Skip to Content

25 Exciting Things to Do in San Jose, Costa Rica (& city guide!)

25 Exciting Things to Do in San Jose, Costa Rica (& city guide!)

This blog may contain affiliate links. Read our disclosure policy for more info.

Contrary to what you may have heard, there are actually a ton of fun and exciting things to do in San Jose, Costa Rica! And in this blog, I’m going to tell you all about these activities and attractions so you can have the best time possible in Costa Rica’s vibrant capital city!

San Jose, Costa Rica is often the forgotten destination of this beautiful country known for its lush jungles and amazing beaches. However, on your way to Costa Rica, San Jose is a likely stop before you head off to other destinations such as Monteverde (which is beautiful by the way!).

So, you may as well enjoy your time here and explore some of the amazing things to do in San Jose!

But flying into a big city can be daunting, especially if you haven’t been to San Jose before!

So while this article will cover all the amazing things to do in San Jose, it’s also going to let you know a little bit about the city itself, how to plan your trip to San Jose, and some of the city’s dangers.

About San Jose, Costa Rica

The beautiful streets of San Jose, Costa Rica
Just one example of the greenery you can find in San Jose!

San Jose is the capital and largest city in Costa Rica. It’s home to over 2 million people and is the business center of the country. For a large Latin American city, San Jose has one of the best standards of quality of life and safety.

For any traveler unsure about the city, (this is great news!) San Jose, Costa Rica is now the 6th most visited Latin American city – thanks mostly to visitors from the United States.

Despite the city’s large urban sprawl, San Jose itself is technically built in the middle of a tropical rain forest and it only takes a short drive outside the city limits to find humid forests and wildlife you’d expect to see in Costa Rica.

This makes San Jose a great base for day trips in and out of the city – as you’ll read below!

How long should I stay in San Jose?

Historical monument in San Jose, Costa Rice
The city is surprisingly inviting!

This can be a hard question to answer but I’m going to give it a good shot! In my honest opinion, it really depends on how much time you have to spare. After visiting the rest of Costa Rica I can tell you honestly that although San Jose is one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica, it doesn’t compare to some of the other destinations.

However, if you really want to travel to the country and get to know its people, then visiting its most important city is a must!

So my overall recommendation is to spend at least 1 full day San Jose. If you can spare an extra day, then spend a day on either side of your trip (if you’re flying in and out). For many reading this, San Jose will be both your entry and exit point in Costa Rica, and in two days you can explore lots of the city and be satisfied you did it well enough.

In fact, there are actually many things to do in San Jose, Costa Rica that can easily be accomplished within a day. For example, a San Jose city tour will only take an hour or two and costs next to nothing. This brings me to our next question!

What are the best things to do in San Jose, Costa Rica?

25 Best Things to do in San Jose, Costa Rica

1. San Jose City Tour

Checking out the amazing archutecture in San Jose is a great way to spend the day
One of the oldest buildings in San Jose

A city tour of San Jose is hands down the best way to get to know the city, find your bearings, and get settled into the city overall.

There are a few great options for city tours in San Jose so it all depends on what you enjoy. There are lots of tour companies that provide paid tours which often involve a hotel/hostel pick-up as well as transport around the city.

If you are not feeling up to a long walking tour then maybe choose a private paid tour with transport and lunch included. On these tours, you’ll cover a lot more ground and enjoy a private tour with an expert guide.

a walking tour is one of the best things to do in san jose, costa rica downtown
Our guide told us how touching this woman’s breast was good luck!

However, if you’re after a cheaper option and don’t mind a bit of walking then join the FREE walking tour! It was a beautiful day so this is what we decided to do!

The tour was rich with historical facts, architecture, as well as interesting stories. I find that walking tours are the best way for me to get orientated quickly in a city and find some places I want to return back to.

The company I went with was called San Jose Free Walking Tour and they were a good company that I can recommend. They have tours leaving every morning at 9 am that depart from the Holiday Inn in the heart of downtown (always check the starting location and book your spot before.)

It was great to learn so much about the history of Costa Rica. Everywhere else I visited in Costa Rica had such a strong focus on nature and the outdoors that I truly think that San Jose is the only place to actually learn about the history of the country.

