San Isidro de El General

Filling a wide valley in the peaceful mountains of Costa Rica’s Southern Zone is San Isidro de El General. This small city is bursting with local culture and has an ideal location just an hour from the beach and only minutes from Costa Rica’s tallest mountain, Cerro Chirripo. Although it’s not really on any tourist map, San Isidro de El General has attracted many expats over the years with its moderate temperatures, beautiful landscapes, and convenience to shops and services.

We have lived a short drive from San Isidro for a while now. Only recently, after making dozens of doctors’ visits there (read: Having a Baby in Costa Rica), have we gotten to explore what this charming city has to offer. In this post, we’ll share some of our favorite parts.

 

San Isidro del General | Two Weeks in Costa Rica

Location

San Isidro de El General is located about 80 miles (130 km) south-southeast of Costa Rica’s capital city of San Jose, right on the Inter-Americana Highway. It lies within the canton of Perez Zeledon, and some people use that as a nickname, calling the city Perez Zeledon or simply Perez. Driving west from San Isidro de El General, you can reach the Pacific Coast town of Dominical in just under an hour or the popular beach town of Manuel Antonio in about two hours. The city is backed by the verdant green Talamanca Mountains, and Costa Rica’s highest peak, Mt. Chirripo, is only a short 25 minute drive away.

The Charm of San Isidro de El General

Like most Costa Rican cities, San Isidro de El General is centered on a square that has a nicely landscaped park and large church. For blocks around this town center, there are shops, restaurants, simple hotels, and just about any type of business you can imagine or need. Candy shops, clothing stores, stationary stores, farm supplies and hardware stores, thrift stores, mechanics, computer repair, dentists, and lawyers are spread out all around town. There is even a McDonalds and Pizza Hut, and a few minutes down the road, a small mall and movie theater.

 

San Isidro del General | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
A typical street in San Isidro de El General, filled with shops.

 

The roads and avenues near the city center are organized loosely into different districts. One area with an abundance of shoe stores, another with multiple banks, and a whole section near the public hospital with different medical specialists and pharmacies. The farther you get from San Isidro center, the more residential the streets become. Homes are modest, usually only one story, but many have lovely gardens and terraces.

What we like most about San Isidro is that it serves as one central location for all the smaller communities in the area. A huge bus station and the Inter-Americana Highway bring people in from even the smallest villages and towns to do business, run errands, or meet up with family and friends. For this reason, city life here is a lot less rushed and everyone is generally very friendly and helpful, more the feeling you get while in the countryside.

 

San Isidro del General | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
Buses coming into town.

Things to Do

Aside from shopping or running errands downtown, there are some unique things to do in or near San Isidro de El General.

Farmers Market: Known locally as the feria, the San Isidro farmers market is the biggest farmers market in the Southern Zone with over 200 vendors selling every kind of fruit and vegetable you can imagine. There are also booths with crafts, meats, fish, homemade breads, jams, and cheeses. You can even buy seedlings, plants, and flowers. The market is held all day Thursdays and until about mid-day Fridays every week. It’s under a gigantic roof so happens rain or shine.

Located at Avenida 6 at Calle 5. Find the school behind the Mega Super grocery store and the feria building is behind that. Parking is available.

 

San Isidro del General Farmers Market | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
A look inside the feria.

 

Chirripo National Park: Standing at a whopping 12,533 feet (3,820 meters), Cerro Chirripo is Costa Rica’s tallest mountain. The hike to the top takes you along a steep 10 mile (16 km) trail and is best done in two days with an overnight rest at a ranger station. On clear days it is possible to see both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea from the summit. This challenging hike is still on our bucket list, but we hope to do it soon!

Cloudbridge Nature Reserve: One of our favorite places to hike in the San Isidro area is Cloudbridge Nature Reserve. This 700 acre (283 hectare) reserve has some rugged trails that lead through beautiful gardens, past gushing waterfalls, and into the thick forest around the base of Mt. Chirripo. The peaceful setting makes a nice day trip and there are lots of amazing birds and animals thanks to its remoteness and lack of foot traffic.

