What To Do And See In San Jose, Costa Rica

Have a free day in San Jose?

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What will you choose to do?

Many travellers plan to spend either their first or last day in Costa Rica’s bustling capital city. While it is not always necessary or desired to do so, should you find yourself in the area with time to spare, consider checking out one or more of our recommended sites.

Note: the majority of sites noted below fall into one of three geographical locations: San Jose (downtown and surrounding area), Cartago (east of San Jose and surrounding area), or Alajuela (west of San Jose and surrounding area). There is plenty to do and see in each region, however we generally recommend that travellers choose to visit only one of the three areas over the course of their day in or nearby the capital. This is to avoid wasting precious vacation time (and to minimize stress) driving or obtaining transfer services back and forth between Alajuela, San Jose, and Cartago. Of course, visits can certainly be planned to more than one of the three recommended areas, and if and when this would be of interest, we suggest travellers give themselves an extra full day for each additional area they wish to experience during their trip.

ATTRACTIONS, EXHIBITS, & ACTIVITIES

Nikki - at the Poas Volcano

Nikki – at the Poas Volcano

POAS VOLCANO / POAS VOLCANO NATIONAL PARK (PARQUE NACIONAL VOLCAN POAS)

Experience type: volcano visit, educational walking tour
Location: Alajuela (north of downtown Alajuela – nearby Poasito)
Operating hours: 8:00am to 3:30pm
Recommended for: travellers interested in volcanoes; all ages welcome
Is a vehicle and/or transportation required? yes
Other: make the most of your visit to Alajuela by combining a visit to the Poas Volcano with a visit to Lake Botos (accessible via entrance into the Poas Volcano National Park) and/or the La Paz Waterfall Gardens
Don’t miss: the educational display inside the building at the entrance, rare yellow-green squirrels, and Lake Botos

LA PAZ WATERFALL GARDENS (CATARATA LA PAZ)

Experience type: waterfall visit, educational walking tour
Location: Alajuela (north of downtown Alajuela – nearby Vara Blanca)
Operating hours: 8:00am to 5:00pm
Recommended for: travellers interested in nature, animals, and waterfalls; all ages welcome
Is a vehicle and/or transportation required? yes, unless your accommodation is the Peace Lodge (otherwise no)
Other: make the most of your visit to Alajuela by combining a visit to the La Paz Waterfall Gardens with a visit to the nearby Poas Volcano and/or Lake Botos (both accessible via entrance into the Poas Volcano National Park)

Ricky - at Lake Botos

Ricky – at Lake Botos

LAKE BOTOS / POAS VOLCANO NATIONAL PARK (PARQUE NACIONAL VOLCAN POAS)

Experience type: lake visit, educational walking tour
Location: Alajuela (north of downtown Alajuela – nearby Poasito)
Operating hours: 8:00am to 3:30pm
Recommended for: travellers interested volcanoes and lakes; all ages welcome
Is a vehicle and/or transportation required? yes
Other: make the most of your visit to Alajuela by combining a visit to Lake Botos with a visit to the Poas Volcano (accessible via entrance into the Poas Volcano National Park) and/or the La Paz Waterfall Gardens
Don’t miss: the educational display inside the building at the entrance, rare yellow-green squirrels, and the Poas Volcano

LANKESTER BOTANICAL GARDENS (JARDIN BOTANICO LANKESTER)

Experience type: research-based, educational walking tour
Location: Cartago (halfway between downtown Cartago and Orosi)
Operating hours: 8:30am to 4:30pm
Recommended for: travellers interested in nature, gardens, and flora (specifically orchids and/or bromeliads); all ages welcome
Is a vehicle and/or transportation required? yes
Other: make the most of your visit to Cartago by combining a visit to the Lankester Botanical Gardens with a visit to the nearby Ujarras Ruins, Cartago Ruins, Our Lady Of The Angels Basilica, Duran Sanatorium, and/or Irazu Volcano

Nikki & Ricky - Main Crater at the Irazu Volcano

Nikki & Ricky – at the main crater of the Irazu Volcano

IRAZU VOLCANO / IRAZU VOLCANO NATIONAL PARK (PARQUE NACIONAL VOLCAN IRAZU)

Experience type: volcano visit, educational walking tour
Location: Cartago (north of downtown Cartago – nearby Tierra Blanca)
Operating hours: 8:00am to 3:30pm
Recommended for: travellers interested in volcanoes; all ages welcome
Is a vehicle and/or transportation required? yes
Other: make the most of your visit to Cartago by combining a visit to the Irazu Volcano with a visit to the nearby Ujarras Ruins, Cartago Ruins, Our Lady Of The Angels Basilica, Duran Sanatorium, and/or the Lankester Botanical Gardens
Don’t miss: the Linda Vista Restaurant en route to/from the Irazu Volcano National Park (this gimmicky restaurant is covered in business cards and currency collected from travellers and countries around the world)

