Top 15 Things to Do in San Jose Costa Rica for an Unforgettable Experience

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Welcome to Costa Rica!

 

San Jose is the best location to start your travels in this beautiful country.

 

This guide cuts straight to the chase, helping you craft an itinerary filled with the best things to do in San Jose Costa Rica.

 

Key Takeaways

  • San Jose has a rich culture, you are in for a treat with activities that showcase the indigenous and Spanish heritage.
  • The city provides a variety of outdoor adventures within its tropical jungles, we selected our favourite locations.
  • San Jose’s diverse culinary scene leaves many opportunities to try traditional Costa Rican dishes, learn more about the coffee culture, and explore their local craft beer craft.

Where is San Jose Located?

Costa Rica is located in Central America just above Latin America. The vibrant city of San Jose is located in the centre of the country making it the perfect location to start your travels in the country.

 

You can decide if you want to start your trip north or south first or decide between the Caribbean and the Pacific without losing travel time.

 

Before leaving the capital city spend some time here to discover the rich culture and political activities.

Discovering San Jose’s Rich Culture

Let’s start with some culture.

 

The city has indigenous roots with influences of Spanish traditions, making it a unique destination to experience history either by going to museums, theatres, discovering architecture or going for a San Jose city tour.

 

Artistic and historical museums

San Jose is home to numerous museums and galleries, we strongly recommend not skipping this activity when you are visiting San Jose!

It will give you a lot of knowledge and understanding of the Costa Rican culture which will set the tone for the rest of your trip.

 

Our top picks of museums to discover in San Jose are:

  • Pre-Columbian Gold Museum: this is a must-visit if you want to discover the collection of pre colombian gold artefacts from the indigenous before the European, arrival.The gold museum also explains the culture of indigenous communities from their beliefs, societal structure and craftsmanship.
    We visited this museum before leaving the capital and felt more connected to the country during our travels because we knew the culture before the Spanish influence.It is really interesting to see which parts of the culture have stayed until today to their original roots.

 

  • National Museum of Costa Rica: this national museum will walk you through the country’s heritage and provide visitors with an understanding of how the culture evolved and pre-colonial times until the colonial era.

 

  • Jade Museum (Museo del Jade):  this is a special museum if you are interested in jade artefacts. The museum has a large collection of craftsmanship from indigenous people who worked these gorgeous green stones known as pre columbian jade.

A colorful mural depicting the vibrant culture of San José

Theatrical Experiences

The Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica is an example of neoclassical architecture was funded in part by coffee tycoons and today serves as the famous theatre in Costa Rica where you can get entertained by opera, ballet or different varieties of plays.

The theatre is a monument with a rich history so if you are curious about the history and design, they offer walking tours in English and Spanish.

 

These tours will not only talk about the history but provide exclusive access behind the scenes to see how operations are run within the venue itself. The museum is open everyday from 9 AM to 4 PM, and the entrance fee costs 7$.

 

Historic Sites and Architecture

The architectural landscape of San Jose merges the old with the new, with colonial buildings standing alongside modern structures.

 

Top attractions not to miss are:

 

  • The Metropolitan Cathedral, with its blend of Greek Orthodox, Neoclassical, and Baroque styles. This is a prime example of the Spanish influences in colonial times.

 

  • The Edificio Correos, is a striking example of 20th-century architecture.

 

  • There are also famous streets you should discover such as the historic realms of Barrio Amon & Aranjuez, where picturesque streets are lined with colonial architecture.

 

We did a guided city tour, Andrew, he was very knowledgeable and shared a lot of interesting facts about the history, also shared Costa Rican culture and even spoke a bit about the cuisine.

He showed us a different perspective of the city, it was amazing being connected with the locals.

 

Outdoor Things To Do in San Jose Costa Rica

Things to do in san jose costa rica

Despite being a bustling urban center, San Jose warmly embraces its natural surroundings.

 

From sprawling parks to serene gardens, the city offers plenty of green spaces where you can enjoy the outdoors. Whether you prefer leisurely strolls, adventurous hikes, or simply relaxing amidst nature, San José has got you covered.

 

Discover the city’s natural beauty by visiting these outdoor locations in San Jose.

