Is San Jose, Costa Rica worth your time?

June 11, 2024

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We’re just going to come out and say it: Yes, San Jose, Costa Rica is worth visiting — if you have time in your itinerary and it makes sense logistically to spend a night in the city before or after your flight.

Here’s the deal:

Costa Rica’s spectacular natural beauty is outside its capital. You’re probably traveling to Costa Rica for its majestic volcanoes, misty cloud forests, next-level biodiversity, and postcard-perfect beaches… not to sit in city traffic. So, San Jose doesn’t necessarily need a spot on your Costa Rica travel bucket list. 

That said, it’s a shame when people dismiss San Jose or say it’s not worth visiting at all! 

Having lived in San Jose for nearly a decade, we can confidently say that the city offers unique attractions and fabulous foodie finds that are well worth your time, if you’ve got it.

In this article, we’ll address your San Jose safety concerns and share some of the best hidden gems in the city so you can have a fantastic time exploring everything San Jose offers.

Tired of trying to DIY your trip and wondering who you can actually trust for advice? With DTA, not only do you pay the same (or often less) than booking on your own, but you save time, get more bang for your buck, and support (from a real human) day or night, when you need it. Learn more about our Costa Rica travel planning here. 

Is San Jose safe to visit? 

One of the most common questions we receive from clients is regarding the safety of San Jose. As long-time residents, we always reassure our clients that with basic precautions, you can have a safe visit. Like any big city, there are areas to avoid and  it’s important to stay aware of your surroundings, avoid displaying valuables, and be cautious in unfamiliar neighborhoods, especially at night.

Ultimately, Ticos are kind and helpful. With common sense and these basic precautions, San Jose can be a welcoming and enjoyable destination.

What to do in San Jose?

Most travel articles recommend the same basic attractions: Mercado Central, the National Theater, the Jade Museum, and dinner at Silvestre. While these spots are great, we want to share some hidden gems we’ve discovered from living in the city for nearly ten years. 

Feria Verde

Feria Verde, held every Saturday, is a vibrant farmer’s market located in the heart of San Jose. This market is a hub for organic produce, artisanal goods, and local delicacies. Wander through the stalls to sample fresh fruits, vegetables, homemade cheeses, and delicious street food like empanadas and tamales. The market also features live music and a welcoming community atmosphere, making it a perfect spot to experience local culture and enjoy a relaxed Saturday morning.

Barrio Escalante

Barrio Escalante is a hip neighborhood known for its vibrant street art and an eclectic mix of restaurants, cafes, bakeries, and bars. Once a quiet residential area, it has become a lively food scene, especially along Calle 33, known as Paseo Gastronómico La Luz. This area is perfect for exploring and discovering buzzing spots, offering diverse dining options that cater to all tastes.

Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Farm

Located just 30 minutes from San Jose, Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Farm offers an immersive coffee experience in the heart of Costa Rica. This sustainable plantation provides tours that teach you about the coffee-making process, from cultivation to cup. Enjoy a fresh brew while taking in stunning views of the surrounding countryside or make a reservation for a chef’s table farm–to-table-dinner.

Hacienda Alsacia Starbucks

Hacienda Alsacia, also located just outside San Jose but on the slopes of Poás Volcano, offers a unique insight into Starbucks’ coffee operations. The on-site coffee shop provides a serene setting to relax and savor various coffee blends, making it a must-visit for coffee enthusiasts looking to experience the origins of their favorite brew in a stunning environment.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens

La Paz Waterfall Gardens is a stunning nature park that features beautiful waterfalls, lush tropical gardens, and various wildlife exhibits. You can walk along well-maintained trails that offer close-up views of the waterfalls and take in magical cloud forest. The park also has a butterfly observatory, a hummingbird garden, and a serpentarium, making it a perfect spot for nature lovers and families.

Café Negroni

Café Negroni offers creative cocktails and an Italian-inspired menu in a trendy, tropical setting. It’s an ideal spot for groups looking to enjoy a fun, lively atmosphere. We recommend making reservations in advance to secure your place.

Restaurante EnBoca

EnBoca is known for its innovative and custom-crafted cocktails. Just tell the bartenders what you like, and they’ll whip up a drink tailored to your unique taste! The modern decor and lively ambiance make it a good choice for a night out with friends. They also have a solid menu; we recommend ordering a bunch of dishes to share. 

La Casona de Laly

La Casona de Laly is a hidden gem in the Escazu neighborhood, offering a taste of traditional Costa Rican cuisine. This soda is a local favorite for its hearty, authentic dishes. Try the gallo pinto or arroz con pollo for an authentic taste of Costa Rican home cooking.

Hilton La Sabana

The Hilton La Sabana offers an unmatched location beside the National Stadium, making it a prime spot for those looking to experience the vibrant energy of games and concerts. Whether you dine at their restaurant or stay the night, you’ll enjoy unparalleled views of the stadium and La Sabana Park.

Hotel Grano de Oro

Hotel Grano de Oro is a boutique hotel housed in a beautifully restored Victorian mansion, blending historical charm with modern comforts. If you’re looking for a memorable stay far removed from the typical chain airport hotels, this place offers a unique experience with a warm, inviting atmosphere.

San Jose might not have a reputation as a must-visit destination, but if you’ve got a night or two in the city, you’ll have an excellent time checking out these foodie finds and nearby attractions.

Ready for the ultimate Costa Rica vacation that you’ll remember for a lifetime? With over 3,500 Costa Rica trips under our belt, you can think of us as your local Costa Rica travel experts. Plus, our itineraries are 100% customizable and include exclusive perks. Did somebody say in-room champagne? 😉

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