Introduction to Costa Rica
Covering just 0.03% of the earth’s landmass, Costa Rica certainly makes up for its size with the amount of flora, fauna and adventure. With close to 4% of the all species on Earth to be found in Costa Rica, this Central American country between Nicaragua and Panama is a land of emerald green cloud forests, glistening azure waters and soaring volcanic peaks. Often referred to as the Switzerland of Central America, Costa Rica is one of the most stable, prosperous and progressive countries in Latin America having no standing army since it was abolished in 1949. This is also one of the reasons why the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the UN’s University for Peace is located in Costa Rica.
As well as providing a safe place to live for Costa Ricans, the country is a haven for travelers no matter what they want to get from their vacation. Adventurous travelers can take advantage of the hiking, snorkeling and wildlife spotting opportunities which are abound in Costa Rica while zip-lining through the cloud forest while those looking to unwind can take in the miles and miles of golden sand beaches on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. Costa Rica is perhaps one of the only destinations in the world where you can explore the jungle rivers one day, visit one of the many volcanoes the next before relaxing on a white sandy beach backed by swaying palm trees.
Costa Rica with its 26 protected National Parks, misty cloud forests, bubbling volcanoes, tumbling waterfalls and paradise beaches is a traveler’s haven. The year round destination of Costa Rica has wowed and stunned all those who visit with its bright colors, mind-blowing landscapes and sheer undeniable beauty!
Explore the Highlights
Sprawling and chaotic at first sight, San José is nonetheless a vibrant capital with plenty to see and do. There are still pockets of colonial gems around San José and some very fine museums and green spaces, as well as a lively cultural life. Find out more…
In the Manuel Antonio National Park you’ll find sloths, iguanas and the rare squirrel monkey among many other species. In the pristine waters around the perfect bays there is a flurry of marine life from dolphins and turtles to whales and colorful tropical fish. Read more…
Arenal & La Fortuna
The presence of the impressive Arenal Volcano is everywhere. Whether strolling around La Fortuna village, canopy rappelling in the forest, boating along Lake Arenal, horseback riding or hiking the countryside…adventure lies around every corner. Read on…
Monteverde is Costa Rica’s most stunning and pristine Cloud Forest where you can find birds, monkeys and people (zip-lining of course) flying through the trees! There are plenty of adventures from the Sky Walk to horseback riding and hiking. Continue reading…
Situated on Costa Rica’s northern Caribbean Coast, Tortuguero is a watery world made up of canals, lagoons, streams and dense rainforest. Also known as the ‘Land of Turtles’, Tortuguero is one of the world’s most important turtle nesting sites! Read more…
The laid-back pace of this Caribbean beach town is bound to win you over. Here you’ll get a taste of Costa Rica’s Creole culture and enjoy the adventures of the nearby Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Reserve as well as relaxing in its calm Caribbean waters. Find out more…
This once small, unassuming fishing village on the Pacific Coast has become the center of Costa Rica’s high-end beach scene. Tamarindo offers designer shopping, incredible restaurants and plenty of nightlife for those seeking a not so quiet beach setting. Read on…
Jutting out out into the Pacific, this tropical peninsula is a mountainous and sparsely populated area with an abundance of wildlife. The stunning coastline is dramatic and unspoiled with long stretches of sandy beaches backed by jungle. Read more…
Rincon de la Vieja
There are many ways to experience the area ranging from hiking, rappelling, rock-climbing and canopying to relaxing horseback rides and soaking in the volcanic hot springs flowing from the mountain – one of the major draws of the region. Find out more…
This region has some of the highest mountains in Costa Rica with cool, misty cloud forests and rushing rivers. It runs from Nicaragua to Panama and separates Costa Rica’s Caribbean and Pacific Coasts, creating two very different climatic regions. Discover more…
The Osa Peninsula is an untouched natural wonderland with wildlife-filled rainforests and palm-backed Pacific beaches. Visit the Osa Peninsula’s Corcovado National Park where almost one-tenth of all the mammals found in the Americas live! Read on…
Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui in the lush Caribbean lowlands is known for its natural environment filled with tropical flora and fauna. The nearby Braulio Carrillo National Park is one of the few areas in Costa Rica where the jaguar still prowls freely. Discover more…
When to travel in Costa Rica
Best times to go
Local microclimates make Costa Rica’s weather unpredictable although you can to a certain extent depend on there being two seasons: the dry season and the green (wet) season. The transition periods between the rainy and dry seasons make for a sweet spot to visit Costa Rica as the tourist numbers tend to be lower and there is a minimal threat of rain allowing you to enjoy as much of the outdoors as possible.
