How to Spend 1 or 2 Days in San Jose, Costa Rica

Last Updated: March 15, 2021

San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica, is filled with rich history and culture. Not only that, but it has a hip urban vibe and an array of restaurants and bars that you won’t find anywhere else in the country. Despite all that this buzzing metropolis has to offer, it is often overlooked by travelers because it can seem hectic and intimidating. Most arriving at the international airport pass in and out as quickly as possible, en route to the country’s beautiful beaches and tropical rainforests. We too used to be overwhelmed by the congested streets and sprawling city blocks. But after visiting more regularly, we now see the city in a new light. In this post, we share some of San Jose’s best attractions, restaurants, and hotels to make your one or two days memorable.

How to Spend 1 or 2 Days in San Jose, Costa Rica


San Jose appears to stretch in every direction with its colorful rooftops, scattered high rises, and green patches of parks. But like most cities, there are certain spots that have a concentration of attractions. In San Jose, one of those places is Avenida Central (Central Avenue). This is one of the most accessible areas of the city. Here, it is easy to walk between the plethora of museums, parks, outdoor plazas, shops, and restaurants.

In the barrios (neighborhoods) surrounding Avenida Central, you’ll find a diverse urban culture similar to what you’d find in any city in the world. A mix of business-people, hipsters, young professionals, artists, and students can be seen along the area’s busy sidewalks.

How to Spend 1 or 2 Days in San Jose, Costa Rica
An artist painting the underside of a railroad bridge. Street art is common in surrounding barrios.

Tip: When exploring downtown San Jose’s vibrant streets, be sure to bring a light jacket or sweater for early mornings and evenings. Because of San Jose’s elevation (about 3,800 feet) and the winds that blow through the valley, temperatures can feel a bit cool for the tropics (65-75˚F/18-24˚C).

Hotels in Downtown San Jose

Finding a hotel within walking distance to Avenida Central will make visiting the city’s attractions a lot more enjoyable. This way, you can leave the car behind and explore on foot without the hassles of traffic and parking. There are many hotels located right on or just a few blocks away from Avenida Central.

Hotel Aranjuez

One good option is Hotel Aranjuez. This hotel was in the ideal location for us on one of our visits to San Jose. It’s slightly outside the center of town, far enough out to be nice and quiet. But it’s still only a 10-15 minute walk to the sights. The hotel is located in a historic building with high ceilings, original wood finishes, and authentic, Costa Rican decor.

In addition to the quiet location, other things we liked were the availability of parking and huge breakfast buffet, which totally lived up to expectations.

Interestingly, Hotel Aranjuez is actually named after the barrio that it is in. This neighborhood once hosted the country’s first electric power plant. This gave San Jose the distinction of being the first city in Latin America, and just the third city in the world, to have electricity.

Hotel Aranjuez San Jose | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
Our room at Hotel Aranjuez

Gran Hotel Costa Rica

Another hotel that might appeal to history enthusiasts is the Gran Hotel Costa Rica. The Gran Hotel is an important building, dating back to the 1930s. Its construction was ordered by the Costa Rican Congress to fill the need for a first class hotel in the city.

The hotel sits right across from the National Theater along the busy Plaza de la Cultura. It has hosted diplomats and celebrities over the years. In 1963, John F. Kennedy stayed here during his visit to Costa Rica.

Recently, the Hilton chain purchased it and underwent a full renovation. During our recent stay, we really enjoyed the modern amenities alongside the historical charm. 

Gran Hotel San Jose
The historic Gran Hotel

Safety Tip: Like any city in the world, San Jose has rough areas that you’ll want to avoid. In the areas we have visited near downtown San Jose, though, we have felt very safe walking around as there are plenty of people out and about. We don’t venture out after dark too much and recommend grabbing a taxi if you feel at all uneasy. Cabs and Ubers are cheap and plentiful. For more tips, read our post Safety Tips for Your Next Trip to Costa Rica.

Attractions in Downtown San Jose


The main attraction for tourists visiting San Jose are the museums. If you only have a limited amount of time, we recommend the National Museum and Pre-Columbian Gold Museum.

What we like most about the National Museum ($11) is that you learn a little about a broad range of topics related to Costa Rica’s history. San Jose has several museums that go into great detail about very specific topics, but the National Museum gives a good taste of Costa Rica’s overall history.