UNIVERSITY OF COSTA RICA INSECT MUSEUM

Experience type: research-based, educational walking tour
Location: San Jose (downtown – calle central y calle 3 / central street and 3rd street)
Operating hours: 1:00pm to 4:45pm (Mondays-Fridays)
Recommended for: travellers interested in insects; all ages welcome
Is a vehicle and/or transportation required? yes, if accommodations fall outside of the downtown San Jose core (otherwise no)
Other: make the most of your visit to downtown San Jose by combining a visit to the University of Costa Rica Insect Museum with a visit to any other downtown San Jose exhibit, museum, or shopping attraction

Ricky - at Animal Rescue Zoo Ave

Ricky – at Animal Rescue Zoo Ave

ANIMAL RESCUE BIRD ZOO (RESCATE ANIMAL ZOO AVE)

Experience type: exhibit, educational walking tour
Location: Alajuela (west of downtown Alajuela – nearby La Garita)
Operating hours: 9:00am to 5:00pm
Recommended for: travellers interested in nature, animals, and birding; all ages welcome
Is a vehicle and/or transportation required? yes
Other: make the most of your visit to Alajuela by combining a visit to the Animal Rescue Bird Zoo with a visit to the nearby Poas Volcano and/or Lake Botos (both accessible via entrance into the Poas Volcano National Park) or the La Paz Waterfall Gardens
Don’t miss: the giant mural showcasing a painted version of every bird species found in Costa Rica

YOGA CLASS (CLASE DE YOGA / LA FERIA VERDE DE ARANJUEZ)

Experience type: class
Location: San Jose (downtown – calle 19 y avenida 15 / 19th street and 15th avenue)
Operating hours: every Saturday, typically around 10:00am *exact class time varies*
Recommended for: travellers interested in yoga; all ages welcome
Is a vehicle and/or transportation required? yes, if accommodations fall outside of the downtown San Jose core (otherwise no)
Other: make the most of your visit to downtown San Jose by combining a Yoga class with a visit to any other downtown San Jose exhibit, museum, or shopping attraction

HISTORICAL SITES OF INTEREST & MUSEUMS

Nikki & Ricky - at Costa Rica's National Stadium

Nikki & Ricky – at Costa Rica’s National Stadium

NATIONAL STADIUM OF COSTA RICA (ESTADIO NACIONAL DE COSTA RICA)

Experience type: historical site visit, educational walking tour
Location: San Jose (downtown – avenida de las americas / street of the americas)
Operating hours: N/A
Recommended for: travellers interested in sports, architecture, and culture; all ages welcome
Is a vehicle and/or transportation required? yes, if accommodations fall outside of the downtown San Jose core (otherwise no)
Other: make the most of your visit to downtown San Jose by combining a visit to the National Stadium of Costa Rica with a visit to any other downtown San Jose exhibit, museum, or shopping attraction

UJARRAS RUINS (RUINAS DE UJARRAS)

Experience type: historical site visit, educational walking tour
Location: Orosi (north of downtown)
Operating hours: N/A
Recommended for: travellers interested in history, architecture, and culture; all ages welcome
Is a vehicle and/or transportation required? yes
Other: make the most of your visit to Orosi by combining a visit to the Ujarras Ruins with a visit to the nearby Lankester Gardens, Our Lady Of The Angels Basilica, Duran Sanatorium, and/or Irazu Volcano

Nikki - at the Cartago Ruins

Nikki – at the Cartago Ruins

CARTAGO RUINS (RUINAS DE CARTAGO)

Experience type: historical site visit, educational walking tour
Location: Cartago (downtown)
Operating hours: N/A
Recommended for: travellers interested in history, architecture, and culture; all ages welcome
Is a vehicle and/or transportation required? yes
Other: make the most of your visit to Cartago by combining a visit to the Cartago Ruins with a visit to the nearby Lankester Gardens, Our Lady Of The Angels Basilica, Duran Sanatorium, Ujarras Ruins, and/or Irazu Volcano

BRAULIO CARRILLO NATIONAL PARK (PARQUE NACIONAL BRAULIO CARRILLO)

