San Jose Introduction Walk (Self Guided), San Jose

San Jose enjoys secluded location in the Central Valley of Costa Rica with its skyline dominated by the majestic Talamanca Mountains, hugging the city to the south, and a volcano ridge to the north. Local architecture reflects strong Spanish colonial influence manifested in places like Catedral Metropolitana in Calle Central, and the ornate, neoclassical National Theater presiding over downtown’s Plaza de la Cultura. Near the plaza stands the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum featuring a unique collection of artifacts. These and other popular sights of San Jose make up this orientation walk.
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San Jose Introduction Walk Map

Guide Name: San Jose Introduction Walk
Guide Location: Costa Rica » San Jose (See other walking tours in San Jose)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 15
Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.3 Km or 2.7 Miles
Author: john
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Plaza de la Cultura
  • Correo Central
  • Mercado Central
  • Iglesia de la Merced
  • Templo Biblico
  • Parque Central
  • Catedral Metropolitana
  • Teatro Nacional
  • Pre-Columbian Gold Museum (Museum's Gift Shop)
  • Mercado Municipal de Artesania
  • Avenida Central
  • Museo del Jade
  • Edificio Metalico
  • Centro Nacional de la Cultura (CENAC)
  • Parque Nacional
Plaza de la Cultura

1) Plaza de la Cultura (must see)

The Plaza de la Cultura is a lively downtown square where the locals hang out, show off their musical skills, have their art on display, or feed the pigeons. It is surrounded by shopping and housing some of the major museums. You can visit many little vendors and even see some street entertainers. It is also a favorite spot in town among locals for marimba bands, jugglers, clowns, and the like. There is a lot of food to be eaten, as well as places to buy souvenirs. If you're lucky there will be a dance or music performance going on.

The Teatro Nacional is to be found on the southern end of the plaza. You can also visit the Museo del Oro Precolumbino here. The Grand Hotel of Costa Rica is on the western side.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Correo Central

2) Correo Central

The Correo Central is the old historic Central Post Office of San Jose, Costa Rica. The neat thing is that it is still in full operation today. It was first opened in 1917, though the overall architectural design of the building would suggest that it is much older.

On the first floor of the building there is a Stamp Museum that is pretty neat, especially seeing as how the hobby of stamp collecting is very popular in the country. You can get classic examples from the history of the country here. Plus, how often do you see a stamp museum in an operating post office? The area is open Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. It is also open 8:00 a.m. until noon on Saturdays. Admission to the museum is free, since it is part of the post office.

There is a small park that is located right next to the building, which is a great spot to stop and rest. Some of the most beautiful fig trees in the country are located here, and provide a peaceful resting place for the wearing traveler.
Mercado Central

3) Mercado Central (must see)

The Mercado Central is a fun market spot in the center of San José. The market encompasses one entire block and is a long time fixture of the area having been started in 1880. You will find stall after stall of almost anything you can think of purchasing.

The isles are narrow and can become very crowded at times, but the atmosphere is still delightful. If you are staying in San José and have cooking facilities, a trip here is a must. There are fresh fish, fresh flowers, and delicious freshly ground coffee to purchase along with local bread, fruits and vegetables. Add a nice beer, and you have prepared an incredible meal from local products. If you need a great souvenir to take home, how about some coffee beans? Be sure to take some of the coffee home for yourself as well as any coffee aficionados on your list. The best advice is to buy whole beans and grind them yourself as the local grind is too fine for most coffee pots. There are also freshly prepared meals here for those who would rather sightsee and shop than cook.

The market is open from dawn to dusk daily. Make sure to have a map of the surrounding area with you in the market, as it is very congested and it is easy to get lost while wandering and exit from a totally different spot from where you entered the marketplace. Remember to keep track of your valuables, too.

Give the traditional ice cream flavor a try at the Lolo Mora shop!
Otherwise, eat where you see the most locals, as they know where the best foods are.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 6:30am-5:45pm
Iglesia de la Merced

4) Iglesia de la Merced (must see)

The Iglesia de la Merced is one of the most beautiful churches to be found in San Jose. It is one of the oldest standing churches in town also. The tall rising tower of the location can be seen all over town. The overall influence is of German and neo-Gothic architecture and it is one of the most recognizable buildings in San José.