Displays of pre-Columbian artifacts like stone spheres, carved sculptures, pottery remnants, jewelry made from gold and jade, and even a butterfly garden are part of the experience. For those interested in Costa Rica’s famed abolishment of the military in 1949, this museum is housed in the historic Bellavista Fort. There are exhibits explaining the fort’s significance.

National Museum - How to Spend 1 or 2 Days in San Jose, Costa Rica
A pre-Columbian stone sphere at the National Museum

The Pre-Columbian Gold Museum ($14) is a nice supplement to the National Museum and only a short ten minute walk away.

Inside the Gold Museum, you can stroll through several floors of gold artifacts created by indigenous people that date back to AD 0. Like the National Museum, displays and models of historical reenactments are set up in chronological order so it’s easy to learn about how indigenous cultures changed over time.

One thing that we really like about the Gold Museum is the video, which breaks up the exhibits nicely and gives a great overview of the history.

Pre-Columbian Gold Museum - How to Spend 1 or 2 Days in San Jose, Costa Rica
Gold artifacts displayed at the Gold Museum

Two other museums nearby are the Jade Museum, which has a massive collection of pre-Columbian jade artifacts, and the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design. Both are within walking distance to the two museums discussed above.

The National Theater 

The National Theater ($10) is another historical site that you won’t want to miss. The opulent building was constructed between 1891 and 1897, but the beautifully decorated rooms and stage are still used for performances today.

The architecture and decor of the theater is a mishmash of European influences. It includes marble sculptures as well as wall and ceiling murals from both French and Italian artists.

The Theater does free tours of the building so that you can learn about the history and see all the art work. Tours are done by a group of actors who dress up in period attire from the 1890s. They will take you around to show you some cool secrets and insights about the building that you wouldn’t have otherwise picked up on. One example is the ballroom’s mechanical floor that can be raised or lowered for events.

National Theater - How to Spend 1 or 2 Days in San Jose, Costa Rica
The beautifully decorated foyer of the National Theater

Markets and Shops

Downtown San Jose is also a great place to go shopping, especially for souvenirs.

The National Artisans Market has lots of your more typical souvenirs like T-shirts, coffee, mugs, etc., but there are also some vendors selling handmade items. This market is now in a new, more spacious location on Avenida 6 between Calle 5 and 7.

For a more authentic experience, check out Mercado Central. This sprawling Central Market has hundreds of shops, stalls, and local restaurants spread out along the many corridors. Here, you will brush shoulders with locals who come to do their shopping.

Mercado Central has almost everything you could imagine, from spices and medicinal herbs to flowers to souvenirs and rich Costa Rican coffee. Located in the heart of downtown, taking up a block on Avenida 1 and Avenida Central at Calle 6.

Mercado Central - San Jose, Costa Rica
Inside the Central Market

For one-of-a-kind souvenirs, head to Galeria Namu. This shop has an impressive assortment of fair trade handicrafts from different indigenous groups throughout Costa Rica and the rest of Latin America. We saw woven baskets from groups we had visited in Panama, painted masks from Costa Rica’s Boruca, and much more. The store is located four blocks north of the pre-Columbian Gold Museum on Avenida 7.


Something about San Jose that really impresses us are the selection of great restaurants. This brings us back to when we lived in Boston, where we could walk just a few blocks down the street and have our choice of food and drink from around the globe.

Whenever we have a special occasion to celebrate, we head to La Terrasse. This cozy French restaurant is tucked away in a quieter neighborhood (near Hotel Aranjuez) and has served us some of our most memorable meals, ever. The chef, Patricia Richer, is a master at her craft and her husband Gerald is a wonderful host. 

La Terrasse Restaurant - How to Spend 1 or 2 Days in San Jose, Costa Rica
The cheese appetizer at La Terrasse

For something more casual, Café de los Deseos, just down the street from La Terrasse, is a wonderful spot. This living-room-style pub had a chill atmosphere and several choices for local craft beer (rare in Costa Rica). Watching the young professionals grab burgers, pizza, and small plates after work made us jealous enough to come back the next night for dinner.

Stiefel Pub is another highly recommended place to find craft beer in San Jose. This is a true pub that feels like a bar. They serve their own beer and have a chalkboard full of choices from other Costa Rican brewers. 

For lunch, near the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum and National Theater, Café Rojo is a great spot. This cute restaurant is inside a typical Barrio Amon wooden house down the street from Galeria Namu (on Ave. 7 near Calle 3 and Hostel Pangea). They serve up Vietnamese-inspired food and have strong coffee served French Press-style if you’re in need of a pick-me-up.

