Things to do in Costa Rica near San Jose list contain the most important attractions and places to visit located in the vicinity of the capital city.
You will most probably fly to and from San Jose International Airport so you will book at least one day in the capital city of Costa Rica.
The city was founded in the first half of the 18th century and there are plenty of buildings and houses of European inspiration reminding us about the period when Costa Rica was a Spanish colony.
The city is located in Central Valley and is the largest and most animated city from all over the country, full of restaurants, bars, and shops.
San Jose has more than 2 million inhabitants and is the business center of the country, an extremely safe city that offers one of the best standards of living from Latin America.
You will be fascinated by its amazing architecture, culture, art, and music so a book about 2 days to explore this magnificent place.
Although a huge metropole, the city is built inside the rainforest so within minutes from the city center you will find an abundance of flora and fauna, specific to this part of the world.
San Jose is the cultural capital of the country so there is an impressive number of museums, parks, galleries, and dining options for those of you interested to visit this place.
Most of the buildings are quite old, some of them having more than 100 years old but all these buildings attract visitors with their unique architecture, colonial vibe, and interesting history behind them.
Among the best attractions located within the city, I would mention Morazan Park, National Park, Central Park, Jade Museum, and Democracy Plaza.
Actually, the Jade Museum should definitely be on your list as it contains the largest collection of American Jade in the whole world.
But for those of you interested in the coolest things to do in Costa Rica San Jose I drop below a list so that you better plan your trip.
Things to do in Costa Rica near San Jose
1. Visit Jade Museum
One of the most interesting things to do San Jose Costa Rica is definitely Jade Museum or Museo del Jade, containing the largest collection of American Jade from the entire world.
This museum contains an impressive collection of jade pieces counting more than 7.000 pieces, most of them dating between 500 BC and 300 BC.
If you wonder why most of them are from that period, you have to know that for Costa Rica that was the golden era of Jade.
Most of the Jade pieces represent animals and describe in pictures the organization of the society from those times.
Right at the beginning of the period, jade pieces were used as ornamental objects, but later after that, they began to be used in shamanic and religious rituals.
The Jade Museum, one of the most popular tourist attractions in San Jose Costa Rica contains 6 permanent collections:
- Jade, containing objects, artifacts, and stones from ancient Mesoamerica
- The Night is about using the jade in burial rites, in wars, and in religion
- The Day which is about the jade objects used in daily life during the Pre- Columbian period
- A threshold is a deep analysis of the historical and ecological elements that lead to the appearance of the jade community.
- Memory, a collection that celebrates history, music, and technology
- The Collection contains Jade pieces from three important regions: Central Valley, Greater Nicoya, and Greater Chiriqui.
2. Explore Manuel Antonio National Park
One of the most important things to do in Costa Rica near San Jose is a day trip to Manuel Antonio National Park, a popular attraction from Costa Rica.
The park is located on Central Pacific Coast and is a place rich in fauna and flora and packed with many outdoor activities for every budget and each taste.
The park is closed on Mondays and besides the beautiful tropical forest full of wildlife, it also contains 3 beaches and many trails that go across the forest.
The two main beaches from the park are located within 30 minutes hike from the entrance to the park and they are perfect for swimming, surfing, and snorkeling.
Although the smallest park, Manuel Antonio is packed with beautiful wildlife like monkeys (squirrel monkeys, howler monkeys,s and white-faced monkeys), sloths, agoutis, iguanas, and a large variety of birds and insects.
As for the hiking trails from the park, I want to tell you there are plenty of them, with different degrees of difficulty and different lengths.
For those of you interested in exploring Manuel Antonio National Park we definitely recommend a day trip from San Jose: Manuel Antonio National Park Combo Tour from San Jose, a 12 hours tour that starts with pick up from your hotel, a stop to a local restaurant for breakfast, and continues with the tour of the national park, a delicious lunch and ends with drop off at your hotel from San Jose.
In the tour price, you have included the 2 meals, an English speaking guide, the entrance to Manuel Antonio National Park, a visit to the famous Crocodile Bridge as well as the Scarlet Macaws observation point and the Jaco Beach lookout point.
3. San José city tour
One of the chicest Costa Rica San Jose attractions is the city of San Jose itself, because of its amazing architecture, an abundance of museums, restaurants, and bars.
A city tour is the best opportunity to get to know the area, to admire its stunning architecture and beautiful streets.
There are plenty of companies that offer city tours and plenty of tours to choose from but my favorite one is Welcome to San Jose Private Tour with a Local Host, which lasts for about 3 hours and has included pick up from your hotel or Airbnb and a walking tour across the most important attractions.
The tours have an experienced and knowledgeable guy who will answer all your questions about the most interesting things to do in Costa Rica near San Jose and about the city’s history.
Some of the tours are free of charge but it is advisable to tip the guide at the end of the tour, as they use their free time and make some effort to present you with everything about the capital city of Costa Rica.