 

San Isidro del General | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
Cloudbridge Nature Reserve

 

Nauyaca Waterfalls: Located on the road to Dominical, about 30 minutes from San Isidro, is one of the country’s most spectacular waterfalls. The two-tiered Nauyaca drops a total of 200 feet (61 meters) and the lower falls have a beautiful pool for swimming. Read our post Visiting the Beautiful Nauyaca Waterfalls for more info.

Los Cusingos Bird Sanctuary: The former home to one of the world’s best known ornithologists, Dr. Alexander Skutch, Los Cusingos is a special place if you are a birder. This 192 acre (78 hectare) reserve has a network of trails that go around the home and property of the late Skutch. Much of the land is tropical forest and the trails are easy to traverse. Besides spotting lots of bird species, you can also see some ancient petroglyphs (carved rocks) on one of the trails. To plan your visit, read our post Los Cusingos Bird Sanctuary: A Living Memorial for a Famous Naturalist.

For more activities within a short drive of San Isidro de El General, see our post 7 Things to Do in Dominical.

Restaurants

Walking around San Isidro de El General, it seems there is a restaurant on each corner and down every side street. We’ll probably never get to try them all but here are some that we have enjoyed.   

La Reina del Valley: The Queen of the Valley. This restaurant overlooking the central park serves up typical food for a great price. It has two stories so you can watch the happenings of town from above too. Go for hearty dishes like gallo pinto (rice and beans with eggs) for breakfast or casados (beef, chicken, or fish with rice and beans and side salads) for lunch.

Urban Farm Cafe: This tiny cafe on the road leading out of town towards Dominical focuses on fresh healthy meals made from local ingredients. They even have lettuce growing inside under their menu board. We’ve tried several of their wraps, salads, and the Mexican bowl, and loved everything. The innovative smoothies are great too.

Pizzeria Stella D’Italia: Good pizza is hard to find in Costa Rica, and we can honestly say that Stella D’Italia has the best we’ve ever tasted here. Marco, the Italian owner, is a passionate chef who uses all the best ingredients. Our favorite is the ricotta pizza. A big thanks to Casey from A Dull Roar for recommending this gem on his blog. Located on Calle 4 near Avienda 1.

 

San Isidro del General | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
One of Marco’s masterpieces!

 

Cafetería Delicias: This chill coffee shop and restaurant is a great place for breakfast, lunch, or just a tasty snack. It is also located next to the central park so a good place to sip your java, use the Wi-Fi, and watch the people go by. Also a popular expat hangout.

Mi Casita: Another good option for local food like casados, soups, and rice dishes. This small restaurant has locally crafted wooden tables and accents all around. Calle 3 at Avenida 4.

Ricar2: About 10 minutes outside town on the beach road going to Dominical, this restaurant has a stunning view overlooking the valley and San Isidro. Although you might not expect it from the modest exterior, the food here is high quality at an affordable price. The barbeque pork and homemade ravioli dishes hooked us and we’ve been back several times.

  

San Isidro del General | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
The view from Ricar2.

 

KapiBlu: KapiBlu is a modern-looking cafe with a big menu. They serve savory sandwiches, burritos, pastas, soups, and snacks like nachos but put a healthy and local touch on everything. The coffee, fresh fruit drinks, and sweets (even cupcakes) are also delicious. Located near the INS building on Calle 1 across from Super Pan.

 

San Isidro de El General might not be on any tourist map just yet, but this charming city is one you should definitely check out if you are looking to explore Costa Rica’s local culture. It’s also a great place to add to your itinerary if you are searching for that perfect place to retire. Each time we leave, we always seem to comment on what a great day we had. Maybe it’s the convenience of all the shops or the friendly people we bump into on the streets, but we always look forward to going back.

 

Have you ever been to San Isidro de El General? Let us know you favorite part in the comments below. (Email subscribers, click here to comment online.)

 

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53 Comments

  1. Awesome post! We’re living in Quebradas now and absolutely love both our small town and being ten minutes from San Isidro. All of your recommendations are some of our favorite places to go. Let us know next time you’re in town – we would love to meet up!! (P.S. – congrats on the newest member of two weeks in Costa Rica – such a sweetheart!!)

