Things to do in San José, Costa Rica

Costa Rica's capital rewards explorers with lively markets, must-see museums, and unforgettable volcanos close by.

Our most recommended things to do in San José, Costa Rica

San Jose: Walking Nature Tour with Sloths, Birds, and Trees

1. San Jose: Walking Nature Tour with Sloths, Birds, and Trees

Departing from the nearby meeting point, visit the University of Costa Rica campus, home to some of the largest patches of forest in San Jose. Guided by young biologists, discover the nature hiding in the middle of Costa Rica's largest city. Experience wildlife you wouldn't have imagined existed minutes away from downtown.   On the first stop, you’ll look for resident and migratory birds, lots of incredible insects and amazing flowers. Then, see the largest indigenous stone sphere in San Jose, thought to derive from the extinct Diquis culture. Lastly, visit the main campus to seek out the friendly sloths climbing freely. The goal of this tour is to change the way tourism is done in Costa Rica, while supporting young scientists, researchers, and local entrepreneurs.

San Jose: Irazú Volcano, Cartago City & Orosi Valley Tour

2. San Jose: Irazú Volcano, Cartago City & Orosi Valley Tour

Start with a pickup from your hotel and travel by minibus along the Panamerican Highway until you reach the base of the Irazú Volcano. Travel up the winding road through fertile farmlands where many types of fruit and vegetables are cultivated.  Enjoy spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding hills and valleys. At the summit of the volcano, on a clear day, marvel at the spectacular view of both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Next, descend to the city of Cartago and stop at the Virgin of the Angels Basilica. Discover this local pilgrimage site which has large vaulted ceilings and exquisite examples of stained glass windows.  Continue the tour through the Orosi Valley, an area of magnificent natural beauty. Visit one of the few remaining colonial churches in the region and stop for a tasty typical lunch at one of the local restaurants. Finally, be returned to your hotel to complete the tour.

From San Jose: 3-Day Tortuguero National Park Excursion

3. From San Jose: 3-Day Tortuguero National Park Excursion

Explore the protected Tortuguero National Park in the Limón Province, reachable only by airplane or boat. Take in the wealth of biodiversity in its eleven different habitats, including rainforest, mangrove forests, swamps, beaches, and lagoons. Trip itinerary: Day 1: After an early morning hotel pickup, admire the biodiversity of a primary forest through the window as you drive past Braulio Carrillo National Park. Sample a delicious Costa Rican breakfast during the drive. Mid-morning, board a comfortable boat and travel along the Tortuguero Canals. Be enchanted by the surrounding paradise and its varied flora and fauna. Then, enjoy a refreshing cocktail and a delicious lunch at the hotel. After lunch, tour the canals and take incredible photos for the rest of the afternoon. Arrive at Pachira Lodge (or similar) for a delightful dinner and a restful night's sleep. Day 2: Discover the flavors of Costa Rica with breakfast at the Lodge. Then, hike along the Lodge's private trail and work up an appetite for lunch. After lunch at the Lodge, visit the Sea Turtle Museum, the beach, and the picturesque village of Tortuguero. In the evening, enjoy dinner at the Lodge again. Day 3: After breakfast at the Lodge, head back to San José, stopping for lunch at El Ceibo in Guápiles on the way. Arrive back in San José in the afternoon.

San José: Tortuga Island Tour with Lunch & Hotel Transfer

4. San José: Tortuga Island Tour with Lunch & Hotel Transfer

Explore Tortuga Island on a guided tour with hotel pickup and drop-off included. Go on a quick tour of the other islands in a boat, then arrive at Tortuga Island. Go snorkeling or swimming, and eat breakfast on the beach. Opt to do other activities, such as renting a jet ski. Tuck into lunch. Begin your tour by getting picked up in an air-conditioned vehicle directly from your hotel in either Heredia, San José, or Alajuela. Once you arrive at the harbor, hop into your speedboat and set sail on your adventure. Listen to your guide tell you about the local area and take in the views. Go on a tour of the Gulf of Nicoya, and see islands such as San Lucas, Isla Cedros, and Jesusita. Use the opportunity to take photos. Along the way, keep an eye out for bottlenose dolphins that are residents of Puntarenas. See if you can spot whales or turtles, and stop to observe them. Upon arrival at the island, be provided with equipment to go snorkeling, as well as instructions on how to use them. Go searching for exotic and colorful fish underwater. Spend time relaxing on the white sand in the shade of palm trees. Savor some fresh fruit for breakfast. Opt to participate in other activities at an extra cost. Rent a jet ski or a kayak, or go paddleboarding. After you have explored the island, head back for lunch on the beach. Enjoy cold drinks and a coffee along with it. Hop back in the boat to be taken back to your hotel at the end of the day.

