Home Central America 22 Trip Defining Activities To Do In San Jose, Costa Rica

22 Trip Defining Activities To Do In San Jose, Costa Rica

by ElenaSergeeva

It goes without saying that San Jose is the capital of Costa Rica for a reason, and it is a must-visit for anyone traveling to the country. The stunning capital city is located in the central valley of the country and is surrounded by both mountains and volcanoes, adding to its overall natural vibe.

San Jose offers practically everything you would want from a city and has its fair share of museums, restaurants, hotels and attractions that give you deep insight into its deep history. For a capital city, it is surprisingly quite small so it won’t take that long to explore depending on the things you want to do there.

If you wish to learn about the history of Costa Rica as a whole, you should absolutely not miss coming to San Jose. This is because of the many historically significant sights such as the National Theatre and the Costa Rica National Museum which tells the most tales of all.

So whichever kind of traveler you are, there is something for everyone to do in the Costa Rican capital. In this complete guide, I will cover all of the best possible things you can do while visiting the city and why it is absolutely worth adding to your itinerary for Costa Rica. 

22 Trip Defining Activities To Do In San Jose, Costa Rica – A Must-Read Guide Before Coming!


How To Get Around San Jose

1. Walk Around Parque Nacional Park

2. Shop At San Jose Central Market

3. See Museo Del Jade

4. Stroll Through Avenida Central

5. See The Sculptures At Paz Garden

6. Watch A Performance at National Theatre of Costa Rica (Teatro Nacional)

7. Watch A Soccer Game at National Stadium of Costa Rica

8. Pre-Columbian Gold Museum

9. Enjoy A Perfect Nightview of The City At Mirador Tiquicia

10. National Museum of Costa Rica

11. See The Dazzling Design of Hotel Presidente

12. See The Legislative Building

13. Check Out The City of Color Murals

14. La Sabana Park & The Costa Rican Art Museum

15. Metropolitan Cathedral of San Jose

Must-See Places To Visit Outside Of The City

16. Poas Volcano

17. Doka Estate Coffee Plantation

18. Manuel Antonio National Park

19. Sarchi

20. Monteverde Hanging Bridges

21. Arenal Volcano

22. Tortoguero National Park



How To Get Around San Jose

There are multiple ways of getting around the city of San Jose which includes bus, taxi and by renting a car. Although getting the local bus is the cheapest option, it is much harder to find the places that you are looking for compared to a taxi. It is an interesting local experience though if you can locate your stop.

Here is some more in-depth information on each of these forms of transport in the city:

Local Bus

Price for Local Bus Trip: $1

The local buses in San Jose operate in all areas of the city and they are easy to get. 

You can expect to pay $1 at maximum for a single trip and the price won’t be much more than that for intercity destinations that are close by. You should be able to find a bus for any of the places you want to go to inside of the city using the Moovit Website here

I have used this many times to find buses in Central and South America and it is very helpful. Another option would be to ask locals which bus stop to go to for your destination. 

This is because there is no official timetable online for the local buses and in addition to that, there isn’t a central bus station either which makes it slightly harder.

The good news is that if you see a bus going to a place you want to go to, you can simply wave and it will stop for you. 

From there, you can just tell the driver to stop at your stop and you are okay.


Price for Local Taxi Trip: $1 per km (see meter)

The benefit of getting a taxi rather than the bus is that you will find them at many of the popular tourist attractions all over the city. You will also probably get approached by a driver asking you if you want a taxi at some point during your trip aswell. 

When getting a taxi, make sure it is either orange or a red color because these are the official government taxis of Costa Rica.

Once in the taxi, ask the driver to turn on the meter for the entirety of the trip. This will ensure that you are paying the right price and they aren’t trying to rip you off. The price should be roughly $1 per km although it might be a few cents more than that.

Another taxi option would be to order an Uber off the app in your phone. Although I haven’t tried ordering an Uber in San Jose personally, I’ve heard that it is cheap and a similar rate to the local taxis that are there.

Renting A Car

Average Daily Price: $20-$30

Renting a car is the best option for those who are planning to stay longer in San Jose. Of course, this is going to be much more expensive than any of the other options, but the benefit is the flexibility and not having to look for new transport every day.

A reliable option for renting a car in Costa Rica and most places in the world is kayak.com. You should be able to find a car pretty easily on there in the $20-$30 per day range depending on the type of car you want. Alternatively, there are several reputable businesses in the city to choose from including Adobe Rent A Car San Jose and Paradise Car Rental

These both have great reviews online and are well established businesses to rent a car from in the city.

