Costa Rica (Republic of Costa Rica)

Languages: Spanish

Currencies: CRC · Costa Rican colón (₡)

Capitol: San José

Continents: North America

Borders: Nicaragua, Panama

More useful information

Area: 51,100km2

Population: 5,094,114

Traffic/driving side: right

Landlocked country: No

Independent country: Yes

United Nations member: Yes

IDD Prefix: +506

Timezones: UTC-06:00

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Last updated on September 12, 2023

You’re planning your next adventure, and Costa Rica’s buzzing capital, San Jose, beckons.

Imagine savoring aromatic local coffee, exploring vibrant markets, and immersing yourself in rich culture and history.

Or perhaps you’d prefer relishing the city’s natural beauty or seeking adrenaline-pumping exploits.

Whatever you’re after, San Jose won’t disappoint.

So, let’s dive in and discover the top things to do in San Jose, Costa Rica!

Key Takeaways:

  • San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital, is a vibrant city offering a mix of culture, nature, gastronomy, and more. op tourist attractions include Mercado Central and La Sabana Metropolitan Park. Unforgettable cultural experiences can be had at the National Theatre and Museum of Costa Rican Art. 
  • Numerous museums, including Tech Interactive and the San Jose Museum of Art provide unique insights into the country’s rich history and culture.
  • San Jose is known for its beautiful parks, including La Sabana Metropolitan Park and Braulio Carrillo National Park, which showcase the country’s stunning natural beauty.
  • The city offers a thriving nightlife with venues such as Costa Rica Beer Factory and El Steinvorth.
  • Costa Rican cuisine is a blend of indigenous, Spanish, and African influences, with popular dishes including Gallo Pinto, Casado, Ceviche, and Tres Leches.
  • Top restaurants include Restaurante Grano de Oro, La Esquina de Buenos Aires, and Tin Jo offer a diverse range of culinary experiences.
  • Shopping in San Jose ranges from bustling markets at Mercado Central to luxury boutiques at Multiplaza Escazu.
  • The best time to visit depends on individual preferences. The dry season (December to April) offers sunny, warm weather and is suitable for outdoor activities. The wet season (May to November) is quieter and perfect for indoor activities.
  • Adventure sports such as ziplining, whitewater rafting, and mountain biking are popular activities in San Jose.

Top Rated Tourist Attractions in San Jose

San Jose, the vibrant capital of Costa Rica, is a treasure trove of attractions for tourists. This bustling city is a melting pot of culture and natural beauty, offering a rich blend of history, art, and outdoor activities.

frontside of a building

Mercado Central: Experiencing the hustle-bustle of Mercado Central can provide tourists with a truly authentic Costa Rican experience. This lively market lets visitors indulge in local cuisine, shop for unique local arts and crafts, and soak in the vibrant aura of Costa Rican daily life. 

La Sabana Metropolitan Park: This expansive and beautiful park in San Jose is a beloved spot among locals and tourists alike. The park offers a range of activities from tranquil picnic spots, scenic walking paths, to even hosting local soccer games. It’s a true reflection of the peaceful yet energetic Costa Rican lifestyle.

These top-rated attractions offer a glimpse into what makes San Jose so special.

The Unforgettable Cultural Experiences in San Jose

small gathering of people near a historical building

San Jose is home to many cultural treasures. 

1. The National Theater, a true architectural gem, is a testament to Costa Rica’s artistic heritage. It’s not just about the stunning architecture but also the performances that take place here. This venue brings to life the country’s rich performing arts tradition. 

2. The Museum of Costa Rican Art in San Jose is another crucial landmark. It houses a plethora of artworks that span decades. At this museum, you can trace the artistic evolution of Costa Rica. It’s not just about appreciating the art. It’s also about understanding the shifting sensibilities of the artists and the society that influenced their work.

3. Tech Interactive: An institute of immersive science shows, multimedia workshops, and captivating interactive scientific exhibits. It offers explorative adventures into fields like space, robotics, biology, and more – making it a perfect spot for families.

people in art gallery

Photo by Noriko Slusser

4. The San Jose Museum of Art: A modern and contemporary art museum that houses a selection of local, national, and international artwork that encapsulates San Jose’s rich cultural and artistic scene.

5. Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum: Home to the most extensive collection of Ancient Egyptian artifacts on the west coast. It is modeled after the Temple of Amon in Karnak, which in itself is an attraction.

6. The Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose: This fascinating place in San Jose offers an array of interactive exhibits and programs encompassing science, humanities, performing arts, and health awareness. 

