As the capital city of Costa Rica, San Jose is the main entry point for most visitors. Though often left off itineraries, it is packed with cultural and culinary delights that make it well worth including on your trip to the Central American country!
Because it is not as well visited as other areas of Costa Rica, finding the right area to stay in can be a nightmare. That’s why we have created this guide to the best places to visit in the city.
We’ve considered all of San Jose’s neighborhoods and sorted them into the top seven places to stay in the city, each based on what you are looking to get out of your experience.
Here is a rundown of where to stay in the city!
Quick Tips – Where to Stay in San Jose
- Downtown – Best neighborhood in San Jose for your first time
- Barrio Amon – Where to stay in San Jose close to everything
- San Pedro – Where to stay in San Jose for nightlife
- Cartago – Best neighborhood in San Jose for families
- Aranjuez – Where to stay in San Jose on a budget
- Escazu – Best neighborhood in San Jose for couples
- Escalante – Best neighborhood in San Jose for foodies
Where to Stay in San Jose
Looking for a specific place to stay? These are our highest recommendations for places to stay in San Jose.
Best Hostel in San Jose
Hostel Pangea is an awesome hostel if you are interested in socialising with other visitors to San Juan. They offer an indoor pool – unique for a hostel – and great bar and restaurant facilities! It is also well decorated with local artwork – perfect for creatives.
Best Budget Hotel in San Jose
This hotel goes above and beyond and you won’t believe you are staying in a budget pick! The on-site fitness centre and restaurant add a touch of luxury to the hotel, and its small size ensures a homely atmosphere. It is also in a great location in the heart of the nightlife district.
Best Splurge Hotel in San Jose
Though technically outside of San Jose in Cartago, Hotel Rio Perlas is the ultimate in luxury in the region. It is well rated by both families and couples, and the facilities are second to none – including a spa and outdoor pool. Its location surrounded by nature gives a relaxed, tropical vibe to the resort.
San Jose 7 Best Neighborhoods to Stay in
Let’s take a look, in more detail, at the five best neighbourhoods in San Jose. Each caters to different interests, so be sure to pick the neighbourhood that’s right for you.
(Best neighbourhood in San Jose for your first time!)
- COOLEST thing to do in Downtown – chat with locals, check out the local cuisine and pick up souvenirs at the Mercado Central
- BEST place to visit in Downtown – head to the Gold Museum to learn about the country’s pre-colonial culture
Downtown San José is Costa Rica’s political and business hub. This is where you will discover many of the city’s historical sights, and it has great transport access to the rest of the city and beyond! Flanked by parks and some more alternative areas, it is a great stop for your first visit to get you oriented in the city.
There are also some surprising local attractions, including the Mercado Central where you can meet people from the city as well as other tourists! Just outside of the area is one of the largest parks in the city, with great views across San José and recreational facilities.
- Discover the history, culture and modern life of Costa Rica at the National Museum
- Head to the Plaza de la Cultura on the rooftop of the Gold Museum for spectacular views across the Downtown area, and unwind with the locals
- Pick up some local handicrafts and unique souvenirs at the National Craft Market which draws in artisans from across Costa Rica!
- Head west to Sabana Park for excellent sports facilities, relaxed hang-out spots and great views across the city
- Learn about the country’s historic jewellery making tradition and Jade mining at the Jade Museum
Best Hostel Downtown
This hostel is owned by the city’s Quaker community, and profits are used for projects that assist locals across San Jose! Previous guests rave about the homely feel of the hostel, and the high-quality breakfast provided every morning. This is a great option for socialising with other guests.
Best Budget Hotel in Downtown
Located right in the heart of Downtown, this hotel is a hidden gem among budget options. Rooms are fully air conditioned and comfortable – perfect for unwinding during your stay! There is also a bar on-site, allowing you to mingle with other guests during your time at the hotel.
Best Splurge Hotel in Downtown
This hotel is a great example of why Radisson are famed worldwide for their comfortable luxury! There is a fitness centre and spa facilities on-site, and a large buffet breakfast is provided every morning. It is also well located next to Sabana Park, allowing you to explore the area with ease.
P.S. – Save some money in Tamarindo with our hostel guide – check it out there!
(Where to stay in San Jose close to everything!)
