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San Jose (Costa Rica)

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Travel Guide Central America Costa Rica San Jose



Mercado Central - San Jose

Mercado Central - San Jose

© All Rights Reserved Cyprian

San José is the capital and largest city in Costa Rica. It has a total population of about 1.7 million inhabitants living in the metropolitan area, although the city itself is much smaller with around 400,000 people. It is located in the central part of the country in the Central Valley at an elevation of about 1,200 metres above sea level. San José is the administrative, political and economic centre of the country and functions as the main transportation hub of Costa Rica. The city was founded in the 18th century and became the capital in 1823. It has seen massive growth during the last decades and now is a sprawling urban area full of attractions for travellers. A visit to San José before travelling onwards to explore the great nature is highly recommended.



Sights and Activities

  • Museo de Oro Precolombino (The Gold Museum), ☎ +506 2243-4202, e-mail: An underground museum below Plaza de la Cultura. Tu-Su 10:00am-4:30pm. Entrance fee $5,500 Colones or $11 for foreigners (or 4,500 Colones with a student ID card). It is cheaper to pay in Colones here as of Jan 2015. The collection consists of 1,600 pieces of Pre-Columbian gold work dating from 500 AD to 1500 AD. Although not of the quality seen in the Andes, the animal pieces are very impressive and make the museum a must-see for those interested in art or history. The museum explains the processing and production of the pieces as well as their social, cultural, and religious meanings. The entrance fee includes The Numismatic Museum (under renovation Jan 2015) and The Temporary Exhibition Galleries, which are inside the same labyrinthine complex. There is a nice museum shop and a tourist office at the entrance.
  • Museo del Jade (The Jade Museum), Avenida Central, Calle 13., ☎ +506 2287-6034. M-F 8:30am-3:30pm, SA:10:00am to 1:00pm. The museum has recently relocated to a large modern building next to the Artesanal Market. Most tourist maps still show the old location across from Hotel Hemingway, but the new location is only 4 blocks away and closer to the Plaza de la Cultura. The brand new complex is now one of the hemisphere's premier museums and is worth the sizable entry fee. It hosts the largest collection of precolumbian jade in the Americas and explains how these impressive pieces were produced. The museum displays a wide variety of other objects made of gold, stone, bone, ceramics, and shells. There is a smattering of objects similar to those at the Museo de Oro (gold pieces) and Museo Nacional (stone spheres and ceramics). You can gain insight into the daily lives of the people in the precolumbian era with numerous bilingual English-Spanish. If you only have time for visiting one museum, this is the recommended choice, albeit the craftsmanship of the pieces at the Museo de Oro is higher. Entrance: USD $15 for foreigners, $5 for locals.
  • Museo de los Niños (The children's museum), Antigua Penitenciaría (the old prison). Tel. 258-4929. M-F 9:30am-3:30pm, Sa-Su 10:00am-4:00pm. Entrance fee 600 Colones for adults and 300 for children. This is an edutainment museum, and it was designed for Costa Rica's children, all the exhibits are in Spanish only. Not recommended as a visit, except when the Auditorio Nacional is hosting a concert or art gallery.
  • Museo Nacional, Calle 17 Avenida 2. Tel 257-1433. Tu-Su 8:30am-4:30pm. Entrance fee 2000 Colones. The museum includes a large butterfly garden (With many morpho butterflies) and a collection of large stone spheres from the Diquis Valley near the Pacific Ocean, a permanent precolumbian exhibition, the barracks, the rooms of the army general and his family, and a couple of temporal exhibits at the time. The museum building is an old fort called Cuartel Bellavista, in this place the Army was symbolically abolished by then president Jose Figueres Ferrer on December 1st, 1948 after the last civil war and armed conflict in the country.
  • Museo de Arte Costarricense, east end of Sabana Park. This used to be San Jose's main airport terminal back when La Sabana was the airport. Tel 222-7155. Tu-Sa 10:00-16:00, Su 10:00-14:00. Entrance fee $5 (students $3).
  • Insect Museum at the Universidad de Costa Rica A very elegant collection of exotic bugs. Only a few dollars, but check the times when they are open.
  • Museo de arte y diseño contemporáneo (MADC) Definitely the main institution in Costa Rica dedicated to the broadcasting of contemporary art. Centro Nacional de la Cultura, Antigua Fábrica Nacional de Licores. Avenida 3, calle 15/17. San José, Costa Rica. Tel: +506 2257-7202 / +506 2257-9370 Fax: +506 2257-8702. Info related to current exhibitions, schedules and admission fees can be found at their oficial website
  • Zoológico Simón Bolivar An almost hidden zoo in Barrio Amón, some of the most representative animals are available in this small zoo. There are many big cats, including a non native lion, the serpentarium is one of the most interesting spots, with colorful (and dangerous) snakes available.