Central Avenue is the heart of the city and the main street, a good starting point for exploring the city, full of museums, amazing buildings, cafes, and shops, and pubs with craft beer.
Most of the free tours start in front of the National Theatre, while some of the paid tours have pick up and drop off from the hotel included in the fee.
You will visit downtown San Jose and pass by Metropolitan Cathedral, Plaza de la Cultura, Central Post Office, Metallic Building, National Theater (Teatro Nacional), galleries, central market (Mercado Central), and historic building with Spanish influences.
All the important Costa Rica San Jose things to do are grouped on a small surface and all the important attractions are found within walking distance one from another.
Book some time to rest in one of the local plazas or parks, one of the favorite places of locals to relax, socialize, and read, and if you come with your kids include into your itinerary the Children s Museum.
4. Visit Tortuga Island
If you don’t know what to do in San Jose Costa Rica but you are looking for something unique and spectacular, book a trip to Tortuga Island, Costa Rica’s hidden gem, the perfect day trip from San Jose.
The island is located in the southeastern part of the Nicoya Peninsula, and in about 4 hours you reach your destination from the capital city.
You cannot spend the night on the island so daily tours are the only way to explore this magnificent area part of the protected territories of Costa Rica.
There are plenty of travel agencies that offer trips to the island most of them being located in San Jose, Puntarenas, Jaco, or Montezuma.
On your trip to this island, you will most probably see dolphins, whales, and other marine creatures including birds and fish.
The island is the best choice for all types of tourists as there are plenty of beautiful beaches to relax and perfect your tan and an impressive number of trails to explore the island and the local fauna and flora.
Most of the beaches have white sand and have sun chairs and umbrellas that can be used for a small fee.
Beach volleyball, trips with glass bottom boats, snorkeling, and kayaking are available on the island for those of you who love the sun and the sea.
For explorers and nature lovers, the island has plenty of trails that go deep into the forest and up to the highest point from the island as well as canopy tours for those looking for some adrenaline.
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5. Visit National Museum
One of the most interesting things to do in Costa Rica near San Jose is to visit the National Museum or Museo Nacional de Costa Rica.
The museum contains an impressive collection of natural history, archeology, and anthropology and is located in an old fort dating from the Spanish era called Bellavista Fortress.
You will find here artifacts dating from 12.000 years B.C. up to the Spanish arrival and up to modern times.
Arrows, pendants, adornment for rituals and personal objects are just some of the things that can be seen at this museum.
A wonderful view of San Jose opens from the courtyard of the museum so prepare your camera for some memorable photos.
It will take up around 2 hours to explore the whole museum and see all the pieces exposed here so plan your visit accordingly, taking into consideration that the museum is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 8.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m and on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 4.30 p.m
As most of the attractions are from Costa Rica and from all over the world, the museum is closed on Mondays.
6. Visit Arenal Volcano and the hot springs
One of the most popular San Jose Costa Rica things to do is a day trip to Arenal Volcano and the nearby thermal pools.
This volcano national park is the largest from Costa Rica with a total surface of more than 12.000 ha ( 28.700 acres).
Actually, inside the park there are two volcanoes: Arenal Volcano and Chato Volcano, which was inactive for the last 3.550 years and its crater collapsed and a beautiful lagoon is now there.
On the other hand, Arenal Volcano is an active volcano, with the last notable eruption dating from 1968 when the towns of Tabacon and Puerto Nuevo had been covered with ash and toxic gas.
Park rangers monitor carefully the activity of the volcano and without any notice, they might decide to close some trails, or some parts of the park if not the whole park if the situation becomes too dangerous for tourists.
You can follow the trails through the volcanic landscape and climb close to the summit for amazing views of the volcano and the surrounding areas.
Make sure you arrive at the entrance of the park early in the morning, because mornings come with a clear sky and higher chances to spot the summit.
After walking inside the national park, take a tour of the hot springs located in the vicinity as the experience of bathing in those places is unique.
Some of these natural pools are free but the area around has no facilities, while others have an entrance fee but you will have toilets, changing rooms, lockers, and even restaurants as some of the hot springs are located inside the resorts.
There is even a day tour to the volcano and the beautiful hot springs that last for 14 hours and has included breakfast and lunch, an English speaking guide, pick up and drop off to your hotel, entrance to the zip lining and to the hot springs as well as a short visit to La Paz waterfall and San Fernando waterfall as well as iguanas and hummingbirds viewpoints.
The tour is San José: Arenal Volcano, Hot Springs, & Zip Lining w/ Meals, and is a unique opportunity to see the volcanoes, the jungles and the plantations around Arenal Volcano from Central Valley.
7. See the Pre-Columbian gold museum
As the name suggested, The Pre-Columbian gold museum is home to the largest collection of Pre-columbian gold articles from the whole of Latin America.
