San Jose is the capital city of Costa Rica. It’s home to the international airport and is often a starting and ending point for people visiting this Central American country.
It’s the largest city in the country, but it still manages to maintain its local and historic charm quite easily. However, most people don’t come to Costa Rica to stay in the city.
They come to visit and enjoy all the wildlife Costa Rica has to offer.
San Jose itself is a great place to explore and visit for a day, but you shouldn’t come to Costa Rica to be stuck in a city. Get out and explore the outdoors.
It is a great location to start from as it is pretty central and there are plenty of great day trips from San Jose, Costa Rica.
Keep reading to find out where you can visit while staying in San Jose.
While San Jose offers lots of its own activities and has many bars, restaurants, and shops, it’s certainly not the top place you can visit in Costa Rica.
To enjoy this country’s landscape, charm, and culture, you must get out of the city and go on an adventure.
The bulk of the adventure and beauty lies outside of the city’s confines.
So get out there and explore.
Since San Jose is the capital city, there are a ton of accommodations to make your trip easier.
There are buses, tours, taxis, and more that can take you on all the best day trips and excursions out of the city.
If there’s something that interests you on the list below, there is most likely a tour that will take you there straight from San Jose, and if not, there is a bus or another mode of transportation you can use to get to your final destination easily.
Or if you plan on staying in San Jose and only taking day trips.
We highly recommend renting a car to drive outside the city or if you don’t want to rent a car most of these tours will pick you up from your hotel.
While you are in the city though, San Jose can be very confusing and hard to navigate, thankfully though Uber is readily available and super cheap.
I take uber everywhere within San Jose, so I don’t have to deal with the traffic or confusing roads.
Day trips from San Jose, Costa Rica
The best day trips to take from San Jose are below. Keep reading to find out more!
This historic city was once the capital of San Jose. It’s charming, historical, and well-equipped for visitors.
While visiting, you must explore the stunning churches; it has some of the best in the country, and people from all over pilgrimage to see Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles church, which is a roman catholic church with stained glass and vaulted ceilings.
Cartago is also home to several other beautiful churches and the ruins of a half-completed church in the town square.
Other fun activities include visiting the Central Market to get local food and handcrafted goods, walking around enjoying the architecture, and grabbing a bite to eat at a local soda.
Be sure to order a “Casado”, which is a typical Costa Rican lunch or dinner. It consists of rice, beans, protein, salad, and platins.
Casado means married in Spanish. They call it this because the food combination all of the items together is so perfect that they should be married.
Cartago has a lot of character and charm to it, and it’s under an hour from San Jose, so it’s an effortless trip and well worth it.
Duration: 30-minute drive
14. Playa Hermosa, Jaco
Playa Hermosa near Jaco is the ultimate carefree surfer’s town and one of Costa Rica’s best surfer towns.
It is also the closest one, making it great a day trip from San Jose.
It’s located about an hour and a half from San Jose, so it’s not too far for a day trip or an overnight.
This is one of the closest beaches to the landlocked capital, and luckily for you, it’s a great option.
It has some of the best beaches in the country and lots of great places to surf, chill, eat, and shop.
In addition, it has a thriving nightlife scene and is well-developed for the area.
If you love surfing, it’s one of the best places to surf and an excellent place to learn the sport if you’re interested.
Never surfed before? No worries, this is a great option if you have ever thought about taking lessons.
Just be sure to book ahead to ensure you book with a reliable company and certified instructor.
Once you get hungry, there are restaurants and bars all along the beach ready to fill your stomach while you enjoy the beautiful views.
Duration: 1:30 minute drive
13. Poas Volcano
Have you ever seen a volcano? Well, here’s your chance. Poas Volcano is only an hour and a half drive from San Jose and is one of the most popular parks in Costa Rica for its amazing views.
It’s known for its bright blue lake crater, and it’s one of the largest geyser volcano craters in the world.
It’s completely mesmerizing in person and a must-see if you get the chance.
At almost a mile wide and almost 1,000 feet deep, it’s mind-blowing to see in person. The volcano is active and has erupted 40 times since the early 1800s and erupted as recently as 2017.