Cafe Rojo - How to Spend 1 or 2 Days in San Jose, Costa Rica
Café Rojo


Overall, San Jose has really surprised us over the years. Although intimidating at first, the downtown is a destination in itself and shouldn’t be overlooked. From the modern museums and gourmet restaurants to the parks and outdoor spaces, San Jose offers a glimpse into urban life in Costa Rica. Most Ticos, in fact, live in the San Jose metro area so if you’re looking to explore the local culture, it’s a must. Of course, San Jose isn’t the tropical rainforest or misty cloud forest, which draws all the crowds, but if you have a day or two to explore, it’s definitely worth your time.

Last Updated: March 15, 2021

Have you visited San Jose? What did you think?

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Looking for more information to plan your trip to Costa Rica? Check out these posts:

Costa Rica Itineraries: Whether you’re planning a one-week or two-week trip, we’ve got you covered. Check out our One Week Itinerary and Two Week Itinerary to see the highlights of what Costa Rica has to offer.

Packing for Costa Rica: The Essentials – Learn how to pack for Costa Rica’s many microclimates. Also covers rainy season and travel to remote destinations like Drake Bay and Tortuguero.

Money Matters: Wondering where to exchange money? Read this post for information on currency, exchanging money, and tipping.

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  1. Thanks guys, you just reinforced my desire to visit San Jose proper. I’ll have to add that to my list.

      1. We’re leaving for the Country this week and this has some excellent, extremely helpful advice!

        The French restaurant mentioned is marked as permanently closed in Google Maps

  2. I LIKE your article about San Jose. I live in Heredia and love Costa Rica alot. MY wife is Tica. GO luck with new baby pura vida.

  3. Do you have another recommendation for a CR map? The only one I have been able to find is the Koplin waterproof map but it is sold out until Feb 2016. I will be in CR next week and need to find a good accurate map for our trip as we will be driving ourselves around. Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Lidia, that map (the Waterproof Travel Map of Costa Rica) is definitely the best one that we know of. Even though they are temporarily out of stock, it looks like you could purchase it through a third party on Amazon and hopefully get it in time. We have the Adventure Map by National Geographic, which is also popular, but it is not great. Otherwise, we’d recommend getting GPS through the rental car company or a WiFi stick (Adobe has them) and using the Waze App on your smartphone, that App works really good here. Hope this helps!

  4. Thanks for sharing! We just returned from CR but generally need an overnight in San Jose on our way in or out of Costa Rica so this is great to help maximize our time there!

  5. Thanks for the tip about cafe rojo. We went there today for lunch – we wouldn’t have found it without your info. Lunch was lovely as was the terrace out the front.

      1. Good intro article Thankyou. Would love to book the Hotel Aranjuez for 1 night next February (yes I’m one of those “plan way in advance types”) is only open to the end of December for them…..sigh….

  6. We are planning to stay in San Jose for one day/night. Our hotel is near the airport. Is it relatively easy to take the public bus to downtown San Jose and what is the typical cost?

    1. Hi Donna, The public bus is extremely cheap and you can expect to spend around $2 or less to get to downtown San Jose. How easy it is depends on where you’re staying. It’s easier if your hotel is somewhere like downtown Alajuela but not so much from other locations less centrally located. The best thing to do is ask your hotel for help when you get there. If it involves bus transfers or otherwise sounds complicated, we would recommend taking a cab for simplicity. Cabs are pretty affordable here and you’ll get there a lot faster.

      1. hello,
        my name is Oneida Garcia and I will be traveling to San Jose costa rica within the next few week. I’m from Miami, Florida and we will be staying just for 4 days so can you recommend the best places to go, the best restaurants and of course the cheaper the better…lol.
        also I was told that Costa Rica has two different beaches the pacific volcano one and the clear carbbean, what will be the beaches from the Caribbean?

        1. Hi Oneida, With 4 days, you should pick only one beach town so that you’re not traveling too much. A good option on the Pacific coast is the Jaco area, which is only 1.5 hrs from SJO airport. The main beach in Jaco is gray sand but there are some very nice beaches nearby like Playa Blanca. Many people find the beaches on the Caribbean Coast to be more beautiful. Take a look at Cahuita and Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. Follow the links we just have for detailed info on each town.

  7. If you have children the San Jose Children’s Museum is great. They have an area with huge building blocks. Trains and Planes that kids can run around in. A pretend child size super market and more. We didnt even get to see it all. My son loved it. He is two years old. Admission was only four dollars for adults and children under a certain height are free. Not sure how tall my son is, but he was free.