1. Walk Around Parque Nacional Park

To put it simply, Parque Nacional Park is the national park of Costa Rica, and it luckily is in San Jose city. There are not only key parts of the city’s history that lie here, but it is a beautiful place to walk around with its own koi pond and numerous palm trees. 

The palm trees were the first things I noticed when I was walking through this park, and it gives it a tropical feeling which you just don’t get in most capital cities around the world.

If you would like to observe city life, this is a good place to people watch as you can see many of the locals here eating and resting. It is also a good place to stop for a break and grab a drink from a local stand there.

The most significant statue to see in the park is The National Monument that is there. This is a large bronze statue which depicts Costa Rica’s victory in the war of 1856-1857.

 I would say this is the main highlight of coming here besides admiring the natural scenery and getting some exercise.

For those who wish to opt for an organized tour we recommend the Guided City Bus Tour With Lunch & Welcome Drink or if you prefer something private you can book a Private Tour with a Local Host

2. Shop At San Jose Central Market

Opening Times: 6AM-6PM

One of the most visited places in all of San Jose city must be the Central Market. 

Why is it significant you might ask?

Well, to put it simply, it is one of the oldest landmarks in not only San Jose itself but the entire country.  It was established in 1880 making it almost 150 years old and the market is still going strong as of today.  Whether you are wanting to pick up some local food to try or grab a souvenir to take home with you, the San Jose Central Market is definitely the place to be in the city.

Besides just this, it is another perfect spot to get an authentic experience of the capital. This is because a large majority of the people you will see here are local people.

3. See Museo Del Jade

Opening Times: 8AM-5PM

Entrance Fee: $15 for Foreigners (children under 5 get free entry)

The reason Museo Del Jade has the name it has is because it is home to the world’s largest collection of American jade.

 If you don’t know what this is, it is basically the name for a semiprecious group of hard stones which is composed of the mineral jadeite (hence the name Jade).

You might be wondering why this is special and you are right with your assumption.

Well, Jade was seen as an extremely precious material in Costa Rican history and was used as a pure symbol of power among the most wealthy. Inside of the museum, you will find a huge range of artifacts which are made from not only Jade, but also ceramic, bone, wood and stone along with other materials.

It is also said that many of these artifacts were used in religious ceremonies and shamanic rituals among societal organisations. 

Considering San Jose is the best city in Costa Rica for history and this museum alone tells a large amount of history, I would consider it as a must-see while you are in the Capital.

4. Stroll Through Avenida Central

There is not a better way of experiencing this city and everything it has to offer than to directly walk through Avenida Central. This street is basically the high street of San Jose and like any other high street in a major city, you are going to see your fair share of action.

I noticed that the locals tend to socialize a lot here and the Costa Ricans are definitely a social bunch. Everything is available on Avenida Central ranging from food and small shops to clothing stores and other goods. Another useful part about it is that it is close to the other tourist attractions so it serves as a good way of accessing them.

5. See The Sculptures At Paz Garden

View of Morazan Park

Paz Garden is a relatively small park area located next to Morazan Park in the El Carmen part of the city. This garden is surprisingly unknown and I don’t see many people mentioning it but there some beautiful sculptures by Edgar Zuniga here that are worth checking out.

Edgar Zuniga is a popular artist in Costa Rica and is known for his talent in sculpture design. In the garden, you can find various sculptures by him which represent war and physical defence to prevent injury. One of his sculptures is particularly gory as it features a man with all his limbs cut off and his own foot below him. 

Pretty wild right!

6. Watch a Performance at National Theatre of Costa Rica

Opening Times: 9AM-4PM

Entrance Fee: $5

If you are looking for entertainment inside of the city, it really doesn’t get much better than the National Theatre of Costa Rica.

 As the name goes, this is literally the national theatre in Costa Rica so you can expect to see a good performance here or two. What makes this theatre significant is not only the fact it is over 100 years old but also because it can host over 1,000 people at a time there.

Although I didn’t attend any performances here during my two days in San Jose, I did take a guided tour and saw the incredible paintings and designs in each of the rooms. According to an article by USA Today, the ceiling of National Theater tops the list of the 10 most impressive ceilings around the world.

I also visited the main section of the stadium which was even larger than I expected and filled with eloquent design.

While you are in the national theatre, I would also recommend going to Alma De Cafe which is the cafe inside of it. The hot chocolates they have there are fantastic and absolutely worth the stop-off.

