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San José is the capital of Costa Rica.
San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, is on a plateau in the Central Valley at 1200 m (3,700 ft) elevation. It is ringed by lush green mountains and valleys. The population of this city is probably half of the whole country. It contains the primary airport, the University of Costa Rica, the US' and other embassies and many museums, cultural venues, hotels, markets, etc. It is the hub of the country.
The weather in San Jose can be different at all times depending of the route of the winds and yearly seasons, some times in the later months of the year it is colder than the months at the middle. For many Costa Ricans the coolest temperatures in San Jose are equal to high (warm) temperatures for a Northern American Citizen or some one from a country with a snow season. When you view the size of Costa Rica, then you can understand why weather temperatures differ from one city to another across short distances, unless the Caribbean weather suffers a major event in the atmosphere. Because of its elevation San Jose is usually 70 to 80°F (21 to 27°C) though it can get chilly at night. The rainy season is from mid April through December.
The airport (SJO) is 17km or about 20 minutes by car from the center of San José.
When you leave Costa Rica, you will need to pay $29 exit fee. The receipt has to be shown at the check-in counter. You can pay this fee in dollar, Costa Rican colón or creditcard. You can spend your last Costa Rican colón and pay the remaining amount in dollars or by creditcard.
There is a local bus stop outside the airport (on the other side of the multi-story car park which you see when you come out of arrivals). It costs less than 1 US$ and takes you right downtown. You can put your luggage in the storage area below on the bus. The cheapest option is taking the bus into downtown and get a taxi there for your final destination.
When you need to go to the airport from downtown, you catch the Alajuela bus (takes you to the airport) at the Merced Park. It costs less than $1 and they leave every five minutes and it takes about 25 minutes to get to the airport. The airport bus stop is easy to see.
The taxis charge around 25-30 US Dollars to take you to the city, be sure to take one of the licensed reddish-orange taxis that say "Taxi Aeropuerto." There are many unlicensed taxi drivers who will charge you almost twice as much as Taxi Aeropuerto. The taxis gladly take Dollars, but the local bus only takes Colones and they would not be pleased to get a 10 000 Colones bill.
There is an ATM by the entrance to the departures that will give you both Colones and Dollars.
Buses from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama both arrive to and leave from San José. Unlike in most cities in Latin America, there is no central bus station: there are literally dozens of bus terminals in downtown San José. Nearly every company has its own terminal, and these are spread widely out across a few dozen blocks near the center of town.
The Tica Bus terminal is one of the most common choice for locals and foreigners alike when it comes to traveling around Central America and even Mexico. Please take note that it has recently been moved to the other end of town, near the Mercedes Tower. (Address: 200 meters north and 100 meters west of Torre Mercedes (Paseo Colón), in front of the Magisterio Nacional Mortuary)
King Quality is a new choice available, their prices are considerably more expensive or cheaper than Tica Bus depending on the destination.
Of course most local buses start or end here. There are several bus terminals in San José. It is important to know which bus terminal serves your bus route. Bus stops are usually every few blocks in the city. Take always a taxi, when traveling with luggage.And it is highly likely to speak to you when you arrive.
Trains have recently made a comeback in Costa Rica and, after being shut down for many years, several routes have been put back into service using second-hand equipment brought over from Spain and some very ancient wooden carraiges that look like they have been taken from a museum. Lines are mostly singe-track and level crossings have no lights or protection at all, which has led to several accidents. There's also no signalling. Overall it's an interesting experience if you have the time and it's the best way of getting to Heredia (a lot faster and more comfortable than the bus).
Heredia: on weekdays, trains run betwen San José and Heredia every half an hour in the mornings (6am-9am) and afternoons (3:30pm-8pm), leaving from Estación del Atlántico near the Parque Nacional. Some of these trains continue on to the UCR and U Latina in San Pedro. The 6pm departure from San José (returning at 7pm) is a big train, so you can almost always get a seat on this one.
Pavas, San Pedro and Curridabat: another line runs through the south of the city, stopping at Estación del Pacifico, Sábana and heading west into Pavas and eventually turning round in a fairly dangerous slum area in the middle of the hills. If you take it east, it stops across the road from Estación del Atlantico and then goes to the UCR, U Latina and Curridabat. Timetables are very limited, with just one train per hour early in the morning and in the evening on weekdays.
Belen: A new service to Belen (just south of the airport) started on 5th April, leaving from Estación del Pacifico. Services are approximately every half an hour between 6-8am and 4-8pm on weekdays only and take 35 minutes.
