City tours of San Jose are usually conducted walking and include: National Museum (impressive archaeology collection); Museum of Costa Rican Art; Jade Museum (pre-Columbian jade), Museum of Natural Science, and the Gold Museum (magnificent collection of indigenous gold artifacts).
Excursions from San Jose:
Orosi Church & Museum: A small colonial church built by Franciscan missionaries in the 17th century is both beautiful and simple. There is also a small museum with colonial religious objects and valuable paintings. Ruins of Ujarrás: A popular excursion visits mysterious Spanish Colonial 17th Century ruins in the mountains.
Lankester Gardens: One of the world's outstanding orchid collections. Lankester Gardens is a botanist's dream come true, and is open daily to the public. Sarchi: Small town is known for its multi-colored ox cart wooden crafts. The tradition began in the early 1900s when a peasant decided to paint his ox cart with vivid colors arranged in geometric patterns. As a result, ox cart painting soon became a tradition in Sarchi as well as in other parts of Costa Rica
Monteverde: Started by the Quakers, this private biological reserve protects the Quetzal bird and other endangered species whose natural habitat is the tropical cloud forest. Located in the Sierra de Tilaran highlands, Monteverde is also the home of the famous Quaker cheese factory. Several new "sky walks" give the visitor a good look at the forest from all angles and elevations.
The Pacific Coast:
Guanacastse Province & Osa Peninsula: Costa Rica's Pacific side has two remarkable and distinctly different peninsulas jutting into the sea. In the North the Nicoya Peninsula coupled with adjoining Guanacaste Province is almost desert-like in many places and is where many great new, modern, mega-resorts are being built. The Osa Peninsula in southern Costa Rica, the country's best kept secret, is intensely tropical and where several outstanding small jungle lodges and inns offer accommodation. Both peninsulas and the Guanacaste have excellent beaches. Osa also has offshore Isla Cano where some of Costa Rica's mystery spheres still lie half-buried in the jungle.
Quepos: Popular small resort town with several excellent hotels. Nearby cloud forest tours to Manuel Antonio National Park.
Costa Rica has an exceptional national park system reflecting the country's strong commitment to the environment. There are 29 designated areas totaling 12% of the national territory. This provides shelter for nearly 12,000 varieties of plants, 237 species of mammals, 848 species of birds, and 361 different amphibians and reptiles native to the country.
Costa Rican regulations require that naturally existing habitats be maintained. The different Costa Rican environments protected under these rules include: deciduous forests, mangrove swamps, rain forests, marshes, cloud forests, swamps, coral reefs, riparian and swamp forests.
Braulio Carrillo National Park: Twenty highway minutes from San Jose on the road to Guapiles, Braulio Carrillo is one of the most accessible national parks, and is especially attractive for bird-watchers. Over 500 species of birds, equal to the total number of bird species within continental Europe, thrive in the park.
Irazú Volcano National Park: The devastating effects of a series of eruptions occurring from 1963 to 1965 are evident here, producing an eerie, barren landscape. At 11,259 ft., the volcano is the highest peak in the Central Cordillera. Visitors who go to the park in the early mornings may be able to see both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans from the same vantage point.
Poás Volcano National Park: At Poás Volcano, one of the most active of the country's 69 volcanic structures, visitors can stand at the lip of the crater and look down into the steaming cauldron. Geysers of gas, vapor and ash almost constantly rise from the crater. Well maintained trails within the park permit visitors to enter the cloud forest, and hike to an emerald green crater lake.
Rincón de la Vieja National Park: Visitors to Rincón de la Vieja, a dormant volcano, will delight with noisy geysers, steaming geothermal pools and the bubbling mudpots called "Las Pailas."
Santa Rosa National Park: Santa Rosa offers both historical and biological value. On March 20, 1856, peasants defeated the army of pro-slavery North American adventurer William Walker and prevented him from taking possession of Hacienda Santa Rosa. The park's biological significance stems from the variety of the flora and fauna. Dry forests, mangroves, and wooded savannas are some of the different habitats which are home to animals including monkeys, anteaters, coatimundis, peccaries and deer. One of nature's most spectacular events, the "arribada" arrival of thousands of Pacific Ridley sea turtles, occurs annually on the park's Nancite Beach.
Tortuguero National Park: Tortuguero is the most important nesting beach for the green sea turtle in the Western Caribbean. Here visitors may see the turtles leaving the sea at night and coming ashore on the beach to lay their eggs. Season is between June and November. At Tortuguero, visitors may experience a coastal rain forest with spider and howler monkeys, sloths and toucans.
Manuel Antonio National Park: One of the country's most famous and most photographed parks. Magnificent white sand beaches, calm and transparent sea, rocky promontories, and lush forest are spectacular. A roving population of monkey are also a major attraction.
Cahuita National Park: This park is known for its coral reef. Brilliantly colored fish, sponges, sea anemones, lobster, sea fans and crabs.
Cano Negro National Wildlife Refuge: Popular destination for two day/one night tours from San Jose to see wildlife and for night viewing of spectacular Arenal Volcano's flowing lava.