20 Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Costa Rica

01/14/2024 by Emily Becker 10 Comments

This post was written by Emily Becker, a Costa Rica–based freelance writer for BMTM.

Costa Rica is a nature-lover’s paradise. With so many opportunities to hike, zip-line, kayak, and partake in all kinds of outdoor activities, it’s no surprise that ecotourism is so mainstream here. Some travelers are drawn to Costa Rica for the pristine beaches, perfect for relaxing the day away; others are in it for the adrenaline-pumping activities, like white-water rafting. The beauty of this country is that you can do both!

But after over a year of living here and traveling extensively in the country, I realized there were a few things I wish I had known before my first visit in 2022.

These are some tidbits of information, pieces of advice, and general things to know before you travel to Costa Rica, so you can have an awesome time and hopefully not repeat my mistakes and faux pas:

Table of Contents

1. Costa Rica can be very expensive.

Costa Rica travel tips

I anticipated this before my trip, but I was surprised at how expensive it was to travel through Costa Rica, even with prior knowledge that it was pricier than other Latin American countries. Especially in tourist hot spots like Manuel Antonio and La Fortuna , the cost of accommodation , food, and activities was comparable to some cities in the US. It’s pretty tough to find free things to do in Costa Rica, and entrance fees for the national parks start around $15 per day; tours start at $60.

Not all hope is lost for backpackers and budget travelers, though. There are plenty of affordable hostels in Costa Rica, many of which include breakfast and have less expensive tour options. My money-saving advice is to choose affordable lodging but splurge on activities. After all, you’ll likely be spending most of your time outside of your hotel having a blast outdoors anyway!

2. For cheap eats, go to the sodas .

One way to save money while traveling through Costa Rica is to dine in the sodas , i.e., mom-and-pop restaurants. These are always clearly marked as such, and serve up hearty meals that capture the essence of daily Costa Rican cuisine. The most typical plate is called a casado , which includes the traditional gallo pinto (rice and black beans), with some kind of meat or fish and a salad. These usually cost around 4,000-6,000 colones ($8-12 USD) and are filling.

To save money on food, you can also choose a hostel or hotel that includes breakfast and then go to sodas for lunch. Considering that entrees at restaurants in touristy areas can cost $12-20, sodas are a bargain.


How Much Does a Costa Rica Trip Cost?

3. The weather can change in an instant.

Costa Rica travel tips

Sometimes, I still can’t believe how sunny skies can turn into a complete downpour in the blink of an eye. Flash rainstorms are common, especially if you plan to visit Costa Rica during the wet season (May to November). However, this doesn’t have to put a damper on your trip.

Go to Costa Rica prepared for heavy rain, mud, and hot and cold weather. Have at least one pair of waterproof shoes, a rain shell, a waterproof bag, and layers for chilly weather if you go somewhere like Monteverde, where the higher altitude means colder temps. If you plan to spend the day in nature at a national park, always bring your rain gear with you, even if it doesn’t look like it will rain.

4. Renting a car is the way to go…

Having a car can be a game changer in Costa Rica. Many of the places I wanted to visit were either too far (and expensive) to get to via taxis, or there was no public transport available. I met a local in Uvita who told me that having a car isn’t just a luxury, it’s a necessity.

If you want to get to a place before the tour crowds arrive, having a car is the only way to do it. For example, when I visited the La Fortuna waterfall on a tour, I didn’t have the freedom of choosing when to visit, and there were already many people there. We also encountered rain when we arrived, which I could have avoided if I had had a car.

The big downside of renting a car in Costa Rica is the price. I found out that rates start at $80/day. Booking online is a gamble, too, as often tourists are given a much higher rate when they pick up the car than what they were quoted. A rule of thumb: if the quote is less than $80/day, there’s a good chance that there will be hidden fees you’ll have to pay when picking it up.

If you decide to rent a car, do not skimp on insurance. After living here for over a year with my own vehicle, I’ve learned that accidents are prevalent and that driving here can be risky.

5. …but public transportation can be cheap and easy.

Costa Rica travel tips

If you’re alone and traveling on a budget, relying on public transportation to get from place to place in Costa Rica is a great choice most of the time. Although renting a car allows for more flexibility for where you go and when, public transportation is totally doable between cities. Plus, it’s incredibly cheap and easy to navigate.

If you’re starting your journey in San José, you can easily hop on a bus to any of the major touristy areas in the country. For example, to get to Uvita on the Pacific coast, it only cost me about $7 USD, and the 7:30am bus arrived there around 11am, ahead of schedule. However, once I got to Uvita, it was challenging to get from place to place via public transportation, hence why I got stranded at Playa Ventanas ( read about that here ).

Plus, if you get somewhere like La Fortuna, where many of the main attractions are hard to reach without taking a tour, you can rent a car for just a couple of days. I wish I had known this beforehand, as it would have improved my experience there.

6. The national parks are fantastic.

Costa Rica travel tips

Being from the States, I have been spoiled all my life with amazing national parks. Let’s just say, the bar is pretty high. However, Costa Rica’s blew me away with their preservation, accessibility, and overall beauty. From the wild trails through Manuel Antonio to the waterfall in Tenorio Volcano and the Amazon-like canals of Tortuguero, these places are astounding.

Since Costa Rica is home to 6% of the world’s biodiversity, it’s no surprise that the parks are bursting with life. Even though I knew this, it never ceased to amaze me when I saw it with my own eyes.

Since my first trip to Costa Rica in 2022, I have visited Cahuita National Park, Irazú National Park (the Prussia section), and many others. I recommend stopping in any and all parks that are close to your route, as each of them has something different to offer, due to Costa Rica’s numerous microclimates.

7. There are wild animals nearly everywhere.

Costa Rica travel tips

Speaking of Costa Rica’s impressive biodiversity, national parks aren’t the only places to find wild animals. From mischievous monkeys to roadside sloths and the occasional shower-drain scorpion, there seem to be wild animals everywhere here.

I wish I had known how common critters are inside accommodations. After finding a couple of them in my bag, I realized that I needed to keep it zipped at all times. Luckily, I wasn’t stung or bitten by anything, but there were a couple of close calls.

8. …but if you want to see them, hire a guide.

While wild animals are plentiful here, it isn’t always easy to see them without a guide. I’ve been lucky to see sloths on the side of the road and monkeys swinging in the trees outside my hotel window, but if you want to get the most out of the wildlife viewing here, a nature guide is your best bet. Those in Costa Rica are highly trained to spot animals, and they bring binoculars with them to help visitors get the best views.

The difference between when I went to Rio Celeste with a guide and when I went recently without one was huge. The second time around, I thought, “I’ve been here, and I’ve seen so many animals. Of course I’ll see tons this time!” Wrong. The first time I went was far better, because my guide’s expert eye caught sight of animals I would have otherwise missed.

9. The two coasts are very different.

Costa Rica travel tips

Since I have visited both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, I’ve seen how diverse such a small country can be.

For one, the beaches are very different. The Pacific coast has small coves, with rocky cliffs and waves ideal for surfing. The sand is mostly golden and glistens beautifully when the sun sets. I also noticed that it was much more Americanized and more touristy overall, with more expensive restaurants.

