Day tours and Weekend trips from San Jose Costa Rica

Best Day Tours & Weekend Trips From San Jose By An Expert (2024)

Costa Rica is an absolutely incredible destination on the narrow stretch of land between Panama and Nicaragua. From the capital, San Jose, you can embark on a variety of tours in all cardinal directions.

When I traveled all across Costa Rica for over a month, as I am a bit of a city gal, I LOVED San Jose and stayed in San Jose a lot longer than I had planned (I even found salsa dancing schools).

Although Costa Rica is mostly famous for its beaches, national parks, and even cloud forests (and zip lines), San Jose city life is cool, too!

I did a mix of organized tours and crisscrossing the country on my own on road trips between the Caribbean and the Pacific shores, with a rental car, taxis, and buses!

Affiliate disclosure: I only recommend tours, services and purchases I know and love on this website.

Top-Rated San Jose Costa Rica Tours

In this article, I have researched lots of information about the top-rated tours you can take from the capital, San Jose, in addition to the ones I made myself when I was there.

Costa Rica is the tiniest country, with one of the world’s most biodiverse collections of plants and animals, which is quite impressive.

There are tons of thrilling experiences, and it is completely unique in all aspects. From San Jose, you can easily embark on day trips or multi-day tours to experience it all.

San Jose is situated in the middle of the country in the cool, fresh mountain air, and as it lies at some altitude, it is not at all soaring hot and humid like the beaches along the Caribbean Sea or the Atlantic Ocean.

It is still close enough to breathtaking nature and exhilarating fun experiences. Without leaving the fresh air, in fact, by heading even higher, you can explore the famous volcanoes of Costa Rica.

1. Full-Day Trip To Arenal Volcano

The Arenal Volcano is three hours outside of San Jose Costa Rica. Do weekend trips from San Jose.
The Arenal Volcano is three hours outside of San Jose Costa Rica

This top-rated tour to Arenal with over 500 excellent reviews will pick you up at your hotel and take the scenic tour the around three hours it normally takes to get from San Jose to Arenal.

A few hours outside San Jose is the majestic Arenal Volcano, an adventure tour you don’t want to miss out on!

“Amazing excursion to Arenal”

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“Trip was awesome, and Harlem and driver were very good. Visited many places and learned a lot about Costa Rican culture. Very scenic, and we were able to see Tucans and a two-toed sloth in the wild”. 

You will stop at a coffee plantation and learn about the beverage that gets you up in the morning!

You will also stop at the famous La Paz Waterfall for photos, then at San Fernando Waterfall’s lookout point and an iguana park to learn about these fun creatures.

Costa Rica has amazing hot springs in Arenal! This one is not so "natural", apart from the water, but lots of infrastructure like bars, restaurants, and lights makes this a cool experience.
Costa Rica hot springs in Arenal

Lastly, stop for lunch at Go Adventure Arenal Park in La Fortuna, which is close to the Arenal Volcano.

Get amazing views from several stops around this majestic mountain before the day’s last pampering experience: the Paradise Hot Springs Resort!

Soak for a couple of hours in incredible natural hot springs with thermal mineral water surrounded by stunning tropical gardens before you head back to San Jose after a long day of adventure!

The national Theater of Costa Rica in San Jose lit beautifully at night.

What is included:

  • Transport by air-conditioned vehicle
  • Hotel pickup and drop-off (most San Jose area hotels)
  • Professional bilingual guide
  • Lunch & dinner
  • Coffee or Tea with local snacks
  • Entrance Fees
Check availability for the Arenal Volcano tour here

2. Manuel Antonio National Park Wildlife Day Tour

See the adorable sloths in Manuel Antonio National Park
See the adorable sloths in Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the most popular parks in all of Costa Rica, and that says a lot!

On this top-rated full-day tour from San Jose, you will see the best spots in the park guided by skilled and passionate guides who know where the wildlife is and can teach you about the various species you will see.


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“Such a long drive, but totally worth it! Omar was great! He pointed out all kinds of animals to us, monkeys, sloths, scarlet macaws, and crabs. The walk through Manuel Antonio was great.”

You will stop at various points along the route before you embark on a hike in the afternoon.

With a little luck, you will see white-faced monkeys, howler monkeys, toucans and tropical birds, sloths, agoutis, and the adorable squirrel monkey!

Before you head back to San Jose, you will also have some time on the Manuel Antonio beaches to basque in the lush waters, wind down, and relax.

What is included:

  • Hotel pickup and drop-off (most San Jose area hotels)
  • Transport by air-conditioned vehicle
  • National Park entrance fee
  • Breakfast (you start early) & Lunch
  • Visits to Crocodile Bridge, Scarlet Macaw observation place, fruit stand & Jaco Beach look-out point
  • Guided hike in the park
  • Beach stop after the hike
  • Professional bilingual guide

Also read: 23 Best Things To Do In Manuel Antonio National Park CR!

3. Walking Food Tour Of San Jose

Fruit market in San Jose Costa Rica abundant with colorful fruit and vegetables.
Fruit market in San Jose Costa Rica

One of the best travel adventures you can have is to sample the local cuisine when you are visiting amazing destinations around the world, and this food tour of San Jose gets you the absolute best!

The tour lasts for around three and a half hours and will provide you with culinary treasures while telling you all about the cultural heritage of the country.

“Highly Recommend this tour”

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“Guide was awesome; she was knowledgeable and great, best guide ever. Market and fruit tasting was great. Ice cream tasting superb. Making Ensenada’s was lots of fun!”
July 2023

You will visit La Laguna Plaza, the Metropolitan Church (cathedral), and the National Theater and stop for all sorts of delish treats on the way!

