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Costa Rica

Best Day Trips from Costa Rica

Punta Uva, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. A view of canoes on the beach at Punta Uva in Costa Rica

The words “Costa Rica” mean “Rich Coast”, accurately referring to the richness of the country’s biodiversity and its unique ecosystem. Famous for its beaches, volcanoes, fauna and flora, Costa Rica is a rain-forested country in Central America with coastlines on the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Costa Rica is gaining popularity among surfers and yoga enthusiasts with many opportunities for retreats and active holidays. Costa Rica is a country of two main cultures; the Pacific Ocean coast is mostly inhabited by the ”Ticos”, and on the Atlantic coast you will experience the African-Caribbean culture with Jamaican influences. 

Release your inner explorer; plan a couple of day trips and tour around Costa Rica to discover its cultures and many natural spots. To make sure you are not missing out on any of the most popular attractions, follow our guide to the best Costa Rica day tours!

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Costa Rica Day Trip to San Jose

Many travellers disregard San Jose and treat the capital city as a stopover location on their way to exploring volcanoes and relaxing by the seaside. Do not let the rough look of the capital city scare you away, it is a cultural and historical hub and fun addition to your Costa Rica itinerary! 

Make sure to stop by the Costa Rica National Theatre; you can book a tour to learn about the building itself or come to see a performance! The theatre is located just next to the Gran Hotel, and it is open Tuesday through Sunday, 9 AM – 4 PM.

To learn more about the history of Costa Rica, we recommend visiting one of San Jose’s museums. The National Museum is located in a former fortress, where the abolishment of the army found a place back in 1948. If you want to dig deeper into the Costa Rican history (quite literally), go to the Gold Museum. It exhibits a large collection of pre-Columbian gold. To learn more about gemstones and crystals, we recommend a visit to San Jose’s Jade Museum where you can admire the world’s largest exposition of American jade!

If you enjoy the bustle of local markets, the San Jose central market is a must! Try regional foods, go souvenir-hunting and observe the locals go about their tranquil daily life.

Costa Rica Day Trip to San Jose

SAN JOSE,COSTA RICA - Park in front of the building National Theatre in San Jose. San Jose is Capital of Costa Rica.

Costa Rica Day Trip to Manuel Antonio National Park

Offering the visitors white-sanded beaches with stunning coral reefs as well as a rainforest, Manuel Antonio National Park is a Costa Rican pride! The park is located on Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast and it is famous for its impressive diversity of tropical plants and wildlife. You will find there countless types of birds native to the region, but the National Park is also home to endangered animal species like the white-faced capuchin monkey.

The park does not only attract zoology enthusiasts though! Its vast grounds are crossed with hiking trails that wind up and down from the coast and through the mountains. When you get to Manuel Antonio National Park there are various tours you can book on-site. The most popular is a guided tour around Manuel Antonio National Park, but there are also special tours that include a catamaran cruise (recommended for visitors who want to go dolphin watching). There is even a special “Jungle Night Tour” that you can join.

Prior to your visit to the park, check out what tours are available. Pick the one that suits your interests and fitness level and bring the right equipment with you (eg. hiking shoes or swimming gear). Be cautious when touring the park on your own, you might meet “fake guides” who scam tourists pretending to work in/for the park.

Costa Rica Day Trip to Manuel Antonio National Park

Aerial View of Tropical Biesanz beach and Coastline near the Manuel Antonio national park, Costa Rica

Costa Rica Day Trip to Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park

Ready to visit a beautiful Costa Rican animal sanctuary that houses more than one hundred animal species? Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park encompasses both a cloud forest and a rainforest, five wild waterfalls and breathtaking hiking trails. It is also home to many animal species, and there is even a butterfly observatory on-site! It is a privately-owned attraction, and entrance is ticketed. However, after paying the fees you are not only able to enjoy the park wandering on your own, but also take part in various feeding demonstrations. The overwhelming number of different attractions and things to do makes Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park one of the best ecological attractions in Costa Rica!

With an environmental education program, Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park is a great place for families to visit, and with its near proximity to the Costa Rican capital, it is a popular destination for day trips from San Jose Costa Rica.

The park is also known for serving exquisite meals! The Paz Waterfall Gardens buffet has received rewards from the Costa Rican Tourism Council. The abundant selection of foods includes regional dishes with unlimited fresh fruits, fruit juice, coffee and tea. The park is open daily from 8 AM to 5 PM, and the latest entry is recommended around 3 PM to ensure enough time for the visit.

