San Josè, Costa Rica Food Tour

One of the best ways to get a feel for San Josè is to take the Bites and Sights Food Tour where you will get to sample fresh fruit, local dishes, and Costa Rican coffee. But that’s not all – you will get to hear about the area’s history and explore a few of the buildings that make San Josè special.

Small verdigris green statues of men and women.

When we go somewhere new, we try to book a food tour at the beginning of our trip. It helps us get a feel for the city and to try things that we otherwise probably wouldn’t. We took the San Josè Central Market Bites and Sights Walking Tour in March 2024 which did not disappoint.

Our group met at the Monument de los Presentes. The monument was built in 1953 and is a collection of 10 bronze sculptures of ordinary Costa Ricans. The life-sized replicas of indigenous people were created by Fernando Calvo in 1982 and sold to the Central Bank for $60,000 USD in 1985. Be sure to get a good look and notice how many have on shoes, their facial expressions, their clothing, etc.

Our guide was Oscar and he told us some facts about Costa Rica, such as there are 7 provinces and 5 million people in the country with 3.5 million in the Central Valley alone. There is also a large population of immigrants from Nicaragua which borders Costa Rica to the north.

Man wearing an amplifier talking to a group of people.

Our first stop was at the Central Market (Mercado Central), which was founded in 1880.

Central Market in San Jose.

This was a true taste of authentic Costa Rica. Inside the market, vendors sell trinkets, stuffed animals, produce, meat, live animals, and more. There are also places to eat called sodas (think local mom-and-pop restaurants).

Goods for sale in a market.

The first thing we tried were caldosas – mahi mahi ceviche. It was served in a bag of picaritas (barbecue-flavored corn chips).

Man holding a bag of chips topped with ceviche.

When you go through the market, be sure to pay close attention. Yes, that’s a real pig’s head pictured below.

Pig's head for sale in a meat department.

The contraptions below are Costa Rican “coffee makers.” It is called a chorreador and functions much like an American brew over coffee maker. Costa Ricans have been making coffee this way for over 200 years.

Costa Rican coffee makers.

Before making our way to the next market, we had the chance to use the restroom. Note: you need to pay 300 colones (approximately 60 cents) to use the restroom at the market.

Window to an office where people pay to use the restroom.

We made our way to another large market, Mercado Borbón. This is more of a farmers’ market and plenty of fresh produce was for sale in the market.

Fruits for sale at a market.
Habaneros, potatoes, ginger, and carrots.

San Josè is hilly, and this is quite evident inside the market, where the aisles are sloped. This is real Costa Rica.

People walking down an aisle inside of a market in San Jose.

It was in the second market where we tried more delicious Costa Rican fruits, such as cas, a member of the guava family, and granadillas, a native passionfruit. (The name of the latter translates to “little grenade.”)

Collage of food sampled at markets in San Jose, Costa Rica.

I was hooked on the crunchy seeds and sweet mucilage that surrounds them. I ended up buying some and enjoyed them later.

I would have loved to have bought some cacao and brought it home. Although it has a somewhat bitter taste, I found it quite enjoyable.

Bucket filled with cacao beans.

For the sights, we visited the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Josè (Catedral Metropolitana). Originally built in 1802, the neoclassical basilica has been rebuilt a total of 4 times thanks to seismic activity (earthquakes).

Large white catholic church.

Because Costa Rica lies on the Ring of Fire, it experiences many earthquakes daily (somewhere around 50). Most of them are unfelt.

Ornate ceiling inside of a catholic church.

Our next-to-last last stop was at the National Theater (Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica). One piece of information I found quite interesting is that Costa Rica was fourth in the world in terms of electricity, and theater was first in Costa Rica.

Completed in 1897, the theater is still the site of performances by local artists. Coffee lovers will appreciate being able to enjoy a cup of coffee and a homemade pastry while surrounded by neoclassical architecture that oozes with history and art.

We concluded our tour at a restaurant, sampling coffee, enjoying a tamale, and making small empanadas.

Tours can be purchased through Get Your Guide, and rates are from $29.00 per person. They last 3 hours and are a fantastic way to “sample” San Josè. If you go, please don’t forget to leave a tip for your guide.

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