    1. Thanks for the info, Todd. We have heard great things about the Children’s Museum and what you said only reaffirms this – thanks! Can’t wait until our son is a little older so we can check it out.

  8. Hi guys, great article. Any bars or dance clubs in san jose you recommend Going with my wife and would like to go out for some drinks and dancing. Will be there over the weekend. p.s. we booked Hotel Aranjuez as per your recommendations.

    1. Hi Richard, We’re not the best people to ask this. When we’ve gone to San Jose, we’ve checked out more chill places like Stiefel Pub or we liked Café de los Deseos (described above), which is actually right near Hotel Aranjuez. There are definitely dance clubs and places with more going on though. Maybe ask at the hotel or Michael Miller might have some ideas- he knows a lot about San Jose. Here’s the link for his book and website. Hope you like Hotel Aranjuez!

    2. Try go to Hoxton, near San Pedro or Los Yoses, Barrio La California (east SJ Downtown) is full of bars, if you are into 80s/new wave go to Area City, You can also try El 13 (hipster-gay bar) if you are feeling risky you can try Calle de la Amargura in San Pedro downtown. If you are into electronic music consider visit Vertigo near Paseo Colón, which has the best sound system in Central America.

  9. Planning our first trip to CR in March 2017 two weeks with two – girls 17-18… So much to see – but want to relax some too. Your suggestions have been great. Just overwhelmed at this point. Booked Flights in and out of SJ but now not sure if changing to Liberia a good idea or do both airports… Accommodations, tours.. Your input would be appreciated!! Thanks L

    1. Hi Leah, San Jose airport is more centrally located, but Liberia is closer to some destinations, it really depends on the things you want to do. I would suggest figuring out which destinations you want to visit first and then figuring out the airport. Our Destinations Summary Guide is a good starting place or our Two Week Itinerary. We also offer trip planning help if you want more customized assistance. There’s more info about our services on our Itinerary Help page. Costa Rica has so many choices, we know it can be overwhelming. Good luck with the planning and let us know if you want any help!

  10. Any advice on what to do with luggage if you are just exploring for the day? We are catching a red eye out, but would love to wander around sans suitcases for the day.

    1. Hi Lisa, That is tough if you’re not staying overnight near by, then of course you could ask your hotel to hold your bags for you. Some of the parking lots in downtown are guarded but it is still a risk. Wish we had a better answer!

  11. Hello! I stumbled across your site and have a question about not only public transportation in SJ, but most of the country. The bus routes online seem a bit hard to navigate and I cannot find any maps (they are all tables). I wanted to take a longer, more chill route through central Costa Rica. Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Erin, We don’t know of any site that has the bus routes mapped out. But this site is in an easier format to understand and is accurate. You really have to have your route already planned out to use it so it would work for getting around San Jose but not so much for figuring out where to go in country. You might want to search other blogs for suggested itineraries for travel through Central America to narrow your search. Some places in Costa Rica that are more easily accessible by bus from San Jose are Jaco, Manuel Antonio, Uvita, Montezuma, and Puerto Viejo and Cahuita on the Caribbean Coast.

      1. Oh-oh-I got a 404 Site Not Found error when I tried to click through to the bus schedule.
        I will be bussing down from Nicaragua then onto Panama, with a few sidetrips thrown in for good measure.
        Any recommended (or not recommended) bus companies? I am not looking for fancy, I often end up on chicken busses. Sometimes even with someone else’s kid on my lap.
        Loving your blog btw-lots of great info. 🙂

        1. Hi Leslie, The link ( worked for us. Maybe they were doing site maintenance?

          All of the bus companies in Costa Rica should be fine, we have never had any problems. Usually, one company is assigned to a route so you don’t have much choice anyway, unless you can find another route that works. We know Tracopa runs south to the Panama border and they are reliable and have direct options that don’t stop as much. Tica Bus is the fastest but they connect only capitals and don’t stop often for your side trips.

  12. taxis are great but i recommend uber as i have been ripped a couple of times by cars but uber is all prepaid and easy.

          1. Hi Kaamil, If you are under contract, your carrier (AT&T) would have to agree to unlock your phone. Most will not. It’s easier to buy a cheap unlocked phone for your trip or just get an international plan from your current carrier.