The Caribbean coast, on the other hand, has a larger Afro-Latino population and therefore a different cultural landscape than the west coast. Puerto Viejo, for example, is known for its bolder flavors, impromptu dance parties, and reggae music blasting everywhere. If you are excited to dive into Costa Rican culture, the Caribbean side is an ideal place to do it.

10. Addresses aren’t really a thing.

Even in the largest city, San José, addresses (as we know them) don’t exist in Costa Rica. Even on official documents, Costa Ricans give descriptions of their address instead of a number and a street. For example, somebody might describe their address as “a big white house next to the Catholic church.”

This might not be an issue when you travel to Costa Rica, as most taxi drivers know the main landmarks and hotels. However, if you stay in an Airbnb, it can be difficult to describe its location to a driver. In any event, make sure you have an offline map (I use the app maps.me), so you can show your driver where you want to go.

11. Sometimes, tours really are worth the money.

Costa Rica travel tips

I experienced sticker shock when looking at the prices for some of the tours in Costa Rica. After going on a few, though, I realized that some of them were worth it (while others were not).

I recommend booking through GetYourGuide when you can. The platform gives a detailed description of what is included in the tour and what you can expect in terms of how long it will take, what to bring, where you’ll be going, etc.

If you wait to book your tours until you get to your destination, always make sure to do so at the tour office itself. I talked a bit about this in my Costa Rica safety guide , but basically, there are scammers on the street who try to get tourists to book with them.

Overall, the best experience I had on a tour was in Tortuguero . I booked directly with the guide himself, and his expertise, kindness, and quirkiness were what made the experience worthwhile. Plus, booking directly with the guide meant the tour was much more affordable than if it were with a large company.

You won’t find this kind of direct offer everywhere in Costa Rica, but you can look for mom-and-pop tour companies with a more down-to-earth feel.

12. Prepare yourself for tourist traps.

Beyond the abovementioned tour scams, there are quite a few tourist traps throughout Costa Rica. I find this pretty unsurprising, considering how touristy the country is overall.

One is the expensive shuttle services that are not much faster or more reliable than simply taking a public bus. If you are not renting a car, check out the public transportation options before opting for a shuttle. If you are going from San José to pretty much anywhere in Costa Rica, the bus will likely be just as easy. For other routes, like between La Fortuna and Tortuguero, a shuttle is definitely a great option, because public transportation takes twice as long. I use Rome2Rio to get a general idea of public transportation routes, but keep in mind that that it isn’t always 100% accurate.

Other tourist traps in Costa Rica include hokey restaurants with Americanized menus and astronomical prices, and overpriced souvenir shops, which you’ll likely find at the exit of national parks and ecological reserves.


Is Costa Rica Safe? My Take as a Solo Traveler

13. Get to places as soon as they open.

Costa Rica travel tips

Even during the low season, from May to November, there is a steady stream of tourists in Costa Rica. That means the best places get packed in the late morning and early afternoon. If you are like me and enjoy being in nature without too many other people around, make sure to get to your destination first thing in the morning.

The sun rises around 5am during most of the year in Costa Rica, which meant a lot of very early wake-up calls for me. It was worth it, though! I enjoyed visiting the waterfalls, swimming holes, and jungle paths — and even just walking down the street — at this hour. Going to these places early also meant I could spend more time there, just soaking in the beautiful surroundings without any distractions.

Also keep in mind that tour groups tend to arrive at big attractions around the same time. I noticed that sites would get busy around 9 or 10 in the morning, then clear out around noon, then get busy again around 2 or 3 in the afternoon before the park closed at 4pm. The best time to visit busy spots, like the La Fortuna Waterfall or Manuel Antonio National Park, is right when they open (usually 7am) — or during lunchtime if you don’t mind the scorching sun.

14. Make sure to carry enough cash.

Some smaller and more remote places in Costa Rica, like Tortuguero, for example, don’t have ATMs readily available. Considering that some hotels and hostels charge a 2-5% fee to pay for accommodations with a card, having cash on hand is a good idea. Carrying large amounts of cash can be nerve-wracking, sure, but if you spread it out among multiple bags and pockets, you lessen the risk of losing it all in one go.

Also, try to have colones (the local currency) instead of dollars when possible. Although Costa Rica uses dollars, some small restaurants and shops prefer that patrons pay in colones. The value of the dollar has also been steadily decreasing since I moved here in February 2023.

15. San José is worth a couple of days.

Costa Rica travel tips

Too many travelers pass up the opportunity to spend a couple of days in Costa Rica’s capital city, San José . It has a reputation for being a dirty, even dangerous place, with little to do. I disagree with this, and I actually really enjoyed exploring San José at the beginning and end of my trip in 2022. Now, I live just 30 minutes outside of town, and I constantly find new and interesting things to do there.

San José is Costa Rica’s cultural capital. There are beautiful hotels , great museums, a thriving art scene, and some of the country’s best restaurants (like Silvestre!) and bars. I loved visiting the Spirogyra Butterfly Garden, venturing out to the Hacienda La Chimba, and checking out the nearby city of Cartago.

16. Uber is illegal but cheaper than taxis.

In larger cities like San José and even La Fortuna, Uber is available, safer, and even cheaper than taking a taxi. However, it’s technically illegal throughout Costa Rica. It’s common for drivers to ask you to sit in the front seat so as not to raise suspicions that they are driving for Uber. I’ve never had an issue taking Ubers in Costa Rica, though.

Also, considering the point above about addresses, Uber is much easier to use because your driver has your exact location and that of your drop-off point. Otherwise, it can be hard to explain to a taxi driver (especially if you don’t speak Spanish) where you need to go.

17. A little Spanish goes a long way.

Things to Do in San José Costa Rica

I might sound like a broken record on this one, but knowing (at least) a few phrases of Spanish can be a game-changer in Costa Rica. Locals appreciate it when visitors speak Spanish, even if it’s just “hola” or “gracias.” I know my life is significantly easier here because I speak Spanish, and that was also true when I came here for the first time as a backpacker.

If you don’t have any Spanish knowledge before you come, I recommend downloading an offline translator if you need to communicate in a pinch. While many Costa Ricans speak English, there’s no guarantee that your taxi/Uber driver, waiter, etc. will.

18. Costa Rica’s tourism infrastructure is one of the best in the world.

Although having some basic Spanish knowledge is helpful, Costa Rica’s impressive tourism infrastructure makes it one of the easiest places to travel for non-Spanish speakers and first-time international travelers. Companies like Intrepid and G Adventures offer multiday (even multiweek) tours on which everything is meticulously planned. Hotels often offer airport pickup and dropoff, along with many other perks. And nearly 13% of the population works in tourism . That means that there are people willing to help visitors around every corner.

19. Yes, you can drink the tap water.

I lived in Mexico for four years before I moved to Costa Rica, so imagine my surprise (and excitement!) when I learned that you can drink the tap water here. There are exceptions, but there will likely be signs letting you know if you can’t drink it. This is a stellar tip, because you can bring a smaller water bottle with you on hikes or long walks, knowing that there will be places where you can fill it.

