San Jose Vacations
San José, Costa Rica’s vibrant capital city, lies in the central valley of this naturally exquisite land. Its local populace of more than 333,000 people provides the human heartbeat for a nation boasting nearly 10 percent of the world’s wildlife population.
San José serves as a grand base to explore the country’s diverse splendors from the towering Arenal Volcano in the north to the warm, rugged Pacific and Caribbean coastlines to the west and east.
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San José is also a destination unto itself. With an array of museums, restaurants, cultural attractions and markets, this sprawling capital city is one of the most cosmopolitan in Central America.
The Juan Santamaría International Airport is conveniently located within 20 minutes of downtown, providing easy access to the city’s wonderful sites. Explore the bustling downtown area on foot and stroll along the pedestrian walkways to local mercados (markets) to get a real sense of the Costa Rican people and their culture.
What To Do
Spend a couple of days in San José before heading out to the country’s enchanting wilderness.
Walk through the shops, museums, parks, outdoor plazas, and restaurants along Avenida Central (Central Avenue). Explore Costa Rican history in the impressive National Museum.
Just a short drive from the city, discover the Poas Volcano, with its 2500-foot-high crater, and deep green Botos Lagoon. Walk amid the verdant woods of this ethereal cloud forest. View lovely La Paz Waterfall in the nearby national park.
What To See
See displays of pre-Columbian artifacts, such as carved sculptures, pottery remnants, and gold and jade jewelry, at Costa Rica’s National Museum in San José.
Learn all about the region’s indigenous people going as far back as the first century and view several floors of golden artifacts at the impressive Pre-Columbian Gold Museum. Tour the National Theatre, Teatro Nacional.
Catch a performance in this ornate 19th-century theatre. Stroll through San José and discover more examples of the city’s diverse architecture, such as the neo-gothic La Merced Church and the neo-baroque Metropolitan Cathedral. Visit the Museum of Jade, where you’ll find the largest collection of jade in the entire world, including vessels, fertility goddesses, frogs and snakes. As you wander through this vibrant city, you’ll also discover its artistic array of brightly colored graffiti and avant-garde sculptures.
Shop on Avenida Central at San José’s renowned Mercado Central, where tourists and locals have been congregating since 1880. You’ll find plenty of souvenirs and clothing plus a wide variety of local food and produce.
Visit the Mercado Nacional de Artesania and support the country’s talented artisans whose paintings, sculptures, ceramics, jewelry and more are artfully displayed. The Souvenir Museum also offers environmentally friendly handicrafts, supporting the growing trend of sustainable art and tourism. Purchase a T-shirt or other mementos with the words pura vida, meaning, “pure life” in Spanish, an expression you’ll hear and a way of life you’ll experience throughout your inspiring Costa Rican vacation.
San José has a variety of bars, theatres, stadiums and concerts attracting renowned performers and talented locals.
The National Symphony Orchestra’s season runs from March through November. The city also holds festivals in March, such as El Festival Internacional de las Artes.
You’ll also find plenty of clubs with live music.
San Jose with Kids
Take the kids to the Simon Bolivar National Zoo on Avenue 11 in downtown San José. Visit the Jade Museum, with its five floors of historic artifacts and jade, or the castle-like Museo de los Niños, (Children’s Museum), on Calle 4, part of the larger Costa Rican Center of Science and Culture. When you’re ready for an excursion into Costa Rica’s wilder side, travel to Las Baulas National Park in Playa Grande, along Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast. Here, from January through April, you and your kids can observe endangered leatherback turtles return to their breeding grounds to lay eggs and create a new generation.
Off the Beaten Path
Visit San José’s eclectic Barrio Amón neighborhood with its colorful galleries, cafés and quaint shops. The impressive University of Costa Rica in nearby San Pedro makes for a lively college atmosphere. See what’s brewing in Costa Rica’s growing craft beer scene. If you arrive during the quarterly Art City Tour, you can see and travel between museums and galleries for free.
Food and Drink
Start the day in San José with a vibrant mélange of tropical fruit, such as mango, bananas, pineapple, watermelon and payaya, followed by a hearty breakfast of gallo pinto, which includes rice and black beans, fried or scrambled eggs, plantains and meat.
Leave room for a typical lunch of casado with white rice and beans and meat, or picadillo, a flavorful mix of ground beef and dried Spanish chorizo basted in a fragrant sofrito (sauce). Snack on savory fried plantains. Satisfy your sweet tooth with rich arroz con leche.