San Jose Costa Rica: Complete Guide to the Capital City

San Jose is the bustling capital city of Costa Rica. It is the largest city in the country and is centrally located in what is referred to as the Central Valley region.

san jose costa rica
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San Jose, Costa Rica is home to the largest international airport and makes a  great jumping-off point for exploring Costa Rica’s tropical paradise. The city has delicious restaurants, engaging museums, historic buildings with unique architecture, green spaces, and plenty of day trip options.

We have been living in San Jose since 2016. It wasn’t our choice to live here over another town in the country (we moved to Costa Rica because Thomas got a job in San Jose) but the city has grown on us. Three of our favorite things about living here are the central location, perfect weather, and the beauty of the surrounding Central Valley.

We created this guide to give you all the insight on visiting or traveling through San Jose during your Costa Rican vacation. In this guide we cover weather, restaurants, things to do, hotels, safety tips, packing advice, and more. 

So, let’s get to it!

San Jose Background Info

Here is a brief overview of the city


Juan Santamaria International Airport

coffee tours, city tours, visit museums, hike on a volcano


Rental car, walking or taxis in the downtown area


Dry season is from late December until mid-April

san jose map

Map Of San Jose

San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, is very centrally located. On a map, you’ll find it almost directly in the middle of the country, between the Pacific and Caribbean coasts.

The city is in the Central Valley, surrounded by rolling hills, mountains, and volcanoes.

To the west of the city you will find the smaller city of Alajuela. To the east you will find the city of Cartago.

Due to its location, San Jose is a great jumping-off point for all your adventures.

San Jose, Costa Rica Weather

We may be partial because we live in San Jose, but the climate here is the best in the country.

It is almost always warm but usually doesn’t get so hot that it is unbearable. Our go-to daily outfit is typically light pants and a short-sleeved shirt. 

In the evening it cools down enough to put on a light sweater. 

Here is a more in-depth breakdown of what you can expect by month:

January: A dry month with temperatures around 70°F to 80°F. January often marks the height of the windy season, making some days particularly breezy.

February: Warm and dry, averaging 70°F to 82°F. The windy conditions from January can persist into February, especially in the early part of the month.

March: Consistently sunny days with temperatures ranging from 70°F to 84°F. Everything starts to dry out as there hasn’t been rain for several months.

April: As the dry season comes to an end, expect temperatures from 68°F to 82°F. In the later part of the month there may be an occasional short afternoon rainstorm.

May: This is the onset of the rainy season with temperatures between 68°F to 80°F. Afternoon showers for an hour or two become a regular feature.

June: Temperatures hover between 67°F and 78°F. The rainy pattern continues, with most showers occurring in the afternoon and evenings.

San Jose Costa Rica: Complete Guide to the Capital City

July: Amidst the rainy season, a “Little Summer” or “Veranillo” break occurs. Temperatures range from 66°F to 78°F, and the rain is less frequent during this period.

August: A wet month, with temperatures between 65°F and 77°F. Rainfall is more consistent and can sometimes be heavy.

September: One of the rainiest months, expect temperatures between 64°F and 76°F. Daily downpours, especially in the afternoons, are common.

October: Continuously rainy with temperatures averaging between 63°F to 75°F. Rain often starts earlier in the day and can be prolonged. Sometimes the storms are crazy with non-stop lightning and lots of flooding.

November: The rainy season starts to taper off, with temperatures from 65°F to 78°F. Occasional showers remain, but they become less frequent.

December: The dry season makes a comeback, with temperatures between 68°F and 80°F. The city dries up, and the skies clear, setting the stage for another windy season in the coming months.

Even with all that info, you just never really know here though. Sometimes we will have rain all day during the rainy season and other times we will have several days of no rain at all.

We suggest getting up early and enjoying the morning before the rain rolls in. The sun usually rises around 5:30am and I must admit, it is the best time of the day. 

Pro Tip: If traveling during the rainy season just ignore the weather forecast. They often predict rain all day and that is just not true. 

In our opinion, the best time of year to visit San Jose is between May and the end of July. Yes, it is technically rainy season, but we like that everything starts to turn green again.

Plus, tourism dips a bit at this time of year so it is typically not as expensive as it is between December and April.

