Duration: at least one week
Stay: The Train Suites Barrio Escalante or Chillout Escalante Hostel or Casa Escalante Hostel
Many people who visit Costa Rica skip San José and head straight to places like La Fortuna, Monteverde, and other natural wonders. Those places are marvelous to see, and we highly recommend them. However, if you have a few more days to spend in Costa Rica, we suggest stopping in San José. This authentic city has numerous cultural sights, a robust food scene, and plenty to do. In addition, San José is Costa Rica’s largest city and offers an unspoiled glimpse into Costa Rica. San José, known as “Chepe” by locals, is Costa Rica’s cultural and economic hub. The expression “concrete jungle” describes the city perfectly. Costa Rica’s endless lush greenery balances out the large, concrete buildings. It has all the amenities any urban area would have without feeling too congested. Travelers can visit its many distinct neighborhoods and see beautiful modern and historical architecture. In addition, the city has some outstanding markets to explore, serving fresh food and selling all types of goods. At night, if you’re looking for exciting nightlife, there are many bars and clubs to enjoy.
- Sight Seeing 65% 65%
- Food 75% 75%
- Culture 70% 70%
- Activities 70% 70%
Even though San José is my least favorite capital in all of Central America, you should still make an effort to spend some time and get to know the locals. Whenever I stay in San José, I enjoy staying in one of the high buildings with a fantastic view over the city.
Things to do in San Jose
La Feria Verde de Aranjuez
La Feria Verde de Aranjuez is a fantastic farmer’s market every Saturday morning from nine until noon. It features locally and sustainably sourced products and ingredients. It’s a great place to have breakfast because there are many coffee and food vendors. You can find delicious omelets, arepas, French toast, and other tasty breakfast items here. Vendors also sell locally-made gifts, jewelry, coffee, and fresh produce. It’s a fun place to spend a Saturday morning and enjoy some tasty food.
Discover downtown San José
Street performers are a common sight on Central Avenue in downtown San José. They can be found on almost every block, and there is no set schedule for their performances. Most performers are amateur musicians or dancers, but there are also a few professional groups. The street performers add a lot of character to the area and are always worth a stop to watch for a while. My favorite spot to watch them is on the corner of Second Street and Central, where there is usually a breakdancing group putting on an impressive show. Even if you’re not into street performers, it’s worth taking a stroll down Central Avenue to check out all the different acts.
The Avenida Central is a vibrant district within San José with live music and bustling shops that carry everything under the sun. It’s a great place to walk around and taste local life. One place on Avenida Central that many local Ticos (Costa Ricans) will tell you to visit is Mercado Central. This place is a giant grocery store with some tasty Costa Rican cuisine. Many restaurants here serve mouthwatering Costa Rican classics for a great price.
Parque Central is located in the middle of all the action in downtown San José. Many of the city’s architectural wonders, including the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Jose, surround the park. Within the park, there is plenty of public art and statues. Its center is the iconic “Vive San Jose” sign that makes for a good photo op. It’s a great place to relax that feels like an oasis within the city.
Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo
An easy day trip from San José is the Braulio Carrillo National Park. It’s hard to believe that so much biodiversity and pristine wildlife could be close to the capital. This 108,000-acre park has dense vegetation, breathtaking scenery, and a volcano. One of the world’s best field stations, the La Selva Biological Station, is here. If you’re lucky, you might encounter white-faced capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, and slots while riding through the aerial tram or hiking.
Barrio Escalante - a foodie haven
Barrio Escalante has become San José’s go-to neighborhood for great food in the last ten years. The streets are lined with restaurants, bars, and cafes, and there’s something for everyone. So you can find it here if you’re looking for a delicious brunch, a burger, some ramen noodles, or even alcoholic ice cream. One of the highlights of Barrio Escalante is the variety of restaurants. You can find everything from Mexican food to Indian food to Italian food. There are also plenty of vegan and vegetarian options available. In addition to the great food, the atmosphere in Barrio Escalante is also really cool. Barrio Escalante is also my preferred neighborhood to stay in. It’s so lovely to be able to walk around and go home, even after dark.