For this reason, a city tour of San Jose (free or paid) is definitely my number one pick out of all the things to do in San Jose, Costa Rica downtown area.

2. Visit the National Theater – Teatro Nacional Costa Rica

Nacional theater, Costa Rica - Teatro Nacional Costa Rica
The inside of the Theater is absolutely gorgeous!

The National Theater (or Teatro Nacional Costa Rica) is one of San Jose’s most prestigious buildings. It’s filled with lavish furnishings and many stunning marble statues. In the past, it was used as the main selling point to attract rich visitors to the country and city.

These days, the theatre still operates and you can come and watch a show here or just have a look around. The theatre is actually visited on the free walking tour of San Jose, however, you won’t get to see much of the theater. Instead, come back on your own for a closer look.

Important info: It costs $10 USD to enter the theater for a look around. The National Theater is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 9 am to 4 pm and is located in the central section of San Jose near the Grand Hotel.

3. Explore National Museum – Museo Nacional De Costa Rica

Museo Nacional De Costa Rica
Museo Nacional De Costa Rica

San Jose is home to many great museums that give visitors an insight into Costa Rica’s history, culture, and politics. The next few things to do on this list include the best museums to check out in San Jose, starting with my personal favorite, the National Museum!

The National Museum of Costa Rice showcases exhibits that highlight Costa Rica’s history, archaeology, anthropology, and natural history.

The National Museum itself is actually an old fort called the Bella Vista Barracks and old bullet holes can still be seen in the walls that surround it.

This museum is a great place to visit for a broad understanding of Costa Rica and I consider it one of the best attractions in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Important info: Foreign visitors pay $8 USD to enter or $4 USD with a student card. The museum is open from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm every day, except Sundays when it opens at 9 am.

4. Explore La Paz Waterfall Garden 

A waterfall at La Paz Waterfall Garden near San Jose Costa Rica
The waterfalls are gorgeous!

If you came to Costa Rica to see magnificent waterfalls (as you should), then a visit to La Paz Waterfall Garden will blow your mind. 

The La Paz Waterfall Garden is a privately owned property that combines natural waterfalls with a huge range of other attractions such as a butterfly garden, bird sanctuary, trout lake, hummingbird garden, and other animal enclosures. It’s the largest animal sanctuary in Costa Rica. 

With that said, I personally came for the waterfalls. There are five spectacular waterfalls on the property that you can visit along the trail network on the property. They are all breathtaking! 

The La Paz Waterfall Garden is located a 1.5-hour drive outside of San Jose and can be visited on tour or on your own. On this specific tour, you’ll be transported from San Jose and guided around the gardens to explore and learn. On top of that, the tour includes a delicious lunch! 

If you visit on your own, allow 3 to 5 hours at La Paz Waterfall garden, depending on how long you spend at each attraction (that’s on top of the 1.5 hours drive each way – it’s a full day!) 

5. Check out the Jade Museum – Museo del Jade

Jade Museum -  Museo del Jade San Jose, Costa Rica
The Jade museum!

The Jade Museum is home to over 7,000 pieces of jade. It’s the largest collection of pre-Colombian jade in the world! Here you can find out the importance of jade to the Costa Rican people as well as how jade artifacts are made.

I loved this place (but I’ve had a weird thing for jade ever since I lived in New Zealand where you could collect small jade stones from beaches.)

Important info: Foreign visitors pay $16 USD entry, free with a student card or for children 12 years and younger. The museum is open from 8:30 am – 3:30 pm Monday to Friday, and 9 am to 1 pm on Saturday.

6. Go on a Food tour

A traditional dessert in Costa Rica
This is a fruit jelly with a very sweet taste, unlike anything I have tried before!

One of the best ways to get to know a city or country is through its food. By sampling the national dishes of Costa Rica on a food tour, you’ll learn about the people and their history. On top of that, you’ll leave the tour with a full belly! 

On this specific food tour, you’ll head out at night in San Jose and taste a wide variety of local cuisine. Explore markets, wander neighborhoods you otherwise wouldn’t see, and then sit down for a delicious 3-course dinner with your guide. Included are two glasses of wine or two beers too!

This tour doesn’t just scrape the surface, but it takes you deep into the history of food in Costa Rica. On the tour, you’ll taste eight dishes and enjoy four drinks. 

