San José is the country’s capital and largest city in Costa Rica. It draws people from all over the world to experience its wonder and excitement.
From historical museums to bustling city streets, San Jose has options to suit various interests. You can shop like a local at daily markets, drink the nation’s most popular coffee, and experience live music and rowdy nightlife.
San Jose is also close to numerous iconic outdoor sites, including waterfalls, rainforests, and volcanoes. Most of these destinations are accessible via an easy trek in the car, making San Jose an excellent hub for tourists worldwide.
Exploring Costa Rica’s largest city is sure to be filled with memories you’ll never forget. Whether you are searching for the top things to do in San Jose or cool San Jose tourist attractions, this post has everything you’ll need to create the Costa Rican trip of a lifetime.
Here are the top fun and best things to do in San Jose, Costa Rica.
What We Cover
- Things to Do in San Jose, Costa Rica
- 1. National Theater of Costa Rica
- 2. Arenal Volcano
- 3. La Sabana Metropolitan Park
- 4. Central Market
- 5. National Museum of Costa Rica
- 6. Pre-Columbian Gold Museum
- 7. Barrio Escalante
- 8. Costa Rica Beer Factory
- 9. Manuel Antonio National Park
- 10. La Paz Waterfall Gardens
- 11. Jade Museum
- 12. Monteverde Cloud Forest
- 13. Book a San Jose City Tour
- 14. Costa Rica Children’s Museum
- 15. San Gerardo de Dota
- 16. Costa Rican Coffee Tour
- 17. El Observatorio
- 18. Braulio Carrillo National Park
- 19. Spirogyra Butterfly Garden
- 20. Metropolitan Cathedral of San José
- Tours in San José
- Most significant landmark – National Theater of Costa Rica
- Best park – La Sabana Metropolitan Park
- Free activity – Central Market
- Activity for kids – Children’s Museum
- Activity for adults – San Gerardo de Dota
- Place to eat – Barrio Escalante Neighborhood
- Nightlife – El Observatorio
- Place to stay – Gran Hotel Costa Rica
Things to Do in San Jose, Costa Rica
1. National Theater of Costa Rica
Address: Avenida 2, C. 5, Catedral, San José, Costa Rica
The National Theater has been a source of pride in Costa Rica for over 120 years. Since its inception in 1897, people have traveled around the country to witness this iconic landmark’s spectacular architecture and celebrate San Jose’s history.
You’ll have the option of an English- or Spanish-speaking guided tour to immerse yourself fully in the culture and history of the theater. Explore the exquisite interior and lavish decor heavily influenced by the Spanish and French cultures of the period.
If you want to experience a live show, the theater has afternoon and evening performances several days a week, primarily on the weekends. You’ll witness shows filled with aerialists, dance, juggling, and more.
While at the National Theatre, stop at the Alma de Café for a cup of delicious, classic Costa Rican coffee. You can also enjoy fresh bread and handmade artisan pastries.
The theater is one of the coolest things to do in San Jose, Costa Rica, for its history and entertainment. The National Theater is open from 9 am to 5 pm. Guided tours are around $5.50 for visitors.
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2. Arenal Volcano
Address: La Fortuna, Alajuela Province, El Castillo, Costa Rica
The Arenal Volcano is a resting volcano located about 56 miles (90 km) northwest of San Jose, Costa Rica. Also known as “Volcan Costa Rica” and “Guatusos Peak,” the volcano has been dormant since 2010.
It’s a popular Costa Rican tourist attraction because of its surrounding jungle and enjoyable activities. If you are visiting San Jose and planning any day trips, the Arenal Volcano should be at the top of your list.
Visitors can access views of the volcano from the Arenal Volcano National Park. You’ll be able to see Lake Arenal. If you love to fish, Lake Arenal is a fantastic spot to catch a bite. Rainbow bass inhabits Lake Arenal, so if you’re feeling lucky, cast out while there. You can also see the lake by boat tour, kayaking, sailboarding, and windsurfing.
As you explore the national park and its surroundings, watch for interesting wildlife on the hiking trails, including deer, tapir, howler, and white-faced monkeys, snakes, parrots, and orioles.
Because of its distance from San Jose, a day tour is an ideal way to experience Arenal Volcano with locals who know the history and activity of the region.
