San Jose’s favorable location in the Central Valley makes it easy for travelers to experience the various highlights of Costa Rica. You don’t need to drive all day to explore the rain forests, volcanoes and beaches of the country, in fact you can spend a whole week enjoying something different every single day! That’s one of the best things about Costa Rica, it’s a small country so you can go from city to beach in just one hour.
If you’re visiting San Jose for a short trip and don’t have time to go to other parts of the country here are 10 great day trips from San Jose, Costa Rica. If you’re worried you won’t be able to fly through the forest, experience the magical jungles or lay out on a beautiful beach, put those worries aside. All these day trips are within a couple hours driving!
7 Awesome Day Trips from San Jose, Costa Rica
National Parks: Poas Volcano, Braulio Carrillo and Irazu
Drive 1 hour from San Jose and you can visit several different national parks, each with their own unique scenery and colimate. Poas Volcano National Park is the most popular park in all of Costa Rica because of its easy accessibility and incredible views of one of the largest geyser volcano craters in the world. On a clear day, you can see the bright blue color of the crater lake!
**Poas Volcano National Park is currently closed as of 2017.**
Or visit Irazu Volcano National Park to see the tallest volcano in Costa Rica. This national park is in Cartago and has some killer views to the entrance. Along the way, you can stop at Finca Sanatorio Duran, the most haunted building in Costa Rica.
You can also drive a little further and see Turrialba Volcano. It’s been erupting off and on and even though you can’t go in the national park, you can drive up to the entrance for a close look. This is about a 2 hour drive.
If you’re in a jungle mood, head to Brauilio Carrillo National Park towards the Caribbean. Hike through the lush rain forest to spot wildlife and get your rain boots dirty!
As you can see, within just 1-2 hours from San Jose, you can be at the top of a volcano crater in the cloud forest or trekking through the dense jungle surrounded by exotic flora and fauna!
Rio Pacuare White Water Rafting
In the mood for adventure? Go white water rafting at Rio Pacuare, one of the best rivers in the world! Since the river is not too far from San Jose, many tour companies such as Rios Tropicales pick up travelers in the city to go white water rafting.
It’s about a 2 hour drive from San Jose to the river and it’s an incredibly fun all day activity. One of the best day trips from the city!
Want to do the 1 day white water rafting trip? We have an exclusive discount for Mytanfeet readers!
The Central Valley grows some of the best coffee in Costa Rica due to its favorable climate and elevation. San Jose used to have many coffee plantations and many of the luxury homes in the city are owned by ex-coffee plantation owners. If you love coffee, you have to take a tour to learn about how Costa Rica grows and processes their coffee.
We love the Doka Estate Coffee tour but there are several others such as Britt. If you want to see the whole coffee procedure, the best months are September – January. We went once in July when coffee wasn’t in season so we couldn’t see the ripe cherries getting processes.
Coffee lovers can sample and buy different coffees that you can’t normally find in the supermarket.
Ziplining and Aerial Tram at Rainforest Adventures
Wait, you can go ziplining in San Jose?
Yep! You can!
Well actually it’s about 45 minutes outside of San Jose but like I said earlier, you can go from city to jungle in less than an hour in Costa Rica.
Rainforest Adventures is an eco-adventure park near Brauilio Carrillo National Park and they offer a variety of activities such as hiking, bird watching, ziplining and an aerial tram. Their canopy tour gives you fantastic views of the jungle as you fly over the trees!
Their aerial tram takes you high up to a viewpoint where you can see all the way to Puerto Viejo and along the way you can see hummingbirds, toucans and other colorful feathered friends.
This is a great place for wildlife lovers because you have the opportunity to also see sloths, anteaters, tapirs, snakes and frogs. They also have a charming hummingbird garden.
Isla Tortuga Cruise
If the ocean is calling you, take a cruise to Isla Tortuga, a beautiful island to snorkel, lay on the beach and soak in the sun. Tour companies pick up in San Jose and take visitors to enjoy a 1.5 hour boat ride to the island.
San Jose Waterfalls: La Paz and Catarata del Toro
Looking for some waterfall fun? There are a few options close to San Jose such as La Paz waterfall gardens. You can visit the gardens on the same day as Poas Volcano since they are close to one another. If you’re short on time or don’t want to pay the $40 entrance fee, you can visit the La Paz waterfall for free on the side of the road.
But if you go in the gardens, you can see 5 different waterfalls and various animals in their zoo such as jaguars, ocelots, toucans and other animals.
If you want to go to a less touristic waterfall, head to Catarata del Toro. This stunning waterfall in an extinct volcano crater is a sight to behold. This is about a 2 hour drive.
They also offer rappelling and hiking and they even have their own sky blue rivers!
Central Valley Small Towns
If you want to experience small country town local life in the Central Valley, take a road trip to Sarchi, Grecia and Zarcero. Each of these towns have their own special characteristics and offer a wonderful glimpse into small town life in Costa Rica.
Zarcero is famous for their church and topiary gardens, Grecia has a red metal church and Sarchi has the biggest oxcart and sells fine furniture. Sarchi in particular are excellent places to go souvenir shopping and you must try the local goodies such as strawberries, cheese and candies.
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As you can see, staying in San Jose doesn’t mean it’s just city sightseeing, in fact, you’re in one of the best locations since you’re in the Central Valley! You can easily discover many gems of Costa Rica with these awesome day trips from San Jose and come back to the comforts of city conveniences at night.
Another great day trip is to the Territorio de Zaguates if you are visiting on the right dates. This is the largest no kill dog shelter in the world and they host public walks where you can run and play with up to 1000 dogs at a time! They hold open walks on the weekends, twice a month.
Want ideas for things to do in San Jose? Check out our travel guide to San Jose Costa Rica sightseeing tours or our 5 day San Jose itinerary.
Not sure if you should visit the Central Valley? Read 10 reasons why you should!
Looking for an hotel by SJO Airport? Check our list of best hotels near SJO Airport.