Experience type: park visit
Location: San Jose (north of downtown San Jose – en route to Guapiles, Siquirres, and Limon)
Operating hours: 8:00am to 4:00pm
Recommended for: travellers interested in nature and hiking; all ages welcome
Is a vehicle and/or transportation required? yes
Other: make the most of your visit to downtown San Jose by combining a visit to the Braulio Carrillo National Park with a visit to any other downtown San Jose exhibit, museum, or shopping attraction
Don’t miss: the Rainforest Aerial Tram (unless you plan to visit either La Fortuna/Arenal or Monteverde during your trip, in which case we would recommend either Sky Adventures’ Arenal Sky Tram Aerial Tram or Sky Adventures’ Monteverde Sky Tram Aerial Tram in either of these locations)

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Tree in La Sabana Metropolitan Park

LA SABANA METROPOLITAN PARK (PARQUE METROPOLITANO LA SABANA)

Experience type: park visit
Location: San Jose (downtown – avenida de las americas / street of the americas)
Operating hours: N/A
Recommended for: travellers interested in nature and strolling around town; all ages welcome
Is a vehicle and/or transportation required? yes, if accommodations fall outside of the downtown San Jose core (otherwise no)
Other: make the most of your visit to downtown San Jose by combining a visit to La Sabana Metropolitan Park with a visit to any other downtown San Jose exhibit, museum, or shopping attraction
Don’t miss: the stunning and colourful surprise behind the park’s tree bark

MORAZAN PARK (PARQUE MORAZAN)

Experience type: park visit
Location: San Jose (downtown – avenida 5 entre calles 5 y 9 / 5th avenue between 5th street and 9th street)
Operating hours: N/A
Recommended for: travellers interested in nature, strolling around town, and modern culture; all ages welcome
Is a vehicle and/or transportation required? yes, if accommodations fall outside of the downtown San Jose core (otherwise no)
Other: make the most of your visit to downtown San Jose by combining a visit to Morazan Park with a visit to any other downtown San Jose exhibit, museum, or shopping attraction
Don’t miss: the hula-hoopers, slack-line artists, drum circle musicians, skateboarders, jugglers, and other local entertainers

Ricky - at the National Theater of Costa Rica

Ricky – at the National Theater of Costa Rica

NATIONAL THEATER OF COSTA RICA (TEATRO NACIONAL DE COSTA RICA)

Experience type: historical site visit, educational walking tour
Location: San Jose (downtown – avenida segunda entre calles 3 y 5 / 2nd avenue between 3rd street and 5th street)
Operating hours: 9:00am to 4:00pm, closed Sundays
Recommended for: travellers interested in history, architecture, and culture; all ages welcome
Is a vehicle and/or transportation required? yes, if accommodations fall outside of the downtown San Jose core (otherwise no)
Other: make the most of your visit to downtown San Jose by combining a visit to the National Theater of Costa Rica with a visit to any other downtown San Jose exhibit, museum, or shopping attraction
Don’t miss: the building’s stunning architecture and decorative trees at the entrance

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF COSTA RICA (MUSEO NACIONAL DE COSTA RICA)

Experience type: museum visit, educational walking tour
Location: San Jose (downtown – calle 17 entre avenida central y avenida segunda / 17th street between central avenue and 2nd avenue)
Operating hours: 8:30am to 4:30pm (Tuesday-Saturday), 9:00am to 4:30pm (Sunday), closed Mondays
Recommended for: travellers interested in history, anthropology, archaeology, and culture; all ages welcome
Is a vehicle and/or transportation required? yes, if accommodations fall outside of the downtown San Jose core (otherwise no)
Other: make the most of your visit to downtown San Jose by combining a visit to the National Museum of Costa Rica with a visit to any other downtown San Jose exhibit, museum, or shopping attraction

CHILDREN’S MUSEUM (MUSEO DE NINOS)

Experience type: museum visit, educational walking tour
Location: San Jose (downtown – calle 4 y avenida 9 / 4th street and 9th avenue)
Operating hours: 8:00am to 4:30pm (Tuesday-Friday), 9:30am to 5:00pm (Saturday-Sunday), closed Mondays
Recommended for: travellers interested in astronomy, the human body, science, nature, animals, transportation, and culture, electricity, and recycling; all ages welcome
Is a vehicle and/or transportation required? yes, if accommodations fall outside of the downtown San Jose core (otherwise no)
Other: make the most of your visit to downtown San Jose by combining a visit to the Children’s Museum with a visit to any other downtown San Jose exhibit, museum, or shopping attraction

Nikki - at the Costa Rican Art Museum

Nikki – at the Costa Rican Art Museum

COSTA RICAN ART MUSEUM (MUSEO DE ARTE COSTARRICENSE)

