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 only visiting the city, here are 10 great day trips from San Jose, Costa Rica.
This post was updated June 2018.
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- Pacuare River
- Coffee Tour
- Rainforest Adventures
- Tortuga Island
- Small Towns
- Arenal Volcano
- Manuel Antonio
- Tour Companies (plus discount)
Awesome Day Trips from San Jose, Costa Rica
Here is a map of all the attractions in this post so you can see how far they are 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 San Jose day tours are within a couple hours driving!
Drive 1 hour from San Jose and you can visit several different active volcanoes.
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 2018.**
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.
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 adventures and day trips from San Jose, Costa Rica!
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.
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. This is one of the best parks to go for a San Jose day trip.
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.
Tortuga Island Day Cruise
Take a cruise to Isla Tortuga, a beautiful island to snorkel, lay on the beach and soak in the sun. You’ll cruise through the Gulf of Nicoya for about 1.5 hours before reaching a stunning white sand beach. It’s one of the best San Jose day tours!
We have an exclusive $10 discount for the Tortuga Island Day Tour with Bay Island Cruises. They include roundtrip transportation from San Jose and it’s an excellent way to see a gorgeous white sand beach, snorkel and have a fun beach day. Please contact us for prices and booking to get the discount!
San Jose Waterfalls: La Paz and Catarata del Toro
La Paz Waterfall Gardens
The La Paz waterfall gardens is a small park with an animal sanctuary, trails and waterfalls up in the Vara Blanca Cloud Forest.
The waterfall garden is $40 or you can visit the free waterfall by the side of the road. It’s worth the entrance fee to the gardens however since the property has 5 different waterfalls!
You can combine the La Paz waterfall gardens with the Doka Estate coffee tour since they are close to each other. Tour companies used to do a tour with Poas Volcano, Doka Coffee and La Paz so you can easily do Doka and La Paz in a one day San Jose trip.
Catarata del Toro
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.
You can also stop by this waterfall on your drive from San Jose to La Fortuna. It’s an easy 15 minute walk down to the waterfall so you can stand next to one of the tallest waterfalls in Costa Rica!
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 is an excellent place to go souvenir shopping, they have some very nice wooden pieces.
Arenal Volcano and Hot Springs
Take an Arenal Volcano one day tour from San Jose to see the majestic volcano and relax in the hot springs. Day tours usually consist of breakfast, lunch, an Arenal volcano hike and Arenal hot springs (Baldi or Tabacon).
Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the most popular, just second to Arenal. Day tours will take you on a guided hike through the national park and you’ll have time to swim and relax at the beach.
You’ll be able to see sloths, monkeys, toucans, frogs and other wildlife in the national park. Manuel Antonio is one of the best day trips from San Jose, Costa Rica to see wildlife!
San Jose Tour Companies
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.
If you want to take a day trip from San Jose, Costa Rica, we have a partnership with Expediciones Tropicales for day tours like Irazu Volcano, Manuel Antonio, Arenal and more to give 7-10% discounts. Please contact us for more tour information and prices.
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San Jose Articles
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.