The 10 Best Things to do in San Josè, Costa Rica | City Guide
The 10 Best Things to do in San Josè, Costa Rica | City Guide

The 10 Best Things to do in San Josè, Costa Rica | City Guide

If you’re looking for things to do in San Jose, Costa Rica, then look no further. After spending a total of 6 weeks in the capital city, I experienced a fair share of its attractions and can tell you what’s good and what’s not.

San Jose isn’t the most culturally rich city compared to others in Latin America. Most travelers simply use it as a starting point in Costa Rica, or as a transit point when taking buses between different parts of the country.

However, if you want to make the most of your time there, then this guide will help you. I not only list what I think are the top things to do in the city, but also recommend the best things to do nearby.

10 best things to do in San Jose, Costa Rica

So, here’s my take on the top things to do in San Jose. The great thing about this place is that there are attractions for outdoorsy people and city lovers alike.

1. Hike up to Parque Eólico Santa Ana

Like many large cities around the world, San Jose has grown so much that it has engulfed surrounding areas. One such area is Santa Ana. Perched above Santa Ana atop a narrow ridge of hills is a wind farm known as Parque Eólico.

Wind turbines standing atop hills.

The windfarm is made up of 17 huge turbines and you can reach it by hiking a steep and challenging trail starting at the top of Santa Ana. When I say challenging, I really mean it. While only 2 km in length, the sharp gradient and uneven underfoot take no prisoners.

However, the sweat and muscle aches are well worth it. Parque Eólico is an excellent place for nature lovers who want to see views over San Jose and of the Central Valley. Not only that, on a clear day, in the distance you’ll see the Cerros Caraigres (Caraigres Mountains), the Escazu Mountains and the Irazú Volcano.

A countryside scene. The photographers legs are visible at the bottom of the frame.

This is my number 1 pick of the best things to do in San Jose, Costa Rica and I have a complete guide to the Parque Eólico Santa Ana Hike here.

2. Hike Tres Cruces

This is another hike on the edge of San Jose. Tres Cruces translates to Three Crosses and the hike is named after the three large, religious crosses located along the trail.

The hike starts and ends at the Valle Azul restaurant in Alajuelita and takes most people around 2 h to complete. The trail has steep sections that can be slippery when wet but some great views give you a different perspective of the region than the Parque Eólico trek.

You can reach Valle Azul restaurant from downtown San Jose with Uber. It should cost around 3,500 CRC ($7 US) each way. There might be buses too which could be cheaper. I recommend using the Moovit app to check.  

3. Chill out in Parque La Sabana (La Sabana Park)

La Sabana is one of the largest green spaces in San Jose and a great spot to walk around and enjoy local culture. On the weekends the park is filled with people playing all kinds of sports, cooking up BBQs or simply relaxing.

A tall, glass building behind a field.

If you’re looking for a chill day, then I recommend grabbing some food from nearby Soda Tapia (a budget-friendly restaurant) and taking it to the park. The best way to let your food go down is a gentle walk following the park’s path.

Parque La Sabana has an interesting history too as it was once the site of San Jose’s airport. However, once the city grew the airport needed to relocate. Juan Santamaria International Airport in Alajuela now serves the capital.

Here’s my guide on how to get to Parque La Sabana and everything you can do there.

4. Watch a football match

In La Sabana park you’ll also find the national stadium of Costa Rica. This is where the Costa Rican football team plays at home. Football is the main sport in Costa Rica and Ticos are incredibly passionate about it.

Watching the national team play is just one option. San Jose is home to the top team in the professional football league Liga. This is Saprissa and they play at the Ricardo Saprissa Stadium.

For tickets to matches check websites such as ticketmaster and eticket

5. Join a walking San Jose city tour

Your legs are always the best way to explore a new area. And fortunately, one of the best free things to do in San Jose, Costa Rica is a walking tour of the city.

An old building among newer-style buildings in San Jose, Costa Rica.

On a guided walking tour a local will show you historic buildings and other places of cultural significance—such as the Plaza de Cultura—with all their insider knowledge thrown in. This is a great way to gain a better understanding of the history of Costa Rica and its capital city.

While tours are usually free, it is a nice gesture to tip your guide something. GuruWalk has several free walking tours of San Jose.

6. Check out the central market (mercado central)

One of the buildings you’ll definitely stop by on a walking tour is the central market. But even if you don’t do a walking tour, you should still wander down to this gem in downtown San Jose.

A market building. There are many people outside its entrance and cars.

The market is relatively small, but packed with food stalls serving local, traditional food. You are spoiled for choice and the wide range of tasty smells make choosing a place to eat even more difficult. Adding to the palate of aromas is an artisanal mini coffee roastery. I can’t think of a better spot in the city for coffee lovers.

A man eats at a food stand in a market.

7. Watch the sunset from Hilton Hotel balcony bar

Next on my list of the best things to do in San Jose, Costa Rica is to head up to the terrace bar on the 17th floor of the Hilton Hotel at the edge of La Sabana Park. From this vantage point you have great scenes of the sun setting behind the hills above Santa Ana and also into the national stadium.

Hilton Hotel doesn’t sound very budget friendly, but I can assure you it is. As long as you don’t stay too long or make yourself comfy on the sofas, you won’t have to buy anything—at least we didn’t.

If you do plan on staying a while, then you might have to buy a drink.

8. Appreciate works in the Museum of Costa Rican Art

What I liked about the Costa Rican Art Museum is that it’s small enough to see everything in a short period of time and that it’s also free to enter. On top of this is that the museum sits on the edge of La Sabana park, meaning you can pop in while exploring the area.

