San José isn’t a huge city, but it’s not small enough to walk around in a day. If you want to get the most out of your visit, you might want to employ a few different methods of transportation.
The adventurous sort might consider renting a bike to get around San José. Although you’ll need to be careful on the roads, as there are very few designated bike lanes, cycling can be a great way to see the city. Many locals get around strictly by bicycle, especially since San José starting limiting driving in the city to help alleviate the traffic problems. We caution only expert bike riders to try this and definitely wear all safetly gear as drivers have little respect for cyclists.
Cycling as a sport is very popular in Costa Rica, so if you’re looking to go outside of the city it’s an amazing way to visit some of the further away sights. For example, there is a fantastic 4-5 hour ride up to Poas Volcano. You can rent a bike (and get connected with all the cycling information you’ll need) from companies like BiciRent Costa Rica or Costa Rica Cycling.
If you’re staying in or near downtown, walking is the best way to see most of the nearby things to do in San Jose.
The Jade Museum, Gold Museum, Central Market, National & Morazán parks, the Antigua Aduana, the National Museum the colonial architecture of Barrio Amón, the restaurants of Barrio Escalante and the bars of La California are all within walking distance of the each other - as long as you’ve got a decent pair of walking shoes.
Walking during the daytime in San José is pretty safe, so it’s a good way to get in some sightseeing and exercise at the same time. There aren’t too many hills in the downtown region, and you’ll get to see some cool street art along the way.
Obviously we support a walking tour as one of the best things to do for San Jose sightseeing.
Buses & Trains
The city bus system in San José is very complete, and once you’ve gotten the hang of the routes you can get almost anywhere. For destinations outside of San Jose there are usually bus stations where you can wait and buy tickets.
For the buses that take you shorter distances within the city, it will be trickier because they are located at random spots on a sidewalk, possibly marked with a sign. We recommend this only for people who have more time in the city---time to get on the wrong bus and get lost to be exact because it's inevitable. The best way to figure out how to get where you’re going is to ask people at the bus stop. Bus fare costs between 90 cents and a dollar forty (460-820 colones)
There is commuter rail service mostly during rush hours to: Cartago, Belen, Alajuela and Heredia. Routes and schedules can be viewed at Incofer. Rates vary from about 1000 - 1500 colones.
A taxi or an Uber only costs a few dollars, so if you’re really having trouble figuring out a route it might be worth a little bit of extra money just to grab a cab.
Taxis are plentiful in San José and are a good way to get around the city, especially at night. Official taxis are red with yellow triangles on the side panels, and are relatively safe. They also aren’t too expensive, with a 5km (10 min) ride costing about $7 USD.
Unfortunately it’s not uncommon for tourists to get ripped off by taxi drivers who pretend their meter isn’t working or take the long way round. When you get in the cab, insist that the driver start (or restart) the meter - called la maria. If you’re riding alone, the driver may try to pick up another fare. If he does try this, politely ask him not to.
Ride share services like Uber are popular in San José. Whatever you feel about the company ideologically, Uber is a safe and simple way to get around the city. As your route is pre-determined, you won’t have to worry about getting overcharged or taken a round-about route so you’ll pay more. There are a fair amount of drivers and the city is small enough you won’t be left waiting for a ride for very long. It’s safe, as you don’t need to exchange cash with the driver, and very economical - a 6 km ride (20 minute) cost just over 2000 Colones.
Driving in Costa Rica is not for everyone. In San José, there are a lot of one way streets, creative driving maneuvers and parking difficulties. Be mindful of rush-hours (6a.m - 9a.m., 4p.m. - 7p.m.) as traffic can and most probably come to a standstill and take hours to cross maybe 5 - 15 miles of distance.
If you’re staying downtown or nearby, it’s important to have secure parking overnight, as car theft or break-ins do happen.
Ticos tend to drive fast and the normal rules of the road may not always be followed, but for an alert driver it’s not impossible. However, with so many options for transportation inside of the city, you’ll enjoy your trip more without the hassle of a car to take care of.
We recommend picking up your car rental when you’re on your way out of town.
By Stacey Auch.