20. Tips are usually included in the final price.

In Costa Rica, most restaurants will charge a 10% service fee, which is the same as the tip. If this has been added to your bill, there’s no need to tip. Of course, if you’d like to tip your wait staff, go for it! But it’s certainly not expected.

There are some things that are hard to prepare for before heading to a new place. These tips were all things I either didn’t know or only knew a little bit about before I went for the first time. I hope they help you prepare for your trip, so you can enjoy the magic of Costa Rica.

If you’ve been to Costa Rica, what other helpful tips do you wish you knew before you went?

*Some links in this post are affiliate links for products and services we personally use and love. Any purchase you make through them supports us at no extra cost to you. Thanks so much!

About Emily Becker

Emily Becker is a digital nomad based in Costa Rica. She's been traveling on and off since 2014 and has visited 15 countries—planning to tick many more off her bucket list. In addition to writing for BMTM, she works as a copywriter and project manager.

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cupskill says

08/17/2022 at 12:37 pm

Nice place…….

08/21/2022 at 3:33 pm

Hi Emily: Thanks for these important tips to give us a step up regarding making our Costa Rica trip that much better and how to avoid pitfalls. I have not been to Costa Rica, but one thing that I did not think of doing until you described Costa Rica would be to try the sunrise over the ocean on a Caribbean beach and on the same day see the sunset over the ocean on the Pacific side! Is that doable and/or worth it? 🙂

08/22/2022 at 9:23 am

Hey Gil! Yes, in theory you could drive from one side of the country to the other to see the sunrise & sunset, but I’d guess that it would mean spending the whole day in the car. Maybe not worth it as the sunsets are only vibrant and colorful if the weather conditions are right (ie. not raining). If you try it, let me know how it works out! Sounds like a fun mission. 🙂


04/19/2024 at 10:25 pm


Emily Becker says

04/22/2024 at 10:09 am

Hi there! I’ve lived in Costa Rica for about a year (moved in February 2023) and there are a few distinct areas where retirees tend to settle. One is the central valley (near San José, specifically the areas of Santa Ana and Escazú), another is Guanacaste (near Nosara), and another is the mountainous region parallel to the Pacific Coast (Tinamaste). The cost of living here is comparable to some places in the USA, but the quality of life (in my opinion) is much better. Fresh food easily accessible, low crime rates, and stunning nature everywhere in the country. I recommend looking for Facebook groups with retirees in Costa Rica and asking around there. 🙂 Pura vida!

01/31/2023 at 11:32 am

Great info, thank you!

Andrea says

03/10/2023 at 2:06 pm

I am leaving in a week for CR and am solo. I appreciated your articles and found them helpful. Thank you for sharing!!

03/25/2023 at 8:50 am

Thank you for all the tips! I’m traveling with a group of women this October for a woman’s retreat . We will e spending one night in San Juan before heading to our destination (4 hours away)! I’m really thankful for you telling me that Uber is illegal!

03/27/2023 at 3:01 pm

Hi Dee! Uber is technically illegal but it’s totally fine to use in Costa Rica. The driver will just ask you to sit up front. Keep in mind that Uber isn’t widely available and is mostly used in San José and the surrounding areas.


08/30/2023 at 11:41 pm

Hi Emily, I’m traveling with my kids to Costa Rica on February, what is my best option to get to the fortuna from the airport? And thank you for all your tips. Miguel

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Best things to do, best restaurants, best time to visit.

  • How to Get There

Places to Know

How to get around.

Costa Rica literally translates to "rich coast,” and it’s easy to see how it got its name. In addition to world-class beaches on both the Caribbean and Pacific, this peaceful paradise boasts some of the most bio-diverse ecosystems on Earth. In fact, scientists say five percent of the world's species are found here. For reference, the country is only as big as West Virginia. 

The unparalleled wildlife watching includes encounters with slumbering sloths, majestic scarlet macaws, tree frogs as pretty as they are poisonous, and endangered nesting sea turtles. With dogged determination, they survive, symbiotically, in the shadow of some of the world's most active volcanoes. 

Whether you want to hike in a cloud forest at 10,000 feet above sea level or you dream of riding horses on a white sand beach, it’s never been easier to reach the rich coast. There are nonstop flights to Costa Rica from more than a dozen U.S. cities. Come in winter; the country is one of the best places to visit in January . Or, plan a trip for the summer months when hotel rates drop as temperatures rise — treat yourself to a stay in one of Costa Rica's best hotels and resorts .

Top 5 Can’t Miss

  • Nayara Springs: Soak in your villa’s private plunge pool fed by mineral hot springs.  
  • Zip lining: Feel the cloud forest come alive as you soar through the canopy. 
  • National Parks: These 28 protected areas are Mother Nature at her finest. 
  • Restaurant Silvestre: Taste an award-winning chef’s contemporary interpretation of Costa Rican cuisine.
  • Limón: Experience the country’s vibrant Afro-Caribbean culture. 

W Costa Rica - Reserva Conchal 

With its audacious architecture and cheeky decor, W Costa Rica – Reserva Conchal stands out on a coast filled with cookie cutter beach resorts. Rooms run the gamut from traditional queens with balconies and ocean views to treehouse suites with private plunge pools. The property has a spa, 18-hole golf course, beach club, adults' and kids' pools, and five restaurants.

Nayara Springs 

This adults-only oasis was voted one of Central America’s best resort hotels by T+L readers. “From the moment you arrive you feel pampered,” Erica Linares, a Latin America specialist at Kensington Tours told Travel & Leisure. She’s a fan of the welcome drink, Costa Rica’s answer to the Bloody Mary. Meanwhile Emmanuel Burgio , a T+L Top Travel Advisor specializing in Central America, praises the private plunge pools.

Costa Rica Marriott Hotel Hacienda Belen

Located four miles from San José's airport, this hotel is an ideal base for exploring the capital. That said, it feels a world away from all things urban thanks to its valley views and meticulously manicured gardens and outdoor spaces, including several pools and a coffee plantation.

Four Seasons Resort Peninsula Papagayo

This family-friendly resort is one of Travel + Leisure' s top 500 hotels in the world . “It commands one of the best locations in Costa Rica and offers easy access to the country’s most beautiful beaches,” James Kaiser, author of “ Costa Rica: The Complete Guide ” told Travel & Leisure. His pro tip is to bring binoculars to spot the humpback whales migrating offshore in winter.

Lapa Rios Ecolodge & Wildlife Reserve

Also voted one of the best resorts in Central America by T+L readers, this luxurious ecolodge on the Osa Peninsula is the perfect place to immerse oneself in nature. In addition to proximity to wildlife, Burgio loves the waterfront location. “The bungalows boast terraces with ocean views and outdoor showers, and the shared outdoor pool overlooks the Pacific.” 

National Parks

Between its diverse flora, fauna, and geothermal features, Costa Rica is a nature-lover's paradise . A quarter of the country is set aside for conservation, and there are 28 National Parks to choose from. “Plus, unlike Colombia or Brazil, you can visit multiple ecosystems in one day,” said Kaiser. 

