It’s very likely that San José will be the first place you encounter in Costa Rica after stepping off the plane.
Most travelers won’t linger too long here and head to myriad eco draws on the doorstep: from the smoking Poas Volcano and its turquoise caldera lake to the paradisiacal La Paz waterfall gardens.
But choose to stay put just a few days and this buzzy and energetic town can really leave a mark.
San José is the capital and largest city of Costa Rica, and the capital of the province of the same name.
It is in the center of the country, in the mid-west of the Central Valley, within San José Canton. San José is Costa Rica’s seat of the national government, the focal point of political and economic activity, and a major transportation hub.
San José’s municipal land area is 44.2 square km, with an estimated 333,980 residents in 2015.
Together with several other cantons of the central valley, including Alajuela, Heredia, and Cartago, it forms the country’s Greater Metropolitan Area, with an estimated population of over 2 million in 2017.
San José in Spanish is Saint Joseph. The city is named in honor of Joseph of Nazareth.
Founded in 1736 by the order of Cabildo de León, the population of San José rose during the 18th century through the use of colonial planning. It has historically been a city of strategic importance, having been the capital of Costa Rica three times.
San Jose is home to the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica, the National Theatre of Costa Rica, and La Sabana Metropolitan Park.
San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, is a hub of cultural and natural beauty. This post delves into the city’s rich heritage, culinary scene, and outdoor attractions. San Jose is a vibrant and welcoming city that offers something for everyone.
San José is notable among Latin American cities for its high quality of life, security, level of globalization, environmental performance, public service, and recognized institutions. According to studies on Latin America, San José is one of the safest and least violent cities in the region.
Whether you’re interested in exploring the city’s rich cultural heritage, indulging in the local cuisine, or enjoying the stunning natural beauty of the surrounding area, you’re sure to find plenty of activities to keep you busy.
Exploring the Scenic Beauty of San Jose
Costa Rica’s capital city, San Jose, is nestled in the heart of the country’s Central Valley. With a population of around 340,000 people, San Jose is a bustling hub of activity that offers an authentic taste of Costa Rican culture and natural beauty.
Let’s explore some of the highlights that make San Jose a must-visit destination in Central America.
Avenida Central is the beating heart of San Jose. That long boulevard bisects the city, connecting all the key neighborhoods, from vibrant Central Market to the Cultural Plaza with the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum and its glimmering relics from ages long gone.
One of the best things to do in the sprawling capital is to make for the lush hills of Escazu district and its surroundings. They rise immediately to the west of the center, scrambling up the cloud-topped peaks that mark the start of the Costa Rican backcountry.
Discovering the Rich Heritage of San Jose
San Jose is home to a wealth of cultural and historical sites that reflect the country’s diverse heritage.
The National Museum of Costa Rica is a great place to start your exploration, with exhibits that cover the country’s history from pre-Columbian times to the present day. The museum is housed in a stunning 19th-century building that was once a military barracks, and it is surrounded by beautiful gardens that are perfect for a stroll.
Another must-see attraction in San Jose is the Teatro Nacional, a beautifully restored theater that dates back to the late 19th century. The theater hosts regular performances, including operas, ballets, and plays, and its ornate architecture and exquisite interior decorations make it a visual feast for the eyes.
If you’re interested in learning more about Costa Rican art and culture, be sure to check out the Museo de Arte Costarricense, which features a wide range of works by local artists. The museum is housed in a charming colonial-style mansion, and its collection includes everything from pre-Columbian pottery to contemporary paintings and sculptures.
Exploring the Natural Beauty of San Jose
While San Jose is known for its vibrant cultural scene, the city is also surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty. Just a short drive from the city center, you’ll find a variety of outdoor attractions that are perfect for nature lovers.
One of the most popular destinations is Poas Volcano National Park, which features an active volcano that towers over the surrounding landscape. Visitors can hike through the park’s lush forests and enjoy stunning views of the crater lake and surrounding mountains.
Another nearby attraction is La Paz Waterfall Gardens, a nature reserve that features a series of breathtaking waterfalls and a variety of animal exhibits. Visitors can walk along scenic trails, observe hummingbirds and butterflies, and even feed toucans and macaws.
For those who prefer a more leisurely pace, San Jose also has plenty of parks and green spaces to explore.
Parque La Sabana is a popular destination for joggers and picnickers, while Parque Nacional offers a tranquil retreat in the heart of the city. Both parks offer beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and are great places to relax and soak up the local atmosphere.
Parks, plazas, and zoos
San José is home to many parks and squares (plazas), where one can find gazebos, open green areas, recreational areas, lakes, fountains, statues and sculptures by Costa Rican artists, and many different birds, trees,s and plant species.
Plazas, or town squares, are very prominent across San José’s districts.