You will enjoy the tour here and there is more than enough to see!

As mentioned, there are a range of entertaining shows that go on here from musical performances such as opera and classic concerts to ballet or other forms of dance.

The painting known as the Alegoría al Café y al Banano (Allegory of the Coffee and the Bananas) was on the ₡5 bill that is no longer in circulation.

For more information, check out their official website here: https://www.estadionacionalcr.com/.

7. Watch a Soccer Game at National Stadium of Costa Rica

Although there are many places that are often mentioned to visit in San Jose, one of those which is less commonly talked about is the National Stadium (also known as Estadio Nacional).

It is without mentioning that soccer is huge in Costa Rica and according to costarica.org, it is the most popular sport in the entire country. It is seen as a second religion among many and is therefore a great way of experiencing the energy of the capital. 

If there aren’t any national football games on during your stay, there are many musical events or popular events in general that take place inside of the stadium. I would suggest booking one of these events and a guided tour of the stadium for a real cultural experience.

To book either, visit the official website here: https://www.estadionacionalcr.com/

Visit several sites of historical significance, such as the National Theater, the National Stadium, and the University of Costa Rica on a City Tour By Night. Book your experience with GetYourGuide here.

8. Pre-Columbian Gold Museum

Opening Hours: 9:15AM-5PM

Entrance Price: $15

As the name goes, the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum is your place to be if you are a big fan of gold in general. 

It might sound completely crazy, but some of the golden artifacts that lie inside of this museum’s walls existed before Christ. 

This makes them both extremely ancient and rare.

If that isn’t a good enough reason for you to pay the entrance fee, the National Coin Museum also lies in this very building. This contains some coins that are just short of 800 years old in total. 

I doubt there is a single price tag that can describe the value of all the artifacts which lie in this museum, and it is the place to be if you are a fan of ancient history!

9. Enjoy A Perfect Night view of The City At Mirador Tiquicia

Restaurant Opening Times: 12-11PM

Full Menu: http://miradortiquicia.com/menu2/

If you are looking for a combination of an epic night view along with top-quality food, Mirador Tiquicia is the restaurant that you need to go to!

This amazing restaurant not only offers a fine range of traditional Costa Rican food, but it is 1300 metres above sea level which creates the insane views over San Jose that you get from here.

If you really want the full experience of the culture in Costa Rica, Mirador also offers a folkloric dance show that you watch with family and friends. This features authentic folkloric dances from different parts of Costa Rica and it offers a real cultural experience.

You can find the dates for the folkloric evenings on the website here: http://miradortiquicia.com/en/folkloric_evening/.

10. National Museum of Costa Rica

Opening Times: 9AM-4PM (Tuesday to Sunday)

Entrance Fee: $6 Adults, $3 Children

Another must-see for both history lovers and avid travelers alike is the National Museum of Costa Rica.

 Nothing quite tells the story of Costa Rica’s past like this place and it is a cheaper alternative to most of the other museums that are in the city.

I particularly enjoyed the area outside of the museum which features fascinating statues and some of the stone spheres from Diquis Delta. These are known as bolas de piedra in Spanish which means stone balls. The stone spheres are special because they serve as Pre-Colombian remnants of indigenous people from Costa Rica.

There are plenty of stories told inside of these four walls from the highlights of the colonial period to an entire section dedicated to the ex-president and Nobel prize winner Oscar Arias. Basically, if you are a big fan of Costa Rican history and have studied it, you will most likely find what you are looking for inside of the National Museum.

Unfortunately, the museum is not open on Mondays if you were planning to go on this specific day. 

11. See the Dazzling Design of Hotel Presidente

Book a Room Here

One of my most memorable experiences while in San Jose was seeing Hotel Presidente. Although I didn’t spend the night inside of this hotel, I can honestly say that the outside designs are a great way of attracting people to stay there.

It is also a 4-star hotel with lots of great reviews online so it is most likely a very good place to stay the night. There is also a rooftop garden on the building along with a fitness room too which is supposed to be good. 

However, if you just want to come here like me to view the amazing art on the side of the building, you can do that too!

12. See The Legislative Building

While on the topic of building design, another interesting one to visit purely for the great looking design is the Legislative Building.

This is very different and strange looking compared to a lot of government buildings I’ve seen in the past. There was apparently a huge controversy that went along with the construction of this building because it does look particularly ugly as far as building designs go.

It also appears to be entirely made of concrete which gives it a very dull look from the outside. There are most likely a lot of confidential meetings that go inside of here which gives it a sense of curiosity and eeriness.

