Unfortunately, San Jose, Costa Rica isn’t exactly known for its beauty, vibrancy or its glamour. For many, San Jose is simply a jumping off point before hitting other, more adventurous, destinations scattered throughout the country. San Jose, for most, is a place you skip though no trying not to get pickpocketed or gassed by the fumes of the city. Perhaps even more unfortunate, San Jose has become a center for prostitution tourism among travelling businessmen and young travellers alike. Brothels in San Jose are perhaps even more prevalent than the usual tourist attractions.
That being said, there is more to San Jose than people give it credit for; and personally, I like it. Although rough and tumble the city has its charms. And at the very least it doesn’t try to hide behind the “pura vida” facade that much of the country does. You might not love San Jose, but you should at least give it a bit of a chance.
Time Needed: 2-3 Days
Backpacker’s Budget: $40USD
Things to do in San Jose
Although this might not be the place you see when looking at the brochure of for Costa Rica there are some things to do and worth seeing in town. If you feel like getting out of the city there are also some places that can be seen nearby on a daytrip.
- Jade Museum: This is easily the most popular attraction in town. The Jade Museum is found on Avenida 7 and houses a very impressive collection of pieces. The museum is usually packed so head there early to beat the crowds. Entrance = 1,000 Colones (2$)
- National Museum: The Museo Nacional is decent, but I feel like it could be much better. The location alone, however, makes it worth a visit. The museum is housed in the Bellavista fortress and offers some great views. Entrance = 2,000 colones ($4)
- Mercado Central: The central market is actually quite tame if you consider it to that of ones in other nearby countries, but it is still a lot of fun to wander through. Mind your pockets, and enjoy!
- Zoo: Personally, I don’t think you should visit this zoo. There are plenty of opportunities to see wildlife in the wild in this country. I thought that the cages most animals were in here were too small and poorly managed. However, many people do visit so that they can see some of the animals they missed in the wild. It’s up to you if you want to visit. Entrance = 1,000 colones ($2)
- Spirogyra Butterfly Gardens: Actually a good little place with a number of butterflies and even some hummingbirds. Entrance = 3,000 colones ($6)
- Plaza de Cultura: It seems wrong that the plaza of culture is looked upon by MacDonald’s but it is worth a visit. Three stories below the surface of the plaza is the Gold Museum which is fantastic ($5) and ironically owned by the national bank. The plaza is also home to the National Theater which is one of the most impressive pieces of architecture in San Jose
- Central Park: The central park in San Jose is home to the Cathedral which is quite impressive, it is also bordered by the Teatro Melico Salazar.
Where to Eat in San Jose
The typical meal in Costa Rica is called the casado which is rice, beans, plantain, veggies and a choice of meat. You can get casado pretty much anywhere and there are heaps of sidewalk restaurants that serve it up for cheap. If you’re looking for something less casual here’s a list of places where I’ve eaten in San Jose.
- Hurache’s: This place will definitely fill your cravings for Mexican food and the prices make it worth the while as well. Dishes are generally between $4 and $6 .
- Nuestra Tierra: Head here if you’re looking for a bit of local flavour. There is a nice atmosphere, good service and typical plates won’t run you more than $6.
- La Esquina de Buenos Aires: I eat at a really nice restaurant once a week. I chose this place based on my mad cravings for Argentinian steak. The steak was great and the service was decent, although I did pay about $20 for my meal and glass of wine.
Where to Stay
- Hostel Pangea: This was “the place to stay” in San Jose when I first went to Costa Rica. It is a nice hostel with a great atmosphere, clean spaces and a pool that rarely gets used. It’s in the nice neighbourhood of Barrio Amon and a good choice.
- In&Basic Hostel Lounge: I went here on a recommendation from a friend and really liked the hostel. The only issue is that the location could be closer to the center. The hostel is in Los Yoses and you’ll need to catch the bus to the center. That being said, I would definitely stay here again.
- Gran Hotel Dona Ines: While working as a guide, I took my group here. The hotel is nice an quaint and wont bust your budget either if you’re travelling a little higher-end than the backpacker crowd.
Getting out of Town
You can quite literally get anywhere from San Jose, so I won’t list everything. Make sure you ask for the proper bus terminal, however, as each terminal serves a certain region. If you’re going on a long trip to Panama City or Granada you’ll likely want to pay a bit more and go with TicaBus.
If you’re flying, the international airport is in Alajuela and will cost you about $20 in a taxi to get there from the center.