  • La Sabana Metropolitan Park: a green oasis in the heart of the city
  • Parque Nacional: an urban park that offers a respite from the city’s hustle and bustle
  • Butterfly Gardens: an enchanting world of butterflies

Each location offers a unique outdoor adventure that enhances your San José experience.

La Sabana Metropolitan Park

Nestled in the heart of San José, La Sabana Park is often referred to as the city’s “green oasis”. It provides a serene and peaceful escape from the busy urban life with its lush green surroundings and tranquil paths.

 

Whether you’re seeking a leisurely stroll, looking for an ideal picnic spot or craving some sports activities, this park is great for all of it.

 

To being a nature lover’s haven, La Sabana Park is also the location of Costa Rican cultural gem the Costa Rican Art Museum.

 

Showcasing diverse artistic works such as paintings, sculptures and photographs that offer insight into the country’s rich art heritage. This popular attraction is just steps away from another famous landmark Plaza de la Cultura.

 

Parque Nacional

Parque Nacional is known as the escape from the urban city. The locals describe this park as a green oasis that provides peace and an escape from the bustle of the city.

 

The park has walking paths and is very well maintained, this is definitely the ideal place for a picnic.

 

Parque Nacional also holds historical value, you can admire the sculptures with significance to the country’s history and there are old railway tracks to explore.

 

Butterfly Gardens

The Butterfly Gardens in San José provide an enchanting experience unlike any other. Located either at the Spirogyra Butterfly Garden or the National Museum’s butterfly garden entry, these gardens provide a tranquil escape within the city.

Here, you’ll find yourself surrounded by the delicate flutter of various colored butterflies.

 

In addition to the charming sight of butterflies, these gardens also offer educational insights into their life cycles.

 

As you roam through the enclosures, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the different species, their habitats and their behaviour.

 

Whether you’re a nature lover or simply looking for a serene escape, a visit to the Butterfly Gardens is a must on your San José itinerary.

Culinary Experiences of San José

A traditional Costa Rican dish being prepared

San Jose’s passion for food is reflected in its diverse culinary landscape. From traditional dishes to modern interpretations, the city offers a wide range of flavors that cater to all palates.

 

Whether you’re a foodie looking to explore local cuisine or a traveler seeking familiar comforts, San José’s culinary scene has something for everyone.

 

Enjoy traditional Costa Rican dishes at the city’s local restaurants, savor the country’s renowned coffee at cafés, or explore the thriving craft beer scene at local breweries. Each culinary experience tells a story about the local traditions.

 

Traditional Dishes

The food of Costa Rica is a wonderful mix of indigenous and Spanish influences, resulting in hearty and delicious dishes. The food culture here is amazing, there are many dishes you should try or go on a food tour if you don’t want to miss out on any dishes!

 

From the classic Gallo Pinto made with rice and beans, Sopa Negra – a vegetarian-friendly black bean soup to Ceviche – a fresh seafood preparation cured in citrus with fresh herbs and seasoning, traditional Costa Rican cuisine showcases the country’s culinary heritage.

 

You can taste these popular dishes at various places such as local restaurants, sodas (small family-run eateries), or at the Central Market.

 

We loved the Costa Rican food so much that we decided to go on a food tour! We were in a food comma after the tour but it was really worth it.

Our guide made us try a variety of different dishes and always explained the origins of the dish so it was interesting to learn the history of the dish. This was probably one of our favourites things to do in San Jose Costa Rica.

 

Coffee Culture

costa rica coffee

In Costa Rica, coffee is more than just a drink – it’s an integral part of the way of life. The country boasts fertile soil and ideal weather conditions for growing top-quality coffee beans, resulting in a deeply-rooted coffee culture that reflects the national identity.

 

No visit to San Jose would be complete without a coffee tour. The city is surrounded by coffee plantations, and its cafes serve some of the best coffee in the world.

 

A visit to a local café is a perfect way to experience Costa Rica’s renowned coffee culture. Going on coffee tours is also a great educational activity to understand the coffee plantation process and culture of the country.

 

Around the world, there are many different types of coffee and ways of farming and preparation, aren’t you curious about one of the leading countries in the industry?

 

And the best part? You get to support local farmers buying directly from them at the best price and premium quality.

