San Jose, Costa Rica

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This article originally appeared in Delta Air Lines’ 2012 Caribbean, Mexico and Latin America Travel Guide. It has been extracted from its original format. To read the full travel guide, visit the digital edition.

Almost all roads lead to San Jose, the capital that often plays home-base to visitors for many close-by excursions to the rainforest and coast. But leave time to enjoy a town that offers its guests sophisticated and informal restaurants, performances by its National Symphony Orchestra in the opulent, 19th century Teatro Nacional and high-caliber hotels such as the stylish Marriott San Jose, Costa Rica Hotel or the boutique Grano d’Oro, also heralded for fine dining. Everyone should take time to visit San Jose’s first-rate museums—the National Museum, Jade Museum, Gold Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art—and plan to stop for lunch at the food stalls in Mercado Central, the sprawling, lively indoor market and tops in traditional dishes, fast-food style.

San Jose sits in the Central Valley, an easy drive to Punta Arenas on the Pacific coast, or into the highlands to Sarchi, a woodcrafting town and home to the iconic decorative oxcarts. Step out of the capital for a coffee plantation tour and be dazzled by the blooms in the Lankester Botanical Gardens. Anytime is the time to drive up to look down into the Irazu Volcano—the country’s highest—and to stand on the crater rim of the Poas Volcano and look down into the bubbling cauldron. You’ll have to drive a bit farther for white-water rafting on the Pacuare and Reventazon rivers or to reach Arenal National Park, everyone’s favorite multi-sport corner for hiking, mountain biking, canyoning, caving, windsurfing and fishing. For some of the country’s best wildlife viewing and wilderness experiences, hop on a small plane to Limon, gateway to Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean coast or on the Pacific coast, to Puerto Jimenez, first stop on the way to the Osa Peninsula, the richest biological zone in Mesoamerica.


  • Best time to go:
    January to May, although the North Pacific coast is drier and popular almost year-round.
  • Fun fact:
    Despite its small size (less than half a percent of the earth’s surface), Costa Rica shelters 4 percent of the planet’s biodiversity and 3.5 percent of the world’s marine life
  • Getting there:
    Delta flies from Atlanta to San Jose
  • Entry documents:
    Valid passport
  • Currency:
    Costa Rican colon
  • Must-try local food:
    Rice and beans, gallo pinto, served at breakfast and with everything, from eggs to meat to fish
  • Best buys:
    Reproductions of pre-Columbian gold jewelry; wood crafts, from salad bowls to jewelry
  • Information please:
    Costa Rica Institute of Tourism—