7. Visit the Pre-Colombian Gold Museum

Pre-Colombian Gold Museum in San Jose, Costa Rica
The gold artifacts are so cool to see – the detail is amazing!

The Pre-Colombian Gold Museum is home to the largest collection of pre-Colombian gold in Latin America. At the museum, you can find many gold artifacts dating back thousands of years. It is home to over 1,600 individual pieces.

Its a really nice exhibit with some amazing gold artifacts. I would recommend this museum to anyone who loves art and history!

Important info: Foreign visitors pay $9 USD entry or $5 USD with a valid student card. The museum is open from 9 am to 5 pm every day.

8. Hike to the giant hand at La Chimba Coffee Farm

The view from the hand on Hacienda y Beneficio La Chimba hike near San Jose, Costa Rica
The views over the coffee plantations are spectacular!

One of the most unique activities I have done in San Jose was a short hike through a coffee plantation to a viewpoint shaped like a human hand.  

La Chimba Coffee Plantation is home to a 5 kilometer and 9 kilometer trail called Hacienda y Beneficio La Chimba. Both trails lead to the viewpoint, with one slightly longer for those who love to hike. The trail is easy to follow and, although a little muddy and slippery in some places, fairly easy with a gradual incline up to the viewpoint.

We took the shorter route to the top and had a blast! We arrived early in the morning when they opened at 5:30 am and hiked through the plantation without anyone else around – it was gorgeous! 

You can easily take an Uber to the plantation from San Jose, and it costs $12 USD to hike the trail. As I mentioned above, the trail opens at 5:30 am with the last hikers allowed on the trail at 2 pm. You can also do coffee tours at La Chimba, and there is a gorgeous restaurant on the property where you can eat surrounded by birds! There is also a zipline experience for those who want a little extra thrill. 

9. Discover the Costa Rican Centre of Science and Culture

The Costa Rican Centre of Science and Culture is actually home to three museums. These are the Children’s Museum, the National Gallery, and the National Auditorium. The exhibits on show are about science, culture, recycling, and technology.

Unfortunately, I never had time to go so I can’t tell you how good it is, but reviews on TripAdvisor rate it high especially for those with kids!

Important info: Admission is free and it’s open from 8 am to 4:30 pm Tuesday to Friday, and 9 am to 5 pm Saturday and Sunday.

10. Visit the Museum of Costa Rican Art – Museo de Arte Costarricense

Museum of Costa Rican Art - Museo de Arte Costarricense San Jose
Some of the art can be hard to understand!

The Museum of Costa Rican Art is home to the most prominent art collections in San Jose and Costa Rica. The museum is both indoors and outdoors and features paintings, sculptures, engravings, photographs, videos, and photos.

I found this place to be okay, but out of the museums I visited, it was my least favorite!

Important info: This museum is now completely free. The museum is open from 9 am to 4 pm from Tuesday to Sunday.

11. Check Out the Central Market

Eating the famous ice cream at the Central market in San Jose
I know it doesn’t look appetizing, but this ice cream was amazing. It had a touch of cinnamon flavor.

The Central Market in San Jose is a must-visit! This place is filled with interesting shops to buy souvenirs and lots of food! On a San Jose city tour, they may take you here, but if not, make sure to have a look on your own.

I could easily spend a couple of hours looking at items for sale or having a cheap lunch at one of the “sodas”. One thing you must try is the ice cream shop called “Helados de Sorbetera”.

It’s a very unique tasting ice cream and is only found at this one specific store. Others in San Jose have tried to copy the recipe but they have all failed. When I saw the locals enjoying it I thought “yuck, that looks gross.” But once I tried it, wow!

This place is famous so give it a try!

12. Speak to the locals and feel the “Pura Vida”

Costa Rican people at a market in San Jose
Get amongst the locals!

Costa Rica is great for speaking to the locals as they are very friendly people and many speak English.

If you get a chance to converse with a local it’s an awesome way to get to know the city and ask for some local recommendations. Locals in San Jose are more than willing to help and you’re sure to find a great restaurant or bar from a local suggestion.

There is a super friendly and chilled-out vibe in which the locals call “Pura Vida,” which translates to “Pure Life”. It means a life with no stress which is quite the opposite of the typical western culture follows.