Costa Rica Day Trip to Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park

LA PAZ COSTA RICA - : Waterfall at a tropical rainforest in La Paz Waterfall Gardens Costa Rica on March 22 2016. La Paz Waterfall Gardens is the Most Visited Privately Owned Ecological Attraction in Costa Rica

Costa Rica Day Trip to Poas Volcano National Park

The Costa Rican Poas Volcano National Park is, as its name suggests, famous for its impressive volcano, but it also welcomes tourists who want to visit the cloud forest around San Jose and admire impressive landscapes. Poas Volcano National Park’s main crater is one of the largest volcanic craters in the world (there is also an old crater, now occupied by a cold water lake – “Laguna Botos”)!

Explore the park trails (the visitors’ centre at the entrance will let you know which trails are open for tourists, not all the paths will be available); notice the variety of (edible) plants and maybe try some of the local berries! If you want to come even closer to the local cuisine and the many cultures and traditions of the region, we recommend stopping by one of the tribal villages on your way to Poas Volcano National Park. There are many indigenous communities living around the park.

Keep in mind that in order to visit Poas Volcano National Park you must pre-purchase your ticket. Only visitors with tickets bought in advance will be allowed. Book and pay for your ticket online, and remember to bring a printed version with you to show at the park entrance office. From the entrance office, there is an easy trail directly to the crater observation point.

Costa Rica Day Trip to Poas Volcano National Park

Main active crater of the volcano of Poas. Costa Rica of Poas. Costa Rica

Costa Rica Day Trip to Arenal Volcano National Park

Around 90 kilometres northwest of San Jose, you will find Costa Rica’s Arenal Volcano. It used to be the most active volcano in the country with consistent lava flows since its major eruption in 1968, but since 2010 Arenal Volcano has been in a resting phase. (No need to worry about your security on this day trip, the volcano is closely monitored for the safety of residents and visitors.)

The Arenal Volcano National Park is famous for its hiking trails and hot springs. There are plenty of opportunities for canoeing and waterfall rappelling too. 

There are many day trips offered to Arenal Volcano. If you are travelling with children, check out family-friendly hiking tours that include the Arenal Observatory Lodge & SPA. The comfortable eco-lodge is beautifully located between the Arenal Volcano and the magnificent Lake Arenal. You can even stay there overnight if you want to have more time inside the Arenal Volcano National Park.

You can also sign up for one of the extreme treks across the national park’s hanging bridges. It will be a guided hike, and the tour will most likely include some relaxation time in the hot springs in the end. A dip in the hot water is very relaxing for the muscles after hiking, but also try the unique beauty treatments like the volcanic mud facial. 

Costa Rica Day Trip to Arenal Volcano National Park

volcano el arenal costa rica nature amazing

Costa Rica Day Trip to La Fortuna Waterfall

La Fortuna Waterfall (also known as “The Fortuna River Waterfall”) is located within a biological reserve that is a part of the Arenal Volcano National Park. To make sure that you do not miss this Costa Rican gem, we want to list La Fortuna Waterfall as a day trip suggestion on its own. 

To come closer to the magnificent 70 meters high waterfall, visitors must walk down approximately 530 steps. (There will be areas to take rest and refresh on the hike back up if needed!) 

Upon reaching the waterfall, most visitors start with a slow stroll around to admire the views and take pictures (not only of the waterfall but also the mesmerizing nature around it – make sure to take your camera with you). Some visitors enjoy a refreshing swim in the chilly waters below the waterfall, others prefer to relax and picnic along the wild shoreline. 

La Fortuna Waterfall is administered by a local charity organization, and all visitors must pay an entrance fee. We recommend looking into organized day trips to La Fortuna Waterfall, eg. together with visiting the Arenal Volcano National Park. You can also book a special day trip that includes a hike along the blue-hued Río Celeste. The river is known for its mesmerizing colour which is the result of a chemical blend of sulphur and carbonate.

Costa Rica Day Trip to La Fortuna Waterfall

The La Fortuna Waterfall (Catarata La Fortuna) flows through a very dense jungle and plummets over a large rocky cliff near the town of La Fortuna and near Volcan Arenal, Costa Rica.

Costa Rica day trip to Tortuguero National Park

The Tortuguero National Park (“Tortuguero” meaning “turtle catcher”) on the northern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, is a protected wilderness area. Its wide beaches are known as nesting grounds for sea turtles, also the endangered green turtles. This particular species is close to extinction, because of the turtle hunts that have been going on a few decades ago. The adult turtles were chased for their meat, and the turtle eggs were believed to have aphrodisiac qualities. Nowadays Tortuguero National Park serves as a conservation and educational centre.

