Rainy days on vacation might lure you to stay in, wrap yourself in a blanket and snooze, but this shouldn’t be the case when you have such a vibrant city like San José to discover!
If you’re visiting the Costa Rican Central Valley during rainy season (April-November, most rainfall occurring in September and Oct.) you’ll most likely encounter a half day of either light drizzle or heavy rainfall.
There’s no need to be discouraged, you can still have fun and explore the city even when it’s pouring outside!
Follow our guide of the best places to visit in San Jose on a rainy day.
Morning: Take in Your Best Chance for Sunshine on Our Bird’s Nest Tour
If you’re interested in stepping off the beaten track then this is the tour for you!
Chances of rainfall are greater in the afternoon so start the day outside by exploring downtown San Jose. We designed the Bird’s Nest to take you beyond the common tourist experience by giving you an insight into day-to-day Costa Rican city life.
We’ll take you on a walking tour of over 40 stops that combine history with architecture, artwork, urban landmarks and local personalities. If you have a topic in mind that you want us to focus on we can do that too.
Take this opportunity to make the most out of your morning and get an insider’s experience of San José!
Lunch: Central Market
Get some lunch, rub shoulders with the locals and buy souvenirs, all in one place.
After exploring the city for 2 hours you’ll be ready to refuel and people watch. San José’s Central Market is the one-stop-shop for locals. Here you’ll find goods ranging from medicinal herbs to handcrafted items (jewelry, decorative sculptures, woven hammocks, etc.). It’s also a great place to purchase fresh produce or buy a quality meal at a very economic price.
If you want to eat like the locals then this is your best bet for lunch. We recommend tortillas with cheese, ceviche and ice cream!
Afternoon: Jade Museum
Right in the heart of city, the Jade Museum proudly stands as an emblem of Costa Rican pre-columbian archaeological and artistic heritage.
This museum manages to fuse pre-columbian cultural legacy and contemporary elements of display in a truly modern space. Its current installations are packed with jade and ceramics. The craftsmanship is truly incredible and inspiring, particularly for our creative visitors.
Located adjacent to Plaza de la Democracia, it sticks out because of its unusual exterior -a five story silver building resembling an uncut block of jade.
The museum showcases its precious stone artifacts as the highlight of various exhibits that include gold, shell, wood, resin and clay items. A total of six halls are open to the public, each with a different theme and providing a distinct visitor experience. The lighting and sound effects strategically placed throughout the galleries are meant to immerse you in a narrative of sorts: a timeline of Costa Rica’s early inhabitants and their ways of life.
This peculiar site is home to one of the most important Pre-Columbian jade collections in the continent, a must see attraction during your visit!
Tip: It is a great spot to sneak in panoramic views of the city as you climb the stairs from floor to floor. Allow about 2 hours.
Late Afternoon: Coffee at National Theater
There’s no better way to end an active afternoon on a rainy day than with a cup of coffee - just as the locals do.
All over the city you will see Costa Ricans also stopping for an afternoon coffee (it’s not just to start the day here). Culturally it is a chance to catch up with friends and wind down the day’s activities.
One of the most beautiful spots to participate in this tradition is at Alma del Café located inside the National Theater, boasting much like its host an ambiance of art and tradition. The café brings together elegance and daily life, becoming a place where the theater and musical enthusiast is as welcome as the casual passerby.
The menu offers a broad selection of hot beverages, coffee being the specialty of the house. With a choice of top local brews, you can order anything from a simple cup of black coffee to one of their elaborate warm cocktails -some of which have been inspired by Costa Rican regions and customs. We suggest pairing your drink with a dessert or pastry for a quick late afternoon bite!
Evening: Cine Magaly
End your day with an independent film at one of the most iconic metropolitan cinemas.
Cine Magaly opened its doors in 1978, soon becoming one of the most prestigious movie theaters of its time. It is also important for its distinctive architecture. Crowds of locals flock here to watch independent movies, enjoy national audiovisual productions and take part in the occasional film festival.
*Many films run in English with Spanish subtitles so you can still understand. Watch out for titles, they do not get translated word-for-word into Spanish. Google is great to figure out how you may of heard of the film in your native language.
Cine Magaly is the perfect spot for laid-back evening entertainment. If you arrive here hungry you can grab a panini or personal pizza with craft beer beforehand from Kubrik’s just to the right of the theater entrance.
Added Bonus: Movies in Costa Rica are a half or third of the price in the US or Europe. Expect to pay $8 max, have the option of caramel popcorn and enjoy comfy, reclining seats too!
Contrary to popular belief, downtown San José is filled with activities to enjoy even when it’s pouring outside.
These are just a few ideas that we hope will encourage you to walk around and take in the city. If you feel like you need any more suggestions feel free to contact us.
