San Jose tours and excursions

San Jose tours

Antique train tours

America Travel offers popular weekend excursions on antique trains, staffed with bilingual guides in period costumes, from San José to Puerto Caldera, a pretty Pacific port close to Punta Arenas. Most people enjoy the service as a day trip, but anyone can book one way tickets to the beach.

Telephone: 2233 3300.
Art tours

San José is developing a fairly healthy fine arts scene, with brilliant new painters coming from across the country and Central America to work and showcase their work. From the colourful canvasses of the Caribbean Coast to intricately carved Boruca masks, you can find the region’s finest pieces here in San José. Molly Keeler will introduce you to the galleries, artists, and movements shaping the city’s art scene. Make reservations well in advance.

Telephone: 2288 0896.
Central Valley tours

San José is just one of the towns in the cool, green Central Valley, cultural heart of the nation. Each city and village has its own history, culinary specialties (often dairy products or sweets), and traditions. Sarchí is best known for its polished hardwood handicrafts; Orosí for its inexpensive public hot springs and Zarcero for the fanciful topiary arcing across the town square. Several companies offer tours, including Costa Rican Trails.

Telephone: 2280 6705.
Coffee tours

Costa Rica’s remarkably rich, smooth, profitable coffee first jolted the nation out of its subsistence farming economy in the 1850s, then went on to fund San José’s finest buildings and original railroads. The “golden bean” is still grown in the mountains around the capital, and several fincas (plantations) offer tours. Café Britt features actors in period costumes who break into campy songs about Rica’s best-known brew, while Espiritu Santo offers straightforward tours. The best time to visit is November through February, during the coffee harvest, but there’s plenty to see year round.

Telephone: 2277 1500; 2450 3838.
Mountain biking tours

While cycling in the city itself is a challenge that only the most dedicated urban cyclist will accept, a glance into the green, volcanic mountains around town is a tad more tempting. Lava Tours offers day trips and multiple day treks around the region on top quality mountain bikes. Excursions can be combined with other outdoor adventure as well, such as rafting, volcano climbing, and zip-line canopy tours.

Telephone: 281 2458.
Walking tours

Several companies offer the classic San José city walking tour, including Costa Rica Expeditions. These vary quite a bit, but most take in the major monuments downtown, such as the National Theatre and beautiful buildings of Barrio Amón, while explaining the caffeinated culture of the 1800s that helped build them. Most groups also visit former the military posts that were transformed, after the military was abolished in 1948, into the National and Children’s Museums.

Telephone: 2257 0766.

Excursions from San Jose

Arenal Volcano National Park

Costa Rica’s iconic attraction is erupting Arenal Volcano, reliably spewing lava since 1968. The glowing lava flows, a major tourist attraction, shifted sides a few years ago – make sure your day trip from San José will take you to the rather distant viewpoint, at night, if it’s clear. Unfortunately, the massive cone is usually blanketed in clouds, so you’ll probably have to settle for an evening at one of the area’s hot springs.

Telephone: 2461 8499.
Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles

Cartago, the original capital of Costa Rica, lies about 20km (12 miles) east of San José. It is still home to the nation’s most important church, 1639 Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels. Rebuilt several times over the years, its current Byzantine façade gets mixed reviews from architecture experts. But everyone loves the diminutive “La Negrita,” the miraculous Black Virgin, Costa Rica’s patron saint, housed inside. Every August second, some two million people (half the country) make a pilgrimage to the church. Most tours also take in Lankaster Botanical Gardens.

Telephone: 2553 3050.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens

This beautiful, private park protects some 28 hectares (70 acres) of waterfall-strewn rain and cloud forests, clinging to the steep slopes of Poás Volcano. Part of the property has been magnificently developed, with sculpted tropical gardens and five huge waterfalls. Day trips include time on the trails, as well as visits to the butterfly and bird enclosures, and animal rehabilitation centre. If you’re interested in the Central Valley’s agrarian heritage, make sure your tour includes a visit to the model farm. Enchanted? Stay overnight at the luxurious Peace Lodge, offering unique and opulent forest cabins.

Telephone: 2482 2720.