San José Flights and Travel Guide

San José

General Information

San Jose



Central America S...
(GMT -6 hrs)






San José - Introduction

San Jose is the capital and the largest city of Costa Rica. The country lies in Central America, between Panama and Nicaragua. The capital city is located in the center of the country, on a mountain plateau called Central Valley at an elevation of 1,170 meters, making nights in the city quite cool. The city is the country’s major transportation center: all bus lines stop here.
The origins of the city reach to the 18th century, so the city lacks the typical Spanish colonial architecture present in other Latin American capitals.

San Jose has a number of galleries and museums, the National Theatre as well as many other theatres. The city is lively and busy day and night. It nevertheless serves mainly as an entry point into the country. Most travelers leave the city immediately to head to the beautiful beaches, rainforests, hills, volcanoes and nature parks of Costa Rica but the city has many interesting sights in store and deserves a looking into.

Activities such as surfing, snorkeling, SCUBA diving, mountain biking and hiking are all popular and widely available in Costa Rica. Eco-tourism is becoming increasingly popular.

Next: San José Climate »

San José - Climate

Costa Rica is a tropical country, and has only two seasons – dry and rainy.
San Jose lies in the torrid zone but has a milder climate than the rest of the country due to its elevation.
The rainy season lasts from April to November but has an average of 5 hours of sunshine per day.
The dry season lasts from December to April. Occasional clouds and rain can occur also during the dry period.
Relative humidity is between 60 – 90%. Temperatures range from 15 to 26°C.
The warmest month is May, the coolest is February. The most rainfall occurs in September.

January average temperature 19 deg Celsius, 15.2 mm rainfall
February average temperature 19 deg Celsius, 5.1 mm rainfall
March average temperature 20 deg Celsius, 20.3 mm rainfall
April average temperature 20 deg Celsius, 45.7 mm rainfall
May average temperature 20.5 deg Celsius, 222.6 mm rainfall
June average temperature 20 deg Celsius, 241.3 mm rainfall
July average temperature 20 deg Celsius, 210.8 mm rainfall
August average temperature 20 deg Celsius, 241.3 mm rainfall
September average temperature 20 deg Celsius, 304.8 mm rainfall
October average temperature 20 deg Celsius, 299.7 mm rainfall
November average temperature 19 deg Celsius, 144.8 mm rainfall
December average temperature 19 deg Celsius, 40.6 mm rainfall

Next: San José Getting There »

San José - Getting There


Aeropuerto Internacional Juan Santamaría is located in Alajuela, 20 km from San Jose. It handles all international air traffic.


Cars can be rented at the airport. A ride to the city center takes 20 minutes. 
Local bus station is located outside the airport.
Taxis are widely available. Use the official ‘Taxi Aeropuerto’ - the unlicensed taxis charge twice as much.


San Jose has bus connections with Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. Bus network within the country is inexpensive, comfortable and reliable. The city has no main bus station so the buses depart from various places.


Getting Around


Taxis are generally cheap. A couple of dollars will get you anywhere in the city.


The bus network is extensive and very cheap. Buses are comfortable and reliable.


The streets in the city center are narrow and there is a complicated grid of one way streets, in addition, traffic is congested so avoid driving into the center.

Next: San José Activities »

San José - Activities

Costa Rica is known for splendid natural beauty of its countryside: the lush rainforest, gorgeous beaches, spectacular mountains and volcanoes. You can enjoy in the following activities: surfing, scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing, whitewater rafting, rock climbing, and hiking.



The Arenal Volcano is an active volcano. In fact, it is the most active volcano in Americas. If the weather permits, you can see the lava exploding at night.
Visit the hot springs of the volcano and relax in the soothing waters as you watch the splendid volcanic eruptions at night from safe distance.



Tamarindo Beach is a beach resort town and offers numerous activities. The most common is surfing but you can also undertake mountain biking, and many other activities.



The Manuel Antonio National park was established in 1972. It is one of the most beautiful and bio-diverse areas in the world. The park area is quite small but it features a stunning diversity: the most beautiful beaches of the entire country, rain forests and coral reefs. The beaches also offer some great snorkeling. The park is home to a diverse animal life: iguanas, squirrel monkeys, sloths, and millions of colorful crabs.
The park can be easily accessed in a number of ways: Sansa Airlines flight takes 20 minutes. Car or bus drive takes 3.5 hours. Direct buses depart from Coca Cola bus terminal in San Jose.



An interesting coffee farm, Café Britt can be reached in 20 minutes from San Jose. You can see all phases of the process: how the coffee is grown, processed, roasted and canned. In the end you can taste the delicious product. The farm has three guided tours daily. It also features a gift shop.

Next: San José Attractions »

San José - Attractions


Address: Avenidas Central & 2
Open: daily: 10:00 a.m. – 4:30 pm; Monday closed.

The Gold Museum houses a collection of 1600 pieces of Pre-Colombian gold work. The artifacts date from 500 AD to 1500 AD. A numismatic museum is found at the same location. There is also the Temporary Exhibition Gallery featuring contemporary art.



