What to Do on a Budget in San José, Costa Rica
People will tell you to spend as little time in San José as possible while visiting Costa Rica, and they’re not wrong. It’s not a beach or a rain forest or a mountain, so yeah, it’s not going to beat the other parts of your trip. But if you do find yourself with a spare afternoon in the capital, try to make it a Saturday. That’s when it seems the entire city comes out to shop for fresh vegetables, relax in the parks, and play board games in the plazas. Every time I go walking in San José on a Saturday, I’m happy I live nearby.
Another plus is that you don’t have to spend a whole lot of money to feel that you’ve done something worthwhile in Chepe, as Ticos call their capital city. Walking through the bustling markets, hanging out with clowns and jugglers in Parque Morazán, and people watching by the National Theater are all gratis.
Although there are a few good museums in San José, I recommend doing a tour of the National Museum above all else. Its neoclassical architecture is spectacular, its history and design are fascinating, and the coffee drinks at the café are deliciously alcoholic. Performances in the space vary in quality, but the National Symphonic Orchestra concerts are well worth the price of admission.
On Saturdays, the outdoor recreation complex in Barrio Aranjuez hosts Feria Verde, a mostly organic market attended by small-scale farmers from all over Costa Rica. The patrons—who look like they just left Burning Man—wander the booths then head to the breakfast area, which features fresh coffee, pastries, and egg dishes. Don’t miss the smoked and cured trout stall.
This expansive downtown market lies in the heart of the city, between Central and First avenues and 6th and 8th streets. Since the late 1800s, salesmen have been hawking everything from curry powder to snakeskin boots to children’s underwear to ostensible love potions. The goods here are cheap, as are the small, traditional restaurant stalls that serve up typical Costa Rican dishes.
Enamorate de tu Ciudad
Another Saturday affair, this weekly festival takes place in Parque Morazán and Parque España in downtown San José. It involves clowns, chessboards, parkour, skateboarding, ping-pong, art-making, and typical food. The event is very family-friendly and the name means Fall in Love With Your City, which is totally appropriate.
San José’s largest park is an ideal place for a walk, especially on weekends, although not after dark. Although it’s not as impressive as say, Central Park in New York or Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Sabana does offer an artificial lake, a shooting range, several sports fields, and a track where people run and roller skate.