- Plaza de la Democracia
- Culture Square — La Plaza de La Cultura
Parks and zoos
The city’s primary parks include:
- The National Park (Parque Nacional)
- Morazán Park (Parque Morazán)
- La Sabana Metropolitan Park (Parque Metropolitano La Sabana)
- Peace Park (Parque de la Paz)
- Okayama Park (Parque Okayama)
- Simón Bolívar Zoo
Theaters and auditoriums
San José has a number of theaters, many with European-inspired architecture.
These buildings serve as the city’s main tourist attractions, not only because of their architecture, but because of the cultural, musical, and artistic presentations and activities, which include traditional and modern Costa Rican and San Josefinan culture.
The most well-known are:
- The National Theater of Costa Rica (Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica).
- The Melico Salazar Theater (Teatro Popular Melico Salazar).
- The National Auditorium of The Children’s Museum of Costa Rica (Museo de Los Niños).
- El Teatro Variedades (1892) is San José’s oldest theater.
The National Theater of Costa Rica (considered the finest historic building in the capital and known for its exquisite interior which includes its lavish Italian furnishings) and the Melico Salazar Theater present drama, dance performances, and concerts throughout the year.
Nevertheless, other ‘smaller’ theaters can be found throughout the city and provide a large array of entertainment.
San José is also host to various museums. These museums allow visitors to view Costa Rican history, scientific discoveries, pre-Columbian era culture, and art, as well as modern Costa Rican art. The city is also host to the nation’s museum of gold and museum of jade.
Some of the city’s main museums are:
- The Children’s Museum (Museo de los Niños)
- The National Museum of Costa Rica (Museo Nacional de Costa Rica)
- The Museum of Pre-Columbian Gold (Museo de Oro Precolombino)
- The Museum of Costa Rican Art
- The Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (Museo de Arte y Diseño Contemporáneo)
- The Museum of Jade (Museo del Jade Marco Fidel Tristán Castro)
The population of San José grew during the eighteenth-century colonization planning, which was different from the traditional foundation plans of Spanish cities in the continent of Central America.
Founded in 1736 by the order of Cabildo de León, its objective was to concentrate the scattered inhabitants of the Aserrí Valley. De León thus ordered the construction of a chapel near the area known as La Boca del Monte which was completed a year later. That year St. Joseph was chosen as the parish patron, hence its name. The chapel, which was very modest, was erected with help from the church of Cartago.
Unlike neighboring Cartago, San José was not founded by formal decree and thus lacked a city government. It was not until the enactment of the Constitution of Cádiz in 1812 that San José had its first city government.
On 18 October 1813, the area was first defined as a city by presbyter Florencio del Castillo, on behalf of the Spanish government, a title which was then lost in 1814 when Ferdinand VII of Spain annulled the proceedings of the courts.
The municipal government was restored in 1820 along with the title of city and in 1823 San José became the capital of Costa Rica. This makes San José one of the youngest capital cities in Latin America by year of conception.
Population and economic growth were spurred by improvements in access to water and the installment of the Tobacco Factory in 1782. The accumulation of capital brought by tobacco plantations allowed the city to economically surpass neighboring provinces.
The first modern urban neighborhood carries the name of its founder, the French coffee entrepreneur Monsieur Amon, and was created in the late 19th century, in line with Belle Époque contemporary architecture.
Barrio Amon, as well as the National Theatre, remain symbols of the so-called Costa Rican coffee golden age.
Today San José is a modern city with bustling commerce and brisk expressions of art and architecture. Spurred by the country’s improved tourism industry, it is a significant destination and stopover for foreign visitors.
San José exerts a strong influence because of its proximity to other cities (Alajuela, Heredia, and Cartago) and the country’s demographic assemblage in the Central Valley.
San José has a tropical wet and dry climate.
Precipitation varies widely between the driest month (6.3 mm) and the wettest month (355.1 mm), while average temperatures vary little.
The hottest month is April with an average temperature of 23.7 °C, while the coolest month is October with an average temperature of 21.8 °C.
San Jose is a walkable city, and many of the top attractions are located within easy walking distance of each other. However, if you want to venture further afield, there are plenty of transportation options available.
The city’s public transportation system includes buses and trains, which provide affordable and convenient access to many parts of the city and surrounding areas. Taxis are also readily available, and Uber is also an option for those who prefer ride-sharing services.
If you’re planning to explore the natural attractions outside of the city, renting a car is a good option. Rental cars are widely available in San Jose, and many of the country’s major highways are in good condition.
Juan Santamaría International Airport serves the city.
San José is one of Latin America’s safest cities.
The city’s greater metropolitan area (in Los Yoses, San Pedro) also serves as the headquarters of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
Tamarindo offers a wide range of accommodations to suit every budget and taste. From luxury resorts to cozy guesthouses, there’s something for everyone in this charming town, offering affordable and comfortable accommodations.