If you are visiting Costa Rica but you can’t stay for long, or if you can stay awhile but can’t stray far from San Jose for because of business or other obligations, the Costa Rica San Juan Central Valley offers a variety of interesting parks and attractions that are more than worth a short day trip. San Juan Costa Rica is an exciting capital city with plenty of colorful nightlife, fine dining, and cutting edge music, but you don’t have to settle for a purely urban vacation just because you are stationed in San Juan.
Twenty minutes outside San Juan on the road to Barva just north of Heredia you will find the Café Britt coffee farm. The farm offers a fascinating and scenic three-to-four hour tour of the plantation. The tour shows how coffee is grown, picked, and roasted, and includes coffee tasting sessions and a lunch at the farm restaurant. Visitors can even pick their own coffee as part of their visit, or combine the plantation tour with a visit to a nearby Butterfly Farm which houses 30 of Costa Rica’s 80 different butterfly varieties under a single roof.
Another worthwhile adventure is Lankester Gardens, a short bus trip from San Juan Costa Rica and home more than 800 of the more than 1400 species of orchids that grow wild in the Costa Rica San Juan Central Valley. Founded by 1940s naturalist Charles Lankester, Lankester Gardens is designed to preserve rare bromeliad and orchid specimens so that the general public can easily enjoy them. Plan on one to three hours to thoroughly explore the paved trails. This Costa Rica San Juan Central Valley attraction is a good choice for an afternoon or morning excursion, or as something to combine with shopping or a museum visit.
About one hour outside of San Jose, Mahogany Park offers Original Canopy Tours (www.canopytour.com) through beautiful rain forest terrain. The tours take about two hours and feature ten separate viewing platforms. A tamer version, the Rain Forest Aerial Tram Caribbean (www.rainforesttram.com) is built on a private reserve bordering Braulio Carillo National Park and take passengers around the rain forest canopy in sturdy, comfortable hanging trams.
The Poas and Irazu volcanos are Costa Rica San Juan Central Valley attractions that can be enjoyed on a day trip from San Juan without a lot of difficulty or the need for an overnight stay. Full day tours can be arranged easily from almost any San Juan hotel for less than (or just over) $100 USD including round trip transportation.
The town of Cartego, the original capital of Costa Rica, sits at the foot of the Irazu volcano, and is home to the most famous building in Costa Rica, the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles (the Basilica of Our Lady of Angels). This byzantine church contains a shrine to the Black Virgin that was first established in 1635. Though most of the original town is in ruins, Cartego is full of lovely gardens and is perfect for a leisurely exploratory walk.
Mount Arenal, the most popular volcanic destination in Costa Rica, is only three and a half hours from San Juan, but touring Arenal properly in a single day is not really a reasonable option, although an overnight stay on a weekend or any other night is a great option and one that is also easy to arrange from almost any major San Juan hotel. A closer option for a day trip to a national park is the Orosi Valley to the southeast, and Tapanti National Park, which offers miles of gorgeous hiking trails and riverside picnic areas that can easily be explored in a single day trip from a San Juan home base.