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A Must-See Guide to Costa Rica’s Capital, San José

Mountain meadows

Los Sueños is Just Over an Hour Outside of San Jose- There is Much to See and Do in Costa Rica’s Capital

Depositphotos_18871429_sIf you are interested in a great Central American vacation, Costa Rica’s capital city, San José, is the perfect choice. Combining the best of civilization with old-world charm, all a stone’s throw from a lush tropical rainforest environment, San José has a little something for everyone. Take a look at few of the must-see spots in the Costa Rican capital below.

Historic Sites

Museo Nacional de Costa Rica: To really get an understanding of the history of the Costa Rican people, spend an afternoon perusing the artifacts here. The museum is located in the historic Bellavista Fortress, the army headquarters throughout the 1948 civil war. The evidence of war can still be seen in small and large dents in the building from artillery. However, after the civil war ended, Costa Rica abolished its army, and remains one of the few nations without a standing army to this day. Some of the most interesting pieces include pre-Columbian artifacts from archeological digs, the pen used by President José Figueres Ferrer when he signed the nation’s constitution in 1949, and period furniture from when the fortress was used for private residences.

Catedral Metropolitana: Located just east of the Parque Central, this Renaissance-style cathedral features neoclassic architecture, Spanish-tile floors, and more stained-glass windows than you can count. The cathedral was actually rebuilt in 1871 following a massive earthquake and features handmade Christ figures throughout the sanctuary from around the world. The cathedral is a breathtaking sight for both the devout and non-practicing alike.

Barrio Amon: Spend some time living the good life by checking out this affluent community of the 19th and 20th centuries, where coffee growers’ mansions still stand guard. There isn’t just one leading architectural design here; you will see a sampling of many techniques, including art-deco and Victorian structures. Not all of the mansions are still residences today, though. Many have been converted to multi-purpose buildings that house restaurants, hotels, offices, and retail stores—making it a great place to wander, stop in, and take pictures.

Places to Eat

La Esquina de Buenos Aires: The old-world Spanish style of this restaurant is reason enough to stop in—and the delicious cuisine is an added bonus. Argentinian influence can be spotted in much of San José culture, making this restaurant a good fit for the Costa Rican city. La Esquina de Buenos Aires is best known for its steak dinners, served with a glass of Malbec. There are other options too, including homemade pastas and empanadas. Enjoy a glass of South American wine by candlelight while the familiar tune of a tango hums quietly in the background.

Mercado Central: If you are looking for an inexpensive meal during your day of touring San José, be sure to wander to Mercado Central. There is something to meet the tastes of everyone in your party, from ceviche to sugar cookies to cinnamon frozen custard. Where else can you find fresh seafood available next to a tamale stand? If you are looking for a variety of the best food that San José has to offer in one spot, Mercado Central should definitely be on your list.

Restaurante Grano de Oro: If you are looking for a fine dining experience, the upscale Restaurante Grano de Oro is a great place to make reservations. It offers the best of Costa Rican fusion cuisine, from caramelized figs to seared duck to coffee-marinated pork loin. There is also a full wine list with local and global selections, and a unique dessert menu that infuses the best of Costa Rican decadence for an after-dinner treat.

Recreational Activities

If you want to stay in the San José city limits:

Tropical Bungee: For the thrill seekers, this daily plunge off the towering and scenic Río Colorado Bridge in Grecia is a vacation must-do.

Salón Los Patines: If you’re interested in a blast from the past, spend a few hours roller skating at this 1970s-style rink. Located just east of the rotunda in San Pedro, you can integrate it with an afternoon of sightseeing or make a night of it, complete with disco music playing in the background.

Barrio Bird Walking Tour: These tours give you a ground-level view of the city of San José from a historical and fun perspective. You can choose the type of tour based on your interests, whether you want to see architecture, drink a few glasses of wine, or visit the best urban art spaces in the city.

Some of Costa Rica’s best recreational activities are just a few hours from San José. If you are interested in a day trip outside the city, give these spots a try:

Volcano Visiting: If you are willing to venture out of San José for the day, be sure to take advantage of the country’s vast volcanic areas. Costa Rica is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, and has 200 volcanic formations that go back 65 million years. Only five of these volcanoes are classified as active today, but the others are still spectacular to see. Spend a day trekking up the summit of the most accessible volcano, Poás Volcano, where you can see a vivid turquoise sulfuric lake in the crater on a clear day. The Irazu Volcano is also known for its breathtaking panoramic views of the country. Climbers can see both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans on a clear day from the top.

Canopy tours: Another great day-trip outside of San José is provided by the ever-popular canopy tours, which make use of ziplines to repel through the Costa Rican rainforests. There are many places you can sign up for these tours, but the most scenic are in Monteverde or Arenal (though both are a half-day drive, so you may want to make plans to stay overnight). In addition to the zipline options, there are also many bridges and skyways that allow admiration of the diverse landscape on foot.

Scuba diving: The marine life of Costa Rica’s coasts is some of the most diverse in the world. Sign up for a scuba diving tour to really immerse yourself in this whole new world lurking just below the surface. Some of the best places for marine life visibility include Playa Ocotal, Playa Hermosa, and Playas del Coco, where it is not uncommon to see sharks, manta rays, and other brightly colored tropical fish.


With so many wonderful things to do in San José, we hope you have at least a week here! Even better if you can experience a little of all that Costa Rica has to offer by venturing out beyond the city’s borders for a true taste of true pura vida.



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