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 two days there, but there are 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 are 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.
If you’re visiting San Jose soon, you’ve come to the right place. After reading this guide, you’ll know which area to stay in, where to find the best restaurants and how to get around the capital city of Costa Rica.
It’s a city with diverse architecture, ranging from colonial-era mansions, art deco apartments to modern skyscrapers. All of which is 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 from 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. Pickpockets see tourists as easy targets.
Where to stay in San Jose
Picking an area 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.
Best places 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 McDonald’s, Taco Bell and 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 five or six 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, cost around $16! We go into more detail on how to get a table in our guide with the 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 because it’s pretty damn good!
San Jose is a reasonably big city, but pretty much everything you will need sits within the centre 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.
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 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 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!
Now that you’ve finished reading this guide, you’re almost ready for your adventure in San José. The next step is to create your personalised itinerary with our top picks of things to do in San José. Simply choose your favourite activities and places to visit, and you’re all set to make lasting memories in San José.
Our favourite places to stay in San José
Barceló San José – Treating yourself
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, three squash courts and two 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 are three restaurants and a bar on site offering a variety of different cuisines. The rooms are spacious and clean, providing 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 serving Cantonese food is highly reviewed!
Eco Stay Hostel starts 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 even spend your evenings at the hotel having a friendly competition of snooker or darts.
The friendly hosts add to the welcoming atmosphere. 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.
Kate is a writer, (ex)Management Consultant and avid traveller. She recently returned from a 2-year career break exploring the world and decided corporate life wasn’t for her. She’ll soon be testing life as a digital nomad. She’s visited over 40 countries and fell in love with Latin America in particular. Her travelling has inspired a passion for yoga, salsa, hiking and Spanish.
Aleksandra is a writer and editor who recently moved from Hong Kong to London. She’s worked and studied in four countries (and counting) and picked up a new hobby in each of them. She’s a big fan of long train journeys so you can count on her to take the scenic route, finding a few hidden gems along the way.