Check out our guide to weather in Costa Rica for more info on what you can expect.

The Juan Santamaria International Airport

san jose costa rica airport view

The Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) is often referred to as the San Jose Airport. Technically the airport is actually in the neighboring city, Alajuela. 

This is the biggest international airport in the country with flights coming in from all over the world on a daily basis. 

We created a complete guide to the San Jose airport to help you with all your planning. 

The other international airport is Liberia Airport located in the northwest corner of the country near the Nicaragua border. 

Tip: Unsure what airport to fly into? Check out our guide comparing both airports for more clarity.

Flights to San Jose Costa Rica

When it comes to finding the best deals on flights to SJO, we love the Skyscanner website. Over the years, Skyscanner has become our go-to for finding unbeatable airfares. 

And, as people who live in San Jose but have family in the United States and Germany, we fly A LOT. So, we have become somewhat of experts at finding good flight deals. 

San Jose Airport Hotels

If you are looking to stay near the airport, we do not suggest booking a hotel in downtown San Jose. Instead, look for places close to the airport or in downtown Alajuela. 

The reason I say this is because the traffic near the airport can be really bad. I don’t want you to miss your flight if trying to come to the airport from downtown San Jose.

To help you out we created a complete guide to hotels near the San Jose Airport

Transportation to Downtown

san jose road

From the San Jose Airport, there are a few different ways you can get to the downtown area.

These are:

Renting a Car to San Jose

We like renting a car in Costa Rica because it will definitely give you the most flexibility for exploring. In general, you should feel comfortable driving here if you are a somewhat experienced driver.

However, we really do not recommend driving much in the downtown area. It is just too crazy. 

Our favorite rental car company is a local company called Adobe-Rent-a-Car. They are the most honest, trustworthy, and just overall amazing rental company we have found here. 

By rental car, it will take you twenty minutes to over an hour to get to downtown San Jose from the airport. Traffic gets really bad, especially around rush hour.

We created a complete guide to renting a car from the San Jose Airport to give you more details on the car rental pick-up process and what you can expect. 

Just note that there are some tolls in the San Jose area. They accept colones or US dollars. We suggest having about $10 of cash on you for these tolls. That will be more than enough.

Also, because San Jose gets so congested, only certain cars are allowed to drive on certain days. This does not apply to rental cars. You can drive on any day with your rental car.

And, one more thing, never leave anything of value in your car if parking it anywhere in San Jose.

Travel Tip: When you book a hotel in the downtown area, make sure it has free and secure parking if you plan to rent a car.

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Taxi to San Jose

taxis san jose airport

If you are not planning on renting a car, the best way to get to San Jose from the airport is by taxi.

When you exit the airport there will be a lot of people asking if you need a taxi.

You NEED to make sure that your driver has a red or orange vehicle with a yellow or green triangle on the front and passenger side door (like the car pictured above). This is a legal taxi driver.

You can find out more with our guide to Costa Rica taxis.

Public Bus

One of the nice things about San Jose is that it is the central hub for all public buses. It is possible to get from almost anywhere in the country to San Jose by public bus.

A bus runs about once every 15 minutes from the airport to the downtown area of the city. To get to the bus stop, exit the airport and walk to the main road. You should see the stop. You do not need to cross the highway. You will already be on the correct side of the road.

If you would like to take the bus from another location in the country to downtown San Jose, check out the website The Bus Schedule for all the routes.

Shared Shuttle

A shared shuttle to San Jose is an easy way to get to the city from another area of the country without the stress of driving or the higher price tag of a private shuttle.

We always have the best luck finding convenient shuttles on the website Bookaway.

🚐 Reserve Your Shared Shuttle to San Jose 🚐

Also, if you are planning to book a hotel in San Jose, I suggest searching for places with an airport shuttle if you need. This will be a very convenient and easy way to get from the airport to your hotel.

On you can filter by hotels with an airport shuttle.

Private Transfer

If you don’t feel comfortable driving, a private transfer is always a good option. Adobe Car Rental now provides an excellent transfer service.

A trusted driver will take you from any place in the country directly to your place of choice in San Jose. 

We only suggest this for further distances. From the airport, you are better off taking a taxi rather than a private shuttle.

