A San Jose day trip can be a sunny diversion for business travelers to Costa Rica’s capital city or tourists faced with a San Jose layover between visits to the coast. San Jose is located just a short driving distance away from Heredia, Grecia, Sarchi, and Zarcero—four small towns that are representative of Costa Rica’s the campesino tradition, surrounded by lush scenery and authentic farming communities.
All four campesino cities are situated just north of San Jose and all can be part of a leisurely drive that starts with the road to Heredia, north of the San Jose airport. Travelers who don’t own a car can easily rent one at the airport or at any major San Jose hotel. The roads are well marked and the drive is both scenic and worth it.
A San Jose day trip to Heredia, Grecia, Sarchi, and Zarcero can also be easily combined with a vist to the Poas volcano and the Waterfall Gardens, two popular tourist destinations en route.
The first stop on a San Jose day trip to Heredia, Grecia, Sarchi, and Zarcero is Heredia, a small traditional village set into the side of the Barvo volcano. Known in Costa Rica as “the City of Flowers,” Heredia features a traditional central square dominated by a stone church built in 1763. The inside of the Heredia church features a colorful neon statue of the Virgin Mary. Many quaint bookstores and coffee shops line the square.
La Lluna de Valencia on the Heredia square is a nice place to stop for a midday meal, and serves delicious paella and sangria. INBio Park, a museum, nature preserve, and conservatory, is a major attraction here and worth a stop too.
Next on the San Jose day trip itinerary comes Grecia, famous for its deep red all-metal church with white gingerbread trim. The Grecia Regional Museum features some simple exhibits detailing the town’s history, and the World of Snakes, located just half a mile outside of town on the road to Alajuela, showcases over 150 different varieties of these fascinating, slithering reptiles.
Sarchi is an artisan’s paradise, and the main source for the decorative Costa Rican miniature painted oxcarts that are so popular as both native lawn decorations and tourism souvenirs. The Sarchi church provides a rare photo opportunity. Ask someone to snap you standing in front of it for proof you’ve been out of country. Painted pink and aquamarine on the outside with lots of unusual detail, the looks more like a bakery confection that a building and is featured on myraid postcards and local artwork.
The final stop on this San Jose day trip is Zarcero, a tiny, picturesque village with a central square featuring a small, simple church and a garden of elaborate topiary. The topiary alone is worth the trip, and includes a monkey on a motorcycle, people dancing, a large elephant, and a donkey pulling an oxcart.
On the ride back to the airport rental counter or your San Jose hotel, enjoy the green fields and lush semi-tropical scenery. A San Jose day trip to Heredia, Grecia, Sarchi, and Zarcero showcases a slice of authentic Costa Rican life that many travelers miss as they race for the white and black sand beaches, the zip line rain forest tours, and the Arenal Volcano.
Taking even one day to leisurely explore the Heredia, Grecia, Sarchi, and Zarcero area is not only pleasant and relaxing–it also reveals a side of Costa Rican life that is well worth experiencing. Enjoy!