The 600,000-year-old volcano is a site to see and definitely should make your bucket list.
Be sure to visit on a sunny day if you have the choice because otherwise, the clouds could hinder your entire view of the volcano.
Duration: 1:30 minute drive
12. Irazu Volcano
Another volcano to add to the list is Irazu Volcano.
This national park has the tallest volcano in Costa Rica and is located about 2 hours from San Jose.
The scenic drive is almost as enjoyable as visiting the volcano, so be sure to check out the views along the way.
Once you reach the park, it’s about a 20-minute walk along a flat path to the volcano.
The volcano is still active and super cool to explore.
It is a great day trip from San Jose if you are looking for something active and outdoors to do.
Duration: 1:30 minute drive
11. La Paz Waterfall Gardens
La Paz Waterfall Gardens is a wonderful nature park with a total of 5 waterfalls which can be reached by walking trails throughout the park.
It also has one of the largest private wildlife sanctuaries in the country and is under an hour from San Jose.
The park has something for everyone, and there is so much to see and do, making it an excellent option for a day trip.
Check out the butterfly observatory, and keep a lookout for monkeys, sloths, birds, and other wildlife.
You can also go fishing, and if you get lucky enough to catch a fish, they’ll cook it up for you to enjoy for lunch.
Duration: 1:20 minute drive
10. Tortuga Island
Known for its white sand beaches and crystal clear water, there is no denying the Pura Vida beauty of this island.
To access the island, you’ll need to drive to Jaco or Puntarenas, and from there, you can take a boat to the island very easily.
It’s a great place for snorkeling, hiking, swimming, relaxing, and enjoying all the top-notch views. It actually has some of the best snorkeling in Costa Rica.
The boat ride out to the island is an excursion within itself, and it’s a great perspective and viewpoint of Costa Rica from the island.
Duration: 2:00 hours total
9. Manuel Antonio National Park
This is also about 3 hours from San Jose, so it’s a long day trip but well worth it.
The national park has hiking trails; you can relax on the beach, swim, and enjoy the wildlife.
You’ll for sure see monkeys, but if you get lucky, you might also spot a sloth.
The area surrounding the park has a wonderful beach and lots of beachfront bars and restaurants to keep you busy and full for the day.
There are plenty of things to do in Manuel Antonio
It is the perfect spot for nature lovers. Have extra time to kill in Costa Rica? Head here and relax on the beach for a couple of days, you won’t regret it.
Duration: 3:00 hour drive
8. White Water Rafting on the Pacuare River
If you are looking for a day trip from San Jose, Costa Rica, why not make it an adventure-filled one. White water rafting is a fun activity that is great for solo travelers or even the whole family.
The best part about this one is you can arrange to have them pick you up and drop you off from your Unique Costa Rican hotel in San Jose, so no car or driving time is needed.
It is a full-day affair, but one where you don’t have to worry about transportation.
Duration: 12-hour day
7. Rio Celeste
Another great wonder in Costa Rica is Rio Celeste or clear river. It is a waterfall and water hole that is about 3.5 hours away.
It’s a long way to go for just the day, but. if you plan on renting a car and driving up north to any of the beach towns, it is the perfect place to stop for the day.
The watercolor is unreal and you will have to see it to believe it. You have to hike to get to it, so it will be an active day, but I’m sure after the long drive you will want to stretch your legs.
Duration: 3.5 hour drive
6. Tortuguero National Park
This coastal park is a vital place for the breeding of sea turtles and is well known for the sea turtles that come here to nest.
It’s also one of the wettest places in the country and is an important preserved area.
Many canals flow through the rainforest where you can float and most likely see monkeys and other wildlife.
The park extends into the ocean and protects some of the sea life.
The park can be explored by foot, boat, canoe, and kayak, giving you all the options for your day adventure.
Duration: 2:30 hour drive
5. Bungee Jumping Costa Rica Eco Bungee
This one is only for those looking for an extreme day trip from San Jose, but trust me it is worth it. If you have ever thought about bungee jumping before, why not take the leap of faith while on holiday in Costa Rica?
You can either decide to drive there yourself or book with a tour company that will come pick you up and drops you off. It’s only about a 1.5 drive, so it won’t take up your whole day.