Get a Private Transfer Price Quote to San Jose

Transportation in San Jose

The best way to get around downtown is by walking or with a taxi.

The city has an extensive bus system, with numerous routes connecting different neighborhoods and attractions, however it is really confusing. I don’t suggest taking it unless you have a good grasp on the Spanish language or are really good at navigating in cities. I still sometimes get lost on the public bus system here.

It is typically not too difficult to hail a taxi in the city. Just make sure it is an official taxi so you do not get overcharged.

Walking is a popular option for exploring the downtown area. Many of the main attractions, such as the National Theater and Central Market, are within walking distance of each other.

Just be careful of what you carry when walking. Petty theft is not unusual here.

We do not suggest driving in the downtown area to get around. The downtown is fairly condensed and the roads and drivers are just too crazy here for driving to be worth it.

However, having a rental car is great if you plan on taking road trips to the surrounding areas or to pick up at the end of your stay in San Jose as you head off to explore other areas of the country.

If you book your rental car with Adobe using our 10% discount, they have an office in downtown San Jose. They will deliver your car to you for free within 12 miles of their office.

So, you can easily have it dropped off at your hotel. 

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San Jose Costa Rica: Complete Guide to the Capital City

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Things to Do in San Jose

There are so many things to do in the downtown area of San Jose. A few of the best things to do are:

Check Out the San Jose Costa Rica Museums

san jose childrens museum

The downtown area of the city is filled with great tourist attractions such as plenty of museums. The most popular museums are:

Museo del Oro (Pre-Columbian Gold Museum)

Located beneath Plaza de la Cultura, this museum houses an impressive collection of Pre-Columbian gold artifacts. Displays showcase the use and significance of gold in ancient Costa Rican cultures.

Museo del Jade (Jade Museum)

This museum features the largest collection of American jade artifacts. The exhibits focus on pre-Columbian societies and their artistic and ceremonial use of jade.

Museo Nacional de Costa Rica (National Museum)

Located in the Bellavista Fortress. Chronicles Costa Rica’s history from prehistoric times to the present, including indigenous, colonial, and modern eras.

Museo de los Niños (Children’s Museum)

This is a kid-friendly museum with interactive exhibits. I think it is best for kids under the age of 8. Most things are in Spanish, but there are employees throughout the museum and most of them speak some English. 

Museo de Arte Costarricense (Costa Rican Art Museum)

This museum is located near La Sabana Park in the building that formerly served as the main airport terminal for San José. It houses an impressive collection of paintings, sculptures, and photographs by prominent Costa Rican artists from the late 19th century to the present.

Take a Guided City Tour

There are so many great guided city tours in San Jose.

Personally, I think this is the perfect way to really get a feel for the city.

A few of our favorite guided tours in San Jose are:

San Jose Walking & Bus Tour – A great tour for people of all ages. There is some walking but it is not too strenuous, you can sit in a comfortable bus while learning about the city, and lunch is included. 

San Jose Night Food Tour & Dinner – One of my absolute favorite tours in San Jose (because…food). This is a great way to learn about the San Jose sights and food culture. Your tour ends with a delicious authentic three-course meal. 

Walking & Food Tour – Walk with a small group and dedicated guide through San Jose to learn about the culture and cuisine. Food samples are included. 

Bites & Bike Tour – A fun way to experience Costa Rica with a knowledgeable guide. Bikes and helmets are provided. 

San Jose ART Tour – This is a chance to see impressive graffiti, visit indigenous art galleries, see local furniture styles and more with an experienced guide.

Enjoy the Nightlife

I can’t give you that much insight into the San Jose nightlife scene because we are boring.

Every time we’ve gone out partying it has been in San Pedro (the site of the University of Costa Rica). There are TONS of bars and clubs there which are all packed on the weekends.

My favorite area is Barrio Escalante. This is a nice area with cute bars (think craft beer, hipster feel).

I don’t recommend walking around San Jose at night but I usually feel decently safe here, especially if it is a night with a lot of people out.

If you would like a more curated experience we highly suggest taking a pub crawl with a guide. This is so fun and a great way to meet fellow travelers.

Visit a City Park

There are several nice green spaces in the city. Three of the best places to enjoy park vibes are:

La Sabana Metropolitan Park

This park (referred to as Parque la Sabana in Spanish) is home to the Estadio Nacional (National Stadium). If you get lucky, you can try and get tickets to catch a soccer game or concert here. 

