San José & the Central Valley Holidays

Costa Rica’s fast-paced and cosmopolitan capital, San José, sits at the heart of the Central Valley, a vast region with mist-covered mountains, colourfully exotic birdlife, and thrilling outdoor experiences.

San José is Costa Rica’s capital and one of Central America’s most exhilarating cities. While it strikingly juxtaposes the glorious cloud forests and beautiful beaches that Costa Rica is famous for, the urban highlights of San José deserve your time too. Explore historic neighbourhoods that host fascinating museums that tell the story of Costa Rica before taking a circuit around a contemporary art gallery. Find a café and order a coffee expertly created with local beans (bound to be one of the finest you’ll ever try), best enjoyed with a spot of people-watching as Costa Rican city life unfolds.

Come evening, make tracks to the Barrio Escalante neighbourhood to feast on local dishes with ingredients from local farms. Then an array of nightlife awaits, from magnificent performing arts, such as concerts by the National Symphony Orchestra, to the lively jazz clubs where you can dance the night away.

Or, if you can’t wait to get stuck into Costa Rica’s beautiful countryside, San José is the gateway to the hills and the pura vida – the easy-going way of life the nation is known for. Our Costa Rica experts know the region well and are on hand to create your perfect holiday itinerary in San José and beyond.

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San José & the Central Valley Hotels

Our recommendations for the best places to stay in San José & the Central Valley

El Silencio Lodge & Spa

A Relais & Château-run retreat in a 500-acre reserve in Costa Rica’s Central Highlands.

Xandari Resort & Spa

An eclectically designed, vibrant all-villa resort set in the hills overlooking the Central Valle...

Grano de Oro

Set on the quieter side of San José, this Victorian mansion is just a 15-minute drive to the city...

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Highlights of San José

A half-day walking tour through San José over a busy afternoon offers a glimpse into local life and reveals the city’s architectural and cultural highlights. You’ll be met at your hotel and head to La Merced Church, a striking, neo-Gothic church and celebrated city icon. Experience the energy of the central pedestrian zone on the way to San José’s busy Central Market, where you’ll catch the aromas of herbs and fruit being sold alongside clothes and leather goods. A stop at the National Theatre follows — an architectural beauty of Costa Rica with a neo-Classical façade and impressive marble lobby. Next, the Gold Museum provides a fascinating insight into the pre-Columbian history of Costa Rica in the atmospheric bank vaults. You’ll pass through Democracy Square and the parliament building on the way to the National Museum, where you can admire views over San José from the courtyard. At the Atlantic Rail Station, you’ll see a blend of Victorian, Baroque, and neo-Classical styles before moving on to San José’s Spanish Park for a spot of shade. You’ll see the Metallic School next, said to have inspired Paris’ Eiffel Tower, before your tour concludes at the leafy Morazán Park and you return to your hotel.

• Departs Monday to Saturday from San José
• Operates year-round
• Private experience

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Discover Irazú Volcano

Visit the largest, highest active volcano in Costa Rica on a morning tour from San José. The journey takes a couple of hours from San José, and on the way, you’ll pass through small villages in the Central Valley before joining the impressive mountain road for the drive up the Irazú Volcano mountainside. The top of the volcano is 3,432m above sea level, and on a clear day, you’ll have a spectacular view of the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. The altitude of the volcano means it can be windy and chilly, so take some extra layers — worth it for the incredible views. You’ll descend to Cartago, stopping to see an earthquake-ravaged church and learn a little about the town’s history, with time to admire the Byzantine style of the Basilica before returning to your hotel.

• Daily departures from San José
• Operates year-round
• Private experience

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San José by Night

Explore San José by night, touring local markets and visiting cultural and architectural icons before settling down for a local dinner with wine. Your tour begins at the colourful Central Market, strolling with your local guide and learning how the roots, herbs, and fruit are used in local dishes. After the market, you’ll venture along Central Avenue, learning about the city's history and hearing anecdotes from your guide, stopping to appreciate one of the most architecturally beautiful buildings in San José — the National Theatre. The walk continues through Morazán Park to see the beautiful Metallic Building, then to Spanish Park for a view of the Yellow House that houses the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In this neighbourhood, there are plenty of examples of architecture from the 1800s, including the National Distillery, Paseo de Las Damas, and the Supreme Court of Elections. The walking tour concludes with a visit to an artisan market. The rest of the evening is spent at a local restaurant enjoying a delicious meal with your group with carefully selected wines.

• Departs Monday to Saturday from San José
• Operates year-round
• Group experience

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Get to know San Jose & the Central Valley those important practicalities when planning your perfect holiday.


GMT -6 hours


Costa Rican Colón


11 hours


Christianity (majority Roman Catholic)


Spanish; five indigenous languages are also spoken

Where is San José?
Costa Rica is part of the Central America isthmus with both Atlantic and Pacific Ocean coastlines. It borders Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south, with the capital city, San Jose, centrally positioned and part of the country’s wider Central Valley region.

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History & culture of San José
What was once little Villa Nueva when it was first settled in the early 1700s eventually became the sprawling San José metropolis we know today. It boomed in the Spanish colonial era when it was a centre of tobacco, then as the decades passed, it became an epicentre of coffee production. This industry was Costa Rica’s primary source of income through the 19th century.

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Thanks to its extraordinary biodiversity, Costa Rica is famous for exotic wildlife, including tapir, capuchin monkeys, ocelots, and an incredible array of reptiles. While the native scarlet macaws are often spotted in the coastal rainforest, The Central Valley has more than its fair share of beautiful birdlife, including colourful and delicate hummingbirds and the brightly plumed resplendent quetzal.

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Food & drink
Don’t leave San José without heading to the Barrio Escalante neighbourhood, the city’s unofficial foodie centre with dozens of restaurants, cafes, and bars. The country’s jungle pantry features on the menus here, including casodos featuring rice and beans and bocas — Costa Rican bar snacks. And, of course, it would be remiss to visit Costa Rica and not sample the homegrown coffee and chocolate.

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Getting around
San José is small and safe enough to explore on foot, which helps avoid busy traffic. When you book a Costa Rica holiday with Kuoni, you’ll get private transfers to your hotels, whether you opt for something in the hills or in San José itself.

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