Dangers & Annoyances
Though Costa Rica has the lowest crime rate of any Central American country, crime in urban centers such as San José is a problem. The most common offense is opportunistic theft (eg pickpocketing and mugging). Keep a streetwise attitude, leave your car empty of valuables in a guarded lot and never put your bag in the overhead racks on a bus. Be aware that prostitutes are known for sleight-of-hand, and that they often work in pairs.
The establishment in 2007 of the policía turística (tourist police; you’ll see them patrolling in pairs around San José, on foot, bicycle and even horseback) has helped prevent petty crimes against foreigners. These officers can be helpful in the event of an emergency since most of them speak at least some English.
If you find yourself the victim of a crime, you’ll have to file a report in person at the Organismo de Investigacíon Judicial in the Supreme Court of Justice building on the south side of downtown.
Neighborhoods covered by Lonely Planet are generally safe during the day, though you should be especially careful around the Coca-Cola bus terminal and the red-light district south of Parque Central, particularly at night. Be advised that adjacent neighborhoods can vary greatly in terms of safety; inquire locally before setting out.
Gridlocked traffic, gigantic potholes, noise and smog are unavoidable components of the San José experience. Most central hotels are subject to street noise, no matter how nice they are. Be skeptical of touts and taxi drivers who try to sell you tours or tell you that the hotel you’ve booked is a crime-infested bordello. Many of them will say anything to steer you to the places that pay them commissions.
Embassies & Consulates
Canadian Embassy Behind La Contraloría.
Dutch Embassy Behind La Contraloría.
French Embassy On the road to Curridabat, 200m south and 50m west of the Mitsubishi agency.
German Embassy Two blocks west of the ICE building; certain requests require appointments.
Guatemalan Embassy From the western corner of the Economy Ministry, 100m south and 50m west.
Mexican Embassy About 250m south of the Subaru dealership, Los Yoses.
Nicaraguan Embassy In Barrio La California.
Panamanian Embassy In San Pedro.
Salvadoran Embassy Head 500m north and 25m west of the Toyota dealership on Paseo Colón.
US Embassy Opposite Centro Commercial del Oeste in Pavas.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Traffic Police||2523-3300, 2222-9245, 2222-9330|
In recent years attitudes toward LGBT locals and travelers have shifted towards acceptance. Gay pride parades take place regularly, and the city's youth are leading the country's tolerance movement. A good site for all things gay travel is www.costaricagaymap.com, which offers listings of bars, clubs and hotels that cater to the LGBT community.
Most accommodations offer free wi-fi and/or guest computers. You'll also find plenty of cyber cafes, charging US$0.50 to US$1 per hour.
Opening hours vary throughout the year and will generally decrease in the shoulder and low seasons.
Restaurants 7am–4pm and 5–10pm
Bars and Clubs 10pm–4am
Correo Central In a gorgeous historic building near the center of town. Express and overnight services.
Canatur The Costa Rican National Chamber of Tourism provides information on member services from a small stand next to international baggage claim.
Travel with Children
Chances are if you’re in Costa Rica on a short vacation you’ll be headed out to the countryside fairly quickly. But if for some reason you’re going to be hanging out in San José for a day – or two or three – with your kids, know that it's not a particularly kid-friendly destination. There is lots of traffic and the sidewalks are crowded and cracked, making it difficult to push strollers or drag toddlers around. Although the city offers relatively few things specifically for children, here are a few activities they will likely enjoy.
Near Parque La Sabana, the Museo de Ciencias Naturales La Salle will impress youngsters with its astounding array of skeletons and endless cases full of stuffed animals, while the Museo de los Niños is a sure hit for children who just can’t keep their hands off the exhibits. Young nature-lovers will enjoy getting up close to butterflies at the Spirogyra Jardín de Mariposas or checking out the exotic animals at the Parque Zoológico Nacional Simón Bolívar. Just a little further afield (an easy day trip from San José) is the wonderful zoo and wildlife-rescue center Zoo Ave, where you can enjoy native birds and monkeys in a more naturalistic setting.
If you’re spending more than a week in the city, note that many Spanish-language academies offer special custom-made lessons for teens.
Independent travel in San José is difficult for people with disabilities, particularly those with mobility limitations. Although the country has an equal-opportunity law, it applies only to new or newly remodeled businesses and is loosely enforced. A few hotels and restaurants do have features specifically suited to wheelchair use, but many lack ramps and doorways wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs.
Outside, streets and sidewalks are potholed and poorly paved, making wheelchair use frustrating at best. Some public buses in San José are equipped with lifts, but sometimes they are damaged or out of service. Share shuttles, minivans and rental cars are the best bets for getting around the city.
For travelers who want an experience beyond vacation, there are dozens of not-for-profit organizations in San José that gladly accept volunteers.