Family Vacations to San Jose, Costa Rica

Family Overview - San Jose, Costa Rica
Tour a Costa Rica coffee plantation and view the growing, roasting, and processing that leads to your morning cup of java (Corel)

San Jose Family Travel Tips

  • Stroll through lush gardens with five scenic waterfalls.
  • Discover pre-Columbian gold at the Gold Museum.
  • Peer into two volcano craters.
  • Walk among hundreds of colorful butterflies at the Butterfly Gardens.
  • Raft the Pacuare River, one of the world's top ten runs.

Nestled between the Caribbean and Pacific seas, and serving as a land bridge between North and South America, Costa Rica has incredibly diverse ecological zones from cloud forests to mangrove swamps, rainforests, farmland, marshes, and coral reefs. Such environments create an abundance of plant and wildlife riches. An eco-sensitive country slightly smaller than West Virginia, Costa Rica protects about 27 percent of its land in national parks, refuges, and reserves. With about 850 species of birds and hundreds of species of mammals and reptiles, Costa Rica offers lots to see in a relatively compact area. A visit here enables you to teach your children to value nature by experiencing it.

San José, the capital despite its congestion and drab architecture, contains a few sites of interest to kids. The Gold Museum showcases more than 2,000 pieces of pre-Columbian gold, the Jade Museum features jade artifacts that date from 500 B.C., and the Museum of Costa Rican Art displays works by the nation's well-known artists.

Within an easy drive of San José, your family can explore Costa Rica's natural attractions. At the Butterfly Farm, about 13 miles from Alajuela, stroll through a netted garden filled with tropical plants and hundreds of butterflies, including delicate caligos and striking blue morphos. Learn about the butterfly lifecycle, the wriggly worm-like larvae, and the rows of pupa hanging like so many dried brown leaves. Show your kids that coffee begins long before Starbucks at the Café Britt Farm just north of Heredia, where tours reveal the growing, roasting, and processing operations.

Visit La Paz Waterfall Gardens, especially if you have young kids. The easy trails on the 70-acre property wind along the river through gardens of ferns, stands of bamboo, banana plants, and flowers. You'll see five waterfalls along the way.

Two volcanoes lie within easy reach of San José. Irazu, Costa Rica's highest volcano, reaches 11,260 feet. On the 90-minute drive to Irazu you pass potato and cilantro farms, cattle pastures, patches of purple wildflowers, and tall eucalyptus trees—a stark contrast to the barren, moonlike crater at the summit. Poás volcano, noted for its more than mile-wide crater, impresses visitors with its bubbling, steaming geysers. It's worth the 20-minute walk to Botos Lake, a crater-filled lake with teal-hued waters, the color resulting from volcanic chemicals.

Costa Rica also offers spectacular rafting. The swift-moving Pacuare River rates as one of the top ten whitewater runs in the world for its combination of easy access, cascading rapids, and natural scenery. Paddle past towering ceiba trees, waterfalls, and boulders, and in the calm of a canyon you can climb out of the rafts and float in the water, admiring the rock walls and the blue sky.

Tip: Many Spanish language immersion schools are located in San José. With 'tweens and teens, consider adding a week-long course to your trip.'s resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 26 Nov 2007 | Last Updated: 8 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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