3. La Sabana Metropolitan Park
Address: Av. de las Américas, Sabana, San José, Costa Rica
La Sabana Park is the largest park in San Jose, Costa Rica, providing many enjoyable activities for visitors. Located in downtown San Jose, La Sabana Park is a breath of fresh air in a very busy city.
You’ll find the beautiful National Stadium at one end of the park. There are many sports fields and paths for walking, running, or biking. Many local families spend time together at this public park.
La Sabana Park was the site of the country’s first international airport; it functioned for 44 years until the opening of the current Juan Santamaria International Airport.
We recommend taking a San Jose city tour at night that will guide you through tourist attractions, including La Sabana Metropolitan Park.
La Sabana Park is a great place to spend the afternoon for a fun, free activity in San Jose, Costa Rica. If you’re looking for a convenient hotel near downtown San Jose and a quick drive to Sabana Park, check out the Holiday Inn.
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4. Central Market
Address: Calle 8, Paso De La Vaca, San José, Costa Rica
For a taste of Costa Rican city culture and local cuisine, the Central Market (Mercado Central) is the best place to be. Central Market began in 1880 and is one of the oldest landmarks in Costa Rica.
It’s located in downtown San Jose and can be easily accessible by foot if you’re staying close by. If you need a ride, take a taxi or an Uber. There’s limited parking nearby, so plan to walk or get dropped off for the best experience.
You’ll find fresh fish, fruits and vegetables, meats, and many other foods at the Central Market. Browse the stalls and shop for traditional herbal medicines, coffee, and local fruits like guanabana and juicy mangoes.
Try some of the famous Costa Rican coffee at the Central Market, with many stalls offering samples to find your favorite blend.
If you want an authentic meal in San Jose, the Mercado Central food vendors provide a tasty experience for just a few bucks. Try the Gallo pinto (Costa Rican rice and beans), carne en sala (steak with sauce), and tortillas at Soda Tala.
Other food vendors sell fresh ceviche, ice cream, smoothies, sandwiches, and more. You can easily enjoy several meals and snacks at the Central Market. Explore with a local for a more behind-the-scenes experience.
The Central Market is open Monday through Saturday from 6:30 a.m. to 6 pm. Looking for a stay near the San Jose city center? Try 935 Lodge San Jose.
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5. National Museum of Costa Rica
Address: Cuesta de Moras, Av. Central, Bella Vista, San José, Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s history is widely celebrated and explored at the National Museum in San Jose. The museum opened in 1887 to deposit, classify, and study natural and artistic products. Since its inception, the National Museum of Costa Rica has advocated for scientific research, education, exhibition, and preservation of the nation’s culture and heritage.
You’ll learn about the history of Costa Rica beginning in the 16th century. Discover noteworthy events in science, politics, health, agriculture, and education and how they affected Costa Ricans’ lives and shaped their society.
In the Memories in the Stone exhibit, you’ll see fascinating stone sculptures made by the civilizations that inhabited the Costa Rican territory thousands of years ago.
Visit the House of Commanders, a room that exhibits the architectural heritage and beauty of San José. Note how the unique window frames, floors, and hardware show different styles, including Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Eclectic.
While touring the National Museum, you can’t miss the stunning butterfly garden. It’s one of the first exhibits you can tour, featuring 14 species of butterflies and various nectar-producing plants.
Tour the historic Bellavista barracks that acted as a training base for Costa Rican military recruits and a warehouse for army weapons.
The National Museum of Costa Rica is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 pm, and Sunday from 9 am to 4:30 pm. Tickets are $11, and children under 12 get in free.
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6. Pre-Columbian Gold Museum
Address: Plaza de La Cultura, San José, Costa Rica
Located at the Plaza de la Cultura, the Gold Museum is one of San Jose’s top attractions for its enthralling history. The Gold Museum features one of Latin America’s largest collections of gold artifacts.
Some items on display are over 1,500 years old. These artifacts tell the story of the ancient tribes and civilizations that inhabited the country centuries ago.
At the museum, you’ll see Costa Rica’s first coin, Media Escudo, from the 1800s. Many statues, religious icons, animal figurines, and other Pre-Columbian artifacts also represent the culture and time period.