- COOLEST thing to do in Barrio Amon – check out the zoological and botanic garden in Simon Bolivar Park for a glimpse of Costa Rica’s famous nature
- BEST place to visit in Barrio Amon – catch a live performance from Costa Rica’s most well-known theatre companies at Teatro Nacional
Located just north of Downtown, Barrio Amon is a somewhat up-and-coming neighborhood with plenty of local flavour! Previously the city’s red light district, the local youth have since flocked to the area to turn it into an artistic hub.
Its location close to the centre makes it perfect for exploring the rest of the city, whilst the peaceful setting makes it a great base to stay in. There are also plenty of underground nightlife spots and artistic centres for you to discover the alternative side to modern Costa Rican culture!
- Wander the streets and discover some great examples of colonial architecture – including Castillo del Moro
- Enjoy a wide range of local musical talent at El Sotano – from rock bands to opera singers, they have something for everyone
- Check out local artwork and handicrafts at the Galeria Namu – they curate talent from across Costa Rica and everything is for sale
- Take an alternative tour of the city and discover its hidden attractions with Barrio Bird Walking Tours
- Learn about the scientific and cultural history of the country at the Centro Costarricense de Ciencias y Cultura
Best Hostel Barrio Amon
This hostel makes creating a social atmosphere its priority – with a large communal terrace and swimming pool! There is a restaurant and snack bar on-site with regular deals on drinks and bites, and the entire hostel is well decorated in local artwork.
Best Budget Hotel in Barrio Amon
This basic hotel is well located right between Barrio Amon and Downtown. The rooms are well equipped with basic facilities, and the staff are knowledgeable about the city and happy to help you plan your itinerary. A continental breakfast is provided every morning.
Check this out – The 21 BEST Hostels in San Jose, Costa Rica
Best Splurge Hotel in Barrio Amon
The Holiday Inn San Jose is an excellent splurge option for experiencing ultimate comfort during your time in Costa Rica! The hotel features an indoor pool, fitness centre and fully air conditioned rooms. There are two restaurants, both of which serve breakfast in the morning to all guests.
(Where to stay in San Jose for nightlife!)
- COOLEST thing to do in San Pedro – discover the eclectic and atmospheric nightlife of San Jose on Calle Amargura
- BEST place to visit in San Pedro – learn about ancient constellations and modern sky-gazing at the Planetarium
San Pedro is San Jose’s student centre and features the widest range of nightlife options in the city! Once a city in its own right, San Pedro continues this independent spirit to this day and offers an entirely different experience from the rest of the metropolitan area.
It’s famous nightlife features hipster bars, techno clubs and late night cafes – appealing to all tastes. It is also home to some of the best gay-friendly bars in Central America, making it a great base for LGBT visitors! If you’re looking to party whilst in San Jose, this is the place to be.
- Check out the area surrounding the University of Costa Rica, full of trendy cafes and bars, as well as some hidden gem cultural delights
- Shop until you drop at the small boutiques located in Mall San Pedro – or catch a movie on the top floor!
- Unwind after a long night of partying at the Yoga Massage Therapy spa
- Head to Vyrus for a classic dive bar experience in the neighboring Los Yoses district
- Learn about the history of Central America and the drive for Hispanic unity at the Fuente de la Hispanidad
Best Hostel San Pedro
This is another great hostel for socialising with other guests! It features a large barbecue area and terrace, as well as a communal garden for a more relaxed vibe. Guests are provided with a continental breakfast each morning – perfect for getting over the hangover.
Best Budget Hotel in San Pedro
This quaint hotel might come in at a budget price, but it doesn’t scrimp on the extras! It has a fitness centre and on-site restaurant, which provides a complimentary buffet breakfast every morning. Rooms are all air conditioned, and some even come with coffee makers.
Best Splurge Hotel in San Pedro
This is great if you want to stay close to the nightlife but also want a more luxurious experience! There is an outdoor pool if you are simply looking for somewhere to relax, and a buffet breakfast each morning. The boutique-style gives it a more personalised feel than other splurge options in the city.
(Best neighbourhood in San Jose for families!)
- COOLEST thing to do in Cartago – take a tour out to Irazu – the highest active volcano in Costa Rica
- BEST place to visit in Cartago – unwind and sample some of the country’s finest craft beer at the Costa Rica Craft Brewing Company
Though technically outside of San Jose, Cartago is relatively well connected with the city and easy to get to. Its distance makes it a calmer, more peaceful option than the bustling centre of San Jose! Cartago is packed with outdoor adventure activities and interesting cultural attractions.