13. Check Out The City of Color Murals

The City of Color Murals is a rare spot hardly known by most travelers and it is probably one of the coolest places I visited on my trip. 

These murals are in the downtown of San Jose and you can see all kinds of different paintings here ranging from mind-blowing spiritual designs to cute animals.

It is important to note that many of these are on the sides of buildings and walls so you have to explore around to see what you can find here. To find this spot, head downtown close to the National Museum of Costa Rica and you should start to see some of the murals quickly.

14. La Sabana Park & The Costa Rican Art Museum

Costa Rican Art Museum Opening Times: 9AM-4PM (Tues-Sunday)

Costa Rican Art Museum Entrance Fee: $5 (Free on Sunday)

La Sabana Park is another park in San Jose like Parque Nacional Park which absolutely should not be missed. 

This is known as both the biggest and most important park in all of the city, above the national park itself!

What is most incredible about coming here is the mountain view which you can see. You can sit on a bench next to the lake here and gaze at the incredible mountains which can be seen in the far distance.

Besides this though, the park is a total of 180 acres and there are tonnes of area to explore here while stretching your legs. If you need to get your jog in or feel like playing soccer with friends, La Sabana is the park to go to!

It is also important to mention that the famous Costa Rican Art Museum is on the same grounds as La Sabana Park. This gives you the perfect opportunity to go there and see both these must-see tourist attractions in the same area. It is only $5 for entry and this price gives you the keys to absorb all of Costa Rica’s artistic culture in one building.

Is there much of a better way to end your walk in the park now hey? 

15. Metropolitan Cathedral of San Jose

Opening Times: 6AM-7:20AM

The Metropolitan Cathedral of San Jose is a key part of the cities’ culture considering Catholicism is the main religion in Costa Rica. This cathedral was actually destroyed by an earthquake in the past which led it to being rebuilt again.

You don’t have to pay to get into here and you will be joined by many of the locals who come here to pray as part of their daily routine. 

The first time this cathedral was originally built was in 1802 which would make it over 200 years old if it was still in original condition today!

Although it is free entry, I would advise giving a donation if you come here to visit.

Must-Do Day trips Outside of The City

16. Poas Volcano

I would personally say going to this volcano is the best daytrip that you can do from San Jose because of the fact it is such a unique natural wonder to visit.

Some facts about Poas Volcano include:

  • It has one of the largest craters in the world
  • It is 2697 metres above sea level
  • It has erupted 40 times since 1828 including just 6 years ago in 2017

What I enjoyed the most about visiting this volcano besides the absolutely jaw-dropping views was the hike to the top. If you come here on a guided tour you will fist hear an introduction to the Poas Volcano followed by a relatively short walk to the crater.

It is also important to mention that you have to wear a helmet during your visit to the crater and you are not allowed to take it off at any point. We were extremely lucky to witness the crater as it was a clear day, however 20 minutes after our visit clouds began to approach and visibility was limited.

17. Doka Estate Coffee Plantation

 Opening Times: 8AM-5PM

 Price for Coffee Tour: $23 per person

Another great visit to make on the journey back from Poas Volcano is to check out the Doka Estate Coffee Plantation. I actually did both of these as part of a group tour and I was very happy that we did stop at this coffee plantation. 

What is amazing about this place is that they show the entire coffee making process from picking the beans all the way to producing the coffee on the other side.

Doka Estate near San Jose is the largest coffee plantation in all of Costa Rica and I certainly learned a lot from going there. If you haven’t had a coffee tour yet and are interested to see how it is made, I would definitely recommend visiting. 

You also have the option to purchase some of the coffee beans too which is a nice addition to end the tour.

18. Manuel Antonio National Park

Opening Times: 7AM-4PM (Wednesday-Monday)

Entrance Fee: $16 for Adults, $5 for Kids (Not including tax)

Manuel Antonio National Park is no short drive from San Jose but it is absolutely worth going there. It is the most popular national park in Costa Rica for a reason and you can get some stunning photos here for your Instagram feed. There are plenty of things to do here including hiking the trails, seeing the four beaches, Nauyaca Waterfall and just enjoying the wildlife in general. 

The monkeys I saw here were very different from most of the other monkeys I have seen on my travels. The ones which stood out the most were the cappuccino monkeys because of their color and funny personalities. You can also see other kinds of monkeys here too such as spider monkeys or white-faced monkeys.