The dry season in most of Costa Rica runs from mid-December to April, with Christmas and Easter being the busiest times to travel to the country in terms of the number of tourists. In the lowland areas, March and April are extremely hot, with temperatures in the arid North Pacific frequently exceeding 90ºF (32ºC). Despite being called the dry season there is still some rain although it will be a quick downpour and before you know it, you’ll be able to enjoy the sweltering sunshine again.
The green season is the wettest time to travel to Costa Rica with afternoon showers kicking in by May and lasting through to November, with a brief mini-dry season in June and July. Rain or not, North American and European summer vacations do increase the number of tourists visiting especially from June to August. The rain is particularly heavy in September and October and results in the slowing down of the number of tourists visiting the country. During this period the roads are muddy and the rivers begin to rise, making off-the-beaten-track travel more challenging. Although the rainfall is highest, the storms bring swells to the Pacific, and the best surfing conditions can be enjoyed during this period.
Costa Rica is a largely safe country and is considered the Switzerland of Central America having also abolished its army since 1949. However petty crime such as bag snatchings can take place as in any major urban area in the world, so it’s important to be vigilant. Remember you’re foreign and so will stick out already. Keep a close eye on your belongings and don’t wear lots of eye catching jewelry or flash expensive cameras, laptops or iPhones around. Many of Costa Rica’s dangers are in fact nature-related with riptides, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions as well as predatory and venomous wildlife posing a threat which is why a wildlife and nature guide is essential if trekking in the jungle.
No mandatory vaccinations are required to visit Costa Rica. The government of Costa Rica requires a valid yellow fever International Vaccination Certificate at least 12 days prior to entering Costa Rica if you are arriving from a country with risk of yellow fever. In the Americas this includes if you are traveling from the following countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname & Venezuela. We do recommend visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as check the vaccines and medicines list and visit your doctor (ideally, 4-6 weeks) before your trip to make sure everything is up to date.
Nationals of the USA and the EU do not require a visa to enter Costa Rica and are granted a 90 day travel visa upon arrival. Citizens of other countries may require a visa to enter Costa Rica and it is generally advised that they contact the Costa Rican embassy in their home country for information. The Wikipedia Visa Policy of Costa Rica is a great starting point to begin exploring whether or not any particular nationality might need to obtain a tourist visa to visit Peru.
Money / Currency – ATM, Credit Cards
The official currency of Costa Rica is the colón (plural colones) although US Dollars are used as a second currency and are accepted almost everywhere. Obtaining colones outside Costa Rica is virtually impossible so we recommend that you wait until you arrive and get some at the airport or at border posts. It is worth noting that US Dollars are dispensed from most ATMs in Costa Rica and with the exception of the smallest towns and shops in rural areas, credit cards are widely accepted. When heading for the more remote areas, try to carry sufficient colones with you, especially in small denominations otherwise you may find that you have trouble changing a 5000 colón note in the Osa Peninsula, for example. We recommend visiting the website XE Currency Converter to get current exchange rates.
The official language of Costa Rica is Spanish and as Ticos (Costa Ricans) speak relatively slowly and enunciate clearly, it is a great place to brush up on your Spanish. English is the language that dominates the tourist sector and most tour guides, tour operators, and hotels are proficient in English. One can generally get by with English alone although life is made much easier if one learns a few simple Spanish sentences before arriving.