One of the greatest things about San Jose is that because it isn’t as touristy as the other spots you will likely go in Costa Rica, you get a more authentic experience. You will see it for yourself just from walking around San Jose!

13. Visit a butterfly garden

A butterfly at a butterfly garden in Costa Rica!
Some of the butterflies are so colorful!

Visiting a butterfly garden is one of the more iconic activities you can do all over Costa Rica, and there are a ton of different places to visit all around the country. 

Tours through the gardens usually start with an informative video explaining the life of butterflies as well as some interesting facts about them. You’re guaranteed to learn something new! 

Afterward, wander through an enclosure filled with butterflies and take a closer look. Your guide will teach you more and point out the different species. It’s a really cool expereince! 

In San Jose, I went to a place called Mariposario La Casa de la Morpho Azul, located on the outskirts of the city. However, you don’t need to travel that far with a couple of gardens closer to San Jose, such as Mariposario Butterfly Kingdom Costa Rica and Spirogyra Butterfly Garden.

You can simply take an Uber to the garden of your choice or join an organized tour. This specific tour visits a coffee plantation as well as a butterfly garden which is perfect if you plan on doing both! 

14. Go Shopping

Even if you didn’t plan on it, while walking around downtown San Jose you will likely stop and do a bit of shopping. There is a huge range of places to shop, and the great thing about the downtown area is that there are tons of really cheap places to shop.

I was shocked to see how cheap the clothes were (especially in comparison to how expensive clothes were in Puerto Viejo.) There are also knock-off running shoes for sale everywhere for about $12 USD a pair. This is the place to replace any missing items from your backpack or grab some souvenirs to bring home with you!

If your looking for a mid-range place to go that still sells real brands then Mall San Pedro is a great option. Mall San Pedro square is only a 10-15 minutes walk from the main downtown area (but only 2 minutes from where we stayed.) Here, you will find all the best brands as well as a fully American-style food court and cinema!

15. Try some Craft Beer or Join a Tour

Wilk Craft Beer San Jose, Costa Rica
Wilk Craft Beer tasting!

Costa Ricans are quite proud of their fairly new craft beer industry. In the downtown area, there are various restaurants that feature some of the best local craft beer.

One place, in particular, is The Costa Rica Beer Factory. Go here for some good food and a range of craft beers. Prices are reasonable and they even have a”Beer School.”

Another new place to check out is Wilk Craft Beer. Here, you can try a huge range of craft beer from around the country as well as international beers! The food is also really good and it’s the perfect place for lunch!

You can also join a food and drink tour and meet some new people while sampling all of the best food (paired with beer) that Costa Rica has to offer.

16. Visit Tortuga Island

Tortuga island, Costa Rica
Tortuga Island is paradise, and you can easily visit right from San Jose!

Tortuga Island is just about the best day trip from San Jose, Costa Rica. This small island is only accessible by boat and has something for everyone including amazing diving and snorkeling to see an array of fish and even larger animals like Sharks, Dolphins, Octopus, and Manta Rays.

Tortuga Island is also home to amazing beaches, hiking trails, and lush forests that include canopy zip line tours. You can also rent kayaks, paddleboards, sun chairs, and umbrellas as well as buy food and drinks on the beach.

The best way to visit Tortuga Island is on an organized tour from San Jose. Tours include hotel pick-up, lunch, snorkeling, and the boat to the island!

17. Go Whitewater Rafting

Group Of Friends White Water Rafting.
Doesn’t that look like fun?! Photo credit: Tom Oliveira on Bigstock

The Sarapiquí and Toro Rivers are the best place in Costa Rica to go whitewater rafting. And not just for the rapids, this is also a great place to spot wildlife and enjoy views of the stunning Arenal Volcano!

This activity is perfect for the whole family as the rapids are mainly Grade 3 (which are pretty calm) with some Grade 4 to add in a little excitement!

Tours aren’t short and you’ll need an entire day for this whitewater rafting tour. The tour includes pick-up and drop-off, a meal and snacks, as well as a professional guide.

18. Learn All About Coffee on a Coffee Tour

Britts coffee tour
Learning all about the best coffee in Coast Rica! Photo credit: Britts Coffee

If you love coffee then a coffee tour is perfect for you! Costa Rica is known as one of the best producers of quality coffee in the world, and coffee is one of their biggest agricultural exports!

