Last updated on February 5, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, founder of MEL365, following extensive travelling in Costa Rica

Where to stay in San Jose – Best 5 AREAS and hotels

I have been through there. Where to stay in San Jose for 1 night? Should I stay near the San Jose Airport? Is the Costa Rican Capital worth a visit? Should I stay longer?

In this post, I answer all the possible questions providing the 5 best areas to stay in San Jose and/or well connected to the International Airport

But let me be honest with you. San Jose is not the best place to visit in Costa Rica, in fact not even in the top 10. That is why I personally suggest spending just 1 night or possibly 2, but no longer. There is so much happening in the country that staying more in the capital would be a bit of a waste.

I have also been asked where to stay in San Jose near the airport, in case of late arrivals or early departures. Or what about skipping the capital altogether and maximizing your time in the rest of the country?

I have answered all of these questions in this guide, but let’s have a start with a few quick points.

Where to stay in San Jose and around map - Best 5 areas
Map of where to stay in San Jose and around- Best 5 areas

Where to stay in San Jose – Key Points

I have a full section below about FAQ, however, I wanted to write here three important points followed by a table comparing the 5 best areas to stay in San Jose and nearby. Click on the area name for more pros, cons, a full description, and a few suggested hotels and accommodations.

  • Should I visit and stay in San Jose? The short answer is no. Costa Rica offers so much to experience. From the Arenal Volcano to the Monteverde Forest, from Tamarindo to Santa Teresa and Uvita, and I could keep going. Any day in San Jose would be a lost day exploring this magnificent country.
  • What about if I have an early flight or late arrival in San Jose? In this case, you should book a night in either San Jose or near the airport based on the spare time you have and the budget too
  • Do you suggest any coastal town close to San Jose? If you are renting a car in Costa Rica, I highly recommend staying in Jaco, a coastal town around 90 minutes from the airport, very well connected with a main/Hway road.
Area/TownIdeal forProsConsAccessibilityRestaurantsFamiliesNature of the Area
Airport AreaEarly/Late FlightsPractical, good quality hotelsLimited bars and restaurantsCar/Shuttle BusLimitedGoodCountryside
AlajuelaOn a budget near AirportProximity to airport, authentic, lower costsLimited nightlife, fewer attractionsCar/BusGoodGoodAuthentic local experience
DowntownQuick City TourCentral, diverse food, museums, direct bus to airportNoisy, busy, pickpocketsBusExcellentOKUrban, cultural spots
San PedroNightlifeVibrant, affordable dining, young vibeIt can be noisyPoorExcellentPoorYoung, energetic vibe
JacoCoastal TownWell-connected to airport, surfing, nightlifeNeed a car, poor architectureCarExcellentGoodCoastal, beach vibes

If you are in a hurry, here are my 3 suggested places to stay in San Jose and around.

Are you thinking of Driving in Costa Rica? Great idea, you will see and discover so much more of Costa Rica with a rented vehicle. Just a quick tip, don’t drive in the night. It can be dangerous with poorly lit roads, potholes, and possibly wild animals around.

If you arrive late at night and you have a rented car, book a place near the airport.

I usually book my car with DiscoverCars, a great comparative website with transparent quotes (by the way, watch out for the insurance scam in Costa Rica) where I can even have full insurance for just $7/day.

Airport area – Where to Stay In San Jose near the airport

  • Best place to stay in San Jose near the airport for an early/late flight

Pros

  • Practical choice
  • Good quality hotels

Cons

  • You are not in San Jose
  • Limited choice of bars and restaurants

I could have started this guide with Downtown, the pulsing center of the capital city, however, I think it’s better to start with the most practical area to stay in San Jose, just near the Airport.

As I already said, Costa Rica’s nature is so beautiful that would be a pity to spend time in a city. And for this reason, I suggest skipping San Jose and traveling straight away to your first destination.

However, if you have a late arrival or early departure, you may want to book the first night or last night in the most practical area to stay, which is near the Airport where you can find good quality hotels, locals and popular chains, at reasonable prices too.

The entire area between the Airport and the city is actually not as populated and you can find some outstanding views too, like the one at the Marriott Hotel Hacienda Belen (see photos below) set in an amazing 30-acre coffee plantation.

Some of the hotels, like the Marriott offers also free Airport shuttle which is so handy. You do not need to worry about anything, a great way to start or end your vacation.

There are however drawbacks to this choice, the most important of which, you will have rarely restaurants or bars around, besides the ones in the hotels. And of course no nightlife.

3 great San Jose Costa Rica hotels with airport shuttle:

Marriott Hotel Hacienda Belen ($$$$): Escape to lush serenity, surrounded by captivating views and abundant amenities for a rejuvenating retreat near vibrant San José. Great pool

El Rodeo Estancia ($$): A tranquil countryside escape with spacious rooms, family-friendly, a health club, outdoor pool, and a ranch-style steakhouse offering a diverse menu.

