San José (Costa Rica)

The center of San José

San José is the capital of Costa Rica.


San José, the capital, is on a plateau in the Central Valley at 1200 m (3,700 ft) elevation. It is ringed by lush green mountains and valleys. The population of this city is probably half of the whole country. It is served by the primary airport (which technically is in nearby Alajuela) the University of Costa Rica, the US and other embassies, and many museums, cultural venues, hotels, markets, etc. It is the hub of the country.


 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Daily highs (°C) 26.0 26.8 27.9 28.4 27.6 27.0 26.9 27.0 26.9 26.5 26.2 25.9
Nightly lows (°C) 17.8 18.0 18.1 18.8 19.0 18.9 19.0 18.8 18.2 18.2 18.6 18.3
Precipitation (mm) 6.3 10.2 13.8 79.9 267.6 280.1 181.5 276.9 355.1 330.6 135.5 33.5

Weather in San José varies throughout the year and is affected by Caribbean weather conditions. Because of its elevation San José is usually 70 to 80°F (21 to 27°C) though it can get chilly at night. The rainy season is from mid April through December.

Get in

By plane

The airport (IATA: SJO) is 17km or about 20 minutes by car from the center of San José. The city closest to the airport is actually Alajuela.

There is a local bus stop outside the airport (on the other side of the multi-story car park which you see when you come out of arrivals). It costs less than 1 US$ and takes you right downtown. The cheapest option is taking the bus into downtown and get a taxi there for your final destination. The taxis charge around 25 US Dollars to take you to the city, be sure to take one of the licensed reddish-orange taxis that say "Taxi Aeropuerto." There are many unlicensed taxi drivers who will charge you almost twice as much as Taxi Aeropuerto. The taxis gladly take Dollars, but the local bus only takes Colones and they would not be pleased to get a 10 000 Colones bill.

There is an ATM by the entrance to the departures that will give you both Colones and Dollars.

Do not exchange money when arriving at the San Jose airport. The exchange rate used there is not the official rate and you will get a lot fewer colones. However, the departure hall upstairs has a BCR bank with normal exchange rates. It is right next to the departure tax payment area, buy when you arrive yo avoid the queue on departure.

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 meters north and 100 meters 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.

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).

Timetables for all services are available at: this website

Heredia: on weekdays, trains run between San José and Heredia every half an hour in the mornings (6AM-9AM) and afternoons (3:30PM-8PM), 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 6PM departure from San José (returning at 7PM) 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 6-8AM and 4-8PM on weekdays only and take 35 minutes.

Get around

By bus

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.

The bus system is reliable, comfortable, extensive, and very cheap. For instance it costs about $5 to travel from San José to the Nicoya Peninsula.

By taxi

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 center 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 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.



The main downtown area is a bustling collection of well-laid out streets filled with bustling traffic and lined with eclectic, historic architecture. On the surface it is a gritty downtown area, but look inside and you'll find friendly people, quirky spots, and the historic side of San José that change your impression. A walking tour is the best way to see this area.


There are a lot of other tours and local events and doings in and from San José. Some include:

Street Life





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.



Throughout the city, there are also a good deal of shops with wooden and ceramic souvenirs. The wooden pieces, such as masks, plaques, and other forms of wall art, are all beautifully hand carved as well as hand painted and the artisan usually signs their work with their name and where it was made on the backside. The ceramic pottery and dishware is done in this similar fashion and are available in a variety of designs and colors. These make interesting and personally unique gifts to bring home to family and friends for a reasonable price. San Pedro Mall: A very modern mall located east of the city. On the outside it is beautifully constructed and it is three stories high.


The best coffees have deserved reputations for superb quality. Super markets/grocers and small coffee growers usually have better prices than shops that cater to tourists. Often packaged in 12 oz. sealed bags, you should only purchase roasted, whole beans rather than ground...for epicures, "strictly hard bean" (SHB)). They will keep flavor longer...until you can store them properly at home (Google for methods), and won't include sugar as often found in Costa Rican ground. Roasted coffee also prevents you from running afoul of agencies such as FDA/APHIS that requires special licensing for importing "green"/unroasted beans (may be considered plant material).


The best cigars, where you will find a huge selection of Cuban Cigars is located at The Havana Humidor Room, 2 blocks North and 1 block West of the Holiday Inn.

Food markets


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.


Gay and Lesbian nightlife

San José is a very tolerant city. Most bars are gay friendly. There is a small but vibrant gay life in San José from lesbian bars, to saunas and twink discos.


San José is full of hotels from one star to perhaps three. To the east on the Caribbean and the west on the Pacific are numerous tourist hotels and lodgings of every description. To the northwest near Guanacaste, close to Nicaragua, are more. Closest to the airport are Hampton Inn, Doubletree and Marriott.


Fátima´s church North side, (Barrio Los Yoses, San Pedro),  +506 2234-2998, e-mail: . Lounge Hostel with Private rooms (with/out baths, from 15 USD per person) and dorms (from 11 USD), Breakfast included. Free WiFi inside the rooms, pool table, air-hockey table, a garden with BBQ area, kitchen for free use. All new and modern. 2 blocks away from bars, supremarket and the San Pedro Mall. One hostel, One home, A different way of living in San José!



Near the Airport

Stay safe

Always remember, regardless of whether you're at home or abroad, to use common sense. Be constantly aware of your surroundings. Do not be too trusting of others and be attentive of what the people around you are doing; if it seems suspicious or you feel threatened make sure you take the necessary steps to keep yourself and your belongings safe. Of course, this does not mean you should stress out about safety, have fun while you vacation, but don't be too careless.