From the Barrio Bird Tours staff, we wish you a wonderful rainy day!
San José, Costa Rica is no longer just for visiting the airport or passing through on your travels from one coast to the next.
While we started to see a cultural shift 5 years ago the past two have shown a real change in locals' opinions of the city and their desire to work on its potential as an adorable, culturally vibrant and livable city. Many new projects are underway and we can't wait to see what the next two years will bring. In the meantime we have created a list of 10 reasons to visit San José now.
The entire size of the downtown area is about 2 miles in length. Streets are on a grid, and finally there are street signs to help visitors get around. There are 2 main pedestrian-only routes down Avenida Central and Avenida 4 for sightseeing. There are many historic and tasty treasures hidden on the side streets of these paths so we recommend any of our city walking tours to get a real look at the history and new developments of the city.
2. Nighttime Views
San José sits in a valley and if you can get high enough you can see the lights rising up the mountainsides in every direction. Our favorite choice in downtown is the restaurant on the 17th floor of the Holiday Inn at Parque Morazan. The food is ok and a little more expensive than usual so maybe pop up right at 6:00 for sunset and early drinks and appetizers, or dessert at the end of the night.
3. Affordable Shows
At any moment downtown you can catch concerts and theater shows for a reasonable price. The National Theater offers short performances Tuesdays at noon and Thursdays at 5 for under $8 a person. International acts perform at the National Stadium and Teatro Melico Salazar for usually much less than a ticket in the US or Europe. If you speak Spanish there are dozens of small theaters for live performance and stand-up comedy such as on the Teatro Urbano on the south side of the Plaza de la Democracia. Club Vertigo, El Lobo Estepario, Latino Rock, Steinvorth and Hoxton are also great for live music and DJs.
4. Microbrew Beers
It has been an uphill battle for small brewers to bring beer to the local market between fighting the monopoly beer company La Cervecería and getting Ticos to try something new. Finally, gastropubs are opening and featuring these brewers. An entrepreneur just hosted the first Oktoberfest and this year saw the second annual beer tasting festival. Our food tour gets you 10% off a beer tasting sampler at one of the new gastropubs.
5. Century-old Architecture
Downtown neighborhoods continue to clean up and many historic sites have experienced some form of restoration. A stroll through many streets in the immediate center and Barrio Amon can take you back in time to see the direct European influence and to appreciate the luxuries people had in such a small pueblo.
6. Green Fashion Design
Downtown boutiques display costa ricans' environmental conscienceness via fashion design with recycled fabrics and materials. Tienda Eñe always provides a look at the newest trends in this field.
7. La Sabana City Park
Originally the airport, this city park, now swallowed by urban sprawl, provides a green escape from the noisy city streets. One can run on the marked trails, speed skate on the rink, swim at the public pool or visit the free art history museum on the eastern end. On the weekends you can people watch or join others in pic- up soccer games or sponsored aerobic dance classes.
8. Street Art
Growing as a popular art form, incredible graffiti murals decorate different areas of the city. A new program is even commissioning artists to paint the metal doors of downtown shops, turning ugly security panels into visual stories of San Jose. Works still exist from the Transitarte festival held 2 years ago at the Legistlative Assembly.
9. Free Festivals
At almost any time of year one can find a free festival happening downtown. Every Sat. except the Christmas holiday season you can visit Parque Morazan and Parque Espana for free dance and art classes, and catch concerts. December to April are host to Topes, Festival of Lights, Rock el Farolito, FIA and Transitarte.
10. Day Trip Hub
San José is centrally located in the country and if you have 5 or less days it might be easiest to base yourself in the city and take day trips out to volcanoes, birding, hiking, rafting and beaches. On a side note, we think the Arenal Volcano and Monteverde are two places to stay overnight. Many agencies sell these as a 1 day trip but it's 4-6 hours each way. For closer destinations see our recommendations.
Brunching, a favorite activity amongst many expats and travelers has been difficult to accomplish in downtown San Jose.
Aside from the occasional breakfast buffets inside hotels, you'd come up with nothing more than the traditional gallo pinto available on morning menus.
Recently, however, two restaurants are taking the plunge to open on Saturdays for mostly brunch hours. And the good news you can leave full for a reasonable amount of money.
Jardín del Parque, situated on the northeast corner of Parque Nacional is now open from 12 p.m. - 4 p.m. on Satudrdays.
This is a fantastic vegetarian restaurant with a combination of breakfast and lunch menu options on Saturdays. Fruit parfaits, egg skillets and homemade pancakes with homemade jams will make for a nice first meal of the day. They do not have a liquor license however so you'll have to hold on the mimosas. Prices range from $5 - $10.