Craft Beer Scene

While coffee may be the most famous drink in Costa Rica, for the past 10 years there has also been a Costa Rica beer factory craft scene that should not be missed. Many microbreweries have been developing in the country.

Local breweries have been gaining recognition for their diverse range of beers to satisfy every taste.

 

In San Jose, you can find an abundance of options including tropical IPA from the famous Costa Rica’s Craft Brewing Co, they have many choices available, a great place if you are looking to try a few varieties.

Shopping Experiences

Bustling stalls and vibrant atmosphere of San José's Central Market

San Jose offers a wide range of shopping options, including bustling markets, modern malls, souvenir shops, artisanal stores, and retail therapy spots.

 

With something for everyone – from traditional shoppers to those looking for unique souvenirs or handmade crafts, there is quite a lot of options to fill your days in the city.

 

Mercado Central

The vibrant Central Market is the heart of activity and provides an authentic shopping experience in Costa Rica. With a variety of stalls, each offering unique products, visitors can find everything from fresh produce to traditional herbal medicines, souvenirs to textiles.

When you shop at the busy Central Market, you feel like you’re really part of the city. You can hear sellers shouting and smell delicious food cooking. It’s like a big party for your senses that you’ll remember for a long time.

 

The Central Market has something for everyone. You get to be part of the local scene in the city and try tasty local food. It’s more than just shopping; it’s about enjoying the place and interacting with the locals.

 

Artisanal Crafts

For those on a hunt for unique and artisanal finds, San Jose’s Mercado Artesanal boasts a wide selection of handcrafted items that showcase the country’s rich cultural heritage.

 

These unique souvenirs include paintings, ceramics, textiles, and leather goods. The market is a haven for those in search of one-of-a-kind gifts.

 

Shopping at the Mercado Artesanal offers several benefits such as bringing home a piece of Costa Rica while also supporting local artisans and contributing to the economy. It helps preserve traditional craft techniques passed down through generations.

 

San Jose’s artisanal scene doesn’t end there.

 

There are many charming neighborhoods like Barrio Amón, Barrio Escalante or Feria Verde de Aranjuez, where you’ll stumble upon boutiques of handmade jewelry, original art pieces, and hammocks that are perfect for taking a piece of Costa Rica back home with you.

 

Farmer’s Markets

If you visit San Jose on a weekend, it’s the perfect opportunity to go to a farmers market. The best ones take place on the weekend. You can find very unique products that you normally wouldn’t in the city as most vendors come from outside San Jose.

 

Feria Verde de Aranjuez: This popular farmers’ market takes place every Saturday morning in the Aranjuez neighborhood. The market has a wide variety of fresh organic fruits and vegetables, artisanal cheeses, handmade crafts, and delicious street food. This market is like going on a food tour, you can try so many Costa Rican dishes here!

 

Feria del Agricultor de Zapote: Located in the Zapote district, this farmers’ market is open on both Saturdays and Sundays. You can find an abundance of tropical fruits, herbs, flowers, and locally produced honey. It’s a lively market where you can interact with farmers and learn about the diverse agriculture of Costa Rica.

 

Feria Verde de la Montaña: Located in the Montaña neighborhood, open every Saturday. The market focuses on sustainability and eco-friendly products. You’ll find organic produce, eco-friendly clothing, handmade soaps, and even yoga classes.

 

It’s a great spot for those interested in sustainable living and supporting eco-conscious businesses. We loved this market, the products were different from the other markets we just shared. A lady was selling handmade perfumes, made from flowers in the region; it smelled amazing!

market in san jose costa rica

Shopping with a cause

Want to support local projects?

 

San Jose has many organisations worth supporting for projects to help indigenous communities, women’s businesses or artisans with disabilities.

 

We listed three projects we believe you should check out:

 

  • Cooperativa de Artesanos de Sarapiquí: This cooperative, located in San Jose, showcases a wide range of handmade crafts and artwork created by indigenous communities from the Sarapiquí region. Purchasing their products helps support the livelihoods of these communities and preserves their traditional craftsmanship.

