spend more than 2 days there, but there’s still plenty of things to keep you busy for a few days.
Most people will arrive in Costa Rica via San Jose, and it’s a great place to learn a bit about the country. There’s a number of museums that are worth visiting, plus the free walking tour will help you get to know Costa Rican culture and its history.
It’s a city with diverse architecture, ranging from colonial-era mansions, art deco apartments to modern skyscrapers. All of which are surrounded by majestic volcanos and green hills.
San Jose is a jumping-off point to a lot of spots in Costa Rica. So if you’re travelling around the country for a while, you will likely cross or stay in San Jose a couple of times. A lot of the buses run from here, so you may need to return to San Jose to get to your next destination.
Is San Jose safe?
San Jose has a very different vibe to the rest of the popular destinations in Costa Rica. Other places live and breathe the Costa Rican ‘Pura Vida’ way of life. San Jose isn’t quite there yet.
It’s a safe enough city, but you do need to keep your wits about you. Make sure to not walk around by yourself at night, and keep an eye on your surroundings and bag at all times. Pick pockets see tourists as easy targets.
Picking an area where to stay in San Jose is easy. Exactly what we like to hear when planning a trip!
There are a number of different neighbourhoods within San Jose, but we’d recommend staying in the centre, around San Jose Central Market.
There are plenty of hotels to choose from in this area, starting from just $20 a night.
If you stay here, you’ll be close to everything you need – restaurants, bars, shops, supermarkets and museums. Most of the bus terminals are around this area too, making it easier for you to get to your next spot.
Where to eat in San Jose
Like most capital cities, San Jose has a huge selection of places to eat. From cheap sodas (Costa Rica’s local restaurants) to upscale restaurants offering every type of cuisine.
You’ll also find a Mcdonalds, Taco Bell or KFC on pretty much every street. Luckily the rest of Costa Rica isn’t like that!
If your time in San Jose is short, you’ll want to make sure you get to eat at the best places. Here are our favourite spots:
Cocina Eclectica – the most unique dining experience in San Jose
This is a must if you’re looking for a unique dining experience. Cocina Eclectica isn’t your typical restaurant. It’s chef Joanna’s home, which she’s turned into a charming restaurant.
Over the course of the night, you’ll be treated to 5 or 6 different dishes that are decided by Joanna. She takes into consideration your dietary requirements and then comes up with a delicious concoction of plates. The food is absolutely delicious, unique and healthy.
All of these courses, plus a drink, costs around $16! We go into more detail on how to get a table in our guide with top Things to Do in San Jose.
Sapore Trattoria – delicious and authentic Italian food with great service
You probably wouldn’t expect to get great Italian food in Costa Rica, but Sapore Trattoria will make you feel like you’re in Italy. The staff are incredibly friendly and attentive, always making sure there’s a full bowl of bread on your table.
The food is delicious and celebrates authentic Italian flavours with a selection of dishes ranging from pizza, pasta and huge calzones.
Cafe Rojo – healthy and delicious Vietnamese-inspired dishes
If you’re looking for a break from rice and beans, then head to Cafe Rojo. The restaurant uses fresh ingredients from Costa Rica to create healthy and delicious Vietnamese-inspired dishes. If you’re vegan or vegetarian you definitely won’t struggle to find something to eat here.
Cafe Rojo boasts a chilled and hipster vibe, amongst plants and fairy lights. It’s also a great place to just grab a coffee, as it’s pretty damn good!
San Jose is a reasonably big city, but pretty much everything you will need sits within the center of the city.
If your accommodation is around the central area, you’ll be able to get to most places by walking. If not, Ubers and buses are also a good option.
As we mentioned above, walking is one of the best ways to get around San Jose. In the centre of the city, around San Jose Central Market, you can find plenty of restaurants, bars, cafes, supermarkets and shops. A number of the bus terminals are around this area too.
Walking is also a great way to get to see the city, plus it’s free!
We wouldn’t advise walking around late at night though. If you need to do this, get an Uber instead.
By Taxi (and Uber)
You’ll be able to spot plenty of local red taxis roaming around the street looking for passengers. They may even give you a little honk of their horn to let you know that they are available.
Uber is also available in San Jose and tends to be cheaper than the local taxis. They can also be more convenient and some people find them safer.
When arriving at the airport, taking an Uber will be significantly cheaper. An Uber will cost around $8-10, whereas a normal taxi fare starts at $15. Alternatively you can also take the airport bus for just $1!
It’s unlikely that you’ll use the bus to get around San Jose, considering that it’s possible to walk to most places and Ubers are so cheap.
In most cases, you’ll use the bus to reach your next destination. There are a number of bus terminals in San Jose with buses going to places such as Monteverde, La Fortuna and Puerto Viejo.
Most buses depart from Gran Terminal del Caribe, but make sure to research beforehand which bus terminal you need to go to.
Bus to San Jose airport
If you’re looking to save some money, then getting the bus instead of an Uber to the airport is simple and easy. The bus departs frequently, approximately every 10-20 minutes, and costs just $1!
Barceló hotel blows most other city hotels out of the water. It has amenities usually only found in resorts and for extortionate prices. Here you’ll find an outdoor pool, spa, gym, 3 squash courts and 2 tennis courts. Plus they offer a free airport shuttle.
If you don’t fancy venturing out of the hotel to get some food, no worries! There’s 3 restaurants and a bar on site offering a variety of different cuisines. The rooms are spacious and clean, offering comfortable beds for a good night's sleep.
Isla Verde Hotel is a real gem within the urban jungle that is San Jose. They have so many extras that you wouldn’t expect for the price - a gym, free shuttle to the airport and a great breakfast every morning.
The hotel is ultra-modern, boasting some beautifully designed rooms and seating areas. All of which are very clean and comfortable. If you don’t feel like venturing too far for food, their onsite restaurant selling Cantonese food is highly reviewed!
Eco Stay Hostel can start to feel like home after a while as it has a shared living room, communal kitchen, a lovely garden area, and even barbeque facilities. You can also spend your evenings having a friendly competition of snooker or darts.
The friendly hosts also make you feel at home. Making sure that your room is clean and comfortable, whilst offering their help in any way that they can. The rooms are basic, but nicely decorated and have everything you could need whilst in San Jose.