Que Rica! Our San Jose, Costa Rica

In our first few visits to Costa Rica, like many tourists, we didn’t spend much time in San Jose.  We landed at the San Jose international airport, then went on to other parts of the country — our favorite beach at Manuel Antonio or the divine Tabacon hot springs in Monteverde.  It was only on our third or fourth visit that we actually spent some time in San Jose.  

Looking up in downtown San Jose

Like a great many international visitors, we realized we could get some dental work done very affordably in San Jose.  So we scheduled our beach vacation around it.  In addition to dental work, many visitors come for medical procedures at CIMA, the hospital with an excellent reputation which has been serving international visitors since 2000.  We’ve heard many Costa Ricans, or ‘Ticos‘, refer to CIMA as the ‘American hospital’ as it has affiliations with several prominent American hospitals including the Mayo Clinic.  It is located in Escazu, a prosperous suburb of San Jose .  A great many dental practices are also located nearby. 

Poolside at the Apartotel La Sabana

One of our favorite yoga teachers, Tom Coleman, had visited CIMA for a medical procedure. He clued us in to the very welcoming and affordable Apartotel La Sabana in San Jose. We’re city people, and we love small hotels.  So the idea of an affordable hotel just off the Parque La Sabana, one of the city’s great metropolitan parks, was very intriguing.  The hotel La Sabana turned out to be all that and so much more.  La Sabana caters to a medical and dental clientele, offering medical discounts and even soup if your dental work takes all else off the menu.  If you have an appointment near CIMA, you can stay at the Apartotel La Sabana,  walk across the park and catch a city bus that stops very near to the CIMA hospital.  We also found the taxi rides quick and inexpensive, aside from rush hour, when it was still reasonably priced, but not so quick. 

Jim relaxing poolside at the hotel

The Hotel La Sabana is a unique urban experience, and great value, with a standard room on offer for just around $100 USD, which includes free airport transfers and an excellent breakfast.

The hotel offers both standard rooms and accommodations with full kitchens.  We have enjoyed both. If you don’t have a kitchen, there are plenty of good restaurants nearby.  If you do have a kitchen, a very complete supermarket is within walking distance for all your grocery needs.  You will find washers and dryers, dry cleaning, and everything you need for a longer stay.  We noticed that quite a few Ticos were using the hotel for their local business needs.

Splendid orchids at the hotel

The staff is efficient and welcoming.  Christian, who has manned the front desk at several of our visits, and the rest of the crew, are there to answer your questions, arrange your taxis, or just to have a nice chat about what’s going on in San Jose. 

Scarlet Flame passionflowers cover the trellised walkway

La Sabana’s outdoor shower

The attention to the art and landscaping makes for an inviting and memorable experience. The tropical garden is a plant lovers dream come true, brimming with orchids, passionflower, and beautiful tropical foliage. 

La Sabana’s breakfast

Each morning a crew of women cook up a excellent breakfast that had us excited to be waking up to another morning at the hotel, sometimes with home made corn tortillas, always with pancakes, pinto gallo, succulent fruits, and rich Costa Rican coffee.

Our lunch at the Park Cafe

One of the best restaurants in San Jose happens to be just up the street from the hotel.  We passed the enticing entrance of the Park Cafe, marveling at the outdoor sculpture and the Bougainvillea tumbling over the facade.  We booked a lunch in the antiques-filled courtyard and absolutely loved it.  The Park Cafe is both an antiques shop and a wonderful place to experience a meal.  We were utterly charmed by the owners— Louise, who sources the Asian/zen-like/incredibly appealing assortment of antiques, and Richard, the chef who prepared a memorably delicious meal for us.   After our beautiful lunch al fresco, we bought some small lacquered and bronze pieces, wishing we had a private plane to ship some of the large and beautiful stone sculptures offered in the shop. The Park Cafe is currently open for dinner only until November.  

Two marvelous small museums are within walking distance of Apartotel La Sabana: 

Mural detail from the Museo del Arte Costarricense

1) The Museo Costarricense is an easy stroll from the hotel near the Southwest corner of the Parque La Sabana.  This engaging museum space was once Costa Rica ’s international airport beginning around 1940.  The museum now shows special exhibitions of contemporary  artists and photographers from Costa Rica along with permanent collections, including the “Salon Dorada,”  a masterful 20th century bas relief in bronze depicting the history of Costa Rica ’s culture and industry from Pre-Columbian times through the early 20th century.  This astonishing art work covers the walls of the room which once served as the diplomatic meeting room when the airport first opened. 


From Museo La Salle’s Butterfly collection

2) Our favorite museum in San Jose is, without doubt, the Museo Lasalle.  It is a 15 minute walk from our hotel, not far from the Northwest corner on the Parque La Sabana.  With its unassuming entrance and open air courtyard, it doesn’t look like an excellent natural history museum that contains more than 70,000 specimens. But the collections of minerals, fossils, shells, taxidermy, dinosaur bones, and more are impressive, including elaborate taxidermy dioramas of the wild animals and birds of Costa Rica . We almost missed the astounding butterfly room which is located through double doors at the end of one hallway— thousands of beautifully framed butterflies from all over the world, copiously catalogued and artfully displayed.   It is a must see. 

Teatro Nacional facade, and an ornate detail from the interior

If we’re in San Jose for a few days, we check the calendar of the Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica.  We have enjoyed several afternoon and evening musical performances in the beautifully ornate National Theater which opened to the public in 1891.  The National Symphonic Orchestra performs each season, along with a great roster of Costa Rican and foreign composers.  We popped in one afternoon on a whim and enjoyed a superb afternoon concert in an upstairs gallery, only a few dozen chairs set up for a wonderfully talented Costa Rican string ensemble interpreting much-loved songs from Costa Rican and Latin American classical composers. 

From top right: Rescue cats, Hibiscus flower, coffee plant, Magica Blanca waterfall, all from the Alajuela tour

We’ve walked from Apartotel La Sabana to all of the places noted above.  And if you have time for a day trip from San Jose, we highly recommend the tour into the countryside surrounding Alajuela.  We visited, in a one day bus tour, a beautiful coffee plantation, the Poas National Park with its impressive volcano spouting ash, a wondrous butterfly farm and zoo for rescue animals, and finally, an easy hike to the gorgeous Magica Blanca waterfall.  All of this, and we were back at the hotel by sundown.  Christian or anyone at the front desk can help you book this memorable tour. 

San Jose street detail

If you are researching medical tourism at CIMA, there are closer hotels, although they are generally not as reasonably priced as the Apartotel La Sabana.   We will cover them in future posts on our experiences with medical tourism in Costa Rica.   Or feel free to inquire in the comments.

When the Volcano Turrialba blew a few years ago, there was pandemonium at the San Jose airport, and we realized we would be stuck in the city for a few days as thousands of people were rebooking.  We felt lucky we already knew San Jose and that our favorite hotel had a room for us.  We love the vibe at La Sabana and now plan our Costa Rica visits to include a few nights there, just for the pleasure of it. 

 Apartotel La Sabana:


Park Cafe


 Museo del Arte Costarricense


 El Museo de Ciencias Naturales La Salle


 Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica


 FYI If you are researching medical tourism in Costa Rica , here is the website of the CIMA hospital, a renowned hospital where we experienced excellent and affordable care.  It has been serving the medical needs of the international community since 2000:


We were not compensated for this post and all opinions are our own. 


Museo La Salle _ Costa Rican butterfly


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