You will get the most out of your visit to Tortuguero National Park (and access all the hidden spots) by joining a boat tour inside the park. You can sail through the park’s freshwater creeks and lagoons by catamaran or by canoe. The freshwater streams shelter river turtles and even caimans! The rivers are surrounded by a dense rainforest which is home to a big variety of Costa Rican wildlife, from monkeys to countless bird species! 

A day trip to the Tortuguero National Park is also a family-friendly Costa Rica excursion, and if you need a break after your boat trip, refresh with a delicious lunch served at the eco-chic Evergreen Lodge. Enjoy the flavorful dishes and… the views! The lodge is surrounded by a lush tropical forest; the sights are breathtaking! 

Costa Rica day trip to Tortuguero National Park

wild beach of Tortuguero by the Caribbean Sea in Costa Rica, Central America.

Costa Rica Day Trip to Irazu Volcano National Park

Close to the city of Cartago, but also a popular destination for day trips from San Jose Costa Rica, you will find the Irazú Volcano. Irazú Volcano made it to international newspapers in 1963, as it erupted on the day that former US president, John F. Kennedy visited Costa Rica, however its earliest recorded eruption was in 1723.

With an impressive height of 3,432 metres, Irazu is the tallest volcano in Costa Rica (hence the breathtaking views of the park grounds and beyond). It has several craters, two of which are most frequently highlighted as the main attractions. The main crater is known for its amazing sights and volcanic steam that rises into the air, and the smaller crater known by name “Diego de la Haya” is known for its multi-hued, mineral-rich lake. On a clear day, both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean are visible from Irazú Volcano.

The landscape of Irazú Volcano National Park is diverse and includes various types of forests. It is also home to wild fauna, but because of the constant volcanic activity, the animals can be difficult to see. And whereas the park grounds are lush and offer natural, floral shelter, the terrain around the volcano itself is barren without any vegetation, and the grounds bear clear signs of previous volcanic eruptions.

Costa Rica Day Trip to Irazu Volcano National Park

View to the Crater of Irazu Volcano at Irazu Volcano National Park - Costa Rica

Coffee Tour in Costa Rica

Coffee and tea tours are popular day trips from San Jose Costa Rica, but you can join a day trip around a coffee plantation from anywhere in the country. With a large variety of tours offered, we recommend having a look online and choosing a day trip that best suits your interests, time flexibility and fitness level.

If you are looking for a relaxing tour and want to treat your taste buds, we recommend a gourmet coffee tour with cocoa/chocolate tasting. Some tour providers add a visit to a sugar-cane plantation too; strongly recommended for curious foodies. You can also find tours that offer hands-on experiences and include workshops, and your coffee tour can also be combined with a Costa Rican wildlife experience like sloth observation in the Sloth Park or hiking in nature. Regardless of which day trip you choose, you can be sure to experience incredible flavours – most trips conclude with a Costa Rican lunch, so you can get a real-life sample of the local culinary traditions.

During a coffee tour in Costa Rica you will get a first-hand experience of sustainable, gourmet producers. You will learn more about the growing, harvesting and roasting processes – you will be amazed how many steps it takes to create that perfect aromatic blend that you enjoy every morning!

Coffee Tour in Costa Rica

Costa Rica, hands mixing coffee beans in a drying tank

Water Rafting in Costa Rica 

With the year-round warm water and the stunning biodiversity that Costa Rica has to offer, the country also attracts water sports enthusiasts with world-class rafting opportunities. Costa Rica is, in fact, often listed as one of the best white water rafting destinations in the world!

Many of the water rafting trips start in La Fortuna, so you can combine your Costa Rican water rafting adventure with a visit to La Fortuna Waterfall For an ultimate adrenaline rush before you go water rafting, you can try zip lining amidst Costa Rica’s rainforest treetops. Stunning sights await, and you can choose among several “trails”; some of the zip lines go above La Fortuna Waterfall, others cross a picturesque canyon. 

After hiking or zip-lining, jump into your raft. You will receive safety guidelines and instructions from your assisting guides – your instructor will demonstrate paddling techniques and share fundamental water rafting tips. Get ready for a splash of fun and adrenaline! 

Bringing your own camera onto a water rafting tour can be challenging, but many tours now hire photographers to assist you on the go! Double-check before booking if your tour has a photographer joining; you will be able to purchase the pictures at the end of your water rafting day trip.

