see itinerary for the best attractions

See itinerary for the best attractions

Central America

San José is a mandatory stop on travel itineraries around Costa Rica, both because it is the country's main gateway and because of its central location, which ends up making it necessary to pass through there more than once on trips that cover the territory. from north to south, from east to west. If this is your case, see now a list of things to do in San José.

Why visit San José?

Although it has a reputation for not impressing travelers who pass through there, the city is an example in a country that is also an example for its Central American neighbors. San José is safe, beautiful, clean, and has much lower rates of violence than those recorded in this region of the world.

As normally accompanies this type of development, prices there also tend to be much higher, following the trend in the rest of the country. With the inevitable stop, all that remains is to enjoy the best the city has to offer: the beautiful historic center, the rich gastronomic scene and the tours in the surrounding area. If you go with an open heart, you might even be surprised.

But those who visit the country in search of the beautiful beaches in the Pacific or the Caribbean, the volcanoes and the biodiversity preserved by the natural parks will find little appeal in the well-behaved capital. Still, you can have fun there for a day or two. Want to see?

Is travel insurance mandatory for Costa Rica?

No. Travel insurance is optional for entering Costa Rica, but we recommend that you never travel without one. It protects you in the event of any medical emergency, theft, lost luggage or the need to interrupt your trip due to some major unforeseen event. See below some recommended plans for Central America, with an exclusive discount for blog readers using coupon 360MERIDIANOS05:

Two-day itinerary in San José, the capital of Costa Rica

What to do in one day in San José

Start with a stroll through the historic center of San José. There are the city's most emblematic buildings, such as the beautiful National theater. In addition to appreciating the facade, you can take a guided tour every day, from 9am to 4pm, for 10 dollars, but you must reserve your time via this link. The theater is in Culture Square, one of the most important in the city. In the basement of the square is the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum (official website), which brings together 1500 gold objects produced by the cultures that inhabited Costa Rica between 500 and 1500 AD. Entrance for foreigners costs 15 dollars.

Historic Center of San José, Costa Rica

Nearby is the Parque Central it's at Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint José. The park is the oldest public space in the city and the central axis of San José's urban life. Hundreds of people pass through it every day, on their way to work or home, waiting for buses at stops close to it. The place is also the stage for the capital's main cultural events and public activities.

The Cathedral, a beautiful neoclassical style building, is at one end of the park and is open for visits. It is there in the park that there is also the Melico Salazar Popular Theateranother much-photographed building in San José. Walking along Central Avenue, pass by Post Office Building and by Banco Central to end the architectural tour.

For lunch, the tip is to head to the San José Central Market. In addition to several restaurants, the place also sells handicrafts, a great opportunity to stock up on souvenirs. At Rincón Retana you can eat a fajita sandwich and soda combo for six dollars, or maybe you'd prefer to try the traditional roast chicken and potatoes.

Dessert is provided by Lolo Mora Sorbeteria, also on the market, in operation since 1901 and now in the fourth generation of the family to run the business. The place only sells one flavor of ice cream: vanilla with cinnamon, but there are several ways to order it – with gelatin or with a piece of cake, for example. I ordered the ice cream pure, small, and with cookie straws, for 4 dollars.

Historic Center of San José, Costa Rica

In the afternoon, the tip is to visit the National Museum of Costa Rica, one of the most important in the country (entrance: 9 dollars). At night, go to dinner in the Escalante neighborhood, which has a gastronomic area full of good restaurants with food from all over the world.

What to do in two days in San José

You have to get up early to visit the Irazú volcano, one of the most beautiful and the highest in the country, at 3432 meters high. Several agencies offer the tour from San José, which usually also includes other stops along the way to complete a full day of activities.

But you can also do it on your own, by rented car, or by taking the bus that leaves every day from Avenida 2, between 1st and 3rd streets, behind the National Theater.

The journey takes around two hours to the top and costs 10 dollars. You should get there around 10am, and the bus back to San José leaves at 12:30pm. Don't forget to take a jacket, as the temperature drops a lot up there. There is no accommodation, but there are mountain hotels on the way if you want to stay the night.

Irazu Volcano, Costa Rica

Foto: Alexilena, Shutterstock

If you are driving, make a stop on the way back to see Carthagethe base city of the volcano and the country's first capital, to visit the Lancaster Botanic Gardens.

An alternative tour is to visit the Rainflorest Adventures park, for an experience in the tropical forest, 50 minutes from San José. The place offers activities for the whole family, such as zip lining, hiking and observation of native species.

Close to San José is also the Poas Volcano National Park. The place has been closed to visitors since April 2017, due to the risk of eruption, and there is no plan for reopening at the moment. Nearby, in the city of Vara Blanca, there are also the La Paz Falls, and these can be visited. Entrance to the park costs $45 and includes five waterfalls and gardens. The best way is to book a tour leaving from San José that includes the entrance fee, as the bus journey can take up to three hours due to the several stops along the way.

From San José to the Caribbean or La Fortuna

San José serves as the road hub that connects all regions of Costa Rica. If you plan to make this trip using public transport, you will have to pass through the capital several times, as the interurban lines that connect the different regions of the country usually leave and arrive there. There are several bus stations in the city, so it is important to know where the buses leave for your next destination.

Some of the most frequent destinations for travelers leaving San José to explore the rest of the country are La Fortuna, a city at the foot of the Arenal volcano, in the north of the country, and Caribbean destinations, such as Puerto Viejo, Cahuita and Tortuguero.

Where to stay in San José, Costa Rica

I stayed in one of the best hostels on my entire trip to Central America. O TripOn Open House, in the Escalante neighborhood and a 15-minute walk from the center, it has a breakfast that puts many hotels out there, comfortable beds with curtains and individual lights and giant lockers to fit your entire backpack. The best thing is the price: just 9 dollars per night. Read our complete post with tips on where to stay in San José.

For those looking for something more inn style, I recommend Upe! Hostel, which, despite the name, has private rooms for just 27 dollars for a couple and a very decent breakfast too, with pancakes and fruit, in addition to the tranquility of a family stay. Check availability at Upe Hostel. And see our guide to the best neighborhoods to stay in San José here.

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