Explore the National Museum of Costa Rica
San José has outstanding museums, and you should check out all of them if you have time. If you can only go to one, visit the National Museum of Costa Rica. It is easy to identify with its bright yellow façade and castle-like appearance. You can learn about Costa Rica’s long and fascinating history at this museum. It is a comprehensive museum that covers everything from prehistoric to modern times. There is so much to see here, so you should leave plenty of time to explore it all.
How cool is that? The Ruta Naturbanas (Nature-Urban Route) is a new conservation project in San José, Costa Rica. The project’s goal is to create a single walkway that crosses the entire city and is entirely in nature. Only a small piece of the route has been completed so far, and the project depends on donations from individuals and organizations. The trail near the Central Bank of Costa Rica in Barrio Amon is open 24 hours a day. The Ruta Naturbanas is a great way to get outdoors and explore nature within the city. The route near the Central Bank of Costa Rica in Barrio Amon is well-maintained and easy to follow. There are several parks, gardens, and other green spaces along the route and plenty of wildlife to see. I saw several birds, including toucans and parrots, as well as lizards and frogs. The route is also a great way to exercise and enjoy the fresh air. I would definitely recommend checking out the Ruta Naturbanas if you’re visiting San José!
Street Art in Barrio California
Street art is one of the city’s most beautiful and exciting aspects, and Barrio California in San José is home to some impressive street art. The murals are incredibly well-done and add so much life and color to the area. Seeing how much effort and talent has gone into these street art pieces is wonderful. So many depict scenes from Costa Rican culture or nature, making them all the more special. I could spend hours just looking at them all!
Take a break at one of the many parks
San José has many parks, each with its distinct personality.
La Sabana is the largest and most popular park in the city. Located in the heart of San José, it offers plenty of space to run, play sports, and relax. The National Park is a beautiful green space located in downtown San José. It’s an excellent place for a picnic or a leisurely walk. Parque Bellavista is a smaller park, but it’s one of our favorites for its charming atmosphere and great views. Escazú is home to Iskatzu Park, a lovely green space with a playground and plenty of shade trees.
And finally, we can’t forget about Coffee Park, which is perfect for nature lovers looking for a quiet spot to relax. As mentioned before, it can get super hot in Granada. So it’s lovely to grab fresh fruit juice and relax in the shade at Parque Colón. The central plaza is seamed by the Catedral de Granada and numerous restaurants. Nicaraguans are said to be one of the happiest people in the world. So lean back and enjoy watching them as they go along with their day.
Get ready to travel SAN JOSÉ
How to get to San José:
San José’s downtown area is easy to reach from the airport. There are numerous options available to transfer you from SJO to anywhere downtown, including buses, shared shuttles, private transfers, and rental cars. The main bus is the Tuasa Bus San Jose, also known as the big red bus. Caribenos
and MEPE buses are also downtown. I use Uber a lot when riding around the city.
Best time to visit San José:
The best time to visit San José is during its dry season, between December and April. However, December is a crowded month, and accommodations may cost more. On the other hand, January through Easter is a prime period where costs are low, and the weather is ideal.
Safety in San José:
People consider San José to be one of Latin America’s safest cities. However, like any large city, stay aware of your surroundings and keep your valuables hidden. The most common crimes are pickpocketing on public transportation and scams. San José is also generally safer than other parts
of Costa Rica regarding natural risks. Still, flooding and landslides are sometimes a concern.
Nightlife and entertainment:
Travelers looking for some nightlife during their visit won’t be disappointed by the options in San José. There are bars and nightclubs all over Chepe. One notable place is a craft cocktail bar called Mil 948, run by the world’s 13th best mixologist.
The tap water is by no means suitable to drink. Bring your Lifestraw Pro to avoid plastic pollution and keep your drinks cool.
Biggest challenge for the responsible traveler
Trash: bring your collapsable food container & Lifestraw Pro with you to avoid causing plastic pollution.
Packing Central America
Central America is super diverse and offers plenty of things to do. Check out our packing list, and get ready for an incredible adventure!
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Places to visit in Costa Rica
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