The Beach Can Wait: Five Things to Do with Kids in San José, Costa Rica

November 10, 2017 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ Costa Rica,World Schooling

World travel is the primary curriculum resource for Janet LoSole’s two homeschooled daughters. Janet writes about homeschooling and traveling and today she shares with us her top picks for things to do with kids in San José, Costa Rica!

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The Beach Can Wait: Five Things to Do with Kids in San José, Costa Rica


Costa Rica is a great place to take the kids what with beaches, cloud forests, and volcanoes around every corner. We were surprised to discover, though, family-friendly excursions right in San José or a short bus ride away.


Things You Should Know About Costa Rica


Getting There

Costa Rica has two main airports, one in Liberia (Daniel Oduber International Airport in Liberia, Code: LIR) that funnels tourists to the resorts of Guanacaste and the Juan Santamaría International Airport (Code: SJO), the country’s main airport, located in Alajuela. If you decide to stay in San José, the airport is just 30 minutes from the city by taxi. The city of Alajuela is quite literally across the street from the airport so staying there is a good idea for exhausted families. Some hotels will pick you up but if you are budget travelers, taxis are super cheap, $25.00 to $30.00 to San José, less than $5.00 to Alajuela.


How to Get Around

A word about Costa Rican directions. Addresses don’t exist in Costa Rica. If you find yourself asking a local for directions, the response will include the number of meters you are from a major landmark, with denominations of 100 meters indicating a city block. For example, “100 meters west of the Mercado,” means one block west of the Mercado. Please remember that 100 meters represents a city block and not actual meters. 50 meters represents half a block, and so on.

Rental cars are unnecessary in the city. The traffic is awful and finding your way is tricky. Taxis in the city centre are very inexpensive, as little as a few dollars. Going farther afield might necessitate a rental car but we always took intercity buses, they were cheap and less stressful on winding mountain roads. A great compromise between renting a vehicle and local buses is to hire private transport. Road travel is notoriously excruciating in Costa Rica, with dangerous highways full of potholes, washed out bridges and teeming rain making the highways slick. Private transport companies offer flexibility at a higher cost but will make navigating the country stress-free.


Where to Eat

For a family of four, we were able to get by on very little, primarily because we are vegetarian and stayed at hostels, where we could prepare our own meals. Local, family-owned, hole-in-the-wall diners are called “sodas” in Costa Rica. Here you can get a filling meal of casado or gallo pinto, traditional dishes of beans and rice with salad, potatoes and a drink for under $5.00.


Family Friendly Accommodation

We stay at hostels so that we can meet other travelers and prepare our own meals. Budget-minded families might like Mango Verde hostel In Alajuela, especially if you need to so some laundry and cook your own meals. There is also a pool on site.



San Jose maintains a steady mid-seventies temperature year-round and is very dry. September and October are the rainiest months but the cloudbursts are short-lived and most excursions listed here are indoors anyway.


What to do with Kids in San Jose, Costa Rica


Museo de los Niños

San José’s Central Penitentiary shut down in 1979 and was left abandoned and haunted until 1994. It reopened under the vision of Mrs. Gloria Bejarano de Calderón as an educational centre for the children of Costa Rica called Museo de los Niños.



Museo de los Niños – Aviation Room


More a hands-on science center than a museum, our daughters raced around old prison cells exploring rooms representing different themes, such as the Milky Way and Aviation. In the Human Body jail cell, the expert planners fabricated a chair that when sat upon, let loose a series of burps and farts, a real inspiration for future biologists. Stairs leading up to the Harry Potter exhibit (a favorite judging by the number of children crowding it), were designed as books stacked on top of each other showcasing titles of Rowling’s books, of course, but also most of the classics.

How to get there:

Take a taxi (avoid the bus – the stop is several blocks away) Calle 4, north of Avenida 9. Closed Mondays



Museo Nacional de Costa Rica

In keeping with Costa Rica’s tendency for recycling buildings, the turreted former army barracks (the Bellavista Fortress), in central San José, has been transformed into a museum. The girls may have been too young to fully appreciate the significance of the pockmarked exterior, whose walls still retain bullets from the 1948 civil war—the country’s last military involvement (after which the military was abolished).