Casa Garitas GuestHouse ($): A tranquil haven with attentive staff, near the airport. Spacious, clean rooms with mountain views. Shuttle service, family-friendly, sustainable stay.

View from the Marriott Hotel Hacienda Belen close to the San Jose Airport
View from the Marriott Hotel Hacienda Belen close to the San Jose Airport

Alajuela – Where to stay in San Jose near the airport on a budget

  • Best place to stay in San Jose on a budget near the airport

Pros

  • Proximity to the airport
  • Less busy than San José
  • Historical sites
  • Authentic local experience
  • Much lower accommodation costs

Cons

  • Limited nightlife
  • Fewer dining options
  • Not as many tourist attractions
  • Can be noisy due to airport traffic

Alajuela is like that underrated band you stumble upon and can’t help but wonder, “Why isn’t everyone listening to this?” Just a stone’s throw from the airport, this town is the unsung hero for travelers.

Forget the stress of catching an early flight; you’re so close, you could practically walk to the terminal. But don’t let the airport’s shadow fool you; Alajuela has its own light, and it shines pretty darn bright.

The town has colonial architecture with a Costa Rican twist, like a well-mixed cocktail of culture and style. You can also find a few attractions, although very limited, like the Juan Santamaría Museum, a window into Costa Rica’s past fights for independence.

Alajuela might not have Michelin-starred restaurants but what it lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality.

The local sodas (small restaurants) serve up dishes that are a love letter to Costa Rican cuisine. Think gallo pinto for breakfast and casado for lunch; it’s like a culinary hug from grandma.

But here’s the kicker: Alajuela is real. It’s not a touristy façade; it’s a slice of authentic Costa Rican life. The Central Market isn’t a tourist trap; it’s where locals shop. From fresh produce to handmade crafts, you will find a genuine experience

Sure, you won’t find the pulsating nightlife of San José, but that’s not why you’re here. You’re here for a different kind of vibe, one that’s laid-back yet vibrant, quiet yet buzzing with life.

And now comes the best, it’s another practical base at an incredible bargain price, the lowest you can find in San Jose and nearby, surely the best place to stay in San Jose near the Airport on a budget.

Here are 2 of the best accommodations in Alajuela on a budget:

Hotel Pacande B&B ($): Nestled in Alajuela’s heart, near the airport, this welcoming hotel offers comfort, cleanliness, and a delicious breakfast, making stays enjoyable.

Hotel Cortez Azul ($): A centrally located hotel with a cozy garden, near the airport. Friendly staff, spacious rooms, great breakfast, and discounts at nearby places.

Local and international tourists in downtown area
Local and international tourists in the downtown area

Downtown – Best place to stay in San Jose city

  • Best place to stay in San Jose for a quick city tour

Pros

  • Central location for easy navigation
  • Variety of museums and cultural spots
  • Diverse food options from casual to upscale
  • Public bus to the airport

Cons

  • Can be noisy during busy hours
  • Some areas may feel crowded
  • Tourist areas can be expensive
  • Watch out for pickpockets

Downtown San José is the pulsing core of Costa Rica’s capital. It’s the best area to stay in San Jose city if you want to be close to everything. Moreover, you will find also public transportation directly from Downtown to the International Airport.

Head to the Termina San Jose (Av.2, C12) where you can catch the bus to Alajuela. Make sure to catch the Green Line that stops at the International Terminal on the way to Alajuela. Budget in 40-60 minutes (based on traffic) and around $2 for the adult ticket.

In Downtown, you should check out the National Museum, a former military fortress that now guards the country’s past. The Jade Museum isn’t just a building; it’s a vault of American jade artifacts that tell a story far older than any of us.

The Central Market isn’t your average grocery store; it’s a labyrinth of colors, smells, and sounds. A place where you can haggle over the price of tropical fruits one minute and discover handcrafted souvenirs the next.

You will find plenty of restaurant options in Downtown, from Costa Rican classics to global flavors. Also, bars and cafes are pretty much everywhere, making this area very handy for a quick few days

But let’s be real; Downtown has its quirks. The noise level cranks up as the day rolls on, and the streets, teeming with life, can feel a bit overwhelming. Safety? Generally, you’re good. But, it’s a big city, so keep an eye on your stuff.

Here are 3 of the best accommodations in Downtown San Jose:

Hotel Presidente ($$$): Central boutique gem with spotless rooms, delicious breakfast, friendly staff, and rooftop bar. Perfect for exploring nearby attractions.

Sleep Inn Hotel ($$): Conveniently located, comfortable rooms, central for exploring attractions, friendly staff, good breakfast, secure parking, walking distance to museums.

Hotel Novo ($): Urban practical base near Airport bus stop. Walkable to museums, shops, and dining. Clean rooms, great breakfast, accommodating staff.

Teatro Popular Melico Salazar in the heart of the Downtown area
Teatro Popular Melico Salazar in the heart of the Downtown area

Are you looking for a great Costa Rica Travel Guide? Here is the best FREE trip handbook dedicated to first-timers.