This calm nature and local flavour make it the perfect choice for families visiting the area. It is an incredibly safe city – ranking as one of the safest in Central America! There are plenty of culinary delights across Cartago – most of which are within small, hole-in-the-wall style restaurants run by locals.
- Discover a gorgeous Byzantine style church right in the heart of Cartago – the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles
- Take a bike ride through the Finca la Angelina
- Discover lush rainforests and unique flora and fauna at the Tapanti National Park
- Fancy a swim? Head out to Balneario de Aguas Termales Los Patios with six pools and some small slides for the kids
- Head out to Reventazón river to try out some white water rafting and other river sports and activities
- Want to try out some urbexing? Sanatorio Duran is an abandoned tuberculosis treatment centre that has become popular with tourists seeking something off the beaten path
Best Hostel Cartago
This hostel is more of a homestay, as it is within a family home located right in the heart of Cartago. The small rooms make it a perfect option for a family on a budget, or for backpackers looking for a more local experience. A continental breakfast and local coffee are provided every morning!
Best Budget Hotel in Cartago
Located just outside of central Cartago, this hotel is a quiet retreat giving you peace and quiet to sleep at night. A full breakfast is provided every morning from the on-site restaurant. This restaurant is an attraction in itself, offering some of the best steaks you will have in Costa Rica!
Best Splurge Hotel in Cartago
If you are looking for a more typical resort style stay, the Hotel Rio Perlas is the place to book! The spa and wellness centre is connected to natural hot springs, letting you enjoy a soothing dip in waters heated by neighboring volcanoes. There are also pools and restaurants on-site.
(Where to stay in San Jose on a budget!)
- COOLEST thing to do in Aranjuez – take a tour of some of San Jose’s more alternative and local sights with Inside Tours
- BEST place to visit in Aranjuez – marvel at native butterfly populations at the Spirogyra Butterfly Garden
Aranjuez is a hub for alternative culture and creativity in San Jose! Like neighbouring Barrio Amon, it boasts colonial architecture and historical monuments, as well as modern restaurants and hip cafes. The high youth population makes this a very budget friendly area.
It is located just north of Downtown and east of Barrio Amon, making it a great base for exploring the rest of San Jose and even further in Costa Rica. Many of the hotels and tourist attractions are hosted in restored buildings, giving the neighborhood an unbeatable historic charm!
- Head to Feria Verde de Aranjuez to pick up organic food and local handicrafts at a great price
- Want to check out the budget-friendly nightlife? Head on a nightlife tour with Carpe Chepe to some of San Jose’s more underground venues
- Take a relaxing stroll through Parque Nacional or Parque Espana
- Learn about the history of chocolate making and farming in Central America, and try out making some of your own, at Botanica Chocolate
- Want to sample some of San Jose’s culinary delights? Opt for a tour with Foodie Tours, or simply take a self-guided walk around Aranjuez!
Best Hostel Aranjuez
Hostel Casa del Parque takes an eco-friendly approach to their service, making it a great option for environmentally conscious visitors! The on-site restaurant serves organic and vegetarian lunches and is popular with locals. A small games room and communal terrace are also available.
Best Budget Hotel in Aranjuez
Located between Aranjuez and Barrio Amon, this hotel is perfect for getting around the main attractions of the city on foot! All of the rooms are fully air conditioned and a complimentary American style breakfast is served every morning from the on-site restaurant. At night there is a quirky bar serving classic cocktails and snacks.
Best Splurge Hotel in Aranjuez
Aranjuez is so budget friendly that finding a true splurge option is impossible – but this upper mid-range hotel is great if you are willing to spend a little extra for more comfort! There is a fitness centre on-site as well as a billiards table in the sports bar area for playing with fellow guests.
Editor’s recommendation – 15 awesome hostels in Costa Rica
(Best neighbourhood in San Jose for couples!)
- COOLEST thing to do in Escazu – take an evening food and wine tour with San Jose Urban Tours
- BEST place to visit in Escazu – head to Pueblo Antiguo, a theme park located at the edge of Escazu
Escazu is one of the wealthier suburbs of San Jose and is a great place to stay for a relaxed trip. Filled with country clubs, spas and restaurants, Escazu is perfect for couples looking for an easy getaway, or simply a quick stopover before exploring the rest of Costa Rica!
