48 Hours in San José, Costa Rica

This post is part of our week in Costa Rica.

After our 11 hour Club World British Airways flight from Gatwick to San Jose (see what we thought of BA business class HERE) we were met by our guide and driver and made our way from the airport to our hotel for the first 2 nights of our week long trip around Costa Rica. 

Apparently most people fly into San José and leave as soon as possible to explore the rest of the country without giving the city a chance. We were determined to see what the city had to offer and had a packed itinerary to help us do so.

We stayed at the Hotel Grano de Oro, which began life as a tropical Victorian home and has been extended over the years. In the older part of the hotel the ceilings are high with great period features and there’s even a hot tub on the roof which we know isn’t the most Victorian thing ever but it’s surrounded by greenery and brings that extra level of luxury, especially when in the middle of a city. We stayed in the older part with our room opening out onto a great little tropical garden. As an added bonus, selected items from the minibar were free (although as it turns out, Costa Rica likes to feed you up!) After a walk to the city centre and back we had our first Costa Rican meal at the hotel.

*We were generously hosted by the Costa Rica Tourist Board and British Airways for the entirety of this trip so we would like to thank them for these experiences.*

hotel grano de oro costa rica front entrance
hotel grano de oro costa rica
hotel grano de oro costa rica
hotel grano de oro costa rica
hotel grano de oro costa rica
hotel grano de oro costa rica
hotel grano de oro costa rica
hotel grano de oro costa rica
hotel grano de oro costa rica
hotel grano de oro costa rica courtyard
hotel grano de oro costa rica room
hotel grano de oro costa rica room
hotel grano de oro costa rica
hotel grano de oro costa rica

Our first full day in Costa Rica began with an early start to visit the Else Kientzler Botanical Gardens, not before a tasty breakfast at the hotel. One thing we were to learn throughout our trip was that Costa Ricans (or Ticos, as they prefer to be called) absolutely love a good feed and portion sizes were always epic. The Huevos Rancheros was particularly incredible and India hasn’t stopped talking about it since.

After about a 45 minute scenic drive from the city we arrived at the Else Kientzler Botanical Gardens and enjoyed a morning wander learning about leaf-cutter ants and trying (and failing) to photograph the incredible gold webs of the Golden Orb Weaver (a spider).

Else Kientzler Botanical Gardens
Else Kientzler Botanical Gardens
Else Kientzler Botanical Gardens
Else Kientzler Botanical Gardens

On the way back we visited Sarchi, a town famous for building painted oxcarts and now the only place in the country which still makes them by hand. The factory we visited still has a working waterwheel to power the machinery used in the process.

Sarchi ox carts
Sarchi ox carts
Sarchi ox carts
Sarchi ox carts

We then headed back to San José to eat.

Lunch at Nuestra Tierra was another overwhelming (in the best way) experience… Casado is a dish that basically includes meat/chicken/fish/veg and then everything else you could imagine; gallo pinto (pinto beans with rice in a really tasty way that can’t be described) patacones (fried plantain) salad, eggs, avocado and anything else they want to throw on the side. ‘Casado’ literally translates to mean ‘married’ which we thought quite poetic of the Ticos… Anyway we filled up on Casado and watched the torrential rain with a glass of fresh pineapple juice in hand. Dessert here was our first try of Tres Leches and the first of many. Costa Ricans really love their condensed milk.

Before dinner (more food!) we went on a Craft Beer Tour with local company Carpe Chepe, a company determined to help tourists and residents-alike experience the city like the locals do, drink in the same bars and maybe make a few friends along the way. We walked to several styles of bar where we tasted a different local beer with a food pairing. Between the locations our guide explained about the history of the neighbourhoods and told us a little about the architecture and the cultural history of San José - he had so much passion and love for his hometown that it made for a really interesting activity. 

We ate dinner at a tiny little place called Luna Roja, where the chef and owner provided us with a modern take on traditional Costa Rican cuisine. Most of the recipes where interpretations of dishes he ate as a child and each course (there were about a million) came with a very heartfelt explanation at the beginning.

We enjoyed (among many other things) ceviche, peach-palm soup, fish steamed in palm leaves, patacones and pretiños with Cacique (a liquor made in San José from sugarcane) to finish. SO. FULL. BY. THE. END.