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Costa Rica Travel Guide: Everything You Need to Know Before Traveling

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Discover the natural wonders and adventure-packed landscapes of Costa Rica, a small but extraordinary gem in Central America. With its diverse landscapes, lush rainforests, pristine beaches, and vibrant culture, Costa Rica offers an unforgettable experience for travelers.

Costa Rica is one of the most popular countries to visit in Central America. Interestingly enough, they have two pretty massive international airports. It’s one of the biggest hubs, like Europe, and Canada, from the US. It is a very popular country, mainly because of its nature.

Likewise, it’s eco-friendliness and the overall friendliness of the Ticos. Today we’re going to be talking about everything you need to know about traveling to Costa Rica.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll provide all the necessary information you need to know before visiting Costa Rica.

Planning a Trip to Costa Rica?
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woman on top of a lookout mountain in costa rica
Costa Rica is filled with amazing attractions but something remarkable is the ton of stunning viewpoints scattered around, make sure to check them out.

Entry Requirements of Costa Rica

Round-Trip Ticket

To enter Costa Rica, a round-trip flight ticket is a must, often checked by immigration authorities upon your arrival. It’s a good idea to keep a photocopy or a photo of your passport’s entry stamp during your stay.

Duration of Stay

Your nationality often determines how long you can stay in Costa Rica as a tourist, with immigration officials sometimes specifying this period in your passport.

Financial Proof

On occasion, immigration officials may request evidence of your financial capacity to sustain your stay within the country.

Exit Plans

Visitors must have a valid passport and demonstrate their intention to leave Costa Rica before their visa or entry stamp expires, typically within 90 days.

Onward Travel Requirement

All non-resident travelers are obligated to show proof of an onward or return ticket as a confirmation of their planned departure from Costa Rica. This is applicable under these circumstances:

  • Holding a one-way ticket
  • Possessing a return ticket with a date more than 90 days after arrival
  • Arriving in Costa Rica and subsequently departing to another country

Legally, an onward ticket can take any of the following forms using an approved commercial mode of transport:

  • A pre-purchased bus ticket exiting the country
  • A pre-purchased flight leaving the country
  • Verification of passage on a cruise ship

Please keep in mind that entry conditions can evolve, so it is imperative to verify the latest requirements from authoritative sources and your chosen airline before your journey.

Tip: Costa Rica is a safe place for tourists, but be aware!

The biggest issue is theft.

Get travel insurance before starting your journey.

I recommend Visitors Coverage.

Best time to Visit Costa Rica

If you’re considering traveling to Costa Rica, the best time to do it is between December and May, during its dry season. The rainy season starts in May all the way to Nov.

The temperature is consistent across the year, from 74°F to 79°F for the highs and 59°F to 63°F for the lows. There are 2 seasons: The rainy season and the not-so-rainy season.

What to Visit in Costa Rica?

Now, the main thing about Costa Rica is that it is a multi-destination country. I guess you could say, because of the majority of the eco-environment, it has a lot of different biodiversities that you normally would go and visit at least two, most likely three or four different locations.

So, for instance, the most popular thing, if you have, let’s say, seven to ten days, you would go to the coast, the rainforest, and maybe the cloud forest.

Here are some of the top places to visit in Costa Rica:

Top Things to Do in San Jose Costa Rica

San Jose

Begin your journey from the Costa Rican capital city, San Jose, a city full of adventures. While it’s not as lush and picturesque as the country’s natural wonders, it’s still worth a visit for its historical sites, museums, and vibrant arts and culture scene. Don’t miss the National Theater and the Gold Museum.

Manuel Antonio

So mainly you would do Manuel Antonio, which is in the southern part of Costa Rica, along with the ocean in the middle south. The coastline, the wildlife. It’s fascinating because of the wildlife there, you could have constant daily personal interactions. The next place that you would visit is the rainforest.

high view of manuel antonio national park beach and trees
arenal volcano view from spring resort costa rica

Arenal and La Fortuna

Located in the northern lowlands, Arenal is an active volcano that attracts adventure seekers. You can hike the nearby trails, relax in hot springs, or take on the adrenaline-pumping zip-lining and white-water rafting.