Going on a coffee tour will allow you to learn about the entire coffee-making process. You’ll also get to try different kinds of coffee and buy some to bring back home with you! When we did the tour, we also got to sample some locally made chocolate too!

Going on a coffee tour is one of the best things to do in San Jose simply because the best coffee producer in the country operates here! Britt Coffee Plantation makes some very amazing coffee, and their coffee tour is one of the top-rated activities in all of Costa Rica – don’t miss this!

19. Visit the Arenal Volcano and Hot Springs

Arenal volcano, costa rica
What a view!

The Arenal Volcano is one of the most magnificent sights in Costa Rica – just look at it! Sure, it isn’t actually in San Jose, but it is easily accessible, and for that reason, many people visit Arenal on a day trip from San Jose.

I do need to warn you, the drive is about 3 hours each way, but if you choose a good tour and guide, the drive itself will be interesting and scenic too!

This tour is a full-day experience jam-packed with incredible experiences around Arenal Volcano. Expect ziplining, waterfalls, and of course, relaxing in hot springs. It also includes meals and comes very highly rated by past guests.

Alternative option: If you don’t want to visit the Arenal Volcano on a day trip from San Jose, you can also spend a couple of nights in the town of La Fortuna. There are lots of fun things to do in La Fortuna!

20. Visit a Wildlife Rescue Center

A parrot at a wildlife rescue center in Costa Rica
One of the older parrots that can no longer be released into the wild!

If you want to see some very cool wildlife as well as support a great cause, then taking a tour at a wildlife center is a must in San Jose. There are a few options around the city depending on how far you want to travel and what you want to see. 

The first is a tour to the Toucan Rescue Ranch’s sloth and wildlife rescue center. Here you’ll learn about many Costa Rican animals, the threats they face, and how the efforts of lovely people are ensuring their survival. And if you want to see baby sloths while in Costa Rica, this is one place where you can!

It is only a short half-day tour from San Jose, and as such, one of the top attractions in San Jose.

Another option, and my preferred center, is the Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center. This place is seriously huge and is home to over 2,700 hundred animals, of which only 2% call the center a permanent home! You can see just about everything here, depending on what animals are being rehabilitated at the time. This includes pumas, monkeys, sloths, lots of birds, and alligators. 

Entrance to the Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center is $30 USD and can be booked in advance to save time and skip the line. My recommendation is to go when they open at 9 am to enjoy the center without the crowds. All up, we spent over 3 hours here!

Of course, only do this if you’re not going to Puerto Viejo as you can go to the Jaguar Rescue Center there!

21. Eat Traditional Costa Rican Food

Arroz con Leche
Arroz con Leche

Remember how I said you need to enjoy San Jose for its authenticity, well it’s true, and with food too! In lots of the “touristic” destinations around Costa Rica, you will find international food at fancy restaurants – but this isn’t traditional Costa Rican food.

That’s why one of the best things to do in San Jose is to eat typical food. Challenge you to try traditional dishes and things you wouldn’t normally find at home.

Some dishes you should look out for include; Gallo Pinto, a rice and bean dish with tons of flavor; Sopa Negra, a black bean soup; and Arroz con Leche, which is a tasty and creamy dessert!

So find yourself a quaint local restaurant – you know, the ones where they won’t have an English menu available. Get out Google translate, and pick something you’ve never had before. Not only will this be fun, but it will also be cheap too!

22. Day Trip to the Monteverde Cloud Forest

The suspension bridge in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
One of the many bridges in the Monteverde Cloud Forest.

I love Monteverde! In fact, I love it so much that I didn’t actually visit on a day trip from San Jose, and instead, I spent nearly a week in the region. But I know that many people do not have time to do this, which is why a day trip to Monteverde from San Jose is a great idea!

Sure, it is a bit of a drive, but on an organized tour, you can sleep, relax or just enjoy the views from the comfort of an air-conditioned van.

The Monteverde Cloud Forest is an amazing jungle offering misty views, waterfalls, scenic lookouts, and lots of hanging bridges. It’s a whole different world that the city of San Jose or the beachside destinations frequented in Costa Rica. Expect to see lots of wildlife and interesting plants and trees.