Taylor McIntyre/Travel + Leisure

Between Costa Rica's 300 beaches there are waves for diehards, beginners, and everyone in between. One of the best places to practice is Tamarindo, where Iguana Surf's instructors are as passionate about teaching as they are pipelines. As you improve, try the Nicoya Peninsula. According to Linares, “It’s known for its powerful waves and the town of Santa Teresa has a very relaxed, bohemian atmosphere.” 

Wellness is a way of life in Costa Rica – it's home to one of the world's five blue zones – so it seems sacrilegious to not get a spa treatment while in town. Vida Mía Healing Center & Spa sits atop a "high vibrational crystal mountain" and was named "Best Spa in the Americas."

Often considered to be the birthplace of ziplining, Costa Rica offers canopy tours almost everywhere there are trees. Hanging bridges are usually an option, too. At Selvatura Park in the Monteverde cloud forest, there are nearly two miles of treetop walkways.

The Pacuare Region

If you ask Burgio, one of the most under-the-radar experiences you can have is a private hike through the Talamanca Mountains with a guide from the indigenous Cabécar community. According to Burgio the Pacuare River is also the best place in Central America for whitewater rafting. 

Restaurante Celajes (Organic)

With its insect hotel, working farm, coffee plantation, and sugar cane fields, Hotel Belmar takes farm-to-table to a whole new level. As a result, its pride and joy – Restaurant Celajes – is so well-respected diners drive from as far away as San José just for dinner.

Lidia’s Place (Caribbean) 

According to Kaiser, the country’s best food is found on the Caribbean coast where “ the vibrant Afro-Caribbean culture spices things up.” Lidia’s Place is where he goes for the best Caribbean chicken. A small, family-owned establishment, don’t be surprised if Lidia stops by to say hola. 

Sano Banano (Healthy)

Translating to healthy banana, Sano Banano serves feel-good food – breakfast, lunch and dinner – in an open-air restaurant. Enjoy seating on the back patio or front porch overlooking Montezuma's lively main street and don’t miss the artisanal chocolates for sale by the cash register.

Don Rufino (Costa Rican) 

Choose from prix-fixe menus, a la carte, or a five-course tasting tour at this Arenal landmark where Linares says the dishes are delicious and the ambiance is just as memorable. Grandma’s roasted chicken, served wrapped in banana leaves, has a cult-like following, so order it before it sells out. 

Restaurante Silvestre (Experiential) 

This San José institution is famous for its edible experiences derived from “unorthodox and avant-garde culinary techniques.” Since it’s deemed one of the best restaurants in Central America, reservations are a must. And because the chef-driven tasting menu knows no bounds, it’s not ideal for picky eaters. 

The best time to visit Costa Rica depends on your goals. If you're looking to snorkel in clear Caribbean waters, opt for the dry season which on the Caribbean side, is mid-May through mid-December. Meanwhile, in the rest of the country, the dry season is the opposite. It runs from December to May. This is when everything is open and roads are passable. If you want to take advantage of low season rates and avoid crowds, visit during the wet season (which is marketed as the green season). 

For the best cultural events , visit during January for Palmares (basically Carnival) or Easter week. As a Catholic country, many of Costa Rica's biggest holidays correspond with the Church's. Regardless of when you visit, you can always watch sea turtles nest and hatch, go zip lining (they do it rain or shine), and learn how to surf.

Related : The Ultimate Costa Rica Packing List

How to Get There 

Costa Rica has two main airports: Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) in San José and Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIR) in Liberia. SJO is your best bet if you’re visiting Manuel Antonio, Limón, Arenal, or the Osa Peninsula. It also tends to have the cheapest flights. For trips to Guanacaste and Alajuela, you’ll probably want to fly into Liberia. Both airports offer rental cars. 

Of course, it’s possible to fly into one airport and out of the other. And transferring between the two is easy thanks to public buses and shared shuttles. The trip takes approximately 3-4 hours depending on traffic. Driving to Costa Rica is not recommended as you’ll have to pass through countries with civil unrest and border crossings can be complicated.

There are seven provinces in Costa Rica, and each has its own distinct vibe. Here are three we recommend starting with. 

San José : The capital boasts the best souvenir shopping and has many cultural institutions including the Museum of Costa Rican Art, the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, and the National Museum of Costa Rica. It’s also where you’ll find the country’s best culinary offerings.

Alajuela : Alajuela is popular with adrenaline junkies as it’s home to Arenal Volcano National Park where you can zipline, hot springs hop, and hike in a cloud forest all in 24 hours. The province is also where you’ll find one of the world’s largest craters in Poas Volcano National Park (reservations required). 

Limón : Limón is located on the Caribbean side and highlights include Tortuguero National Park and the Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge. This province is also where you can experience the country’s incredible Afro-Caribbean culture . Approximately eight percent of Costa Ricans are of African descent.

Trains and Buses: Costa Rica is rebuilding its train infrastructure, damaged during the 1991 earthquake. For now, buses are the best public transportation. While most are privately owned, fares are low. For example, a four-hour ride might cost $10. "Directo" buses offer nonstop service. "Colectivos” stop pretty much everywhere.

Taxis and Shuttles: Costa Rica's official taxis are red or orange (the only cabs licensed for airport pickups) and all have a yellow triangle emblem. It's also easy to pre-book private car services or shuttles online. 

Rideshare: Although it’s technically not legal, Uber has been operating in Costa Rica since 2015. However, it's limited to major cities and tourist hotspots. DiDi is also an option, but it’s also not that reliable in remote areas.

Car Rentals: Car rentals are cheap and plentiful, but keep in mind that most cars are manual, and Costa Rica’s roads don’t have the best reputation (during the wet season, many roads turn into rivers). Try to get a high-clearance SUV with AWD, and if you need extras like a roof rack for surfboards, carseat for kids, cell phone for navigation, or additional drivers, book with Vamos . It’s the only company that offers all of the above for no fee.

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Welcome to the official site of Costa Rica

Welcome to Costa Rica! This beautiful country is known for its stunning beaches, lush rainforests, and incredible wildlife. Whether you’re looking for adventure or relaxation, Costa Rica has something for everyone.

Some of the top attractions include Arenal Volcano, Manuel Antonio National Park, La Paz Waterfalls, Papagayo Peninsula, Tamarindo beach, Rio Celeste, Monteverde Cloud Forest and Corcovado National Park.

You can enjoy activities such as surfing, snorkeling, fishing, ziplining and hiking. Costa Rica is also home to many unique and diverse animal species such as sloths, monkeys, birds, turtles and more. We hope you enjoy your stay!

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Costa Rica is a land of volcanoes, rainforests and cloud forests, huge waterfalls and mighty rivers.


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Costa Rica has a great place to experience nature’s wonders with your children; the country is a must for families!


Costa Rica is considered one of the most bio-diverse regions in the world.


Costa Rica in English, means rich coast. Every cruise ship visiting Costa Rica understands why.