  13. Hello,
    I just booked my flight to Costa Rica! I have never been and will be traveling with my two children (11 and 15). Because of our early departure time on the return flight, I am now going to stay in San Jose for 2-3 nights. I hadn’t considered it before but am warming up to the idea especially after reading the information you provided. How is navigating San Jose when you don’t speak Spanish? My boys and I are going to start watching youtube videos to help us with basics between now and our vacation in July, but our Spanish will be very very basic.

    1. Hi Dalila, A lot of people in Costa Rica, including San Jose, speak English so don’t worry, you will be fine. And even if you get a cab driver or someone who doesn’t, they are used to communicating with tourists. Most visitors come with little to no knowledge of Spanish, but it’s great that you want to learn some! The locals always appreciated our bad Spanish when we visited the country as tourists. You Tube will help and print out this guide we wrote of basic Spanish phrases to bring with you. Hope you and your kids enjoy the city!

      1. Thank you so much! That is reassuring. As a Californian, I always feel self-conscious that my Spanish is not better anyway so our trip will help provide more motivation to learn.

  14. This is awesome! I just found out that I will be able to go to CR in 2 days and this is a wealth of information. I am very appreciative!

  15. Hi,
    Booked a flight from 3/23 to 3/28/2017; seems on; it shows that rain will be all week, recommend any activities?

    1. Hi Joe, You should read our Weather post. The extended forecast is never right for Costa Rica so don’t worry about that. It’s the middle of the dry season everywhere except the Caribbean slope so most of the country is seeing little to no rain. Our Weather post has data where you can really see what we mean.

  16. Hey guys!
    Thanks for all the info. My husband and I are planning a trip in July and staying for 3 nights. Are there any excursion our of San Jose?
    We wanted to do a zip lining and a tropical forest trip. Do you recommend booking ahead of time through a excursion sites or waiting till we get there?
    We Found air bnb by the university; is it a safe area? Close to downtown?
    Thank you again for all the info!

    1. Hi Ania, July is the low season so you probably don’t need to arrange tours much in advance unless you want to. When you’re ready to book, we do know of a really good zip line tour not far from San José that takes you into the rainforest. Just respond to this thread if you would like help with the booking. We had a client go out on this tour recently and they loved it. Hope you and your husband have a great trip!

      If the Airbnb is in San Pedro, yes, that is a good area and it’s fairly close to downtown.

      1. Thank you for all the info.
        We would love to get the contact information to that tour, and also prices if available
        As far as accommodation, We are also considering the hotel you guys recomenfed. Would the tour be able to pick us up from the hotel? We are not planning on renting a car.
        Thank you Again.

        1. We are traveling now, but can send you the info about the tour when we are back in the office next week. And, yes, they can provide transportation from San Jose.

          1. I would like the same information please. We will be travelling to San Jose in March 2018 and would like to zipline through the rainforest.
            Your blog has provided a wealth of information and I really appreciate it.

  17. Thanks for the concise and informative piece on San Jose. My gf and I are coming down in the fall to stay for 4 or 5 days at Finca Bellavista – a self sustaining tree house community in the south pacific costal region of Costa Rica. We are flying in and out of San Jose and will probably stay a day or two on the front or back end of out trip. It should prove to be a nice contrast with sleeping in the rainforest! Your article is a great starting point to decide how we spend out time in the city. Thanks so much!

    1. You’re welcome, Charles. We have visited Finca Bellavista before and it is a very interesting place. We think you’ll like it. Hope you and your girlfriend have a great trip!

  18. Wondering what the rough price of an uber from airport to downtown would be? Is this a good option ? I’m exploring how to get there by bus but having a hard time figuring
    It out … Thanks! Kelly

    1. Hi Kelly, We haven’t used Uber ourselves in San Jose, but from what we’ve heard from people who live there, it’s cheaper than a regular taxi. So definitely a good option and much easier than figuring out the bus. It is quite a distance from the airport to downtown and there is usually traffic so be prepared to spend some money. When we have taken a taxi this route before, it was around $30.

  19. Thanks for the great website. My friend and I have three days in San Jose in between two organised tours. We would love to see Quetzal National Park and Hacienda Wildlife Sanctuary. Is it possible to take a public bus to Quetzal, then Hacienda and back to San Jose in his time frame. Would we be better getting a hire car? Thank you.

    1. Hi Sharon, If you wanted to take the public bus, you could probably do one of those places with three days but not both. There is a bus from San Jose to Los Quetzales National Park and you could stay at one of the simple lodges up on the highway (not possible as a day trip without a car). This bus continues on to the Dominical/Hacienda Baru area. If you hired a driver or rented a car, you would have a lot more flexibility and could probably do both places if you wanted to. With only three days, though, you still might be better off just picking one and enjoying your time there since it is a somewhat long drive.