Experience type: museum visit, educational walking tour
Location: San Jose (downtown – avenida 2 y calle 42 / 2nd avenue and 42nd street)
Operating hours: 9:00am to 4:00pm, closed Mondays
Recommended for: travellers interested in history, art, and photography; all ages welcome
Is a vehicle and/or transportation required? yes, if accommodations fall outside of the downtown San Jose core (otherwise no)
Other: make the most of your visit to downtown San Jose by combining a visit to the Costa Rican Art Museum with a visit to any other downtown San Jose exhibit, museum, or shopping attraction
Don’t miss: the golden room (salon dorado) on the second level

MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART & DESIGN (MUSEO DE ARTE Y DISENO CONTEMPORANEO)

Experience type: museum visit, educational walking tour
Location: San Jose (downtown – avenida 3 y calle 15 / 3rd avenue and 15th street)
Operating hours: 9:30am to 5:00pm, closed Sundays
Recommended for: travellers interested in art, photography, and modernity; all ages welcome
Is a vehicle and/or transportation required? yes, if accommodations fall outside of the downtown San Jose core (otherwise no)
Other: make the most of your visit to downtown San Jose by combining a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art & Design with a visit to any other downtown San Jose exhibit, museum, or shopping attraction

Ricky - goofing off at the Jade Museum

Ricky – goofing off at the Jade Museum

MUSEUM OF JADE & PRE-COLUMBIAN CULTURE (MUSEO DEL JADE Y DE LA CULTURA PRECOLUMBINA)

Experience type: museum visit, educational walking tour
Location: San Jose (downtown – avenida central y calle 13 / central avenue and 13th street)
Operating hours: 10:00am to 5:00pm
Recommended for: travellers interested in history, anthropology, archaeology, and culture; all ages welcome
Is a vehicle and/or transportation required? yes, if accommodations fall outside of the downtown San Jose core (otherwise no)
Other: make the most of your visit to downtown San Jose by combining a visit to the Museum of Jade & Pre-Columbian Culture with a visit to any other downtown San Jose exhibit, museum, or shopping attraction
Note: as of May 2014 the Museum of Jade & Pre-Columbian Culture (formally known as the Jade Museum) has moved, however the location information above reflects the museum’s new home next to the Plaza de la Democracia in downtown San Jose

PRE-COLUMBIAN GOLD MUSEUM (MUSEO DEL ORO PRECOLUMBINO)

Experience type: museum visit, educational walking tour
Location: San Jose (downtown – avenida central y calle 5 / central avenue and 5th street)
Operating hours: 9:15am to 4:30pm
Recommended for: travellers interested in history, anthropology, archaeology, and culture; all ages welcome
Is a vehicle and/or transportation required? yes, if accommodations fall outside of the downtown San Jose core (otherwise no)
Other: make the most of your visit to downtown San Jose by combining a visit to the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum with a visit to any other downtown San Jose exhibit, museum, or shopping attraction

Ricky - at the Basilica

Ricky – at the Basilica

OUR LADY OF THE ANGELS BASILICA (BASILICA DE NUESTRA SENORA DE LOS ANGELES)

Experience type: historical site visit, educational walking tour
Location: Cartago (downtown)
Operating hours: N/A
Recommended for: travellers interested in history, religion, roman catholicism, and architecture; all ages welcome
Is a vehicle and/or transportation required? yes
Other: make the most of your visit to Orosi by combining a visit to the Ouy Lady Of The Angels Basilica with a visit to the nearby Lankester Gardens, Ujarras Ruins, Cartago Ruins, Duran Sanatorium, and/or Irazu Volcano

DURAN SANATORIUM (SANATORIO DURAN)

Experience type: , educational walking tour
Location: Cartago (north of Cartago – nearby Tierra Blanca)
Operating hours: 8:00am to 4:00pm
Recommended for: travellers interested in medicine, history, and paranormal activity; all ages welcome
Is a vehicle and/or transportation required? yes
Other: make the most of your visit to Cartago by combining a visit to the Duran Sanatorium with a visit to the nearby Ujarras Ruins, Cartago Ruins, Lankester Gardens, Our Lady Of The Angels Basilica, and/or Irazu Volcano

SHOPPING & STROLLING

Local shoppers & vendors on Avenida Central

Local shoppers & vendors on Avenida Central

CENTRAL AVENUE STREET MARKET (AVENIDA CENTRAL)

