day trips from san jose costa rica

11 Best Day Trips from San José, Costa Rica (Easy!)

Vast forests and beachful beaches stretching along both Caribbean and Pacific coasts make Costa Rica one of the most popular destinations for travelers in the Americas. But if you’re only here for a short time (and don’t have the budget for a weeklong villa rental), taking day trips from a base in the capital city of San José can be one of the best ways to travel.

Looking for some of the best day trips from San José, Costa Rica, that pack the biggest travel punch? From stunning beaches to expansive natural reserves, these are our favorite excursions from San José that you should consider adding to your itinerary.

la paz costa rica

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Best Excursions From San José, Costa Rica

There are many great excursions from San José, Costa Rica that allow travelers to enjoy all of Costa Rica, one of the best tropical destinations to visit in the entire world. Some of the best include visiting the nearby volcanoes, taking a tour of a coffee plantation, going whitewater rafting on one of the many rivers, or exploring the rainforests.

These are our top recommendations for excursions and day trips from San José:

  • Best Day Trip from San José: La Paz Waterfall Gardens
  • Best Family-Friendly Day Trip from San José: Arenal Volcano National Park
  • Best Beach Day Trip from San José: Playa Herradura

Keep in mind that while kids of all ages will love learning about volcanoes at Arenal Volcano National Park, it can make for a bit of a long day trip if you aren’t planning on spending at least one night in the area. Instead, there are many different types of tours available from San José, Costa Rica that would be great for kids, like a tour of a local chocolate factory or a lush rainforest hike with a guide.

Read on for our top eleven recommendations for some of our favorite day trips from San José, Costa Rica.

la paz waterfall gardens

Best Day Trips from San José, Costa Rica

1. La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Best Day Trip from San José

La Paz Waterfall Gardens is a truly special place in Costa Rica. Located in La Paz, this natural wonder is the perfect destination for anyone who loves exploring beautiful outdoor spaces and seeing unique flora and fauna. There are several stunning waterfalls at La Paz Waterfall Gardens, including one that is over 250 feet high.

In addition to the spectacular waterfalls, there are also well-maintained trails through the rainforest areas of La Paz, where visitors can get up close and personal with nature. Whether you’re traveling to Costa Rica with your family or hitting the trails on your own, La Paz Waterfall Gardens should definitely be on your list of must-visit places as a day trip from San José, Costa Rica.

Read More: Costa Rica Travel: A Beginner’s Guide

2. Playa Herradura

Best Beach Day Trip from San José

If you’re looking for a relaxing beach getaway in Costa Rica, Playa Herradura is the perfect destination. Located just an hour outside of San José, this picturesque town is the ideal place to soak up the sun and enjoy some outdoor adventures. There are several different ways to get to Playa Herradura, including a car or taxi, public bus, and ferry.

If you’re looking to extend your day trip, there are plenty of great options in Playa Herradura. For those on a budget, neighboring Jacó offers plenty of options, including hostels with their own surf schools. Selina Jaco offers dorm-style rooms and private rooms with nice amenities for the price.

If you’re looking for something a bit more upscale, check out Los Sueños Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort. This luxury resort has an on-site golf course, spa, and several restaurants—all overlooking the beautiful Herradura Bay.

Looking for things to do in Playa Herradura? There’s plenty to keep you busy, whether you’re looking for adventure or relaxation. For some adrenaline-pumping fun, head to AJ Hackett Costa Rica for a bungee jump off the suspension bridge. Or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, try canyoning or zip-lining through the jungle.

cahuita costa rica

3. Cahuita National Park

Cahuita National Park is a great option if you’re looking to get away from the city but don’t want to go too far. The park is only accessible by boat, so you can enjoy the beautiful beach and the lush rainforest without having to worry about traffic jams or finding your way around town.

Cahuita National Park has no roads—the only way in or out of the park is by boat. Once inside, you’ll find yourself surrounded by dense vegetation and wildlife with nary another person in sight (except for those locals who live there).

You can spend hours exploring this nature-filled paradise without ever feeling like you need to leave; however, if you do want a change of scenery, there are plenty of tours available that will take you into nearby towns and villages where there are more people but still plenty of natural beauty and adventure as well!

4. Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park is the most visited park in Costa Rica, and for a good reason. It’s a popular tourist destination that still never feels too crowded, making it perfect for a day trip from San José.

There are plenty of activities to choose from, including hiking, swimming, and surfing. Or you can just relax on the beach and read your favorite book. Manuel Antonio National Park is also home to some of the country’s most pristine beaches; some of them are protected as marine reserves where fishing is prohibited.

If you’re more into being out on the water than lounging on land, Manuel Antonio offers kayaking tours that give you an up-close look at birds and marine life while taking in stunning views of surrounding islands. You can even book an easy day tour if you are looking for something more hands-off and with a guide.

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arenal costa rica

5. Arenal Volcano National Park

Best Family-Friendly Day Trip from San José

Whether you’re a nature lover looking for some adventure or a traveler just looking for a day trip from San Jose, Arenal Volcano National Park is the perfect destination. With its network of hiking trails, hot springs, and waterfalls, Arenal Volcano is one of Costa Rica’s most iconic destinations to visit.

If you’re not up for a hike up the volcano, there are plenty of other activities on offer as well: boat tours around Lake Arenal; horseback riding through the rainforest; canopy tours through the treetops; horseback riding at La Fortuna Waterfall Gardens; and even zip-lining over the forest floor if you’re feeling brave. Or, choose an excursion to Arenal with a bit of everything!

