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Are you looking for an amazing family vacation spot? Look no further than Costa Rica! While most people simply pass through the capital city of San Jose Costa Rica without ever stopping, it’s actually an amazing travel destination. Trust me, we’ve done that several times when we’ve taken family trips to Costa Rica. Well. this time was different. In fact, we spent an entire week in San Jose Costa Rica with kids and discovered some great things to do.
This vibrant and beautiful city is full of exciting activities perfect for all ages. From shopping to exploring historical sites, there’s something special in the air here that the whole family can enjoy. Traveling with kids should be fun and educational–and its easy to do in San Jose. Keep reading for some of the best things to see and things do with kids in San Jose Costa Rica.
Is San Jose Costa Rica Safe With Kids?
The answer is yes! San Jose, like the rest of Costa Rica, is generally a safe place to visit with kids. The people in this city are friendly and welcoming to visitors, making it an ideal spot for family vacations.
That being said, we did several things in downtown San Jose and I didn’t always feel really comfortable there with my kids, so I’m including some activities that are downtown and others that are farther out of the city center. Be sure to take safety measures as you would anywhere else: keep your belongings close, stay aware of your surroundings, and avoid walking around after dark. Most places we went felt safe mid day, but as crowds increased and the sun sank lower, my gut told me to get going.
How To Get Around San Jose with Kids
While we think that renting a car is usually the best way to get around Costa Rica with kids, it’s not a great option in San Jose. Traffic always seems to be bad, drivers are a bit crazy, and parking always feels impossible to find. We opted to mostly take Ubers, and they worked perfectly. We have a large family, so we were grateful for the Uber XL option. While Costa Rica is known for being very strict on their car seat laws (kids must be in a car seat or booster until age 12), none of the Uber drivers we rode with told us that we needed them for our kids, even telling us that they were not necessary.
Safest Places To Stay in San Jose Costa Rica
Choosing a safe place to stay in San Jose with kids can make all the difference in your experience. Here are our top recommended stays for families in San Jose.
The Apartotel Suites have lots of different options depending on your family size, amazing city views, and a shared pool!
The Buena Vista Chic hotel is absolutely stunning and you’ll love the charm of this colonial hotel in San Jose. You’ll be a bit more in the country here, but the scenery is stunning!
This luxury 4 bedroom house is complete with a private pool, so you know it will be a hit with the whole family.
This Hidden Paradise in La Garita is fantastic for families and the pool will be such a hit with the kids.
Visit the San Jose Children’s Museum (Museo de los Niños)
The San Jose Childrens Muesum is an absolute GEM. We visited it with our 5 kids from 5-15 and everyone loved it. In fact, we loved this childrens museum in Costa Rica so much that we came back a second time later in the week. It’s fantastic and was so much better than I expected to find.
The museum is located in a historic building that used to be a prison, and it features a wide variety of exhibits and activities that are designed to teach children about science, technology, art, history, and culture. It’s quite large and every room you go into seems to uncover more and more. The outside exhibits are accessed near the end of your visit and were just as impressive as the indoor exhibits.
One of the highlights of the museum is the “Human Body” exhibit, which allows children to explore the different systems of the human body and learn about how they work. Our kids favorite was the life size reproduction of the game “Operation”. Another popular exhibit is the “Earth and Space” exhibit, which features interactive displays about the solar system, geology, and meteorology. My younger kids came back to this room several times on each visit. Of course, you can’t forget the dinosaur exhibit with dinosaur costumes for kids to dress up in.
In addition to the indoor exhibits, the museum also has an outdoor explorers area that includes a climbing wall, zip line, and ropes course. Children can also learn about Costa Rican culture and traditions through exhibits about music, art, animals, and more hands on activities than you can count.
Eat Your Way Through the Central Market (Mercado Central de San Jose)
For a city the size of San Jose, I was expecting BIG THINGS from the Mercado Central. We were somewhat disappointed. It’s pretty small for a large city central market and it was pretty limited in the variety of stores. Located in the heart of San Jose, the market is filled with vendors selling a wide variety of goods, including fresh produce, meats, seafood, flowers, souvenirs, and more. WE noticed that probably 1/3 of the shops were selling meat and fish, 1/3 were restaurants, and the other 1/3 were selling household goods or souvenirs. There was very little produce at the market on the day we visited.
What the San Jose Mercado Central does focus on is FOOD! You can browse the different stalls and try out some of the local foods, such as empanadas, tamales, and churros. Our kids favorite was the La Sorbetera de Lolo Mora. Here you can get their handmade ice cream and it’s super sweet and sticky. There’s only one flavor, a vanilla sort of flavor with a cinnamon and nutmeg spice, but thankfully all of our kids loved it! When you visit the San Jose Mercado Central with kids, grabbing a scoop is a must do activity.
Explore the Spirogyra Butterfly Gardens
If you want a chance to see a big variety of butterflies without ever leaving San Jose, then come to the Spirogyra Butterfly Gardens. These butterfly gardens are pretty small, but they’re great for visiting with kids. The gardens are home to a variety of butterflies that fly freely throughout the garden. You have the chance to watch them up close and get lost in their beauty as they flutter around you. Kids will also love trying to find the biggest, brightest butterfly they can and spotting some of the more unique species.
The Spirogyra Butterfly Gardens also offer educational programs and guided tours, though we learned plenty without one. Probably our kids favorite was trying to get the butterflies to land on them, and they were successful several times!
