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San José, a vibrant city...

Some people say that San Jose is a messy, noisy, chaotic, intense, and exciting city... To draw my own conclusions, I have given myself the task of judging it for myself, living in first person the "truth or fiction" of the capital city. Immersed in its streets, I discovered how interesting it can be...

Main historical attractions

My tour starts at the National Theater. Undoubtedly, the most emblematic architectural work of the city, in the heart of the capital. Built in 1897, it is a neoclassical building where paintings and sculptures of the 19th century stand out. There are major cultural events that are worth seeing. We must be aware of the billboard (from Thursday to Sunday), to be able to participate in any of the shows. In my opinion, the most distinguished and extraordinary building in San José. There are guided tours every hour, from Monday to Sunday from 09:00 to 16:00.

Any tour of the city starts at this Theater. It's like the "zero meridians". The closest neighbour of tourist interest is the Gold Museum, which is right next to the Theater, on the underground floor of the Plaza de la Cultura. If you want to delve into the history of the country, the main museums of the city are near each other, within walking distance, such as the National Museum, the Gold Museum, and the Jade Museum. The three of them are very interesting, an encyclopedia of how our ancestors lived, and a journey through the history of the country. If you have limited time, the most complete one that has a bit of everything is the National Museum, where you travel through the biography of Costa Rica from the Precolumbian period until the twentieth century.

The Gold Museum and the Jade Museum are "pure art", with extraordinary objects carved by our ancient natives. We must admit that they were first-class jewellers and sculptors!

The authentic and daily

Although I appreciate and value these buildings full of history, I have to experience the perspective of the “Josefino” citizen. I wanted to feel the city in its daily routine, exploring its gastronomy and habits. Central Avenue is the way that takes me on a journey through the 5 senses. A lot of people who come and go, smells that come from small restaurants, fruit vendors, vegetables, sales of DVD movies, wallets, belts, toys and crafts, street musicians, and even several people from the town. Everything happens in the middle of the street...

What struck me most, was the way they sell their products "a puro galillo” (a Costa Rican expression to describe how they scream with all their might), shouting offers to passers-by. That looks like a duel between sellers, to see who screams louder! Do not be scared if you hear "avocados for a thousand colones, take them nooooow!

After such a pleasant walk I arrived at the Central Market, the "Mall" of our grandparents. Everything was bought in the Market. To date, there are certain things that can only be found there. It is a labyrinth of small shops with modern items intertwined with those of yesteryear.

In some positions, there are so many trinkets, difficult to be appreciated. There you can get from typical costumes, sandals, “machetes” (a special knife used by our farmers to work), spices of all kinds, wooden horses, spinning tops, handicrafts, shoes, natural remedies for whatever you can think of (even to fight lice!), grains, meats, cheese, and cages to catch rodents among other things. I could spend all day at the Market discovering objects without repeating.

When you visit the Market, the best you can do is to arrive with atrocious hunger, ideally for the lunch hour and ask for any of our culinary specialties, among which the "Olla de Carne", a vegetable soup with meat, the “ceviche” made by fresh fish, seafood, tortillas seasoned or the traditional dish “casado”. All home-cooked meals with mom's spoon flavour. Uff, what a delight!

Read more about our Costa Rican Food: Top 5 dishes you must try!

After these delicacies, I would say that you will be very satisfied, so a dessert would be also a good idea! You will have to go to the local ice cream called “helados de sorbetera”, a mandatory stop for everyone who enters the market. And it would be a mortal sin to leave without a Costa Rican coffee ... In the Market, you can find the best coffee to be taken, in grain or ground, or to taste it right there. Simply delicious! It will be easy to find this place, the smell will take you exactly to the place and it will make you stop. Colours, smells, flavours, and textures are what you will experience in this Market (Closed on Sundays).

Other sites of interest

No less important is the Metropolitan Cathedral with its decorated domes, the Post Office Building, the Morazán Park, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the National Park. It is a circuit in which historical buildings and important monuments are appreciated.

Excursiones in the city

And now you will tell me, how do I get to these places? If you have your own travel guide, and you are an adventurer, you can visit it on your own, without problems. Of course, you´ll not get all the information that a tourist guide can give you. If you prefer guided tours, I propose the 3 most avant-garde alternatives, for all budgets:

VIP City Tour

A luxury bus ride with panoramic view, live folk music inside the bus, WiFi, welcome cocktail, visits to historical buildings and monuments, National Stadium, and Central Market. Guide and Lunch included. This tour has been declared of cultural interest. It is a very lively and colourful bus. A journey of learning and fun!

San José Urban Adventures

Design authentic experiential tourism excursions that connect culture, lifestyle, and local people. They have several combinations of tours, such as "Degustando San José", "The Art of Craft Beer" and "San José de Noche". All super original!