Those two places are the most popular, and the rainforest is the Arenal and La Fortuna area. This is also where the volcano is and the best adventure tour.

Monteverde

Monteverde is a really popular cloud forest and a must-visit for nature lovers. It’s renowned for its unique biodiversity and cloud-shrouded canopy, offering opportunities for canopy tours, hiking, and birdwatching.

This Monteverde cloud forest is also chilly and rainier than Vara Blanca (also a cloud forest), much closer to San Jose, and right next to Poas Volcano, one of the active volcanoes.

woman on a hanging bridge in monteverde costa rica

📖 Recommended Reading: If you’re looking for more useful information, check out Cahuita National Park: Things to Do and Useful Information.

arenal volcano in costa rica
Like most of the countries in Central America, Costa Rica is home to several volcanos and many of them are active but also a great source of unique things to do.
tamarindo beach costa rica

Guanacaste Region

Then you also have the Guanacaste region, which has some of the more popular beaches of Costa Rica like Tamarindo. And you have the Nicoya Peninsula and Playa Grande.

That’s also a really big area to visit in one of the more popular places. It’s close to Liberia. Liberia is the second largest city, and it has one of the largest international airports as well.

Tortuguero National Park

A remote paradise accessible only by boat or small plane, Tortuguero National Park is a prime nesting site for green sea turtles. Visit between July and October to witness these majestic creatures laying their eggs.

tortuguero beach costa rica

Osa Peninsula

Situated in the south, the Osa Peninsula is an untouched paradise filled with rainforests, mangroves, and abundant wildlife. It’s a fantastic spot for hiking and wildlife photography.

Nicoya Peninsula

For a more laid-back experience, head to the Nicoya Peninsula. This region is known for its pristine beaches, surf towns, and wellness retreats.

sunset on the beach near the trees in nicoya peninsula costa rica
beach in corcovado national park costa rica

Corcovado National Park

Renowned as one of the most biologically intense places on Earth, Corcovado is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts. Hike through the jungle and spot jaguars, tapirs, and scarlet macaws.

Essential Travel Resources

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What to Do in Costa Rica?

hot spring the spring resort arenal costa rica

Swim in the Thermal Hot Springs at the base of Arenal Volcano.

Waterfall Rappelling at Costa Rica

Go Rappelling off a waterfall in the middle of a rainforest.

Spot Capuchin Monkeys in Manuel Antonio National Park

people surfing tamarindo beach costa rica

Go surfing in Tamarindo Beach, Costa Rica.

diving and snorkeling

Go Snorkeling off of Cano Island

South Pacific Costa Rica - corcovado national park

Discover the unique Biodiversity of Corcovado National Park.

Canopy Tour

One of the most popular activities to do in Costa Rica, the number one activity is the canopy tour. You can find them pretty much anywhere, but I highly recommend if you’re going to be in Arenal or Monteverde, those are the best ones. Please go to the ones that have insurance that is well known.

Because everybody in Costa Rica has built a canopy tour, a lot of them are not safe, but some of them are safe and it’s not hard to find out which ones because they’re the ones that have the insurance.

SkyTrek is one of the number one for Monteverde, and there are a few others in Manuel Antonio and around the area.

But please make sure to find out if they are insured, and how often they maintain it. It’s really important. Some could be dangerous, and you just don’t want to risk it.

Hanging Bridges

Hanging bridges is another really popular, really fun thing to do in Costa Rica.

The best ones to do are in Arenal, Monteverde, and Manuel Antonio. Again, make sure you find out which ones are kept up a lot.

📖 Recommended Reading: If you’re looking for more useful information, check out Rainmaker Conservation Park: Hidden Gem in Manuel Antonio.

hanging bridge in costa rica
The hanging bridges in the country’s rainforests are something you MUST DO if you visit Costa Rica, it’s a unique way to explore the local area, nature, and wildlife.

Rafting and Canyoneering

Rafting is another very popular activity to do. There is canyoneering, which is repelling off of waterfalls. Again, you need to go with a tour group that has insurance because the fact that they have spent money on being insured takes them to the next caliber.