Events and Festivals

  • Independence Day - Every September 15th, the city of San Jose erupts in celebration for its Independence Day. This holiday is hugely celebrated throughout the country, but San Jose houses one of the most elaborate events. Visitors should expect to see grand parades and patriotic decorations all around town.
  • Festival Internacional De Las Artes - This annual arts and music festival features both national and international performers. This eclectic event showcases culturally-fueled music, theater, film, and dance presentations. Held every year in March, this is a great event for those visiting San Jose in the springtime.
  • Fiesta De Las Carretas (01 Nov 2013 - 30 Nov 2013) - A low-key, but important festival held every year during the month of November. In an effort to remind an ever increasingly urban San Jose of its agricultural roots, this festival features traditional, hand-painted ox carts, or carretas, that make their way slowly past downtown's high-rises on their journey to Parque La Sabana. Once at the park, the oxcart drivers are greeted by food stands, live music, and religious ceremonies.
  • Holy Week - As a primarily Catholic city, San Jose, practically shuts down for its Holy Week celebrations. Beginning on the Thursday before Easter, the city features various religious events, sells traditional holiday food, and hosts parades all around town in preparation for Easter.
  • Virgin of the Sea Festa - This popular Costa Rican celebration features a colorful display of decorated fishing boats in the Nicoya Gulf to celebrate the Virgin of Mount Carmel. Thousands of locals flock to the harbor to view the boat decorations and witness the blessing of the boats by a local priest. Special masses, parades, and concerts are also held during this time. Visitors can also expect to see a grand fireworks display in the evening. Local food will be offered, like casado (rice, beans, stewed beef, fried plantain, salad and cabbage), olla de carne (soup of beef, plantain, yucca, nampi and chayote)) and picadillo (meat and vegetable stew). This event takes place the Saturday closest to July 16th.
  • Tope Nacional de Caballos & Fiesta de la Luz (26 Dec 2013) - This horse parade, or "tope", is held every year on the 26th of December. During this event, the most talented horsemen in Costa Rica perform along the Paseo Colon with more than 3,000 horses. Also held on the 26th of December is the Fiesta of “The Light”. This fiesta is a a beautiful Christmas parade held near the city's capitol. The evening events culminate with a beautiful fireworks display.




Because of its elevation, San José enjoys a climate which is much milder than its lower counterparts towards the Pacific and Caribbean sea. Average day temperatures are around 26 °C, but from February to May it is slightly warmer, around 28 °C. Night temperatures are around 18 °C year round. From May to October is the rainy season with 300 mm of rain a month on average. From November to April is the best time to visit, and January to March sea barely any rain at all. Humidity is high year round, but higher during the rainy season, and the relatively low temperatures compared to lower parts of the country make it more bearable as well.

Avg Max23.4 °C23.9 °C25.1 °C25.7 °C26.1 °C25.7 °C24.9 °C25.2 °C25.8 °C25.4 °C24.2 °C23.4 °C
Avg Min15.4 °C15.3 °C15.8 °C16.4 °C17 °C16.9 °C16.3 °C16.7 °C16.5 °C16.4 °C16.3 °C15.8 °C
Rainfall9.1 mm5.4 mm12 mm43.8 mm222 mm282.6 mm208.1 mm252.2 mm325 mm326 mm139.1 mm40.3 mm



Getting There

By Plane

Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) near San José receives a growing number of international flights, for example with the national airline Lacsa which is part of the Grupo TACA. Services are with a number of Lacsa/TACA flights to destinations mainly in Central America and several cities in the United States and South America. Destinations further away include Madrid with Iberia, Frankfurt with Condor Flugdienst and Gatwick Airport with British Airways and flights to and from Toronto, and other destinations. Paradise Air has flights to a few dozen of domestic destinations, including Barra de Tortuguero, Limón and Liberia. The Alajuela - San José route buses stop there in both directions. Buses from other routes also stop there. Licensed taxis are available in the airport.

