If you’re looking to keep the kids entertained while visiting Costa Rica’s capital of San Jose, the Children’s Museum is the perfect stop. This giant museum has everything kids love from dinosaurs and space exhibits to first-responder stations and a giant chess set. There are even some Costa Rica-specific exhibits that will let you explore the country’s history and culture. In this post, we’ll tell you all about the Costa Rica Children’s Museum and how to plan a visit.
Museo de los Ninos (the Children’s Museum) was opened in 1994. At the time, it was one of only a few children’s museums in all Latin America.
The idea of an interactive museum for learning in Costa Rica came from former First Lady Gloria Bejarano Almada (of the Caldaron administration). Ms. Bejarano had visited the Children’s Museum of Caracas, in Venezuela, and was impressed with the concept. She returned to Costa Rica determined to make a similar space.
With a fiscal deficit, her hopes of funding such a project were almost squashed. Finding a property was the biggest challenge. That was until the old central penitentiary building, dilapidated and haunted by terrible history, was offered up.
Instead of tearing down the crumbling building and starting fresh, Ms. Bejarano saw its structural beauty and decided to bring new life to the space. Now the castle-like museum has over 40 rooms with exhibits in science, art, history, and technology.
In addition to the Children’s Museum, there is also a Penitentiary Museum onsite that can be visited separately.
With over 12,000 square feet (3,800 m2) to explore, the Costa Rica Children’s Museum can seem a little overwhelming when you enter. This was our biggest problem when visiting the first time. By the second visit, we started getting more familiar with the setup and saw a lot more.
We highly recommend purchasing a museum map from the ticket office for a few hundred colones (around 0.50 cents US). The map is in Spanish but will give you a sense of where you can go in the building, even if you can’t read everything.
Entrance and Ticketing
Ticketing is now done online. See more in the Ticketing and Costs section, below.
Upon entering through the large doors, you will first need to visit the ticket office on the left. Here, you will show the receptionist your online confirmation and get wristbands.
From there, you will walk down one long hallway to enter the exhibits. There will be an entrance on the left with colorful flashing lights on the ceiling. We would recommend you start your adventures at the end of this hallway to the right, in the main foyer.
The Main Foyer
The main foyer is a good place to start because it has one of the largest exhibits (dinosaurs – see more below). There is also easy access to the museum’s two large wings, each filled with different themed rooms. From the main foyer, you also can access stairs to the second floor exhibits, restrooms, and cafeteria.
Highlights at the Costa Rica Children’s Museum
Our kids were age six and three during our last visit so your highlights may vary from ours. But here are some of the museum standouts that we enjoyed.
It’s also important to note that all around the museum are friendly staff who are happy to answer questions and interact with the kids. We found that several were bilingual (Spanish and English).
Dinosaur World (Mundosaurio)
This large exhibit in the main foyer (#26 on the map) has two life-sized model dinosaurs, a T. Rex and triceratops, facing off in the center stage. Around them are replica dinosaur fossils of bones, teeth, claws, and more. There are information plaques, a couple of giant dino eggs to crawl in, plus a fossil-finding station where kids can use paint brushes to reveal the fossils hidden inside the sandbox.
Tip: Most of the information in the museum is in Spanish, but some signs and exhibits also have English.
Another big hit with everyone in our family was the Space and Space Technology exhibit (#2 and #3 on the map). When you walk into these rooms, the lights are turned off and planets light up the walls.
There is some interesting information about the solar system, but our kids were mostly drawn to the model space-shuttle cockpit, which had a joystick and computer screen with moving stars.
The next room takes that a step further and has an entire mission control, with multiple computer stations. Unfortunately, most of these weren’t working during our last visit, but the kids still had fun pretending.
Probably the most fascinating part for us adults was information about a Costa Rican-born astronaut named Franklin Chang-Diaz, who we had never heard of before.
Chang was born in San Jose but later moved to the United States. He performed seven space flights with NASA, including three space walks from 1986 to 2002.
The museum has a display of Chang’s NASA uniforms, badges, and a complete space suit, as well as things he used on the space shuttle like dehydrated food, tools, and more.
Kid’s Grocery Store
During our first visit to the Costa Rica Children’s Museum, the model grocery store was the most fun. We were so glad that they still had it on our most recent trip.