 

  • Casa de la Mujer Indígena: This organization in San Jose promotes the work of indigenous women artisans from various Costa Rican tribes. They offer beautifully crafted jewelry, textiles, and pottery, each with a story and cultural significance. Shopping here contributes to empowering indigenous women economically and culturally.

 

  • Taller de Artes Integradas: Located in the heart of San Jose, this workshop and store supports local artists with disabilities.

 

You can find unique artwork, paintings, sculptures, and handmade crafts created by these talented individuals. Purchasing from them not only supports local artists but also promotes inclusivity and social integration.

San Jose market

Modern Retail Therapy

For a modern shopping experience, make your way to the various shopping centers in San Jose such as Mall San Pedro, Multiplaza Mall, and Avenida Escaz. These malls offer an extensive range of stores, from local boutiques to international brands – ensuring a top-notch shopping adventure right at the heart of this bustling city.

 

Exploring what these retail hubs have to offer is not just limited to satisfying one’s material desires. It also allows you first-hand experiences into the vibrant lifestyle that defines life in San Jose.

 

Apart from being ideal spots for shopaholics seeking their next big purchase, grabbing a great meal or catching up with newly released movies are part of routines featured by many who frequent these places.

 

Day Trips from San Jose

Majestic view of the Poás Volcano at Poás Volcano National Park

San Jose is an awesome starting point for day trips! If you’re itching for adventure beyond the city vibes, you’re in luck because there’s a ton of nature just a hop, skip, and a jump away.

 

Picture this: you are standing at the edge of a volcano and staring into a bright blue thermal lake at Poás Volcano National Park, or wandering through the lush trails of Rio Celeste with waterfalls so big you’ll feel like you’re in a movie.

 

And if you’re dreaming of beach time, the golden sands of Manuel Antonio National Park are calling your name! Each place is totally unique and will give you epic stories to tell about Costa Rica’s crazy-beautiful landscapes.

 

Poas Volcano National Park

Bajos del Toro

Ready for a volcano adventure? Just a short trip from San Jose, you’ll find Poás Volcano National Park.

 

It’s home to one of the biggest active geysers on the planet. Picture this: a stunning blue lake and misty cloud forest all around – it’s a must-see!

 

Poás Volcano National Park isn’t just about gazing at geysers.

 

Love nature? Check. Thrill-seeker? Double-check.

 

With trails perfect for a peaceful walk or an exciting hike to see the geyser’s power up close, this park’s got you covered. No matter if you’re a pro hiker or just like to wander and take in the sights, Poás Volcano National Park promises to be one of the coolest spots you’ll visit in Costa Rica.

Rio Celeste

Best Things to do in Guanacaste Costa Rica

Picture a river so magically blue that it seems like it’s flowing straight out of a fairy tale. That’s Rio Celeste for you! This stunning spot is a real-life fantasy that you’ve got to see with your own eyes.

 

Why should you add Rio Celeste to your must-visit list? Well, for starters, the color of the water is like nothing you’ve ever seen – it’s a vibrant, sky-blue that’ll have you pinching yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming. This surreal colour is all thanks to a natural chemical reaction.

The area is also home to a beautiful waterfall, hot springs, and a peaceful hiking trails. Imagine taking a dip in warm, soothing waters right in the middle of the jungle. Sounds like paradise, doesn’t it?

 

The trail to Rio Celeste is as enchanting as the destination itself. You’ll wander through the forest, hearing birds chirping and maybe even spotting some wildlife along the way.

Rio Celeste Costa Rica: Full Guide (2024 Edition)

Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park is a must-visit for those seeking a day filled with adventure. Its pristine beaches, lush rainforests, and diverse wildlife make it a favorite for both locals and tourists. Engage in wildlife watching or relax on the stunning beaches; the park offers a multitude of activities.

 

Join a guided tour to spot monkeys, sloths, and a plethora of birds, or take a moment to soak up the sun on the park’s beaches. We loved our visit to. the park, from all the places we had been in Costa Rica, this is where we saw the most sloths!

costa rica rainforest

Nightlife and Entertainment

As the sun sets, San Jose comes to life with a vibrant and diverse nightlife scene that caters to all kinds of preferences. Whether your interests lie in live music, craft beer or dancing into the early hours, this city has something for everyone.