My favorite thing to do here was go to the beach and soak in the beautiful pacific ocean that surrounds it.

Book your day trip to Manuel Antonio National Park Tour here.

19. Sarchi

Coming to Sarchi is essentially like entering a different world and it is definitely unlike many places that you can visit in Costa Rica. This little small town is in the hills Alajuela and is where most of the wooden souvenirs that are sold all over the country are made.

If you are a big fan of wooden arts and crafts, this is the closest place you will find to heaven in the country!

Apparently due to a cart which lies in this town, Sarchi has its own page in the Guinness Book of World Records which is rather mind-blowing.

Anyway, if you want to take something truly memorable back from your Costa Rican trip, Sarchi is the place to go to.

20. Monteverde Hanging Bridges

There are multiple hanging bridges that are in Monteverde.

Unfortunately, many of these are in different national parks which can make it difficult to see them on your own. For this reason, I would recommend taking a hanging bridges tour as a daytrip so that you can experience them in their entirety. My friend and I took the Sky Tram up to the top of the cloud forrest from where the view is absolutely breathtaking.

A good tour I would recommend would be by GetYourGuide, here is the link to their hanging bridges tour for Monteverde:

From San José: Monteverde Hanging Bridges Day Trip

For those staying in Monteverde you can also opt for this tour Monteverde: 3-in-1 Sky Tram, Sky Trek and Sky Walk

These not only make for some great walking exercise but the views on some of them are beyond spectacular! The adventurous ones might like to try the Zipline, Costa Rica is known for some of the best ziplines in the world. In this case check out this tour – Montevede: Jungle Zipline & Rappel Experience with Transfer

21. Arenal Volcano

An alternative volcano hike that you can take to Poas Volcano would be to climb to Arenal Volcano at Arenal Volcano National Park. Not only is this volcano perfectly symmetrical in shape, but it was well-known until 2010 to have regular explosion displays for anyone watching nearby.

Of course, it entered an indefinite resting phase in 2010 so those days are long gone. However, it is still known as Costa Rica’s most popular volcano and it has had a much more explosive history than its counterparts.

The good news about Arenal is that it is a shorter hike than Poas and should take around an hour and 30 minutes to hike the trail.

22. Tortuguero National Park

Tortuguero National Park is one place I knew I couldn’t leave off my list while in Costa Rica. As part of my trip here, me and my travel friend stayed in a lodge which was located inside of the jungle and it was an experience like no other. From our accommodation, we went to see the sea turtles which are seen as a main sight at Tortuguero.

A really cool thing though is that there are lots of other animals to see at Tortuguero including sloths, lizards and various monkeys along with others. I can’t decide which one was my favorite national park out of Manuel Antonio and Tortuguero but one thing is for sure, they were both great fun! You can either opt for a day trip to Tortuguero Park Day Tour with Breakfast & Lunch or a 3-Day Tortuguero National Park Excursion


1. Is San Jose Safe To Walk Around in 2023?

Although San Jose isn’t exactly the prettiest city in the world, you should be perfectly fine as long as you stay aware of your surroundings. This especially means not walking around the streets at night or visiting the parks at night. Apart from that, I would recommend traveling with a friend or family member and keeping your eye on your valuables as much as possible.

Petty crimes are most common here include pickpocketing.

2. I Only Have One Day in San Jose, What Should I Do?

I would recommend visiting one of the main parks in the city and possibly a museum too. This should give you better insight into the culture of the city and help you learn more about it as a whole. You could also take a walk around the center of the city too as there are plenty of interesting sights to see.

This is always what I enjoy doing when visiting a new capital city.

3. Is San Jose The Best Place In Costa Rica?

I really enjoyed my time here, but I think many experienced travelers would agree with me that there are much nicer parts of Costa Rica. This country has some spectacular natural scenes including some of the volcanos I mentioned which are just a few hours drive away.

I would advise to soak up the historical and cultural aspects of the city and then head out to explore the beautiful nature.


So there we have it, these are 22 trip-defining activities that you must do while in San Jose, Costa Rica.

 Feel free to add these to your itinerary before going as they are certain to make your experience more unique and fun. San Jose is a great city and I would advise to focus on the historical aspects of it while you are here.

There are plenty of beautiful beaches and tropical scenes all around the country but why not soak up some of Costa Ricas past while in the capital?

I hope you enjoyed this guide and remember to bookmark this page before coming to San Jose to get the most out of your trip!

You may also like

Leave a Comment

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More

Privacy & Cookies Policy