Be sure to explore the permanent exhibit, the History of Currency in Costa Rica, which displays nearly 300 objects that depict the economic history of Costa Rica from pre-Columbian times to the present.
Discover how social and economic climates affected the artifacts of various periods in historical pre-Columbian Costa Rica and gain a unique glimpse at the evolution of a culture over time.
The Gold Museum has over 600 ancient artifacts and is a great way to spend a few hours in San Jose. It’s easily one of the most historic places to visit in San Jose. The Gold Museum is open Monday through Sunday from 9:15 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Want to stay near San Jose’s museums? Check out the Gran Hotel for an excellent San Jose, Costa Rica stay.
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7. Barrio Escalante
Address: San José Province, San José, 10101, Costa Rica
The San Jose neighborhood, Barrio Escalante, has transformed the city’s local food scene and welcomes tourists and locals alike to experience the vast array of flavors of Costa Rica. Experience San Jose like the locals do by exploring Barrio Escalante several times during your trip.
The farmer’s market in Barrio Escalante, Feria Verde de Aranjuez, is filled with fresh fruits, veggies, coffee, kombucha, chocolate, and much more. While chatting with local farmers and vendors, you’ll taste some of Costa Rica’s delicious fresh herbs and produce. Browse Costa Rican art and buy handmade gifts for friends and family back home.
Popular restaurants and eateries in Barrio Escalante include Faqra, Olio, Arbol de Seda, and Al Mercat. Take a break with a refreshing craft beer at Wilk or Costa Rica Beer Factory. Grab a burger at Apotecario, Ramen at Ramenezco, and sandwiches at El Mosaico.
For breakfast and lunch, try Franco, Cafeoteca, and Cafe Barrio. If your sweet tooth is kicking in, don’t miss Dolce Gelato for a creamy treat. Neon Ice is an eclectic nighttime spot for adult slushies and other boozy treats.
Barrio Escalante is one of the most popular neighborhoods in San Jose, and its food scene is off the charts. Whether you’re looking for authentic Costa Rican cuisine or food from around the world, you’re sure to find something close to it at one of the many spots in the Barrio Escalante neighborhood.
See Related: Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica & Things to Do
8. Costa Rica Beer Factory
Address: WWPP+3M San José, San José Province, Costa Rica
Looking to wet your whistle after exploring San Jose? Sample incredible local craft beer in San Jose at the Costa Rica Beer Factory.
Located in the heart of Barrio Escalante, Costa Rica Beer Factory’s building is over 100 years old and is a local favorite for service, experience, and authenticity.
The establishment is known for its great food, passion for service, and tasty craft beer. Popular beers include the Famous Escalante Red Ale, Dota Apple Beer, Puerto Viejo Sweet Stout, and Tortuguero IPA.
With an in-house brewery, the Beer Factory releases seasonal beers to provide variety and innovation for customers. These particular beers can be found nationwide and in all Costa Rican supermarkets.
As for food, you’ll be blown away by their menu, featuring elevated bar food, including nachos, massive burgers, pizza, empanadas, and much more. You certainly won’t leave hungry! Enjoy it from the bar indoors or the quaint patio where you can people-watch and enjoy the perfect weather.
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9. Manuel Antonio National Park
Address: Puntarenas Province, Quepos, Costa Rica
If you have a day or two to make the 3-hour trek to Manuel Antonio National Park, it’s definitely worth the trip. Manuel Antonio National Park is one of Costa Rica’s most popular parks, and you will soon see why!
The park is home to a complex trail system, allowing visitors to explore the hiking trails all over the park. As you hike in the rainforest, you’ll see a wide array of animals and creatures, including monkeys, sloths, toucans, iguanas, squirrel monkeys, and colorful crabs.
On the charming beaches, you can relax in the sand and enjoy the stunning views or dip in the ocean. Explore Playa Manuel Antonio, the picturesque half-mile-long, white sand crescent bisecting deep green foliage to one side and a secluded cove to the other.
With views like these, it’s easy to feel like you are thousands of miles from civilization, and that’s part of the appeal of Manuel Antonio National Park.
The national park is located near a butterfly garden and research lab, which preserves the 25 species in Costa Rica while educating visitors on the life cycle of butterflies.
