San Jose

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Any city that has an affectionate nickname is bound to be full of character, and San Jose, Costa Rica, affectionately known as Chepe, is no different. This Central American city has a bit of a rep, but at its heart it's a cosmopolitan destination offering a variety of sights and activities that make it worth a visit.

To start with, if you've been dying to see the world's largest collection of American jade, you're in luck because it's housed in San Jose at the Museo de Jade. There are nearly 7,000 pieces, including translucent carvings depicting everything from fertility goddesses and shamans to frogs and snakes, not to mention ceramics with Mayan influences.

Other cultural endeavours in San Jose include the Museo de Oro Precolombino y Numismática, which features pre-Columbian gold, historical currency and contemporary regional art; and the Museo de los Niños & Galería Nacional, an interesting place in an old penitentiary that has hands-on science, geography and natural history exhibits for kids as well as contemporary art in abandoned prison cells. Or check out the Museo de Arte y Diseño Contemporáneo (more commonly called MADC, the Contemporary Art and Design Museum) in the 1850s-era National Liquor Factory. If art doesn't have you rushing for the ticket office, you could always choose to visit the Museo de Insectos, featuring — you guessed it — a huge collection of insects.

There's no shortage of outdoor options in San Jose either. To soak up some of the architecture in the area, take a stroll through the historic neighbourhood of Barrio Amón, which features coffee-grower mansions (known as cafetalero) from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. If art-deco isn't your thing, the brightly painted tropical Victorian structures will get your camera clicking. The Parque La Sabana is a 72-hectare dose of green space with a lagoon, a fountain, sports facilities and a network of paths.

You can also catch tours from San Jose that will be sure to fill up the storybook of your travels. Tortuguero National Park, a breeding ground for endangered sea turtles, features canals and the chance to see not only turtles but birds, caiman and even possibly the famous Jesus Lizard (known for its ability to run across water). Other tour options will get you out to nature reserves, wildlife refuges, nearby villages and even into Panama through the Panama Canal.

WestJet is happy to help you visit San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica with seasonal flights departing out of Toronto.


Airport served by: SJO

Destination basics

San Jose has quite temperate weather, thanks to its high elevation. Temperatures are steady year-round, with mean temperatures between 21 and 23 C and limited rainfall.

Weather chart

Nestled in the Central Valley, Costa Rica's capital city is flanked by the forest-shrouded Talamanca Mountains and surrounding volcanoes. Despite being the nation's largest city, San José is small and cozy. Although its style and architecture are contemporary, some buildings of strong European influence, mainly British and French, can still be found as a heritage of the economic coffee prosperity from the turn of the century. Towards north and west of the city, we can still appreciate some old adobe structures with tile roofs that have been preserved with care, which evoke past remembrances of the large coffee plantations and farms. Although district areas do exist, these are small quadrants for property census and electoral organization mainly. The administrative division of the country was defined by regions or cantons which have their own municipalities, and can be considered as small urban zones and towns, with their own unique personality and characteristics. Thanks to the topography, there is a great diversity of micro-climates that determine in many cases the type of production on the region. Distances are easily covered by car or public transportation.

San José Downtown
Due to its small size, Downtown San Jose, or Chepe as it is known affectionately, is worth exploring on foot. Not so long ago, the Central Avenue was closed to vehicle traffic and embellished with stone paving and gardens, so the tourists and locals could walk by in comfort or just sit down and enjoy life go by. This pedestrian zone is now also a prime cultural hotspot in the city, centered around the terraced beauty of Democracy Square. The National Museum, the Jade Museum, and the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum stand as proud monuments of the city and nation's heritage, across from the 19th- century Parque Nacional, which features Costa Rica's National Monument. Along the broad length of Avenida Central, downtown's busy thoroughfare, you will also find a jumble of hotels, restaurants and stores, alongside the Tribunals of Justice and the National Theater of Costa Rica.

It is important to note that San Jose's Municipality has made great efforts to protect the security of is inhabitants and visitors as well, but some areas in downtown may be considered dangerous. However, as in any city, prevention is always a good measure.


A pivotal commercial district that is also the most central of all districts, Hospital is home to a bevy of various barrios, including Almendares, Bolívar, La Merced and Silos. Parque Braulio Carrillo and Parque Central are located within its bustling expanse, and the Melico Salazar Theater, a historic treasure, is also situated here.