Water Rafting in Costa Rica 

Pacuare River, Costa Rica -Rafting team , summer extreme water sport. Group of people in a rafting boat, beautiful adrenaline ride down the river.

Costa Rica Day Trip to Tortuga Island 

Some of the most popular day trips from San Jose Costa Rica are excursions to Tortuga Island. Escaping the urban bustle of the Costa Rican capital into a pristine island paradise is tempting all types of travellers. Whether you are journeying on your own or visiting Costa Rica with your family/kids, a full-day escape to Tortuga Island is highly recommended. 

We recommend booking the tour with an agency for easy and convenient transportation towards the coastal town of Puntarenas, from where you will sail to Tortuga Island through the blue waters of the Gulf of Nicoya. Maybe you can even spot some dolphins on your cruise!

Tortuga Island will welcome you with its hilly, lush landscape and bright, sandy beaches. And when it comes to island activities, only sky is the limit! Relax in the sun on one of the beaches, swim or snorkel in the crystal-clear waters or rent a kayak or a banana boat for eve more water-fun. When it is time for lunch, your guide will assist you to a gourmet beachside buffet where you can taste everything from fresh fruits and raw salads to grilled meats and fish dishes. 

After lunch, you can head inland to explore the nature of Tortuga Island or stay in the restaurant to enjoy a cup of aromatic Costa Rican coffee.

Costa Rica Day Trip to Tortuga Island 

A view of Tortuga Island in Costa Rica from the top of a mountain.

Costa Rica Day Trip to Rincon de la Vieja National Park

Costa Rica’s Rincon de la Vieja National Park has every attraction you could wish for in a national park. There are hiking trails and pristine peaks. You will find wild waterfalls as well as active geysers and hot springs. There are 32 rivers and streams, and the park is also home to amazing wildlife, a great camping site, and it still remains peacefully uncrowded! 

The park is a must-visit if you are in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste province, but also if you are staying farther away, Rincon de la Vieja National Park is worth checking out. The reserve is known for the unique Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin situated in the tropical forest. Especially travelling families might want to look into booking a night or a longer stay at Hacienda Guachipelin to have more time and comfort to explore the natural territories around and to have a base to join some of the active tours offered in the region.

Most popular day trips include hiking tours, but you will also find horseback riding, and the adventurous explorers can look online for the “Adrenaline tours”! Look for specially curated relaxation tours too. Do not miss your chance to relax and rejuvenate in the clean, mineral-rich waters of Rio Negro, and try the cleansing mud mask too! 

Costa Rica Day Trip to Rincon de la Vieja National Park

Hanging bridge over a creek in Rincon de la Vieja National Park in Costa Rica

Costa Rica excursion to Cartago 

Southeast of San Jose you will find the city of Cartago, most famous for “La Negrita”, a shrine dedicated to the Black Madonna at the Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels. In spite of the short distance between Cartago and Costa Rica’s increasingly modern capital, Cartago is a significantly smaller and more old-fashioned city. You will not find fast-food franchises or resorts there. Instead, you will get a glimpse into the daily lives of the locals, and a chance to try flavorful regional foods, like the “casado” (Spanish for “married man”). It is a simple Costa Rican meal that includes rice, black beans, plantains or yams, salad and a tortilla.

On your day trip to Cartago, also make sure to visit the ruins of Ujarrás. The Ujarrás village was damaged by a flood in 1833 and then abandoned. The only remains are the falling church-walls of Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Limpia Concepción. This humble stone church from 1693 was once home to a miraculous painting of the Virgin Mary. According to the local legend, the holy relics refused to be moved, and hence a church was built around them. Following earthquakes and damaging floods, the painting has eventually been moved to adjacent Paraíso village, but every year in April, there is still a procession to honour the original church site.

Costa Rica excursion to Cartago 

Cartago, Costa Rica - Basilica Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles in Cartago, Costa Rica is the most popular pilgrimage site in the country

Recommended tours in Costa Rica

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Article written by:

Hi, my name is Samantha, Finance Managing Guru by day, Travel Blogging Enthusiast by... well... day too! Haha! Travelling King is the destination hotspot for the wannabe traveller! Showcasing affordable, luxurious getaways for the budget conscious! With the combination of my financial knowledge and travelling experiences I aim to show you, with a little planning, the right budget and a realistic goal you can fulfil your travel fantasies and explore the world whatever your budget or desires may be!