Keep in mind while traveling on foot that pedestrians do not have the right of way. There are some marked crosswalks that will chirp when it is okay to walk, but for the most part, you will have to watch for traffic or cross in a group when others do. Keep a lookout for motorcycles, as they are usually weaving through traffic faster than the cars and may not always obey traffic signs. Taxis are generally very expensive, even for locals. All taxis should have a meter, but the fare starts at 640 colones, and is 640 per kilometre. Taxis are generally honest (perhaps because the official rates are incredibly expensive), but make sure you tell the cab driver to start the meter, or "la maría". some taxis (especially at bus stations) will try to rip you off and charge extra rates to tourists. If you have a data plan, consider using Uber, which charges less than half the price of a taxi and you don't have to haggle or deal with "foreigner rates". Conversion is about 500 colones per USD (fluctuates daily) and dollars are accepted as well as colones. A ride inside the city center will normally cost 1500-2500 colones or $3-$5. Cabs with a blue sign on top that say credomático also accept credit cards. Official licensed taxis are red or orange with a triangle or round decal on the front doors with the taxis information. Be aware that there are unlicensed taxis called piratas which should be avoided due to being unregulated. Be aware that it is close to useless to give a taxi driver an exact street address; street names are not used in Costa Rica. You have to point out some well-known building, park or hotel close to where you are going. Often there are no street signs and addresses are difficult to find, so be sure you know where you are going or you could get lost very easily. If you are driving in Costa Rica (one may see vehicles from Mississippi, British Columbia, Panama, and other places) note that the traffic lights don't have the yellow border around them and can sometimes be difficult to see, the road network is well utilized by locals (to overcapacity) so don't expect to get anywhere fast, also motorcycles weave in and out of traffic. Keep in mind the pet peeve most tourists have with tico kindness: often times when a tico has no idea where a certain destination you may have had in mind is, he or she will simply direct you to a random location. Often times simply incomprehensible, these directions are a reflection on the cultural approach to kindness many Costa Ricans adopt.
Museo de Oro Precolombino (The Gold Museum), an underground museum below Plaza de la Cultura. Entrance fee $9 for foreigners (or $4.5 with a student ID card). The collection consists of 1600 pieces of Pre-Columbian gold work dating from 500 AD to 1500 AD. Information is given on the processing and making of the pieces as well as their social, cultural and religious meanings. At the same place you will also find The Numismatic Museum and The Temporary Exhibition Galleries. There is a nice museum shop and a tourist office at the entrance.
Museo del Jade (The Jade Museum), Avenida Central & Calle 13. The largest collection of precolumbian Jade in America. Furthermore they show how Jade was elaborated in the precolumbian aera. They offer a variety of other objects made of stones, bones, ceramics, shells,... Moreover you get an insight in the daily life of the people in the precolumbian era. If you only have time for visiting one museum and interested in precolumbian , this is the recommended choice, it is small, easy to get in, very representative of the many materials used and geographic zones habited before the European contact.
Museo de los Niños (The children's museum), Antigua Penitenciaría (the old prison). Entrance fee 600 Colones for adults and 300 for children. This is an edutainment museum, and it was designed for Costa Rica's children, all the exhibits are in Spanish only. Not recommended as a visit, except when the Auditorio Nacional is hosting a concert or art gallery.
Museo Nacional, Calle 17 Avenida 2. The museum includes a large butterfly garden (With many morpho butterflies) and a collection of large stone spheres from the Diquis Valley near the Pacific Ocean, a permanent precolumbian exhibition, the barracks, the rooms of the army general and his family, and a couple of temporal exhibits at the time. The museum building is an old fort called Cuartel Bellavista, in this place the Army was symbolically abolished by then president Jose Figueres Ferrer on December 1st, 1948 after the last civil war and armed conflict in the country.
Museo de Arte Costarricense, east end of Sabana Park. This used to be San Jose's main airport terminal back when La Sabana was the airport.
Insect Museum at the Universidad de Costa Rica A very elegant collection of exotic bugs. Only a few dollars, but check the times when they are open.
Museo de arte y diseño contemporáneo (MADC) Definitely the main institution in Costa Rica dedicated to the broadcasting of contemporary art. Centro Nacional de la Cultura, Antigua Fábrica Nacional de Licores. Avenida 3, calle 15/17. San José, Costa Rica.
Zoológico Simón Bolivar An almost hidden zoo in Barrio Amón, some of the most representative animals are available in this small zoo. There are many big cats, including a non native lion, the serpentarium is one of the most interesting spots, with colorful (and dangerous) snakes available.
Things to Do
The main downtown area is a bustling collection of well-laid out streets filled with bustling traffic and lined with eclectic, historic architecture. On the surface it is a gritty downtown area, but look inside and you'll find friendly people, quirky spots, and the historic side of San Jose that change your impression. A walking tour is the best way to see this area.
Every Thursday a dozens of young jugglers gather at the Parque Morazan and juggle together. Often with percussion music. It s a free event in public space. Normally you will be invited to play with them. Lovely experience if you like street art.
Yoga. Costa Rica is a top destination for yoga. In San Jose, check out Downtown Yoga near Parque Morazan, which offers accessibly priced yoga and hooping classes for all experience levels.
Valle del Sol, Santa Ana (In the Lindora area next to Forum Park.).
TTCR Golf Tour, (San Jose). Specialized golf transportation to/from San Jose area hotels and Marriott Los Suenos course. Reserve online for a $160 rate (2 person min.) including trasportation.
Gym. Decent gym facilities can be found at the Spa Corobici (telephone: 231-5542) located behind the Hotel Corobici. The taxi ride from the airport is approximately $10 - $20 USD and entry into the gym is 5,300 CRC or $10 USD. The club has a good selection of free and machine weights as well as a cardio theater. The club also has an outdoor swimming pool for lap swimming, a jacuzzi tub, and a sauna.