The best part is you will have an awesome story to come back and tell your friends about after your holiday.
Duration: 1.5-hour drive
4. Coffee Tour
Costa Rica is famous around the world for its coffee. If you are a coffee drinker, you can’t come to Costa Rica without taking a coffee tour.
Learn the whole process from start to finish, and what it actually entails to produce coffee beans. Taste different kinds of beans and different types of ways to make coffee.
The best part about this day trip, is you don’t have to worry about driving. They will pick you up and drop you off at your hotel.
This is also the shortest day trip on the list, so if you are short on time or don’t want to spend all day in the car, this might be your winner.
Duration: 2:00 hour tour
3. Wildlife Rescue Center
Costa Rica is full of wildlife and rescue centers. Costa Rica prides itself on protecting its land and wildlife. Actually, the only animal in Costa Rica that isn’t protected is the mosquito, and for good reason.
If you don’t have much time in Costa Rica and are just planning on staying in San Jose, you should take a day trip to a wildlife rescue center just outside of town.
You can either drive or even take an uber for not much at all.
This will give you the chance to get up in close with monkeys, sloths, birds and maybe even some big cats.
Duration: 45-minute drive
2. Zip-Lining in Braulio Carrillo National Park
Zip-lining is the perfect day trip from San Jose. A fun-filled activity for the whole family, the best part is you can arrange a tour if you don’t want to drive and they will come to your hotel and pick you up and drop you off.
Zip-lining is a great way to get out into the jungle and experience Costa Rica, it will also give you a chance to see monkeys, birds, and maybe even sloths.
You can’t come to Costa Rica without seeing a monkey and at least doing one adventure-filled activity.
1. Arenal Volcano
Arenal Volcano National Park is more than just a volcano. You can explore the rainforest, waterfalls, the volcano, and the country’s largest lake, Lake Arenal.
With the volcano as the backdrop of the lake, it’s stunning.
Here you can kayak, fish, paddle board, and enjoy a nice lake day. Or even take windsurfing lessons, if you are up for an adventure.
You can also enjoy the relaxation of one of several hot springs.
If you’re daring, there are nature trails with a series of fixed and hanging bridges with great views of the volcano.
The various trails in the park will allow you to enjoy different viewpoints of the volcano, which is fun, too.
This trip is about a 3-hour drive from San Jose, so it’s a long day trip, but if you wake up early enough in the morning, you can make it work!
You can’t come to Costa Rica without visiting Arenal. It is a must!
There is honestly enough to do in the area that if you want to spend more time, consider spending a few days here if your time allows you.
La Fortuna is a quaint town where the national park is located, and you can view the volcano from all over town.
This would be a great place to stay if you want a little extra time.
Duration: 3:00 hour drive
Other things you can do near San Jose, Costa Rica for a day trip
- Explore one of the various small towns with history, charm, beautiful architecture, and rich culture near San Jose.
- There are many other waterfalls in Costa Rica, and many are within a few hours of San Jose, so you have many options to choose from. Look one up and go explore it!
- Chocolate plantations are also popular throughout the country. There isn’t one close to San Jose, but there is a chocolate tasting location 20 minutes away called Sibu Chocolate if you want to check it out. Tastings and tours are similar, right??
- There are lots of nearby opportunities for hiking. There are various trails and lots to explore if you love being out in nature.
- Another easy option is to spend a day trying different food. There are many unique dishes to try and so much culture to experience. Grab a bite to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and get the full Costa Rica food experience.
While the international airport is often the most common reason people end up in San Jose, it’s not a bad place to explore while you’re in between flights.
You only need a few days at most to explore the capital and check it out.
The city has lots of things to do, but there is so much more to explore with day trips from San Jose, Costa Rica.
Hopefully, you find some enticing locations on this list to add to your itinerary.
If you’ve never seen a volcano, you have plenty to choose from.
There are also several waterfalls, parks, and many other opportunities at your fingertips.
There is so much to explore in this world and especially in Costa Rica, so get out there and check it out!
We hope next time you’re in Costa Rica you will get to enjoy some other places outside the city.