Visitors can schedule day and night tours of the park to experience its wonder and beauty through the eyes of a local guide. Manuel Antonio National Park is open every day of the week except Tuesdays.
See Related: Best Things to Do in Playa del Coco, Costa Rica
10. La Paz Waterfall Gardens
Address: 6R3Q+Q9P, Alajuela Province, Sarapiqui, Costa Rica
Located about 28 miles north of San Jose, La Paz Waterfall Gardens is one of the best things to do in San Jose, Costa Rica.
Featuring five famous waterfalls and the largest animal sanctuary in Costa Rica, it’s no surprise why La Paz Waterfall Gardens is one of Costa Rica’s top tourist attractions for day trips. Explore the lush tropical rainforest, peaceful rivers, breathtaking waterfalls, sloths, monkeys, and frogs as you explore the park’s natural beauty.
Access the stunning waterfalls with the easy hiking trails in the park. The five waterfalls are Templo, Encantada, Magia Blanca, Escondida, and La Paz. Magia Blanca is the largest, at 120 feet high.
This national park also has a freshwater lake and trout fishing for visitors. You can visit the butterfly garden on-site, with over 4,000 butterflies flying at any time. If you love bird watching, you’ll witness hundreds of native Costa Rican birds up close in their natural habitat.
With so much to see and do, it’s no surprise that La Paz Waterfall Gardens is one of the best things to do in San Jose, Costa Rica.
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11. Jade Museum
Address: 13 bis, Central Avenue, San José Province, San Jose, Costa Rica
The Jade Museum, or the Museo del Jade, is a hotspot in San Jose for tourists, conveniently located in the heart of the capital city in front of the Plaza de la Democracia on Central Avenue.
The Jade Museum is primarily an archeological museum that preserves the region’s heritage; it features the world’s most extensive pre-Columbian jade artifacts. Dating back to 500 B.C. and 300 B.C., visitors can see approximately 7,000 jade artifacts at the Jade Museum in San Jose.
The Jade Museum offers six exhibits encompassing parts of the pre-Columbian period, including ecological and historical contexts and the economics and trade of jade stone and other artifacts in ancient Mesoamerica.
While at the museum, stop at the gift shop to purchase unique souvenirs to commemorate your visit. Grab some local Costa Rican coffee and explore the museum.
Once you’ve toured the best San Jose museums, be sure to stop at the San Jose Cathedral to admire its stunning neoclassical design as it overlooks Central Park.
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12. Monteverde Cloud Forest
Address: Carr. a Reserva de Monteverde, Provincia de Puntarenas, Monteverde, Costa Rica
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve is a progressive conservation location based on biodiversity research and education. Located 3 hours from San Jose, Monteverde Cloud Forest is a sight to see, whether you are visiting the area or you’ve lived in Costa Rica for years.
There are over eight miles of well-maintained hiking trails for visitors to enjoy, with informational plaques sharing details about the region and what creatures you may see as you explore.
Many tours are available in the cloud forest, including a birdwatching tour, a natural history walk, and a night walk where you’ll learn all about the environmental aspects of the trails and rainforest.
It may be a few hours from San Jose, Costa Rica. Still, this cloud forest and its incredible views, interesting wildlife, and impressive conservation efforts make it a worthwhile visit.
13. Book a San Jose City Tour
Location: Downtown San Jose, Costa Rica
You can explore San Jose, Costa Rica, on your own — but a San Jose city tour is a great idea if you are short on time and want to see as much of the bustling capital city as possible.
Many walking tours in San Jose will escort you through the popular areas of downtown San Jose, the city center, various parks, and museums. If you’re lucky, your guide will give you some dining recommendations and insider knowledge of fun things to do in San Jose that are off the beaten path.
Try a guided bus tour if you’d prefer to see the city by bus. You’ll peek inside the Gold Museum, wander through Central Park, stroll around the National Theater, admire its stunning architecture, and enjoy a traditional Costa Rican lunch.
With a city so large and inviting, visitors have a lot to see and do. Booking a city tour can help you squeeze more sights in during your time in San Jose and make your trip even more memorable.