Address: Avenida 5-7
Phone: 287 6034
Open: Monday – Friday: 8:30 am – 3:30 pm

This is San Jose’s most famous museum which boasts the world’s largest collection of American jade. The exhibited items reveal highly skilled workmanship. The collection also includes archeological finds: ceramics and stonework, which all provide an interesting insight into the Pre-Colombian history of Costa Rica. 



Address: Calles 3 & 5
Phone: 221 1329
Open: Monday – Friday: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm; Saturday: 9:00 am – 12:30 pm+1:30 pm – 5:30 pm

The National Theater was built in 1897. It has a neoclassical façade and is considered one of the most fascinating public buildings in San Jose. The interior is richly decorated with paintings, especially the lobby and the auditorium.



Get in touch with the locals and visit one of the local open-air markets - ‘mercados’. Try the Mercado central on Avenue central. Here you can get buy items such as authentic hammocks and top quality Costa Rican coffee. The coffee sold here is of export-quality and is considerably cheaper than in tourist shops.
At the mercado you can find many pleasant eateries serving anything from tamales to seafood.


Address: C. 16, between Avenidas 2 and 4
Phone: 551-0465
Open: 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm

This beautiful church boasts a mixture of architectural styles: Baroque, Byzantine and Gothic. The interior features striking colorful mosaic floor, stained glass windows and beautifully decorated wooden pillars. The church was destroyed in the 1926 earthquake, but was renovated. A legend has it that a statue of Mary appeared miraculously in the church. Every year the church is the site of a pilgrimage in honor of ‘La Negrita’ – the Black Virgin, the patron saint of Costa Rica.



Address: south of Alajuala (in front of Los Reyes Country Club, La Guácima de Alajuela)  
Phone: 438-0400  
Open: daily 8:30 am – 5:00 pm   

Costa Rica is home to a huge number of butterflies. The garden is enclosed so when you walk through it, a myriad of colorful butterflies flutter around. There are 80 different species of butterflies at the farm. You can see the various stages of a butterfly’s development: from egg to caterpillar to cocoon, and even the cocoons are amazingly colorful.

Next: San José Restaurants »

San José - Restaurants

Costa Rican cuisine is simple and not too spicy. It relies heavily on rice and beans and also includes a lot of meat especially beef, chicken and fish. Shrimps and lobster are expensive as Costa Rica exports most of its seafood.
‘Gallo pinto’ is the national dish, consisting of fried rice and black beans. It is a popular breakfast meal. A very similar meal is served for lunch: rice and beans with the added cabbage and tomato salad, fried plantains and meat. Other typical meals include: ‘arroz con pollo’ (rice and chicken), and ‘arroz con tuna’ (rice with tuna fish). The food is generally reasonably priced.

Dining out is a leisurely experience. Restaurants usually operate between 11:00 am and 2:00 pm, and 6:00 pm to 11:00 pm. Some eateries are open 24 hours.
San Jose has numerous international restaurants offering a wide variety of cuisines from all around the world at affordable prices.

The freshest and best food can be bought at the street markets on Saturday mornings.

Next: San José Events »

San José - Events


Date: March
Location: various

The biannual festival is held on even years. The two-week festival brings many events to the city of San Jose. Every night you can choose an exciting cultural event. There is theatre, music, dance and film.



Date: March 19
Location: religious sites

The day of Saint Joseph is a religious celebration held in several churches. Special masses and fairs are held.



Date: December 25 - 31
Location: Zapote, suburb southeast of the city center

The ‘Year-end festivals’ are a week-long celebration featuring amusement parks, bullfights, fireworks, food and drink. The celebrations attract thousands of Ticos.



Date: December 26-27
Location: city center

The Carnival celebration is held right after Christmas, which is unusual for a country in Latin America. The highlight is the huge horse parade called ‘torpe’, taking place on December 26. The country’s best riders are parading with their horses, performing special steps. The next day the city is full of floats, dancing groups, and people having fun.



Date: June
Location: various

Every year the city center is taken over by popular local and international music bands performing in the parks, among which in Parque Morazán, Parque Central, Parque Nacional and Parque Merced.



Date: March
Location: San Antonio de Escazú

Annual festival of the Ox cart Driver is a perfect glimpse into the rural life of Costa Ricans. The festivities begin early in the morning and continue throughout the day. They include a marvelous procession of colorful ox carts painted in traditional ways. The procession travels from the town hall to San Antonio Church. Local music, food and drinks are also an important part of the fiesta.

Next: San José Night Life »

San José - Night Life

San Jose has a vivid nightlife. Its compact city center makes it easily navigable on foot. You will get the best and freshest information on what is happening, in ‘La Nación’, issued on Thursdays, or in ‘Tico Times’.

There are several areas particularly interesting for a night on the town. El Pueblo is an entertainment complex featuring many bars, clubs, discos, restaurants, galleries and shops. Its cobbled streets are lively every night from 9pm until dawn. Look out for pickpockets, as in any busy tourist area.

The area around the University (La Calle ed Amargue) is a popular haunt for college kids and students. The area also features several bookstores, shops, cafés and budget eateries. At night the place really comes alive but beware of pickpockets as well.

