Best Museums in Costa Rica

Artifacts and Insects at Costa Rica's 10 Best Museums

While it's easy enough to fill each day with exploring the great outdoors of Costa Rica, carving out some time to visit some of the best museums will do much to enhance one's overall experience and deepen appreciation for this tiny, precious Central American country. A massive collection of artifacts collected from pre-Columbian monuments are on display at the Museo de Oro Pre-Columbino (Pre-Columbian Gold Museum) and its sister museum, Museo de Jade (Jade Museum), where the craftsmanship of ancient artisans is etched into gold objects, stone metates, and jade figures. At the Children's Museum, interactive displays educate and inform visitors about topics as diverse as bananas and coffee to astronomy and ecology. Insect enthusiasts will be enraptured with the live exhibits at the Museo de los Insectos (Museum of Insects) in Monteverde, which offers nocturnal tours, too. Nearby, the Bat Jungle sheds lights on Costa Rica's most populous, if not popular, mammalian species, with special flashlights that let's one witness these winged creatures in a simulated natural environment. Discover the works of some of Costa Rica's own national artists at El Museo de Arte Costarricense (MAC), which features rotating artist exhibits, and enjoy a stroll through the adjacent sculpture garden.


INBio Park
Photo courtesy of Dave McCracken

InBio Park is Costa Rica's national institute for biodiversity and conservation, and it's main attraction is a theme park for all ages that introduce's Costa Rica and many of its natural wonders to the public. InBio collaborates with government agencies, universities, and other public and private entities to provide the most cutting-edge technologies and advanced science, and the result is a comprehensive park with a collection of more than 3 million insects, a mushroom exhibit, a Climate Change expose, and a Sustainable Trail. Reservations for InBio Park guided tours can be made from most major hotels in San Jose, and include transportation.

Recommended for Museums because: With more exhibits than many museums, this park showcases Costa Rica's natural attractions.

Sophia's expert tip: Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday only, and the last admission is at 3pm.

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Despite its nondescript name and facade, the interior of the Hidden Art Gallery is an expansive space. The gallery currently has over 400 pieces of art, representing more than 50 artists in its 3,000 square feet of wall space. Fourteen rooms are coordinated by style, but the main attraction is the permanent exhibit of resident-artist Carlos Hiller and his underwater images. The gallery also specializes in local art and features new exhibits from emerging and established artists each month. Located 5 kms south of the Liberia International Airport, this gallery is a must-visit for art lovers in the Guardia, Guanacaste area.

Recommended for Museums because: This is an ideal destination for discovering emerging and established Costa Rican artists.

Sophia's expert tip: The Hidden Art Gallery is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10am to 4pm.

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Cacao Trails is an easily accessible place to get acquainted with Costa Rica's cacao, from the important role of the fruit in local indigenous communities to the process it goes through from the bean to the bar, complete with a traditional chocolate factory exhibit that produces real chocolate that you can purchase for souvenirs after the tour. The tour includes a walking trail through an active cacao forest and a canoe ride, all of which is kid-friendly. Find Cacao Trails along the main road between Cahuita and Puerto Viejo. No reservations needed, just show up between 8 and 4 pm.

Recommended for Museums because: The cacao history exhibits and chocolate workshops make this a sweet museum.

Sophia's expert tip: Save time for a stroll through the beautiful botanical garden.

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High in the mountainous town of Monteverde, Costa Rica, the Bat Jungle is a museum with a live menagerie of this mysterious and maligned mammalian species on display. It's an otherwise unheard of exhibit in this country, even though these strangely cute creatures make up a majority of the mammal kingdom in Central America, which is the bat's favorite habitat. After an informed educational and entertaining guide through the bat exhibits, a guided tour of the Bat Jungle culminates in the dark simulated nocturnal rainforest, where 85 bats of eight species fly, eat, and socialize while we humans watch with a flashlight.

Recommended for Museums because: Bats finally get their due at this utterly endearing exhibit.

Sophia's expert tip: Admission is $12, the Bat Jungle is open 9am - 7:30 pm everyday.

