San Jose is probably your first glimpse of one of the world's most beautiful countries. Costa Rica is a nature lover's paradise, with a biodiversity found nowhere else in the world. And the great thing is, many of those stunning landscapes are within easy reach of San Jose, making them the perfect day trip. Here are the best day trips from San Jose, that can be reached in under three hours.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens
Just over an hour's drive from San Jose, La Paz Waterfall Gardens is a beautiful nature park with waterfalls, gardens, and an animal sanctuary. You can walk through a butterfly garden, see jaguars, puma’s, monkeys, and spot hummingbirds. In fact, it’s the largest animal sanctuary in Costa Rica.
It's a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of San Jose. There are great walks that you can follow with a number of viewpoints. You can even stay the night if you don’t like driving back and forth.
- Distance: 51 km
- Driving time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Jaco Beach is one of the best beaches in Costa Ricaa, renowned for its surfing, sport fishing, and nightlife. It is nestled between lush green hills and just an hour away from the capital city of San Jose, making it the perfect day trip.
Along with great waves to grab your board and go, Jaco Beach also offers numerous opportunities for adventure lovers – take a guided tour on horseback through nearby trails to witness some breathtaking scenery or hike up to the famous Carara National Park to find exciting wildlife.
- Distance: 99,4 km
- Driving time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
One of the most popular day trips from San Jose is to Poas Volcano National Park, where you can see the active Poas Volcano crater and hike through the cloud forest. The park is about an hour and a half's drive from the city.
It is one of the most active volcanoes in Central America and a major tourist attraction. Lying near to the Pacific coastline and part of the Cordillera Central mountain range, it is 2,697-metre (8,848 feet) high and its peak gives breathtaking views. It has experienced three major eruptions: 1827, 1952 and 2010. From an observation point, you can get up close to its acid lake, an amazing sight in itself, as well as spotting green fields below them which indicate areas of high fertility due to the volcanic ash they contain.
- Distance: 48,6 km
- Driving time: 1 hour
The Sarapiquí Valley is a lush and verdant region located in the northern part of Costa Rica. This area is known for its stunning natural beauty, with dense rainforests, winding rivers, and abundant wildlife. The Sarapiquí River, which runs through the valley, is a popular destination for whitewater rafting and kayaking. Perfect for adrenaline junkies!
It’s also home to some of the most diverse wildlife habitats in the world, from jaguars to toucans to the endangered spider monkey, you can explore the region's spectacular landscape and spot remarkable species.
- Distance: 87 km
- Driving time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Looking for more tips? Check our blog Best Costa Rica travel tips
Another volcano that's worth a day trip from San Jose is Arenal Volcano. One of Costa Rica’s most visited volcano’s. The area is known for its hot springs and adventure activities like zip lining and white water rafting.
You can also go hiking or biking up the Volcano from various trails or take a nature walk around Arenal Lake which will give you an up close view of the lush jungle wildlife and foliage. For those looking for an adrenaline rush, try rappelling down rocky cliffs alongside the Volcano and feel like a true daredevil! Want to stay the night? Look for accommodation in La Fortuna. The gateway to this region.
- Distance: 158 km
- Driving time: 2 hours, 50 minutes
Exploring Cartago from San Jose is an excellent day trip to embark on. Located only 50 km away from the capital of Costa Rica, Cartago provides you with plenty of sights and attractions to see. From historic churches to the monthly Costa Rican fair located in the central plaza, there is something for everyone.
Be sure to check out the beautiful Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles, as well as other colonial-era churches and buildings.
- Distance: 25 km
- Driving time: 30 minutes
Manuel Antonio National Park
You can’t go to Costa Rica without visiting Manuel Antonio National Park, one of Costa Rica's best national parks. Of course, it’s best to visit this beautiful park for a couple of days to explore everything it has to offer, but if that’s not possible, you can visit this park as a day trip from San Jose. It’s a 3 hour drive, so plan your visit well, but trust us. It’s worth it.
If you're interested in seeing Costa Rica's famous wildlife, a day trip to Manuel Antonio National Park is a must. The park is home to monkeys, sloths, and a variety of birds, as well as beautiful beaches. It's about a three-hour drive from San Jose.
- Distance: 171 km
- Driving time: 3 hours
The Orosi Valley is a scenic region near San Jose that's known for its coffee plantations, colonial-era churches, and hot springs. It probably wasn’t on your to-do list, but if you have time left, it’s a great day trip from San Jose. Although, it’s just about an hour's drive from the city, you’ll find yourself in an entirely different world.
Next to the colonial-era churches and hot spring, you can take in the breathtaking views of the majestic Tres Ceibas waterfall and enjoy some of the best eco-tourism offerings in Central America. The valley hosts a stunning celebration called the Fiesta de la Cruz during May—the perfect opportunity to experience local culture and traditions.
- Distance: 40 km
- Driving time: 1 hour
With an elevation of 3,432 meters (11,260 feet) above sea level, Irazu Volcano National Park is home to the highest volcano in Costa Rica and offers beautiful views of the surrounding countryside. It is an active volcano located about 30 kilometres (18 miles) northeast of the city of Cartago.
The Irazu Volcano has a long history of volcanic activity, with the most recent eruption occurring in 1994. The volcano is known for its ash clouds, which can rise several kilometres into the air, and for the acidic crater lake located at the bottom of the main crater.
Despite its active status, the Irazu Volcano is considered safe for you to visit. You can take guided tours, hike on the various trails, and enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding landscape from the volcano's summit.
- Distance: 54 km
- Driving time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
If you want to spend a day on the beach, Playa Hermosa is a great place to be. Located just next to Jaco Beach, it is easily accessible - and arguably the most interesting beach near San Jose. It is a quiet, secluded beach town, known for its picture-perfect beaches, crystal-clear waters, and excellent surfing conditions.
Quieter and more secluded than some of the other beaches close to San Jose, Playa Hermosa also boasts dreamy sunsets. The beach town is on the up, with new restaurants, bars and shops opening. Playa Hermosa is a paradise for travellers who are happiest in, on or around the water.
- Distance: 105 km
- Driving time: 1 hour, 40 minutes