  2. We enjoy your posts tremendously, especially now that you’re located close to us. We only spend two months a year in our finca but we love the area. It is about 5 miles north of San Isidro on the inter-American highway. We love the climate, we love our pool, and we love knowing that this area is being discovered. We will be coming down on January 1 for a month and we are going to try to find you, but we know there’s a baby either on the way or already present and that is a big adventure for you

    1. Hi Pat, That sounds like a really nice spot. The mountains around San Isidro are gorgeous. We did just have a baby in early January but would love to meet up while you’re here if we can swing it. Let us know when you’re around.

  3. We rented a little house here for a month a few years ago. Now that we are looking for property in CR, proximity to San Isidro is definitely one of our considerations. Hotel Diamente is one of the few affordable places we found in the country where the rooms have a bathtub and there are some times when that’s what a girl needs!

    1. Hi Alexis, San Isidro is a great area and if we ever decided to live farther from the beach, it would be at the top of our list. That’s exciting that you’re looking for property here. Let us know where you end up settling. Pura vida!

  4. Hey Guys,

    The correct name of our town is San Isidro de El General, referring to
    the Valley El General. Common mistake, it seems.

  5. Hi! my name is Ovidiu and I will come in Costa Rica in April. I rented a small house in San Rafael Norte, can you tell me more about this location? Thank You.

    1. Our friend, Jan Hart, lives in San Rafael Norte. She is a gifted and accomplished water color artist and an all around lovely person. Be sure to look her up while you’re there.

    1. Hi Gerry,
      Not sure about an orchestra but there is a symphony music school called Escuela de Musica Sinfonica that does performances. You can check out their website here. If you are into soccer at all, there is also a semi-pro team that plays at the local stadium. Games are a fun cultural experience and tickets are not very expensive. There are also many fairs and festivals held throughout the year, including bull riding and a big Christmas festival. Hope that gives you some ideas.

  6. I’m a expat from US, and retired 3 years ago to San Isidro Del General. It’s been a wonderful life, living in a quite, comfortable and beautiful city.
    Many options for housing, medical needs, transportation, shopping, and eating out.

    1. Glad to hear you have been enjoying San Isidro, Bruce. It seems like most expats looking for a more temperate climate head to the Central Valley, but we think San Isidro has a lot to offer too.

    1. Hi Sheryl, We don’t know too much about rentals around San Isidro, but you could check out this real estate website. They have listings throughout Perez Zeledon so might have some in San Rafael Norte. For hotels, there are some simple ones in town. We’ve stayed at Hotel Chirripo right on the park and enjoyed it.

    1. Hi Frank, San Isidro and Grecia both get a good amount of rain. Here is a link to the National Meterological Institute website with a lot of data on historical trends.

      Not exactly sure about land prices but this real estate website for the area might give you a sense. The best deals are always found by word of mouth but that will give you a place to start. They do have listings for land/farms. Good luck!

  7. Hi Jenn and Matt,

    We live in Chicago with our two month old son, and are starting to dread what is supposed to be a miserable winter (he loves our daily walks in the stroller). It seems like San Isidro might be a good place to escape during January/February, but have never been there, so wanted to get your opinion. Here is our thinking:

    -It looks like there is not too much rain during those months.
    – The city looks “manageable” (easy to walk/drive, sit at an outdoor patio with the baby in a stroller, etc.)
    – Looks like there are plenty of family oriented things to do (hikes, shops, etc.)
    – Sounds like we could find a place to stay at a relatively reasonable price.

    Are we on target here? Also, two other questions:
    – How is the medical care in the area, should he get sick. (Based on your posts, it seems like health care in CR is pretty good in general, but am curious about San Isidro specifically)
    – How is internet access (for purposes of working remotely)?

    Any other thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks so much!