Because the area around Arenal Volcano gets lots of rain during its rainy season (late May–November), it can be difficult to reach by car during those months—but there are plenty of options if you want to visit during other times as well. You could go with a tour group or rent your own vehicle if you’d like.

The area is also famous for its many ecolodges and ecoresorts, so if you choose to stick around, you’ll be in for the stay of a lifetime. Nearby Nayara Tented Camp is one of the best resorts in Costa Rica and has been named among the best resorts in all of Central America.

Read More: 12 Best Resorts in Costa Rica

6. Piedras Blancas National Park

The Nicoya Peninsula is a great place to explore via a day trip from San José, Costa Rica. One of the best-known attractions in this region is Piedras Blancas National Park. 

Located on the southern shore of the peninsula, it’s home to numerous species of birds and monkeys, as well as manatees that make their way up from the Caribbean Sea during dry seasons to feed on seagrass beds. There are also several beaches nearby where you can enjoy swimming or surfing in clear waters that stretch down to neighboring Nicaragua.

excursions from san jose costa rica

7. Monteverde Reserve and Cloud Forest

Monteverde Reserve and Cloud Forest is one of the most beautiful and fascinating places to visit in Costa Rica. Nestled high in the mountains, Monteverde is a small town full of lush forests, exotic wildlife, and breathtaking scenery. Whether you’re an avid hiker or just looking for a stroll through nature, Monteverde has something perfect for all skill levels.

With numerous hiking trails leading deeper into the rainforest, you’ll come across all kinds of animals that live in this unique ecosystem, including sloths and monkeys. And with the incredible diversity of plant life in Monteverde, you’ll experience a riot of bright colors wherever you look.

8. Tortuguero National Park

Located on the northern coast of Costa Rica, Tortuguero National Park is a sprawling protected area and one of the most important destinations for sea turtle lovers. This idyllic park is home to abundant local wildlife, including scarlet macaws, jaguars, and green iguanas.

Plus, Tortuga Island—a small island located off the coast of the park—is a nesting ground for several species of sea turtles.

Thousands of visitors visit Tortuguero National Park every year to witness these magnificent creatures as they lay their eggs on the beach. You may even get to see a baby turtle hatch if you’re lucky. 

Whether trekking through shady rainforests or climbing up and down hills and steep inclines, Tortuguero promises stunning views and plenty of opportunities to spot some of its most famous residents. If you want to cultivate your appreciation for the beauty and diversity of our planet’s ecosystems, be sure to add Tortuguero National Park to your bucket list.

Travel Essential

Don’t head out on your adventure without comprehensive travel insurance! Good travel insurance may cover lost or stolen gear, medical emergencies, delayed or canceled flights, and more. Check out the policies available from SafetyWing or compare plans using Visitors Coverage.

9. Poas Volcano National Park

Poas Volcano National Park is one of the most popular natural attractions in Costa Rica, thanks to its convenient location and stunning views of Poas Volcano Crater. Nestled in the mountains near San José, Poas Volcano is a popular day trip destination for travelers looking to enjoy some awe-inspiring scenery. 

Featuring the largest geyser volcano crater in the world, Poas Volcano is renowned for its vivid blue lakes that are truly a sight to behold on clear days. Accessible within an hour from most parts of the city, Poas Volcano National Park offers visitors a chance to immerse themselves in its dramatic landscape and explore this remarkable natural wonder up close.

With no admission fee required at the time of your visit, Poas Volcano is an excellent choice for those on a budget looking for an unforgettable outdoor experience and an excellent day trip from San José.

san jose costa rica day trip

10. Orosi Valley

Orosi Valley is a charming, rural community in the Central Valley of Costa Rica. Renowned for its fertile soil and lush natural surroundings, Orosi Valley is home to some of the country’s best coffee and sugarcane. For those looking for an authentic travel experience, Orosi Valley offers a wonderful chance to delve into local culture, from exploring indigenous villages to getting up close with farmers.

If you’re looking for San José excursions that go beyond the tourist hotspots, Orosi Valley is definitely worth visiting. This idyllic valley boasts beautiful scenery and a diverse array of native plants and animals, and it’s home to Orosi Town, a beloved destination renowned for its stunning white church. 

Built in 1885 and designated as a national monument by Costa Rica’s Ministry of Culture in 2002, this picturesque structure exemplifies Orosi Valley’s unique blend of colonial history and vibrant modern life. Whether you want to take in the stunning architecture or mingle with locals sampling local foods at a traditional buffet lunch, Orosi Valley is not to be missed.

11. Rincon de la Vieja National Park

Rincon de la Vieja National Park is a unique and beautiful volcanic region located in Guanacaste Province, just an hour and a half from the bustling city of San José.

This vast park is home to a variety of stunning natural wonders, including hot springs, waterfalls, lava tubes, and expansive bamboo forests. Its expansive landscape offers travelers breathtaking panoramic views from atop the dormant volcano Cerro Negro.

Not only is Rincon de la Vieja home to some truly awe-inspiring natural features but it is also inhabited by an abundance of wildlife. Visitors can spot playful monkeys swinging through the trees, curious iguanas sunbathing on rocks, or majestic toucans flying overhead. In addition to its rich natural diversity, Rincon de la Vieja is also well-known for its many outdoor activities.

Kyle Kroeger

Kyle Kroeger is the founder and owner of ViaTravelers. He’s also a dad, husband, and seasoned traveler. Kyle started ViaTravelers during a trip to Italy since he’s known as a street traveler (“via” is Italian for street and a way to travel). Kyle helps travelers find their next adventure through his videography and photography, which can be seen on the ViaTravelers YouTube channel.