Of course, like the Arenal Volcano, you can choose to spend a couple of nights in the area. The nearest town to the Monteverde Cloud Forest is Santa Elena, and believe it or not, there are lots of fun things to do in Monteverde!

23. Visit Manuel Antonio National Park

The blue waters in Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica
Some of the bluest water you’ll ever see is in Manuel Antonio National Park.

This is one day trip from San Jose you don’t want to miss – especially if you love the beach!

Manuel Antonio National Park is easily one of, if not, the best national park in all of Costa Rica. It is a jungle paradise right on the coast of the Pacific ocean with blue water for swimming, hiking trails everywhere, and the chance to see lots of wildlife like sloths, monkeys, iguanas, and tons of birds!

From San Jose, you can book an organized tour that will bring you to the park entrance where your day will begin. You’ll explore a flat and easy hiking trail to reach the beach. This is when you can relax, or hike on further if you want.

It’s definitely one of the top things to do in San Jose, and although a full-day trip, totally worth the time spent!

Note: If you do plan on spending a few nights in Jaco (as I recommend below), it makes sense to visit Manuel Antonio National Park from there as the park is closer to Jaco than San Jose.

24. Head Over to Jaco

Jaco Beach, Costa Rica
Palm trees and white sand at Jaco Beach…what more could you ask for?!

Okay, so this technically isn’t an activity to do in San Jose, but I think it’s important to mention anyways.

The only problem with San Jose is that there is no beach. Luckily, the town of Jaco exists only a quick hour and a half drive away. This town has become somewhat of a tourist hotspot and it is where many travelers spend the majority of their time in Costa Rica.

You can visit Jaco from San Jose easily on a day trip, or if you really want to soak up those rays on the beach, you can spend a couple of nights. It’s really a resort town and there are lots of beautiful hotels to choose from.

If you ask me, an ideal holiday in Costa Rice involves enjoying both the city (San Jose) and the beach (Jaco), so splitting your time between the two is a great idea! Plus, there are lots of fun things to do and see in Jaco too.

25. Visit Poás Volcano

view of Poas Volcano crater lake near San Jose, Costa Rica
How amazing is this place?!

Ever wanted to see an active volcano? Well, luckily for you Poás Volcano is located only about 2 hours from San Jose and makes for the perfect half-day trip. Don’t expect to see lava here though, what you will see is a bright blue geothermic lake in the volcano’s crater- it looks almost like something from another universe!

Most people visit Poas Volcano on a guided day trip from San Jose that includes transport. This way, your guide can also explain to you all about the volcano too.

Once at the volcano you can check it out on the viewing platform or visit the onsite cafe and gift shop. This is easily one of the most popular things to do in San Jose and one I highly recommend.

One of the most important things to note about visiting Poas Volcano is the best time to visit. Poas Volcano is often covered in clouds, and this completely obstructs your view. For this reason, it is best to visit early in the morning as opposed to later in the day. This greatly increases your chances of seeing the crater. 

During my visit at 11 am, we went to the top only to be very disappointed. We couldn’t see anything! Luckily, we decided to have a coffee at the on-site cafe, and after 45 minutes, the sky cleared, and they let us (after begging) go back up and see the volcano. 

If you don’t join a tour, entrance to the volcano is $15 USD, and you NEED to book your ticket in advance and pick a time slot. Unfortunately, only 56 people are allowed to visit every 20 minutes. We forgot to do this, but luckily there is a small shop 2.5 kilometers before the ticket gate where you can buy tickets for a small fee (extra $4 USD per person.) 

Of course, during the busy season, tickets book up in advance, so you might not get a ticket if you try to book on the day. So be sure to watch the website and purchase the tickets available before booking last minute. 

Where to Stay in San Jose, Costa Rica

Guácima Escondida Hotel Boutique
The pool at Guácima Escondida Hotel Boutique!

With so many hotel options, it can be hard to know exactly where to stay in San Jose, Costa Rica. The first decision you need to make is whether you want to stay in hustle and bustle of the city, or on the outskirts in a more tranquil environment.

On my last visit to San Jose, I actually booked a hotel in an area called La Guácima. Located near the airport, this small city area is only 25 minutes and around $7 USD by Uber from the downtown area. But instead of a concrete jungle, you can stay among the gorgeous forest you came to Costa Rica to enjoy.