You will want to go in and see the stained glass windows, as they are some of the most beautiful in town. There is also a stunning wooden ceiling here, which is ornately carved. The altar area is also quite well done is design, so take a moment to go in, if you get a chance.

The location is also well known for the park located next door. It is a local hangout for the Nicaraguan people of the city. There is also a giant stone sphere located here which is of local interest. The sphere dates back to the very beginnings of the country and is as historic as any Mayan or Aztec piece to be found in the neighboring countries surrounding Costa Rica. The spheres remain a mystery because no one is for certain what they mean. They are also a bit of a mystery because they are perfectly round, and no one knows how that was accomplished so long ago.

Be aware that the adjacent park is not a good area to be in the late afternoon or after dark.
Templo Biblico

5) Templo Biblico

The Templo Biblico is one of the architectural masterpieces of San Jose. The history of this pink-cream building starts in the 1920s. It’s a beautiful place that welcomes every visitor and where everyone can enjoy the blessing of the Costa Rican padres.
Parque Central

6) Parque Central

The Parque Central (The Central Park) is a popular park in the down town of San Jose. It features a lot of relaxing places and green spots, but it is also the site for many local events and big holiday celebrations. Also this lovely park is a favourite of local artists and street vendors.
Catedral Metropolitana

7) Catedral Metropolitana (must see)

The Metropolitan Cathedral of San Jose is located on Calle Central and 2nd Avenue in the capital city of San Jose, Costa Rica. It was built in 1802, and has been the seat of the Catholic people of the city since. Sadly, in the early 1800s, the location was damaged by an earthquake. In 1871, it was rebuilt into the current structure that stands today.

The new center of worship combines Greek Orthodox, Neo-Classical, and Baroque styles of architecture together in a way that honors the old and new portions of the church. The Doric style pilasters and neo-classical pediment with steeples located on the side of the building are a fine example of how that melding of architectural styles happened.

You will want to pay a visit to the inside of this church also. The finely tiled Colonial floors and stainless windows are quite lovely. Various biblical themes adorn the windows. You will also want to check out the wooden Cherubs and figure of Christ at the altar.

In 1983, the church received a special visit from Pope John Paul II. You will be able to see a marble statue of him standing guard over the garden on the building's north side. Two former archbishops, as well as a Costa Rican President are buried in the basement of the building.

Although not technically part of the cathedral complex, a small statue of Holocaust victim Anne Frank graces the pedestrian mall on the building's south side. It was donated by the Embassy of the Netherlands.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 6am-7:30pm; Sun: 6am-9pm
Teatro Nacional

8) Teatro Nacional (must see)

Teatro Nacional is the national theater of Costa Rica. You will find it in the central section of town. This national treasure was started in 1891 with the construction of the building that would house the company. The first theatrical presentation took place in October of 1897, when Wolfgang von Goethe’s “Faust” debuted to the delight of the crowd there.

The glory days of the theater came during the time when coffee exports for the country were at their best. There were many good patrons of the arts, and therefore the quality of the performers could not be beaten. At one point, there was also a tax on coffee dedicated to the arts. That kind of free-flowing money also shows in the design of the building that houses the company. If you ask any local, the Teatro Nacional is considered the most historic structures in all of San Jose. It is well known for lavish furnishings and a beautiful, rich looking interior that was designed to rival the great theaters of Europe.

In the front of the theater is a statue of Calderon de la Barca and Ludwig van Beethoven, which are worth taking a moment to check out. The same statues are featured on some of the country's paper money. The theater regularly performs several times a week, so you may want to catch a performance while in San Jose.