Gambling is legal in Costa Rica and casinos abound. Theatre, modern dance, symphony, and concerts are available for the culturally conscious.

Next: San José History »

San José - History


The first European explorer to reach Costa Rica was Christopher Columbus on September 18, 1502.
The name Costa Rica (Rich Coast) was inspired by the golden bands worn by the locals in their noses and ears.
Civilization existed thousands of years before Columbus’ arrival, as archeological finds now show. The evidence supports human occupation 10,000 years ago. The mysterious ancient inhabitants left a number of granite spherical balls, the sizes range from the size of a ball to the size of a mini-van. South of San Jose archeologists found a settlement over 1,000 years old, with aqueducts and marvelous jade and gold work.

At the time of Columbus’ arrival there were four major tribes in Costa Rica. After the Spanish colonialism these tribes did not last long. Many ran away, and numerous died of smallpox brought by the Spanish. When the native population was wiped out, the Spanish brought African slaves to be their workforce.
Today only 1% of Costa Ricans are of native origin. The descendants of Spanish origin call themselves ‘Ticos’.
The first city, Cartago, was established in 1562 by Juan Velasquez de Coronado. In 1821 Mexico rose against Spanish supremacy. Other colonies in Central America, including Costa Rica, soon followed. Colonial tendencies existing between Cartago and Heredia clashed with republican and revolutionary ideas in San Jose and Alajuela. Cartago and Heredia were supporting the idea of colonialism and advocated annexation to the Central American Federation led by Mexico. A civil war broke out in 1823. It ended with San Jose and Alajuela on the winning side, and Costa Rica announced independence. San Jose became the nation’s capital. This gave rise to much dissatisfaction and resentment which culminated in ‘the War of the League’. San Jose was attacked with an attempt to overthrow the government, but the city won and remained the country’s capital.

By mid-19th century the coffee industry was flourishing which also resulted in overall prosperity and cultural development. Middle class emerged, brick highways were built, tramways appeared and streets were lit by kerosene lamps. At the beginning of the 20th century San Jose was already equipped with museums, libraries, the Teatro Nacional, many plazas and tree-lined streets. The city, however, was not without problems. The slums started to appear on the outskirts of the town, where poor workers lived crammed in small huts.


Around 1940 San Jose was still a small town, with a population of mere 70,000 people. Costa Rica was still a predominantly agricultural country. After WW II the capital city experienced rapid growth, swallowing up the surrounding villages. Many of the city’s old landmarks were destroyed during this expansion.


Today the city continues to grow at a fast rate, attracting immigrants from Nicaragua, Colombia and Panama. Shantytowns around the city are growing and so is the crime rate.


Next: San José Etiquette »

San José - Etiquette

Costa Ricans are generally very friendly and warm. Family is highly valued. They also have a deep sense of honor and care should be taken not to offend anyone.
Politics and family are good conversation themes, but avoid discussing religion or personal criticism.

The most common form of greeting is the handshake.
When it comes to public display of affection, Costa Ricans are quite open, it is common to see couples holding hands, hugging and kissing.

Latin countries have a more relaxed approach to time, so it is not usual to be punctual for social gatherings. However, business appointments are held on time.

When invited to someone’s home for a dinner it is customary to bring a small gift such as flowers, fine wine or good chocolate.
Stay an hour after the dinner is finished if you are a new guest. Only good friends stay longer.
Also, it is impolite to put feet on furniture. Making a fist with a thumb sticking out is deemed offensive.

Trying to bribe police officers or other official persons is prohibited.
Bargaining is not allowed in stores and local markets.

Next: San José Safety »

San José - Safety


San Jose has seen an increase in crime in recent years. Tourists are prime targets of muggings and theft so practice caution.
Pay particular attention on public transportation and around major tourist attractions. Do not wear flashy jewelry or expensive watches. Be careful with your camera. Carry only the amount of cash you intend to spend in one day and leave the rest in a hotel safe. Do not change money in the street as they often cheat and pass counterfeit money.

Note that the center of San Jose has had some gang presence and the police are scarce.

It is advisable to use taxis to avoid walking in suspicious areas. Use only the official taxis. Do not use the unofficial cabs as they are known to charge extortionate rates for tourists. The unofficial cabs do not have a logo or a meter.

Renting a car

If you rent a car, it is recommended you also purchase car theft insurance. Park your car in paid parking lots whenever possible or in a well–lit place with lots of people. Do not leave anything in the car. The roads are in a bad condition. There are large potholes so damage on vehicles is frequent. Roads get even worse during the rainy season. Pedestrians have to be especially cautious when crossing a street as drivers more often than not ignore them.


Make a photocopy of your passport and carry it with you. Keep the passport in a safe deposit box.

Costa Rica experiences significant earthquakes. The last one causing considerable damage to infrastructure happened in 1993.

Prostitution is legal in Costa Rica but child prostitution is punished severely.

Emergency Phone numbers:
Police: 911
Ambulance: 128 or 911
Fire: 118 or 911

Next: San José When To Go »

San José - When To Go

The climate is pleasant all year round but rainy season, with afternoon cooling rain, lasts from May till November.
December is the coolest month of the year and also the most crowded one.

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San José
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