The park features a lake, sports facilities, and green areas that are perfect for picnics and relaxation.

Parque Central (Central Park)

This park is situated in the heart of the city and is surrounded by important buildings and shops. The main highlight here is probably the bird statue that symbolizes Costa Rican liberty.

Parque Nacional

Not to be confused with the national parks of Costa Rica, this is an urban park in San José. It features the National Monument, commemorating the battle against North American filibusters in the 1850s.

Parque Morazán and the Templo de la Música

This lovely urban park features the Temple of Music, a neoclassical bandstand that’s a favorite spot for concerts and events.

Walk Through the City

During the day I sometimes just walk the downtown area of the city and see where I end up. I’ve come across some cute parks and amazing architecture during these walks. 

It’s one of the best free things to do in San Jose!

Also, look out for unique graffiti. This city is filled with it!

I suggest starting at Avenida Central (Central Avenue) and going from there. This avenue is designed solely for pedestrians.

Just please be aware of your surroundings and if you start feeling like you may be entering a bad area, turn around.

Visit the National Theater

san jose national theater

The most popular theater in San Jose is the National Theater (also known as Teatro Nacional).

This is where the national symphony and many foreign composers perform.

This theater is ornately designed and serves as an important point of architectural history for the city.

It is open for you to check out the lobby during the day for free or you can opt to take a guided tour of the theater for about $8. 

In our experience, it has always been fine to just show up and get a tour. However, if you want to be sure, you can always pre-book your National Theater tour here

If you’d like to see a show you can see their schedule and buy tickets here.

Also, there is a nice cafe in the theater if you would like to just enjoy a cup of coffee here. 

Visit Mercado Central

Picture a large indoor market of tiny little alleyways and people selling everything you could ever possibly want, that is Mercado Central.

I always feel like I’m in a Bourne movie in here. It would be a great place for a crazy chase scene!

Anyway, feel free to try to haggle, but Costa Ricans don’t do well with confrontation so if they won’t budge on the price just leave it at that.

I made a map so you can easily find all the places I have mentioned above. Enjoy!

For more fun ideas, check out our guide 29 Things to Do in San Jose, Costa Rica 

Day Trips from San Jose

If you are planning to spend an extended period of time in San Jose, we definitely suggest getting out of the city to explore the surrounding Central Valley sights.

Getting out of the city will allow you to enjoy some of Costa Rica’s best natural attractions like waterfalls, volcanoes, and impressive sweeping mountain views. 

A few of the best things to do include:

Visit Poas Volcano

poas volcano

Poas Volcano is an active volcano located north of Alajuela city.

Just note that it has been active in recent years so sometimes it is not open. Also, you need to pre-book tickets if you plan to visit. 

Check out our full Poas Volcano guide for the most recent info. 

If you will not have a rental car, you can book a full-day tour with transportation from San Jose which includes a coffee farm tour and a visit to La Paz Waterfall Gardens. 

Book Your Poas Volcano Tour with Stops at a Coffee Farm and La Paz Waterfall Garden

Visit Irazu Volcano

San Jose Costa Rica: Complete Guide to the Capital City

Irazu volcano is located about one hour from downtown San Jose in Cartago. We like this volcano because you can get very close to the crater.

Just be aware that this is one of the highest points of elevation in the country.

For more info, check out our guide to Irazu Volcano.

If you do not have a rental car and need a day tour with transportation we suggest a combo tour that includes Irazu Volcano, Lankster Botanical Gardens, and a visit to Orosi Valley. 

🌋 Check Prices and Availability of the Irazu Combo Tour! 🌋

Tour a Coffee Farm

hacienda alsacia

The Central Valley area of Costa Rica is filled with large coffee farms.

Visiting a coffee farm for a guided tour of the production process is the perfect day trip from the city.

Here are our three favorite options:

Hacienda Alsacia

This farm is the first and only coffee farm owned by Starbucks. Hacienda Alsacia serves as both a working coffee farm and a global agronomy research center.

The tour here begins with a walk through the coffee nursery and continues through the coffee fields. Along the way, you can learn about the entire coffee process, from seedling to the brewed cup.

