San Jose is an ideal destination if you do not have many days and you are flying into San Jose International Airport. As the capital city is close to many natural landmarks, national parks and attractions, you can get a good taste of the country in this 5 day San Jose, Costa Rica itinerary.
Here are some other reasons to stay in San Jose:
- San Jose International Airport (Juan Santamaria) is the main international airport in Costa Rica so there are more flights and prices may be cheaper.
- It’s pretty easy to get around using public buses and Uber.
- San Jose is in a central location in the country.
- Many of the attractions in San Jose are cheap.
- Best place to experience Costa Rican culture, history and art
Here is a sample 5 full day San Jose, Costa Rica itinerary. You’ll get to experience Costa Rican city life, lots of culture, nature and adventure! Perfect for city people who want a sprinkling of nature in their trip.
Things to Know About This San Jose, Costa Rica Itinerary
- You don’t need to rent a car for this itinerary. Public transportation is very good in San Jose and Uber is available. Driving in San Jose is kinda crazy with awful traffic and not great infrastructure, so if you’re worried about driving, don’t. For national parks or attractions out of the city, you can book day trips. Read our tips for taking the bus in Costa Rica.
- You need to be very careful in San Jose. Unfortunately crime in San Jose is fairly present, theft is the main crime. Don’t walk alone at night, avoid walking to places you aren’t familiar with and always keep your valuables close to you with both eyes on it at all times. Use your common sense and follow your instincts. (More Costa Rica safety tips here).
- Don’t expect San Jose to be a huge city like European or American cities.
- We recommend using Uber at night. Read our tips for using Uber in Costa Rica or take a taxi for safety. Don’t walk, especially alone.
- For the last 2 nights, you can stay in Heredia, Alajuela or San Jose. All three of these cities are very close to one another and to the airport.
Where to Stay
For the first 3 nights, you will be staying in the city.
A Few Recommended Hotels in the City
- The Gran Hotel: This hotel is across the street from the National Theater so you’re super close to all the attractions. It’s an older hotel with lots of history, it’s actually where John F. Kennedy stayed when he visited Costa Rica. It has been very nicely renovated as part of the Curio Collection by Hilton.
- Holiday Inn Aurola: This Holiday Inn is very nice, with a large indoor swimming pool, a restaurant and bar and all rooms have a great view of San Jose. It’s near downtown and close to all of the attractions.
- Hilton San Jose La Sabana: A really nice Hilton near La Sabana Park with views of the national stadium.
- Park Inn by Radisson: Nice Radisson in around 15 minute walking distance to downtown. Has a restaurant, cozy rooms and hot breakfast included.
Hotels Outside the City
Then for the last 2 nights, head to the mountains outside the city to experience something different. Since the Central Valley cities of San Jose, Alajuela and Heredia are very close to each other, you can stay around any of those cities. There are some beautiful hotels up in the mountains and thanks to the close proximity of the cities, they’re not that far from the airport.
You can take a taxi or Uber to the hotel. Your hotel may be able to offer transportation with a small charge.
- Finca Rosa Blanca: This eco-friendly coffee plantation and inn has a spectacular view of Heredia. The hotel offers coffee tours on their property, it has a pool and very good restaurant. Rooms are incredibly spacious, perfect for couples or families. Suites start at $330 USD.
- Hotel & Restaurant Chalet Tirol: This hotel has a very unique design, built after the Swiss chalets up in the hills of Heredia. They have a spa, golf course and their wooden cabins are very modern. Rooms start at $85 USD.
- Xandari Resort & Spa: Beautiful resort with its own trails and waterfalls and fantastic views of the city. Spa is amazing and well worth for a luxurious night or two near the city. Rooms start at $200 USD.
- Hotel Bougainvillea: If you don’t want to be too far away from the city but still want to experience staying outside of it, this is a good pick. This hotel is located a little outside of Heredia and has a gorgeous garden. Rooms start at $130 USD.
- Hotel Alta Las Palomas: Located in the “Beverly Hills of Costa Rica” this 4 star hotel has everything for a luxury stay: a stunning view of San Jose, valet parking, lounge and on site restaurant. Rooms start at $100 USD.
San Jose, Costa Rica Itinerary Day 1: Museums and Market
San Jose has many great museums to learn about the history and culture of Costa Rica. Our favorites are the Jade Museum, Gold Museum and the National Museum. You can visit a museum in the morning after breakfast.
Jade Museum: See the biggest display of American jade in the world at this new museum. There are over 7,000 pieces and artifacts. Located in the Plaza de la Democracia, free for kids under 10. $15 USD for foreigners, open Monday to Sunday 10 AM – 5 PM.
National Museum: This museum used to be a fortress when Costa Rica had a military. $9 USD for foreigners, open Tuesday – Saturday 830AM to 430PM and Sunday 9AM to 4 PM. You can see the museum in about 1 hour.
Gold Museum: Learn about Pre-Colombian gold in this museum, they have pieces dating back to 500 AD. Open Monday – Sunday, 9:15 AM to 5 PM. $11 USD for foreigners in the Plaza de la Cultura. You can see this in 1-2 hours as well.
