So much more than just the entryway and capital city, San José is a great place to start immersing yourself in Costa Rica’s captivating culture, breathtaking landscapes, and culinary delights. Enjoy spending a couple of days here at the beginning or end of your tour to gain deeper Costa Rican connections through exploration. Filled with friendly people and lively places, this city is the cultural gem of the Central Valley. Read on for our suggestions on the top five things to see, eat, and drink around San José, Costa Rica. 

Top 5 Things To See around San José:

A colorful hummingbird in Costa Rica's La Paz Waterfall Gardens

1. Marvel at the La Paz Waterfall Gardens:

Discover the beauty of Costa Rica’s pristine rainforests at La Paz Waterfall Gardens. Explore lush trails that lead you to five stunning waterfalls, each more enchanting than the last. Immerse yourself in the colorful world of hummingbirds at the on-site aviary, marvel at the vibrant butterfly observatory, and witness the impressive biodiversity of the region. It’s a place where nature’s wonders unfold before your eyes.

💡 Insider Tip: Hold out a hand to feed the 26 species of jewel-like hummingbirds inside the La Paz aviary on our Costa Rica Wildlife Walking Adventure

2. Visit the National Theatre of Costa Rica:

Step into a world of elegance and grandeur at the National Theatre of Costa Rica. Admire the stunning neoclassical architecture, ornate interiors, and exquisite murals that adorn the theater. Catch a live performance or take a guided tour to learn about the rich history and cultural significance of this iconic landmark, which stands as a testament to Costa Rica’s artistic heritage.

3. Meander Mercado Central:

Dive into the vibrant atmosphere of Mercado Central, the bustling central market of San José. Lose yourself among the maze of stalls and experience the vibrant tapestry of local life. Sample tropical fruits, browse through colorful handicrafts, and savor the aroma of freshly brewed Costa Rican coffee. It’s a sensory adventure that offers a glimpse into the heart of the city.

4. Explore Poas Volcano National Park:

Embark on a thrilling journey to Poas Volcano National Park, home to one of the world’s largest active craters. Hike through lush cloud forests and witness the awe-inspiring sight of the volcanic crater, filled with a vibrant turquoise-colored lake. The park also boasts breathtaking hiking trails, dense vegetation, and an array of bird species, making it a nature lover’s paradise.

5. Immerse Yourself in History at Museo Nacional de Costa Rica:

Check out the History of Museo Nacional de Costa Rica to learn this country’s story from pre-Columbian times to the present day. Get up close to the fascinating artifacts, pottery, and musical instruments that are located in the Bellavista Fortress. Built in 1917 and later used as a military barracks in the 1948 Costa Rica civil war, keep your eyes peeled for the bullet holes that are still noticeable in the walls.

Top 5 Things To Eat In San José:

Traveler enjoying a colorful plate of Casado in costa rica

1. Gallo Pinto

A staple in Costa Rican cuisine, Gallo Pinto is a savory combination of rice and black beans, seasoned with onions, garlic, and spices. Served with scrambled or fried eggs, this hearty dish is often enjoyed as a traditional breakfast. Its flavors and simplicity capture the essence of Costa Rican comfort food.

💡 Insider tip: Enjoy an authentic Costa Rican breakfast with stunning views of Arenal Volcano on our Costa Rica Wildlife Walking Adventure

2. Casado:

For a truly authentic Costa Rican meal, try the Casado. This flavorful dish typically consists of rice, black beans, plantains, a choice of meat (such as grilled chicken or beef), and a side salad. With its generous portions and diverse flavors, it provides a wholesome and satisfying culinary experience.

3. Ceviche:

Savor the freshness of the sea with a plate of zesty ceviche, which is made from marinated raw fish or seafood, usually accompanied by lime juice, onions, cilantro, and peppers. This refreshing dish is bursting with flavors, textures, and tangy citrus notes that perfectly complement the coastal vibe of Costa Rica.

4. Olla de Carne:

Ideal for meat lovers, Olla de Carne is a comforting and hearty beef soup. This traditional dish features tender beef simmered with vegetables, such as yucca, potatoes, plantains, and corn. Its robust flavors and nourishing qualities make it a popular choice among locals and visitors seeking a taste of traditional Costa Rican cuisine.

5. Tres Leches Cake:

No culinary journey through Costa Rica would be complete without a taste of Tres Leches Cake. This delectable dessert is a sponge cake soaked in three types of milk—evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream. Topped with whipped cream and often garnished with fruit, it’s a sweet and indulgent treat that will satisfy any sweet tooth.

Top 5 Things To Drink In San José:

Woman drinking from coconut in street market stall in Costa Rica

1. Guaro Sour:

Kick back and relax with a traditional Guaro Sour, a popular Costa Rican cocktail made with the country’s native liquor, guaro. Blended with lime juice, simple syrup, and a splash of soda, this refreshing drink offers a tangy twist and a taste of the local drinking culture.

2. Coffee:

As a nation renowned for its coffee production, Costa Rica offers an exquisite array of aromatic blends. Savor a cup of freshly brewed Costa Rican coffee, known for its smooth, medium-bodied flavors and hints of citrus. Whether enjoyed at a local café or during a coffee plantation tour, it’s an experience that coffee enthusiasts won’t want to miss.

💡 Insider tip: You’ll see how Costa Rica’s world-famous coffee is grown, harvested, and roasted on a working plantation (and of course, you’ll enjoy a tasting too) on our Costa Rica Wildlife Walking Adventure.

3. Pipa Fria:

Quench your thirst with a Pipa Fria, a delightful and natural drink served in a young coconut. Sip on the refreshing coconut water, rich in electrolytes, as you bask in the tropical ambiance of Costa Rica’s beaches. It’s the perfect way to stay hydrated while enjoying the country’s sunny climate.

4. Horchata:

Cool down with a glass of Horchata, a traditional rice-based beverage infused with cinnamon and vanilla. This creamy and sweet drink offers a respite from the heat, and its unique flavors make it a beloved favorite among locals and visitors alike.

5. Craft Beer:

For beer enthusiasts, Costa Rica’s craft beer scene is thriving. Visit local breweries and savor a diverse selection of artisanal brews, ranging from pale ales to rich stouts. Embrace the flavors and support the burgeoning craft beer culture in San Jose… cheers!

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