Check out our guide to Hacienda Alsacia for more info

The tour concludes with a coffee-tasting session at the farm’s Starbucks coffee shop, where you can enjoy a freshly brewed cup of Hacienda Alsacia coffee.

Book Your Hacienda Alsacia Tour Here

Doka Estate Coffee Tour

Doka Estate is one of the oldest coffee plantations in Costa Rica.

The coffee tour here offers a comprehensive overview of the production process from seedling to final roasted bean. The tour concludes with a coffee-tasting session where you can sample the various roasts that the estate produces.

Aside from coffee, the estate also has tropical flower gardens and a butterfly observatory for visitors to explore.

Book Your Doka Estate Tour with Transportation from San Jose

Café Britt Coffee Tour

Café Britt is one of the most renowned coffee producers in Costa Rica. The Café Britt Coffee Tour is theatrical and interactive, with professional actors playing characters who teach visitors about Costa Rican coffee culture and history.

This tour includes all the coffee you could ever want to drink and plenty of chocolate samples as well. 

Take a Britt Coffee Tour with Transportation

Take a Longer Day Trip with Transportation Out of the City

There are plenty of options for day trips to the beach or jungle from San Jose.

Typically we would say that you should try to visit the jungle and beach for a few days while in Costa Rica, but if you are short on time, a day trip with an experienced guide is always a good option.

Just be aware that you will spend a few hours in a comfortable van for transportation.

Some tours we like are:

Arenal Full Day Trip

This is the ultimate full day of fun. You will see two waterfalls, go zip lining, relax in a hot spring, learn about coffee production, see wildlife, and more.

Lunch, dinner, and transportation from and to your hotel are included. 

Check Rates and Availability for Arenal Volcano Day Trip

Manuel Antonio National Park Trip 

Spend the day seeing crocodiles, enjoying impressive Pacific coast viewpoints, and visiting Manuel Antonio National Park with a wildlife guide. 

This tour includes breakfast, lunch, and transportation.

🐒 Check Rates and Availability for Manual Antonio Day Trip 🦥

Enjoy a 6 in 1 Rainforest Adventure 

Head to Braulio Carrillo National Park for six fun activities (zip-lining, aerial tram, butterfly garden, orchid garden, terrarium, and nature walk). 

Arrange a Day Trip with Zip Lining to Braulio Carillo

Visit Isla Tortuga

Tortuga Island is a remote white sand Pacific Coast island that is uninhabited. The waters around here are great for snorkeling and the island itself has a hiking trail, kayaks for rent, beach chairs, and more.

As part of a day tour here from San Jose you will be picked up from your San Jose area hotel in the morning by a van and transferred to the city of Puntarenas where you will board a comfortable boat that will take you towards Isla Tortuga. 

Near Isla Tortuga you will have 45 minutes to snorkel with provided equipment. After snorkeling you will continue to the island where you will have five hours to enjoy the tropical vibes. You will also be served lunch. 

🥥 Check Rates and Availability for Tortuga Island Tour 🌴

Explore the Monteverde Cloud Forest

This tour with transportation will allow you to traverse the landscapes of Monteverde’s cloud forests, observe wildlife in its natural surroundings, and wander through the treetops on Selvatura’s hanging bridges with an experienced guide.

Check Rates and Availability for Monteverde Day Tour

We created a guide to the 32 Best Day Trips from San Jose, Costa Rica area to give you more ideas of spots to visit. 

San Jose Neighborhoods

san jose costa rica

San Jose is a decent-sized city with a large metropolitan area, so you might need some help figuring out the best area to stay based on your reason for visiting.

Where to stay for…

An Airport Visit

If you are planning to stay in San Jose the night after you arrive or before you leave, we suggest staying as close to the airport as possible. Traffic gets really bad around here.

Do not stay in downtown San Jose unless you plan on giving yourself a ton of time to get to the airport the next day.

You are actually better off to stay in downtown Alajuela.

For hotels with a free shuttle near the airport, we suggest:

Courtyard by Marriott (High-End)

Casa Garitas GuestHouse Pura Vida (Mid-Range)

Alexander b&b (Budget- Friendly)

If you need a late-night or early-morning meal, your best option is the nearby Denny’s. It is open 6:00am until midnight every day. 