    1. Hi A.R., San Isidro is a wonderful place for a young family! We bring our 1 year old, Samuel, there all the time. He was actually born there too. Here are some thoughts on your questions:

      – Yes, Jan./Feb. is dry season so there won’t be very much rain. San Isidro has a nice climate, it’s not too hot because it’s in the mountains. Downtown in the valley is warmest and it’s cooler in the surrounding mountains.
      – City is small and very walkable/baby friendly. The culture loves babies! You should read our Traveling with a Baby in Costa Rica post if you haven’t already.
      – Yes, city is family-friendly. You are also close to the beach and more activities on the coast too (Dominical is about 1 hr).
      – Rent is very affordable and a lot cheaper than along the coast.
      – Medical care is pretty good in the city. The Labrador is a good, but very small, private hospital. The public hospital and clinics are available too and I think (but am not sure) that all children can access public healthcare even if they are not residents or citizens. Usually staff and most doctors only speak Spanish, though. We tried to find an English-speaking pediatrician there but didn’t have any luck and bring our son to San Jose. That’s where you will probably want to go for anything major because that’s where the best hospitals are. For minor things, though, San Isidro should work as long as you speak some Spanish.
      – Cable internet is available in San Isidro but always check with the specific rental you’re looking at because coverage varies. Cable is the fastest option.

      Sounds like an awesome adventure and we totally understand wanting to escape winter. We’re originally from Boston and don’t miss winter one bit. Good luck with your plans!

  8. Hi again Matt and Jen and Sam,

    If you update this post, there is a new restaurant worthy of mention, which is Candombe in San Rafael Norte, just 50m north of Km post 130. It is owned by an ex-footballer from Uruguay. The pizza is different than Stella’d’Italia but excellent in its own way and especially in comparison to the standard Tico pizza. They also have a grill (and Uruguayans like their Argentinian neighbors ALL have parillas) but I haven’t tried those dishes yet.

    1. Hi Casey, Nice to hear from you and thanks for the tip! We are always looking to try a new restaurant in San Isidro, especially if it involves pizza. Hope you are doing well…seems as if the dry season is finally here. We are enjoying getting to see sunset again. Bet you are too!

  9. Hello Jen and Mat, we are in Costa Rica for 2 months, we rented an apt close to downtown about 20 min, walk but it’s too hot some days to walk all the way downtown.
    Do you know the city bus schedule or where to find it.
    We want to go to Calle 2 avenido 3 and don’t know where to stop close to that destination. I know the bus come every hour and it comes right on our street.

    We’d like to know where the bus stop close to those street/avenue

    1. Hi Carmen, We don’t know of anywhere online with the local bus schedule for San Isidro but they do have it posted at the bus stations in downtown so we have taken pictures of them there. The address you have is right in the center of downtown near the park so just get dropped off there. Then you can walk to the bus station (there’s one a few blocks from the park going towards BCR bank and Musoc is on the other side of town). Both are on Google Maps. Some streets in downtown are marked with street signs too.

  10. Thanks for the info. I am looking for a few items in San Isidro and am new to CR so I don’t know where to look. I want a hammock, a house plant and pot and a kitchen strainer. Any directions you could give would be great. I am taking the bus in and would likely walk but can take a taxi if I have to. Thanks!

    1. Hi Amy, Downtown San Isidro has so many stores. The best thing to do is just spend a few hours checking out the different places. Off the top of my head, Mundo Mágico right on the park has a good mix of stuff, including kitchen items. Not sure what the quality would be for a pot, we have yet to find nice cookware outside of San Jose. They’ll have basic stuff though and a strainer. I think the Central Market behind the bus station might have a florist that sells a few plants, or there is a full nursery on the road going out of town towards Dominical before the Mayca. There’s also a smaller garden shop closer to the center of town, I think it’s near KapiBlu cafe. Hope you get settled in soon!

  11. We are driving from Turrialba to Dominical on a Friday in June and are looking for a quick stop along the way. The farmer’s market looks like fun, but we probably won’t get to the area until noon or a little after. Do you think the market will still be open then? We’ll have luggage in our car too. Is it not safe to leave luggage in our car in this area?