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Where to Go?

Located on the central Pacific coast, the Puntarenas region extends from Punta Conejo south to Puerto Caldera to the mouth of the Bongo River. The region’s rich coastline overlooks small islands, inlets, beaches and beautiful natural wonders. The port town of Puntarenas serves as the center of the region and is home port to a ferry that carries visitors over to the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula.


South Pacific

The combination of breath-taking white-sand beaches, sweeping mountain views and an ideal tropical climate has made Guanacaste one of Costa Rica’s most popular regions. It boasts many of the country’s popular beaches, including Playa del Coco, Playa Flamingo, Playa Conchal and the Papagayo Peninsula. By day visitors can challenge themselves with a surf lesson, cool off under a waterfall at Rincón de la Vieja National Park, discover the craters of an active volcano with the same name and more before enjoying the active nightlife in Tamarindo.


Northern Plains

Recognized as home of Arenal Volcano National Park, which boasts 75% of Costa Rica’s bird population, the Northern Plains present endless activities for visitors. Excursions range from hiking and waterfall rappelling to canopying and exploring via a hanging bridge tour. Those looking for activities on the water will find that Lake Arenal is an ideal location for canoeing, fishing and kite surfing.


Central Valley

Those in search of cultural and natural attractions will find both in the Central Valley region. Home to the destination’s capital city, San José, many of Costa Rica’s most popular museums can be found in this urban setting including the Gold Museum, Jade Museum, National Museum and Children’s Museum, in addition to the architectural jewel of San José, the National Theatre.


Central Pacific

Beautiful beaches, wildlife sanctuaries, lagoons, rivers and waterfalls make the Central Pacific region an ideal destination for visitors in search of variety. The region stretches from the city of Puntarenas to Dominical de Osa and is made up of some of Costa Rica’s most visited areas including Monteverde, Quepos, Jacó, Bahía Ballena and Manuel Antonio. The region’s climate creates a unique landscape that transitions from tropical wet forest to tropical forest to tropical dry forest, providing the opportunity to observe a wide range of plants and animals.


The diverse coastline of the Northern Caribbean region attracts anglers, naturists and water enthusiasts in search of unique experiences. The North Caribbean region is famous for its interconnected canals and for Tortuguero National Park, where visitors have the opportunity to witness green turtles nesting. Limón City, the largest city on the country’s Caribbean coast, is perched in the center of the coast. The Southern Caribbean boasts some great beaches and picturesque parks, which are complemented by the area’s inviting culture.

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The Ultimate Costa Rica Travel Guide

Costa Rica was my first time on a plane and out of the country. For the past 11 years, I have been traveling back to this beautiful place that I instantly fell in love with. I mean this literally and figuratively, as I actually ended up falling in love and marrying a Costa Rican .

Table of Contents

After studying abroad in Costa Rica, working as an intern with an intensive field studies program, and returning for years to travel, I have explored Costa Rica deep into its nooks and crannies. I love this beautiful country and can’t wait to share everything with you.

So read on to learn more in this ultimate guide to Costa Rica travel!

This post may contain affiliate links, which help keep the blog running at no cost to you. Thank you for helping support Adventures Abound so I can keep creating free content for your adventure planning!

A woman wearing a red two-piece swim suit in posing on a boulder in front of a tall two-tiered waterfall

General Information about Costa Rica

Costa Rica is located in Central America , between Nicaragua & Panama. It has two coasts, on the Pacific Ocean to the West, and the Caribbean Sea to the East.

Language: Costa Ricans primarily speak Spanish , and have their own form of Costa Rican slang . Younger generations are becoming more and more proficient and even fluent in English as well. On the East Coast, with influences from the Caribbean, Costa Ricans speak a version of English-Creole.

Visa : Advanced visas for tourists from the US are not required. Costa Rica recently changed visa requirements and now offers a full 180 days for visitors from the US, available upon entry. Make sure you have a valid passport that doesn’t expire for six months . While Costa Rica will allow you to enter as long as the passport doesn’t expire during the trip, most US airlines have a blanket 6-month requirement.

For those looking to work abroad from Costa Rica, digital nomad visas are available for up to 2 years!

Currency: Costa Rica’s currency is called Colones . While constantly in flux, the exchange rate generally shakes out to be around 500 CRC to $1 USD. Compared to its neighbors, Costa Rica is known as the most expensive country within Central America. Prices, while sometimes cheap, can often be comparable to similar experiences in the US.

Weather : The weather in Costa Rica stays relatively warm year-round. The capital city San Jose is located in a valley and is cooler than the coasts. Costa Rica has a rainy/wet season for half of the year, from May to November. December is usually a transition from the rain to dry season, and then from January to April is the dry season where it usually never rains. As the dry season goes on, it gets hotter without the rains to cool the Earth.

The Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica has a slightly different weather pattern. It rains here much more than the rest of the country, with two smaller dry seasons from March-April and September-October.

Costa Rica is also affected by the El Niño/La Niña weather patterns. During these years, El Niño brings dryer than normal weather, while La Niña is rainier than usual.

Provinces : Costa Rica is divided into seven provinces: Guanacaste, Puntarenas, Alajuela, Heredia, San Jose, Cartago, and Limon.

Guanacaste , known for its stunning Pacific coastline and sun-splashed beaches, is a paradise for surfers and sun-seekers. Puntarenas , the largest province, boasts national parks and a diverse wildlife along the Pacific Coast that adventure lovers would relish. Inland, you have Alajuela , beckoning with its mighty volcanoes and lush coffee farms.

Heredia , sometimes referred to as ‘Little Switzerland’, enchants with its verdant hills and quaint villages. San Jose , the bustling capital, blends urban chaos with rich cultural heritage. Moving towards the east, Cartago offers a glimpse into Costa Rica’s past with its colonial architecture and ancient ruins, while Limón , with its Afro-Caribbean influence, enthralls with its vibrant music, unique cuisine, and the lush beauty of its rainforests.

🤩 Learn Spanish in Costa Rica

A girl wearing a red helmet and ziplining during a trip to Costa Rica.

What is Costa Rica known for?

Coffee : Costa Rica and coffee are intertwined like threads in a vibrant tapestry. As a traveler in this tropical paradise, you’ll be swept up in the rich aroma of coffee beans roasting, a daily ritual in the homes and cafés of the Ticos (locals). In fact, it was here in Costa Rica that I learned to drink quality coffee black, without any sugar or cream.

Costa Rica’s high-altitude and volcanic soils yield beans with a distinctive taste profile, highly sought after by consumers worldwide. This has cemented the nation’s reputation as a leading coffee exporter . Whether sipping a meticulously brewed cup in a hip San Jose café, or exploring a family-owned coffee farm nestled in the lush hills of Alajuela, you’ll come to appreciate why Costa Rican coffee is a point of national pride and global acclaim.

Incredible Nature : Though a small country of only 20,000 square miles , Costa Rica boasts some of the world’s most impressive natural features. Beaches, waterfalls , rainforests, cloud forests, rivers, hot springs, volcanos, and even the occasional bioluminescence all await the travelers who explore this amazing country.