Experience type: shopping visit
Location: San Jose (downtown – avenida central / central avenue)
Operating hours: N/A
Recommended for: travellers interested in browsing, shopping, strolling around town, and modern culture; all ages welcome
Is a vehicle and/or transportation required? yes, if accommodations fall outside of the downtown San Jose core (otherwise no)
Other: make the most of your visit to downtown San Jose by combining a visit to Avenida Central with a visit to the nearby Organic Farmers’ Market and/or the Artisans’ Market
Don’t miss: the street vendors rolling up and/or hiding their products on a whim when police are in the area (some street vendors sell illegal products ranging from pirated CDs and DVDs to clothing), only to re-establish their displays as soon as the coast is clear

ORGANIC FARMERS’ MARKET (LA FERIA VERDE DE ARANJUEZ)

Experience type: shopping visit
Location: San Jose (downtown – calle 19 y avenida 15 / 19th street and 15th avenue)
Operating hours: 7:00am to between 12:00pm-1:00pm every Saturday
Recommended for: travellers interested in browsing, shopping, strolling around town, organic products, and modern culture; all ages welcome
Is a vehicle and/or transportation required? yes, if accommodations fall outside of the downtown San Jose core (otherwise no)
Other: make the most of your visit to downtown San Jose by combining a visit to the Organic Farmers’ Market with a visit to the nearby Central Avenue Street Market and/or the Artisans’ Market

ARTISANS’ MARKET (MERCADO ARTESANIAS)

Experience type: shopping visit
Location: San Jose (downtown – calle 13 entre avenida 2 y avenida central / 13th street between 2nd avenue and central avenue)
Operating hours: N/A
Recommended for: travellers interested in browsing, shopping, strolling around town, and modern culture; all ages welcome
Is a vehicle and/or transportation required? yes, if accommodations fall outside of the downtown San Jose core (otherwise no)
Other: make the most of your visit to downtown San Jose by combining a visit to the Artisans’ Market with a visit to the nearby Central Avenue Street Market and/or the Organic Farmers’ Market

ORGANIZED TOURS

Rock Climbing

Rock Climbing

With additional time in the San Jose region travellers can also opt to participate in one of a number of organized tours, including white water rafting, rock climbing, rappelling, bungee jumping, coffee tours, visits to Grecia, visits to Sarchi, and much more.

QUICK SAN JOSE TRIP PLANNING GUIDE

To help you decide whether your time in the capital city region would be best spent in the Alajuela, San Jose, or Cartago area please see the below breakdown of the sites described above according to their geographical location.

Note: the SJO International Airport is located in the Alajuela region (it is not located in San Jose, despite commonly being referred to as “the San Jose airport”). Travellers looking to fill a few hours upon arrival into the country or prior to their departure should choose activities in the Alajuela or San Jose region (Cartago, located east of San Jose, would be the furthest region from Alajuela and the greatest distance from the airport).

ALAJUELA (WEST OF SAN JOSE)
  • Poas Volcano / Poas Volcano National Park
  • Lake Botos / Poas Volcano National Park
  • La Paz Waterfall Gardens
  • Animal Rescue Zoo Ave
SAN JOSE (DOWNTOWN – CENTRAL SAN JOSE)
  • University of Costa Rica Insect Museum
  • National Stadium of Costa Rica
  • La Sabana Metropolitan Park
  • Braulio Carrillo National Park
  • Morazan Park
  • National Theater of Costa Rica
  • National Museum of Costa Rica
  • Children’s Museum
  • Costa Rican Art Museum
  • Museum of Contemporary Art & Design
  • Museum of Jade & Pre-Columbian Culture
  • Pre-Columbian Gold Museum
  • Central Avenue Street Market
  • Organic Farmers’ Market
  • Artisans’ Market
  • Yoga Class
CARTAGO (EAST OF SAN JOSE)
  • Irazu Volcano / Irazu Volcano National Park
  • Ujarras Ruins
  • Cartago Ruins
  • Lankester Gardens
  • Our Lady Of The Angels Basilica
  • Duran Sanatorium

If you’re more of a visual learner, take a moment to view our gallery photos below from a handful of our San Jose site visits.

*Discounts for San Jose tours are available through Pura Vida! eh? Incorporated at: http://www.puravidaeh.ca/

expedcitytour3Click here to access San Jose Tour Discounts
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QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: What’s your favourite thing to do or see in San Jose (or one of its surrounding areas)?

Pura vida!

One response to “What To Do And See In San Jose, Costa Rica

  1. I can’t say enough good things about La Paz. We stayed at Peace Lodge for a perfectly serene few days. Took the Poas tour and also visited Doka coffee plantation! We love Costa Rica.

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