A lot of them are not insured, but when they are insured, they have to uphold certain standards. So please guys, go to one and spend that little extra to do that.

Water Activities

In the coastal areas, you have surfing also, sailing is a really big thing. Fishing is really popular, and then you have the entire OSA Peninsula, which is far south, and I recommend flying there. It’s not the easiest place to get to, but once you’re there, everything is compact, so you can pretty much get around easily.

In that area, there’s Drake Bay, there’s Puerto Jimenez, areas that you could get around. If you go during the dry season, you can drive there and you’ll be able to pass through places like Dominical and Uvita, a lot of these cool little beach areas.

costa rica beach during day time
While several beaches get crowded, other good beaches are almost deserted and worth checking out.

Other Activities to do in Costa Rica

Surfing

people surfing tamarindo beach costa rica

Costa Rica’s Pacific coast is a surfer’s paradise, with spots like Tamarindo, Dominical, and Jaco offering waves for all skill levels.

Zip-Lining

Fly through the treetops on thrilling zip-line adventures, offering exhilarating views of the rainforests and volcanoes.

Wildlife Viewing

kid holding a butterfly in belize

Whether in a national park or your exploration, keep your eyes peeled for the diverse wildlife, including monkeys!

Snorkeling and Scuba Diving 

Discover the colorful marine life and vibrant coral reefs along the Pacific and Caribbean coasts.

Cultural Experiences

Explore the indigenous cultures of Costa Rica through immersive tours and community visits.

Hot Springs

thermal hot spring the spring resort la fortuna

Relax and rejuvenate in the natural hot springs near Arenal and other volcanic areas.

Hiking

things to do in monteverde hiking tour

With numerous national parks and reserves, there are countless hiking opportunities for all levels of adventurers.

Coffee Tours 

Costa Rican Coffee

Learn about the country’s famous coffee culture and its world-class coffee production with guided tours.

Getting Around

Usually, there are ways to get around Costa Rica.  I have a good, really interesting episode about renting a car in Costa Rica. So make sure you go and listen to it because there are quite a few things that you need to know about it.

From insurance to gas there are so many essential things. Renting a car in Costa Rica is probably one of the most common ways to get around.

costa rica taxi by serge ollivier on flickr

By Taxi

You can find taxis across Costa Rica (from local, rural to regional). In San Jose, most taxis have a meter (locally called marias) but outside the city, most taxis don’t, and you must talk the price with the driver. You can find shared taxis in some areas, but those are hard to come by.

By Bike

The cyclist movement in Costa Rica is gaining a lot of popularity, you can find a vast network of paved roads and an increase in cyclist awareness but you must know there are no bike lanes so far. You can rent mountain bikes and beach bikes in towns popular among tourists, prices vary a lot, from $10 to $20 American dollars per day. Also, you can find some bike tours too.

a group of people on the back of a truck with bikes.
avianca costa rica by dario duque gomez flickr

By Plane

In San Jose, you can find some cheap domestic flights to popular destinations in the country, like Quepos, Puerto Jimenez, and Quepos. You’ll notice that Avianca dominates the majority of domestic flights, almost as the national airline. Also, they offer flights to Latin and Central America and the USA. You must know that flight schedules are altered constantly due to the weather, and delays happen often.

By Bus

Like in many Central and Latin countries, you can find Regional and Local Buses. Regional buses travel across Costa Rica, and local are those you can use to travel within a city. You can find many regional buses in San Jose since it’s the country’s transportation hub. You can find local buses in most central areas of the country, it’s a cheap way to travel from urban and suburban areas.

monteverde costa rica bus by ebabb on flickr
rental car office in costa rica

By car

Many people like to rent a car and drive in Costa Rica, to do that you must have an up-to-date driver’s license or an IDP (international driving permit). This way you can drive in the country for 90 days, after that you’ll need to process a diver license from Costa Rica. Gas stations are located on Interamericana road and are available 24h. In remote areas, you may find fuel at corner stores (pulperias).

Shuttles

Also, another way is definitely through shuttles. They have a great shuttle system. The problem with the shuttle system is they’re very limited on time. A lot of times you won’t even make it if your flight comes in not on their schedule. But if you’re going from one area to another area, you could undoubtedly take that and it’s a little bit cheaper.