Also a commercial district along San Jose's busy sprawl, the Merced district boasts an assemblage of important financial institutions and shopping avenues. The Costa Rican Center of Science and Culture is located here.

San Pedro and Montes de Oca
This is the district that belongs to youth and culture. The University City Rodrigo Facio, the Universidad de Costa Rica is located in the main urban zone, San Pedro. This area has become the preferred place for students and intellectuals. There are moderately priced small cafés and bars around the University and student boarding houses. Bed and breakfast and apartment hotels are nearby to house the tourists. This is a very traditional commerce area of malls, restaurants, and entertaining as well.

There are other more rural areas, farther from the city environment within San Jose. Puriscal, Tarrazú and Aserrí, as well as Acosta, Dota and Pérez Zeledón standout for the beauty of their scenery, with small markets of local products and artisan stores. The travel agencies have tours to drive you over, and there is always a public transportation service and car rentals for the adventurous one. No doubt, San Jose is in all of its urban and rural expressions, a glamorous and modern great city with beautiful and wonderful towns to discover.


A long-running legend in the city is that if you ever need a magic potion for luck or love, or want to cast a spell on someone, you will have to look around Escazú. In reality, Escazú has become a major commerce and entertaining area, with beautiful hotels and fabulous restaurants that are heavily influenced by American culture, meriting it the moniker of 'Little America'. Its residential zones are ample and highly priced. Located in the foothills of the mountain, you just need to go up a few meters to enjoy a breathtaking view of the whole city.

Santa Ana
Heading West from Escazú a few kilometers on the same road, you will find the very impressive Santa Ana Valley. Its marvelous weather has helped to turn this zone into in a highly developed area in very short time. Many residents from the more dense areas, tired of the noise and turmoil have moved over to Santa Ana in a quest for tranquility and warmth.

The main produce of this region are onions that are planted in the area with great pride. Other vegetables are also produced and there is a flourishing pottery industry as well.

When the day is over, the vibrant and noisy city yields gradually to murmurs and tranquility. San José starts transforming its formal business and commerce face into a makeup of coquetry and glamor. Bars and taverns get crowded with businessmen and women, public workers, professionals, and patrons of all kinds, wishing to unwind from the pressures of the working day.

San José and the surrounding cities are packed with small bars and taverns that in many cases are traditional landmarks. Establishing contact with the local people is easy, as by nature Costa Ricans are friendly and talkative.

Holding on to its storied vibrant character even as day turns to night, San José packs in a plethora of nighttime entertainment that percolates into its busy streets and lively corners, with bars, nightclubs and watering holes for every type and stripe strewn across its rich neighborhoods. In the past few years, the city has opened up its thriving commerce to a numerous brewpubs and beer bars, an impressive line-up of local brews making their way from across prominent breweries in the city. Costa Rica's Craft Brewing Co is one of the best places to chug a cold one.

Others like the Miraflores Disco Club, a little further from the city's limits in Heredia, hosts a roaring crowd that comes here to dance to Latin beats and electronic music every weekend. If you're looking for more local influences to while the night away, you will find that the reggae tunes and Latin disco beats in Castro's down-to-earth, yet popular haunt are very much to your liking. Club Vertigo, a slightly upscale alternative to San José's earthy dive bars, boasts a commendable line-up of celebrated DJs, ensuring a top-notch clubbing experience. Head to Bar Vyrus in San Pedro if you're on a shoestring budget but still want to have fun, and to the Jazz Cafe in the same neighborhood for live performances.

There are a large number of museums in San José and each one offers the visitor a glimpse into this beautiful country. The Popular Culture Museum, the Childrens Museum and the Gold Museum (Museo de Oro) are ideal for the family. The National Museum narrates the history of Costa Rica and houses a tremendous amount of Pre-columbian art. For those lepidopterists (butterfly enthusiasts) out there, go to the La Salle Natural Science Museum and for something a little more macabre, there is the Criminology Museum. For more contemporary works, the Costa Rican Art Museum displays both international artists and local ones. If you thought jade masterpieces were only made in China, the Jade Museum proves this assumption wrong, since it contains some fine artifacts created in Latin America.

