Family Travel: Top Ten Places to Visit with Kids in San Jose Costa Rica
This post is part of the World Cup for Kids project from Multicultural Kid Blogs. Each time Costa Rica plays, I will be doing a post on some aspect of that country’s culture. Today I am sharing some of our favorite spots to visit in San Jose Costa Rica!
I am been lucky enjoy to visit Costa Rica a number of times since marrying my tico husband, but our visits since we have had kids are been totally different than our earlier trips. For one thing, the places we choose to visit on our trip have changed. If you are headed to Costa Rica and will be spending some time in its capital, San José, here are our top recommendation of places to visit with your kids! (Don’t miss my look at neighborhood life in San José!)
There are lots of great museums in the San José area. For younger kids especially I recommend the Children’s Museum (Museo del Niño). It has tons of exhibits on everything from the solar system to an the human body. Monkey loved the oversized mouth you could climb inside, and he had so much fun at the “archaeological” dig. While most of the exhibits are for preschoolers and older, younger siblings will still have fun toddling around. Baby especially loved climbing into the space “rover.” We also spent a good deal of time in the baby/toddler play area. Plan to spend a whole day here!
For older kids, we love the Jade Museum (Museo del Jade), Pre-Colombian Gold Museum (Museo del Oro Precolombino), and National Museum (Museo Nacional). If you are at all interested in history you will love these small but impressive museums.
2. Amusement Park (Parque de Diversiones)
The amusement park in San José is tons of fun. There are lots of rides suitable for younger kids, and an indoor play space just for babies and toddlers. There are also plenty of open spaces for them to run around or just relax. I loved the recreated old San José. My favorite part is that it gave us something to do with Monkey’s cousins where language wasn’t a barrier.
3. The Volcanoes! (Irazú and Poás)
You simply can’t go to Costa Rica and not visit a volcano! And luckily for you there are two within an easy day trip of San José: Irazú and Poás. Two pieces of advice: go early and dress warmly! The fog tends to roll in by early afternoon, making it nearly impossible to see anything. And because you are going to a high elevation, it will be chilly, no matter what time of year – As in, I wish we had worn out winter coats!
4. Culture Plaza (Plaza de la Cultura)
At Plaza de la Cultura, you get a glimpse of the old San José, when people still hung out at the plazas. This is a must visit if you want to give your kids a flavor of community life in Costa Rica, as you can find the traditional vendors, and people strolling through or taking a lunch break. Be warned that it is located in a busy section of downtown San José, so if you do visit you should be alert, just as you would be in any large city.
5. Central Market (Mercado Central)
Again, I included this one to give a flavor of the older parts of San José. While the Mercado Central is still an incredibly busy place, these days many people prefer to shop at a mall. Still, there is something about the crowded stalls and requisite haggling over prices that I love. A great place to go people watching!
Sarchí is a beautiful town nearby San José, known as a premier place to shop for artisan goods and souvenirs. There are many different shops to visit, plus great places to eat. This is more for older kids, though younger ones will enjoy a brief visit to look at all the amazing handicrafts.
7. Farmer’s Market Zapote (la Feria)
We had so much fun visiting this enormous Farmer’s Market in Zapote, a part of San José. While there are many farmer’s markets in San José, this one is probably the biggest. You can find so many wonderful fruits and vegetables here – all much bigger (and cheaper!) than you would find in the US. For younger kids, I recommend bringing water, as it can get very hot and there is not much shade. We were also glad to have an umbrella stroller handy, as it can be a lot of walking for younger kids.
INBioparque in Heredia (just outside San José) is just gorgeous. It is an interactive ecological park, designed to bring people in closer contact with Costa Rica’s natural resources. There are many different areas to the park, so plan to spend all day! (By the way, it has a really great cafeteria!) There are plenty of exhibits for little ones, including a petting zoo, plus lots of walking paths through different habitats. We especially loved the butterfly area. This is a really nice break from the hustle and bustle of San José and a great way to see a variety of the very diverse natural life in Costa Rica. Another fun spot for nature lovers is ZooAve, the local zoo. (I apologize if that link isn’t working – as I write they seem to be having trouble with their server!)
9. Terra Mall
Okay, okay, I can hear you groaning. No one really plans to go to the mall when visiting another country, but let’s be real – It’s a great, easy place to cool off and wind down with your kids, especially since it can feel very familiar to them when traveling abroad. So if you do find yourself looking for a mall, I recommend Terra Mall in Escazú (a more upscale part of San José). If your kids need a little break from culture shock, they will feel at home walking around here. Plus little kids will have fun riding on the kids’ train that winds its way through the mall. And then there’s the movie theater – Have you ever heard of VIP seating? I hadn’t, but now I wish we had it here! It costs a bit extra (though still far less than you’d pay in the US), and for that you get an assigned seat, a really comfy seat, lots of leg room – and a waiter! No more waiting in line for popcorn, baby! Downside, of course, is that kids’ movies are all dubbed in Spanish, so this will be challenging for kids that aren’t fluent.
10. A Football Game!
Of course, with the World Cup going on, how could I not mention every Costa Rican’s favorite sport? To really get in touch with Costa Rican community life, just stop by the football pitch, or la cancha. There are easy to find in most any neighborhood in the city, and usually on the weekend this is where you will find the “guys,” hanging out and playing in informal leagues. And if you have the means, you can also go to a game at the new national stadium in the La Sabana area of San José. It is a beautiful modern stadium, where you can catch a battle between rival Costa Rican teams (go Liga!) or international events, such as the women’s soccer under-20 championship this past spring.
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