San Jose National Theatre
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San Jose National Theatre

© Creative Commons / Christopher Gosselin

San Jose travel guide

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Nestled in Costa Rica’s Central Valley and surrounded by green hills and dramatic volcanoes, modest San José is one of Central America’s most laid-back, safest and pleasant capital cities.

The fact that this city so often gets overlooked by visitors is not its fault. Its high-rise hotels, spectacular setting, and cheerfully chaotic markets, all combine to create a vibrant urban centre, and make it a pleasant place to hang out and relax.

But none of that can compete with the pristine rainforest and wildlife-filled national parks that lie within easy reach of the city. They’d put any metropolis in the shade, even one where flocks of parrots compete with the pigeons for scraps in the numerous downtown plazas.

Those who come here will find that ‘Chepe’ (as the locals fondly call their capital city) is not only the political and transportation hub of the country, but also a cultural centre worth stopping to see in its own right.

Don’t miss the National Museum of Costa Rica, the Museum of Pre-Columbian Gold and the Museum of Costa Rican Art. Between them they give a good overview of how the Costa Rican inhabitants have shaped their country, and how the country has shaped the Costa Ricans.

At meal times, there are plenty of international restaurants across the city, and while Costa Rican cuisine is not spicy, it is tasty, easy to come by and cheap. The national dishes of gallo pinto (fried rice and black beans, usually eaten for breakfast) and casado (rice, beans and meat, served with salad, fried plantain and tortillas) are served at small eateries called sodas across the city.

With many museums and the nation’s best dining and nightlife, there’s plenty to keep you occupied in San José. And it lies within a few hours’ drive of national parks, beaches, hot springs and more, giving you the best of all worlds.

Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.