However, if three or more people are traveling, it’s going to end up being a little bit cheaper if you get a private transfer.

Private Transfers

And I highly recommend private transfers because then they stop along the way in all these incredible places. So, getting a private transfer is the most likely second most popular way to get around Costa Rica.

costa rica beach during sunset
Many beaches in Costa Rica are popular among tourists but there are tons more that are almost pristine and worth checking out.

Where to Stay

Costa Rica has many great hotels of all prices and amenities. Discovering them is part of the adventure.

The Peace Lodge (Poas, Vara Blanca)

woman in a car pulled by bulls peace lodge

Best for:

  • Adventure Travelers
  • Nature Lovers
  • Beach Lovers

The Spring Resort
(Arenal Area)

woman lying down next to a river the spring resort costa rica

Best for:

  • Adventure Travelers
  • Nature Lovers
  • Relax

El Establo Hotel
(Monteverde)

el establo hotel monteverde costa rica

Best for:

  • Adventure Travelers
  • Nature Lovers
  • Birding

Hotel Prices

Costa Rica is not a cheap country. It is pretty expensive because it is so geared towards tourism. And the majority of the decent hotels will start to cost between $250 to $1,000 per night.

Anything around fifty dollars to one hundred dollars is quite mediocre and not what you would think you would pay in a Central American country. Very low standards.

ACCOMMODATIONS




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Budget Options

If you’re looking for cheaper options, check out Hostel World and browse budget-friendly accommodations.

Where to Eat

However, there are incredible eateries called SODAS. Make sure you go and listen to my entire podcast about where to eat in Costa Rica. They’re called SODAS. Interestingly enough, for less than $10, you can get a huge homemade, delicious Tico-style meal, including drinks and dessert, and they are located all over the country.

typical dish at a local soda in costa rica
Costa Rican food is a whole experience itself and something you need to explore widely, there are complex dishes that come directly from the fusion of Mayan and colonial cultures.

Other Types of Eateries in Costa Rica

Costa Rican cuisine is a vibrant blend of indigenous Mayan, Spanish, and African flavors. It features hearty stews, corn-based dishes, and an abundance of fresh tropical fruits. 

Restaurants: You’ll find a range of dining options, from casual to upscale, serving both local and international cuisine in Costa Rica.

Street Food: Costa Rica has a vibrant street food scene, with vendors selling snacks like empanadas, plantains, and fresh fruit.

Beachside Cafes: In coastal areas, you can enjoy fresh seafood in open-air cafes with beautiful ocean views.

Farm-to-Table: Some restaurants focus on farm-to-table dining, offering fresh, locally sourced ingredients.

International Cuisine: Costa Rica also has a variety of international restaurants, including Italian, Chinese, and more, especially in urban areas.

Costa Rica’s History

  • Costa Rica, known as the “Rich Coast,” boasts a rich history that has shaped its culture and identity. Indigenous tribes, such as the Caribs and Borucas, inhabited the land long before the arrival of Spanish explorers in the 16th century. 

  • Unlike other Central American nations, Costa Rica did not have a prominent indigenous civilization or mineral wealth, which led to a more peaceful coexistence between the natives and the Spanish.

  • The country declared its independence from Spain in 1821 and later joined the Central American Federation.

  • In 1848, Costa Rica became an independent nation, adopting a unique path of abolishing its military and promoting democracy, which it continues to uphold today. The absence of a standing army has allowed Costa Rica to invest more in education, healthcare, and environmental conservation.

  • Costa Rica’s commitment to sustainability and ecotourism has earned it a global reputation for being an environmentally responsible destination. With over 25% of its land protected in national parks and reserves, it’s a pioneer in preserving its natural beauty.

Celebrations and Festivals

Costa Rica is home to some fascinating festival and celebrations, in fact there are at least 50 festivals in Costa Rica each year. Many people say it’s the best way to know and immerse in the culture. Make sure you visit one of the many lively cultural fiestas, events, carnivals, or topes (horse parades) that are held all over the country.

