San José is the Capital of Costa Rica, so many people travel here for business. It’s also a shopping Mecca for everyone living in Costa Rica. With a population of over a million people, it is the only major city in Costa Rica. It’s also a great launch pad for your Costa Rica vacation.
Although there are tons of things to do near San Jose, many people find themselves in San José briefly to catch an early morning flight from SJO, or because their flight arrived late. (I don’t advise driving at night if you’re new to Costa Rica, see my blog on Driving in Costa Rica.)
WHERE TO STAY IN SAN JOSE
Costa Rica Marriott Hotel San Jose – My favorite hotel is a hacienda style hotel that happens to be near the airport. It has the cumbersome official name of Costa Rica Marriott Hotel San Jose, San Antonio de Belen. Depending on traffic, it can be 10 to 45 minutes from the airport. They have good restaurants on the property, and it is a spacious sprawling property even though it is in the San Jose metro area. At night it has a spectacular view of the sparkling lights of the hillside homes in San Jose.
Villa San Ignacio – Lush gardens and vibey music make Villa San Ignacio not just a stay, but an experience. I highly recommend the 2 bedroom villa if you are traveling with more than 2 people. No a/c but it actually is cool at night, and not too hot during the day because it is mostly shaded at a higher elevation than the rest of San José. (Pet friendly hotel.)
Xandari Resort and Spa – Stunning views from their generous terraces and spacious rooms with an artistic flair. Great area to stay in if you are planning to explore near Alajuela or drive up to Poaz or simply don’t want to be too far from the airport.
La Paz Waterfalls Peace Lodge – At least an hour from the SJO airport, but worth mentioning if you’re planning to tour sites in Alajuela. The waterfalls and animal exhibits here are well done, and the hotel is traditional Costa Rican decor in the middle of a cloud forest.
Escazu, Costa Rica is the main area of San Jose that expats and tourists go for shopping, eating and lodging. It is also off the main highway that leads to all the Pacific Coast beaches.
Residence Inn – In the shopping area of Avenida Escazu. Nice shops and restaurants are right out your door. Starbucks across the street. It’s your basic Residence Inn, but the location is what makes it great. Very convenient.
AC Hotel by Marriott – The AC Hotel is brand new and in a great location. It’s a modern, minimalistic hotel right beside the Residence Inn and walking distance to shopping, parks and restaurants.
Sheraton – The Sheraton is a modern hotel with great rooms, good breakfast and decent room service. It is in Escazu, but isn’t within walking distance to anything because of the way the roads are laid out. You would need to cab or drive everywhere.
Holiday Inn – Is between the Sheraton and the Avenida Escazu. A longer walk, but you could walk to shopping and restaurants. It is on the same side of the highway.
WHAT TO DO NEAR ESCAZU
Traveling with children? There are two playgrounds at the Avenida Escazu mall near Residence Inn Escazu. There are everyday things to do in San Jose like movie theaters, bowling, laser tag, Chuck E Cheese and indoor jumping centers like Sky Jump Santa Ana.
Children’s Museum or Museo de los Ninos – An interactive museum inside a giant yellow fortress looking building that also houses the Costa Rican Center of Science and Culture, the National Gallery and the National Auditorium.
KidZania Costa Rica – An interactive city just for kids where they can get “jobs” that help them decide what they want to be when they grow up. Then they can spend the “money” they made at their “job.”
Shopping – If you need to shop while in Costa Rica, San Jose has more variety at cheaper prices than other areas of Costa Rica. So if you need to buy something for your stay, I recommend doing it in San Jose. In Escazu there’s the PriceSmart (like Cosco). And retail shopping at Avenida Escazu and MultiPlaza shopping mall. For home goods there’s Aliss.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens – So much more than your average waterfalls in Costa Rica, it is an experience. They have butterfly gardens, a full zoo, several waterfalls, a good restaurant and the Peace Lodge hotel.
Poaz Volcano – Most volcanos in Costa Rica you just admire from afar. This one you can go up and look down into the volcano. It is the largest active crater in the world. (You have buy tickets ahead of time and mornings are the best time to view.)
Hacienda Alsacia (Starbucks Coffee Farm) in Alajuela. It is a beautiful farm that blends modern art and design with a breathtaking view and informative tour about coffee.
Toucan Rescue Ranch – Only about 30 – 45 minutes from Escazu. Great place to see sloths and toucans.
Rainforest Adventure at Braulio Carrillo National Park – This is a place where you literally get to choose your own adventure: Arial Tram Tour, canopy zip lines, half day tours, hiking, hanging bridges, etc. They have multiple locations, so make sure you are checking out the correct one on their website.