Attractions Nearby San Jose, Day Trips and Excursions

(San Jose, Costa Rica)

Puntarenas photoCosta Rica's capital city is well-placed for day trips and many enticing attractions are near to San Jose, easily reached by bus. Possible excursions include the Costa Rican town of Alajuela, which is considered to be an area of San Jose and lies 20 km / 12 miles to the north-west. Alajuela is actually just 3 km / 2 miles from the city's very own Juan Santamaria International Airport and home to attractions such as the Santamaria Cultural Historical Museum.

San Jose is surrounded by a number of characterful shantytowns and suburbs, with both Los Yoses and San Pedro being especially appealing. Other neighbouring attractions include tourist destinations such as Escazu, Heredia, Jaco, Puntarenas and Turrialba, the latter of which is famous in Costa Rica for its historic volcanic activity.

Puntarenas beachfront picture


The biggest city within the province of the same name, Puntarenas is home to a population of around 100,000 people and is conveniently close to a number of surfing towns, such as Dominical. Puntarenas boasts some impressive sandy beaches fronting the Pacific Ocean which also lending themselves to surfing and its port (Caldera) is one of Costa Rica's busiest. Apart from the coastal attractions and beaches, Puntarenas is also a good place to stopover is you are headed inland, to Monteverde.

Picture of church in Alajuela


Alajuela is relatively small town and its downtown attractions are best explored on foot, with the Central Cathedral and the nearby church known locally as the Iglesia La Agonia adding much character to the city. The hometown of the country's famous national hero Juan Santamaria (1831 to 1856), Alajuela is particularly close to both San Jose and the Poas Volcano National Park. A good place to relax and meet the locals in Alajuela is the lush Parque Central or the nearby market.

Image of central Escazu


Escazu is an exciting and somewhat affluent suburb of San Jose and spread around a large hillside, where the views of the city and Heredia alone are worth the visit. The San Rafael area of Escazu flanked with strip malls and chain eateries, and the US Ambassador has his home here. Escazu is simple to reach and is extremely well connected by buses and contains some of the area's very best restaurants. If you are here in early March, then you may be able to join in the celebrations of Dia del Boyero, where oxcart drivers parade through the streets, showing off their beautifully painted carts.

Photograph of Heredia plaza


The university town of Heredia stands to the north-east of San Jose and is a part of the overall metro area. Heredia is an extremely friendly and welcoming town and contains a number of noteworthy tourist attractions, which tend to be based around the central square known simply as the 'Parque Central'. Look out for the Iglesia de la Inmaculada Concepción - a historical church dating back to 1797, and the Spanish fortress named 'El Fortin '. The Casa de la Culture often plays host to various local events and was once the home of fortress president of Costa Rica, Alfredo Gonzáles Flores.

Beachfront picture taken in neighbouring Jaco


Jaco resides on the scenic Pacific Ocean and is around 90 km / 56 miles from central San Jose, being just under two hours away by car. Easily explored in a day, the attractions of Jaco tend to be based around the beachfront and include surfing, water sports, inexpensive seafood restaurants and a number of vantage points, where many tourists choose to stop and take a photograph or two. There are some very appealing secluded beaches dotted around the coastline of Jaco. Nearby, the Manuel Antonio Natural Park can be reached in around an hour and is off the Costanera Highway .

San Pedro view

Los Yoses / San Pedro

These lively university suburbs are filled with bars and nightclubs and exude an unmistakable youthful vibe and energy, which is particularly present around the Calle La Amargura. Los Yoses and San Pedro are close to San Jose and lie to the east. Attractions within Los Yoses include the historical ICE Building, while San Pedro is best known for its eye-catching Banco Popular building, referred to locally as El Antiguo Banco Popular. Also in the San Pedro neighbourhood is the Museo de Insectos (Museum of Insects), where an array of exotic creepy crawlies await visitors. The North American Costa Rican Cultural Centre is also to be found within San Pedro.

Turrialba image, showing distant mountains


Turrialba is a popular region to the east of San Jose and named after its enormous volcano, which towers more than 3,300 metres / 10,826 feet high and last erupted in 1856, although volcanic activity still continues today around the summit craters. Very much an agricultural area with huge harvest of coffee, macadamia nuts and also sugar cane, Turrialba is a leading day trip destination offering many recreational attractions, such as mountain climbing around its rocky cliffs and valleys. Hiking trips to the Guayabo National Monument are well worth considering.