There are more than 1.700 pieces made from gold coming from different times and different parts of the country.
You will see the first Costa Rican coin called Media Escudo which is considered by experts among the most important items displayed at the museum.
8. Book a whitewater rafting tour
One of the most exciting things to do in Costa Rica near San Jose is a whitewater rafting tour on one of the rivers around the capital city.
The best rivers from the whole country for whitewater rafting are Toro and Sarapiqui, great places for some adventure and wildlife observation.
The rapids are mostly Grade 3 with calm waters perfect for the whole family and some of the waters have Grade 4 great for those of you looking for some adrenaline.
Whitewater rafting is not a dangerous sport if you choose the suitable degree of difficulty it can be fun and entertaining.
In the trip price, you have included the equipment and very short training to find out what you have to do and how to paddle for a great experience.
Most of the tours include pick-up and drop-off, a professional guide, a meal, and some snacks as well as water and soft drinks.
The one we tried and we love the experience was Rafting Class 3-4 “Jungle Run”: Río Sarapiquí, Costa Rica, an 8 hours tour that includes pick up and drop off to your hotel, fruit plateau, and a delicious local meal as well as a professional guide that will tell you everything you need to know about this magnificent piece of paradise.
9. Take a coffee tour
One of the main products that are exported by Costa Rica is coffee so a trip to Costa Rica cannot be complete without a tour to a coffee plantation.
You will discover how the coffee grows, when and how it is harvest, how to roast it, and the secrets of the best coffee.
On your tour you will try different types of coffee, you will see the whole process from the plant to the roasted coffee and you can even buy some good quality coffee directly from the farm.
There are plenty of coffee plantations all over the country that can be visited out of which I would like to mention Britt in Heredia, Espiritu Santo in Naranjo, Finca Rosa Blanca in Heredia too, Coopedota in San Gerardo de Dota.
And for Starbucks fans, I have a little surprise: Hacienda Alsacia, the company’s own coffee plantation from Costa Rica.
The best time to visit coffee plantations is between October to March when is the harvest season in Costa Rica.
As for the best places to go for coffee plantations I strongly recommend you to head to the highlands around Alajuela, Grecia, San Jose, Heredia, Monteverde, and Turrialba.
10. Go on a day trip to Monteverde Cloud Forest
Monteverde or “The Green Mountain” is one of the most interesting things to do in Costa Rica near San Jose.
In 2007 the forest was named one of the seven’s natural wonders of Costa Rica and offers a wide range of outdoor activities and a great place to spot wildlife in their natural environment.
This place is full of trails that go deep inside the jungle, a great place to cool down and to relax while observing wildlife.
There are more than 430 species of orchids, mosses, and ferns and a large number of birds including the rare and elusive Resplendent Quetzal.
To discover a completely new face of the cloud forest, we strongly suggest booking a night tour with a professional guide to discover the night creatures that live in the area: poison frogs, armadillos, spiders, and insects.
You have to book your seat at San Jose: Monteverde Sky Tram & Hanging Bridges Day Tour, a 12 hours tour with lunch included that gives you the unique opportunity to see the cloud forest from the world famous Sky Tram, to hike the hanging bridges and feel like a bird in the middle of the canopy.
Where to stay in San Jose
San Jose is full of beautiful buildings, historical monuments and amazing hotels spread all over the city.
Here are three of my favorite options suitable for every budget:
- luxury: Gran Hotel Costa Rica Curio Collection By Hilton
- mid-level: Urban Green Hotel Sanjose Costa Rica
- budget: Cando Living Apartments Costa Rica
Logistical tips and tricks for your trip
Book your accommodation
We always use Booking.com as they have the best price-quality ratio and they offer a wide range of hotels, guesthouses, apartments, and villas to choose from.
You will find here all types of accommodations, from the cheapest ones to the most luxurious.
Don't forget travel insurance
We never leave home without HeyMondo Insurance or Safety Wings Insurance as they offer the best services and a good value for money, plus COVID coverage.
Travel insurance will always protect you against unexpected events and cost like illness, COVID, injury, theft, or travel cancellation.
We never go on any trip without travel insurance and there were many cases when we had to use it.
Renting a car
We like to explore a country on our own and a car gives us the mobility and freedom to do that.
We always rent our car from Discovercars as they have free cancellation 48 hours prior to starting date and a wide range of car rental companies and options to choose from all over the world.
Tours and attractions
When we are looking for some adventure or we simply want to break up the monotony and discover new places, we always use GetYourGuide.
We love it because we always find the most amazing experiences, with free cancellation and a large variety of activities and tours to choose from.
Airplane tickets and holiday packages
Expedia is our ally when searching for the best price for airplane tickets as it works as an aggregator for a huge number of airlines and we always find the best price for our flights.
Travel tip: use Expedia when you are searching for holiday packages as they have many last-minute offers and great discounts for hotels, flights, and even the whole holiday packages.