  20. Forget the GPS from the car rentals. There are plenty of free GPS apps you can use to navigate the country and you don’t even have to worry about signal because you can navigate offline.

  21. Hello, thanks in advance for the advice. We are travelling to CR for a week in mid September. We like to explore, will have a car, and enjoy walking around the towns, etc. Can you recommend different towns/areas in the country and the number of days to stay in each?

    1. Hi Bill, In September, it is the rainy season on the Pacific slope so many towns are receiving quite a bit of rain at this time. The Caribbean side has different weather, though, and is usually very nice this time of year. So maybe check out Cahuita or Puerto Viejo de Talamanca on the Caribbean. Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui, the Poas Volcano area, or the popular La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano area would pair well with the Caribbean coast in one week. Follow the links for more detailed information.

      1. Thanks for your information. My last question – is it too noisy to stay in Puerto Viejo. We like staying walking distance to the restaurants & bars, but don’t want a noisy place to stay. Thank you!

        1. The downtown is fairly noisy, but there are some places on quieter side streets like Hotel Boutique Indalo. Playa Cocles is the neighborhood right outside downtown Puerto Viejo. It’s a lot quieter but not too far from the restaurant/bars- a 5 min. drive or 10 min. bike ride.

  22. I was just checking out San Jose Hotels for the trip I have planned in the fall. This was posted in a forum on another site that the Gran Hotel in San Jose is closed. The party had stayed there before and checked late April ’17 dates and stated it is closed.

    1. Hi Kirk, Thanks for the heads up. We just looked into this and it appears that the hotel has been bought by the Hilton. They’re doing renovations and are expected to reopen in September. Will be interesting to see how the remodel goes. Hopefully they will preserve all of the historical aspects.

  23. I am planning a 2 night trip to CR. Since we will be flying into San Jose I would think staying in that area makes sense. However, in addition to exploring the city I am very interested in some type of outdoor adventure, ie zip lining, water rafting, waterfalls. Is there anything close by or any easy to access transportation that we can take?

    1. Hi Daisy, Outdoor activities can be easily arranged out of San Jose. A lot of times they include transport to and from your hotel in San Jose. Some of the options are zip lining, whitewater rafting on the Pacuare River or Sarapiqui River, La Paz Waterfall Gardens, and coffee tours. Braulio Carrillo National Park also isn’t too far for hiking.

  24. Hello! I’m happy I stumbled across your blog because we are planning a trip to CR in about two weeks! We are spending a little time in Nicaragua (Granada) at the beginning of our trip, and then we’re flying into SJO. From there, we’re thinking about taking a directo bus to Manual Antonio and enjoying the hiking/beaches there. We will only have 4 full days in CR before we have to move on, and I’ve been reading about La Fortuna and the Arenal Volcano, so I wanted to ask you, with only 4 days, would you recommend going to Arenal Volcano or M/Antonio if you could only pick one place to visit? Thanks!

    1. Both places are great but if I had to pick one, I’d go with Manuel Antonio because of its beautiful beaches. You can still do adventure activities, hiking, and experience the rainforest in MA too. And if you’ll already be spending time inland in Grenada, it would be nice to see the coast. The bus ride to MA from San José is a lot better as well. We have taken the direct bus from San José to La Fortuna and it took a good chunk of the day.

  25. Hi. Great website! Gf and I will be traveling mid September for 10 days arriving SJO at 300pm and departing LIR. Debating if we should stay near the airport or San Jose. Plan is to wake up and head to La Fortuna so the only exploring we’d do would be a walk and dinner. Thanks.

    1. Hi Nyle, We would stay near the airport since you won’t have much time (see our recommendations for hotels near SJO here). San Jose is a good drive away and will put you in the wrong direction for leaving for La Fortuna the next day. You could stay in downtown Alajuela if you wanted to do some exploring. This is still really close to the airport and is a cute city with some attractions.

  26. You may be able to moderately entertain yourself for a day here and leave with a fond experience. Nearly the entire city is filthy and full of beggars and criminals. Unless you absolutely have to stay in this city due to business it is highly recommended that you skip it. Fair warning, it would be nearly impossible not to notice the drugs, prostitutes, beggars, thiefs, and low lifes. Please stay in the city for a week prior to disagreeing. I have traveled extensively around the globe, so yes, I am pretty confident that I am not just being spoiled or arrogant.

