Why is San Jose the capital of Costa Rica?

Why is San Jose the capital of Costa Rica?
Why is San Jose the capital of Costa Rica?





Tourists are discovering the hidden treasures of Costa Rica: beautiful nature spots and national parks, rainforests and river valleys for zip lining and rafting and other adventures, and lush wildlife. Now, even the capital of Costa Rica is gaining attention for its luxe resorts, food hotspots, and culture.

The capital of Costa Rica is San Jose. It is the largest city in the country, and recognized as one of the best cities in Latin America. It has a high quality of life with a relatively low cost of living, excellent transportation, and a low crime rate. 

The GaWC (Globalization and World Cities Research Network) also declared it “Beta Global City” which means that it is one of the region’s major financial and economic hubs.

Despite its modernization, San Jose has retained much of its historical charm. Its neighborhoods (called barrios) slowly grew over the centuries, so they each have their distinct architecture and character. Some of them still have historic buildings, standing right next to elegant shops and trendy cafes.

In this article, you’ll discover San Jose’s charming history, why it rose to become the nation’s capital, and why so many people flock to visit it every year.

Where is the Capital of Costa Rica Located?

Where is the Capital of Costa Rica Located?
Where is the Capital of Costa Rica Located?

San Jose is in the Central Valley, an upland basin that ranges from 800 to 1500 meters above sea level.  The area gets moderate rainfall because of trade winds blowing in from the Caribbean, and temperatures stay at a comfortable 69 °F (21 °C).

What is the History of San Jose?

Beautiful aerial view of Costa Rica's San Jose city
Beautiful aerial view of Costa Rica’s San Jose city

When the Spaniards colonized Costa Rica, they initially named Cartago as the capital. However, they organized the indigenous people into settlements that were under colonial rule.

San Jose was one of those settlements. Initially, it was just a few houses clustered around an hermitage dedicated to St Joseph (San Jose). However, because of the fertile volcanic soil and abundant water supply, it quickly grew into wealthy plantations of tobacco, coffee, and other valued resources.

The city’s wealth attracted hopeful residents seeking work and trade. It became a bustling economic hub, and a vibrant center of culture and education.

When did San Jose become the Capital of Costa Rica?

Night scene of the square in front of the famous National Theater of Costa Rica in San Jose
Night scene of the square in front of the famous National Theater of Costa Rica in San Jose

Costa Rica gained independence from Spain in 1821, but a new political battle began. One faction, led by the leaders of Cartago, wished to join the Mexican Empire. Another faction, led by the leaders of San Jose, wished to establish its own Republic.

The next few years were marked by political unrest and civil war. Then in 1935, during the Battle of Cuesta de Moras, San Jose defeated the Cartago army and rose to become the country’s capital and seat of power.

Why is San Jose the capital of Costa Rica?

The wealthy city of San Jose has always wielded a lot of economic and cultural influence. When it officially became the capital, it became the country’s gateway for global trade. Its agricultural harvests, specifically tobacco and coffee, also became the country’s biggest exports and the backbone of its economy.

San Jose also became the social and cultural hub—home to the city’s biggest universities, hospitals, museums, and historical monuments. Today, it has a complex transportation system that connects it to all the provinces of Costa Rica. They even have a saying: “All roads go to San Jose.”

What are the best places to visit in San Jose?

Most tourists enter Costa Rica through San Jose’s international airport. However, it shouldn’t be  just a stopover:  the city has unique offerings that are worth a visit before they go explore the rest of the country.

Downtown San Jose

This busy district is a great way to soak in the local culture, discover the cuisine (and why San Jose is considered a foodie paradise), and even find great bargains at the local shops.  It is also home to some important historical attractions, such as the huge Metropolitan Cathedral.

National Theater

This is one of the most famous buildings in the city. Aside from being a top event venue, it has many elegant furnishings and beautifully carved marble statues.

National Museum

The museum has hundreds of exhibits that showcase the country’s history, from artifacts from pre-colonial times, to priceless antiques and cultural masterpieces. It is the best way to understand more about Costa Rica’s history, traditions, and culture.

Jade Museum

This place is a must-see! It has the world’s largest collection of jade, with over 7,000 artifacts and exhibits that explain the craftsmanship and why jade is so important to Costa Rican history.  

Pre-Columbian Gold Museum

This museum has a dazzling display of gold artifacts, many of which date back to over a thousand years. You will see permanent exhibits of 1,600 exhibits, as well as special collections.  

Costa Rican Centre of Science and Culture

The Centre houses the Children’s Museum, the National Auditorium, and the National Gallery. The interactive exhibits explain interesting scientific discoveries and concepts, the latest technological developments, and even key concepts like recycling.

La Paz Waterfall Garden

Though it is a 1 hour drive away from the city proper, this garden is worth the trip. Aside from its breathtaking natural waterfalls, it is the country’s largest animal and bird sanctuary, and has several scenic spots like a butterfly garden and hummingbird garden.

Central Market

No trip to San Jose would be complete without a visit to the Central Market. Tourists can taste local street food, buy souvenirs, or shop for local goods and delicacies at bargain prices. Prices are especially cheap here, and one can even bargain for a lower price.

Central Market also creates many opportunities to chat with the locals, many of whom are quite fluent in English and very friendly. Since they are used to tourists—San Jose has one of the highest tourist traffic in the region—they are more than willing to give directions, insider tips on the best restaurants, or where to find bargains.


San Jose is a bustling and beautiful city.  Because of its special role as the capital and center of culture and economy, it also has many attractions that can help visitors discover more about Costa Rica.

See Also

Capital Cities 

Hi and welcome to my travel blog! Based in London, I work in investment banking in a quantitative field and although I am not part of the travel industry, I have a ton of passion for travel. My blog is a reference guide for my fellow travelers with the same passion as me. Hopefully the blog is easy to navigate and my aim is to bring the most relevant and interesting information before you begin your journey!