Chepe Cletas

They were the pioneers with excursions out of the traditional. With them the city is known from another perspective: make visits to “Cantinas” (Costa Rica expressions for popular bars), Cafes, Art Galleries, Architecture Tours, Gastronomic tours, and by bicycle. They offer secret stories and peculiar data of the capital. Interestingly, the “Ticos” are the ones who make this tour, they want to rediscover their city. Very interesting their proposals!

Where to stay?

There are hotels for all tastes and budgets. From 5 star hotels to small, cheaper hotels. To be in the middle of everything and be able to explore the capital within walking distance, it is better to stay in hotels that are close to the museums and the theatre. I could suggest the Gran Hotel Costa Rica, Aurola, Presidente, Sleep Inn, Dunn Inn, and Colonial, as the best located. 

Generally, travellers stay the first and last night in San Jose, prudential time to get to know the city. Because it is a small city, it is quickly travelled and it is not necessary to stay longer.

Don't miss

  • Teatro Nacional
  • Museo Nacional
  • Museo de Oro
  • Avenida Central
  • Mercado Central

This is "Chepe" (the common name used by the Ticos to call San José). Although it is not a capital of old buildings, nor of great monuments, I found in my city a special place of exquisite corners, stories, secrets, gastronomy, picturesque scenes, and above all a city full of life, enthusiastic and vibrant.

You can explore and enjoy this city. Do not hesitate to go ahead and discover it!

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Keep exploring, =)


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  • Janaina & Dieter, Brazil

    The trip was wonderful! Your help was invaluable and without your choices it would not have been so good! I am very very satisfied and very happy with the choices you made!

    Thank you very much for everything!

    Janaina & Dieter, Brazil
  • Kathrin, Ines, Matthias & Ingo, Germany

    Hello dear Aline, many thanks to you for the great compilation and organization of the trip. We were able to spend eventful, interesting and wonderful days in Costa Rica and will keep them in good memory. A thank you also goes to the ARA Tours team, which was available 24/7 for problems and questions, which were solved and answered quickly and reliably. The punctuality of the transfers offered should also be emphasized. In summary, it was a wonderful holiday.

    Kind regards

    Kathrin, Ines, Matthias & Ingo, Germany
  • Carina & Thomas, Germany

    Hello dear Aline,
    Now we have arrived back at San Jose Airport after a great trip. Everything worked out great and the tour was just perfectly planned and organized. Thank you very much. We take a lot of positive memories with us.
    Best regards.

    Carina & Thomas, Germany
  • Yvonne, Switzerland

    The Costa Rica trip together with my family is already behind us - it was wonderful!!! Everything went smoothly from A to Z, we had a wonderful time, no incidents and wonderful experiences.
    We all enjoyed it very much; the nature is enormous, but also the warm-hearted people, the cleanliness, the food - we are very enthusiastic!
    At this point I would like to thank you very much for your support in the preparation, for all the bookings, clarifications and enquiries!!!
    We visited the waterfall in La Fortuna and had a great view of the Arenal. In Monteverde we did a Hanging Bridges and Zipline tour and in Nosara a surf course. In Finca Rosa Bianca we did the coffee tour, it was all great, fun and interesting 😊. All in all, we saw lots of animals, always ate well, enjoyed the beaches....even in rainy weather 😊. Often we were even glad that it was overcast, otherwise it would have been almost toouuu hot for us.
    So THANK YOU again so much for everything!!!!

    Yvonne, Switzerland
  • Christina, Switzerland

    Many thanks for the extensive support (before, during and after the trip) and the professional handling of our concerns. With your support we had a smooth and unforgettable vacation in Costa Rica! Our favorite hotels: Hotel Plaza Yara and the Poas Volcano Lodge - a dream!
    All the best

    Christina, Switzerland
  • Jeanne, Bernd & Bill, USA

    Yay! I´m glad we are back on track. Thank you again for helping us with all these changes.
    I´m glad we choose ARA-you are amazing! Thanks for all your help! It made it a very memorable visit!

    Jeanne, Bernd & Bill, USA
  • Janka, The Netherlands

    Hi Eli & ARA Team,
    We have spoken to the guest and they are super enthusiastic about their Costa Rica roundtrip! Everything was well organized, nice hotels, nice mix of activities & beach and they have big compliments for you guys!!
    Many thanks for all the good work!! The guest highly appreciate it!!
    They had lunch nearby in Ara Ambigua Lodge, and they loved this place. Friendly staff and good food!
    Do you work with this accommodation? If so, we would love hear 😊
    Once again, heads off for this amazing trip!
    With warm regards

