The Top Museums and Cultural Centers in Costa Rica

Mangrove inspired installation
Mangrove inspired installation | © Holli Margell/Flickr
Jenn Parker

Costa Rica is home to some wonderful museums, especially in and around San Jose. If you are interested in history, art, science, popular culture, nature, and animals, then you’ve got a lot of museums to visit. There are guided tours, self-guided tours, and even lectures that you can attend at some of the museums throughout the country on various points of interest. There are even plenty of children and family friendly museums and activities too. So ditch the beach for a day and instead head to one of Costa Rica’s best museums and cultural centers.

1. The National Museum of Costa Rica


The National Museum of Costa Rica
© GAM Cultural
The National Museum of Costa Rica is inside of the Bellavista Fortress, which was originally used by the military (when Costa Rica had a military) and even still has some bullet holes from the 1948 civil war. Today the museum is home to a sizable collection of pre-Colombian, colonial, industrial, and modern art, archeological artifacts, and natural and cultural heritage exhibits. This is a place where you will definitely want to spend at least a few hours as there is so much to see, even though the museum isn’t really that big in size. The fortress also offers incredible views of San Jose. They are open every day except Monday, from 8:30AM to 4:30PM (from 9AM on Sundays).

2. The Museum of Costa Rican Art

Museum, Park

The Museum of Costa Rican Art can be found in the beautiful surroundings of La Sabana Park. Since opening in 1978, the museum has been home to over 3,000 permanent pieces of art and continually features special exhibits. The museum has the works of famous Costa Rican artists like Zuniga and Amighetti, as well as multiple internationally acclaimed artists. There are wood sculptures, huge murals, and 19th and 20th century paintings. This is a great way to get a true taste of the cultural heritage of Costa Rica. Sometimes they even offer free concerts within the carved walls of the Salon Dorado. Entry is from 9AM to 4PM, there is free entrance on Saturdays, but the museum is closed on Mondays.

The Museum of Costa Rican Art, Calle 42, La Sabana Park, San Jose, Costa Rica, +506 2256 1281

The Children’s Museum

The Children’s Museum is located in what was actually once a prison. It has been totally renovated and now features a great variety of exhibits and hands-on activities. There are interactive exhibits that focus on science, technology, culture, art, and literature. There is even an earthquake simulator and an exhibit about the old prison. Kids and adults alike will find this museum to be very engaging, informative, and a lot of fun. Families can learn about Costa Rica’s past and traditional way of life too. Part of experiencing a new country as a family is to learn about the place in which you are visiting from a cultural standpoint. This is a great place to do just that.

Centro Costarricense de Ciencia y Cultura, San Jose, Costa Rica, +506 2258 4929

3. La Salle Museum of Natural Science


There are over 1,000 species of butterflies in Costa Rica
© York Burneleit/Flickr
La Salle Museum of Natural Science has been recognized as the best natural science museum in all of Latin America. The museum is full of paleontology, archeology, zoology, and mineralogy exhibits. It is an amazing place to learn all about Costa Rica’s natural history. There are 55,000 taxidermied fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals. There is also a huge collection of mounted butterflies, including 12 cases of blue morpho butterfly mounts. This is a museum that the entire family will find fascinating and educational.

4. INBio Parque

Museum, Park

The National Biodiversity Institute is a private research and biodiversity management center in Heredia. Since 1989, the institute has worked to collect information on Costa Rica’s biodiversity and sustainability practices. INBio focuses on monitoring the different plants, animals, and ecosystems of Costa Rica, using gathered information to develop more environmentally-friendly practices, and to educate the locals and visitors of Costa Rica. Visitors are invited to visit the center and take a tour of the rainforest park with a guide. There are plenty of opportunities to see and learn about the wildlife. While this might not be a traditional museum, there is a lot to learn by visiting this center.

INBio Parque, Heredia Province, Santo Domingo, Costa Rica, +506 2507 8107

5. Popular Culture Museum


Ancient art
© Marcelo Trasel/Flickr
The Popular Culture Museum is located at the house of former president Alfredo González Flores in between Heredia and Barva. It is here that visitors can learn all about the culture, fashion, architecture, farming practices, and the indigenous way of life in 19th century Costa Rica. There is an impressive collection of antiques and handcrafted furniture here too. It is like stepping back in time when you visit this cultural museum. Visitors are treated to live traditional music performances, oral storytelling, and on the weekends a traditional lunch. This is a wonderful activity for those interested in culture and history.

The National Gallery of Contemporary Art and Design

The National Gallery of Contemporary Art and Design opened in 1994. It is in an old renovated liquor factory between Parque España and The National Library. There are 900 permanent pieces here and typically two to three visiting exhibits, but the focus is on Costa Rican art, design, and architecture. Throughout the gallery there are various theaters, art galleries, and libraries; there is even an open-air gallery called the Mela de la Pilazza, and sometimes the National Gallery hosts festivals. There are also workshops available for young and aspiring artists throughout the year. This place is truly inspirational for the artists and art lovers out there, and if you visit on a Monday, entry is free.

MADC, Calle 15, San José, Costa Rica, +506 2257 9370

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