The rich culture of Costa Rica is prominently displayed in its capital city, San Jose. The capital city boasts the country’s rich history through its magnificent architecture and several art galleries and museums and is also considered the country’s hub and an ideal tourist destination. But since the city of San Jose is placed right in the middle of Costa Rica it is bordered by the provinces of Alajuela, Cartago, Heredia, Limon, and Puntarenas, it is also a perfect base spot for day trips to its different neighboring provinces. To enjoy the wonderful culture of Costa Rica and its rich history, here are the best day trips from San Jose.
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The 7 Best Day Trips from San Jose, Costa Rica
If you’re short on time when you’re visiting Costa Rica, then the capital city, San Jose,is perfectly positioned so that you can visit many of Costa Rica’s top attractions on a day trip. So here are the best San Jose Day Trips for a truly spectacular Costa Rica Experience.
One of the major attractions of Costa Rica, the Poas Volcano, is located in the Poas National Park. While the volcano is still active, it has not seen any violent activity since 1954. But it did erupt some gas, ash, and rocks which damaged some of the surrounding buildings and trails in 2017. You can read more on what to expect on a trip to Poas Volcano here.
Seeing Costa Rica’s volcanoes, especially Poas is one of the most unique things to do in Costa Rica – here are 11 other great things to do in Costa Rica that are unique.
Many different hiking and walking trails are open for you to enjoy: there is the paved, leveled, 0.5km trail that overlooks the crater; there is also the Botos trail which spans 1.4 km where you can view the lake; the 1km Escalonia cloud forest trail allows you to see the many birds, the endemic Poas squirrels and escallonia trees that live in the forest. Get a chance to see the magnificent Poas Volcano up close with this day trip tour to the park from San Jose!
Seeing the symmetrical Arenal Volcano of Costa Rica will satisfy your sightseer side, while the activities you can do around it will satisfy your thirst for adventure. Arenal will offer you various activities like horseback rides, walking along a hanging bridge, and underground cave explorations. There are also canopy tours, waterfall rappelling, mountain bike rides, and rafting trips. Read more about visiting Arenal on a day trip here.
You can also unwind and enjoy relaxing in the hot springs here. If you want to spend more time in Arenal, then our guide on things to do there is here.
Arenal Volcano is Costa Rica’s most active volcano up until 2010, constantly spewing a large amount of lava, gas, and ash. It went into an indeterminate resting phase in October 2010.
Want to check out Arenal’s cuisine as well? This tour will allow you to explore both the volcano and its hot springs, and the cuisine, check it out!
- Want to spend longer in Arenal? – our guide to Arenal is here.
- Take a bus or a shuttle from San Jose to Arenal – here are the options for how to get to Arenal from San Jose.
Experience the beauty of nature and hear the call of rare birds when you visit the Monteverde Cloud Forest. This rare forest can only survive in tropical or subtropical mountainous environments, and houses lichens, orchids, and bromeliads. Within Monteverde Cloud Forest, you can get a chance to explore Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve; established in 1972, this reserve covers over 35,000 acres and houses 100 species of mammals, 400 species of birds, and 1,200 species of amphibians and reptiles. Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, which covers 765 acres, on the other hand, allows you to meet spider monkeys. You can read more about what you’ll see at the Monteverde Cloud Forest here.
Lastly, you can also visit the Bosque Eterno de Los Ninos, a cloud forest started by Swedish school children who raised funds to purchase and protect the parcels of threatened wildlife. Apart from hiking through these reserves, Monteverde Cloud Forest also has a hanging bridge and aerial tram tours and with a zip-line, which will pass through the reserves, you will be brought back down.
Check out this day trip to Monteverde Cloud Forest from San Jose and allow yourself to unwind from the bustling life of the city!
- Want to spend longer in Monteverde (our guide is here)
- Take a bus or a shuttle from San Jose to Manuel Antonio – here are the options of how to get to Monteverde from San Jose.
A place of abundant diverse wildlife, you’re in for a treat when you visit Manuel Antonio National Park. (Our guide to visiting Manuel Antonio is here) Established in 1972, the park served as the preservation of the beautiful and bio-diverse areas in Costa Rica, for future generations. While it is the smallest national park in the country it houses a mix of rainforest, beaches, and coral reefs. You’ll get a chance to meet sloths, iguanas, rare squirrel monkeys, white-faced monkeys, and millions of colorful little crabs that live in the rainforest. It’s easy to get to Manuel Antonion National Park for a day trip and here’s how to do it.