The Smart Market (Super Inteligente) is a grocery store just the right size for kids. The carts are small, and the displays are all within reach of a little arm.
The friendly staff at this exhibit will give your kids some pretend money and instructions (based on their age) for what they can buy.
It was hilarious to watch as our oldest picked out dog food, a giant papaya, and a random lobster. Our youngest only wanted hand gel (this was during Covid) and several types of ice cream!
To get the whole family involved, check out the mirror house (#21 on the map). This outdoor section of the museum has the front of a house laid out on the ground. There is a big vertical wall of mirrors at just the right angle to reflect the image.
Your family can crawl around the different parts of the house to make all sorts of funny scenes.
Train & Banana/Coffee Plantation
One of the more cultural parts of the Children’s Museum is also outside. This series of exhibits (#18 and #19 on the map) will show you two famous crops from Costa Rica, coffee and bananas.
In the banana factory, you’ll be able to take bunches of plastic bananas along the processing line where they are hung up, cleaned, separated, and weighed.
The coffee plantation next door has a room full of historical information about the coffee crop in Costa Rica. Outside, you can see real coffee plants growing. They were full of flowers when we were there in March.
Finally, there is a large train with several old train cars. Before highways, trains played an important role, especially for the banana industry.
You can walk right through the old wooden train cars, sit down in the booths, and even explore the steam engine room. Some historical pictures and information are scattered throughout as well.
Dentist – Bright Smiles (Sonrisas Brillantes)
On the lower floors of the museum, you’ll find a few exhibits about the human body. There is a medical room with a giant game of Operation. Then there is the dentist room, which has a huge mouth you can walk through.
More to See
The above are just a few highlights that our family enjoyed. There is so much more to see, from exhibits on ancient Egypt, to aviation (including a real plane and helicopter to sit in), lights and color, past Costa Rican civilizations, and even giant jungle bugs. You can easily spend half a day here with your family and still not see everything.
Planning Your Visit to the Children’s Museum
The Costa Rica Children’s Museum is open Tuesday to Sunday.
You can choose between two visiting sessions, 8:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. or 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. For the afternoon session, the Museum doesn’t close until later – 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday through Thursday and 5:00 p.m. on weekends and holidays.
The Children’s Museum is an inexpensive activity in Costa Rica.
Adults: 2,200 colones (about $3.50)
Children over 90 cm (35 inches): 2,000 colones (about $3)
Senior Citizens: Free
Children under 90 cm (35 inches): Free
Tickets are purchased online through the Museum’s Boleteria en Linea. You will have to create an account and sign in to use the system.
Food & Beverages
There are a couple of kiosks around the main foyer with simple snacks and drinks (sodas, water, juice).
There is also a small café that serves breakfast and lunch. The café has mostly fast food (things like personal pizzas, chicken fingers, French fries, and wraps). For breakfast there are some pastries as well as gallo pinto (rice & beans) with eggs, or pancakes. The café serves coffee as well as soft drinks, juice, and water.
When purchasing tickets online, you can pre-purchase food. They will be listed at checkout. You also can purchase them after you arrive.
There is a large dining area with different sized tables where you sit down and eat. This is surrounded by more dinosaur models, complete with roar sounds, which makes it fun.
People also bring their own food to eat.
The Children’s Museum gift shop has lots of cool learning games and toys, models, stuffed animals, keychains, books, and other things you’d typically find in a museum store. They also sell soft drinks and snacks (chips and candy).
A day at the Costa Rica Children’s Museum is a lot of fun for the entire family. For the kids, it’s great to get them stimulated and running around. For the adults, you’ll enjoy seeing your kids go through each experience and may even learn a thing or two yourself.
Have a question about visiting the Costa Rica Children’s Museum? Ask us in the comments below.
Looking for more information to help you plan a visit to San Jose? Check out these articles:
1 or 2 days in San Jose – A couple of days is all you need to enjoy this capital city. See this post for where to stay, eat, and what attractions are a must.
Costa Rica’s Central Valley: Regional Snapshot – Learn about the climate, culture, and major cities and towns in Costa Rica’s Central Valley.
The Truth about Poas Volcano – Planning to visit nearby Poas Volcano? Read this post first to set your expectations.