14. Costa Rica Children’s Museum
Address: Av 9, Bajos de La Union, San José, Costa Rica
If you’re bringing your kids on vacation, the Children’s Museum is an essential visit for the kiddos! With more than 40 rooms filled with interactive activities and exhibits to learn while playing, the Children’s Museum is a great place to spend a few hours with the family.
There’s a geologist exhibit where kids can learn about the earth’s erosion, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other naturally occurring events. Your kids can experience what a real earthquake feels like — this room has its simulator!
Wander through the space technology exhibit to learn about rockets, technology, and the world of astronomy. The Children’s Museum also offers day camps, workshops, and other events to engage children.
If you have a few hours, the Children’s Museum is a great place to take the kids. Museum tickets are less than $5. The Children’s Museum of Costa Rica is open Tuesday through Sunday and is closed on Monday.
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15. San Gerardo de Dota
Address: Calle San Gerardo, San José, Copey, 11703, Costa Rica
San Gerardo de Dota is a small farming town south of San Jose. It’s home to a magical, natural forest off the beaten path of the capital city where you can enjoy nature, watch birds, swim in crystal-clear rivers, and go trout fishing.
The San Gerardo de Dota village is a quaint place that is nothing like San Jose, but that’s all part of its appeal. If you’re a hiker at heart, the cloud forest has impressive trails to explore that are challenging and breathtaking at the same time.
Bird watching is one of the main draws to San Gerardo de Dota, with many fascinating species to be seen and heard. Keep your eyes peeled for the quetzal, the striking green and red-colored bird. It is most commonly seen in the cloud forest during the breeding season in April and May. You’ll also see peccaries, tanagers, woodpeckers, and hummingbirds.
The dense cloud forests in San Gerardo de Dota must be experienced in real life to appreciate fully. You’ll pass moss-covered oak trees and tropical plants in the diverse ecosystem of this forest. If you love to fish, you may get lucky and catch some trout in the nearby Savegre River.
The drive to San Gerardo de Dota should take around 2.5 hours, making it ideal for day trips or overnight if you want to explore for more than one day. It is worth the trek if you’re in San Jose and have time to explore the surrounding areas.
16. Costa Rican Coffee Tour
Experiencing the incredible Costa Rican coffee in San Jose is an absolute must. Grabbing a coffee to-go at the Central Market is one thing, but it’s an entirely different experience to enjoy a coffee tour at one of the fantastic coffee farms in Costa Rica.
Doka Estate is one of Costa Rica’s largest coffee plantations in the central valley of Costa Rica. It welcomes guests from all over the world to learn about the plantation’s production.
The guided tour includes information on the harvesting times of the fruit, the type of crop, its characteristics, crop protection methods, and how all these elements are combined to get a cup of high-quality coffee known worldwide for its full-bodied, savory flavors.
Guests will learn about each stage (separation of qualities, peeling, fermentation tanks, and drying off the beans) and the incredible team that works simultaneously to create coffee for the world to enjoy.
You’ll see the oldest Wet Coffee Storage in the country still in production — moved solely by the force of water, without using any electricity. Because of this machinery, Doka Estate was named a Historical and Architectural Heritage site by the Government of Costa Rica in June 2003.
Doka Estate does a fantastic job sharing its knowledge with visitors and celebrates the country’s most famous agricultural product. If you’re a coffee lover, this plantation is one of the must-see tourist attractions in San Jose, Costa Rica.
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17. El Observatorio
Address: WWMJ+9H8, C. 23, La California, San José, 10101, Costa Rica
You’ll hear all kinds of music as you explore the city during the day — top hits, Latin pop, cumbia, and many more. Suppose you enjoy listening to local bands and musicians.
In that case, El Observatorio is one of the most popular local restaurants, bars, and music venues for San Jose residents and tourists to come and enjoy food, drinks, and live music.
Experience the unique Costa Rican culture firsthand at a great local spot in the capital city. Whether grabbing a quick bite or staying for the evening, you’re sure to have a great time at El Observatorio.
The venue hosts various musical events, including Salsa and Tango nights, stand-up comedy, karaoke nights, and many talented local musicians. Popular Costa Rican musicians and bands, including Ojo de Buey and Sonumbolo, have performed at El Observatorio to some rowdy, excited crowds.