Through the park’s two most popular beaches, Playa Espadilla Sur and Playa Manuel Antonio, you will be able to enjoy snorkeling activities and explore the coral reefs; these two beaches are connected by the Cathedral Point, the land bridge that was once an island. The park also houses Playa Manuel Antonio’s white-sand beach which has green foliage and a secluded cove.
Manuel Antonio National Park is only around 3 hours away from San Jose! You can book the best day trip to Manuel Antonio National Park from San Jose here. The park, however, reminds its visitors that it is open throughout the week except for Tuesday, from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Bringing food is prohibited along with bringing pets and using drones, but bringing beverages is allowed.
- Want to spend longer in Manuel Antonio? My guide to the park is here
- Take a bus or a shuttle from San Jose to Manuel Antonio – here are the options of how to get to Manuel Antonio from San Jose.
If all of this sounds a little bit too energetic, then you should head to Tortuga Island for a day trip. Tortuga Island is one of the popular day trips for those wanting to take it easy, with its white sand beach and exquisite view. You can either lounge around freely by renting one of the lounge chairs and a huge umbrella and roast in the sun or explore the waters and the island by trying out activities such as snorkeling, hiking, and zip-lining. Whoa, that all of a sudden sounds a lot more energetic eh? See what else you can do on Tortuga Island for the day.
You can also explore the three shipwrecks found off the shore of the island. Check out this tour from San Jose to Tortuga Island and experience more of what Tortuga Island can offer!
Irazú Volcano and Turrialba Volcano’s systems are in conjunction with each other! This allows you to visit one after the other. At Irazú Volcano National Park, you will be able to set your eyes inside the highest volcano of Costa Rica by entering its crater. Turrialba Volcano National Park, on the other hand, houses Turrialba Volcano, where at its foot, you can visit the Central Town. There’s more about the Volcanoes here.
Visiting Irazú and Turrialba Volcano National Parks may take you about an hour and a half by car, make sure to check out this day trip to maximize your visit!
Tortuguero National Park is not called an icon for nothing; located northeast of Costa Rica, the park is known for its green turtles which its beach protects! But apart from watching the green sea turtles, you can also go through the El Jaguar terrestrial trail that runs for 2.5km. This is a long but truly glorious day and you can read more about what you’ll get to see at Tortuguero here.
There are also aquatic trails you can try out such as the Caño Chiquero- Mora Trail (2.3 km), Río Tortuguero Trail (4.3 km), Caño Harold Trail (3.5 km), and Caño Palma Trail (5.1 km). If you’re looking for how to get to Tortuguero, then I covered that here.
Experience the iconic national park, meet sea turtles, and maximize your experience by booking this tour!
- Want to spend longer in Tortuguero? Then our guide to Tortuguero is here.
- Take a bus or a shuttle from San Jose to Tortuguero – here are the options of how to get to Tortuguero from San Jose.
Popular Routes Around Costa Rica
Here are our guides to some of the popular routes around Costa Rica.
- How to go from La Fortuna to Monteverde
- How to go from Monteverde to Nicaragua
- How to get from SJO Airport to San Jose
- How to go from San Jose to Manuel Antonio
- How to go from San Jose to Tamarindo
- How to go from Puerto Viejo to Cahuita
- How to go from San Jose to Jaco
- How to go from Manuel Antonio to La Fortuna
- How to go from San Jose to Puerto Viejo
- How to go from Puerto Viejo to Tortuguero
- How to go from San Jose to La Fortuna
Travel Tips for Exploring Costa Rica
- Considering travel insurance for your trip? World Nomads offers coverage for more than 150 adventure activities as well as emergency medical, lost luggage, trip cancellation, and more.
- Arriving by air? Arrange your airport transfer with Welcome Pickups.
- Make sure you have the right plug adapter for Costa Rica.
- Book the best Costa Rica tours and guides on GetYourGuideand Civitatis
- Save money in Costa Rica with a Wise debit card
- Book Buses in Costa Rica with Bookaway
- Book accommodation in Costa Rica with Booking.com
Final Words on the 7 Best Day Trips from San Jose, Costa Rica
The best day trips are the ones where you can lounge around and have a glorious adventure at the same time. These day trips can give you just that! Having these amazing places in close proximity to San Jose, you can experience colorful Costa Rica without spending the night outside the capital city!
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