San José has an innumerable amount of artists and no shortage of galleries to house their works. If you are looking to buy some art, visit the Andromeda Gallery and purchase some contemporary art at modest prices. At the Galeria Namu, fine works from national artists are on display as are indigenous handicrafts. The ever popular Galeria Roberto Lizano is a gallery with a rotation of artists from throughout Costa Rica, a place to see the true nature of this culture. Galería José Vargas is a gallery where the owner, Mr. Vargas, reproduces masterpieces from some of the greatest artists of all time, such as Da Vinci, Dürer and Van Eyck.

Costa Rica is known to have some of the most diverse flora and fauna on the planet thanks to its varied topography. And although the country has its share of deadly, venomous snakes, there are other attractions throughout the city of San José that can let you admire them from a safe distance. The Lankester Botanical Garden is one such place, it mainly focuses on orchids and their cultivation while Zoo Ave, the city zoo has many exotic animals, even a 12-foot (3.6-meter) long crocodile. For the family, take them to the Spirogyra Butterfly Garden and learn in detail about butterflies, their reproduction and life cycle alongside more information about the natural history of Costa Rica and the preservation of ecosystems.

Festivals & Celebrations
In Costa Rica, it seems as if every day there is a festival or celebration happening, so no matter when you go, you are bound to find one. Religion plays a large role in the theme of these festivals and celebrations like San Ramón's Day where celebrants hold a procession in homage to more than 30 different saints, including San Ramon. Another festival remembering the patron saint of Costa Rica is the festival for the Virgen de Los Angeles. More secular celebrations include the Dia de la Raza (Columbus Day) which celebrates the Hispanic heritage and Guanacaste's Day, a day where the citizens of this town chose whether to belong to Nicaragua or remain as Costa Ricans. Another festival where the visitor can party at the beach is the Virgin of the Sea Celebration, this festival remembers the virgin of Mount Carmel with food, special masses, parades and music, all while getting a tan under the warm July sun. All Saints Day and All Souls Day is one of the most important festivals in Costa Rica, it honors the deceased and visitors should be mindful of becoming belligerent. On the other hand, to celebrate the living, Easter Week is where the whole country shuts down for days to hold massive processions throughout the streets. More secular and interesting festivals include the National Orchid Show, Day of San José, Worker's Day or labor day and University Week which celebrates on the campus of the University of Costa Rica.

With all the coming and going, the morning stroll and the shopping spree downtown, it seems like your stomach has forgotten that just a few hours ago it enjoyed breakfast at the hotel veranda. You note that the Oeufs à la Benedictine, the gallo pinto with sour cream and the pancakes with bacon Texas fashion, all washed down with coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice, really made for a super and sumptuous breakfast! Enough to forget about lunch! No way! Your stomach reminds you that it is time to indulge again.

Finding a good restaurant in San José is not a problem. In the gastronomic arena, San José puts on airs of a big city and savoir faire, rubbing shoulders and rivaling with more cosmopolitan towns. With the development of a solid and always growing tourism industry, restaurants specializing in dishes from all over the world are common including fast food chains, small cozy restaurants, and five star rooms. Since the coastlines are so close together, seafood is known for its freshness, as they are brought in daily refrigerated, but not frozen. At Tin Jo Corvina, shrimp from the Pacific and lobster from the Caribbean are served Chinese style, although the marisquerías offer the widest variety, the freshest product and the best prices. Nearby, the wildly popular La Esquina de Buenos Aires offers splendid Argentinian fare. At Nuestra Tierra on Calle 15, the ceviche is not to be missed.

Concerning the indigenous gastronomy, the corn kitchen stands out. As a heritage from the indigenous tradition all the way from Northern Mexico to South America, the tortillas, tamales, corn biscuits, and a wide array of dishes made out of corn are part of the daily diet. This are combined with beans and picadillos, meats and all sort of vegetables. There are some specialized quality restaurants developing a new Costa Rican cuisine like Casa de Doña Lela which mixes genuinely local ingredients with others of higher lineage in the preparation of truly original and exclusive dishes. French cuisine at Le Monastere is always a wonderful option for dining in Escazú and for Pervian fusion try La Divina Comida.

Montes de Oca
Montes de Oca and the university area is a very busy district, with lots of hungry students at lunchtime. To fulfill this need, besides the fast food chains and the picturesque Chinese restaurants, economical refreshment room outlets and sodas are found all over. The bar La Castilla serves great drinks and snacks. Every establishment makes it differently but there is no doubt they carry the home made seal. If you are on a tight budget or otherwise want to try something really local, go to La Isabela Tapas & Wine Cellar for some Spanish tapas and for coffee lovers, try Casa del Café and choose among a huge variety of flavors.

