If you find yourself in San José during your Costa Rican family vacation, options abound for fun day trips in and around the capital. Movies, museums and other cultural offerings are plentiful and accessible in the city, and the country’s famed natural wealth can be enjoyed on an array of short, easy trips within an hour or two’s drive. Here are just a few options:
Children’s Museum. One of the most culturally enriching, educational experiences in the San José city limits can be found at the Children’s Museum, housed in the old Central Penitentiary, constructed in 1906 on the southwest side of the city. The museum offers exhibits on a multitude of subjects, including space travel, the human body, electricity, aviation and Costa Rican history and art. And don’t let the name fool you: The collection of exhibits offers educational wealth for visitors of all ages. Hours are Tuesday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Saturday to Sunday, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Cost: For foreign visitors, entry fees are $7 for adults and $4 for children under 12; admission for Costa Ricans and residents is ¢1,500 for adults, free for children under 12 and senior citizens. Information: Ca. 4, Av. 9, 2258-4929, www.museocr.org.
Parque de Diversiones. The only traditional amusement park in Costa Rica, the Parque de Diversiones in La Uruca, in northwestern San José, is the only place in the country where you will find roller coasters, bumper cars, amusement park games, arcades and live dance and theater shows in the same venue. The park is usually open only Friday through Sunday, with the doors opening at 9 a.m. Cost: Entrance to the park is free. A day pass for rides costs ¢6,100 ($11). Information: 2242-9200, www.parquediversiones.com.
INBioparque. A taste of the wilderness can be found in the Central Valley at INBioparque in Santo Domingo de Heredia, about 30 minutes north of San José. The jungle- and forest-themed park offers a sample of Costa Rica’s natural splendors, from orchids and heliconias to a butterfly garden, an aquarium, a replica farm and a variety of critters, including frogs, bullet ants, boas, caimans, turtles, sloths, iguanas and tarantulas. Cost: Entrance to the park is $23 for adults, $13 for kids ages 4 to 12 and $17 for students. Information: 2507-8107, www.inbio.ac.cr/inbioparque.
Café Britt Coffee Tour. This is one of the most popular coffee tours in the Central Valley. Two separate tours are available, the Classic Coffee Tour and the Coffee Lovers Tour, at the plantation in Barva de Heredia, about 40 minutes north of San José. The hour-and-a-half Classic Coffee Tour takes visitors through the plantation and roasting facility, while the four-hour Coffee Lovers Tour is geared toward showing visitors the process of maintaining environmentally sustainable coffee practices. Tours begin at 11 a.m. every day. Cost: Classic Coffee Tour, $20 adults, $16 kids over 6; Coffee Lovers Tour, $58 adults, $52 kids. Information: 2277-1600, 1-800-GOBRITT (U.S. toll-free), www.coffeetour.com.
Zoo Ave. Birds, frogs, reptiles and a day in nature can be found at
in La Garita de Alajuela, about 40 minutes west of San José. The family-friendly venue boasts more than 120 animal species, including 100 species of birds, including macaws, toucans, cockatiels and parrots. Information is provided in English and Spanish. Hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Cost: Park entrance is $15 for adults, $9 for children ages 2 to 9. Information: 2433-8989, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Botanical OrchidGarden. Tucked away in a wooded area of La Garita de Alajuela is a tranquil sanctuary of natural beauty, stunning orchids and beautifully cultivated walkways and gardens. The sprawling park, which includes a pond, an exotic bird exhibit, an area for meditation and a café, provides a welcome respite from the bustle of the city. Cost: Entrance to the garden is $12 for adults, $6 for children ages 3 to 12. Costa Rican nationals and residents pay ¢2,000 for adults and ¢1,000 for children. Information:
Butterfly Farm. About 40 minutes west of San José, this is one of the most unique day trips in the Central Valley. Created in 1990, the Butterfly Farm was the first live butterfly exhibit in Latin America. Over the past 20 years, the farm has morphed into a unique experience, including the inimitable “Gallery for Human Transformation,” where visitors get a glimpse of what human life would be like through a butterfly metaphor. The tour lasts two hours, and unlimited park access is granted with the entry fee. Cost: Adults, $15; children ages 4 to 12, $7.50. Combination tours are offered with the Café Britt Coffee Tour ($75 adults, $60 kids) and the BotanicalOrchidGarden ($70 adults, $55 kids), including lunch and transportation to and from both locations. Information:2438-0400, www.butterflyfarm.co.cr.
Rainforest Aerial Tram. With locations in both directions from the capital – one on the Caribbean slope on the highway to Guápiles and the other near Jacó on the central Pacific coast – the Rainforest Aerial Tram offers a land and air escape for the family. Both locations offer gondola rides through the canopy, providing passengers an aerial view of the rain forest, accompanied by bilingual guides. Both also offer canopy tours, rafting packages, a butterfly garden, snake exhibit, nature trails and flower and plant gardens. The parks are open daily from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Cost: Tram tour, $55 adults, $27.50 kids under 12; canopy tour, $45 adults, $22.50 kids under 12. Information: 2257-5961, 1-866-SKYTRAM (U.S.
Calypso Cruises. Now in its 35th year, the Calypso Catamaran Cruise or Pacific Island Cruise is a daylong boat trip that departs from the Pacific port of Puntarenas, about two hours from San José, and takes passengers on the waters of the Gulf of Nicoya. The cruise travels to two destinations: the private reserve of Punta Coral, which contains a tropical dry forest, and TortugaIsland, where guests have the options of playing volleyball, kayaking, bird-watching and a host of other activities. A large meal is served with the tour. Cost: Foreign adults, $119; Ticos, residents and students, $109; children up to age 6, $65 (including transportation from San José, Jacó or Quepos/Manuel Antonio). Information: 2256-2727, 1-800-887-1969 (U.S. toll-free), www.calypsocruises.com.