In San José and throughout the nation's urban centers, the traffic is wild and dangerous. It is not the norm for cars to stop for pedestrians; in fact, they generally drive very fast, which can make walking across streets difficult and even dangerous.

The area around the Coca Cola Bus Terminal, and most other terminals, is not as safe; especially at night. And some, like the aforementioned bus terminal, are not safe during the day and night. You should watch your belongings and stay with a group of people you trust at all times if walking through the city.

As mentioned before, don't openly trust strangers. As an example of a situation which is not uncommon and revolves around some levels of trust, if you have a flat tire on main highways, don't accept help except from an established service station, Many opportunistic petty thieves use these circumstances and kindness to try to steal anything possible, and could even turn the situation into a car-jacking. Petty theft is high risk, including from valet parking staff and housekeepers in hotels.

If you travel by bus, try not to put your luggage into the storage space above the seats. If you put your rucksack between your knees you will have better control of your belongings. Car theft is a problem in San José, make sure you take the necessary actions to reduce the chances of having your vehicle stolen; or anything within your vehicle. For example, bring a club (steering wheel lock) or park in locked fence areas or the city's parking buildings.

Always wear your seat belt. Going off of the scenarios of dangerous drivers, the taxi cabs that you choose to travel in MUST have a yellow triangle sticker on the front doors with the plate number. This demonstrates that that particular vehicle and the driver are legitimate. If anything were to happen, you (as a tourist) would know who to file a complaint with, etc. As a warning: Please do not enter any vehicle that does not have this larger triangle sticker on it (usually on the door) because the driver is most likely an illegal taxi; which means that you are choosing someone who may not be properly licensed or have met the requirements for transporting other people. The airport is a frequent "hot-spot" for these sort of incidents to occur quickly, because someone can come up to you (knowing that you are a tourist, not aware of their customs or regulations, and will exploit that), grab your luggage, and start loading it into their car - but be sure to check the vehicle for the yellow triangle as well as wrestling your luggage back out of the car. The orange taxis at the airport are the official airport taxis.

Be particularly careful with your passport and other documentation. Also, police may stop you and take you to jail for not carrying your passport, or a photocopy of the main page and the entry stamp (very recommendable instead of carrying your passport).

Generally speaking if you stick to the tourist spots in the city you will be safe, just try to avoid showing off valuables more than necessary, if you're taking a picture put your camera away as soon as its taken, never show big amounts of cash, exercise caution. Avoid at all costs walking at night, either right downtown or in the suburbs, cabs and buses are too cheap, so walking at night is a very unnecessary risk. As with any big city, use common sense and keep your belongings in front or beside you - never on your back. San José is known for its abundance and skill of pickpockets.

Stay healthy

San José, as the largest city in C.R. has the largest hospitals, both public and private. Tourists can use the private hospitals, and pay with cash or credit card. The wait is significantly shorter than at public hospitals. Also note the bigger private hospitals in the country are considerably more expensive than the many, smaller private hospitals throughout the city. Most doctors can speak medical English, and they provide translator services. Most private doctors and hospitals do take foreign insurance plans. Ask beforehand. If you are unlucky enough to have your child get really sick he or she will be transferred to the only children's hospital in the country in San José, which is public.



Cable TV channels have many American English language channels. Fox News, CNN, CNBC, TNT, HBO, ESPN, ABC, NBC, and CBS stations are broadcast from New York City.

On Amnet in San José ABC, CBS, and NBC are broadcast on channels 69-71 respectively. The feeds are from Denver, CO.


Embassies and High Commissions

Go next

Being the capital, San José is the hub for all travel in Costa Rica. This means you can go anywhere from here. You can take the local buses for local travel within the city or to neighboring cities (such as Cartago or Heredia) or the more expensive bus services from Interbus or Gray Line Fantasy Bus. You can also take buses to other farther destinations (such as Limón or Puntarenas) There is also a lot of smaller airports dotted around the country for minor destination hopping.

There is an exit tax (US$26 for both visitors and residents) to leave the country. You can pay for it at a bank (any BCR or Banco Nacional) and get a receipt or wait in the line at the airport. Pay the tax as soon as you arrive at the airport so you don't miss your flight and arrive with cash. Be sure to have a pen, as there is a small form to fill that is going to be requested before check-in. Tobías Bolaños Airport in Pavas serves as Nature Air's hub for flights within the country and also has 4 flights per week to Bocas del Toro, Panama. Nature Air used to fly to Granada, Nicaragua as well, but since April 2007, the flights have been discontinued due to the poor condition of the runway in Granada. Nature Air now flies into Managua (IATA: MGA) instead, but as Nicaragua has recently made efforts to improve their airports and building a new one on Ometepe, this might change again in the next couple of years.

AirPanama flies from Juan Santamaría airport to David/Panama three times a week.

A trip to Jacó, on the Pacific Coast, is a delight, although the highway that goes there is not a superhighway. Surfing is great, and since many young chefs are surfers, you can get some really great dining at amazingly low prices. A little farther down the coast, a stop at Manuel Antonio National Park is a must.

On your way to Jacó, stop for lunch at "Mirador del Cafetal" (View of the Coffee Plantation), just beyond Atenas. Views are spectacular!

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Tuesday, March 22, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.