When Costa Rica city dwellers want a relaxing time away, they often drive into the nearby hills to find a slice of nature. In this post, we’ll share one popular place called Monte de la Cruz. This municipal park in San Rafael de Heredia has large open spaces, playgrounds, gardens, forested trails, picnic areas, and a scenic viewpoint overlooking San Jose. It’s a fun locals’ spot where you can immerse yourself in the culture for a day.
Location & Climate
Monte de la Cruz is located in San Rafael de Heredia, about 30 minutes north of Costa Rica’s capital city, San Jose. The area where the park sits is about 300 meters (985 feet) higher in elevation than the valley below.
Because of the altitude, at nearly 1,500 meters (4,900 ft), the climate can be much cooler. Plants and flowers around the property are different than you’d find at lower elevations, and moss and bromeliads cling to taller trees, much like the cloud forest.
Monte de la Cruz has an interesting history. It once hosted a Christian chapel that was built in the 1930s. This was one of four similar religious monuments built around the Central Valley at the time. The building was used for services and prayer for many years, but was vandalized in the 1960s and 70s.
Taken over by Costa Rica’s Institute of Tourism in 1971, the property, then known as Finca del Conde, was passed over to the municipality of San Rafael de Heredia in 1977.
Although the chapel had to be taken down because of its condition, a large concrete cross, still seen today, was built in its place.
Today the town charges admission and other fees, which it uses to maintain the historic property and its recreational spaces.
Attractions at Monte de la Cruz
Monte de la Cruz attracts lots of families, couples, and groups of friends. We visited during Semana Santa (Easter Week/Holy Week), and it was quite busy with people having picnics or going on a hike. Here are some features you’ll find on a visit.
Ranchos (Picnic Areas)
If you’re planning to spend the day at Monte de la Cruz, we’d highly recommend reserving one of the covered picnic areas (ranchos). The weather can change quickly on the mountainside and the ranchos are a perfect spot to duck into if it starts to get wet. Although they are open to the elements, they do have a roof to keep you dry.
Each rancho has a large picnic table, countertop, charcoal grill (bring your own supplies), sink, and electrical outlet. We just packed sandwiches, but other families had crockpots, food to grill, and big coolers.
There are 13 ranchos available, mostly located in the main area of the property. Monte de la Cruz also has two larger buildings for rent, for parties, functions, or other events.
Right next to the ranchos are two large playgrounds with slides, swings, seesaws, and plenty of things for kids to climb on. There are also some basketball courts and a soccer field (bring your own balls).
For the furry members of the family, a small dog park with some obstacles and play elements can be found near the parking area. Dogs are allowed on the entire property as long as you clean up after them.
If you are up for some exercise, there are a few trails through the forest at Monte de la Cruz worth checking out.
Main Trail – Sendero Los Cipreses
We first took the main trail (Sendero Los Cipreses) from the snack bar, over the small bridge, and into the forest. This path goes past the soccer field, through the woods, and climbs up the hill to the viewpoint where the giant cross is located.
While this trail is paved and wide, it can be steep at times and would probably not be suitable for those in a wheelchair.
The scenery along the trail was really nice, with towering cypress and pine trees. We live at the beach so it was a completely different landscape for us.
Forest Trail – Sendero Cerro Redondo
From the viewpoint, there is a trail (Sendero Cerro Redondo) that goes through the forest and loops back around to the ranchos.
We started to the left of the cross. This headed back in the same direction we had come from but on a dirt trail, down a very steep hill. At the time of our visit, the hill had a lot of slippery pine needles but was manageable.
At the bottom, the trail flattened out and continued through dense forest along the edge of the property. Along the way there were a few more ranchos.
From the viewpoint and cross, if you go to the right, the trail goes in the opposite direction into the forest but quickly splits into many different trails. This was a little confusing, so we didn’t go too far.
Overall, the forest trail was nice but not that well marked. It was a bit hard to understand where we were supposed to be going.
Viewpoint & Cross
The viewpoint at Monte de la Cruz allows you to see all the way to downtown San Jose and La Sabana Park, where the national soccer stadium is located. On a clear day, you’ll also be able to see the steep mountains on the south side of the city.
Around the viewpoint is a grassy area where people like to sit. There is also the giant cross, which is a popular spot to take pictures. At the foot of the cross is the original mosaic tile floor that was part of the old chapel.
During wetter months, there is a small waterfall that is part of the Monte de la Cruz property. We tried to find it, but the trail (Sendero La Catarata) was not well marked. We even asked some locals, who pointed us in one direction, but still did not come across it.
If you have any advice for readers on accessing it, please leave details in the comments below.
Planning Your Visit to Monte de la Cruz
Much of the property at Monte de la Cruz is suitable for people with limited mobility and/or wheelchairs. Around the ranchos and playground there are wide, concrete paths.
The main trail (Sendero Los Cipreses) leading to the viewpoint is very steep; however, an access road allows you to get to the viewpoint by car.
Bathrooms are accessible by ramps but be careful as the tile can be very slippery and wet.
Adults: ₡2,500 foreigners, ₡1,200 legal residents
Children (ages 5-12): ₡750
Ranchos (Covered Picnic Areas)
Individual Rancho: ₡3,500
Large Rancho #1: ₡30,000
Large Rancho #2: ₡50,000
Open every day (including holidays) from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
A simple snack bar offers empanadas, French fries, hamburgers, ice cream, smoothies, other drinks and coffee. Everything was priced under ₡1,500 colones.
What to Wear/Bring
Because of its position on the mountain, the weather at Monte de la Cruz can change quickly. It can be sunny and hot at times and windy, rainy, and cold at others. We would recommend dressing in layers and bringing a rain jacket. For the trails, sturdy sneakers or hiking boots are recommended.
Monte de la Cruz is a fun locals’ spot where you can escape the hustle and bustle of the nearby city. From the playground and trails to the viewpoint and picnic areas, it’s a nice place to hang out and spend the day.
Have a question about visiting Monte de la Cruz or want to share about your visit? Leave a comment below.
Looking for more information to help you plan? Check out these posts:
1-2 Days in San Jose – If you’d like to check out downtown San Jose for a couple of days, this guide covers the main attractions, some good restaurant choices, and more.
Costa Rica’s Central Valley: Regional Snapshot – Practical information on Costa Rica’s most populated area. From weather and landscape to activities and ways to get around.
A Taste of Costa Rica: 7 Traditional Foods to Try – Eat like a local and try these traditional dishes.