Things to do in San Jose

Things to do in  San Jose

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Costa Rica’s buzzing capital city is a hub for travelers, who make this a starting point for trips to the natural wonders of Arenal Volcano National Park, Poas Volcano National Park, and Braulio Carrillo National Park. But there’s more to the city than getting out of town—some of the best things to do in San Jose are strictly urban adventures. Stick around to stroll Morazan Park, see glinting treasures at the Gold Museum, and sample truly local cuisine at the San Jose Central Market (Mercado Central).

Top 15 attractions in San Jose

Arenal Volcano National Park

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Although visitors once flocked to Arenal Volcano for its impressive lava shows, the 5,437-foot (1,657-meter) volcano has stayed quiet since its last eruption in 2010. However, Arenal and the surrounding Arenal Volcano National Park remain a hot spot for visitors to Costa Rica, especially popular among those seeking hiking trails, swimming holes, hot springs, bird- and wildlife-watching, and sweeping views of the tropical rain forest.More

San Jose Central Market (Mercado Central)

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Bountiful produce stalls, local-approved cafeterias, and vendor stalls selling everything from coffee beans to cowboy boots give visitors to San Jose’s Central Market (Mercado Central) a taste of real Costa Rican culture. Visit as part of an epic errand run or for a chance to look behind-the-scenes at everyday life in Costa Rica.More

Poas Volcano National Park

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Poas Volcano National Park houses one of the more popular volcanoes in Costa Rica—a telling superlative for a country with world-famous geothermal activity. But with its spectacular wildlife, informative museum, and variety of hiking trails, the accolade comes as no surprise.More

National Theater (Teatro Nacional)

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Modelled after the Paris Opera House, the National Theater in San José’s Catedral district is a neo-classical masterpiece representing Costa Rica’s greatest era of extravagance and sophistication. The historic building has been the epicenter of the city’s fine arts scene including opera, symphony, and other performing arts since its inaugural performance by Fausto de Gounod in 1897.More

Braulio Carrillo National Park

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The vast protected forest of Braulio Carrillo National Park is a natural for toucans, eagles, armadillos, sloths, monkeys, and jaguars. Catch a glimpse of its rugged beauty from the comfort of your car, or hike along the trails that lead to thundering waterfalls, towering mountains, and rapid rivers.More

Sarapiqui Canopy

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Costa Rica is famous for its amazing biodiversity, and Sarapiqui is a place where you can experience the thrill of the rain forest firsthand. Whether that’s ziplining through the trees at high speed, rafting along the river, or wildlife-spotting, the area is packed with natural wonders.More

Morazan Park

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This lush public park at the center of San Jose was named after Francisco Morazan, an old-school general who tried to unite all of Central America into one common country. And while Morozan Park was once a hub for San Jose’s grit and grime (it used to be a known for drug sales and prostitution), the park has recently undergone a complete renaissance.Travelers can safely wander through the green gardens that make Morazan Park a respite from the otherwise urban feel of San Jose and stretch out for an afternoon picnic on thick lawns under massive shade trees. The Templo de Musica, a concrete gazebo at the center of the land, is the highlight of any visit to Morazan Park—especially when live local musicians are playing.More

Sarchi

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The quaint town of Sarchí is famous throughout Costa Rica for its handicrafts. From the brightly painted oxcarts that were once used in the coffee industry to decorated bowls, handmade jewelry, leather goods, and furniture, visitors looking for memorable souvenirs should plan to visit the town, only an hour’s drive from San José.More

Gold Museum

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Housed in a historic building and managed by the Central Bank of Costa Rica, the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum holds one of the largest collections of gold artifacts in Latin America. In total, the museum holds more than 1,600 pre-Columbian items, including Costa Rica’s very first coin, handmade ceramics, jewelry, and religious icons dating from 500 AD to 1500 AD.More

Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park

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Offering scenic views of Volcan Arenal and Lake Arenal, the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges are a series of tall suspension bridges that form meandering trails through the rain forest, providing access to remote areas filled with natural beauty. The bridges immerse you deep into the heart of the forest, close to the extraordinary biodiversity of the jungle.More

Jade Museum (Museo del Jade)

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The Jade Museum (Museo del Jade) proves that Costa Rica is as rich in history and cultural offerings as it is in biodiversity. The museum, located in the Costa Rican capital of San Jose, showcases more than 1,000 years worth of artifacts from Mesoamerica dating from 500 BC to 800 AD—including pre-Columbian jade, wood, and ceramics.More

Orosi River Valley (El Valle del Rio Orosi)