A white building with a tower. The architecture in Spanish colonial.

The museum building itself is quite nice to look at and has an interesting history. It was actually the control tower for the airport that was located in the same place where La Sabana Park now lies.

9. Visit the National Museum of Costa Rica

If learning about history, culture and science is your thing, then you should definitely head to the national museum. You could even combine a free walking tour with a museum experience.

The national museum is located a few blocks outside of the city centre in downtown. Foreigners pay an $11 US entry fee and you can check the museum’s website for opening times and information about the latest exhibitions.

10. Hike in La Chimba

My final recommendation for the best things to do in San Jose, Costa Rica is to hike La Chimba. Now, this isn’t a tough, rugged hike like the others on this list. Rather, it’s a maintained path through private property.

The trail takes you through coffee plantations and staff have placed interesting statues and wooden carvings throughout. The huge wooden hand which you can stand in is the reason why most people go here.

A large wooden hand extends from a hillside overlooking a valley.

Admittedly La Chimba is a bit of a tourist trap and the $15 US entrance fee definitely is not worth paying if you like wild hikes. However, if you’re someone who wants to do some exercise with great views but without having to check a trail map, then it’s a lot of fun.

La Chimba is located in Santa Ana and you can get there from San Jose by taking 2 buses. The first bus is from San Jose to Santa Ana and the second from Santa Ana to La Chimba. It shouldn’t cost more than around 1,500 CRC ($3 US) in total each way for buses.  

Fun things to do near San Jose, Costa Rica

There are some great day trips you can do while based in San Jose. These include national parks, hiking and hot springs.

Poás Volcano

Poas Volcano is one of the best day trips from San Jose. Located just 1 h 30 min driving from the city, the volcano rises over 2,000 m and you can look down into its turquoise crater lake.

Like all national parks in Costa Rica, there is a steep entrance fee of $15 US. However, this money goes towards conservation.

To get to Poás by public transport, first take a bus from San Jose to Alajuela. Then get a COOPETRANSI bus from Alajuela to Poas National Park. All in, the buses should cost around $12-15 US.

The national park is open every day from 8:00 – 16:00 and last entry is 14:00. You need to buy your entrance beforehand on the SINAC website.

If you want to remove all the hassle of organising a day tip, you can book a day tour to Poas here.

Orosi Valley

The Orosi region of Costa Rica is where the Spanish first built settlements in the country. They chose this area for its fertile lands and high levels of rainfall. While there isn’t much physical evidence of Spanish colonialism left, the lush greenery hasn’t gone away.

A town in a valley.

Orosi is the main town nestled in its namesake valley. It’s surrounded by steep hillsides covered in dense forest and coffee plantations. There’s plenty of hiking throughout these hills and you can enjoy a meal in one of the town’s many restaurants. The area is also blessed with several hot springs.

A river runs towards a small mountain range.

To get to Orosi, take a Lumaca bus from San Jose to Cartago and then a second bus from Cartago to Orosi. The journey lasts around 1 h 30 min and costs roughly $4 US.

You can read my complete guide to the Orosi Valley here.

Bajos del Toro

This is an area roughly 1 h 30 min driving from San Jose that is packed with waterfalls. The cascades range in size and power, but are all beautiful. The main falls include:

  • Blue Falls
  • Catarata del Toro
  • Rio Agrio Waterfall
  • Paraiso Manantiales
  • Vuelta del Cañon
  • Quebrada Gata Waterfall

For this day trip you’ll definitely want to rent a car. The waterfalls are spread out from each other and there’s no public transport within Bajos del Toro. Another thing to know is that there is an entrance fee for each waterfall.

The entrance fees range, some as high as $15 US and others just a few dollars. If you’re on a tight budget, then I recommend picking the 1 or 2 waterfalls you find most impressive and just visiting those.

What is the best time to visit San Jose?

The dry season, which runs from November – May, is the best time to visit the city. You’re almost certainly guaranteed good weather during this period. Outside of these months is considered the rainy season. While you can still do all of the things listed in this article in the rain, I doubt they’ll be as enjoyable.

An old, golden post office building stands in front of a tall bank tower.

How long should I spend in San Jose, Costa Rica?

I recommend spending 3 full days in San Jose to give yourself chance to do a couple of the activities from my top 10 list and a day trip. However, if you don’t fancy this much time there, then with 2 full days you could still see a fair bit.

How do you get around San Jose?

The city is well connected by buses which are cheap. While technically illegal, Uber is also an option in San Jose and there are plenty of drivers.

If you sit in the back, the driver might ask you to sit in the front so it doesn’t look like he’s working for Uber. Short Uber trips (up to around 5 km) usually cost roughly $3-5 US. You can also take normal taxis, but fairs are usually double what an Uber charges.  

Clouds roll over the top of mountains.

Is San Jose, Costa Rica worth visiting?

San Jose is a great place to begin your Costa Rican adventure if you’re already planning on flying into the city.

That said, if you’re entering the country at a different point, maybe a land crossing, then I wouldn’t rush to get to San Jose. While I think a couple of days here can be great, there are definitely more interesting places in Costa Rica to visit than its capital city.

If you plan on getting around Costa Rica by bus, then you’ll probably end up in San Jose at some point anyway. Most longer bus journeys require a change in the capital.

More Costa Rica travel advice on A World Over

With this list of the best things to do in San Jose, Costa Rica you’re set to make the most of the city. I’ve got plenty of guides to this wonderful country on my blog and have linked them below to help you plan your trip.

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