Adventure Travel : Speaking of travelers, many visit Costa Rica for its adrenaline-pumping adventure travel. From ziplining and hiking, to the more daring river rafting, world-class surfing, skydiving, waterfall repelling, and more, there are wondrous adventures to be had here.

☕ Tour a specialty coffee and chocolate farm in Costa Rica! 🍫

A waterfall pours into a bright blue river surrounded by lush green jungle in Costa Rica.

Animals + Animal Watching : Costa Rica holds a whopping 4% of the world’s biodiversity despite covering only 0.03% of the world’s surface. This biodiversity hotspot is home to 4 species of monkeys, migrating whales, vibrant tropical birds, and charming turtles nesting on the beaches among others.

However, nothing encapsulates the slow-paced pura vida lifestyle more than the country’s icon, the sloth . Costa Rica is home to two species of sloth: the two-toed sloth and the three-toed sloth.

A visit here often turns into an impromptu safari, with magical encounters with these species and many more. Whether you’re an avid birdwatcher, a marine life enthusiast or just an animal lover, Costa Rica’s rich fauna promises an unforgettable experience.

Pro Tip: If you are driving around and see tourist cars or shuttles pulled over, or a group of people stopped on a trail, stop to take a look. Often you will catch a glimpse of what they stopped to see, be it a sloth, a toucan, or another animal of Costa Rican wildlife .

An ornately-decorated colorful hand-painted oxcart.

How to get around in Costa Rica

Navigating Costa Rica on a budget doesn’t mean you’ll miss out on the adventure, it just takes a bit of planning and savvy travel tactics. If you’re willing to trade a bit of comfort for the pocket-friendly option, public transportation could be your go-to.

Costa Rica’s bus system is extensive and affordable, reaching even remote areas of the country. You’ll find yourself rubbing elbows with locals and fellow travelers alike. In fact, this is how I improved my Spanish when studying abroad in Costa Rica – always talking with the locals and even the bus driver when I traveled.

For those short on time, consider small flights to remote areas such as Tortuguero and Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula. It’s a splurge compared to buses, but definitely less expensive than a private charter.

Hiring boats , like those to Tortuguero and the Nicoya Peninsula from mainland Costa Rica, offers quicker, more convenient options than slow-moving public buses. Though a bit pricier than public transport, they’re still budget-friendly and get you to your destination much faster.

Private shuttles , often called private transfers, are available to popular tourist destinations all over Costa Rica. This can be a great option if you are traveling with a big group, have lots of luggage, or don’t intend to move around much between destinations.

Alternatively, you could hire a private driver. This is an excellent option if you’re traveling in a group, as you can split the cost. Drivers are usually locals who can offer valuable insight and recommendations along the way.

Taxis are available throughout Costa Rica and are a great way to get around in major cities. The official taxis in San Jose are red with a yellow triangle. Always confirm they will turn on the meter, called “la maria” or agree on a set price ahead of time.

Though Uber is technically illegal in Costa Rica, it’s been operating for years and is often a cheaper alternative to taxis. Just be mindful and respectful of the local regulations.

Finally, adventurous spirits might consider renting a car. This truly gives you the freedom to explore at your own pace. This is our preferred method of traveling, but I always make my Costa Rican husband drive, as the traffic in Costa Rica is a bit more chaotic than I can handle. Just bear in mind that insurance is mandatory and can significantly increase the overall cost.

No matter your choice, traversing Costa Rica’s lush landscapes is sure to be an adventure in itself!

🚗 Check prices for car rentals in Costa Rica 🚗

Two people sitting in a hot spring pool in La Fortuna, surrounded by lush nature.

Things to do in Costa Rica

San Jose : the capital of Costa Rica is where one of two main airports are located and thus the initial destination of many travelers coming into the country. In my opinion, San Jose gets a bad rap. Most visitors arrive and immediately head out to enjoy the beautiful nature in Costa Rica. However, there are plenty of things to do in San Jose as well, from museums to international cuisine, and even several lovely parks.

Beaches: Costa Rica is of course renowned for its stunning beaches. Some of the most popular beaches in Costa Rica are Papagayo , Tamarindo , Playa Conchal , and P l ayas del Coco in Guanacaste; Montezuma , Sámara , Nosara , and Manzanillo on the Nicoya Peninsula; Jacó , Playa Hermosa (of which there are several), Punta Leona , Manuel Antonio , Dominical , and Uvita on the Pacific Coast. Our favorites are the beaches of Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean Coast ( Playa Negra , Playa Cocles , Punta Uvita , Playa Chiquita , and Playa Manzanillo ).

Volcanos : Irazú , Poás , Arenal , Rincón de la Vieja , and Tenorio . Each one is unique in its own way and worth visiting if you have the time. The first three are close enough to San Jose that you can easily make a day trip!

National Parks : Delving into Costa Rica’s National Parks is like opening a door to a biodiversity paradise. Braulio Carillo National Park , easily accessible from San Jose, is a hiker’s dream, teeming with luxuriant rainforests, waterfalls, and a plethora of wildlife. On the other hand, Carara National Park serves as a biological bridge between the Amazonian and Mesoamerican ecosystems, making it a hotspot for birdwatchers.

Set on the Caribbean coast, Cahuita National Park is a blend of thriving coral reefs, white sandy beaches, and coastal rainforests, offering snorkeling and wildlife viewing opportunities galore. Tortuguero National Park is a labyrinth of mangrove forests and navigable lagoons, where you can witness the awe-inspiring sight of sea turtles nesting.

Manuel Antonio National Park , although small, is a gem, boasting stunning beaches, hiking trails, and the chance to spot monkeys and sloths. At Chirripó National Park , you can challenge yourself with a climb to Costa Rica’s highest peak, rewarding you with breathtaking views. Palo Verde National Park , located in the dry Guanacaste province, is a sanctuary for water birds and migratory species.

Lastly, Corcovado National Park , often hailed as ‘the most biologically intense place on earth’, is a must-visit for any adventurous traveler, offering the chance to see rare wildlife like jaguars and tapirs. Each of these parks offers a unique glimpse into Costa Rica’s diverse ecosystems, ensuring an unforgettable travel experience.

🦥 Reserve this guided nature hike through Manuel Antonio National Park 🦥

Twelve young women sitting next to each other on a beach looking toward the ocean at sunset.

Other Popular Destinations in Costa Rica:

Monteverde : a cloud forest in the mountains filled with mist and incredible biodiversity. It’s also home to some of the best zip-lining in the country (and one of my favorite places in Costa Rica).

La Fortuna : located near Arenal, this charming town is a popular destination for adventure activities such as hiking, white water rafting, and horseback riding. La Fortuna is also home to the famous La Fortuna Waterfall, La Paz Gardens , and tons of hot springs in Costa Rica.

Rio Celeste : Located within the Tenorio Volcano National Park, Rio Celeste is a vibrant blue river that flows through the heart of the dense jungle. The stunning color of the water is an otherworldly turquoise hue making this a popular destination for visitors in Costa Rica.