Take A Food Tour of San Jose
Typically, we don’t think food tours are amazing for kids, but this San Jose food tour is a BIG EXCEPTION! San Jose is packed full of new foods and flavors that kids will love, and this family friendly food tour is a great way to try a variety. We love that on this Costa Rica food tour, you’ll not only get to taste a variety of food, but you’ll also get to learn to MAKE some of it. It’s all very hands on and is the perfect family friendly activity in San Jose Costa Rica.
Play at Oxigeno Human Playground
While we normally avoid big shopping centers when we travel, this was worth making an exception for. THe Oxigeno Human Playground in the suburb of Heredia is absolutely fantastic. From inside the shopping center you have roof access that gives incredible views of the city (a full 360 degree view of San Jose), and plenty of opportunities to be active. There is a 8km walking/runnning track, an indoor pool, gym and even a seasonal skating rink.
The things that really drew our kids in were the trampoline centers and the massive climbing wall. The Oxigeno Human Playground is a great San Jose activity with kids of all ages.
Tour the Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center
The Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center is just what it sounds like – an animal rescue center. Lucky for visitors, they have tours of this Costa Rice Animal sanctuary and they’re incredibly educational. During tour, visitors get to learn about a variety of animals, their habitats and how they’re cared for in this sanctuary.
During your tour you’ll likely see a wide variety of wildlife including monkeys, sloths, coatimundi, macaws and more. The animals under their care have become victims of illegal pet trades or are orphaned and unable to fend for themselves in the wild. We provide them with the necessary care and support, without which they might not have survived in their natural habitat.
Day Trip to the La Paz Waterfall Gardens
The La Paz Waterfall Gardens is a beautiful nature park located in the Central Valley of Costa Rica. It’s about an hour and twenty minutes outside of San Jose along one of the most beautiful roads in the country (drive 20 minutes past the entrance for even more amazing views). The park is home to a stunning series of waterfalls, as well as a wide variety of flora and fauna that are native to the region.
One of the highlights of the La Paz Waterfall Gardens is the namesake waterfall, which is over 120 feet tall and surrounded by lush greenery. Visitors can hike along the trails to get up close to the waterfall and feel the mist on their faces.
In addition to the waterfalls, the park is also home to a number of other attractions, including a butterfly observatory, a hummingbird garden, and a serpentarium. Kids will also love the animal sanctuary, which is home to a variety of animals that have been rescued and rehabilitated. Visitors can see jaguars, pumas, monkeys, toucans, and other animals up close and learn about the conservation efforts that are being made to protect these species.
Explore Poaz Volcano National Park
If you’re looking for a good day trip from San Jose with kids, consider a trip to the Poaz Volcano. As one of the closest volcanos to San Jose Costa Rica, as well as one of the most active volcanos in Costa Rica, this is a great place to visit with kids.
The Poás Volcano is located in the central region of Costa Rica, about an hour outside of San Jose, and it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country.
When you visit the Poás Volcano, you’ll have the opportunity to hike to the rim of the crater and look down into the steaming, sulfuric lake below. The crater is over a mile wide and the lake is constantly changing color and temperature due to volcanic activity. While you’re there, make sure to check out the visitors center since it’s really educational and a great place for kids to learn about the volcano and the jungle around it.
In addition to the crater, the park also features a variety of hiking trails that wind through the cloud forest and offer stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
Swim in The Blue Falls of Costa Rica
If you love waterfalls, these Costa Rica waterfalls are going to blow your mind. The Blue Falls of Costa Rica is actually a series of 7 different waterfalls and pools, all with the most electric blue water I’ve ever seen. The Falls are about 1 hour and 45 minutes outside of San Jose, but they’re absolutely worth the drive. They’re some of the most affordable waterfalls in Costa Rica with adult entrance costing just $15 and kids costing $7.50. Better yet, they’re just barely being developed for visitors, so they’re also some of the least crowded waterfalls.
At the Blue Falls of Costa Rica you can get in the water and swim in the pools and at the base of the waterfalls. It’s an incredible experience and so much fun for the kids to get to play in the water and swim at the waterfalls. The water was super cold, but deffinitly worth bringing some swimming suits, and maybe even a wetsuit if you’re planning on staying for longer. It was one of our favorite things to do in Costa Rica with kids on a hot day.
When we visited a guide was assigned to each group (completely free) and they helped us to safely navigate our way down to the waterfalls, showed us where to jump in, and gave us tips for getting across the slippery rocks. It was the best waterfall experience we’ve ever had in Costa Rica.
Day Trips From San Jose Costa Rica With Kids
If you want to keep your Costa Rica Trip as simple as possible, you can always base yourself in San Jose and take guided day trips out to see things. This does mean more time in the car, but with a driver, it takes the stress out of traveling in Costa Rica with Kids. Here are some fun trips with kids from San Jose to consider.
Can you think of a more fun combination? On this private day trip from San Jose, you’ll head to Tirimbina, a private reserve, to enjoy their hanging bridges and access the cacao plantation. You’ll get an up close look at the chocolate-making process, from fruit to chocolate bar, with some taste testing included. Lunch, guides, and roundtrip transportation are all included.
If you love adventure, then this rafting trip from San Jose Costa Rica needs to be on your list. There are 38 Class III-IV rapids, which are sure to get your heart pumping. This trip will take a full day, but the stories are sure to last a lifetime. Kids must be at least 12 years old for this San Jose rafting trip.
One of our favorite places to explore in Costa Rica is Manuel Antonio National Park. It’s one of the best places to see wildlife in Costa Rica and every time we’ve visitied we’ve seen several sloths. This San Jose Day trip is perfect for kids in Costa Rica who are really wanting to see wildlife in their natural habitat. This trip takes a full day, but what you’ll see make all of the travel time absolutely worth it.