San Jose is the largest city in Costa Rica and its national capital. San Jose nightlife sometimes gets ignored as tourists rush off to the beaches and parks, but the city offers fabulous nightlife for those willing to hang around, including exciting clubs and bars, packed dance clubs and studios, live international and Central American music, and some of the best theater on the continent. San Jose nightlife is fast-paced, unique, and can easily keep even the most energetic tourist busy for weeks.
Visitors can get a quick overview of current San Jose nightlife events by picking up a copy of the Tico Times, a local newspaper (written in English) that provides a quick summary of the top places where expatriates like to gather. Another useful guide is La Nacion, the San Jose Costa Rica Spanish-language paper. La Nacion lists discos, movies, and live music events in its “Viva” and “Tiempo Libre” sections.
Downtown San Jose is studded with small theaters, most of which feature burlesque fare and simple comedies. However, the National Theater Company presents plays by serious artists such as David Mamet and Lope de Vega, and both the University of Costa Rica and the National University have resident dance troupes that perform regularly at different theaters and clubs all around San Jose. Two other dance and theater companies worth checking out are Los Denmedium and Dequis Tiquis.
Salsa and merigue dominate the dance and club scene in San Jose nightlife, but you can find a smaller smattering of jazz, rock, or blues if you really look hard. A good place to sample a variety of clubs and live music is a shopping village just north of town called ‘El Pueblo’. El Pueblo is easily accessible by taxi, and features over a dozen different bars, clubs, and discos, and even an indoor soccer field.
Some of the hottest clubs to visit for great San Jose nightlife include Café 83 Sur, a dance joint with a live DJ and several separate music rooms; El Tobagon, which has a dance floor the size of football field that is almost always full and features Latin music; La Plaza, an upscale disco where some of the celebrities and ‘beautiful’ people of San Juan can be regularly spotted; and Salsa 54, where you can watch expert salsa dancers burn up the floor night after night.
Just South of the University of Costa Rica is a two-block stretch called San Pedro that has more of a beat-generation college-crowd feel. In the San Pedro district travelers looking for jazz, cafés and coffee shops, bookstores will not be disappointed. A lively crowd of diverse patrons including college professors, students, punk rockers, and teens packs the clubs on those two blocks. The Jazz Café is one of the hottest spots in San Pedro, featuring live music most nights and a smoky, packed, retro atmosphere. For a less smoke-filled environment, check out Terra U, a relatively new but up and coming club in San Pedro. Terra U is a combination bar and café that is fast becoming one of the more popular spots to hang out on the University strip.
Finally, travelers who enjoy gambling will find lively casinos in almost every major hotel in San Juan. Black Jack and 5-card poker are very popular, but no craps tables or baccarat are available. The 5-card poker rules are complex, so be prepared to spend some time sorting them out. The casinos in San Juan tend to be casual, although in a few of the fancier hotels you may have to dress up.
San Juan nightlife offers everything a seasoned Costa Rican visitor could want and much, much more. For many tourists, San Juan ends up being an overnight stop on the way to a beach or national park, but for those travelers adventurous enough to do a little exploring, San Juan reveals a nightlife scene that is second to none.