Electricity in Costa Rica runs at 120 Volts, so transformers are not necessary for tourists from the USA. If you are planning to use anything with a three-prong plug, bring an adapter, as some establishments only have two-prong outlets. If you’d like to learn more about the types of plugs in Costa Rica, check out the website What Plug Info – Costa Rica.
Family Travel in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is arguably one of the best family-friendly travel destinations in Latin America. With diverse and exotic wildlife, tropical beaches and enough outdoor activities to keep even the most adrenaline-fueled teenager entertained you and your family will be spoiled for choice on where to go. Your destination options aren’t limited by region allowing both the kids and adults to have a fun and adventure-filled vacation. So what are you waiting for…bring the whole family to Costa Rica and share unforgettable experiences such as ziplining through the Cloud Forest, spotting a sloth, slowly paddling a kayak through mangroves, or taking a night hike in search of tropical frogs.
Getting Around Costa Rica
Costa Rica can be reached via a number of direct international flights from the USA, Canada and other countries within Latin America. There are two international airports, Aeropuerto Internacional Juan Santamaría on the outskirts of the capital city of San José and Aeropuerto Internacional Daniel Oduber Quirós in Liberia. Domestic flights within Costa Rica are inexpensive and flying to popular destinations such as Puerto Jiménez, Quepos and Tortuguero will save you the driving time.
Buses in Costa Rica are very reasonably priced, with extensive coverage of the country, though travel can be slow and some destinations have infrequent service. Private and shared shuttles that take you from door-to-door between popular destinations can save time by allowing you to schedule to your needs.
Renting a car allows you to access more remote destinations that are not served by buses, and frees you to cover as much ground as you like, especially if you have a limited time frame. Cars can be rented in most towns and if you are thinking about renting a car we recommend a 4WD vehicle as it is essential in some parts of the country. You should also avoid driving at night and make sure you have a Satellite Navigation System.
Sample Itinerary of Costa Rica
Days 1-3 San Jose
San Jose’s surroundings are full of adventure and stunning views. You’ll see how coffee goes from a bean to a cup of Joe at a working coffee estate, visit steaming geysers at a volcano and soak in a secluded waterfall. Explore San Jose’s museums, market and 19th century buildings on your own, and salsa the night away in one of many salsa bars.
Days 3-5 Tortuguero
Wake up and fall asleep to the sounds of the pristine natural surroundings of Tortuguero. One of Costa Rica’s most diverse National Parks, you’ll be spotting sloths and monkeys in the high trees of the rainforests and crocodiles as you explore the wide canals. The long stretch of Tortuguero’s Caribbean Coastline is also one of the most important turtle breeding sites in the world.
Days 5-8 Arenal Volcano
You’re never too far from experiencing Costa Rica’s natural beauty in Arenal. Although the Arenal Volcano is no longer spewing out hot lava there is plenty to do in the Arenal Volcano National Park from crossing hanging bridges through the canopy where you’ll be surrounded by playful monkeys and colorful, tropical birds to unwinding in some of the country’s best natural hot springs.
Days 8-10 Monteverde
The immense biodiversity of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is spell-binding with a stunning display of the most sought-after flora and fauna in Costa Rica. Rise up through the treetops and explore the extensive canopy walkways and suspension bridges before taking one of Costa Rica’s longest and most exhilarating zip-lines back to ground level.
Rincon de la Vieja
Home to Costa Rica’s cowboys, you’ll be saddling up and screaming “yeehaw” in no time at all! A stunning landscape with warm natural springs, volcanoes and wide open pastures to explore. Ride with sabaneros (Costa Rican cowboys) on a horseback riding tour to learn about their history and culture, in the afternoons relax in volcanic mud pools and thermal springs.
Days 12-14 Tamarindo
White sand, swaying palm trees, secluded beaches and breathtaking sunsets…welcome to a Pacific Coast paradise! As well as having heavenly beaches, Tamarindo is one of the world’s most important turtle nesting sites for the endangered Leatherback turtle. A moonlight tour to a nesting site is a must as well as, kayaking through the Mangrove and Estuary Nature Reserve.