  27. Any recommendations for shuttle companies to get us from airport to Jaco and then a day trip to and from Jaco to Toucan Ranch and a return trip to airport. Would like to use a shared shuttle to keep costs down but will use a private shuttle if not. There are 3 adults coming March 24-31.


  28. Great site! This will be my second trip and my husband’s first. We will be travelling to San Jose at the end of January and will have to stick fairly close to the city for appointments- therefore only have time for a couple day trips. I’m a photographer and wondering if you have recommendations on can’t miss spots to photograph? Both natural and urban settings beyond the usual big spots? Thanks in advance! I hope to convince my husband to also move there, haha!

    1. Hi Emily, You could check out Braulio Carrillo National Park for some nature images. This park isn’t too popular but has thick, beautiful rainforest and some interesting features like a river that carries volcanic minerals. Be sure to bring a dry bag for your camera because it rains a lot here. Not sure about urban settings. This might be more something you stumble upon when you get there if you want out of the norm. The Central Market is well known but is a cool place to capture the culture and see the locals out and about doing their shopping. Do some Googling to see if there are any festivals or holidays when you will be there as well (fiestas, desfiles, or feriados).

  29. I see that you stayed in Hotel Aranjuez. We are booked there, but upon double checking, I believe our room is actually in the apartment building rather than in one of the 5 houses (not what we wanted, but probably too late to change as they are booked solid during the time we need). Do you have any experience with or opinion on the apartments?

  30. Hi Jenn & Matt, I have to say I read your entire blog, it was interesting with informative information and probably the primary reason for reading it was I am also from Boston, and this will be my second trip to CR.

    I am actually considering (planning) to move here and would like to keep in touch when I do. Thank you again, and will be in touch.

    Kind Regards,


  31. Hi,
    We are going to San Hose and then heading to Uvita. Will spend 3 nights in San Hose. Can you recommend any good places for breakfast? We are staying downtown, Calle 17, Case Corte. Also do you recommend we take American dollars or Colones? Thanks! Shahina

    1. Hi Shahina, We have never had to deal with breakfast when in San Jose since it is almost always included at hotels. Most of the places we know near where you will be aren’t open until lunch but one good option is Cafe Miel. Check that out and I’m sure you will be able to find some other spots when you get there because you’ll be in the heart of the city.

      For currency, colones are better so that you don’t have to worry about getting the correct exchange rate. You can read our Money Matters post for more information.

  32. Hi, I’m traveling alone to San Jose tomorrow for some dental work. Thanks for the suggestions, I’m def gonna check out the museums and the awesome french restaurant u mentioned!

  33. We will be in San Jose for 3 days, 2 nights soon, probably without a car. Any day trip recommendations? We’ve done La Fortuna, Arenal, MA, Jaco already…

    1. Hi Angela, For tours that include transportation, you could do a coffee tour at Cafe Britt or Doka Estate. A lot of people like the catamaran cruise out to Tortuga Island as well. There’s also an adventure park near Braulio Carrillo (super lush rainforest) that has zip lining. We could help you book these tours if there’s still time before your trip, just let us know and we can email you with more information.

    1. Hi Jon, If you want to take the public bus, there’s a direct one from San Jose to Manuel Antonio. For shuttles, your options are shared and private. Shared shuttles are cheaper (around $50 pp) but run on a set schedule and stop to let other passengers on and off. Private shuttles are more expensive (around $200 total) but will pick you up whenever you want and provide direct service to your hotel. We can help you book either shuttle, just let know which you’re interested in and we can send more info by email.

  34. Thanks for all your info. Can you help a family from Boston looking for a day activity near San Jose. We arrive at 10:30am and are looking for an activity for the day before we head north the following day. Is it too far to try and do a trip to Jaco? How is Parque NAcional Braulio Carrillo? Gracias!

  35. Hi , i was looking all over the web for places to stay in San Jose. I was a bit frustrated until i came across your page, it cut straight to the point and now i feel good about the trip. So i will be traveling to San Jose and then to Jaco beach, what would be the ideal travel method to reach Jaco? Any help will be highly appreciated.



