San Jose, Costa Rica

The bustling capital city of costa rica

The San Jose Vibe

San Jose Costa Rica does not exactly have a reputation as the nicest city in the world. However, it definitely has its charms.

We live in the city and although 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), the city has grown on us. 

If you find yourself with a day or two near the San Jose airport, there are plenty of places that are worth a visit.

This area is home to great restaurants, museums, historic buildings, green spaces, and plenty of day trip options. You won’t get bored!

There are a lot of different neighborhoods and all have a different feel to them. 

Now on to the rest of the travel guide!

san jose map

Map Of San Jose

San Jose is very centrally located in the country. It is a valley surrounded by rolling hills, mountains, and volcanoes.

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

San Jose at a Glance

Nearest International Airport

Juan Santamaria International Airport

Popular Things to Do

coffee tours, city tours, museums, volcano visits

Best Way to Get Around

Rental car, walking or taxis in the downtown area

Best Time of Year to Visit

Dry season is from late December until mid-April


Getting to Costa Rica

Flights to Costa Rica

The easiest way of getting to San Jose is by flying in to the Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) located on the edge of San Jose near Alajuela.

For flight booking we suggest Skyscanner. They are our go-to flight booking site for great rates.


Transportation to San Jose

Rental Car

(Most Flexible Option)

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.

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. 

Because we like them so much we asked if they would like to work together and they said, “yes.” 

So we have a 10% discount plus other great perks to pass on to you if you book through us! 

Yay to saving money!

Even if you are considering renting through another company, please read through our rental car page first. There is mandatory car insurance here that you need to know about. 


The Adobe Rent-A-Car discount includes…..

– A 10% DISCOUNT  





The Driving Experience

By rental car, it will take you twenty minutes to an hour to get to downtown San Jose.

Traffic gets really bad, especially around rush hour.

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.

You might want a rental car for taking day trips, but we don’t suggest driving in downtown San Jose. People drive like crazy and the roads are sometimes extremely confusing.

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

There is a public bus system in the city, but it can be difficult to navigate. We still sometimes get confused after many years of being here.

Hotel Shuttle

If you are staying at a hotel near the airport you may be able to get a shuttle provided by your hotel. Some hotels offer this service free of charge while others might charge a small fee.

Your driver will usually be waiting for you with a sign when you exit the airport.


costa rica taxi airport san jose

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

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

We suggest asking if they are a legal registered taxi driver before proceeding.

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. This is a legal taxi driver.

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

Book Your Transportation

San Jose Weather

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

It is almost always warm but usually doesn’t get so hot that it is unbearable. 

From mid-December until April there is almost no rain.

The weather from December until February tends to be a bit cooler and windy. People here love it. But I find the wind to be annoying. 

From February until the start of the rainy season it can be hot during the day and cools off a bit more at night.

During the rainy season, it is difficult to predict. Typically it is sunny and nice until about 2 pm. The rain will then roll in for a few hours.

Sometimes these storms are scary with crazy lightning strikes. The evenings are typically dry.

You just never really know here though. Sometimes we will have rain all day and other times we will have several days of no rain during the rainy season.

We suggest getting up early and enjoying the mornings. It is so nice!

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San Jose Neighborhoods

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

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:

Costa Rica Marriott (high end) and Casa Maria Aeropuerto (mid-range).

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. 

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 nice 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)

US Embassy Visit

The United States Embassy is located in the Pavas 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.

Our personal favorite neighborhood is Barrio Escalante. This area has a bit of a hipster vibe with great restaurants and breweries. 

San Jose Hotels

High-End Hotels

Residence Inn by Marriot– Located in the Escazu area of the city, this hotel is great to stay if you are coming to Costa Rica to go to CIMA hospital for medical tourism purposes. There are also plenty of great restaurants and shops nearby. 

Gran Hotel– Located in downtown San Jose, this hotel went through a complete remodel a few years ago and is absolutely beautiful!