7. San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles: The first museum in the US to focus exclusively on quilts and textiles as an art form. The museum’s collection holds over 550 quilts, garments, and ethnic textiles, representing over 20 countries.

The Natural Beauty of Parks and Gardens in San Jose

San Jose is renowned for its vibrant and lush green spaces, The parks and gardens of this city are filled with natural beauty, contributing significantly to its charm.

Let’s delve into some of the must-visit parks in and around San Jose.

La Sabana Metropolitan Park

La Sabana Metropolitan Park in San Jose spans over 72 hectares and offers a wide range of outdoor activities. The park possesses an artificial lake, sports fields including the National Stadium, and several jogging paths. 

An ideal place for both relaxing and outdoor games, it also hosts the Costa Rican Art Museum, showcasing the country’s finest art pieces.

Braulio Carrillo National Park

Braulio Carrillo National Park, named after the country’s third president, is sprawled across nearly 50,000 hectares and is home to one of the last untouched rainforests in Central America.

The park is dominated by the dormant Barva Volcano, which towers 2,906 meters above sea level. The stunning landscape of Braulio Carrillo provides shelter to over 150 different species of mammals, including jaguars, tapirs, and monkeys. 

You can also come across an impressive diversity of birds, amphibians, and reptiles.

National Park of Costa Rica

sculpture of a man riding his horse in a park


Meanwhile, the National Park of Costa Rica, located in San Jose, also known as Parque Nacional, is a considerable historical and national symbol, housing several important buildings and monuments such as the National Monument, Heroes Memorial, and the statue of Costa Rica’s national hero, Juan Santamaria. 

Established in 1970 on the site of a former military barracks, it serves both as an urban park and as a cultural historical center, providing a tranquil green space in the bustling city of San Jose. It is also home to numerous species of trees, shrubs, and animals. This park makes for a perfect combination of both history and nature for visitors.

The Exciting Nightlife in San Jose: Top Things to See

San Jose, the bustling heart of Costa Rica, is waiting for you to dive into its vibrant nightlife. The city center, popularly known as downtown San, is the epicenter of this lively spectacle.

Costa Rica Beer Factory

Costa Rica Beer Factory


Among the many places to explore in San Jose, the Costa Rica Beer Factory stands out. This buzzing hotspot is a magnet for both locals and visitors, giving off an authentic San Jose vibe. It’s an experience to remember, from the live music echoing Costa Rican tunes to the array of locally brewed craft beers on offer.

The walls of the establishment are adorned with local art, turning the place into a miniature gallery. Additionally, it boasts a rooftop bar that serves spectacular city views along with your drink, further enhancing your evening.

El Steinvorth 

If you’re looking for an alternative and artsy scene in San Jose, head to El Steinvorth. Once a hardware store, this five-story building is now a cultural and nightlife venue. On its lower floors, discover a fusion of local and international music, from reggae bands to electronic DJs. The middle floors often host art exhibitions and pop-up markets, letting you immerse in local creativity.

On the top floor, savor a cocktail at the rooftop bar, indulging in fantastic views of the city. Whether you want to dance the night away or soak in local culture, El Steinvorth has something unique to offer.

Indulging in San Jose’s Unique Cuisine

San Jose’s cuisine is a flavorful amalgamation of indigenous, Spanish, and African traditions. This fusion creates an explosion of taste that will leave your palate yearning for more.

Start your day with Gallo Pinto. It’s a traditional breakfast dish made of rice and beans. It’s the perfect way to kickstart your morning.

For lunch, Casado is a must-try. This dish serves up a plate of rice, beans, plantains, salad, a tortilla, and your choice of protein. It’s a wholesome meal that is sure to satisfy your midday hunger.

delicious food on a plate

Ceviche, a seafood dish marinated in citrus juices, can be enjoyed at any time of the day. It’s a refreshing option that seafood lovers will undoubtedly appreciate.

When dinner rolls around, don’t miss out on Chifrijo. This dish is a hearty bowl of rice, beans, chicharrones (fried pork), and pico de gallo. It’s a filling meal that perfectly rounds off the day.

Finally, treat yourself to Tres Leches for dessert. This creamy, moist cake is soaked in three kinds of milk. It’s a sweet ending to your food journey in San Jose.

What about must-visit restaurants?

