Afternoon + evening in San Jose, Costa Rica
August 19, 2010 9:08 AM   Subscribe

We arrive in San Jose, Costa Rica, around 3 in the afternoon and fly out early the following morning. What are the best sights, sounds, and tastes that can be packed into this short time?

We read all previously asked questions regarding Costa Rica and already feel quite well informed thanks to the collective Hive wisdom. We are wondering, though, whether anyone has a specific suggestion or two for this very short block of time in San Jose. It sounds like the city is not much of a charmer, but we're ok with some grit. We will be staying at Hotel Grano de Oro and would like to spend a couple of hours just walking around and getting a good sense of the place. We love food, museums (though they are all likely to be closed in the late afternoon/early evening), markets, public art, non-deadly parks, etc.

Bonus question: is there anything we should know about transportation from the airport? We are thinking of taking a taxi and have been told that dollars are ok.

Many thanks in advance.
posted by onepot to Travel & Transportation around San Jose, CA (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The Pre-Columbian Gold Museum. Right downtown, probably walking distance from your hotel. Open till 6:30. Surprisingly intricate and beautiful stuff on display.
posted by copperykeen at 9:39 AM on August 19, 2010

Taxis in San Jose will take dollars. Taxi drivers will approach you as you leave the airport; you shouldn't have any trouble at all in getting transportation.
posted by pemberkins at 9:43 AM on August 19, 2010

San Jose, CR is one of the least exciting national capitals I've been to. Be careful in some areas as pickpockets and muggers are waiting for you in parks or along sidewalks. It is definitely not a town where you want to be that tourist with the big camera around his neck, Hawaiian shirt and looking at a map. It isn't as bad as some say but it isn't crime free either. Definitely go by taxi at night.

At the arrivals area after customs and the baggage area, you can buy a taxi fare into town. You give the ticket to the throng of taxistas at the door. Dollars are OK. If you want colones, there's a few ATMs near the baggage carousels.

I also found a lot of the food options in Costa Rica are pretty limited. To me the local rice/beans dishes are a bit bland by other Latin American standards and there's a lot of Mexican, Italian or American styled restaurants.
posted by birdherder at 9:44 AM on August 19, 2010

That's about the length of time I was in San Jose and it was plenty. I think I went to a pretty butterfly park in the afternoon but mostly I just wandered around. It wasn't awful but it also wasn't amazing.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:53 AM on August 19, 2010

We spent about that much time in SJ, CR. The taxi from the airport was way pretty expensive. Despite the protestations of our hotel's concierge to "arrange" a ride for us back to the airport, we figured out how to take the bus (don't remember the name, but it was red) to the airport for something like $1.20.

During the day, we walked around Sabana Norte park, which was beautiful, tree-filled, and filled with people playing soccer. We also walked around the open air market area of SJ. We always felt very safe. I believe both of these places are within walking distance of your hotel.
posted by MonsieurBon at 9:59 AM on August 19, 2010

yeah, the bus is cheap. you can take it from the bus stop near the airport into town and it takes you into somewhere near the center. it's quite convenient.

if you take a taxi to a specific address, i've been warned that sometimes taxi drivers will drive around pretending to not know where the hotel/hostel is so that they can jack up the price a little. our taxi driver got lost looking for our hostel, not sure if it was genuine.

we found San Jose not very exciting so didn't spend a lot of time there, but the downtown area was quite crowded in the evening with locals.
posted by swimmingly at 11:13 AM on August 19, 2010

A Costa Rican here. This is based on what I do in San José when I go visit.

Second the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, take a taxi to get there (traffic may be heavy that time of the day). The Jade museum is a hidden gem, but unfortunately it closes at 3:30pm most days. Anyway take a stroll down the Central Avenue, have coffee at Gran Hotel Costa Rica (the oldest in San José, across the street from the National Theatre). The area of Barrio Amón and Otoya are nice places to walk around, cool places for dinner.

La Sabana Metropolitan park is walking distance from Grano de Oro. Go there before it gets dark, it is not very safe at night. Within la Sabana you will find the small, not-crazy-exciting Costa Rican art museum. You are also close to one of the oldest independent movie theaters in the country, Sala Garbo.

If you're feeling adventurous, take a cab to the Central Market (Mercado Central). It is a good local experience, but it's not the safest place in the world.

I will try to think of other options. :) Good luck, have fun!
posted by papalotl at 5:06 PM on August 19, 2010

When my husband and I went to CR we stayed at Grano de Oro as well. It's a really lovely hotel, and I recommend eating dinner there -- it was the best meal* we had in San Jose.

*of the 3 in total
posted by cowboy_sally at 6:52 PM on August 19, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you, all; this is fantastic input!
posted by onepot at 8:59 PM on August 19, 2010

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