Fiestas de Palmares

fiestas de palmares costa rica by Mario Godínez (500s) (Flickr)

It is one of the largest and most anticipated celebrations in the country. Each year, the festivals start on the second Thursday and last two weeks.

Puntarenas Carnival

Puntarenas Carnival costa rica by lance wills (flickr)

Also known as the Carnival of the Queen, this festival starts on the last week of February each year, welcoming many visitors each year.

Travel Tips for Costa Rica

Costa Rica is safe: While the country has a well-deserved fame for being a safe place to visit, it’s crucial to be aware and have extra caution of your surroundings. Use common sense precautions, such as hiding your cell phone and being aware of flashing costly items or money, especially at night.

But be wary in some areas: Some areas of Costa Rica, such as the capital city of San José and the port city of Limón, have a higher crime rate than other areas. Use caution and follow common sense safety precautions throughout these areas.

Learn some basic Spanish phrases: While a ton of people in Costa Rica speak English, learning some Spanish phrases will let you communicate with locals more effectively and show respect for the local culture.

Bring sunscreen and insect repellent: Costa Rica can be very hot and sunny, but insects are abundant and mosquito-borne illnesses like malaria are a concern. Be sure to protect yourself from the sun and bugs with sunscreen and insect repellent.

Respect the local culture and environment: The country is known for its natural charm and unique culture. Be considerate of the environment and the local people when traveling in Costa Rica.

Avoid the rainy season: Costa Rica has a rainy season (around May through November), and some areas can be affected by heavy rain and flooding. Be prepared for rainy weather and avoid traveling to areas with the highest risk of flooding.

Gasoline and diesel are widely available in Costa Rica: 24-hour service stations can frequently be found along the Interamerica and other major roads. This means that it is easy for travelers to get fuel quickly and easily, and continue on their way without any delay.

Traffic can be insane in Costa Rica: As the roads can get quite busy and crowded. However, with careful planning and thoughtful driving, you can take in all the lovely sights and scenery that this beautiful country has to offer! You’ll have an amazing time. So, be careful when driving, and keep a keen eye on the road.

Currency: The currency is the Costa Rican colón (CRC), but U.S. dollars are widely accepted in tourist areas. Dollars are definitely accepted everywhere, and while colones are local, credit cards are pretty much taken anywhere too other than at local restaurants and the market.

Vaccinations: Check with your healthcare provider for recommended vaccinations before traveling to Costa Rica.

Visa and Passport: Check the entry requirements for your nationality before traveling. Most tourists are allowed to stay for 90 days without a visa.

Adventure Insurance: If you plan on partaking in adventure activities, consider travel insurance that covers potential injuries.

Ready to explore Costa Rica? Book your tickets now!

📖 Recommended Reading: If you’re looking for more useful information, check out Is Central America Safe?

Costa Rica Travel Advisory

  • Be mindful of your surroundings and exercise caution.
  • If faced with a robbery attempt, avoid physical resistance.
  • Refrain from displaying signs of wealth like expensive jewelry or watches.
  • Exercise caution when traveling abroad, and stay informed.
  • Review the Country Security Report for Costa Rica for essential information.
  • Prepare a contingency plan for potential emergencies. Refer to the Traveler’s Checklist for guidance.

Pros and Cons of Visiting Costa Rica

ProsCons
Natural Beauty and BiodiversityRelative Cost
Adventure ActivitiesTourist Crowds
SafetyWeather Variability

Is Costa Rica expensive or cheap?

Costa Rica can be moderately expensive, but you can manage costs carefully and budget-consciously.

Which Side of Costa Rica is Better to live on?

The choice between the Pacific and Caribbean sides of Costa Rica depends on your preferences. The Pacific side is more developed and offers a variety of activities, while the Caribbean side has a unique cultural and natural charm. It’s a matter of personal choice.

Conclusion

Costa Rica is more than a tourist destination; it’s a transformative journey into a land of staggering natural beauty and eco-conscious living. With a rich history, abundant natural wonders, and a commitment to sustainability, it’s a country that offers an experience like no other. So, pack your bags and set off on an adventure to Costa Rica, a true paradise on Earth.

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Looking for More Inspiration?

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Last Updated on January 13, 2024

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