  • Restaurante Grano de Oro: Situated in a restored Victorian mansion in San Jose, Restaurante Grano de Oro offers Costa Rican cuisine with a European influence. The menu is diverse, with options such as duck confit and espresso-crusted beef. With its intimate atmosphere and elegant decor, this establishment ensures a romantic and memorable dining experience.
  • La Esquina de Buenos Aires: Known for its excellent steaks and warm ambience, La Esquina de Buenos Aires brings the taste of Argentina to San Jose. Whether you’re there for the premium cuts of meat, delightful empanadas, or the extensive wine list, this restaurant guarantees a satisfying meal every time.
  • Tin Jo: Tin Jo is San Jose’s oldest Asian restaurant that serves authentic and varied Asian cuisines including Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Vietnamese. Housed in a historic mansion, the restaurant’s serene and inviting ambiance is accompanied by a menu rich in flavors and vegetarian options. It’s a must-visit spot for all food enthusiasts craving for Asian treats.

Where To Go Shopping During Your Stay in San Jose?

San Jose is not just about food. It’s also a shopping paradise. Whether you fancy bustling markets or high-end boutiques, San Jose has got you covered. Apart from the already mentioned Mercado Central, there are other places to go on a shopping spree in San Jose:

  • For those who have a taste for luxury, Multiplaza Escazu is the destination. This shopping center houses numerous international designer brands. But it’s not just about shopping. It also has a good selection of restaurants and cafes where you can relax and refresh.
  • Avenida Central is another shopping spot in San Jose you should not miss. This pedestrian street is a shopping hub with a mix of local and international stores. Whether you want to buy Costa Rican coffee or handmade crafts, Avenida Central is the place to be. The vibrant atmosphere is further enhanced by street performers and local artists.

What Is the Best Time To Visit San Jose?

Photo by Alex Ip on UnsplashAre you pondering over the best time to schedule your shopping spree in San Jose, De Costa Rica?

The answer isn’t as straightforward as you might assume. San Jose’s pulsating city life provides a myriad of shopping opportunities, but the time of your visit can greatly shape your experience.

San Jose’s climate is largely tropical rainforest. Therefore, the city’s weather patterns should be a key consideration in your travel planning. From December to April, San Jose experiences its dry season. This is a time of clear, sunny days that are perfect for outdoor activities. You can expect to explore the city’s lively street markets under the warm sun.

On the flip side, the city’s wet season spans from May to November. Despite the rain and humidity, this season has its own unique appeal. During this period, San Jose is less packed with tourists. This allows you to experience the city in a more leisurely and relaxed way. For a more detailed answer, make sure to check out our comprehensive guide.

Here’s a quick summary of the two seasons:

Dry Season:

  • Runs from December to April.
  • Weather is sunny, dry, and warm.
  • The city tends to be crowded.
  • Ideal for outdoor activities.
  • Hotel rates are generally higher.

Wet Season:

  • Spans from May to November.-
  • Weather is rainy, humid, and cooler.-
  • Less crowded.
  • Perfect for indoor activities.
  • Hotel rates are comparatively lower.

The Thrill of Adventure Sports in San Jose

After deciding on the ideal season for your visit to San Jose, it’s time to plan your agenda. If you’re one for adrenaline-fueled activities, San Jose is your perfect playground, brimming with a variety of adventure sports.

One of these is ziplining. But it’s not just about the rush of adrenaline. It’s about gliding through Costa Rica’s lush, green rainforest canopy. The view you experience while ziplining is nothing short of breathtaking. For the more daring, there’s the ‘Superman’ zipline which lets you fly face-first.

Another popular activity is whitewater rafting. The Pacuare River in San Jose is renowned for offering some of the best whitewater rafting experiences globally. Brace yourself for an exhilarating ride through Class III and IV rapids.

Mountain biking is another thrilling way to experience San Jose. Costa Rica’s diverse landscape makes it a paradise for mountain bikers. The trails around the Irazu Volcano offer a uniquely unforgettable biking experience.

Things To Do in San Jose, Costa Rica

San Jose, Costa Rica, is a vibrant city that offers a rich blend of culture, nature, adventure, gastronomy, and more. From exploring top-rated attractions and museums that unveil the history and biodiversity of this beautiful country; relishing in the lush green parks and gardens; diving into the city’s nightlife; treating your taste buds with a variety of traditional dishes served across renowned restaurants; to the thrilling adventure sports, the buzzing capital has a something for everyone.

As you plan your itinerary, remember to consider the climate and the best season to visit for an enriched experience. Also, save some time to engage with the vibrant local markets that promise a sensory fiesta. So pack your bags, and discover the charm and the unique experiences that await you in this dynamic city.

Sassari Sardinia

Hey - I'm Eva!

Hiker, adventurous traveler and the author of this blog. My biggest joy is mountaineering and writing reportage travel stories here on this blog, to help you create a unique travel experience. Traveling is freedom, allows you seeing the world truly, meet communities, grow. Taste it!