Surprised in San Jose

Surprised in San Jose Pinterest

San Jose, Costa Rica is worth a visit

San Jose, Costa Rica IS Worth A Visit

As soon as I entered Costa Rica I started hearing it. San Jose? Don’t go there. There’s nothing to do. It’s a total dump. If there’s any possible way you can AVOID San Jose, do it!

Not exactly a glowing review.

This is pretty typical for backpackers on the gringo trail. Capital cities are a general no-go. Too expensive. Too crime ridden. Not enough hostels.

Hey, I get it. I’m a backpacker, too. I appreciate affordability and feeling safe and an abundance of cheap dorm rooms. I considered skipping San Jose like all it’s naysayers told me to.

When I realized, though, that to get from Puerto Viejo to my next destination of Tamarindo would take upwards of 9 hours and I would have to transfer in San Jose anyways, I changed my tune.

I’m very glad I did.

Here are some reasons San Jose, Costa Rica is worth a visit!

TripOn Open House Hostel

I admit, I may not have stayed as long as I did in San Jose (4 days) if it hadn’t been for TripOn.
San Jose, Costa Rica is worth a visit
San Jose, Costa Rica is worth a visit
I arrived after my bus ride from Puerto Viejo and an incredibly expensive taxi ride across town (those other travelers were right on the ‘too expensive’ front), and found myself walking into a sort of paradise as far as hostels go.

TripOn is a converted house, so it immediately feels homey. There’s a pool table, a communal kitchen, a beautiful little courtyard, and a living room with Netflix (!!) What really sealed the deal for me, though, were the dorm rooms. Each bed had it’s own little curtain (Every hostel needs to implement this. It’s a game changer). The bathroom was HUGE (One of them even had a bathtub in it…that didn’t work, unfortunately). And it was CLEAN. Cleaner than I’ve seen any hostel ever.
San Jose, Costa Rica is worth a visit
San Jose, Costa Rica is worth a visit
I put my backpack down, and immediately asked if there was availability to extend my stay from one night to two.
San Jose, Costa Rica is worth a visit
The next morning, after a restful night’s sleep, I woke to the best free breakfast I’ve ever seen at a hostel.
San Jose, Costa Rica is worth a visit
Not only the requisite DIY Pancakes, there was also toast, eggs, cereal, oatmeal, granola, etc…
San Jose, Costa Rica is worth a visit
I stared in wonder. Those veterans who had already been there a few days smiled at me and nodded their heads. “Yeah,” they said, acknowledging the feast.
San Jose, Costa Rica is worth a visit
Quickly I realized that even two nights wouldn’t be enough, and I extended two more.

Modern Amenities

My phone charger broke in San Jose, and Thank God it broke here and nowhere else on this journey through Central America.
San Jose, Costa Rica is worth a visit
San Jose being one of the biggest cities in Central America (besides Panama City, of course), you can find a lot of things here that you won’t be able to find in the rest of the region. IPhone chargers being one of them.
San Jose, Costa Rica is worth a visit
Another bonus, for me, was a movie theatre within walking distance of the hostel!

I love going to see movies back home, so this was a real treat for me. I ended up seeing three movies in my four nights in San Jose. #sorrynotsorry
San Jose, Costa Rica is worth a visit
At $3.78 a pop, with popcorn and a drink being only $5 more (as compared to $14 for a movie and $8 for a small popcorn back in the States), I didn’t feel the least bit guilty about seeing three movies. Not even when two out of the three movies I chose to see were “How To Be Single” and “Deadpool.” Sometimes you have to go guilty pleasure, my friends.
San Jose, Costa Rica is worth a visit
Seeing a movie in a foreign country is also a cultural experience! For instance, I learned that if you see “The Danish Girl” in Costa Rica, it’s apparently a comedy! (Please watch the trailer to see that this movie is in no way a comedy. But people will giggle at what they’re uncomfortable with. Or straight up hysterically laugh when a character dies. Whichever.)


The first night, I walked all by myself in “scary” San Jose to the Cineplex and back, and felt 100% comfortable.

It’s quite rare for me to feel so comfortable in a new city at night. Part of it had to do with the fact that the area TripOn is located in is one of the nicest neighborhoods in San Jose, Barrio Escalante. The Mayor even lives in this neighborhood!
San Jose, Costa Rica is worth a visit
It’s also a fairly busy part of town, with the mall nearby. And where there aren’t many pedestrians, there are security guards on seemingly every corner.

I know that I can’t paint all of San Jose with the same stroke, but I felt very comfortable as a solo female traveler in this part of the city.

Good Eats

By now, I’m sure you’re aware how important food is to me. And equally important that it taste good.

Well, there were a ton of cool restaurants I found in San Jose that would have fit right in had they popped up in NYC!
San Jose, Costa Rica is worth a visit
There was the cafe, Buhonero, where I got work done and ate a delicious Thai Salad with a juice to wash it all down. And a brownie afterwards, just for good measure.
San Jose, Costa Rica is worth a visit
San Jose, Costa Rica is worth a visit
There was the Vegetarian/Vegan restaurant, Mantras, where I ate a tasty Tofu Bowl and on another day a soup, salad, and lasagna combo.
San Jose, Costa Rica is worth a visit
San Jose, Costa Rica is worth a visit
And one night I treated myself to an Italian meal of pizza AND wine at a place called Il Volpino. Gotta live your life, am I right?
San Jose, Costa Rica is worth a visit
And at the end of my time in San Jose, there were still MORE places that I wanted to check out but didn’t get to.

There was also a Yoga Studio or two in the neighborhood that I passed by, vowed to take a class the next day, and then went to a movie instead. Ah well, you win some you lose some.