Osa Peninsula : Corcovado National Park, Drake Bay, and Puerto Jimenez are all popular destinations in this remote and biodiverse area. It’s perfect for eco-tourism and wildlife enthusiasts.

A couple on the foreground sitting on the grass in a city park, with more people walking on the sidewalk and street.

Day Trips from San Jose:

Cartago : Once the capital of Costa Rica, this historic city is just a short ride away from San Jose. It’s known for the Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels, a stunning example of Byzantine architecture, and the ruins of Santiago Apostol Church. Cartago also serves as the gateway to the Irazu Volcano National Park, perfect for adventurous day-trippers.

Alajuela : Located just northwest of San Jose, Alajuela is the birthplace of Costa Rica’s national hero, Juan Santamaria. Visit his museum or stroll around the Central Park, soaking in the city’s jovial atmosphere. If you’re an animal lover, don’t miss the opportunity to visit Zoo Ave, a wildlife rescue center.

Heredia : Known as the ‘City of Flowers’, Heredia is another pleasant day trip from San Jose. Explore the colonial architecture of the central square, including the elegant Church of the Immaculate Conception. Coffee enthusiasts will appreciate a visit to Café Britt, one of Costa Rica’s most famous coffee farms.

Sarchí : Famous for its colorful painted oxcarts, Sarchi is a wonderful place to shop for traditional Costa Rican handicrafts. Watch the artisans at work and take home a unique souvenir. The town is also home to the country’s largest hand-painted oxcart , listed in the Guinness World Records.

Zarcero : This charming mountain town is best known for its topiary garden filled with whimsical shrubs shaped into arches, animals, and mythical creatures. Zarcero’s striking pink and blue church, just behind the garden, is another must-see.

Orosi : Nestled in a tranquil valley, Orosi offers stunning views and a laid-back vibe. Visit the oldest church still in use in Costa Rica, explore the Tapanti National Park, or relax in the local hot springs to round off your day trip.

🌋 Take this tour to see a coffee farm, volcano, and waterfall in Costa Rica! 🌿

A mountain top coming out of the clouds in front of a tropical woody area.

Safety in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is not an inherently dangerous country, but theft can be common.

In larger cities like San Jose, pick-pocketing is largely an issue. Leave the majority of valuables not needed locked up in your room when walking around. While it is okay to pull out a cell photo to take photos or orient yourself, keep it in your front pocket or a closed bag when not in use.

Wear long pants and closed-toed shoes to stand out less, and always carry any bookbags or purses in front of you, with a hand against them at all times.

We would advise to not walk around at night, even in groups, as petty theft is very common.

While we have not personally experienced this, stories of tourists and study-abroad students being threatened to give up even just their cell phones are unfortunately becoming more and more common.

911 is the emergency number in Costa Rica.

Make sure that you have travel insurance when traveling in Costa Rica to help protect against illness and other mishaps that are sure to occur.

🏥 Check pricing for travel insurance 🏥

A small set of ferny leaves sitting on top of a large banana leaf.

Map of Costa Rica

Frequently Asked Questions About Costa Rica

What is the best month to go to costa rica.

The best time to travel in Costa Rica is the dry season which is from December to April. As the country is Catholic by constitution, most locals will travel during Christmas and Holy weeks, so avoid traveling during late December and late March/early April to avoid heavy crowds.

Is it safe to travel to Costa Rica?

Yes, Costa Rica is a safe country to travel in. However, petty theft can be common so keep an eye on belongings when at the beach, and leave valuables in a locked hotel room when not in use. When in larger cities like San Jose, keep bags visible in front of you, and avoid walking alone at night. Finally, always keep a close eye on your drink when going out, and only accept drinks directly from staff at bars or restaurants.

Is Costa Rica cheap or expensive?

Costa Rica is not a cheap country to travel in anymore. It is the most expensive country to travel in Central America. Some things, like public transportation and local food may be cheaper, but most tourist areas will have prices similar to or slightly less than those in the US

Is tipping a thing in Costa Rica

Most restaurants automatically include a 10% service tip in listed prices, so adding an additional tip is not necessary. Unlike in the United States, service providers in Costa Rica such as waiters are paid a healthy living wage by their employer. That being said, many tourists tend to leave an additional tip anyway, so in touristy areas, it is more commonly seen. Locals generally don’t leave extra tips, and it’s culturally acceptable not to do so.

Is it illegal to remove shells or sand from Costa Rica?

Yes, Costa Rica does not permit the removal of sand or shells from the country. If found during security screenings at the airport, sand and shells will be removed from your luggage and returned to the land.

Can you drink the water in Costa Rica?

Yes, the water is safe to drink in Costa Rica. The exception is in the south Caribbean area of Puerto Viejo, where we would recommend to only use bottled water to drink and brush your teeth.

Wrapping up this Guide to Costa Rica

Costa Rica is probably my favorite country that I have been to, and I hope this guide has helped you learn more about traveling to this beautiful country.

Costa Rica is a perfect first country to visit, where it is relatively easy to get around and even to learn Spanish. The nature here is unmatched, and there is so much to do that you could visit from a short week to several months or even years.

I hope you enjoy your next trip to Costa Rica!

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Michele is the adventure enthusiast behind Adventures Abound. She is a South Carolinian currently living in Philadelphia and spends her free time searching for adventures near and far. She has traveled all over the country and the Americas with her Costa Rican husband Diego and their sweet and menacing adventure kitty Willow. You can catch them hiking the landscape, scoping out used bookshops, and snapping pics wherever they go.

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17 Awesome Costa Rica Travel Tips: Things to Know Before You Go

  • Updated on January 2, 2024
  • Tips and Tricks

costa rica travel tips

What You Will Learn (Click to Expand)

Introduction, why costa rica deserves to be on your travel list.

So you’re planning a dream vacation? Costa Rica should be at the top of your priority list. It’s an enticing blend of lush rainforests, stunning beaches, and amiable inhabitants.

Plus, it’s quite convenient to reach from various parts of the United States.

Whether it’s a tranquil beach vacation or an audacious trek through the jungle, Costa Rica has got you covered.

And to get you ready, let’s explore my Top 17 Costa Rica Travel Tips.

Planning Your Trip

1. what season to choose for your visit.

Costa Rica Travel Tips

Costa Rica primarily has two seasons:

  • dry (Nov – Apr)
  • wet (May – Oct)

The best season for your visit depends on your travel goals. If you fancy sunbathing on sun-kissed beaches, choose the summer. On the other hand, the rainy season has its charm with fewer tourists and lower prices.

Avoid Sept/Oct on the Pacific Coast due to heavy rain, but these are great months for the Caribbean Coast.

Always remember: smart planning leads to a great trip.

2. Top tourist attractions in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a treasure trove of unique landscapes and thrilling adventures.