After passing through a sort of greenhouse housing hundreds of Costa Rica’s fluttering butterflies, we entered the main section, first admiring an impressive collection of pre-Columbian artifacts such as metates, (stone tables used to grind nixtamalized maize), then viewing the colonial room, assembled with furniture replicating 18th century living quarters.

How to get there:

Calle 17 between Avenida Central and Avenida Segunda. West from Plaza de la Democracia. Children under 12 – free. Closed Mondays.



Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica

Costa Rica has boasted a healthy arts community since the days of the cultural revolution.

Using, we downloaded an app that churned out a listing of dozens of performances categorized by date and event. The Compañía Nacional de Danza performed the Stravinsky ballet El Pajaro de Fuego (Firebird) at the Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica when we were in town. We showed up early and joined an English-language tour of the theatre then ate in the café before the matinée.



How to get there:

Avenida Segunda, Calle 13, (Tours – free for children under 12)


Zoo Ave

Not more than fifteen kilometers from San José, in Alajuela (a stone’s throw from Juan Santamaría International Airport), lies Zoo Ave (pronounced zoo avay), a sanctuary operated by a non-profit foundation to protect and rehabilitate the wildlife of Costa Rica.

Zoo Ave’s objective is to educate the public about the peril local wildlife faces due to poaching and harvesting for the pet industry. According to their website, Zoo Ave “does not purchase animals; the Costa Rican government, rescue organizations, and individuals have donated every Zoo Ave resident.”



Zoo Ave uses most of its funding to rebuild dwindling species, such as parrots, one of the most vulnerable creatures, due to their popularity as exotic pets. They are bred right on the premises and released. Zoo Ave shelters some animals for their very own safety, such as amputee white-faced capuchins (organ grinder monkeys) we saw swinging from ropes overhead. These little guys can never be released back into the wild. To support a good cause and view most varieties of birds, reptiles, and mammals that inhabit Costa Rica, there’s no better place than Zoo Ave.

How to get there:

Take a bus from San José to Alajuela ($1.00 – buses leave frequently from the TUASA terminal – On Avenida 2, between Calles 12/14), then a taxi from Alajuela to Zoo Ave – $10.00


Tirimbina Rainforest Chocolate Tour

The Tirimbina Rainforest Center, near San José in Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí schedules guided tours into the jungle to educate visitors about the history of chocolate production in Central America.

José, our guide, led us across Costa Rica’s longest suspension bridge into the canopy of the rainforest, pointing out insects and picking fruit for us to try. José explained the history of the cacao industry: “Before Europeans showed up, the people of Central America drank their cacao without sugar. Servants stood at the entranceways to the temples mixing ground cacao and water, preparing to serve it to their Aztecan masters as soon as they appeared.”



Three members of a women’s cooperative greeted us at a thatched pavilion at the tour’s end. They demonstrated how the cacao beans were harvested then dried in the sun after which they were ground and dissolved in hot water. The kids rolled up their sleeves and made a chocolate paste, taste testing many samples in the process. They tried the original unsweetened version first, but in the end, they preferred the European recipe.

How to get there:

From San José’s Terminal del Caribe, Calle Central, Avenida 15. Buses leave nearly every hour. The trip is two hours; the Chocolate tour is 2.5 hours, reservations required.


Take advantage of the capital’s proximity to these child-friendly sites. The beach can wait!


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Guest Post Bio

Janet LoSole is a freelance writer living in Ontario, Canada. Before her career as a parent-educator, Janet taught French at the elementary level and has taught ESL internationally since 1994. World travel is the primary curriculum resource for her two homeschooled daughters. She writes about homeschooling and traveling. Her work has appeared in Natural Child Magazine,, The Homeschooler Post, Immersion Travel Magazine, and Tipping Points.


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