Once you’ve stuffed yourself full of street food on Avenida Central, watched a performance at the National Theater, and left the Jade Museum seeing green, you’re probably ready to take a weekend trip from San Jose to a different part of Costa Rica. While easy day trips from San Jose are possible, such as the 1.5-hour journey to the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, due to distance, you’re better off dedicating a couple of days to the destinations we’ll be covering here.
Take surfing lessons in Santa Teresa
Located around 4.5 hours west of San Jose, Santa Teresa is a fishing town turned surfer hub. If surfing isn’t your thing, you can lounge in the safety of sand as you watch newbies and pros alike tackle the “Suck Rock” break.
Whether you’re backpacking in Costa Rica or want an all-inclusive luxury resort, Santa Teresa offers a range of accommodation options. That said, the town has a strong hippie and surfer vibe. Speaking of vibes, there are plenty of yoga studios where you can get your zen on.
If you’re interested in taking a weekend trip within your weekend trip, look no further than Montezuma. Located a mere 16 kilometers from Santa Teresa, you can straddle a hanging bridge over the Montezuma Waterfalls, drive an ATV through the countryside, and snorkel around Tortuga Island.
Be an adventure junkie in La Fortuna
La Fortuna is a nature lover’s paradise. Located about 3.5 hours from San Jose, the Arenal and Chato volcanos frame this tiny inland town. Before December 2010, the Arenal Volcano frequently spewed lava, which drew in mass tourism. Although such sightings no longer occur, it’s still an incredible sight to witness a volcano (fairly) close up.
Speaking of getting close to volcanoes, you take a canoe around Lake Arenal for one-of-a-kind views of La Fortuna’s pride and joy. Alternatively, hop on the Sky Aerial Tram, which is a cable car that will take you to the highest point of the Arenal Reserve. From there, you’ll strap up to a zipline at 660 feet and travel 4.5 miles through the rainforest.
Feel the Caribbean vibe in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
If you’re craving a laid-back Caribbean weekend getaway, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is about a 3.5-hour drive from San Jose. Called Puerto Viejo for short, this small town is a stone’s throw away from Cahuita, which is home to a coastal national park.
Of the Costa Rica tips and tricks in this post, here’s one you won’t want to forget: Don’t panic when raccoons come running up to you in Cahuita. It’s easier said than done until you get used to it, and you can blame (or thank, depending on your point of view) tourists who hand-feed these (hopefully!) rabies-free animals.
Those seeking a Costa Rica budget-oriented itinerary will be happy to know that it isn’t necessary to pay for a tour to see wildlife in Puerto Viejo. In fact, the town is so quiet that just by walking down the main road there’s a good chance you’ll see monkeys, sloths, and poison dart frogs.
Hang out with wildlife in Manuel Antonio
If Puerto Viejo is an animal sightseeing mecca, then Manuel Antonio is a super mecca. You’ll be hard-pressed to walk down the street without curious monkeys jumping from palm tree to banana tree alongside you or iridescent butterflies putting on a colorful show.
Manuel Antonio is one of the best rainforest tour destinations from San Jose since it only takes 3.5-hours to arrive in this secluded national park. Before entering the park border, you’ll pass through Quepos where you can load up on relatively less expensive groceries before stepping into the coastal rainforest.
Popular activities to do in Manuel Antonio include hiking on trails that hover over beachside cliffs, lounging on the white sand at Manuel Antonio Beach, and kayaking through the Damas Islands Estuary.
Explore the cloud forest in Monteverde
If you’ve ever dreamed of visiting a cloud forest, a visit to Monteverde is one of the best day trips in Costa Rica. Located 2.5 hours by bus from San Jose, the 4,000-foot climb to Monteverde feels like a destination in and of itself as you whip around hairpin turns. As a word of caution, stay clear of the window if steep drop-offs make you queasy!
Upon your arrival, head off on a hike through the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. As you cross hanging bridges and trudge through mud (frequent rain keeps the forest beautiful), be on the lookout for orchids, tarantulas, and the pig-like tapir. Don’t forget to look up—colorful macaws, quetzals, and toucans love this cloud forest.
Coffee lovers will be happy to know that Monteverde is a major coffee producer in Costa Rica. In fact, you can even take a coffee tour. If coffee isn’t your thing, no problem! You can tour local chocolate and sugarcane operations instead.
Practice yoga in Nosara
Since Costa Rica straddles two oceans, let’s honor that by rounding off this list with another beach trip from San Jose. Set on the Pacific coast and about a 4.5-hour drive from San Jose, Nosara embraces the zen lifestyle with its massive number of yoga studios.
Once you finish your sun salutations, carry your peaceful energy with you to the SIBU Wildlife Sanctuary, which rescues and rehabilitates local animals. After you’ve filled your heart and camera with capuchin monkeys and variegated squirrels, grab a surfboard and head to Guiones Beach. Alternatively, continue your do-gooder trip with a visit to the Ostional Wildlife Refuge, which makes sure that Olive ridley turtles have a safe place to lay their eggs.
Whether you have two days to spend in Costa Rica or two months, San Jose is an excellent base for taking weekend trips. What are you waiting for? Pack a to-go bag with beach towels, bug spray, and binoculars so you can hit the road as soon as the weekend rolls around.