San Jose does not have an overtly charming appeal.
In fact it might be fair to say that San Jose is just a big dirty city.
And not a particularly safe nor affordable one.
However for those who travel to and within Costa Rica, it is often a necessary stop en route to paradise.
I have been to San Jose at least a dozen times since first landing in Costa Rica more than one year ago
but it wasn’t until recently that I actually gave it a chance.
Spending two full days in the capitol of Costa Rica
I was swindled by numerous taxi drivers
felt like a wild animal surrounded by the many city sounds and filthy streets
ate questionable fried chicken out of Styrofoam next to drunk locals
was almost hit by at least twenty cars
yet somehow, still, I found moments of wonder.
Because even the roughest stones are beautiful if you look close enough.
I became captivated by the street art in Barrio Amon
marveled at the magical green oasis called the Parque Nacional
feasted on organic cuisine inside of an intimate garden
curiously explored the Mercado Central’s hectic maze
wistfully stared at the encaged animals
excitedly sampled spices
indulged in Costa Rican sorbetto
and when I left and ran through the rainstorm
surrounded by Tupperware stores, booty shorts, and large speakers
I felt that blissful unity that happens only when I’m truly present.
When I’m in the midst of an adventure.
Where to Stay
$35-$65 for a double room, includes breakfast
This hotel was recommended to me by several Costa Rican residents and for good reason. The location is ideal in a safe walkable neighborhood near the farmer’s market, museums, parks, and hip Barrio Amon neighborhood. The rooms and communal spaces are clean, tasteful, and homey. Nooks, gardens, and reading rooms are everywhere.
As if this weren’t enough they offer a complimentary full breakfast every morning which is more of a culinary event than a buffet. Tables boast trays of homemade pastries, cakes, breads, jams, puddings, fruit, bruschetta, grilled vegetables, roasted garlic, homemade spicy pickles, an omelette bar, and of course gallo pinto and plantains. The presentation is impeccable and you can enjoy unlimited plates of this artful display in the garden.
An incredible value for money.
$14 for a dorm bed, $32 for a private room
Hands down the best hostel in San Jose, and one of the best in Costa Rica. The space is hip, modern, and clean with lots of contemporary furniture, but what makes this place a true gem is the people who run the place and the guests it attracts. Every morning they serve complimentary fruit and pancakes which are cooked by a Floridian who somehow makes them more perfect than even the most trafficked roadside diners.
On Friday nights one of the Italian hostel workers crafts handmade pizzas in the garden and bakes them in a wood fired oven. I enjoyed mine while sitting in a circle with a group of new friends over a bottle of wine listening to someone strum the guitar. Many guests hung around the hostel in the day reading, drawing, or playing pool. One night ten of us gathered in the livingroom and watched one of their many movie selections, The Big Lebowski. One of the hostel owners came around with homemade popcorn for each of us.
The hostel is located in San Pedro which is a cool college neighborhood that I felt relatively safe walking in at night. It’s not particularly close to the bus stations nor the airport, but the taxis aren’t too bad and the hostel is directly in front of a major bus stop.
If you plan to stay in San Jose for an extended period of time this is the place.
Dorm beds starting at $14, Privates starting at $34
Ok, here me out. It is huge. It kind of looks like a jail. And the neighborhood is sketchy as all hell.
But I have found this hostel to be extremely useful when I am simply going in and out of San Jose and need to catch an early flight or bus. First of all, it’s close to the bus stations yet is quite secure with big cement walls and a guard at the door. The rooftop bar and lounge serves decent food until late and has a lively atmosphere where you can meet plenty of other travelers. They have several free computers for guests to use, a pool table, and an awesome deck with a view of the city. They offer an airport shuttle for $11 (a taxi costs about $30) and some of the hottest showers I’ve taken in Central America. Did I mention they have a pool? I’ve never seen anyone swim in it.
Where to Eat
$9 for plate of the day, includes a starter salad and drink
The location is ideal, the setting is lovely, the food is nutritiously delicious, and the price is right. Jardin del Parque serves incredible vegetarian organic fusion food for breakfast and lunch in a peaceful garden with a view of the Parque Nacional. The staff is wonderful and the service is prompt. On my last visit I enjoyed a chickpea curry with cucumber raita and a raw kale miso dressed salad topped with black sesame seeds. If you want to indulge a little, order the pizza which comes on a perfectly chewy whole wheat crust and is topped with daily goodies like mushrooms, goat cheese, and caramelized onions. Yum!
$40-$80 with drinks, expect to spend what you would in a nice sushi bar in the states
Perhaps I’m desperate for any Asian food I can get my hands on, but this sushi rivals some of the best in Seattle. The gyoza and seaweed salad are particularly exquisite. Keep in mind, the local seafood in Costa Rica is rather limited so don’t expect much from Salmon, scallops, and the like. They’re all previously frozen and imported. Stick to tuna, mackeral, and snapper.
$25 for a steak
This Argentinean steakhouse has a lively old world atmosphere. The interior is dark and romantic and perfect for a special meal. Steak is the highlight here, so order some churrasco with chimichurri.
What to Do
Wander the Mercado Central with no agenda and an open mind
Sit in the Parque Nacional in Barrio Amon, look at street out, and pop into a museum or two
If you’re in San Jose on a Saturday go to the Feria Verde (organic farmer’s market) in Aranjuez
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