    1. Hi Rohit, We’re very glad to hear that our website has been helpful with your planning! To get from San Jose to Jaco, you have a couple of options. You could rent a car (see our discount through Adobe Rent a Car) or take a shuttle. A car is nice to have because it gives you the freedom to stop and go as you please, but one isn’t necessary if you’re staying near the main area of Jaco where many amenities and things to do are within walking distance. For shuttles, you have two options- shared, which are more affordable, run on set schedules, and take longer because they make stops for other passengers, or private shuttles. Private shuttles will pick you up at whatever time you choose, are for only your group, and include some time to stop along the way to see a quick attraction (e.g. Tarcoles River Bridge), get a snack, etc. Shared shuttles are around $45 per adult for this trip and private is around $145 for up to 5 people. If you would like help reserving transportation, just reply to this thread and we can send you an email with more information. Thanks!

  36. I absolutely enjoyed reading your blog! Extremely informative. Our itinerary in August has us staying in Villa Cieba with an overnight in San Jose. What’s your recommendation on transportation from the Airport to our hotel in downtown San Jose? Would you suggest renting a car? Thanks in advance for your insight!

    1. Hi Melissa, Check first to see if your hotel has a shuttle. The ones in Alajuela and San Jose often do. Yes, renting a car is a great option and will give you a lot of flexibility to explore the Manuel Antonio area. Be sure to check out our Rental Car Discount if you do. If you’d rather not drive, shuttles are a good alternative. Here’s a link to our post about taking shuttles in Costa Rica.

  37. Thanks for all the information in your blog. I am going for work to Costa Rica but taking my family with me (husband and 2 kids 6 and 8 years old) so this has been very useful. What would you suggest to do with kids this age in San Jose? I will be working there for two days so I’m making a list of things my husband and kids can do meanwhile. Thanks!

    1. Hi Cora, Here are some ideas for things to do with your kids: Children’s Museum in downtown San Jose, Zoo Ave, Toucan Rescue Ranch, and La Paz Waterfall Gardens (farther away but worth a visit). Hope that helps!

  38. Hi Jenn

    I love reading your blog/website! We are a family of 4 travelling to Costa Rica from South Africa by the end of February for one month. My husband will be there for work. Our kids are 9 months and 4 years old. We are looking at accommodation in San Jose for two/three nights that will be child friendly. An apartment hotel might be a better option for us but would like to hear your thoughts on staying with kids in the city. It will be a very long travel so we are looking for something comfortable so the kids can adjust a little and enjoy the adventure during the day. Do you have any recommendations?

    1. Hi Charne, We love staying in downtown San Jose with the kids. I’d recommend something centrally located so that it’s easy to walk around. We love the Gran Hotel. It’s super nice but also kid friendly and is right in the main area of downtown. Another more affordable option nearby is Hotel Presidente.

  39. Hi Jenn,

    We are thinking of visiting San Jose this weekend. Are the markets and restaurants open? Are tours operating? With covid restrictions, I was wondering what the vibe is?
    Thank you

  40. Does the Gran Hotel offer a free shuttle from the airport to the hotel? I cant find any info on the hilton website

    1. Hi Dan, No, the Gran Hotel does not have a free airport shuttle. Most hotels in downtown San Jose don’t include a shuttle because they are a little farther from the airport. The airport is actually in the city of Alajuela, not San Jose. Downtown San Jose is about 20 min. to the airport or a little more with traffic. If you’d like help arranging a shuttle, we can book private shuttles. Here’s the link to our page with the transfer from downtown San Jose to the airport.

  41. Loved your information for San Jose. We are comin got Costa Rica for jan, Feb, and March of 2023. Our last 5 days are in San Jose. We had been told to fly in and get out. Very excited to do some exploring.

  42. Hi! We will be visiting Costa Rica, arriving to SJO at 11:30pm, then departing 10 days later at 5am. Can you please recommend the most convenient airport hotel? Also, I’ve read that you can have rental cars delivered and picked up straight from a hotel. Do you know when rantal car companies offer this service? Thank you!

  43. Thank you so much! This is very helpful. I am also curious about your opinion in the hotly debated question: Guanacaste or Manuel Antonio? We are doing 5 nights in Arenal/Monteverde, and have three nights for the beach. We are traveling to CR in February. I will have two kids (9 and 12), so I imagine we’ll be most focused at that point on beach fun… I so appreciate your help! Your blog has been invaluable in my planning.

    1. Hi Sarah, The main difference is that Guanacaste will be extremely hot and dry in February, while Manuel Antonio will be more lush and green. The beaches in Guanacaste have more calmer covers for swimming. Manuel Antonio has some beaches nearby with calm water but the main beach has waves. There’s not much to do in Guanacaste aside from the beach and water activities, whereas Manuel Antonio has a ton of tour options. It is also amazing for wildlife viewing. Hope that helps!

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