|Museums & Culture
Visitors rarely travel all the way to Costa Rica for shopping, traffic jams or international restaurants but San José have other things to offer as well.
Sometimes San José or one of the suburbs is literally a “must see” destination for travelers because their flight schedule simply forces them to stay there.
The modernization of Costa Rica’s other international airport in 2012 has meant big increases in the number of flights into the Pacific northwest at Liberia, but the majority of arrivals are still into SJO 15 km outside of San José. Late arrivals and early departures are one of the main reasons visitors spend a night in San José or the central valley.
If you get up very early and retreat to your hotel by early afternoon San José can be a convenient base for exploring some of the best that Costa Rica has to offer. You can fly into SJO international airport on direct flights from most major U.S. cities and assuming you’re clever enough to avoid the traffic there are dozens of great attractions and adventures within an hour or less of downtown.
There are four volcanoes to visit. Poás has an excellent interpretive center and easy paved paths through the cloud forest and along the crater. Barva has longer hikes into Braulo Carrillo National Park. Irazú has a paved road to the top and amazing views all the way to the Pacific and Caribbean. Finally Turrialba volcano is a 4WD adventure to get to and is the gateway to some of the best rafting and other adventures in Costa Rica.
La Paz waterfall gardens is home to the best butterfly and humming bird gardens in Costa Rica, an excellent aviary, walk-in frog terrarium and paved and stair stepped paths to the amazing waterfalls. Zoo Aves in Garita, the butterfly farm in Guacimo, canopy ziplines, and the serpentarium outside Grecia are all nearby.
Museums & Culture
The pre-columbian gold museum and museum of jade are worth a visit on a walking tour of the pedestrian mall in the center of the city. The national theater, children’s museum and museum of art are also located in San José.
Coffee is Costa Rica’s most famous export and the volcanic mountainsides around San José some of the most important production regions. A tour of a coffee farm to learn about the traditional and modern methods of processing can offer a glimpse into history.
What Not to Expect Around San José
San José and the metropolitan area are home to two million people and if you dig hard enough you can unearth a fairly sophisticated modern city but it’s not a world capital like New York, Paris or Singapore. There are some good restaurants and a couple of large shopping centers but nothing you won’t find cloned in any city of any size anywhere in the world.
Security, Peace & Quiet
San José, Alajuela, Heredia and even the bastion of modernity Escazú have all the noise, pollution and crime you expect in a big city.
Despite the fact that there are dozens of great attractions within a few kilometers of downtown getting to or from them can take hours instead of minutes. San José has a horrendous traffic problem. We once spent almost three hours driving twelve kilometers – that’s half our average walking speed – and we weren’t anywhere near downtown.
You can be trapped any time between about 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. and going either into, around or away from San José. Once you see the tail lights in front of you there’s nothing you can do. There are no alternate routes to most places because the valley is cut by major rivers and no matter how sneaky you are with the back roads you still have to cross the only bridge to get to the other side.
On Sunday afternoons and into the night beach traffic can start at the Pacific and it can be bumper to bumper all the way back to San José. What should be less than an hour can easily be three to four times that long.