    Janka, The Netherlands
  • Thomas, Deborah, Eva & Paula, Switzerland

    Dear Priska
    Happily I write some words to you in English, so you can easily forward them also to Ara Tours, please. Thank you all, we spent a magic time in Costa Rica! Baumeler's and Ara Tours organisation and logistics were perfect, everything worked out even better than we expected. The tours were brilliant, we really enjoyed everything very very much!
    All the accomodation was absolutely wonderful... the setting, the quality, the food, with happy helpful friendly staff everywhere. It was a wonderful way to experience this beautiful country the way we did, on a private tour with personal guide and drivers. We saw and learnt sooo much - it would have been impossible to do so on our own.
    Especially we praise our brilliant guide Fernando Perez, we benefited so much from his truly wide knowledge and deep love for his Country which he passed on in lovely encouraging way. We even became friends and we will meet in Switzerland coming September! Also our driver Carlos Sandi was great, not only as a driver but also as a compagnion, animal spotter and photographer. Thank you!
    So.... now we just enjoy our last day...
    Sunny greetings, pura vida

    Thomas, Deborah, Eva & Paula, Switzerland
  • Yvonne & Andrea, Switzerland

    Hello all
    Unfortunately, our wonderful trip is already over and everyday life has caught up with us again. We would like to thank you very much for everything. The trip was planned exactly according to our wishes and we have seen so many beautiful places.
    Thank you Stefanie!
    We have felt completely comfortable and top cared for by you. Via Whats App we got immediate answers to our questions, with the car everything worked out great. In all locations we were treated very warmly and nicely. It was just so indescribably beautiful, we will dream of the beautiful experiences for a long time. In any case, we will warmly recommend you and hope for a next time. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
    Best regards.

    Yvonne & Andrea, Switzerland
  • Anita, Switzerland

    We have arrived safely in Switzerland and have already returned to work.
    It was a wonderful trip you put together for us.
    Your excellent service, as well as the 24 hour support service from ARA Tours, was truly outstanding.
    I have already recommended you several times and would book with you again and again. Thank you very much and keep me informed if there are any interesting offers.
    Best wishes.

    Anita, Switzerland
  • Lukas & Isabelle, Switzerland

    Hello Pedro, our time in CR is coming to an end and we wanted to say "thank you very much for organizing a phenomenal week". Everything has been well organized and we have seen many beauties of nature. Thanks!

    Lukas & Isabelle, Switzerland
  • Reinout & Yvonne, The Netherlands

    Thanks Jenny for the clear answer. We will make an appointment via the link you gave us.
    Today we visited National Parc Cabo Blanco. What an amazing park, so quiet for tourists, so full of animals, really lovely and therefore together with Monte Verde, Cahuita and Corcovado the park today, Cabo Blanco, scores high in our ranking of most beautiful parks of CR.These parks give us reason, together with the Pura Vida in CR, to come back soon. We'll keep in contact.

    Reinout & Yvonne, The Netherlands
  • Dominik, Germany

    Good day Jennifer
    As we have already told Simone, the stay at Lapa Rios is extremely enriching, thanks to the well planned planting and the untouched environment we see a lot of animals. Contrary to the plans before the stay, we do not want to visit more animals in captivity at the end. We will have a look at the few hours before we leave.
    We thank you and your team very much for the excellent advice and the permanent support! We can only recommend Ara Tours.
    Best regards.

    Dominik, Germany
  • Daniel, Jana & Theo, Germany

    A big thank to you, you saved our vacation!
    Communication already worked very well in Germany. The help from you, especially through Aline, should be mentioned here. This was fantastic from the first WhatsApp message to the last. We already know Costa Rica, so we knew what we wanted and what not. Ara Tours was an important point of contact for us. We are very grateful to Aline precisely because our actual travel agent cancelled our trip 36 hours before departure. She immediately organized everything for us. Whether the hotel in beautiful Punta Leona, the tours to the national parks, even the shuttle service with the great driver Guillerno Ortega has to be mentioned here. We are very grateful to you, dear Aline, but also to the entire Ara Tours team. You too made our almost 3-week trip to Costa Rica unforgettable again. We would love to come back and of course we will book through Ara Tours again.

    Daniel, Jana & Theo, Germany
  • Alexander & family, Switzerland

    Thank you, everything really worked out great. Super organization and at any time quick info / help / support from you!
    We liked it very much. The conclusion in Quepos was crowning. We liked the beach in the National Park Manuel Antonio very much. We would have liked to stay longer, but we take home many wonderful, unforgettable impressions. PURA VIDA!
    Many thanks to you Aline! We will gladly recommend you to others.

    Alexander & family, Switzerland
  • Neumann Family, Germany

    - The route was super planned, first on the beach time to arrive and then only from Monteverde with excursions inland etc. and at the end again beach - perfect!
    - Support from Ara Tours was VERY good!!! Through Whatsapp reachability the service was great, very quick answers / very flexible, good suggestions etc. Also with the doctor Ara Tours helped with translations by phone - that was really very, very good!
    - The home stay day was an absolute highlight - very authentic - so we got to know the locals REAL, the family was super friendly and very open and have talked about everything. Not at all touristy perceived.