What is included:

  • Learning how to prepare and taste the Chorreado and trying the famous Agua de Sapo with sugar cañe and lemon.
  • Basque in the flavors of Costa Rican-style tamale, cooked by local families and wrapped in a banana leaf.
  • Tortilla-making and learning to make mature plantain empanadas with cheese!
  • In the Borbon Market, you will try a variety of seasonal fruits.
  • Tasting traditional empanadas made of corn, with cheese or beans, in the Central Market.

4. Zip Line & Rappel In La Carpintera

Zip line in the green canopies of Monteverde Costa Rica (stock photo)
Zipline in Monteverde Costa Rica stock photo

For a whiff of some controlled adrenaline shot to your body, head for this combined zipline, rappel, and hiking trip in the Carpintera Hills!

The Carpinteria Hills are situated just on the eastern outskirts of San Jose and are the closest place to the capital where you can go for this kind of adventure.

After a bit of an uphill hike in the beginning (be aware), you can start your airy adventure!

“Super fun with great views”

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“This was such a cool experience. Diego and Dani were great, along with the other guides. These first 600 steps up the mountain were killer, though but they helped me take my time and make it all the way.”
June 2023

You will explore the rainforest from a different perspective, rushing between the treetops while being able to see birds, sloths, and the amazing greenery of the rainforest!

With an exhilarating view of the Central Valley, the Tres Maria Hills, Irazu Volcano, and Poas Volcano from 19 different platforms.

Thirteen cables will take you around the park, where the longest is around 1500 ft long (500 meters), and you will get to do two rappels, where the highest is 130 ft (40 meters)!

What is included:

  • All Fees and Taxes
  • Canopy Equipment
  • Policies

5. Whitewater Rafting In Pacuare River

Whitewater rafting in Pacuare River Costa Rica
Whitewater rafting in Pacuare River Costa Rica

For anyone who loves water AND a good dose of adrenaline, this whitewater rafting tour in Pacuare is created for you!

Starting from the exit point on Pacuare River outside San Jose, you will enjoy the ride down the river about 18 miles (30 kilometers), on this rafting adventure!

“Unforgettable experience!”

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“Beautiful rafting experience. Pacuare River is gorgeous, as is the surrounding nature. We had an entertaining but experienced guide. We had lots of fun during the day!”
February 2023

At the end of the ride, you will enjoy a well-deserved typical Costa Rican lunch before you head back to San Jose.

What is included:

  • Helmets, life vests, and paddles!
  • Lunch
  • Private transportation upon request

As Pacuare is around outside San Jose, you can get yourself there in a rental car or request a pick-up from the tour company.

Capital San Jose In Costa Rica

The National Theater of Costa Rica in San Jose at night
The National Theater of Costa Rica in San Jose at night

The capital of Costa Rica, San Jose (or Saint Joseph), is located in the Central Valley in the middle of the country at around 3800 feet above sea level, surrounded by higher mountains on all sides.

It is also the biggest city in Costa Rica, although not really big at all. Home to just under 300.000 people, the capital is a great point for starting your adventures in all cardinal directions.

Venture off to the Caribbean beaches to the north, the Pacific beaches to the south, or the cloud forest and jungle in the national parks of Costa Rica for hiking, amazing wildlife, and thrilling adrenaline!

Even if you are not a surfer (because Costa Rica has some of the best surf spots in the world), you will find A LOT of incredible adventures here!

FAQs San Jose Costa Rica Tours

Is San Jose Costa Rica expensive?

Costa Rica is one of the most expensive travel destinations in the Central American region today, and San Jose is no exception.

That said, you CAN make a trip to Costa Rica on a budget if you lower your standards a bit on accommodation and do your research and planning in advance!

How much time should you spend in San Jose Costa Rica?

That depends on whether you like to explore city destinations or not!

You can easily “do” San Jose in a couple of days, but if you really want to explore the culture and uniqueness of the city,, you can easily spend a week!

Can you fly into San Jose Costa Rica?

Yes, you can fly into San Jose, Costa Rica.

San Jose has two international airports; Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO), and Liberia; Daniel Oduber International Airport (LIR).

Should you stay in San Jose Costa Rica?

That is completely dependent on your travel preferences!

If you like to explore cities on your travels, including culinary experiences, shopping, culture, and music, you will probably like to stay in San Jose.

What is San Jose Costa Rica like?

I loved San Jose and stayed longer than I had planned. The city is not big but has a fun city vibe, and as it is situated on a mountain plain surrounded by mountains, it also has amazing crisp fresh air!

You can see the mountains in both directions from the main shopping street, and if you want to go on adventures, they are right outside the city limits.

The center of the city is vibrant and lively, and there is often live music and musicians on the city square, great shopping, restaurants, and nightlife.

Weather in San Jose Costa Rica

As San Jose in Costa Rica is situated on a mountain plain, it has quite dry and fresh air in comparison to the towns along the Caribbean and Pacific coasts.

The period from December through April is the dry season, while May through November is the green season (there is no dedicated wet season here).

The hottest month in San Jose is April, with an average of 76, while the coldest month is November through January, with an average of 72, so there are not huge differences in San Jose.

The month with the most rain is September, while the windiest month is February.

Wrap-Up San Jose Costa Rica Tours

As you see, even if you made San Jose your base for your Costa Rica holiday, there are a plethora of adventures to reach from here, even on a day trip!

That said, unless you have a very limited amount of time for your Costa Rica vacation, I definitely recommend you take the time to thoroughly research the country’s destinations before you go.

A few years ago, I stayed here for over a month, and as part of my trip, I did a two-week small group organized tour with eco-friendly adventure travel company G-Adventures, which I absolutely can recommend!

If not, there are plenty of options to explore this amazing country on your own as well.

Related blog posts:

What Continent Is Costa Rica In? Busting Myths (2024)

Best Ways To Travel From San Jose To Monteverde CR (2024)

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