All these museums are fairly small and can be seen in around 1 hour. If you have kids, there is a great Children’s Museum in San Jose and an Art Museum.
In the afternoon, we recommend to check out the National Theater and the Central Market. At the National Theather, you can take a guided tour or pay a $10 USD entrance fee for a self guided tour. This incredible theater has lavish gold decorations, elaborate statues and detailed paintings depicting local life. It’s one of the most beautiful buildings in Costa Rica.
The San Jose Central Market is full of history dating back to over 100 years with lots of great places to eat.
Another Idea: San Jose City Tour and Dinner Show
If you’re interested in learning more about the city, we recommend taking a guided tour of San Jose. With a guide, you’ll learn more about the culture and history. You can read more about the San Jose city tour here. As this is an afternoon tour, you’ll finish right around dusk (6 PM) and for a full day of Costa Rican culture, we recommend to end the night at a Costa Rican dinner show for more Costa Rican flair and tradition either Mirador Tiquicia or Ram Luna.
Day 2: White Water Rafting Rio Pacuare
Add some excitement to your trip by white water rafting the famous Rio Pacuare! This gorgeous river has Class 3, 4 and 4+ rapids for a full day of fun.
Twist, turn and spin in the river as you pass by beautiful waterfalls. Rio Pacuare looks like Jurassic Park (seriously), surrounded by a verdant jungle on both sides with toucans, kingfishers and herons flying around.
We did the one day Rio Pacuare tour with Rios Tropicales. It includes pick up and drop off at hotels in San Jose, breakfast and lunch. Read about the 1 day Rio Pacure white water rafting here and we also offer an exclusive Rio Pacuare Mytanfeet discount.
In case you’re not interested in rafting, we highly recommend the rainforest tour to experience and learn about the tropical rainforests of Costa Rica.
Day 3: Manuel Antonio National Park
Now you’ll head to Manuel Antonio National Park, one of the most beautiful and popular parks in the country. You will do this as a day tour to hike the trails, see wildlife and enjoy the beautiful white sand beaches.
This is a full day tour and it’ll be a great day trip for your last full day in Costa Rica!
Other Options: Poas Volcano + La Paz Waterfalls + Doka Coffee
Visit three of the most popular natural attractions in Costa Rica on this epic 3 in 1 combo tour! Experience some of the best of Costa Rica: coffee, waterfalls, rivers and volcanoes.
Poas Volcano National Park is the most popular park in Costa Rica since it’s only about 1.5 hours from San Jose. On a clear day, you can see the bright blue water in the crater. Doka Coffee Estate is one of the premiere coffee plantations for visitors to learn about how Costa Rican coffee is processed.
Afterwards, you’ll visit the La Paz waterfall gardens. This park has an animal sanctuary and 5 beautiful waterfalls on the property. You’ll have lunch at the waterfall gardens, see the animals and experience the stunning waterfalls.
Another option is the Arenal Volcano day tour. You’ll visit Sarchi, La Fortuna, Arenal Volcano and end the day in the relaxing hot springs.
Tours with Transportation
If you need transportation, we have a partnership with a San Jose tour operator to give small discounts for one day San Jose tours including the ones mentioned above.
Another Option (Less Touristy)
You can spend the day at Hacienda La Chimba (no tours offered, must arrive by car on your own or take an Uber). This coffee hacienda offers coffee tours and great hiking trails. Less touristy, more popular with locals.
Day 4: Move to Hotel in the Mountains
Today you’ll move to your hotel in the mountains! If you have some time, you can visit the Parque La Sabana in the morning if you’re nearby. If not, no worries. Sleep in and enjoy a leisurely day after many days of exciting activities.
If you don’t want to move hotels, you don’t have to. You can perfectly stay at the same hotel.
Day 5: Relax!
For your last day in Costa Rica, just relax! Some of the mountain hotels offer their own on-site activities. Finca Rosa Blanca has their own birdwatching and coffee tours and Xandari Resort has an amazing spa.
Day 6: Fly Out
Arrange airport transportation with your hotel for the day you fly out of San Jose International Airport.
Tips for This San Jose, Costa Rica Itinerary
- San Jose weather is very nice since it’s high in elevation (around 1000 – 1500 meters, 3200 to 4900 feet). If you visit during dry season (middle of December to end of April), it is very comfortable with temperatures in the mid 80s F (29 C). If you visit during rainy season (middle of May to beginning of December), make sure to bring long pants, a sweater and rain jacket. September, October and November are quite rainy months so you must come prepared for rain and colder weather. Check our Costa Rica packing list and rainy season packing list here.
- When in the city, wear closed toed shoes as the roads and sidewalks have lots of holes. And since you’re in the city, long pants are the way to go for both men and women.
- Free open Wi-Fi is not that readily available in the city. If you go to a restaurant or cafe and see they have Internet, you can ask for their password if you’re a customer.
Want to see other Costa Rica itineraries? Check these out!
10 day itinerary: San Jose, Puerto Viejo and Arenal
1 week itinerary: San Jose, Jaco, Dominical and Uvita
2 week itinerary: Arenal, Monteverde, Nicoya Peninsula and Guanacaste
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