    I’m also looking for a lunch stop. I like the sound of Ricar2 (and the views) but I can’t find a menu. We have picky tween/teens with us. Can you give me a better idea of the food choices that US kids might like or suggest another lunch stop?

    Thanks! Your website is so amazing and helpful!

    1. Hi Katie, We have only gone to the farmers market on Thursdays to be honest with you so I’m not sure. I think if you got there at noon, it would still be happening, but that some vendors might have left already or be packing up. There are a ton of vendors, though. For parking, the lot is semi-guarded. I think it would be fine to leave your bags. Just bring all your valuables, passports, etc. with you in a backpack. The lot is right next to the market so you can keep an eye on the car too.

      Ricar2 has typical Costa Rican food, but also hamburgers and things like homemade cheese ravioli and chicken cordon blue. I’m sure there are other things that picky eaters would like too; it has a big menu. All of the waiters we’ve had speak English also so could help. Another option is a new place called Candombe (directions in comment above from Casey). It has pizza so might be a safer bet, but has a lot of other things for the adults.

  12. Hi Matt and Jenn
    Thank you for making this amazing resource available for anyone interested in travelling or moving to CR. Almost every CR question I googled has let me here 🙂 My husband and I are planning to spend a six month parental leave in CR (sep to mar ) with our two young children aged 9 months and 5 years. We have never been, but we think that the central and southern pacific coastal region will fit our wishes for a temporary home. Maybe nearby San Isidro de el General, but preferably closer to the coast. Now our questions are narrowing down to what towns are recommendable and how to find a furnished rental home for 5 months?

    Can you recommend any areas/towns in the southern pacific region that allows us to go to the beach within 30-40 minutes, get basic groceries close by (we are planning on cloth diapering, so disposables is not a must) and serve a budget friendly rental price range?

    And is it realistic to find a rental home for the months of november-april once we arrive late september/early october. I have noticed that you consider the best deals to be found via word of mouth, but we can’t figure out if it is realistic to find something in just a months notice?

    Thank you

    Lea from Denmark

    1. Hi Lea, Somewhere on Route 243 between Dominical and San Isidro sounds like it would work. Take a look at Platanillo, Tinamaste, Lagunas, or Baru. They’re all within 40 min or less to the beach and have at least some mini super grocery stores nearby. Tinamaste has the great organic farmers market too.

      I do think you could find something for starting in November when you get here in Sept/Oct, but if you wanted to arrange it in advance, you could post in one of the Facebook groups for the area (Costa Ballena Bulletin Board) or find something through a local real estate agent. Best of luck to your family with the move!

  13. Hello and thanks for sharing all you’ve learned. We’ve been living in puerto Jimenez for the last couple years with our son, now 3 and a half. We’ll be coming through Perez on the way to a few days hiking at cloudbridge and wonder if there are any bookstores, particularly with children’s books. Up to now, we’ve had friends and family bring them but maybe you know a good place. Spanish or English, doesn’t matter. It’s hard to find a bookstore outside San Jose! Thanks again, chelsea

    1. Hi Chelsea, We have seen children’s books at a couple of the Librerías. Not sure of the selection but try the one across the street from the Ekono store. There’s also a used bookstore near the pizza place Stella d’Italia that might have something. Good luck!

  14. Hi great post. You are motivating me to consider this destination for 2 weeks with my parents who are in their 80’s. They are mobile but can’t walk too too far. What are your thoughts on bringing them to San Isidro de El General? We will have already spent 2 weeks in Tamarindo and will be looking for some mountain cool air and a change in scenery with a variety of shops, cafe’s and restaurants.

    1. Hi Erin, San Isidro might work out well for you and your parents. It does have a variety of places to eat and stores. There isn’t a ton to do, per se, other than what we have listed here, but plenty if you’re fine just exploring the city, taking in the scenery from your porch, etc. Another place that might be of interest is Atenas in the Central Valley. It has a concentrated central area with a downtown and scenic park and also has things of interest for seniors like a botanical orchid garden, coffee tour, railroad museum, etc. Atenas’ big claim is to fame is that it is supposed to have one of the best climates in the world.

