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World Travel Guide > Guides > North America > Costa Rica > San Jose

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Travel to San Jose

Flying to San Jose

National airline Avianca Costa Rica operate 10 international routes out of Juan Santamaría International Airport, including Los Angeles, Toronto and New York. British Airways run direct flights to San José from London Gatwick. Otherwise, there are indirect flights from the UK with multiple airlines including American Airlines (via Miami), Iberia (via Madrid) and United (via Newark or Houston). If you’re looking for cheap flights, the best time to travel is from May to mid-November during the winter. September to October, when rainfall is heaviest, is particularly good for cheap flights to San José.

Flight times

From London - 11 hours 30 minutes or 14 hours with stopover; New York - 5 hours 30 minutes; Los Angeles  - 6 hours; Toronto - 5 hours 30 minutes; Sydney  - 22 hours (including stopover).

Travel by road

While San José’s roads don’t require a 4-wheel drive car, potholes, narrow one-way streets, confusing traffic circles, and lack of signs challenge even the best drivers. Road rules, when followed, are similar to the USA and EU.

Cars drive on the right. The minimum driving age is 18. In the city, the speed limit is usually 40kph (25mph), while freeways have signed speed limits of up to 90kph (56mph).

Emergency breakdown services

Most car hire companies offer assistance. For the Transit Police, call +506 2222 9330. For general emergency services, call 911 or 112.

Routes

San José lies at the crossroads of the country. The Panamerican Freeway becomes the city’s major east-west artery, called Paseo Colón and Calle Central. East of the city, it becomes Highway 2 south to Panama. To the north, the highway passes Guanacaste en route to Nicaragua.

New Highway 239 connects the capital to Jacó and the central Pacific beaches, while Highway 141 heads north to La Fortuna and Arenal. Take Highway 32 west from Barrio Amón to the Caribbean coast.

Coaches

Several international bus lines serve the Central American capitals and Mexican border, including Ticabus (tel: +506 2221 0006; www.ticabus.com) and Transnica (tel: +506 2223 4242; transnica.com). Buy tickets in advance, in person, with your passport. International buses are air-conditioned, with reclining seats and Hollywood blockbuster movies.

Most domestic buses leave from the chaotic Coca Cola Bus Terminal (Avenida 1 and Calle 16). The neighbourhood is not safe; take taxis and keep your belongings secure.

Buses to the Caribbean leave from Terminal Atlantico del Norte (Avenida 12 and Calle 7). Other buses leave from paradas (stops) throughout the city. Ask at your hotel or check The Bus Schedule (www.thebusschedule.com/cr).

Time to city

From Jacó - 1 hour 30 minutes; Quepos (Manuel Antonio) - 2 hours 30 minutes; Golfito - 5 hours; Liberia - 3 hours 30 minutes; Tamarindo - 4 hours; La Fortuna (Arenal) - 3 hours; Limón - 3 hours; Puerto Viejo de Talamanca - 4 hours.

Travel by Rail

Services

Most of Costa Rica’s once extensive railway system, which operated from the 1880s until the 1980s, has fallen into disrepair although this is improving.

Operators

INCOFER (tel: +506 2221 0777; http://incofer.weebly.com) operates inexpensive commuter trains, traversing San José on weekdays. Trains connect San José with Pavas, Belén and Heredia.

Journey times

From Pavas - 1 hour; Heredia - 25 minutes.

Featured Hotels

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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.

Hotel Grano de Oro

The luxurious grand dame of San José’s hotel scene is named for the “Grain of Gold,” an old Tico (Costa Rican) nickname for coffee. Though this world-class boutique hotel offers every modern comfort, the style is that of Costa Rica’s caffeinated heyday, the boom years between the 19th and 20th centuries. The Victorian exterior’s soaring lobby, with a renowned restaurant, serves 34 excellent rooms, each beautifully designed and decorated.

Hotel Posada del Museo

Rising from the hustle and bustle of San José’s political district, this rambling, antique-filled 1928 mansion is a treasure. Accommodations are simple but well decorated, and more expensive rooms are considerably larger, with better views. The polished tropical hardwood construction lends a warm glow to the hotel, but also squeaks a bit at night. Attached Café de la Posada is outstanding, the perfect place for quiche, coffee, and the best people-watching in town.

Hostel Pangea

This popular hostel in the fashionable Barrio Amón district has long been a top stop on the Gringo Trail. Amenities include a swimming pool, rooftop bar, breakfast, internet access, private rooms, and shuttles to well maintained partner hostels all over the country. It’s a great place to meet other travellers and plan your further adventures, and is surrounded by several other cheap San José hotels if it doesn’t suit you.