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Orosi River Valley is a tranquil, secluded area filled with rural charm and scenic landscapes, not far from the hustle and bustle of San José. With the silhouette of the volcanoes as a backdrop, the mountainous area has green forested hills covered by coffee plantations, natural hot springs, andxa0 colorful colonial towns in the middle of the lush vegetation.More

Costa Rican Art Museum (Museo de Arte Costarricense)

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Explore the works of some of Costa Rica’s greatest artists from the colonial era through today at the Costa Rican Art Museum, including almost the entire body of work from prolific local artist Juan Manuel Sanchez. The museum is housed in the building that once served as the main terminal of San Jose’s original international airport and outside, toward where the tarmac once sat, is a lovely sculpture garden where visitors can walk around an enjoy the tropical weather. The museum often has chamber music concerts playing in the Golden Hall.More

National Museum (Museo Nacional)

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Housed in the barracks of the Bellavista Fortress, the National Museum (Museo Nacional), displays indigenous and pre-Columbian artifacts, religious artwork, and geological and archaeological pieces linked to Costa Rica’s rich and colorful history since 1950. Separate rooms explore ancient cultures dating back some 12,000 years, as well as collections of ornate jewelry, medallions, and gold statues.More

La Sabana Park

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Tree-shaded walking paths, sports fields, and family-friendly fun draw San José locals to the 178-acre (72-hectare) La Sabana Park, the city’s biggest urban green space. It’s a great place to get outdoors, with opportunities to enjoy a public pool, a skating rink, and children’s play areas—there’s even an onsite ice cream parlor.More

Trip ideas

Rain Forest Canopy Tours From San Jose

Rain Forest Canopy Tours From San Jose

Top activities in San Jose

Day Trip from San Jose to Manuel Antonio National Park
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Explore San Jose By Night: Food and Culture Tour with Local Dinner
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Explore San Jose By Night: Food and Culture Tour with Local Dinner

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Manuel Antonio National Park from San José
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Manuel Antonio National Park from San José

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All about San Jose

When to visit

San Jose charms its way through all the seasons, but many say January to April is the best time to visit, when the sun shines the strongest. December and January are also exciting times to be in the city, when Christmas celebrations like Festival de la Luz are in full swing. Don’t overlook the “green season” (aka rainy season), when hotels are cheaper and the trees’ vibrant green colors are popping.

Getting around

Hop on the public bus, which is best for reliable service and cheap prices in San Jose. Walking is another great option because the layout of the city’s neighborhoods is easy to navigate. Driving your own car, however, is not advised. The roads often have potholes. and the street signs can be tricky to comprehend. Other transportation options include taxi and rideshare services, which are safe, easy, and reliable.

Traveler tips

Two things notable about San Jose are two things that are missing. The first is the airport, which is not located in the city itself but about 45 minutes away by car. The second is the gallo in gallo pinto, a local dish of rice and beans. The name literally translates to “spotted rooster,” but the recipe does not include any chicken! You’ll see this item listed on menus throughout the city and the country.

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People Also Ask

What is San Jose famous for?

The capital of Costa Rica is renowned as the gateway to the Arenal Volcano and Monteverde Cloud Forest, two of the country’s most impressive natural wonders. Along with its cloud forests and zipline canopy tours, Costa Rica is also famous for its chocolate, coffee, and adorable sloths.

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How can I spend a day in San Jose?

One day is enough time to take in the highlights of San Jose, including the National Theater, the National Museum, and the National Park. Visit the Jade and Gold museums, shop for traditional handicrafts at the Central Market, then head to the San Pedro neighborhood to experience the buzzing nightlife.

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What activities are popular in San Jose?

Once you’ve explored San Jose’s excellent museums, head out of the city to tour a coffee plantation, take a canopy tour in the Arenal Volcano National Park, or go ziplining in the Monteverde Cloud Forest. ATV tours through the rainforest and white-water rafting excursions are also popular choices.

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What is there to do nearby San Jose?

Popular day trips from San Jose include ziplining in the Monteverde Cloud Forest and a canopy tour of the Arenal Volcano National Park. You can also enjoy wildlife watching and swimming at the beaches of Manuel Antonio National Park, hike in the Poas Volcano National Park, or tour a coffee plantation.

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What should I not miss in San Jose?

San Jose has some of the best museums in Costa Rica, including the National Museum, Jade Museum, and Gold Museum. A visit to the Central Market is a must to experience local life and sample Costa Rican cuisine, and don’t miss a day trip to Monteverde Cloud Forest and Arenal Volcano.

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Is San Jose expensive?

Yes, San Jose can be expensive compared to other Central and South American destinations. Expect to pay about US$30 a night for mid-range accommodation and $US25 a day for food. Taxis and private tours can also be pricey, so opt for shared tours and local transport if you’re on a budget.

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