Costa Rica's vast national parks and reserves are hours away from the capital. But don't leave the city without first enjoying the jewels of the capital region.
Costa Rica with its rich diversity of wildlife and habits is a great place for families. The country’s beaches keep kids and teens happy and the rain forests may reveal toucans, scarlet macaws, and monkeys. Before you venture out into Costa Rica’s national parks and reserves, take time to enjoy the area around the country’s capital, San José. Families with little kids will love the butterfly and animal farms near the capital. Older kids will want to explore the city’s museums and raft nearby rivers.
Especially with young kids, don’t miss La Paz Waterfall Gardens (although the facility pleases adults too). The gardens offer an easy to handle preview of what you will experience in Costa Rica’s nature reserves and parks. The easy trails lead you to a hummingbird garden, a butterfly farm, five cascading waterfalls, and exhibits harboring frogs, monkeys, and snakes. The jungle cat exhibit houses a jaguar, ocelot, puma margay, and jaguarondi. In the bird aviary see scarlet macaws, wild turkeys and other birds. The friendly toucans might even be coaxed to pose on your child’s shoulder. There’s much to see, so consider pausing at the facility’s lunch buffet.
Rafting Day Trips
With tweens and teens, it’s worth rising early in the morning for a rafting trip. Rios Tropicales, a well-known rafting outfitter, offers a day trip on the Pacuare River, known for its Class III+ rapids. The Pacuare tests your adrenaline with exciting rapids and lets you mellow out on a few quiet stretches. In a smooth section, you can jump out of the raft to float down the river on your back. Both Rios Tropicales and Costa Rica Expeditions, another well-known rafting company, offer multi-day rafting trips.
Two volcanoes rise within an easy day trip of San José. Thirty miles east of the city, the 11,000-foot-high Irazú intrigues with its lake-filled craters whose green and red colors result from mineral deposits. En route to Poás volcano, you pass coffee plantations with dark green bushy fields outlined by willowy palms, and slopes lush with mango and Guanacaste trees. Poás’ mile-wide crater steams and bubbles with sulphurous waters.
Man-Made Attractions: San José’s Museums
The Gold Museum, Museo de Oro Pre-Coloumbino
The Gold Museum, located in an underground facility, impresses kids and adults. The museum’s pre-Columbian gold, whose pieces date from 300 to 1500 AD, is one of the largest collections in Central America. The museum showcases some 1,600 pieces of jewelry, figures, and coins. Do a treasure hunt and search for the many animal figures, especially bats and birds.
The Jade Museum, Museo del Jade y de la Cultura Pre-Colombina
Since the museum’s move into new headquarters in 2014, the facility has room to display 7,000 jade artifacts dating from 500 B.C. to 800 AD. On a treasure hunt search for the frogs and snakes. The museum also displays pre-Columbian ceramic vases and bowls.
Costa Rican Art Museum, Museo de Arte Costarricense
The museum displays Costa Rican artists from the 1850’s to the present, including an impressive collection of sculptures and drawings by noted artist Juan Manual Sanchez as well as other native artists.