Check out our guide to San Jose Airport hotels for more info

Medical Tourism

Most medical tourism in Costa Rica takes place in the Escazu area of San Jose at or near the CIMA hospital.

Escazu is the most upscale of San Jose neighborhoods. There are plenty of nice restaurants, multiple malls, and luxury hotels. 

Just note that this area is not very walkable unlike the downtown area. You will likely need a rental car or depend on taxis to get around.

For hotels we suggest:

Residence Inn by Marriott (high end)

AC Hotel Escazu (high end)

Courtyard by Marriott (lower high end)

Esters Place (mid-range)

A US Embassy Visit

The United States Embassy is located in the Pavas/ Rohrmoser area. 

This area has a few nice parks, but there isn’t much to see or explore.

For a hotel, we suggest Hotel Isla Verde. There is a good Chinese restaurant attached to the hotel and you can walk to the US Embassy in about five minutes. 

Downtown Exploring

The downtown area of the city is very walkable. You can really stay anywhere in the central area and easily get to all the downtown sights. I’ll break down some of the neighborhoods (often referred to as “barrios”) of downtown for you to get a better idea.

Barrio Amón

One of the oldest neighborhoods in San José, Barrio Amón is a historic area known for its beautiful colonial-era mansions, many of which have been converted into hotels, art galleries, or restaurants. 

Barrio Escalante

This is the city’s gastronomic hub. Filled with restaurants, cafés, and bars. You can find a variety of cuisines and vibrant street art here. Basically, it’s the hipster neighborhood of San Jose and where we would stay downtown.

San Pedro

Located to the east of the city center, San Pedro is home to the University of Costa Rica and, as such, has a youthful vibe.

There are plenty of bars, restaurants, and shops catering to its student population.

If you are into the nightlife scene, this is where we suggest you head to. 

La Sabana

This area is dominated by La Sabana Metropolitan Park, the city’s largest green space and home to the national stadium. There are a lot of luxury high-rise condo towers and restaurants here. 

Downtown San José (Centro)

The heart of the city, where tourists will find key government buildings, cultural landmarks like the National Theater, and several museums, including the Gold Museum and the Jade Museum.

Coca Cola

This is the city’s main bus terminal area and transportation hub. This area is always bustling. If you ask for directions and someone says “go to Coca-Cola” they are not making up random things and talking about the soda.

Just be cautious here. It is always crowded and it’s a common spot to experience pickpocketing. 

Restaurants in San Jose

There are a million food options in San Jose so it was pretty hard to narrow down our list, but here are a few of our faves….

Fine Dining

Furca – Our go-to dinner date spot for steak. The service, food, and presentation is excellent.

Restaurant Grano de Oro – Located in the Grano de Oro hotel, this restaurant is beautiful! I always end up getting fish here, but they have a wide variety of delicious options.

La Divina Comida – Delicious Peruvian fusion restaurant located in Escazu. The meat here is amazing.


L’Olivo – Really great Italian food. This is our go-to date night spot in the city (I’m addicted to Italian food) so maybe you’ll see us there. 🙂

La Esquina de Buenos Aires –  Amazing Argentinian restaurant in downtown San Jose. Just a warning though, the portions are massive.

Arbol de Seda – Delicious vegetarian restaurant located in Barrio Escalente. We like this place for lunch.


Cafe Rojo –  Really good healthy food at an affordable price. I love the relaxed cafe vibe here.

CHOKO Cocina Mediterranea – You can never go wrong with some tasty falafel…at least that is how I feel. This is my go-to lunch spot downtown. 

Check out our list of the 32 best restaurants in San Jose for more ideas

San Jose Costa Rica Hotels

High-End Hotels

AC Hotel by Marriott: A great option if staying in Escazu for medical tourism. This hotel is super modern and beautiful. There is a delicious Spanish restaurant and gym on-site.

Hilton San Jose La Sabana: This is the place to stay if you want the consistency of a Hilton hotel, epic San Jose views, and direct look inside the Costa Rican National Stadium from above.

Grano de Oro Hotel: Luxury hotel located in downtown San Jose. This place is absolutely stunning. There is a delicious restaurant and pool on-site. 