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The Museo de Oro Pre-Columbino, or the Museum of Gold, is a crown jewel of Costa Rica's rich history. In addition to a stunning collection of over 1500 gold artifacts that date from date from 500 – 1500 AD, the collection includes other pre-Columbian historical items and a cool currency and coin display, all housed in an underground space located beneath the Plaza de la Cultura in central San Jose. On the second floor of the museum, guests are educated about the social and cultural aspects of the Pre-Columbian culture, while the third floor offers insight into the different uses for and meanings of a wide array of gold pieces.

Recommended for Museums because: A must for pre-Columbian history buffs, there's also a rare coin and currency collection to peruse.

Sophia's expert tip: Reading the bilingual information panels reveals legends about good and evil associated with the gold artifacts.

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The Museo de los Ni�os is the children's museum of Costa Rica, housed in a former penitentiary that is built like a castle, now painted a bright sunny yellow, this inviting museum is part of the Centro Costarricense de la Ciencia y la Cultura complex in the capital of San Jos�, Costa Rica. It is the first interactive museum in Central America, and contains 40 exhibit rooms that educate and entertain children in topics ranging from astronomy and ecology to bananas and coffee. The museum's mission is to inspire learning through play and promote positive values such as friendship, happiness, and patience.

Recommended for Museums because: This iconic castle museum is fun for all ages and full of Costa Rican history.

Sophia's expert tip: Follow the museum's facebook page for invites to special events:

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Jade gems date from 500 BC to AD 800 and are showcased with special lighting, spacing and groupings to allow visitors to appreciate their intricate detail. In addition to the outstanding jade displays, the museum also houses pre-Columbian figurines, ceramics, gold miniatures and other precious gems. An excellent sister collection to the Museo del Oro Pre-Colombino a few blocks away, the Jade Museum is on the first floor of the INS building on a busy corner of the city. Learn how complicated designs were carved into this extremely hard stone and discover how the ancient artisans created some masterpieces that look modern even today.

Recommended for Museums because: This museum holds the largest collection of jade in all of the Americas.

Sophia's expert tip: The gift shop has jade souvenirs and jewelry for sale.

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Once upon a time, El Museo de Arte Costarricense (MAC) was Costa Rica's main airport terminal. Now it is home to a diverse collection of works by some of the country's most revered artists and serves as a celebration of national talent. Upstairs, a bas-relief on the walls of a conference room tells the story of Costa Rica, and an outdoor sculpture garden is a complement to the permanent collection of painting and prints within. Though it's a small museum, one can spend hours exploring. Find it next to the Sabana Metropolitan Park, a scenic green place for an afternoon stroll.

Recommended for Museums because: Rotating exhibitions and visiting artists show year-round at this museum.

Sophia's expert tip: Students and seniors always get in free.

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Stamp collectors should seek out this unassuming three room museum tucked upstairs in the Edificio Correos, or the main post office building in Barrio La Merced of the capital city of San Jose. In addition to its extensive stamp collection, the museum displays antique telegraphs, vintage telephones, and original postal equipment, all within just three rooms. The exhibits do much to illuminate Costa Rica's colorful history of mail. The museums host is an iconic archictectural landmark built in 1917, with sea-foam façade and Corinthian pillars. Serious stamp enthusiasts can inquire about attending the museum's monthly stamp exchange fair for collectors.

Recommended for Museums because: This petite museum of postal memorabilia commemorates stamps and vintage telephones.

Sophia's expert tip: Save the postcard that comes with the nominal admission fee, it's prepaid with postage as far as North America.

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If ever there were a better host for Mundo de los Insectos than the lush mountain of Monteverde, Costa Rica, it would be hard to imagine. As its name suggests, this roadside attraction features a most impressive collection of a high number of species-most of whom are very much alive. Butterflies are a highlight, but so are beetles, scorpions, banana spiders, and walking sticks. Some insects are more active at night, so thankfully the Mundo de los Insecto's nominal admission fee allows for ins and outs, so you can see what there is to see by day and come back after dark for the nocturnal insect experience.

Recommended for Museums because: Bug lovers and insect curious shouldn't miss a trip to this emporium of all things creepy-crawly.

Sophia's expert tip: Go once during the day and return for free again at night, if you dare.

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Meet Sophia LaMonica

On Sophia's first trip to Costa Rica, she came face to face with white-faced monkeys, gasped at the sight of giant purple crabs, and rode horseback through plunging waterfalls. Costa Rica...  More About Sophia