When I first started planning my family trip to Costa Rica, I, naturally, reached out to bloggers asking for advice on where to go and what to see. While there were several cities that seemed to be considered “must-visits,” the small town home to the San Jose Airport, Alajuela, was certainly not one of them. In fact, the most common advice I received was “don’t spend any time in San Jose or near the airport whatsoever.” So it’s not exactly a popular destination amongst visitors.
Due to a series of last-minute itinerary changes because #familytravel, we found ourselves stuck in Alajuela for three full days! Yikes. Luckily, travel research is totally my game, and I found plenty of cool day trips that were less than a couple of hours away by car. Pura Vida.
So if you find yourself in Alajuela for longer than you’d like to be, don’t worry! These are the best things to do near the San Jose Airport, Costa Rica.
There’s a reason that one of Costa Rica’s largest and most active volcanoes is the most visited tourist site in the country. The view of this sunken caldera at the Poas National Park is spectacular. With the crater being almost a mile in diameter, you can see the sulfur bubbles and smoke emissions from where you’re standing. SO cool. With your admission fee, you also get access to the nearby hiking trails. With any luck, you’ll spot some small animals and if not, then you get a good workout and some fun photos with trees and plants.
Tip: Be sure to stop by one of the fresas del volcan (volcano strawberries) booths along the road near Poas for some delicious, fresh strawberries!
Doka Coffee Plantation Tour
If you’ve ever met me, you know I can’t live without caffeine, and I have a deep-seated love and appreciation for good coffee. When I learned that we would have time to visit a coffee plantation and drink ourselves into a caffeine frenzy learn exactly how good (and bad!) coffee is harvested, I immediately added it to the itinerary. Doka is located in the coffee capital of Costa Rica and offers tours pretty much all day. I learned that harvesting coffee takes longer than your average college degree, and I’m that much more appreciative of a good cup of java. Oh, and in case you’re wondering – yes there are tastings and yes they are plentiful. Don’t forget to pick up some bags to take home from their gift shop. They’re more expensive at souvenir shops.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens
La Paz is a giant, privately owned nature park and wildlife refuge attached to an ultra-fancy eco-hotel. This explains why the admission price is $40 per person (steep, I know), but frankly, it was totally worth it. Plus, the admission goes toward caring for the animals and who doesn’t love animals? Inside, you’re treated to several hiking trails that lead to five spectacular waterfalls. There are also tons of exotic animals including toucans, jungle cats, monkeys, snakes, and much more. We were in awe of the place and spent the entire afternoon there.
Recreo Verde Hot Springs
To preface this suggestion, I have to warn you that it took us 2 hours each way to get to these springs. Had we realized it would take that long, we probably would have left way earlier or opted for a different activity entirely. But let’s just say you’ve just made the trek to Recreo Verde. What will you find? Well for starters, if you go during the week, it will be basically empty, which means you get three pools all to yourself like a boss. Two of them are thermal pools with minerals that come from the nearby volcano (excellent for healing mosquito bites FYI) and one is a freezing swimming pool filled with natural water. You get a pool day, but instead of gross chlorine or salt water, you get to chill in water that’s actually good for your body. Win! At $12 per person, it’s a steal compared to the cost of the thermal pools near the popular Arenal Volcano.
Tip: We rented a car and were able to drive to all of these places but tour buses are also an option. With the exception of the hot springs, the above-mentioned activities are all half-day excursions.
Honorary Mention: Zoo Ave
One of the great things about Costa Rica is the country’s dedication to wildlife protection and conservation. There are tons of laws in place, which is the only reason I felt comfortable going to the wildlife parks there. We didn’t make it to Zoo Ave, but given its non-profit status and the fact that it’s Latin America’s largest wildlife rehabilitation and breeding center, I think it’s a safe recommendation. With tons of species of birds, cats, reptiles, and monkeys, you’re guaranteed to leave with just a bit more knowledge about Costa Rican wildlife and some great photos to boot!
So if you find yourself stuck with an extra couple of days near the San Jose Airport, you now have enough activity options for three days in Alajuela. And if you’re in Alajuela for more than three days, then there’s something wrong with your Costa Rica itinerary because there are SO many great things to do in Costa Rica! Get out and explore!
Have you ever been to Costa Rica? Did you spend any time in Alajuela? Share your Costa Rica experience in the comments below!
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