Often when people fly into San Jose Costa Rica they immediately hit the road, head out of the city, and skip all the day trips from San Jose Costa Rica. We agree San Jose is not the best city in the world, and that is coming from two people that live there! However, there are tons of great day trip options in the area.
In the surrounding area, you can find beautiful views of the valley, volcanos, coffee tours, and so much more! All of these great things can be accessed within an hour or two of San Jose. So, if you do decide to spend a few days in the San Jose area here are our picks for the best day trips from San Jose Costa Rica.
Head to the beach from San Jose
Our favorite beach for day trips from San Jose is called Playa Blanca. This beach is located in a private resort, but because every beach in Costa Rica has to have public access by law, there is a secret dirt road you can go down to access the resort. It will only take you about 1.5 hours to drive there from San Jose and it is seriously beautiful.
We have a complete post about visiting Playa Blanca from San Jose here.
Check out Irazu Volcano
Irazu Volcano is located in the city neighboring San Jose called Cartago. We love visiting this volcano on clear days for the amazing view. Also, if you are lucky you can see the nearby volcano called Turrialba erupting in the distance.
If you would like to visit Irazu Volcano we have a full guide to visiting.
Visit Poas Volcano
Poas volcano is now reopened after being closed for over a year due to eruptions. This is definitely our favorite volcano in Costa Rica because the views are just amazing! However, a lot of things have changed since the reopening including the ticketing system and which trails are open to the public.
Check out our complete guide to the new Poas Volcano.
Get lunch at a Trucha
Oh how we love truchas! This is one of those hidden gems of Costa Rica that most tourists don’t experience, but totally should.
The concept is you go to a place with a small freshwater lake. An employee will give you a line with a little piece of bait on the end. You then stand around the lake and try to catch a fish (usually trout).
Once you catch a fish you can go to the restaurant located on the property and they will cook up your fish for you. You can expect to pay about $10 for your fish and some side dishes (usually rice, beans, salad, and fried plantains). It’s a great way to spend a few hours. There are many
It’s a great way to spend a few hours and it’s cheap! The fishing part is free, so you are really only paying for your food and any drinks. There are several truchas in the Central Valley area of the country. Just search “trucha” on Google maps and you’ll find them.
Cartago is not really a city of beauty or anything, but if you are heading in this direction to go to Irazu, it is worth doing a little exploring. There are three really interesting churches that are worth checking out.
Our Lady of the Angels Basilica (Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles)– This is the church pictured above. Every year August people from all over the country pilgrimage here. Some even approach the last several miles on their knees. It’s beautiful inside and worth checking out.
Santiago Apostol Parish Ruins– I find this place so incredibly beautiful. It is an old stone church that had burned too many times. Instead of rebuilding it they decided to just keep the outside frame and turn the interior into a park. Unfortunately, the park is often closed. I can’t find a schedule listed online, so you will have to just show up and see if you can get in. Either way, it is still beautiful to look at from the outside.
Iglesia de San Jose de Orosi– This church is located a little bit out of the city. It is credited as being the oldest church in Costa Rica. It is free to go inside the church, but the small museum next door costs a few dollars.
Go Hiking from San Jose
When you look online for hiking near San Jose, pretty much everything that comes up is about touristy areas which have paved paths or listings for areas that say you need a guide. This is just not true! There is plenty of hiking you can do nearby for those that want something a little more strenuous and don’t want to hire a guide.
Our first suggestion is to hike in a unique pine forest (pictured above). We visited Prusia forest (near Irazu) based on the recommendation of some friends and we loved it! It only cost a few dollars per person to enter the park. You can then hike several miles of trails including one through a pine forest.
I kept saying to Thomas that I felt like I was in the Pacific Northwest of the US, not Costa Rica. Just be warned, this is at a very high elevation. Take things slow. I was really struggling at the beginning of the hike until I adjusted a bit. I suggest bringing something with electrolytes like Gatorade to help you out a bit.
Volcan Barva is another great hiking option. It’s a short drive from San Jose (in fact it’s really close to the Cafe Britt coffee tour which we’ll talk about next). The drive is a little crazy though so we do suggest having all-wheel drive on your rental car.
Another nice hiking spot is Carara National Park. This is located about 1.5 hours from San Jose near Jaco.
Tour a Coffee Plantation
There are several companies that offer coffee plantation tours within the Central Valley area of Costa Rica. The three that stand out in my mind are Britt, Doka, and Starbucks. Yes, Starbucks has a coffee tour here and it’s the only one like it in the world.
– The Starbucks tour at Hacienda Alsacia is not cheap (it’s $35 per person) but it seems to be very modern and it will probably be interesting to all you Starbucks lovers.
