As the capital of Costa Rica, San José is home to our busiest airport, making the city one of the first ports of call for visitors to the beautiful country. And though the Costa Rican countryside boasts some of the most incredible scenery and was recently named the best country for experiences, it’s worth your while to spend at least a couple of days in the capital. With this in mind, we’ve created a list of some of our favorite things to do while in San José. From a walk down Central Avenue to a game of poker in one of the city’s many casinos, you’re guaranteed to find something to suit your tastes here in San José.
Now, before we start listing places to go, we thought it would be a good idea to tell you how to get around. While you can easily walk, depending on the time of the year, this might get a little tiring. Besides hitting the pavement, there are three options: bus, Uber and Taxi.
- Bus – There are tons of buses that take you pretty much anywhere in the city. They’re cheap and run quite frequently. However, schedules are hard to come by, and buses can become extremely crowded. They’re fun, but you don’t ride the buses for comfort.
- Taxi – Taxis are everywhere in the city. They’re relatively cheap, and you can find one at any time of the day or night. Find the right driver, and you could end up with the perfect tour guide. Be aware, though, that prices increase quite a bit once the sun goes down.
- Uber – Uber in San José is cheap and super reliable. There are plenty of cars, and you’ll rarely have to wait too long for a ride. Interestingly, Uber is often cheaper than taxis!
Visit Casa Amarilla
Although it is closed to the public, Casa Amarilla is one of the first ports of call on many a tourist’s itineraries. It’s an old colonial mansion that houses the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and makes for a nice photo opp. None other than former U.S. President John F. Kennedy planted the Ceiba tree planted out the front during his 1963 visit. There’s even a piece of the Berlin Wall standing in the gardens, which you can see from the northeast corner.
Go Shopping at Central Market
While tourist shops are convenient, the Central Market offers you much more authentic shopping experience. The market is a vibrant hub of commercial activity, and the locals here are quite welcoming to tourists. The market first opened for business back in 1880 and now has over 200 shops and stalls.
Here, you can sample some traditional Costa Rican cuisine for a fraction of the price you’ll pay in hotel restaurants. You’ll also find that it’s the ideal place to find the best souvenirs and local handicrafts. And with tens of thousands of visitors every single day, you’ll get to see people from all walks of Costa Rican life.
Walk Down Avenida Central
Okay, so you might wonder why we would suggest a simple walk down the main street but trust us on this one: It’s worth it. Avenida Central or Central Avenue is a mile-long pedestrian strip that runs through the center of the city. It’s where you’ll find all the best tourist shops and tons of restaurants. However, some of these can be a little expensive. It also offers easy access to many of the city’s museums and attractions, such as the Central Market, the Jade Museum and Democracy Plaza. A walk down the avenue isn’t just a walk, it’s a full-on San José experience!
Hit the Tables at the Casino
If you like to play poker on your travels, then you’re in luck because San José is home to quite a few casinos. Many are in hotels but even if there’s one in your hotel, try a few others to get a feel of the city’s gaming scene. Most have good gaming options that include poker, blackjack tables and, of course, slot machines.
While the slots are straightforward, if you’re going to try your hand at poker, then you might want to make sure you’re ready. Try to choose a basic poker strategy and stick to it. You can also say the same for blackjack and even roulette. So, go in with a plan, and you should be okay. Oh, and most important of all: whether it’s poker or any other game, give yourself a budget and stick to it!
Learn About Costa Rica at the National Museum
Located in the old Bellavista Fortress built in 1917 as a military barracks is where you’ll find Costa Rica’s National Museum. If you look closely, then you’ll see that the walls have bullet holes from the 1948 Civil War. The building became a museum in 1950 and since then has become one of Costa Rica’s most important historical sites.
Here, you can learn everything about the nation’s political and natural histories. There are even archeological and religious exhibits. Overall, you’ll find anywhere in the country that gives you more history of Costa Rica, making it an absolute must for tourists.
See Real Gold at the Gold Museum
Known as the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, this museum offers visitors insights into the history of gold mining in the region. There are over 1600 artifacts, with some dating as far back as 500 A.D.! Here, you can also see Costa Rica’s first coin minted in 1825. The most popular is the life-sized gold warrior, El Guerrero.
Even if gold isn’t your thing, this look back on the area’s incredible wealth is quite interesting. As a bonus, you’ll find that the National Coin Museum is in the same building. Two museums for the price of one? You can’t beat that.
From playing poker to looking at thousand-year-old gold, as you can see, there are tons of things to keep you busy during your stay in the capital city. And these are only our favorites. So, if you’re planning a visit to Manuel Antonio, try to include a day or two in the capital city. You won’t regret it.