San Jose Bites and Sights Walking Tour

5. San Jose Bites and Sights Walking Tour

Get up close and personal with Costa Rican life, through local food, history, and even the herbal remedies of folk medicine. Enjoy a hands-on lesson on exotic plants, fruits, and vegetables, and enjoy several local food samples on this guided tour. Stroll through the streets with a local as they show you the ins-and-outs of daily life. Start with a morning pick-me-up coffee in a café located in the Central Market. Then, take a stroll through the vibrant market, tasting local fresh fruits. Next, sample empanadas and continue along local roads towards the Borbon Market. Seeing diverse sites the Cathedral, National Theater, and the beautiful parks will help you get to know the country and its rich history. Finally, visit a special coffee store where you will find coffee and chocolates produced by women. Learn to prepare coffee, enjoy a tamal, and make plantain empanadas before concluding your tour.

Poás Volcano, Coffee Plantation & La Paz Waterfall Gardens

6. Poás Volcano, Coffee Plantation & La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Experience Costa Rica's nature and culture on this full-day tour from San José. Your first destination is the Doka Estate coffee plantation, where you'll learn all about the ancient techniques of producing some of the best coffee in Costa Rica and around the world. Experience the careful process involved in the cultivation, harvesting, and roasting of the Golden Bean before tasting the delectable product. After your coffee tour, continue to Poás Volcano National Park, where there is a noticeable change in temperature and beautiful scenery in a cloud forest. Climb up Poás Volcano, an active stratovolcano that most recently erupted in 2017. The crater of the volcano is over a mile across and 1,050 feet deep, making for breathtaking views. Hike on a trail to the beautiful Botos Lagoon as you learn about the different ecosystems in the park. Then, continue to La Paz Waterfall Gardens and enjoy a buffet lunch of traditional Costa Rican dishes. After lunch, explore the lush tropical rainforest. See the flowing white rivers, spectacular waterfalls, birds, butterflies, monkeys, and hummingbirds before returning to San José.

From San José: Pacuare River White Water Rafting Day Trip

7. From San José: Pacuare River White Water Rafting Day Trip

The white water is equally exciting. It is not an overly challenging river, but it has a lot of rapids, therefore giving you an adventure filled with lots of fun. The 18 mile day run includes a total of 52 rapids. Few rivers in the world can offer you so many. Upon arrival to the river, we will gear you up with a life jacket, helmet, and paddle and then brief you with a full safety orientation talk. Finally, it is time to take off down the rapids! The first 4 miles consist of fun class II-III rapids which is a perfect time to test your new river skills and gain confidence in your team. Here you can find pockets of secondary growth forest that are extremelPacuare is world famous for its sheer beauty. y beautiful. After about 40 minutes we will enter the famous Pacuare River Gorge, which is 5 miles of some of the best white water Costa Rica has to offer. We finish in Siquirres, at our own private Exploration Center where you can take a shower, change and enjoy the gardens and terrace while having a beer or two and reflecting with your new friends about the great adventure you just shared.

From San Jose: Tabacon Hot Springs & Arenal Volcano Day Trip

8. From San Jose: Tabacon Hot Springs & Arenal Volcano Day Trip

See the best of both worlds - the raw, untamed beauty of the imposing Arenal Volcano juxtaposed against the soothing thermal waters of Tabacon hot springs - on a day tour from San Jose. Enjoy the backdrop of lush vegetation and breathtaking views of the nearly perfectly conical volcano. After hotel pickup, head to your first stop, the famous town of Sarchi, known as Costa Rica's craftwork center. Appreciate many of the arts and crafts that Costa Rica has to offer, and perhaps pick up some brightly colored or wooden handicrafts to take back home with you as a souvenir. Next, head to La Fortuna, home to the magnificent natural wonder of the Arenal Volcano, where you will have a Costa Rican lunch. After eating, head to the impressive Arenal Volcano and take a short hike around the base to take photos. Marvel at the conical volcano and its plumes of white smoke. Then, relax at one of the best hot springs in the area, Tabacon hot springs, where you will revel in the cleansing and rejuvenating effects of the thermal waters. Enjoy the combination of the heat of the volcano, the flowing waters of the hot springs, and the pure air of the rainforest. Finally, be dropped back at your hotel in San Jose.