You’re also closer to places such as Poas Volcano as well as coffee plantations and some wildlife rescue centers. Overall, it’s a great area to stay.

During my stay in La Guácima, I booked the Guácima Escondida Hotel Boutique. Nestled on a large property far away from the roads, it really was the most ideal place to stay “in” the city. The hotel included a delicious breakfast, a gorgeous pool, and very friendly staff. It was very tranquil with only a few rooms available on the property. Guacima Escondida Hotel Boutique is also great value and you’ll get a lot more for your money than you will at larger hotel chains.

We absolutely loved our stay at Guacima Escondida Hotel Boutique. You can book your stay direct or on

With that said, I understand many want to stay in the downtown area of San Jose (as I did on my first few visits to the city.) So, below are my recommended hotels in San Jose city center!


Selina Selina has hostels throughout Latin America and they are always a great budget-friendly option. Here, you can pick from dorm rooms and private rooms. Selina is located only 700m from the National Theatre. Selina is a great option for the “flashpacker” who doesn’t mind spending a little more on a bed. The facilities here are really good!

Costa Rica Backpackers – Costa Rica Backpackers is another budget option located in central San Jose. A good thing about this hostel is that they also have a pool and free breakfast with private rooms. They offer large dorm rooms too. It’s the perfect place for the real budget traveler because it’s so cheap, but don’t expect amazing facilities (I really didn’t like the lack of bathrooms!)


Exe San Jose Center – This Hotel is as close to the center of town as you can get and is only 200m from the National Theatre. Exe San Jose features a sauna and fitness center in the building so it’s great for those who can’t miss the gym. It’s a very highly rated hotel and I enjoy staying here when I want a quiet stay without spending a lot.

Hotel Colonial – Hotel Colonial is a luxury hotel that features beautiful architecture and style. Its clean, comfortable, and in a central location while still being affordable. I was very surprised that this hotel is not more expensive. Hotel Colonial can be hard to book without notice as it’s often full in the busy season.


Grano de Ora Hotel – The Grano de Ora Hotel is a stunning place to stay close to the city center. It’s luxurious and retains much of its antique style. It’s a beautiful choice!

Gran Hotel – The Gran hotel is arguably the nicest hotel in San Jose. This hotel is in an old colonial-style building that has been revived and is now as stunning as ever. If you have the budget you really can’t go past the Gran Hotel!

For more detailed info on the best areas to stay in San Jose as well as hotels and hostels, check out our blog about where to stay in San Jose, Costa Rica!

Renting a car in Costa Rica

Driving a rental car on a road through Costa Rica
Costa Rican road trips are the best! You never know what hidden gem you’re going to find!

Renting a car in Costa Rica is one of the best ways to maximize your trip. Not only do you have the freedom to explore hidden gems along the highways and in between destinations, but you’ll also save a lot of money. 

For me, it’s a no-brainer every time I’m in Costa Rica. Even if I don’t rent a vehicle for the entire time, I’ll get one for a few days, especially if I’m traveling to La Fortuna, Puerto Viejo, Jaco, and Tamarindo. These places involve lots of exploring that can be done without tours, so a rental car really helps. 

There are a ton of companies to choose from. However, I’ve personally only ever rented from one smaller local rental company called Aguaire Costa Rica. I love these guys because they offer hotel pick up and drop off, and they operate 24/7. If my flights are really late at night, I get the car delivered to my hotel first thing the next morning – it works perfectly for me. 

When it comes to price, most companies cost around the same. The most expensive part of the rental is the mandatory insurance (by the Costa Rican government) that third-party booking sites won’t tell you about. Trust me, you’ll get a nice surprise if you book through them when you arrive. 

If you would like to get a quote from Aguaire, you can contact them with the details below. If not, be sure to get a full quote including insurance from companies such as to Discover Cars.


Whatsapp: +506 60039243 or +506 60659854


Tips for visiting San Jose, Costa Rica

-Use Uber as transportation when you can. Taxi drivers will charge up to three times as much as Uber. We only used Uber while in San Jose and the drivers were all super friendly. There is even sometimes an option for “Uber English” which is only a small amount more and your driver will speak English!