There is an exit tax that has to be paid at the airport. As of December 3, 2014, the tax is supposed to be included in the price of airline tickets purchased from that date and moving forward. So airlines are including this tax in the ticket price. Be sure to check on this. In addition to the exit tax, you are not allowed to take liquids or gels on the plane, even if you bought them after you went through security. There is a second security inspection on the end of the Jet Bridge.

The smaller Tobías Bolaños International Airport (SYQ) is located in the Pavas District in San José and has domestic and international flights with Nature Air to/from Arenal, Bocas del Toro, Drake Bay, Golfito, Liberia, Managua, Nosara, Palmar Sur, Puerto Jiménez, Punta Islita, Quepos, Tamarindo, Tambor and Tortuguero.

By Train

Trains have recently made a comeback in Costa Rica and, after being shut down for many years, several routes have been put back into service using second-hand equipment brought over from Spain and some very ancient wooden carriages that look like they have been taken from a museum. Lines are mostly singe-track and level crossings have no lights or protection at all, which has led to several accidents. There's also no signalling. Overall it's an interesting experience if you have the time and it's the best way of getting to Heredia (a lot faster and more comfortable than the bus).

  • Heredia - on weekdays, trains run between San José and Heredia every half an hour in the mornings (6:00-9:00am) and afternoons (3:30pm-8:00pm), leaving from Estación del Atlántico near the Parque Nacional. Some of these trains continue on to the UCR and U Latina in San Pedro. The 6:00pm departure from San José (returning at 7:00pm) is a big train, so you can almost always get a seat on this one.
  • Pavas, San Pedro and Curridabat - another line runs through the south of the city, stopping at Estación del Pacifico, Sábana and heading west into Pavas and eventually turning round in a fairly dangerous slum area in the middle of the hills. If you take it east, it stops across the road from Estación del Atlantico and then goes to the UCR, U Latina and Curridabat. Timetables are very limited, with just one train per hour early in the morning and in the evening on weekdays.
  • Belén - A new service to Belén (just south of the airport) started on 5th April, leaving from Estación del Pacifico. Services are approximately every half an hour between 6:00-8:00am and 4:00-8:00pm on weekdays only and take 35 minutes.

By Bus

Buses from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama both, arrive to and leave from San José.

The Tica Bus terminal is the most common choice for locals and foreigners alike when it comes to traveling around Central America and even Mexico. Please take note that it has recently been moved to the other end of town, near the Mercedes Tower. (Address: 200 metres north and 100 metres west of Torre Mercedes (Paseo Colón), in front of the Magisterio Nacional Mortuary)

King Quality is a new choice available, their prices are considerably more expensive or cheaper than Tica Bus depending on the destination. There is also Transnica, note they don't have a website up, for information their phone number is +506 2223-4123.

Of course most local buses start or end here. There are several bus terminals in San José. It is important to know which bus terminal serves your bus route. Bus stops are usually every few blocks in the city. Take always a taxi, when traveling with luggage.And it is highly likely to speak to you when you arrive.



Getting Around

By Car

Taxis are generally cheap. All taxis should have a meter. The fare starts at 570 colones, and is 570 per kilometer. The value of the Colón fluctuates roughly above 500 to the US Dollar and some locals still call 500 Colónes "one Dollar" in day to day life. A ride inside the city centre will normally cost 580-2500 colones. Basically a couple dollars, which they will accept, will get you anywhere in the city. Be aware that it is close to useless to give a taxi driver an exact street address. You have to point out some well known building, park or hotel close to where you are going. Often there are no street signs and addresses are difficult to find, so be sure you know where you are going or you could get lost very easily. If you are driving in Costa Rica (one may see vehicles from Mississippi, British Columbia, Panama, and other places) note that the traffic lights don't have the yellow border around them and can sometimes be difficult to see, the road network is well utilized by locals (to overcapacity) so don't expect to get anywhere fast, also motorcycles weave in and out of traffic. Keep in mind the pet peeve most tourists have with tico kindness: oftentimes when a tico has no idea where a certain destination you may have had in mind is, he or she will simply direct you to a random location. Oftentimes simply incomprehensible, these directions are a reflection on the cultural approach to kindness many Costa Ricans adopt.

