San Jose and Around
San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, is situated in the Central Valley, as well as Cartago, the previous Spanish capital. The Central Valley is surrounded by impressive volcanic mountain ranges, especially the Cordillera Central on the eastern side of the valley.
San Jose -
Gold Museum (Museo de Oro)
- The Gold Museum has the biggest collection of pre Columbian gold jewelry in Central America -
pins, pendants, earrings, and other decorative goodies in stylized animal shapes. A must for anyone who likes jewelry in your family.
- Costa Rica is home to a variety of poisonous snakes. The Sepentario has a small but deadly collection of live snakes, where you can get close to an eyelash viper, coral snake or the extra-deadly bushmaster without having the antidote ready. You can also see other colorful reptiles, such as lovely green iguanas and poison dart frogs. Closed Mon.
La Sabana Park (Parque la Sabana)
- Need to spend a few hours relaxing? Head over to La Sabana Park, where there are playgrounds, ponds where you might see kids fishing, a roller skating rink and soccer fields. On a day when the wind blows and blows, buy a kite and fly it on the little artificial hill. The La Salle Natural History Museum
has exhibits of the rich and varied wildlife of Costa Rica, including a huge sea turtle.
Pueblo Antiguo (Parque National de Diversiones)
- Pueblo Antiguo is a re-creation of a Costa Rican town around 1900. The town has a church, market, fire station, bank, replicas of sugar and coffee mills and the Tortuguero canals. Take a ride in an oxcart or horse drawn carriage. People are dressed in typical clothing of the time, and there are folklorico dance shows and musicians on the streets. Closed Mon. Next to Pueblo Antiguo is an amusement park with rides.
Spirogyra Butterfly Garden
- Prepare to be boggled by the sight of dozens of colorful butterflies flitting around this tropical garden. The orchids and waterfall is a sight in itself. You can go through the garden on your own or take a tour (English or Spanish). Closed Tues.
Zoo Ave (La Garita, south of Alajuela) - This wildlife conservation park is a great way to see animals local to Costa Rica. In the wild it's hard to catch a glimpse of the gorgeous quetzal bird, but at Zoo Ave you're guaranteed a long look at two beautiful emerald-colored quetzales. In the open air enclosures, you'll find colorful parrots, toucans, macaws, a crusty crocodile, caimans, iguanas, kinkajous and many birds.
Cartago - Take a day trip from San Jose to Cartago, the first capital city of Costa Rica. Founded in 1563, Cartago was the capital until 1823, when an earthquake devastated the city and the capital was shifted to San Jose. Across from the Central Park (Parque Central), you can run around the ruins (Las Ruinas) of the colonial-era Iglesia de la Parroquia.
Close by is the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles,
an impressive blue-gray and white cathedral with rounded domes. Step into the ornate interior of the basilica, glimmering with lighted candles. Behind the church is a grotto where a spring bubbles up. The holy spring is believed to cure maladies.
Sarchi - Sarchi is a craft center where artisans make beautifully painted oxcarts. The oxcarts were once used to transport coffee, but now the oxcarts are a craft in itself. You'll want to take home a small souvenir (not a full size oxcart).
Zacero - It's worth a short stop at Zacero for the kids to get out and run around the topiary, green hedges shaped into fantastic shapes. Dr. Seuss couldn't have done it better.