Mid-Range Hotels

Casa De Las Tias: This place is amazing. It is located outside of the downtown area in Santa Ana. The building itself is an old cedarwood house that was built by the former Minister of Labor. The owners are also delightful people and will take great care of you. 

BEE Suites Escalante: Located in the Escalante neighborhood (great for downtown exploring) this hotel offers thoughtfully designed apartments that are complete with contemporary kitchens.

Budget Hotels

Chillout Hostel Barrio Escalante: If you’re a solo traveler or a backpacker looking for an affordable, but nice place to stay, this is the place for you!

XIN Bed&Breakfast: XIN Bed&Breakfast offers a blend of comfort and authenticity. We love the feel of this place and that it is so budget-friendly (but still comfortable).

Check out our guide to the 21 Best Hotels in San Jose for more ideas!

Vacation Rentals in San Jose

We always love renting a home, villa, or apartment for our vacation in Costa Rica. This gives you more privacy and allows you the flexibility to cook your own meals.

Note: We try to only ever suggest places with good cancellation policies, but always double-check before booking.

High End

CASA BRITTO – A beautiful house with eight bedrooms that can sleep up to 20 guests. This house is in the hills outside of the city and features a heated pool, sweeping views of the valley, and a modern interior. 

Casa Cristal – A 8 bedroom house that sleeps up to 21 guests. There is a pool, hot tub, and great views of the city. 


Easy Living Apartment – A centrally located two bedroom apartment. This place is modern, peaceful, and very clean. There is a full kitchen with everything you would need for cooking. 

Chic 1 Bedroom Apartment – A modern one-bedroom apartment located near the city center. 

Budget Friendly

Zona Tranquila Apartment – Located in a central part of San Jose, this apartment can sleep up to three guests. There is a full kitchen and nice balcony for you to enjoy. 

San Jose Vacation Packages

Take the planning, stress, and guesswork out of traveling by booking a multi-day tour with an experienced guide.

For more tour ideas check out Tour Radar

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  • Explore the Manuel Antonio National Park and see wildlife
  • Swim under the La Fortuna waterfall and see Arenal Volcano
  • Experience the lush Monteverde cloud forest

San Jose Safety Tips

san jose airport hotels

As with any major city, it’s essential to be aware of your surroundings. 

While San Jose is generally safe, petty theft, such as pickpocketing, can sometimes occur in crowded areas. 

Therefore, we suggest keeping your valuables secure and refrain from openly displaying expensive items. 

We usually carry an anti-theft backpack or purse and keep things of value that we need with us in those.

If possible, don’t carry much cash and keep things such as your passport in a safe at your hotel (I just carry a photocopied paper copy of mine). 

Be careful when pulling out your phone or camera to take picture. 

Dressing in a relaxed way will also help you blend in. Most people in the downtown area wear jeans or pants and a tshirt with sneakers. I don’t suggest wearing any nice jewelry that will make you more of a target.

When considering transportation, make sure you take an official taxi. They are easily recognizable by their red color and a yellow triangle on the side. 

I’m not saying all of this to scare you, just to make you aware. In general, you will come across friendly locals who are incredibly helpful and kind.

However, if something happens, the emergency number in Costa Rica is 9-1-1. You should be able to get a police officer who speaks English if you need.

Also, always purchase travel insurance. It doesn’t just cover injury, but also helps if things get stolen. Our go-to travel insurance company for Costa Rica is Heymondo. They are great!

Their comprehensive plans offer 24/7 assistance, trip cancellation and interruption coverage, lost baggage coverage, assistance in case of medical issues, as well as the option to add-on adventure activity coverage. 

↳ Get Your Travel Insurance Quote

San Jose Travel Tips

  • We do not suggest planning your vacation around a stay in San Jose. Maybe you would like to spend a night here after you arrive in Costa Rica or before you depart, but other than that, get out and explore.
  • You can drink the tap water here. However, it is always best to ask at your hotel first, especially before filling up your water bottle from a bathroom sink.
  • Knowing a bit of Spanish is always helpful. Most people in the tourism industry speak at least some English.
  • Tipping isn’t mandatory, but a 10% service charge is often added to restaurant bills. Extra tipping is appreciated for excellent service.
  • The local currency is the Costa Rican colón. While many places accept US dollars, it’s useful to have some colónes for small purchases.