Outside of the City
San José, all the way down from Central Avenue to Sabana Oeste, Escazú, and San Pedro is the mecca for culinary arts. Nevertheless, you will find good typical restaurants and outlets practically in every corner of this little piece of land. Outside of the city, for a real Argentine experience, go to El Novillo Alegre for Argentinian steak. Pan e Vino offers traditional Costa Rican cuisine and Antigua serves international fare.

San Jose

Province: San Jose

Country: Costa Rica

San Jose by the Numbers
Population: 333.981 (city); 2,158,898 (metro)
Elevation: 1172 meters / 3845 feet
Average Annual Precipitation: 197 centimeters / 77.6 inches
Average January Temperature: 22.6°C / 72.7°F
Average July Temperature: 22.6°C / 72.7°F

Quick Facts
Electricity: 120 volts, 60Hz; standard two-pin plugs

Time Zone: GMT -6; Central Standard Time (CST)

Country Dialing Code: +506

Did You Know?
Drivers in San Jose are forbidden from driving their cars one day every week to cut down on pollution. The day that they aren’t permitted to drive is indicated on the car’s license plate.

San Jose is located in the center of Costa Rica, in the aptly named Central Valley. It is about 116 kilometers (72 miles) west of Limón and 339 kilometers (210 miles) south of Managua, Nicaragua.

Embraced by the splendorous and perennial green-blue mountains that form the Cordillera of Talamanca and the Central Volcanic Cordillera, lies the city of San José. Established around a small hermit in honor of Saint Joseph in May 21, 1737, in what was known as The Plain of the Mount's Mouth, it extends on a southeast-northwest axis. Its growth from a small villa to Costa Rica's capital city was hard and painful.

"Four leagues north from Aserri, in a very pleasant plain, there is an ugly village with the diminutive of Villita, just developing. It is composed of eleven roof-tiled and fifteen straw houses, which form no plaza or street. It lacked water which was then carried by open channels; the church is the most narrow, humble and indecent from all those I saw in that province; its patron Saint Joseph."

With these textual words, starts the oldest registered description of San José, made in 1751 by the bishop Agustín Morel de Santa Cruz. With less than one hundred and fifty inhabitants, building a town was a challenge, since there was not even water for basic needs. Presbyter Don Juan de Pomar y Burgos was then assigned to la Villita (Small Village) and commissioned to construct a water system and establish a parish. It is important to note that all the village settlements from that time were highly influenced by a very powerful ecclesiastic and religious government. It is precisely doña Maria de Torres, mother of the priest Manuel Antonio Chapui, a great promoter of the development of San Jose, who donated the land that is actually known as La Sabana.. This is one of the largest city parks of San Jose and used to be our International Airport some forty years ago.

Nevertheless, San José was not meant to be Costa Rica's capital city from the beginning. It was not until 1823, in the time of Costa Rica''s independence from Spain, that this honor was taken away from the more traditional Cartago and given to more dynamic and growing, San José. It was this great communal effort oriented towards agriculture and commerce that established the basis to design the future of the young city. In the educational area, towards 1814, the Santo Tomas Education House was established by the neighbor's own initiative. It was declared University of Santo Tomas by public decree in 1843. Minor studies consisting of lessons in Latin, Castilian and Philosophy were imparted as major studies in Law, Medicine, and Theology. With the economic growth of the city, thanks to the coffee and tobacco plantations, by 1860 many youngsters had the opportunity of traveling and studying in universities abroad, mainly in England.

It is worth noting that this educational process was extended in the course of time to make Costa Rica what it is today: A country of educated and well mannered people who love peace.

In the agricultural area, San José was known for its coffee and tobacco plantations. This activity flourished all over the Central Valley and the producers started buying land and farms away from the city. They also built homes downtown in the venerable Barrio Amon to spend seasons with family and friends. Actually, Barrio Amon has become a place of Bed and Breakfast hotels, restaurants, and commerce established precisely on these nostalgic and charming homes.

Nowadays, San José is a small city where visitors can enjoy all sorts of attractions, go shopping, or please the palate in one of its excellent restaurants. Exciting and fashionable, it is indeed a city worth to be lived!

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