San José’s Gran Hotel Costa Rica – a favorite spot for expats

Few foreign residents know the history of of San José’s famous Gran Hotel Costa Rica.

Foto histórica
Foto histórica

The Gran Hotel Costa is located in the heart of San José on Central and Second Avenues and between 1 and 3 streets. It is right across from the National Theater, and on the east side faces the Plaza de la Cultura and the Pre-Colombian Gold Museum.

The original structure was built at its present location in 1824 by George Stiepel and was Costa Rica’s first hotel. In 1928 the old building was demolished, a new one was completed in 1930 and was the first five-story building in Costa Rica. The new Gran Hotel was the most luxurious and important hotel in all of Central America.

The hotel has had many famous guests over the years — among them president John F. Kennedy in March of 1963, the famous Mexican actor and comedian “Cantinflas,” John Wayne, Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter and the Brazilian soccer star, Pelé. President Kennedy stayed in the Presidential Suite which has changed little since then.

Because of its historical and cultural importance, in 2005 the Gran Hotel Costa Rica was officially made a World Heritage Site or Patrimonio Histórico.



In 2013 Elite Hotels and Resorts became the new owner of the hotel and later closed its doors to do some serious remodeling. The number of rooms will be reduced from 107 to 80 and will be more spacious. Also, the plumbing and wiring will be completely updated. The reception area will be moved to the fifth floor to take advantage of the view.

The outdoor patio area that faces second avenue has always been a favorite afternoon gathering place for expats and retirees where they solve the world’s problems over a cup of coffee and watch people pass by. Once the newly refurbished hotel reopens, I am sure the old clients will return to the outdoor café.

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