By Public Transport

Public transport system includes buses, tram is planned in the city center. Bus lines, maps, schedules and ticket prices are available at Ruta en linea San José.

By Foot

Central San José can be explored on foot.

By Bike

It is as well possible to get around by bicycle in San José. If you want to buy a bicycle you find stores in Calle 6 / Av. 5 (Coca Cola) or south of "Avenida Segunda" on the corner or Av.6 / Calle 4. In the south east corner of plaza Viquez you find a small bicycle store.




Mercado Central is a very old, interesting and bustling food market, which also contains a number of small restaurants and quick-serve counters for the locals. You will find fresh cooked fish and shellfish, corn based dishes, sopa de pescado (fish soup) and such exotics as "squid in his ink", ceviche (small bits of raw fish "cooked" in lime juice), helado de sorbetera (artesanal local cinnamon ice-cream) and more. Perhaps not for the faint of heart. And you could always just go for La Calle - Anything a street vendor is selling is probably good, for example the Mangos, street vendors often sell unripe mango strips with salt and lime, it's great.





View our map of accommodation in San José or use the form below to search for availability (Travellerspoint receives a commission for bookings made through the form)




Costa Rica in general, and San José in particular, is a great place to improve your Spanish language skills. Many people can speak some English and there are many Spanish classes available, including at the Universidad de Costa Rica, as well as "immersion" classes in private homes.



Keep Connected


It's easy to find internet access, and although you can still can find a lot of internet cafes, wifi is growing fast in the country. The further away you get from San Jose, the slower and more expensive it becomes when you are using an internet cafe. Wifi is generally free of charge at most places though and apart from off the beaten track parks, jungles and mountains, the connection generally is ok. Some internet cafés also offer international calls via either phone or IP using services like Skype.


See also: International Telephone Calls

  • The country calling code to Costa Rica is 506.
  • To make an international call from Costa Rica, the code is 00.

There are plenty of phone booths around and you will get the best rate using a pre-paid international card (can often be purchased in internet cafés and other small stores). There is usually a connection fee making short calls extra expensive. International calls are fairly expensive. The cheapest way to make them is over the internet using a service such as Skype at an Internet café. But making short calls using the domestic calling cards (you can make international calls using these but the denominations of the calling cards are quite small so your call will be short!) or the international calling cards available within Costa Rica (all from the government phone monopoly ICE) is the next best deal.

Those travelling with a mobile phone and willing to pay the roaming costs should ensure it supports 1,800 MHz GSM network. Note that the GSM phone systems in the United States and Canada use different frequencies and that travelers from there will need a "world" handset, such as a tri-band or quad-band phone, if you want to use your existing cell phone. If you want to use a local Costa Rica number, you can rent cell phone service, and of course anyone can buy a cell phone. If you have an unlocked cell phone (either one from home or bought in Costa Rica - all cell phones sold in Costa Rica must be unlocked), prepaid (prepago) SIM cards can provide a local number and service can be purchased throughout the country by anyone with a passport from any country. Try using companies like Grupo ICE under the Kölbi brand, TuYo Movil, Movistar and Claro.


Correos de Costa Rica (website in Spanish only) is the national postal services of Costa Rica. You can find post offices (correos) in almost any city and town and they are generally open from 7:30am to 5:30pm or 6:00pm Monday to Friday and 7:30am to noon on Saturdays. There are not that many mailboxes, so it's best to ask your hotel or go directly to the post offices. Services tend to be slow but generally reliable and on the whole cheap regarding letters and postcards. It costs about US$0.20 to the USA and Canada (taking about 1 week to 10 days), US$0.25 to Europe (about 2 weeks) and US$0.30 to Asia and Australia (3 weeks or even more). All in all, if you can try and arrange your mail from the capital San José as it's generally quicker from there. Small packages are also no problem, though take them to the post offices unpacked for inspection first! Otherwise, arrange things through private international courier services like UPS, FedEx, DHL or TNT.


Quick Facts


  • Latitude: 9.927128
  • Longitude: -84.082012

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