Restaurante Kalu, a restaurant and art gallery with a delightful eclectic menu is opening its doors 8 a.m. - 11:30 only for brunch, changing to a regular menu at noon, which kind of misses the point of leisurely brunch hours but at least it's a start for greater Saturday breakfast options.
Kalu has chosen to provide an extensive and creative menu with only breakfast dishes. One can choose from homemade chocolate bread pancakes to homemade bread topped with egg and toppings of your choice. We had the smoked salmon (another hard to find dish) which was well prepared but would have been wonderful with capers. Again, prices were reasonable between $5 and $10 for most plates.
The arrival of brunch to downtown San Jose rounds out a variety of options for urban fun. I would recommend the following agenda:
8:30a - 10a Organic Farmer's Market at Feria Verde
11a - 12p Free Yoga in Parque Espana
Brunch before or the farmer's market or after yoga, whatever works well for you!
Remember, if you like a new effort from a business be sure to support it. I guarantee these brunch options won't last long if clients don't stop by!
**This Saturday June 29 you can also participate in a bike ride with Chepe Cletas and showing of The Triplets of Belleville at the Historic Cine Magaly. The ride will start from the National Monument in Parque Nacional at 8:30.
We are very happy to announce an expansion of our services -- city tours in Spanish! Mariel is joining our team as a fluent English and Spanish speaking guide.
Native to Costa Rica, Mariel not only is able to provide city tours in Spanish, but also chat with our clients about life growing up in Costa Rica and wildlife. Get ready to hear some new stories!
Mariel graduated from the program of Biology and Sustainable Development at Universidad Latina, Costa Rica. She then pursued the field of Tropical Forest Conservation and management at the Higher Education and Research Center CATIE, where she became interested in the social aspects of natural resource management.
Her work experiences are broad and include tourism, experiential education, rural conservation programs, research and community-based workshops. She is also passionate about nature, Thai massage, teaching Spanish and reading!
Interested in taking a tour with Mariel? Reserve a San Jose walking tour!
Just a few minutes after our photo tour clients met up with our tour guide yesterday and pleasant introductions were finished, a police alarm sounded and the previously docile crowd of about 50 skaters huddled under the temple in Parque Morazan ran towards the east side of the park to greet thousands of skaters hurdling down Paseo de los Damas.
The flash-mob style event sponsored by Emerica was in action in its route through San Jose, starting in Barrio Aranjuez and ending in Parque de la Paz. The company which specializes in skater apparel brought 5 of the top ten best skate boarders to Costa Rica for a day of WILD IN THE STREETS. Some of the kids are pictured below with the legend Bryan Herman.
Our photographer clients were thrilled with the rare opportunity and consumed with the enthusiasm radiating off the majority teenage skaters. This was the urban equivalent to boating through a Costa Rican pod of dolphins! Because our tours are never larger than 8 people we were able to seize the moment and rework the tour to accommodate the twenty minutes or so it took for our clients to photograph the event. Can't wait to see their finished photos!
Starbucks has completed the purchase of 240 hectares in Costa Rica near Volcán Poas. The company's mission with the farm is to test different growing methods to develop its own coffee and to
The municipality of San Jose will host its tenth Transitarte Festival this weekend. The project aims to bring art into public spaces. All events are free and attendees will find a variety of workshops, concerts and art for sale amongst the downtown parks of Morazan, Jardín del Paz, España and Nacional.
Scheduled highlights include workshops on hydroponics, rock concerts by bands from other central american countries and art for sale by vendors leading current design/fashion trends in Costa Rica.
In addition there will be 2 nights of movies under the stars Fri. and Sat. inside CENAC.
A full schedule of Transitarte is available. We also recommend starting Sat. morning at the Feria Verde in Aranjuez and Sun. morning stretching in yoga at 10:00 a.m. at Downtown Yoga.
A Review of My Ride with Chepe Cletas
From time to time I get to guest write with the English-speaking newspaper The Tico Times.
Last Sunday I had the pleasure to finally participate in a biking event with the 3-year-established Chepe Cletas, a group working on promoting zero transmissions as a way to create a better San Jose.
After being temporarily gifted a bike I took off with this group to see how the group has advanced and to see for myself what changes were happening because of Chepe Cletas and what challenges still exist.
You can read my review of riding a bike in San Jose. Overall, I had a great time socially and look forward to the next event, but I realize we are farther off from a bike-friendly San Jose than I was hoping.
Our walking tours strive to show tourists and expats the history and new advancements that give this city great potential. Chepe Cletas is also working towards the same goal. We want a healthy San Jose, a city people can be proud of at every turn, but it will take the effort of more than a few hundred people to create this change. Please continue to support downtown businesses and activities -- We get the city we deserve.
By Stacey Corrales.