San Pedro – Best Area To Stay In San Jose for nightlife

  • Best place to stay in San Jose for the young crowd

Pros

  • Vibrant nightlife
  • Affordable dining and shopping
  • Young, energetic vibe
  • Proximity to universities
  • Diverse cultural activities

Cons

  • Can be noisy
  • Not ideal for families
  • Safety concerns at night
  • Far from the Airport and the bus stop

San Pedro isn’t just a neighborhood; it’s a vibe. Picture this: you’re walking down streets that feel like live Pinterest boards, each corner bursting with personality. It’s where the city’s pulse is most palpable, thanks to the University of Costa Rica nearby. This isn’t your average student area; it’s a microcosm of what happens when youth and culture mix together.

You’ll find cafes that are more like community centers, where you can sit and enjoy the life passing by. The food scene? Really anything you want, from great local sodas at a very good price to more sophisticated cuisines.

But what is San Pedro really famous for is its nightlife, of any type and taste, surely the best you can find in Costa Rica, and honestly this is the main reason to book your accommodation here, to be next to the last opening bar or club.

But pay attention around, don’t walk in dark streets and small lanes. And do not dress to show off because, like in many big cities, safety may be a concern.

Also staying in San Pedro means that you will be further away from the airport and quite some time for the bus station to the airport, so not really practical for a one-night stay.

Here are 2 of the best hotels in San Pedro:

Luz de Luna ($$): A charming hotel in San José with comfortable rooms, great location near bars and restaurants, and friendly staff.

Chillout Hostel ($): Vibrant atmosphere, excellent location, clean rooms, friendly staff, and free WiFi.

Walking in and around San Pedro
Walking in and around San Pedro

Jaco – Where to stay close to San Jose

  • Best place to stay close to San Jose by a coastal town

Pros

  • Well connected to San Jose Airport
  • Nice coastal town
  • One of the best places for beginner surfers
  • Plenty of accommodation options, bars, restaurants, and nightlife

Cons

  • It’s not San Jose
  • You need a car. Public transportation would take too long

If you driving in Costa Rica on the Pacific coast and you have a flight in the late morning, or you arrive at the Airport in the early afternoon, you may want to book your stay straight at the beach and Jaco may be just the perfect destination for that.

The road from Jaco to San Jose is very easy going and usually, in less than 90 minutes, you can be at the airport. The town itself is vibrant with plenty of bars and restaurants and a good nightlife too.

Surfing is actually great with easy to intermediate waves and plenty of places where you can rent your board. I loved so much my sunset surfing there with the music coming from the beach.

On my last trip to Costa Rica, I had a flight at 11 am to Miami so I decided to stay also the last night there and drive straight to the airport in the early morning. Easy.

Still debating if you actually need a car in Costa Rica? Organize a taxi ($150) or a private van ($50-$150) for the 90-minute trip.

Jaco lacks a bit in character, it’s a town that has quickly grown up from village status with some multilevel condos that are a sore thumb. I would not suggest it for a week’s stay but it’s definitely great for 2-4 nights, especially if you are after some nightlife.

I have actually written a full guide to where to stay in Jaco, with the best areas and hotels. Here below you can find 3 great options.

Here are 3 of the best accommodations in Jaco Center:

Los Ranchos ($$$): Hidden gem with friendly staff, cozy rooms, and a pool, steps away from Jaco Beach

Boutique Hotel IBIZA ($$$): Nestled in Jacó’s heart, two pools, attentive staff, and spacious rooms, making it a perfect tropical escape.

Selina ($): An amazing value beachfront retreat. Welcoming staff, great vibe, and comfortable rooms. Perfect for a relaxing getaway.

Where to stay in Jaco Costa Rica
Where to stay in Jaco Costa Rica

Frequently Asked Questions

Which part of San Jose Costa Rica to stay in?

Downtown San Jose is great for first-timers, offering cultural landmarks and easy airport access.

What is the safest area in San José Costa Rica?

Escazú is considered one of the safest neighborhoods, known for its upscale residences.

Is it worth staying in San José Costa Rica?

Probably not. It’s a nice city but there are so many amazing places to experience in Costa Rica that I would bypass the capital city all together.

What is the best side of Costa Rica to stay on?

The Pacific side is popular for beaches, while the Caribbean side offers lush landscapes.

Is it safe to walk around San Jose Costa Rica?

Generally safe during the day, but caution is advised at night, especially in less touristy areas.

How long should I stay in San Jose Costa Rica?

Spend all of your vacation exploring the country leaving only the first or last night to San Jose, and only in case of early arrival or late departures

Stefano Ferro - MEL365.com Founder and Editor

About the Author

Stefano is a seasoned travel expert and the visionary founder of MEL365.com, a leading travel website with traffic across 6 continents. With a rich background in the travel industry, Stefano spent four pivotal years at Amadeus Travel Distribution System, gaining invaluable insights into travel technologies and distribution.

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