Check out our guide to planning your trip to Costa Rica for more must-know info.

Packing for San Jose

The weather doesn’t usually get really hot. You will usually be completely comfortable wearing pants and a t-shirt with an added layer to throw on top as needed. 

Don’t forget your rain jacket during rainy season and some layers are always good.

For Women:

For Men:


Check out our San Jose Packing List on Amazon for all the essentials. 

History of San Jose

San José’s was founded in 1736. The city was originally established to consolidate dispersed settlers of the Aserrí Valley in Costa Rica. 

The initial construction of a modest chapel in the area really marked the city’s beginnings. St. Joseph was the patron saint of the church, which inspired the city’s name.

As the 18th century progressed, San José experienced a population surge. It eventually became the capital of Costa Rica in 1823. 

The surrounding fertile lands played a pivotal role in the country’s coffee boom during the 19th century. This ‘golden bean’ not only enriched the nation but also left an indelible mark on the city’s culture.

Barrio Amon, along with the National Theatre are some of the leftover testaments from Costa Rica’s golden age of coffee.

Fast forward to today, and San José is a hub of commerce, art, and architecture for the country. It is a mix of Spanish colonial charm and modern-day hustle.

Because it is the location of the largest international airport, the city has become a significant stopover and destination for tourists.

San Jose Costa Rica FAQ

What is there to do in San Jose Costa Rica?

There is so much to do in san Jose from visiting museums to exploring the Central Market. It is also nice to get out of the city and see other nearby volcanoes and coffee farms.

Is San Jose Costa Rica safe?

Petty theft is known to happen here. Never carry large amounts of cash, make sure all your belongings are secure, and don’t flaunt expensive items such as nice cameras.

Is San Jose Costa Rica worth visiting?

With a limited time in Costa Rica it is best to skip San Jose and instead explore the beautiful nature that the country has to offer. If you find yourself with a few days in San Jose, you will find plenty of fun things to do.

Is San José Costa Rica walkable?

The central downtown area is walkable. However, for further distances around the city the best mode of transportation is taking an official taxi.

Conclusion: San Jose, Costa Rica

And there you have it, everything you need to know about Costa Rica’s capital city. As you now know, San Jose is a thriving city that serves as the center of Costa Rica. It is not a place we suggest spending much time in, but it serves as a great jumping-off point for seeing the best attractions in the country.

If you have any questions about visiting, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you plan your trip.

You Might Also Like Visiting

Alajuela: A bustling city next to the San Jose Airport and a great jumping-off point for so many fun activities.

Cartago: An area of coffee farms, beautiful views, and volcanoes

San Gerardo de Dota: A remote mountain town that is a great place for hiking and birdwatching

….if none of those appeal to you, check out our Guide to the Central Valley for more ideas of places to visit in this area.

Costa Rica Travel Details: What You Need to Know

🚗 Should I rent a car in Costa Rica?

Having a rental car will give you the most flexibility when traveling in Costa Rica. This will allow you to visit more off-the-beaten-path destinations and will allow you to take fun day trips on your own.

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☀️ Should I buy travel insurance for Costa Rica?

Yes, travel insurance is always a good idea. It is not just for illness or injury, but also lost luggage, delayed trips, and more!

We like Heymondo for Costa Rica travel insurance.

✈️ What is the best way to book a flight?

Usually, we have the best luck finding great prices with Skyscanner. Check for flights to both San Jose Airport (SJO) and Liberia Airport (LIR).

🛏️ What is the best way to book my Costa Rica hotels?

We highly suggest for hotel bookings and typically use VRBO for Costa Rica vacation rentals.

🗣️What is the main language in Costa Rica?

The main language in Costa Rica is Spanish. Most people working in tourism speak at least some English.

💰 What is the currency in Costa Rica?

The currency used in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colón (CRC). However, the US dollar is widely accepted in most tourist areas

🌴 Is Costa Rica safe?

Generally, Costa Rica is considered safe for tourists. However, like any travel destination, it’s best to use caution and be aware of your surroundings.

🛂 Do you need a passport to go to Costa Rica?

Yes, Costa Rica is its own country. You will need a passport to visit.

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