San José is Costa Rica’s capital and largest city. Founded in the mid-west of the Central Valley in 1823, it is the youngest capital city in Latin America. It is the country’s seat of government, center of economic activity and major transportation hub surrounded by lush green mountains and valleys. You can get to San José through Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO).
In the writing of this post (February 2022) each person travelling to Costa Rica must complete the form Pase de Salud (Health Pass) within 72 hours prior to arrival in San José. Visitors who are fully vaccinated does not need to get a Travel Policy but must attach their proof of vaccination to the Health Pass. Visitors who are not vaccinated must obtain an international policy valid for the duration of their stay.
Transportation and Lodging
Most hotels and travel groups offer free shuttle pick-up to and from hotels. Get in contact with them ahead of time. Another option is to take a taxi or an Uber, based on our experience taking an Uber is cheaper than taxis. A 20-minute ride from Heredia to downtown San Jose was $6 by Uber and $12 by taxi.
We stayed at Country Inn & Suites by Radisson; we liked the experience so much that we booked again on our return. They have well maintained amenities and friendly staff that are prepared to give you a 5-star experience. It is located less than 5 minutes from a shopping center with restaurants, bars, and a mini grocery.
Is San José city safe? See our video at the end of this section!
Things to do
San José Free Walking Tour
If you are new to a city, always take the free walking tours. This is an exciting way to get to know the place through the eyes of locals who live and work there. They offer suggestions on where to eat, and which places to go to within your budget range. Free Walking Tours are well… free but tip your guide generously.
On the day of the tour, an email will be sent indicating the name and photo of your guide. Meeting place is at the Aurola Holiday Inn next to “Parque Morazán”. This park is named after Francisco Morazán, a general from the 19th century who attempted to unite all Central America under one flag. This former swamp is now a great gathering spot for tourists and locals. It has various monuments and works of art, some of which are “Templo de la Musica” and “Alas de Mexíco”.
Plaza de la Cultura
“Plaza de la Cultura” is a busy space located in the city center. It is surrounded by various business establishments from branded clothing, language schools to restaurant chains. Under the plaza is the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum. Right next to a fountain, at “Avenida Central”, there are locals selling bird feed that offers to take pictures while pigeons eat out of your hand, or hair sometimes.
Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica
This work of architecture completed in 1897 is the main architectural jewel of San José. It still produces shows of high artistry. You can make reservations online to see a show or take a guided tour of the theater. There is a café inside, called “La cafeteria Alma de Café”, that sells local coffee, lunch, and desserts, but is a bit expensive. There is no fee to go to the main lobby and café.
Colegio Superior de Señoritas
Founded in 1888, this school was established for the exclusive secondary education of young Costa Rican women. This building remains one of San Jose most beloved architecture and it is the institution that started feminism, advocacy for equal rights and women’s right to vote in the country.
Paseo de los Estudiantes
Starting from the iconic Chinatown arches near the “Iglesias de La Soledad” and ending at Liceo de Costa Rica. This pedestrian only street is named after the high school students from colleges in the city who opposed a dictator rule in 1917. Being San José’s Chinatown, the street is lined with Asian stores that offers goods for cheap and restaurants to quench your desire for Asian Cuisine such as hotpots, dumplings, and milk tea with boba.
Plaza de la Democrática
Did you know that Costa Rica abolished their army in 1948? This is to prevent government takeovers that historically rose from their military ranks. This momentous event occurred in “Plaza de la Democracia y de la Abolición del Ejército”. The yellow building previously called “Cuartel Bellavista” was the nations barracks, today houses the National Museum of Costa Rica.
An ominous block of concrete standing across from the Plaza de la Democrática is Costa Rica’s Legislative Assembly building. The center of this building faces an open courtyard on the ground floor producing energy efficient ventilation. Inaugurated in 2020, its construction met a lot of setbacks. It replaced the old small blue and white building right next to it, La Casa Azul which is the former Legislative Assembly House.
Parque Nacional San José
This midsize park in the middle of Costa Rica’s capital is a well-maintained area that has benches, trees, and ornamental plants that is perfect for a nice stroll or people-watching. The National Monument, commemorating the united efforts of the Central American nations against U.S. mercenary William Walker, is located at the center of this park.
This is the oldest and most important thoroughfare in the city, serving as the economic, cultural, and commercial center of San José. It is formed by 12 blocks of pedestrian oriented boulevard busy with people strolling, sight-seeing, appreciating art and food tasting.
It is the largest market in the city of San Jose. Established in 1880, it contains narrow alleys of shops and cheap canteens called sodas. Visited by thousands of people daily, you will be amazed by the assortment of local products from cowboy boots, hats, fresh produce, local coffee, flowers, medicinal herbs, and souvenirs.
Trial Retirement Summary
Spending Plan: $5,340.53 (See how we planned our Costa Rica travel here!)
Final Spending: $5,608.35
Why were we Overbudget?
- We used travel vouchers to purchase flights for our original destination, but we had to purchase new tickets for Costa Rica.
- Good tour packages cost more than we thought.
- We got into an accident and had to pay for damages out of pocket.
Proposed Monthly Retirement Spending Plan: $2,880
- Use travel rewards to fly in and out of Costa Rica and stay a maximum of 70 days. (Well before the 90-day allowed)
- Carry $20 roaming credits for travel emergencies and one local phone plan while in the country.
- Book a place with a full kitchen, to save money on food.
- Eat home cooked meals every day and dine out 2-3x a week
- Included is a budget for some shopping and little pampering
- Tour and transportation budget for a change of scenery every week.
- Get basic Health Insurance
See a detailed plan of our trial retirement in Mexico here!
On retirement, we could stay and experience beautiful Costa Rica for under $3,000 a month. A laid-back lifestyle that will unplug us from the hectic city life and force us to learn Spanish by immersion. Hiking for miles under the canopy of trees and having surprise encounters with the furry creatures that lives within them is a life that we can be completely on board.
There is more to Costa Rica that we want to explore. It was not the country we initially planned to visit, but we ended up loving this trial retirement. We had gotten so much value from our travels and the people that we met. We could surely come back for more!
To Cost Rica, Ticos and Ticas – Pura Vida!
Follow our 30-day adventure in Costa Rica on our YouTube page!