    Neumann Family, Germany
  • Marine & Bruno, France

    We would like to thank you personally for this beautiful trip that you organised for us and for the follow-up that you did throughout the stay. A big thank you also to Jennifer d'Ara tours! Thank you again and have a great week!

    Marine & Bruno, France
  • Walter, Switzerland

    We really appreciated your (almost) daily updates from Costa Rica on Covid and related issues. That was a highlight compared to other incoming agents worldwide! We thank you for your effort and wish you that you manage the coming time well and stay healthy.

    Walter, Switzerland
  • Ronald, Germany

    Our great compliments for keeping us informed every day on the developments. We wish you all the best and keep yourself and families in good health and mood during this unprecedented period!

    Ronald, Germany
  • Kathrin, Germany

    You are really super! It is impressive how you manage the crisis with your super flow of information and the great reversal. Hats off!

    Kathrin, Germany
  • Michael, Germany

    Hello, we were on a round trip in Costa Rica from 27.11., which was booked through BigXtra and organised by them. We would like to take this opportunity to thank you very much. The tour was simply amazing! The support by Carlos was just great. We have done many trips before, but this one was an unforgettable experience thanks to Carlos. Carlos speaks very good German and was able to sensitively introduce us to Costa Rica, its incomparable nature and its great, friendly inhabitants. Pura Vida became for us a term for the attitude towards life in Costa Rica. Please say hello to Carlos from us and once again a huge thank you to him in the name of the whole group of 8. We wish him only the best for his future.

    Michael, Germany
  • Evelyne, Switzerland

    Wie just did a 4 week trip in Costa Rica which was organised from ARA tours and we really liked it - well done Ara Tours! We also had a guide - his name is Enrique. His German is really good and he knows a lot about Costa Rica and he showed us a lot of animals. We had a wonderful time with hime - thank you so much Enrique!

    Evelyne, Switzerland
  • Tanja, Germany

    perfect tour perfect tour guide pablo, everything very well organised 👍👍👍👍🇨🇷🇨🇨🇷 were thrilled

    Tanja, Germany
  • Ines, Germany

    Many thanks and great praise to our tour guide Mauricio and our bus driver Adrian! We felt very comfortable during the 2 weeks in Costa Rica. The wide-ranging knowledge of Mauricio and the super driving skills of Adrian were particularly admirable. Thanks to the eagle eyes of both of them, we had the opportunity to observe a variety of animals in Costa Rica. Thank you for everything!

    Ines, Germany
  • Sabine, Germany

    I can only recommend ARA Tours. Thanks again to Nicole for the great planning of the tour and the support. Our tour guide Peter Käser was simply incredible (a walking encyclopaedia) and always had an answer to all my questions about the flora and fauna and the history of CR. Our driver Julio carried my father on his hands, for which I am very grateful. CR is also worth a trip for wheelchair users at any time (with ARA Tours, of course).

    Sabine, Germany
  • Thieme Family, Germany

    We would like to thank you once again for organizing our trip [...] through the beautiful country of Costa Rica. Our special thanks go to our tour guide Enrique, who with his extensive knowledge of flora and fauna about his country brought it very close to us and made us want to come even a second time. We were very glad and happy to travel with him, as he was also very committed to our problems on site, in addition to his competent function as a tour guide.

    Thieme Family, Germany
  • Antonia-Maria & Boris, Austria

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your sensational effort! I do not know such a competent tour guide as with you really from nowhere else... and we have already traveled a lot... 🙏🏻🍀

    Antonia-Maria & Boris, Austria
  • Katja, Germany

    I wanted to thank you again for the great Costa Rica trip. We flew back home very happy and with many great impressions. A compliment for the super organisation. Everything worked out perfectly (except for the handover of the rental car, which was force majeure...). So thank you again and I have already recommended you to friends:-)!

    Katja, Germany
  • Denise & Alain, Switzerland

    Thank you very much for your email and the tickets. We really appreciate how quickly and efficiently you deal with our requests each time!

    Denise & Alain, Switzerland
  • Philippe, Switzerland

    Hello Christine Thank you very much for this information. The support is super👍 many thanks Gruss

    Philippe, Switzerland
  • Marianne & Stefan Gräub, Switzerland

    Otherwise, the planned trip was a complete success. Everything went well and the visits you organised were all very interesting. The visits you organised were all very interesting and gave us a great insight into the respective topics. The fact that the Ticos are very friendly and always ready to help was fully confirmed.

    Marianne & Stefan Gräub, Switzerland

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