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Getting around San Jose

Public transport

San José has an extensive network of inexpensive city buses. There are no comprehensive bus maps, but any hotel or tour office can point you toward your parada (stop). Pay as you board the bus; coins are appreciated.

Taxis

Official red taxis are safe and inexpensive, but make sure that the meter is running. Avoid unlicensed taxis, which may be cheaper for locals but often take merciless advantage of tourists. Your hotel can call a trusted driver, or try Taxis Guaria (tel: +506 2226 1366).

Driving

Driving in San José is not for the faint-hearted, and most tourists take taxis. Note that addresses are often given using a cryptic system of directionals (eg, 300m east of Roosevelt School) that you’ll probably need a local to decipher anyway. Taxi drivers know where you’re headed. If you do drive, always use guarded parking.

Car hire

You must have a valid driving licence from your home country and, in most cases, a major credit card. You must be at least 21 years of age to hire a car in Costa Rica but many car hire companies only rent to drivers over 25. Local agencies tend to be more flexible.

Local companies include Avis (tel: +506 2293 2222; www.avis.co.cr), Budget (tel: +506 2436 2007; www.budget.co.cr), Hertz (tel: +506 2221 1818; www.hertzcostarica.com) and Adobe (tel: +506 2542 4800; www.adobecar.com).

Bicycle hire

While bicycle rental and tours are common elsewhere in Costa Rica, San José’s chaotic traffic makes urban biking dangerous. Hotels and tour offices can help locate rental bikes if you’re determined.

While cycling in the city itself is a challenge, a glance into the green, volcanic mountains around town is a tad more tempting. Bike CR (www.bikecr.com) offer customised day trips and multiple day treks around the region on top quality mountain bikes. Excursions can be combined with other outdoor adventure as well, such as rafting, volcano climbing, and zip-line canopy tours.

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Featured Hotels

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Marriott San José

Though more international luxury hotels in San José are opening, this venerable five-star resort, wrapped in lush gardens and coffee plantations just 7km (four miles) from the city centre is still one of the best. The flawless Spanish colonial theme includes wonderful antique furnishings and a tiny, Mission-style Catholic chapel onsite. Guests enjoy modern amenities, however, such as several pools, fine dining restaurants, flawless rooms, spa treatments, and more.

Xandari Resort & Spa

Overlooking the international airport from the jungled slopes of Poás Volcano is remarkable Xandari Resort. Created by an artist and architect the spacious modern award-winning suites are an exercise in stylish luxury. Elaborately landscaped sculpture-strewn gardens surround the swimming pools but give way to wilder rainforest with trails past several waterfalls. Enjoy the view over the sparkling Central Valley night from your private patio or at the good restaurant worth a visit even if you can’t stay.

Hotel 1492

This 10-room gem among boutique hotels is about ten minutes east of downtown, on a pleasant residential side street. The original home was handcrafted over four decades by its artistic original owner, Amalia Jimenez Volio. Her eye-catching Portuguese tiles, original mosaics, murals, and sculptures decorate the living areas and soothing interior gardens, a nice compliment to the hotel's rather retro furnishings. Amenities include Wi-Fi.

Hotel Milvia

About 3km (1.8 miles) east of downtown San José, but connected by convenient bus service, is the university town of San Pedro. Tucked away on a quiet side street, you’ll find this sunny, immaculate B&B, with lovely gardens, big balconies, and cheerful common areas decorated in outstanding paintings and sculptures. Sleek lines and bright colours give the 90-year-old former plantation house a clean European feel, and breakfast is outstanding.

Hotel Aranjuez

Hidden away in Barrio Aranjuez, a historic residential neighbourhood about 15 minutes from downtown on foot (take taxis at night) is San José’s best bargain. The rambling, old structure has relaxed sitting areas, polished wooden rooms ranging from basic to almost palatial, and wonderful, shady gardens you could easily get lost in. Make reservations in advance, particularly for the cheaper rooms, as the hotel is popular with Costa Ricans.

Hostel Bekuo

This festive, mosaic-tiled hostel is in Barrio Los Yoses, located about halfway between downtown San José and San Pedro’s student nightlife district, Calle de la Amargura. A dozen other great bars, clubs, and restaurants are within stumbling distance. The simple spot has lots of tourist information, Wi-Fi, movies, open kitchen, a game room, and nice gardens out back, making it a fine place to enjoy San José.