You can also just go there and sit in their beautiful Starbucks to drink a coffee. I definitely suggest stopping for that. The building does not have walls and has a really great view of a waterfall. Also, they have a crazy menu that is not offered at normal Starbucks shops. For example, I got a drink which was a shot of espresso in seltzer water with mint. It was definitely interesting!
– We recently went to Cafe Britt with my family and had a great time filled with wayyyy too much free coffee. We all felt a little caffeine drunk afterward. Cafe Britt is not a working coffee plantation, though. You will learn a lot about the history of coffee and can see the production, but you won’t get to see the farming side of things.
– We have not been yet, but we’ve heard really good things about the Doka Estate Tour as well. Doka is an actual working plantation. We’ve heard that they give you a really good overview of the entire coffee production process and you get to see it all in action. Also, we always love to support smaller local companies. If you feel the same, Doka is probably the best option.
Go Ziplining and on an Aerial Tram
About an hour from San Jose as you are heading towards Jaco there is an adventure park called Rainforest Adventures. Thomas visited recently and loved it! You can go zip lining, ride an aerial tram, check out their butterfly garden, take a nice hike, and see some great wildlife. You can also buy a package which includes lunch. Thomas said the food was great! This place does not run cheap. The basic packages per person start at about $100, but sometimes you just need to splurge for some great adventures.
Go on a Chocolate Tasting
There are plenty of chocolate plantation tours throughout the country, but unfortunately, there aren’t any that are an easy drive from San Jose. However, there is Sibu Chocolate.
Sibu is about 20 minutes from downtown San Jose and conducts chocolate tastings. I mean, let’s be real. The only reason you go on a chocolate plantation tour anyway is with the hope of eating some tasty chocolate at the end. Why not skip right to the fun?
Tastings are 1.5 hours long and cost $27 per person. I know it’s a bit pricey, but you won’t be disappointed here. The tasting includes info on history, production, and tons of yummy chocolates!
Also, they have this gorgeous restaurant on site with delicious fresh foods. Oh, and most important they have a gift shop so you can stock up on tasty chocolate to bring back to family and friends.
Walk Behind a Waterfall
This waterfall is located very close to Poas Volcano and it’s free to visit! To get here you can park on the side of the road. It is located directly next to the road so you really can’t miss it. You can even walk behind it if you want. Be careful though, during rainy season it can be really wet and muddy.
If you would like an even nicer experience you can pay to visit the La Paz waterfall gardens which is located next to the free waterfall. It is supposed to be absolutely beautiful. We have never visited because it is a bit pricey. A park ticket is $44 for adults and $28 for children.
Swim Under a Waterfall
A friend took us to this somewhat hidden waterfall called Los Chorros in Alajuela and what a surprise it was! Not only is it free to enter, but you can walk through the stream and enjoy standing under the waterfall (or swimming if you want).
Please note, when we were there someone was trying to collect money for parking at the front gate. The guy in the car in front of us told the man that he knew this was a free reserve and to go away. Apparently, people try to stand at the entrance collecting money and not actually working there.
It’s obviously up to you what you do with this information. If this happens to you and your Spanish is decent, I’d tell him you have heard you don’t have to pay.
The hike down to the waterfall is about a mile on a dirt path. It’s not too difficult going down, but you might get a little worn out going back up.
Enjoy a Meal Overlooking the City
San Jose is located in the valley. That means if you head out of the city you will be blessed with beautiful city views. One of the most famous places to eat is at Mirador Tiquicia in the Escazu neighborhood of San Jose.
They serve tasty typical Costa Rican food and frequently have live music or traditional dancers.
If you are looking for a more budget-friendly option you can always pack your own meal and have a picnic overlooking the city. We suggest driving towards Poas Volcano and just finding a good spot to pull off the road.
Our Tips For Day Trips from San Jose Costa Rica
– If you would like to stay near San Jose but don’t want to be in the city we suggest staying in the town of Alajuela. It is closer to the airport and is a great jumping off point for all these day trip ideas.
– If you are looking for things to do in downtown San Jose we have a complete guide to San Jose here!
– A lot of these day trips from San Jose Costa Rica that we listed can be combined to make a full day of fun. Two great options are:
Poas Volcano, La Paz waterfall, coffee tour and eat at a trucha
Irazu Volcano, explore Cartago, and eat at a trucha
– We tend to avoid taking pre-arranged day tours. It is almost always cheaper to plan activities yourself. However, if you would like to go with a day tour there are several companies operating out of San Jose. We are partial to Urban Adventures because they provide a more local experience than some of the other tour companies.
If you have any questions about day trips from San Jose Costa Rica just leave them in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you out! Also if you have any suggestions for other day trips we should try out, let us know!
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