Cultural Activities in Costa Rica

Quick Link to the Culture Net.  List of almost everything cultural in CR.

It bothers me when some people refer to Costa Rica as a third world country.  It is not.  I have been to third world countries and I know the difference.   I am also not thrilled with the term, developing county, though if I have to live with one or the other, I'll take the latter.

While clearly Costa Rica cannot offer cultural activities equal to those in large US or European cities, you may be surprised to know we have some excellent museums, some fine art galleries, a number of theatre groups, and a symphony! 

If you are visiting during the low season when rates are much cheaper, you will need something to do on those rainy afternoons.  Here are some options.

Museo del Oro - The Gold Museum
Museo de Numismática - Museum of Numismatics

Web site:  Museo

Who else is better qualified to have a museum of gold and money than the Central Bank of Costa Rica, the Costa Rican equivalent of the Federal Reserve?

I am not a museum person by nature, but these two, especially the Gold Museum should be on your list if visiting Costa Rica.  In fact, if you are visiting here during the "green season" (do you think some advertising guy was responsible for coming up with this name for the rainy season?), an afternoon visit is a great way to stay dry and learn something.

The Gold museum, in downtown San José and located under the Plaza de la Cultura park is probably the best museum with thousands of examples of Pre-Colombian gold. The pieces in the date from 500 BC to 1600 AD. 

This is a priceless collection of  gold objects that provide an idea of the social structure and the goldsmithing of pre-Colombian Costa Ricans. These were from the original indigenous tribes that still live in some mountain areas.

The exhibition shows how the pieces were used, the technology to create them, and manifests the relationship between these people and nature. The collection includes 1,600 pieces of pre-Colombian gold that date from 300AD to the 1500AD.  This represents over 20,000 troy ounces of pre-Columbian gold figures.  Excellent lighting and clear descriptions are available for each piece. 

Lesser known is that they also have an excellent collection of ceramic pieces dating from about the same periods.

Worried about the language thing?  Don't be.  The museum provides headsets that narrate the content of the museum in both Spanish and English!  French and German will be added soon. Rental is 500 colones or about $1.00.

There is also a store that offers replicas of many of the items on display.

The museum is open from 10:00 AM to 4:30 pm, Tuesday through Sunday.
Admission: 1,500 colones for non residents (a bit over $3.00).  Residents: 700 colones (about $1.75)


Ticket Office





Museo de Numismática

Who doesn't like money?  While not exactly the US Mint, this place too is pretty cool.  A lot of the early coins are really quite beautiful and displayed to perfection.

There are about 4,000 items on display including bills, coins and many early documents showing the early history of Costa Rica.





Teatro Nacional - The National Theatre

Costa Rica ha a symphony and a really nice symphony hall to go with it.  In addition, shows are scheduled here throughout the year, many including world famous performers.

Visiting the theater is free.  So is taking pictures!

There are guided tours and they are also free.

The theatre sits next to the Hotel Costa Rica, a once favorite haunt of mine.  There once was nothing finer than to sit in front of the hotel, drink coffee and people watch.  There used to be a ton of street people there hawking their wares and offering shoe shines (even though you were wearing sandals!).

Sadly, the hotel has built a barricade around the outdoor coffee area, which, while probably a bit safer for the unknowing, sadly removes one of the most enjoyable places in Costa Rica for just hanging out.  I will not return.

San José has also removed most if not all the street vendors, so now you are left with something like a Columbus Ohio, but in Spanish!  There are still the shops surrounding this area, but some of the soul of San José is now gone.

Teatro Popular Melico Salazar

The Theater Melico Salazar is an important center for culture in Costa Rica.  There are shows year around including live theatre, dance, art, and so on.

This is such a cool place.  We go there all the time, most recently to see a Tango show.  It is the classic proscenium theatre and there is always a wide variety of performances.

It is a beautiful old building representative of some of the finest architecture  in the country.  This  theater should definitely be put on your list.  It is located in Central San José on Paseo Colon.

Web Site:
Telephone:  2233-5424  Fax: 2233-5387  Ticket Office: 2257-6005

A note about tickets to both theaters!

You can buy tickets online, but the system is REALLY weird!  Elect if possible to pickup the tickets on the day of the performance.  I made the mistake of arranging a pickup at one of the remote locations and brother whatta hassle!


MUSEO DE LOS NIÑOS Y LAS NIÑAS Childrens Museum  Costa RicaChildren's Museum

Located in downtown San José, this is a great spot to take the kids. It used to be an old military prison, but was converted into The Costa Rican Center of Science and Culture or simply the Children's Museum.

The museum is located just north of downtown San Jose.  There are a ton of cool and interactive exhibits that kids find to be a lot of fun.

Sadly, they appear to have no web site.  The hours are Monday through Sunday and it opens at 10AM. 

