500px Photo ID: 107393487 - Closeup of colorful toucan bird somewhere in Mexico

Maciej Czekajewski / 500px

Parque Zoológico Nacional Simón Bolívar

San José

It may seem ironic to visit a zoo in one of the most biologically rich countries in the world, but this is a popular spot with local families who pour in on weekends to peek at the animals. It’s rough around the edges – the cages are cramped and a few travelers have complained of the animals’ filthy living spaces – but for small children it can serve as a basic primer on the area's wildlife.

If you have time for a day trip, a much better option is Zoo Ave outside Alajuela.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby San José attractions

1. Spirogyra Jardín de Mariposas

0.09 MILES

Housing more than 30 species of butterfly – including the luminescent blue morpho – in plant-filled enclosures, this small butterfly garden is a great…

2. Barrio Amón

0.16 MILES

Northwest of Plaza España lies this pleasant, historical neighborhood, home to a cluster of 19th-century cafetalero (coffee grower) mansions. Recently…

3. TEOR/éTica

0.16 MILES

This contemporary-art museum is the brick-and-mortar gathering space for the TEOR/éTica Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports Central…

4. Casa Amarilla

0.18 MILES

On Parque España’s northeast corner, this elegant colonial-style yellow mansion (closed to the public) houses the Foreign Affairs Ministry. The ceiba tree…

5. Parque España

0.23 MILES

Surrounded by heavy traffic, Parque España may be small, but it becomes a riot of birdsong every day at sunset when the local avian population comes in to…

6. Edificio Metálico

0.24 MILES

One of downtown San José's most striking buildings, this century-old two-story metal edifice on Parque España's western edge was prefabricated in Belgium,…

7. Museo de Arte y Diseño Contemporáneo

0.24 MILES

Commonly referred to as MADC, the Contemporary Art & Design Museum is housed in the historical National Liquor Factory building, which dates from 1856. It…

8. Centro Nacional de la Cultura

0.24 MILES

Housed in the historical National Liquor Factory, this cultural center contains the museum of art and design, a video museum, a gallery and two theaters.