From jazz clubs to pubs serving up local brews like Public House Irish Pub, there are no shortage of options for entertainment. Get down on the dance floor at popular spots like Castro’s or Club Vertigo or take it easy by exploring El Pueblo – a complex filled with restaurants and various attractions perfect for an evening out. With such a wide range of choices available, there are plenty of things to do in San Jose Costa Rica.

 

Where to Stay in San José

When looking for a place to stay in San Jose, there are no shortage of options. From high-end hotels to budget-friendly hostels, there is something suitable for every traveler’s preferences and budget. With many accommodations located centrally within the city, you’ll have easy access to all the amazing attractions that San Jose has to offer.

 

For those seeking comfort and convenience near notable cultural landmarks such as Hotel Colonial or Exe San Jose Center may be perfect choices.

If affordability is your top priority without compromising on quality stays, then Costa Rica Backpackers or Gaudy’s Hostel are excellent hostel options available.

Getting Around San José

Public Transportation

San Josée’s public transportation is an affordable and efficient way to navigate the city. Buses run throughout the day, connecting various neighborhoods and points of interest. For those looking to explore beyond the city limits, regional buses provide service to nearby towns and attractions.

 

Car Rentals with Discover Cars

For travelers who prefer the freedom to explore at their own pace, renting a car is a great option. Discover Cars offers a range of vehicles to suit different needs and budgets. With a rental car, you can venture to more remote locations and enjoy the scenic routes of Costa Rica.

Taxi Services

Taxis are a convenient option for getting around San Jose, especially for those who are not familiar with the bus routes. Official taxis are red with a yellow triangle on the side, ensuring a safe and regulated service. For a more modern approach, rideshare services like Uber operate within the city, offering another safe and convenient way to travel.

 

Tips for a Safe and Enjoyable Visit

san jose costa rica

While San José is a secure destination, it’s wise to take necessary measures when traveling there for a smooth and pleasant trip. This includes being mindful of your belongings and staying aware in busy areas. By being cautious, you can ensure a worry-free stay!

 

It’s always advisable to have a photocopy of your passport with you while keeping the original document safe.

 

Avoid carrying large sums of cash or valuable items on your person, and limit travel after dark whenever possible.

 

If driving around San Jose, remember to lock all doors and windows securely at all times.

 

By following these precautions outlined above, you can rest assured that your visit to San Jose will be both safe and enjoyable.

Conclusion

There are so many things to do in San Jose Costa Rica, from culture, nature, gastronomy to entertainment, there is no room for boredom.

 

We hope this blog post helped you get inspired for your trip, let us know in the comments below the places you explored!

 

Cheers!

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is San Jose Costa Rica famous?

San Jose is a famous city in Costa Rica with lots of fun things to see and do. It’s got museums, parks, fancy hotels, theaters, and old buildings. The city sits in a valley with green hills and active volcanoes all around, making it super unique and full of nature.

 

How many days should I spend in San Jose Costa Rica?

Spending 1 or 2 days in San Jose is enough to explore the city, but extending your trip to three days will allow for a more immersive experience of its lively energy and opportunities to visit natural sights.

 

We hope you enjoy your time exploring all that San Jose has to offer!

Is San Jose worth seeing?

San Jose is without a doubt worth visiting, as it boasts a rich history spanning centuries, breathtaking hiking trails and an abundance of museums to discover.

 

What are some must-visit museums in San Jose?

The Jade Museum, Pre-Columbian Gold Museum and National Museum in San José are must-visit attractions for their extensive exhibits showcasing the city’s historical and artistic background. These museums provide a captivating insight into the cultural legacy of San José with its diverse range of artifacts.

 

You won’t want to miss out on these three institutions while exploring the city, as they offer valuable information about the city.

 

Where can I enjoy outdoor activities in San Jose Costa Rica?

La Sabana Metropolitan Park, Parque Nacional and the Butterfly Gardens are all popular destinations for those looking to participate in outdoor activities in the city. These locations provide a variety of options for recreational pursuits amidst nature’s beauty.

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Laura & Alexander

We're two full-time Belgian travellers sharing our experience through our blog. Our aim is to inspire your next travel adventure with our best tips and tricks from every country we visit.

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