As it is one of the most popular areas for American expats, English is spoken by most businesses in the area making it easy to get by if your Spanish is limited. Sheltered by the surrounding nature, Escazu also has better weather than other areas of San Jose!
- Indulge in some fine dining at the various restaurants across the area – Product C is a great option, with fresh seafood served every day
- Shop until you drop at Multiplaza Mall, filled with international brands and upscale outlets
- Explore the surrounding mountains for spectacular views across the city – there are some great tour companies that can assist
- Try out Escazu’s upmarket bar scene – Cantina La Cava offers a huge wine list and locally inspired cocktails
- Head to the local branch of Yoga Massage Therapy for a variety of spa and holistic treatments
Best Hostel Escazu
In keeping with Escazu’s affluent atmosphere, Fauna is a bit more of a luxury option compared to other hostels. Beds are arranged in a pod system, giving you a little extra privacy! There is an outdoor pool available throughout the year and large social spaces for mingling with other guests.
Best Budget Hotel in Escazu
Operating as both a B&B and art studio, this is a great option for creatives looking for something a little more unique! It has all of the basic facilities you would expect from a B&B, and one of the rooms even comes with a balcony. A full breakfast is provided every morning for an additional fee.
Best Splurge Hotel in Escazu
Located within walking distance of multiple bus and train stations, this is a perfect option if you plan on exploring the city and even further in Costa Rica! There is a fitness centre on-site, as well as a great bar reserved for guests. A continental breakfast is provided each morning.
(Best neighbourhood in San Jose for foodies)
- COOLEST thing to do in Escalante – head to Paseo Gastronómico La Luz, a street filled with restaurants, cafés and craft beer bars
- BEST place to visit in Escalante – visit the area around the Central Bank to check out some modern architecture and the monument dedicated to Costa Rican farmers
Escalante is without a doubt the best neighborhood in San Jose if you are interested in the food culture. Paseo Gastronómico La Luz is the epicentre of Costa Rica’s culinary scene – with street food, fresh seafood and craft beer all being on offer! It is also great for coffee lovers, with many speciality cafés offering locally produced beverages.
It is well located between Aranjuez and San Pedro, allowing you to explore the alternative culture and nightlife at the same time! Escalante is nevertheless a bit more reserved than the surrounding areas, giving you a peaceful base to explore the city from.
- Sample craft beer from the many bars and breweries located in the area – Segua is particularly popular
- Take a hike through Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo for a glimpse into the Costa Rican rainforest right in the heart of the city
- Head to Outlet Mall for bargains on international brands and local boutiques
- Catch an international blockbuster, or smaller local movie, at Cine Magaly
- Visit Chieton Moren to pick up some local handicrafts and admire work by Costa Rican artists
- Interested in heading out to the Costa Rica countryside? Costa Rica Expeditions are based in Escalante and offer a wide range of great tours!
Best Hostel Escalante
This hostel has a very laid-back and artistic atmosphere! It has a good mix of dorms and privates and is well rated by couples who visit the city. It also has excellent Wi-Fi, making it a great option for digital nomads. A complimentary breakfast is available to all guests.
Best Budget Hotel in Escalante
This hotel is the only option available right on Paseo Gastronómico La Luz, taking you right to the heart of the city’s foodie district! The on-site restaurant is popular with locals, offering typical Costa Rican dishes. There is also a garden terrace where you can relax and socialise with other guests.
Best Splurge Hotel in Escalante
This luxury boutique allows you to enjoy a hotel with a more welcoming atmosphere and local vibe! The rooms are beautifully decorated in a classic style that compliments the neo-colonial architecture of the building itself. There is an on-site restaurant and a large private garden available for all guests to use.
Final Thoughts on Where to Stay in San Jose?
San Jose is an interesting city that should definitely be included on your itinerary to Costa Rica. It offers interesting cultural attractions, as well as great cuisine and a vibrant nightlife!
For the best area, we have to go with Aranjuez! It is located within walking distance of many of San Jose’s most popular attractions, restaurants and nightlife areas. This all comes with budget-friendly prices and a much more local feel than the Downtown area.
We hope this guide has helped you choose the best area for you to stay in San Jose! The city offers plenty to attract different kinds of visitors – from rich cuisine and buzzing bars to tours into the Costa Rican nature and off-the-beaten-path cultural sites.
Have we missed anything out? Let us know in the comments!
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