Manuel Antonio National Park Combo Tour from San Jose

9. Manuel Antonio National Park Combo Tour from San Jose

Expereince the stunning beauty of the Manuel Antonio National Park on this day trip from San Jose. Visit Crocodile Bridge and Tarcoles Beach. Discover the abundant wildlife on the park’s rainforest trails and eat breakfast and lunch at local restaurants.  Enjoy being picked up from the comfort of your accommodation in the San Jose area. Travel aboard an airconditioned coach on the way to have breakfast in a local restaurant located next to the biggest fruit market in the country.  Visit the market to observe a large variety of tropical fruits. Continue your journey with a stop at the popular crocodile bridge where you will have the chance to observe one of Costa Rica’s biggest crocodile’s populations.  Search for scarlet macaws in their natural habitat on Tarcoles Beach where they like to gather. Stop at the Jaco Bay lookout point and take pictures of Costa Rica’s most popular coastal town.  Travel to the Manuel Antonio National Park, hike the rainforest trails with your guide for about and hour and search for monkeys, sloths, toucans, and agoutis. Spend some free time relaxing on the park's pristine beaches or hiking to along rainforest trails. Savor a delicious lunch of local cuisine in a restaurant that provides great jungle and ocean views. Lunch is served in the early afternoon around 2 PM, after which you will be taken back to your hotel in San Jose.

San José: Arenal Volcano, Hot Springs, & Zip Lining w/ Meals

10. San José: Arenal Volcano, Hot Springs, & Zip Lining w/ Meals

Tour the best locations in Costa Rica and learn about local life and culture from those who live there. Visit a coffee plantation, zip line, and soak in the hot springs at the base of the Adrenal Volcano. Take the scenic route to the Arenal Volcano and visit a coffee plantation along the way. Gain an insight into the world of Costa Rican coffee and taste one of the best coffees in the world. Arrive at the "La Paz" and "San Fernando" waterfalls and admire the exotic tropical birds of Costa Rica, including many species of hummingbirds and rare emerald toucanets. Take in the views at the San Fernando Waterfall observation point before heading to the "Iguana Bridge", where you will have the chance to spot iguanas, sloths, monkeys, and toucans. Stop for an authentic Costa Rican lunch in a restaurant located in "La Fortuna." Then, prepare for a zip-lining adventure in the local rainforest jungles with 9 canopy cables and a 50 meter (150 feet) rappel on the Arenal River. Learn about the culture while listening to a "Maleku" Indigenous tribe presentation from locals. Relax for a couple of hours in the Paradise Hot Springs at the base of Arenal Volcano, surrounded by tropical gardens followed by dinner.

Frequently asked questions about San José, Costa Rica

What are the best day trips and excursions from San José, Costa Rica?

The best day trips and excursions from San José, Costa Rica are:

Alajuela

Other Sightseeing Options in San José, Costa Rica

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What people are saying about San José, Costa Rica

Overall rating

4.7 / 5

based on 676 reviews

One of the best tour I've ever been on. My guide was very knowledgeable about virtually everything. Capture vivid images of sloths and birds right in the heart of downtown San Jose. I'll recommend this tour to any visiting CR. I'm very bad with names but my tour guide was exceptionally brilliant, articulate, very friendly and patient.

This is the best way to explore the city. Candidly there’s not much to do in San Jose but this tour was SO WORTH IT! Dinorah was our guide and she was extremely knowledgeable, friendly and upbeat making the tour very interesting. Don’t hesitate — book this if you’re in town for a day or just 6-7 hours.

This excursion was amazing. The lunch they provided was the best lunch I had all trip. The guide was informative and polite.

Inside tours an excellent operator, I loved the beach and our guide helped us a lot thanks for such kindness

Our tour guide was beyond amazing. She was stellar.