-Only bring the valuables you need with you. Although the city felt really safe, it is still a big city with the potential for crime. Leave passports locked up in your hotel as well as credit cards, and only bring the spending cash you need with you.

-Be prepared for a bit of traffic. When we were leaving San Jose we got an Uber to the bus station which was only a couple of kilometers away but the ride took about 30 minutes. Just give yourself enough time to get anywhere for the chance that traffic could cause a bit of a delay.

Where to Go Next

bike riding on the beach in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
Riding on a beach in Puerto Viejo – a great place to head to next!

As I said, San Jose is a common base for those who want to explore more of Costa Rica, and the things to do in San Jose, Costa Rica won’t satisfy most visitors.

These next few destinations are places that I would recommend going to, which are easily accessible from San Jose:

  • Puerto Viejo – here you will get amazing beaches on the Caribbean coast as well as a big dose of animals in the national parks and rescue centers. Check out our guide to Puerto Viejo, and our guide to the famous Cahuita National Park.
  • Monteverde – completely the opposite of Puerto Viejo is Monteverde, a cloud forest inland! Daniel and I really enjoyed exploring Monteverde, especially in the wet season.
  • Arenal and La Fortuna – Head over to explore all of the amazing things to do in Arenal and La Fortuna including volcano views, swimming at waterfalls, relaxing in hot springs, and so much more!

If you have a bit more time you could also cross the border to Panama to check to the famous backpacker spot of Bocas del Toro. We even wrote about the border crossing between Panama and Costa Rica!

Before you go…

Dan and Bailey from Destinationless Travel hiking at La Chimba in San Jose, Costa Rica
Thanks for reading!

Don’t skip San Jose completely. There is so much culture to experience there and it is such an easy city to see fairly quickly. I hope my list of things to do in San Jose, Costa Rica is helpful and you enjoy the city as much as I did!

if you have any questions please leave them below and we’ll do our best to clear them up for you! And, be sure to check out the rest of our Costa Rica blogs for more travel advice and important information!

Thanks and happy travels!


Like it? Pin it! Click HERE

Surfing (2)


Thursday 25th of January 2024

Hey! I fly in super late and I have one day in san jose so I dont want an early tour but I want to do something fun! Preferably in nature! What do you recommend??

Destinationless Travel

Monday 29th of January 2024

Hey Shaunna,

If you don't want to do an early tour then most of the longer day trips our out of the question. If you want to see wildlife go check out Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center. You can just get an Uber there and see tons of rescued wildlife.

Thanks Daniel


Monday 15th of January 2024

I have read everything you wrote, it is by far the best and clearer blog I have looked, and I went through a lot of them !!! Thanks for that. Then I wanted to ask about the Downton San José, the shopping place you said it was shockingly cheap ! But could you be more specific in terms of its location? I can not really find it, do you have a precise point I could pin on my Google Maps??

Thank you :)

Destinationless Travel

Tuesday 16th of January 2024

Hey Julien,

Thanks so much!

The shopping is everywhere in the downtown area. Walk between the Jade Museum and the Central Market along Avenue Central. There is tons of shopping in this area.

Thanks Daniel


Wednesday 5th of October 2022

Really great info. Are there public transport options for getting around? We are planning 12 days there after an intrepid tour. Would it be better to hire a car and what is a rough cost for a week. Thanks for the info it’s great!!


Wednesday 5th of October 2022

Hey Liane,

Yes, there are public transport options around Costa Rica as well as shuttles. The bus is cheap but very slow and indirect on some trips. Shuttles pretty much cost $50 USD per trip between major destinations.

Hiring a car is a fantastic option, but that will cost around $80 per day.

Hope this helps,


Kristen Saldanha

Saturday 30th of April 2022

Hi, I was wondering is there a museum pass for San Jose.


Monday 2nd of May 2022

Hey Kristen,

Unfortunately, there is not!

Thanks DAniel

Kara Wuenstel

Tuesday 29th of March 2022

I grew up in Costa Rica. Lived there for 14 yrs and moved back to the US in 1982. I enjoyed all the information you give as I take friends down there frequently and I like to learn about new places and different things to check out. Thanks for all your help!


Wednesday 30th of March 2022

Hey Kara,

Thanks so much!