Costa Rica | Getaway Destinations near San José – Costa Rica

Getaway Destinations near San José – Costa Rica

2024-05-23

San Jose, the vibrant capital city of Costa Rica, is a must-visit destination for travelers seeking a rich cultural experience and breathtaking natural beauty. Situated in the heart of the Central Valley, getting to San Jose is a breeze thanks to its well-connected international airport, Juan Santamaria International Airport.

From its bustling markets and colonial architecture to its lush parks and vibrant nightlife, San Jose has something for everyone. Visitors can immerse themselves in the local cuisine, visit the renowned museums, or simply wander through the charming streets, taking in the sights and sounds of this fascinating city. 

For a first day in the city, I recommend exploring the Central Market, in downtown San Jose, and explore the richness of Costa Rican Local food. One of my favorite things to try at the Central Market are Helados de Sorbetera, these are very traditional ice cream made out of a milk base with spices like cinnamon and vainilla. After that, head east downtown San José and get to Barrio Escalante, one of the top neighborhoods of the city, filled with hotels, gastronomic experiences and bars.

The city is well connected by bus or walking, or you can take an Uber or Taxi if you are looking to take a day trip or a weekend getaway. I use San José as a base to move around, discover neighboorhoods, shops, get to new places and often do getaways during the weekends, as its literally in the middle of everything.

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All buses, shuttles and public transportation depart from San Jose. From there, there are many places to visit. Here are my top favorites:

Poas, Alajuela

 

Poas is my ultimate favorite place to visit near San Jose and if you are a nature lover, it will be your favorite place too.

You can find horse rides, big strawberry fields, coffee plantations and many places to eat or get a cup of coffee and have a good time. I tend to go there on weekends and spend the day doing a picnic by the mountains and relaxing. There are lakes and parks all around and visitors can enjoy the day or even spend the weekend there. Don’t worry about were to stay, as there are many options. My favorite one is Poas Observatory and Glamping, a beautiful and cozy place near Poas Volcano, ideal for solo travelers and couples.

Poas Volcano | Costa Rica
Photo: chuvipro

Poas is on the slope of the Poas volcano, one of the main volcanoes in Costa Rica. The volcano shows the geothermal forces that shaped the country. It is active, and you can see from the viewpoint a green lake fed by rain and sulfur at the bottom, with smoke around it that releases remains of volcanic ashes.

The volcano has trails to get to other lakes and see it from different angles. Poas is also home to multiple coffee plantations that do tours during the weekends. My favorite one is Hacienda Alsacia, Starbucks coffee roastery that has tours, a wide variety of beverages and food to enjoy, and an amazing view. 

Although it is a destination that is not easily accessible through public transportation, you can get there by car or taxi.

The small town of Zarcero

 

If you want an old town experience near Poas, Zarcero is the perfect place. It is north of San Ramón and it is known for its unusual gardens and beautiful landscapes. It has great views of coffee plantations and nice areas where travelers can rest and relax. The weather is colder than in San Jose and it is only 67 km from downtown.

It is a very well known attraction for locals, who often visit Zarcero during the weekends to get a delicious ‘Olla de Carne’ a traditional costarican soup, or a ‘Casado’, a traditional dish that includes plantains, rice, beans, some kind of meat and vegetables. My favorite place to eat there is Restaurante Rancho Amalia, a traditional food restaurant with lots of good options, and an amazing view of the mountains.

Zarcero’s main attraction is the Church of San Rafael, a beautiful building inside and out. In front of the church, there is a park with shrubbery of different shapes and sizes.

Church of San Rafael | Zarcero | Costa Rica
Photo: miroslav_1

Another popular attraction in Zarcero is the Cloud Forest Reserve of Los Angeles, a private park with trails and a chance to see local wildlife.

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Explore the historic city of Cartago

 

Cartago was the first capital of Costa Rica and it is a town full of tradition and life. It has very humid weather, usually colder than the rest of Costa Rica. It has a wide mountain system with two volcanoes on it: Irazú and Turrialba, both active, and where visitors can walk into the craters.

Irazú | Cartago | Costa Rica
Photo: Dmitry_Chulov

Cartago has a lot of tradition, architectural landmarks and monuments, especially for those who want to see how Costa Rica was during the colonial period. It is home of the Basilica of Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles, Ruinas de Orosi and Guayabo, one of the best archeological areas in the country.

I often get to Cartago by bus or car, and once there, I do a quick stop at the Basilica de Los Ángeles. This is a massive church, full of tradition. Next to it you will find lots of restaurants, small Sodas to get a quick bite and if you are lucky enough, you will find someone selling Churchills, a traditional type of snow with powdered milk and condensed milk, ideal for hot days.

The area has many places to eat and watch the sunset, like the Orosi Vail, that has amazing spots to visit and enjoy a calm afternoon. Locals often go to the Orosi Vail and enjoy the sunset while having a picnic.

The Romantic village of San Gerardo de Dota

 

San Gerardo de Dota is an hour away from San Jose, and this small paradise is ideal for a romantic getaway. Its river, that goes along the whole town, and their flower crops make it the perfect place if you are visiting as a couple.

Dota is the best day trip for coffee lovers, as it is home of the famous ‘Café Tarrazu’. Dota produces unique blends on a 13-acre Down to Earth plantation, and you can find several coffee tours on your way to the town.

This is the ideal place if you enjoy bird watching tours, as Quetzalez are very common in the area. I love to go there and sit by the river with a book and just relax. My favorite place to have a coffee or a cup of hot chocolate for the cold weather is Alma de Arbol, a super cozy place with an amazing view of the forest, delicious drinks and food.

Quetzal | San Gerardo de Dota | Costa Rica
Photo: Artush

La Paz Waterfall Adventure and wildlife sanctuary

 

La Paz is one of the most visited places near San Jose. La paz is an ecological park and animal sanctuary with over 100 species of animals, ideal for families and groups of friends.

The park has 3,5 kilometers of cloud and rainforest trails and five waterfalls along the trails. It also has a lake and the animal area, where visitors can enjoy watching local species while they learn more about them.

The park also has restaurants and a lodge to spend the day.

La Paz waterfall | Costa Rica
Photo: LaraIrimeeva
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