Museo de Arte y Diseño Contemporáneo - Museum of Art and Contemporary Design

Expositions of Design and Contemporary Art

  • Location: In CENAC, Barrio Amón, San José
  • Visiting Hours: Tuesday - Friday, de 10 a.m. a 4 p.m.
  • Appointments: Laura Rodríguez
  • Price of Admission: ¢150 colones for students  high school age or younger and ¢300 colones for the general public.  
  • Telephone: (506) 2257-7202 ó (506) 2257-9370.
  • Email:; web Site:

National Museum

  • Location: San José, Barrio La California
  • Horario visitas: 
  • Precio de entrada:   Students free; General Public: ¢500 colones, Non Costa Ricans: $ 4 dollars
  • Telephone: (506) 2256- 8643 y (506) 2257- 1433 ext. 223; correo electrónico: proyecció;
  • página web: 


Museo de Arte Costarricense - Costa Rica Museum of Art

  • Location: Sabana Este, San José.
  • Hours:  Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to  3 p.m.
  • Telephone: (506) 2222-7155 / 7932, - CALL FIRST FOR APPOINTMENT
  • correo electrónico:;
  • página web 

Archivo Nacional - The National Archives

  • Location: Barrio Pinto, between  Zapote y Curridabat
  • Hours: Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Appointment: Prior arrangement with  Rocío Vallecillo.
  • Entry Fee: Free
  • Telephone: (506) 2234- 7223/76 89, ext 232;
  • Email
  • Web Site

Interested in things ecological?  Bio-Diversity? Try these!

If you really want to experience and learn about bio-diversity, you likely cannot find a better location than Costa Rica.  While here, make it a point to visit Earth UniversityEnglish Web Site.  It is a special place!

Another notable location is INBioparque, a wonderful place located in Santo Domingo de Heredia. (See map at right.  Click to enlarge.) 

It is an amazing theme park offering interactive experiences with Nature.  INBioparque offers  daily round-trip shuttle service from most hotels in the San Jose area.  The park is 100% wheelchair (and stroller) friendly!  There are tours, a farm, a lagoon, an aquarium and other attractions (like the ANTS!).  Price $15 adults, $8 kids.  Open Tuesday through Sunday 8AM to 6 PM, but admissions closes at 4 PM.

One more great spot is Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge located in Dominical, Costa Rica. run by Jack Ewing.

Few people know the jungles of Costa Rica than contributor Jack Ewing, the man behind Hacienda Barú, a national wildlife preserve covering 330 hectares (815 acres) on Costa Rica's Southern Pacific Coast near Dominical.  If you are serious about ecology or eco-tourism as it is now called, you must place this location on your travel itinerary. Bird watching and eco-tours are the house specialties, but the trails are incredible if you just want to commune.

Zoo Ave

Located about 30 minutes from Sam José, just past the airport is Zoo Ave. Pronounced Zu-Avay.  Now THIS is worth a visit!

Zoo Ave is a marvelous zoo here in Costa Rica, but something very few tourists ever visit. The times I have been there, it was almost all Costa Rican visitors. This is a shame as Zoo Ave is a marvelous place covering 59 hectares of beautifully landscaped grounds. It is also a wildlife rescue center for injured wildlife.

It sports a HUGE bird collection (the largest in Central America) including numerous toucans, cranes, curassows, parrots, more than 100 other Costa Rican bird species.

Zoo Ave is one of only two zoos in the world to display the incredible and resplendent quetzals. To see one, read my Blog post about my attempt to photograph the little buggers. You will also read how my wife saves dead birds!

There are also crocodile, deer, turtles, ostrich, tapirs, peccaries, pumas, and all the indigenous monkeys housed in large enclosures.

We found an injured owl not long ago and took it to the excellent Zoo Ave animal rescue.  If you would like to read more, here is the story.

Zoo Ave is located in La Garita, maybe 10-15 minutes past the airport heading for the beaches (NW).  Admission is $15.00 for adult tourists.  Much cheaper if you are a citizen or legal resident.


Snake Museums

Serpentario El Mundo de las Serpientes

Located in Grecia, about 45 minutes northwest of San José is the World of Snakes.  From their web site, they are an open-air-exhibition with snakes from all over the world.  They also say that you can,, if you wish, "...get in close contact with snakes.".  Hmmm!  Bring the kids!

Serpentario El Mundo de las Serpientes

Location:Grecia, Costa Rica, not far from the metal church (which is another thing you should see!)
Hours:Monday thru Sunday from 8.00 a.m to 4.00 p.m
Telephone: +506-2494-3700

Serpentario Monteverde Costa Rica

Web Site: Snake Tour

Location:Santa Elena, Monteverde, Costa Rica
Hours:There are guided tours all day, from 9:00 a.m. to 06:00 p.m.
Email: none found
Telephone:none found

There is also a cool poison frog museum in Monteverde.



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