When travelling to Costa Rica it’s rare that the capital city of San Jose is at the top of anyone’s wish list for locations to explore, with most people flying straight in and out to their desired destination within the vibrant country, to be honest, I would have probably done the same! Having now visited the city, I’ve seen for myself that there’s so much more to see than the international airport. Here’s my guide on How to spend 24 hours in San Jose.Last month I travelled to one of the most amazing countries I’ve ever explored, Costa Rica. I travelled as part of a hosted press trip with the country’s tourism board and was lucky enough to explore so much of the incredible country within just seven days.
Very often when planing a trip to Costa Rica the capital city of San Jose is never really given a look-in when making itinerary plans, desperate to explore the wildlife rich rainforests and spectacular beaches but having now seen what the city has to offer, if you are travelling through the city there’s ample reason to leave the airport! For those of you with a long space between internal and international flights perhaps something in this guide will also entice you out of the airport 😉 In my opinion it’s always a great idea to make the most of your airport layover.
Visit the local fruit market
No matter the day in Costa Rica there is always a market open, from the famous central market which is based in the city centre that’s overflowing with meat, fish, clothes, shoes and general nick nacks to the daily farmers markets. We were in town on a Sunday so we were able to visit the fabulous fruit market where the colours are exciting and vibrant and the locals are more than keen to share their local produce with you. With so many exotic fruits on offer you could spend all morning trying them out and discovering some you’ve never even seen before!
Explore on Foot
As with any capital city your day can easily be spent wandering through the main town centre on foot. There’s shops, cafes and restaurants and a number of landmarks to see including amazing graffiti visuals, street artists and stunning churches.
During your inner-city walk I recommend going into the National Theatre, which was built in 1987 and features stunning colonial architecture, also the opportunity to learn more about the history of the city and it’s residents.
There’s also the pre-Columbian gold museum which not only displays some exceptional artisan jewellery and traditional trinkets, it also details the full history of the aboriginals that once occupied the lands and touches on those that are still living in Costa Rica today. It’s a truly fantastic and informative way to introduce yourself to such an amazing country.
Where & What to Eat
In terms of food in Costa Rica there’s a number of local delicacies you have to try, I’m no food expert but from what myself and the group ordered on a daily basis you need to try the famous Gallo Pinto (rice and beans), Ceviche (fresh fish with a citrus sauce) and Casado (my personal favourite, a dish with a little bit of everything!). Then there’s the famous tres leches cake, an absolute ‘must try’ desert in Costa Rica! Oh, and then of course, there’s that world famous coffee 😉
If you are looking for more of a luxury and gastronomy focused evening out there’s Luna Roja. Here the in-house chef creates dishes that showcase traditional recipes with modern twists. The restaurant promises a full sensory experience when dining and the dishes are certainly unique within San Jose. The chef is so passionate and you can smell and taste that in the food. Passion fruit sangria is also served here which is fantastic!
Enjoy the Famous Nightlife
When wandering around the city of Costa Rica it’s easy to see that the nightlife, in-keeping with most latin American countries is ‘happening!’. For amazing bars and restaurants your best bet is to head to 33rd Street. Here you’ll find plenty of options from delicious vegetarian eateries to hearty steak houses, there’s also a number of bars to hop, skip and jump in and out of 😉
With just one free evening in the city we decided on a craft beer tour on 33rd street and I highly recommend it. The tour is one of the many nigh time attractions run by a local company called Carpe Chepe, it was a really fun (and boozy) way to see the city at night. The company was started by a few young locals who wanted to encourage more people to spend an evening in Costa Rica rather than simply passing through and they have a number of tours available every night of the week. The 4 hour long craft beer tour is a great way to discover the local area and your guide will not only talk you through your beer but also tell you exactly ‘How the locals do it’ in San Jose. You sample four different beers and in every serving location small snacks are also provided as part of the tour, you do have the option order additional drinks at your own cost throughout the evening too.
We booked to go for dinner after our tour but I highly suggest you rely on making the bar-crawl snacks your evening meal. We were all far too full to enjoy our dinner as the selection of food served with the beer in each venue was amazing!
Where to stay
There are a number of hotels in San Jose but as the city is not frequently flooded with tourists there are few luxury options to chose from. On our recent trip I spent two nights at Hotel Grano De Oro and I was very impressed with my stay. The boutique hotel was opened by a Canadian couple who frequently travelled to Costa Rica on holiday and noticed a gap in the market for an up-scale hotel in the country’s capital. They wanted to create an option for like-minded travellers making it possible to enjoy San Jose whilst having thise modern and traditional comforts.
The hotel is a gorgeously renovated Georgian mansion with local artist displays and lush foliage at every corner. The rooms are all unique and beautifully decorated with basic amenities in the washroom, a coffee maker and a minibar. Most rooms also feature a balcony or outdoor patio and the location is perfect at just 5 minutes walk away from the centre.
Grano De Oro Restaurant, has fame of it’s own with a delicious breakfast spread every morning for guests and an open booking dinner service in the evening. As an extra inner-city treat, the hotel features a high rise ‘roof garden’ complete with a large hot tub. After a day of exploring this little hotel haven is THE perfect place to either enjoy the sunshine or watch the thunderstorm during rainy season.
So there you have it, How to spend 24 hours in San Jose, Costa Rica. The city isn’t somewhere I would personally recommend staying for longer than a layover as there’s so many more amazing places to discover in Costa Rica, however if you are in the position where 24 hours in the city will ease your full travel itinerary then I hope this guide has you covered 😉
If you are sticking around I highly recommend reading Award Winning, Emily Luxton’s blogpost detailing 7 reasons to stay in San Jose.
I’ll be sharing all of my Costa Rican travel itinerary with you throughout the next few weeks so stay tuned!