As home to the country’s largest airport, San José is often the first port of call for many tourists visiting Costa Rica. But with such beautiful countryside and endless coastlines to explore, few spend more than a day or two in the capital.
With this in mind, we’ve created a one-day itinerary that allows tourists to get the most out of their short time in the city. So, buckle up and hold on to your hats for a whirlwind 24 hours in San José.
Hit Central Market for Breakfast
Okay, so while the hotel may have an excellent breakfast buffet, you’ll get a much more authentic Costa Rican experience down at the Central Market. Open since 1880 this market packs with food stalls that open as early as 6 a.m. for the early risers among us. It also happens to be one of the best places for breakfast in the city.
Try some fresh fruit from one of the fruit vendors or enjoy a fresh fruit shake packed with all manner of tropical delights. If you’re a big eater, then you might want to try a plate of traditional gallo pinto washed down with some of the best coffee you’ll ever taste. You can even go all-in and grab yourself an ice cream as an early morning dessert.
Buy Your Souvenirs with a Full Belly
Now, we chose Central Market because it’s the one location with plenty of food stalls that open early. However, if you take your time over breakfast or come a little later at, say, 9 a.m., you can also get some souvenir shopping done on the same trip.
Most of the stalls selling souvenirs and local crafts open a little later in the morning, but it is worth hanging around to check them out. That way you can have all your gifts to take home bought and dropped back to the hotel long before lunch!
Lunch on Central Avenue
Central Avenue runs through the middle of the city and is one of the best shopping and dining locations for tourists. But prices in the shops can be much pricier. That’s why we got our souvenir shopping done in the market.
With a pedestrianized strip, there are tons of excellent places to eat. Here, you’ll find everything from traditional local cuisine to international favorites, so no matter what your taste in food is, you’ll find the right lunch here. A quick reminder, though, that with so many to choose from, you don’t need to walk into the first place you find. Take a stroll and look around. You never know what you might come across.
Take a Walking Tour
There are quite a few walking tours that operate in the city, and with most of San José’s major attractions near the city center, this is an excellent way to see it all in a short space of time. Check out the main providers such as Barrio Bird Walking Tours, Carpe Chepe and San José Free Walking Tour. Many of the tours offer options for particular interests, such as art, cuisine and even shopping. But we suggest you find one that takes in the major tourist hot spots, such as the National Theatre, National Cathedral and perhaps a museum or two.
Watch the Sunset at Escazú
Escazú is just outside San José, and it’s where you’ll find the most breathtaking sunsets. Don’t worry though: We’re not suggesting that you hike up there. Jump in an Uber or taxi, and it’s just 10 minutes to the Mirador Tiquicia.
This restaurant is famous for its authentic local cuisine and the most spectacular views. Make sure to time it right and book your table so that you can enjoy the sunset over dinner. Remember that throughout the year, sunset always falls between 5 and 6 p.m.
Play Roulette at a Casino
Once the sun goes down, it’s time to have some fun, and there’s nothing quite like a game of roulette to bring a little excitement to your night out. And here in San José’s casinos, there’s plenty of roulette action. The great thing about this game is that you need no experience whatsoever before hitting the table. Choose a number (black or red) and place your bet, and it’s all down to the spin of the wheel.
As we already mentioned, there are plenty of options in the city. The Casino Concorde, Casino Club Colonial and those located within the city’s many luxury hotels are the most popular. Choose one that is the closest to your hotel if you plan to spend the evening there or better yet, the one in your hotel!
Dance the Night Away
If you still have any energy left in the tank, then it’s time to put your dancing shoes on and head to one of San José’s many clubs. The nightlife in the city is fantastic, and there are bars and clubs everywhere. However, one that is popular with both tourists and locals in Castro’s. The music here can be anything from salsa to international pop and pretty much everything in between. Local dance lovers will tell you that it’s the only place to be if you want to get your groove on.
Get Some Rest
With such an action-packed day, we reckon the remainder of your 24 hours should be spent under the covers. You’ve had a busy day eating like a local, visiting all the best tourist attractions and dancing the night away. You deserve some rest before you leave San José and if you’re planning to stay in Costa Rica and enjoy the incredible countryside, then you’ll need it.
So, the next time you find yourself with a day to spend in San José, don’t spend it in the hotel restaurant or lobby. Get out and see what this incredible city has to offer. Who knows, it could be the best day of your trip to Costa Rica.