San Jose is not the place everyone dreams of going to, but it is the biggest city in Costa Rica and probably the place where you will land, so might as well go and visit. The city looks like pretty much any big city, but its population is very friendly, the mountains in the background are absolutely gorgeous and there are some nice neighborhoods that are fun to explore. So here is my guide to anyone visiting San Jose or transiting through San Jose.
What to do
In the city itself, there are some nice restaurants, cute souvenir shops and beautiful murals to see, but if you are in San Jose for a few days, I suggest taking the public bus and exploring the surrounding active volcanoes. Poas is a popular choice among tourists since you can see both coasts from up there on a clear day, but it was actually erupting during our trip so we opted for Irazu, which is the highest volcano in Costa Rica. The public bus leaves from the Teatro Nacional every morning (we asked our host at our hostel and there were a few departures everyday, but it is worth it to go early) and costs about 5 USD per person for a round trip. Entrance to the park itself costs 10 USD per person. The drive takes a few hours, but you get beautiful views of the valley and, especially since we went on our first day in Coast Rica, we were very impressed by the landscapes. The Irazu volcanoe has an impressive crater filled with blue and green water. On the day we visited, the top of the volcanoe was completely surrounded by clouds and we could barely see a few meters in front of us. We were so disappointed we wouldn't be able to see and started exploring the surrounding trails. After a while, we had no idea where we were and couldn't see the way back, when suddenly, the wind pushed the clouds away and just for a few minutes we could see the whole crater! During the hour that we spent in the park, we were lucky to get a few minutes of visibility every ten or fifteen minutes, but it was so worth it. The view was breath taking and we were so happy to just be able to see it that we enjoyed those few minutes even more. Know that the crater sits 3000 m above so level so a coat and long pants are necessary even if the weather is warm in San Jose.
Where to stay
We stayed in hostels both times we were in San Jose and had a really good experience. Our first two nights in Costa Rica, we stayed at Hostel Finca Escalante and our host Warren was super helpful and knowledgeable and really helped us figure out the rest of our trip and our time in San Jose. He also helped us with bus schedules and places to see in San Jose and gave us fresh bananas and pineapple from the garden! Yum! I highly recommend this hostel. It is close to the downtown area and we could walk to bus stations, restaurants and attractions. It is also in a quieter neighborhood.
On our last day in Costa Rica, we slept in Fauna Luxury Hostel which is still a hostel but deluxe. Each bed was in a little box with a curtain at our feet so it felt like having our own tiny room. There is a pool and sauna and a restaurant/bar. They also offer yoga classes and other activities. If you are looking for a resort atmosphere where you can relax without any worries and not looking to explore the town of San Jose, this place is perfect!
There were many affordable options on Hostelworld, but also on Booking.com or Expedia, just make sure to check where they are located depending on what you are looking for and at the amenities they offer.
Where to eat
Two words: get ice cream! Okay it's actually three words, but whatever! Seriously, they have so many options for ice cream and so many ice cream parlours everywhere in Costa Rica, but especially in San Jose and it is delicious!
In the downtown area, there are a lot of restaurants that offer any kind of food you could want. We opted for a Costa Rican meal at El Patio del Balmoral and it was delicious and affordable. There are also fruit stands at every corner with fresh seasonal fruits.
How to get around
Know that there are no street addresses in Costa Rica so the address for your hotel is going to be on avenue X between streets Y and Z. Good luck! It's actually not as bad as it sounds, just a little disorientating at first. Also, Uber is available in Costa Rica and much cheaper and safer than taking a cab. Not that cabs are unsafe (use the red taxi company as they are the only ones that are approved), but on the few occasions that we had to take one, for example from the airport to our hostel, they acted like they had no idea were we were going and took the long way and tried to give us the price in Colones and the wrong conversion in US dollars and say that their TPV machine wasn't working which was false. Public buses are safe and reliable and usually on time. We always took the bus between every city or town that we visited and never had a problem. Just be aware that you need to pay either in Colones or USD and they don't accept bank cards or credit cards. Also the schedule is not on Internet, but you can ask your host or go to the bus station the day before to see the schedule.
Even though I couldn't say that San Jose was one of my favorites in Costa Rica since it cannot rival with the smaller villages and towns, their local feel and beautiful scenery, I still enjoyed my time in San Jose. I wouldn't spend more than a few days there though. For a major city, everyone was nice and welcoming and I never felt unsafe.
Are you taking a few days to explore San Jose or are skipping it to head directly to beach and the jungle? Tell me in the comments below!
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