If you go on the hour, ask for the free English tour included in the ticket price to learn a bit of history and details about the place. Otherwise, without showing a ticket, you can go on a circa 40-50min paid tour (also on the hour), which is time and money well spent.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-5pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
Pre-Columbian Gold Museum (Museum's Gift Shop)

9) Pre-Columbian Gold Museum (Museum's Gift Shop)

What to buy here: Costa Rican Indigenous Art | Indigenous Textiles | Pre-Colombian Jewelry |

Jewelry - Forming part of Costa Rica’s dynamic arts scene are jewelry designers working in gold, silver, glass, semi-precious stones, clay and recyclable materials. Boutique shops throughout San José sell a variety of unique designs. Prices range from $10 to the hundreds. The gift shop in the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum sells Pre-Columbian replicas and modern designs in gold (14K solid and 24K plated) and silver (950). The jewelry is designed and made by artists producing pieces exclusively for the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum ( or 506-2243-4214).
Mercado Municipal de Artesania

10) Mercado Municipal de Artesania

The Mercado Municipal de Artesanía (The Municipal Market of Handcrafts) is a trendy market for cottage industry products in San Jose. This market has a fantastic display of local handicrafts and artwork at bargain prices. It also exhibits and sells paintings, sculptures, wood works, ceramics, textiles and other articles.
Avenida Central

11) Avenida Central

The Avenida Central is a pedestrian mall where all sorts of interesting shopping can be found. Even if you are not a huge shopping fan, the walk alone down the avenue, without the hustle and bustle of traffic all around, is a nice change. For those who do like to shop, this area is full of rather inexpensive clothing and souvenirs to take home. Depending on a day, there may also be street vendors and folks selling non-local items. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so just enjoy the outing.

A word of caution however, there may be products for sale that are not friendly to the planet. Please be sensitive to the fact that endangered species may be used in products that are for sale here. While international laws are very specific, enforcement in the shops can be very lenient. Enough said, however, do be sure to bring a camera with you, as along the route, there are several colorful sculptures of cows which do make great Earth friendly photos.

The market is open from approximately 8 am to 6 pm every day except Sunday. Some stores are closed for the lunch hour, others are not, so the best advice is to go early and thus have the opportunity to explore the shops that you want to before they close for lunch.
Museo del Jade

12) Museo del Jade (must see)

Museo del Jade is an archeological museum in San Jose, Costa Rica. It is associated with Marco Fidel Tristan Castro and can be found at Calle 9 and Avenue 7 in the National Institute of Insurance (INS) building. It is one of the few office towers in town and is situated next to Parque Espagna. It was founded in 1977 by the famous man who started the INS.

The location features one of the best collections of pre-Columbian artifacts you would ever want to see. You can get a chance to see real stone tables from the period, as well as ceramics, ceremonial heads, adzes, and other decorative pieces from 500 BC to 800 AD.

You will also want to take a moment and visit the Jade Room located in the building. It displays translucent jade pendants, which is quite something to see. The 11th-floor museum lobby also contains a sculpture by José Sancho, a white marble, called Plenitude, which is one of the museum's prized possessions.

Why You Should Visit:
One of the only two serious jade museums in the world, with an impressive collection size/quality.
The audiovisuals that complement the written information makes it more stimulating and insightful.
You can go to the soda for a snack if you're hungry, or browse to the gift store near the main entrance.

After seeing the small exhibit on the 1st floor, try going to the top and working your way down.
Lunch or dinner can also be had at the Chinese restaurant in front (Wong's).

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-5pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
Edificio Metalico

13) Edificio Metalico (must see)

The Edificio Metálico (The Metalic Building) is a marvelous piece of architecture located next to the Morazan Parque. The Metallic Building was made in Belgium and then transported and assembled in San Jose in 1896. This kind of architecture is unique in Costa Rica and is said to have been inspired by the Eiffel Tower.

Why You Should Visit:
One of the most eye-catching school buildings you'll see, and one of the reference points of the city center.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 7am-5pm
Centro Nacional de la Cultura (CENAC)

14) Centro Nacional de la Cultura (CENAC) (must see)

This National Center for Arts and Culture is one of the most impressive venues in town. It takes up a whole city block and is crammed full of wonderful things to see. It is located in the building that used to house the National Liquor Factory of San Jose, Costa Rica. Now, as well as housing several performing arts centers and the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, it also acts as the offices for the Cultural Ministry of the country.