Unexpected Friendships

The most important thing I got out of my time in San Jose wasn’t the movies I watched, the meals I ate, or even the hours of Netflix I watched in the hostel common room.

It was the serendipity of meeting two new travel buddies, one of whom I would go on to travel with for the next month!

Upon arriving to San Jose, I only planned to stay one night. When I found it to be a cozy landing pad, I decided to stay a few more days and do some writing. For the first three days I more or less holed myself away in the above cafes and restaurants (or at the movie theater), working and having some “me time” after a pretty hectic first month of travel.
San Jose, Costa Rica is worth a visit
So I wasn’t expecting or even trying to make any friends at TripOn. But when I overheard an Australian girl saying she was heading to San Juan del Sur the next day, I chimed in and said that I was thinking about heading that way myself.

She told me to join her – it would be her 21st birthday and a friend she made in Panama was coming up to celebrate as well. She told me all about how she had already traveled to San Juan del Sur and done a Sunday Funday there, and how in honor of her birthday she would be having a raucous time at that week’s’ Sunday revelry. I was sold.
San Jose, Costa Rica is worth a visit
I came to San Jose with few expectations, besides the warnings of travelers gone before and an underlying desire to prove them all wrong. And prove them wrong I did, if only to myself.

I still hear people talking down on San Jose on my travels, and I’m quick to chime in to give my two cents: that San Jose, Costa Rica is worth a visit and can actually be pretty cool if you give it a chance.

What about you? Are there any cities you’ve traveled to that others have deemed ‘total shit’ that you’ve actually really enjoyed? Tell me in the comments!

Happy Exploring, Wherever You Are!

Like What You See? Pin It!

You may also like


    1. Yeah the hostel was seriously impressive!! I love to go to the movies in different places 🙂 This was just your average multiplex, but I also love finding small independent movie theaters!

    1. Yeah, Amy, you should check it out next time you’re in Costa Rica!! It really deserves more credit than most traveler’s give it! Even people who actually stayed there but didn’t do anything besides sit in the hostel only had bad things to say. It’s not an immediately inviting kind of place, for sure, but if you give it a chance it’s pretty cool!

  1. I have heard good and bad about Costa Rica, but I think unfortunately a lot of bad stigma is attached to countries in Central and South America. I tell people I am going to Europe and its all “Have a nice trip.” I say I am going to Brazil and its all “Watch out you don’t get mugged or wake up with a missing kidney.” And all from people who have never even left the states. I wish people would try things out more before judging it. Some of my favorite places to backpack is in Central America and I have met the friendliest and most welcoming people there who are pride of their culture and country and eager to share it from a locals view!

    1. OMG yes, you are SO right! It’s insane because the people I met in Central America were so so friendly, as you said. Much more friendly than in my home state of NY, for sure! And I even got mugged here in NY, so I always tell people that it can happen literally anywhere.

    1. Yeah, I definitely think it’s worth a few days! It depends how long your trip is, though. I would say it’s only really worth visiting for an extended amount of time if you have more than a week or two! I was on a long-term backpacking trip, so it didn’t cut into my schedule to hang out for a few days.

  2. Sounds like you had a great time! We ended up staying in San Jose for 2 nights because it was pretty much unavoidable with having bus connections, etc. San Jose reminded me a lot of Sao Paulo, Brazil where I previously lived for 6 months. It’s a big city and kind of hard to know where to go. We were lucky that we had locals (friends of friends) who showed us around and totally made our trip. I can completely understand that luxury of seeing a movie in English after months of backpacking – we did the same thing in Leon! 🙂
    Chantell Collins recently posted…Local guide: Geneva, SwitzerlandMy Profile

    1. Having locals show you around is ALWAYS the best!! Glad you got a brief chance to experience San Jose 🙂 I almost saw a movie in Leon! In that tiny little theatre behind a bunch of chain stores and the grocery store? hahaha..I miss Central America!

  3. That hostel looks amazing! I totally agree that all hostels should implement the curtain idea. I’m glad you like San Jose. Sometimes people give capital cities (like Mexico City or Bucharest) a bad rap but that’s sometimes just because they haven’t tried hard enough to find the good points.
    Stella the Travelerette recently posted…The Best Things to Do in BerlinMy Profile

    1. Omg that hostel was seriously incredible! The curtain idea is pure genius. I totally agree about capital cities. They require a bit more effort to research and get to know, but they’re so rewarding once you do!

    1. I think Costa Rica isn’t super budget friendly (that’s why I only spent a couple weeks there instead of the 4-7 weeks I spent in Panama or Nicaragua). However, you can tailor your Costa Rica trip to fit a smaller budget, it will just be more difficult. I highly recommend checking out Panama or Nicaragua if you want the same sort of experience as Costa Rica but for a LOT less money. The wifi situation is incredible! Honestly, I got perfect wifi almost everywhere in Costa Rica (even in the remote jungle!)

  4. Costa Rica really feels like a dream destination for me. I am loving this post you’ve put together – it really makes me have some wanderlust. I loved reading about your hostel situation! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Yeah! That’s exactly how it felt for me! Not that I’m complaining, but beaches and jungles can get repetitive after a while. Sometimes you just need a movie theatre and a vegetarian cafe! :p

  5. Hostels have always been a little iffy for me – I’m well aware that I’m a five star hotel kind of gal – but this hostel looked nicer than some of the three and four stars I’ve stayed at! Your food photos look amazing as well!

    1. me, if I had my way I would absolutely be staying at 5 star hotels, too! That’s why I try and search out the nicer hostels! Thank you 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge