San José, Costa Rica – Jade Museum, city sights, is it safe? 2

San José, capital city of Costa Rica, has a rather unusual founding story – at least it does in comparison to other Central American capitals. There were no conquistadors involved, for instance. Nor were there any Mayan ruins, or silver mines, or strategic sea ports, or pirates.

San José, essentially, was brought together by a committee.

San José, Costa Rica

Downtown San José, Costa Rica. Photo credit: Benjamin White

In 1736 the Cabildo de León (translation: Council of León – the equivalent of the municipal council) determined that the Aserrí Valley, with its light scattering of farms and homesteads, was a bit too pokey for their liking. A decent-sized settlement is what the valley needed.

And so it came to be.

Where did the city’s name come from?

Well, who else would you name this equatorial, volcano-ringed, cloud-forest-swathed, Central American capital after than the illustrious Joseph of Nazareth.

City centre, Central Park

San José, Costa Rica

Photo credit: Benjamin White

San José isn’t overflowing with must-see sights, but that doesn’t mean the city is without merit.

Downtown San José is full of parks, public squares, and pedestrian plazas and it makes the city enjoyable to stroll around.

Edificio Central de Correos y Telégrafos

San José, Costa Rica

Photo credit: Benjamin White

There are a number of splendid historic buildings in downtown San José.

Most impressive of the lot are the Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica (National Theatre of Costa Rica), the Edificio Herdocia, and its neighbour, Edificio Central de Correos y Telégrafos (Central Post Office Building – seen in the picture above).

Museo de Jade

Museo de Jade, Costa Rica

‘Museo de Jade,’ by Haakon S. Krohn, 2014. Available online at under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence

And the city isn’t entirely without must-see sights. It has several impressive museums, including the Museo de Oro Precolombino (The Gold Museum) and the Museo Nacional (National Museum).

Top-most on my list, however, is the Museo de Jade (Museum of Jade), which contains the world’s largest collection of American jade (approx. 7000 pieces).

Is San José safe?

It’s supposedly the safest capital in Central America.

And as far as that goes Ami and I walked around the city centre both during the day and at night and we never felt unsafe. But you should always use common sense in these situations.

Is San José worth a visit?

Yes. I think so. If you are backpacking around Central America then San José is a great spot to purchase provisions and chill out for a day or two before returning to the countryside.

Practical information and how to reach San José:

San José is serviced by an international airport, and there are frequent bus connections to regional cities. More transport info here.

Or visit my crappy capital cities page.

More on Costa Rica:

Tenorio Volcano NP, Costa Rica – rain turns blue Río Celeste brown

Cahuita National Park – will I see wildlife if I hike at midday?

More on Central America:


Granada – is it better than centuries-old rival León? 

Ometepe – see the island by scooter, get ready for road rash


Portobelo – UNESCO fortified sea port + pirates galore

Panama City – anything else to see besides the Canal?


Lago de Yojoa – come for the bird-watching, stay for the serenity

Copán – how does it differ to Tikal, Uxmal, Chichen Itza?

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