This museum houses some of the finest contemporary art from the best of Costa Rican artists. Yet, some of the permanent collection includes the works of Jose Cuevas and Oswaldo Guayasamin from Equador, so you will not just find the art of the country here.

The Centro Nacional de Arte y Cultura is open to the public Monday through Saturday from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Seniors and children under the age of 11 can get in for free. It will be a hard deal to beat, as you will be able to spend hours here learning about the art and culture of this exotic Central American country.

Check what the museum is showing before you go, as expositions change frequently, but you will hardly regret it since this is by far one of the museums that you should know if you are in San José.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sat: 9:30am-5pm
Parque Nacional

15) Parque Nacional (must see)

This is the National Park of Costa Rica, located in the downtown section of Barrio La Soledad. It is full of wonderful tropical trees and exotic plants from the country. It is also quite popular among locals, as they often come here to eat lunch, read newspapers, and allow their children a safe place to play.

You will also want to check out the big bronze monument that rests in the park. It depicts the battle of Central America against William Walker, who tried to invade the area in 1856. Costa Rica took on a primary role in that five-country battle, as prominently displayed in the monument erected in 1895. It was designed by Louis Carrier Belleuse, who studied under Rodin at one time. For people visiting from the U.S., seeing the monument and the history it displays may be quite a shock, as the country fought against Americans of the time.

Why You Should Visit:
As some of the park areas in San Jose are covered by paving slabs, this one is great to have grass. The sculptures are fun, too, and the koi pond adds further interest.
The park has many different species of flora, places to sit, and seems to be a very safe place during the daylight hours.

Walking Tours in San Jose, Costa Rica

Create Your Own Walk in San Jose

Create Your Own Walk in San Jose

Creating your own self-guided walk in San Jose is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Souvenir Shopping

Souvenir Shopping

It would be a pity to leave San Jose without having explored its specialty shops and bringing home something truly original. We've compiled a list of gifts and souvenirs, which are unique to San Jose, that a visitor might like to purchase to reflect their visit.

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.8 Km or 1.7 Miles
Museums Tour

Museums Tour

Although San José is one of the youngest capital cities in Latin America, its museums display a huge collection of traditional and pre-Columbian art. This walking tour should give you the perfect opportunity to explore the museums in the city and to familiarize yourself with its culture.

Tour Duration: 4 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 8.5 Km or 5.3 Miles
Paseo Colon Tour

Paseo Colon Tour

The Paseo Colon is a modern area in San Jose where you will find most of the business centers and foreign embassies, as well as other architectural highlights and tourist attractions. At the end of Paseo Colon is Sabana Park, which stands out among the local metropolitan communities because of its proximity to the business district and its large area dedicated to recreation. Take this tour to...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.7 Km or 3.5 Miles
San Jose's Historical Churches

San Jose's Historical Churches

San Jose's churches are vivid examples of historical and architectural value. Whether you are a keen church goer or simply interested in places of spirituality from either architectural or historical standpoints, this tour will take you to the most important religious sites of the city.

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.9 Km or 3 Miles
Shopping Tour in San Jose

Shopping Tour in San Jose

Shopping in San Jose is undeniably a fun experience, with a large selection of downtown department stores, traditional marketplaces and souvenir shops selling handicrafts. So if you are looking for something authentic, original and made in Costa Rica, then take this tour to visit some of the acclaimed shopping venues of San Jose.

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.5 Km or 0.9 Miles
Barrio Amon Tour in San Jose

Barrio Amon Tour in San Jose

The Bario Amon represents one the oldest neighborhoods in San Jose. Designed by a Frenchman, Amon Fasileau, it grew to be a beautiful area with a rich architectural history. Take this walking tour to appreciate the splendor of this neighborhood.

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 0.9 Km or 0.6 Miles

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip

17 Uniquely Costa Rican Things to Buy in San Jose

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