If you’re coming early to grab a bite, don’t miss out on the menu’s fajitas, flautas, or burritos. There’s also Aztec soup, ceviche, pizza, burgers, nachos, and tapas to share.
Whether enjoying San Jose’s nightlife or hearing local music, El Observatorio provides an exciting place to do both. Who knows, maybe you’ll stay out all night!
18. Braulio Carrillo National Park
Address: Quebrada Gonzalez, Carr. San Jose Limon KM 2, Heredia Province, Costa Rica
Braulio Carrillo National Park lies between the Central Volcanic Mountain Range between the Poas and Irazu volcanoes. It’s one of the largest protected lands in Costa Rica, with a landscape of high mountains and forests, canyons, rivers, and streams.
From the San Jose highway, you’ll be able to see the beautiful views of the park. Bring your walking shoes, as the trails in the park can be challenging, but they are worth it to experience the amazing panoramic views throughout.
Hike to the Barva Volcano section of the park, and you will have four trails to choose from, where you can explore a wide variety of forests and river views. During your visit to the park, keep your eyes peeled for buzzards, goldfinch, monkeys, mountain goats, and coyotes.
Braulio Carrillo National Park is open daily from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., including holidays.
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19. Spirogyra Butterfly Garden
Address: WWQG+XV San José, San José Province, Costa Rica
Explore the beautiful butterfly garden area of Spirogyra, just ten minutes from the center of San Jose. This butterfly oasis is a wonderful escape from busy San Jose and does not require any travel.
Upon entering the butterfly garden, you’ll enjoy views of butterflies and plants native to Costa Rica. The garden was founded in 1992 and breeds 20 different species of butterflies and flower plants for visitors from around the world to visit.
The goal of the property is to provide an alternative for the eco-sustainable breeding of butterflies. The land works hard to maintain a minimal ecological impact and protect the many species on-site.
On your visit, don’t miss the Contemplation Path, which takes you to the river for an amazing view of the lush forests. The butterfly garden is open on weekends from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and weekdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
20. Metropolitan Cathedral of San José
Address: Avenida Segunda, Calle Central, Av. 2, San José Province, San José, Costa Rica
Standing tall in the middle of San Jose is the Metropolitan Cathedral, a neoclassical building that draws in guests from all over the world. You don’t have to be religious to appreciate this cathedral’s impressive architecture and striking indoor design.
Built in 1871, the cathedral features stained glass and sculptures, a 16-foot restored 19th-century pipe organ, and a quaint garden with a massive statue of Pope Juan Paul II. The colonial-styled tile floors and vaulted ceilings will take your breath away.
Located across from downtown Parque Central, it’s an easy walk from the city’s heart. The historical landmark is a popular tourist attraction as one of nine Catholic cathedrals in Costa Rica.
Visitors can schedule a tour or enter for free during daily mass. The cathedral may not be as grand as the many cathedrals in Europe, but it’s definitely worth visiting if you are interested in landmarks while in San Jose.
Tours in San José
Discover the charm of San José on a guided city bus tour. You'll see the main sights and attractions, including museums, parks, and the main shopping streets. Then enjoy a delicious Costa Rican lunch in a local restaurant. This is the perfect way to explore San José and learn about its culture and history. You'll see firsthand why Costa Rica is such a popular tourist destination. The tour includes all the highlights of the city, so you won't miss a thing.
Looking to check some of Costa Rica's top attractions off your list in one day? Look no further than this Arenal Volcano Full-Day Combo Tour! You'll get to explore the stunning Arenal Volcano, La Paz Waterfall, and Arenal Hot Springs, all with the help of a knowledgeable guide. Plus, private transport and all entrance fees are included, making this tour an incredible value. And to top it all off, you'll enjoy a delicious lunch and dinner as part of the package. So why wait?
This tour takes you to some of the most beautiful and interesting sites in Costa Rica. You'll begin by visiting the Irazú Volcano, the highest active volcano in the country. Then, you'll explore the city of Cartago, where you'll see the central basilica. Finally, you'll visit the Orosi Valley, a beautiful area known for its traditional lunch. This is an amazing opportunity to see some of Costa Rica's best-kept secrets!