  15. Thanks for all the great information. I will be spending four months in San Isidro de el general from December through March. I am a dancer and dance instructor. Do you know of any dance studios or places to do Latin and or Ballroom dancing? I may also want to find a place to teach while I’m there. Any ideas will be appreciated.

  16. I’m not sure the last email went through, so here it is again.

    Do you know anything about the CR Paradise Rentals company, The Rose Apartments and Davin Hall, owner in San Isidro? I am supposed to arrive on November 27th and want to make sure I have a place to stay.a

  17. My husband and I are starting to plan for some extended time in San Isidro de El General. We are in our early 60’s and in good health. Beginning our search for a very modest retirement home.
    My question is: As we will be car-less, is there bus transport to the coastal beaches?

    1. San Isidro is about an hour from the beach by bus. There are buses that leave from the center of town to Dominical, Uvita, and Manuel Antonio to the north. They run a few times a day only so you would have to plan carefully which one you would take back. The easiest to access would be Dominical, Dominicalito, or Playa Hermosa, since these are right off the highway. This website will give you a general sense of the times but confirm the exact time beforehand (easiest/most accurate is to go right to the bus station and look at the posted schedules).

  18. I am planning on retiring to Costa Rica. I have visited San Isidro. I was wondering if you are aware of opportunities for volunteer service. I have a background in development, roads, water systems and large building construction project supervision. I would like to contribute to a local community by teaching or using my talents in a way that would be beneficial to the local community. I speak and write Spanish fluently although I am not of latin heritage. Thanks

    1. Hi Steven, That’s great that you want to help the local community when you’re in San Isidro. We’re not sure of any specific opportunities, but once you arrive, you can talk to people and I’m sure you will find something with your background. If you speak Spanish, that will make it a lot easier to engage with the locals. Best of luck with your move.

    2. Hi Steve:

      The Cloudbridge reserve, just above San Gerardo de Rivas would love to talk with you. I have volunteered there for the past 6 years for several months at a time, mainly construction and assorted upkeep and repairs. They have a fragile, frequently damaged freshwater system, hydro systems which constantly need repair, roads and bridges washed out by storms in Sept 2017, and ongoing dorm construction and repairs as they gear up to be a Southern Zone biological research facility. You can contact Tom(director) or the manager via their website. They have budding researchers and volunteers from all over the world so very interesting and beautiful place to work.

  19. Thanks for your website, my wife and I are planning our 3rd trip to CR, we are spending time in different areas, and looking at SI for this next trip and your article has just about sealed the deal for us. We are looking at spending longer times in CR once we are done with the 9-5 world.

    1. Hi Dave, If you’re planning to spend longer stints in Costa Rica, San Isidro is a great place to check out as a possible option. We were just there the other day and talked again about how we love it!

  20. Hey Guys! Thanks for sharing the great info! We’re looking at SI area and are wondering how easy it is to meet other expats (we want to meet Ticos too of course) — What was your experience for meeting people / making friends?

    1. Hi Lori, We have never lived in San Isidro; we only regularly visited when we lived near Dominical. But we know quite a few expats there and it has a good community so it shouldn’t be too hard to make friends. Best of luck with the move!

  21. Thank you for the great post! I am looking to stay for about 3 months in the San Gerardo de Rivas area and I know San Isidro is the closest larger town. I’m trying to avoid renting a car but am curious, is there any place in San Isidro that sells bicycles? Just wondering if it would be cheaper to buy one there rather than pay airline fees both ways (and also not sure I could even handle riding a bike up all the hills in the area HA!). Also, I have found some Airbnb’s up in that area but if you have any other sites/recommendations for accommodations I could check out I would greatly appreciate it!

    1. Hi Lisa, There is a bike shop in San Isidro but biking might not be the best idea since Rivas is farther away/hilly as you mentioned and many of the streets are busy and not really set up for bicycling. There are local buses that run regularly. Most people use those. For accommodations, your best bet is probably to get something on Airbnb for your first couple of weeks then try to find something better once you get there and can check things out in person.

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