Some must-visit spots include:

  • Volcanoes – Get your adrenaline pumping by climbing one of the five active volcanoes. The Arenal boasts stunning hikes, while the Irazu hides a surreal green-blue lake in its crater.
  • Monteverde – A paradise for naturalists! You’ll find coffee plantations, stunning hikes, and myriad creatures on a nocturnal rainforest tour.
  • Tortuguero National Park – One of the last refuge for the endangered green turtle. It’s a haven for jungle lovers, birdwatchers, and peace seekers.
  • Corcovado – Pristine jungles, hiking trails, and diving opportunities await you in this remote and rugged region.
  • Puerto Viejo – A fun coastal town with great beaches, surfing, and a chilled-out vibe.

These are just a few of the gems Costa Rica houses. Explore more, and you’ll be amazed at every corner.

Understanding the Economic Aspects

3. the real cost of vacationing in costa rica.

costa rica travel tips

Packing for Costa Rica? Well, a bit of financial planning wouldn’t hurt. Costa Rica is a tad pricier than its Central American neighbors but offers more bang for your buck – superior infrastructure, safety, and regulated eco-tourism.

While certain costs can be the same as at home, or even higher due to import taxes, you’ll likely find accommodation and transport less expensive than in other vacation hotspots around the globe.

A meal could cost you around $5-$20, a beer won’t set you back much at $2-$4, and accommodations can range from $10 at a hostel to a few hundred dollars at high-end resorts.

Still, compared to many vacation destinations with similar climates, landscapes, and activities, Costa Rica holds its own as an affordable spot. Successfully, might I add.

4. Money and currency tips

Navigating a new country’s financial landscape can be tricky.

Here are some tips to see you through:

  • Currency : Don’t worry about exchanging your money for Costa Rican colones. US dollars are widely accepted. Remember to carry sufficient colones in small denominations when heading to more remote areas.
  • Cash or Card? : Consider carrying a mix of both. Cash, preferably in small change, can give you better deals with vendors and is a lifesaver during power outages that render credit card machines useless.
  • Counterfeit notes : Do you have US $100 bills? Ensure they’re in mint condition. Some years ago, shops and banks began refusing them due to an influx of counterfeits.
  • Negotiating Prices : Many prices, especially in markets, are negotiable. A little haggling may just save you some bucks!

Remember: Understanding the money matter makes your travel smoother.

5. Tipping in Costa Rica

Tipping in Costa Rica can be perplexing. It’s neither mandatory nor expected but appreciated. Often, a 10% service tax is already included in your restaurant bill, but if you’ve enjoyed the service, feel free to tip extra.

Tips can be in colones or USD. Tips often go straight into the worker’s pocket, making them a wholesome income supplement.

Remember: tipping well is a gesture of your appreciation.

Hair Tools Travel Bag

Going beyond the beaches – adventure and wildlife, 6. a peek into costa rica's national parks.

Welcome to Costa Rica’s real gems! Home to 28 national parks, your trip isn’t complete without exploring at least a few.

Let’s get you glimpses of some absolute standout ones:

  • Manuel Antonio National Park : Known for its enchanting beaches and lush rainforest, it’s also a wildlife watcher’s paradise. Spot monkeys, iguanas, and even sloths!
  • Arenal Volcano National Park : Have a spectacular sight of the highly active volcano from the park’s various hiking trails.
  • Corcovado National Park : One of the most biodiversity-rich places on earth, Corcovado is perfect for adventure seekers and wildlife enthusiasts.
  • Cahuita National Park : A hidden gem featuring an exotic combination of beach and rainforest.

Remember, careful watch on footprints has kept the real Costa Rica alive here. The park entry fees go towards maintaining these beautiful habitats.

7. Wildlife spotting in Costa Rica

costa rica travel tips

Coming to Costa Rica and not spotting a sloth? Not possible! Costa Rica stands among the planet’s most biodiverse countries, and wildlife spotting is a thrilling adventure here.

Be prepared, pack your binoculars, and you can find:

  • Monkeys and Sloths : These mischievous creatures are pretty common. The Osa Peninsula is a great hotspot for animal enthusiasts.
  • Toucans : Want to spot the vibrant Toucans? Head to the Arenal Volcano area.
  • Macaws : Scarlet macaws paint the sky with colors as they fly overhead. Look for them around Playa Hermosa.
  • Wild Cats : Lucky enough, you might spot a Jaguar in the Corcovado National Park. Be patient though, they are elusive.

Remember, preserving wildlife is a conscious Costa Rican effort, and respecting these creatures will make your experience more rewarding.

Here are all the Best Things to Do in Costa Rica . 

Transportation Tips

8. renting a car vs. public transport.

When it comes to getting around in Costa Rica, you’ve got options – rent a car or use public transport.

Each has its merits:

  • Renting a Car : While it can be costly (starting at $80 a day), it offers extreme flexibility. It’s a game changer if you want to reach tourist hotspots early or visit remote places, where public transport is scarce.
  • Public Transport : Certainly cheaper. With buses transporting you to major tourist areas, it’s ideal if you’re on a stringent budget or solo journey. But be ready for some challenges navigating through the more remote areas.

Remember, your choice will directly impact your traveling experience. Plan wisely!

9. Safety measures and local rules for driving

costa rica travel tips

So you’ve picked your rental car? Before you hit the road, let’s get you up to speed with safety measures and local rules.

  • Expect Dirt Roads : In towns and cities, roads are well-paved, but elsewhere, anticipate rustic experiences. Patience, defensive driving, and avoiding potholes are the recipe for success.
  • Be Cautious at Night : Avoid driving long distances at night. Poor lighting, faded road lines, unpredictable weather, and local pedestrians are your chief adversities.
  • Beware of Unpredictable Drivers : Inhabitants might seem impatient and fast, which can seem scary to unsuspecting tourists. Stop signs and red lights can be a suggestion rather than a rule, especially late at night.
  • Insurance is a Must : Accidents happen. Ensure you’re covered.

Remember, awareness of your surroundings and understanding of the local driving culture make your journey safer.

Accommodation Options

10. budget-friendly places vs. luxury resorts.

Whether you’re a budget-conscious traveler or someone looking for a luxurious stay, Costa Rica is flexible enough to accommodate both.

  • Budget-friendly Places : Consider hostels, camping, and rental apartments. Hostels and campsites are the most affordable, often costing less than $15 per night. Beware, however, as they might lack some comfort. If you’re traveling with a group or want more facilities, look at rental apartments.
  • Luxury Resorts : If spending isn’t a concern and luxury is necessary, Costa Rica has some of the best resorts in Central America. Although a bit pricey, they provide an unforgettable stay experience with top-notch amenities, excellent food, and spectacular views.

Remember, whether you spend a dollar or a hundred, enjoy the most of your Costa Rican experience.

11. Going local with Costa Rican Airbnbs

Want a taste of real Costa Rican life? Try staying in a local Airbnb ! It’s more personal and often cheaper than hotels.

Finding a place with a kitchen can save you money by letting you cook. And let’s not overlook the charm of local hosts guiding you to the places only locals know!

Airbnb options widely vary, be it luxurious villas or rustic huts. Yet each offers a unique perspective of the Costa Rican lifestyle.

But remember, book early – popular places run out fast.

Experiencing Local Culture and Cuisine

12. authentic costa rican dishes you must try.

costa rica travel tips

Are you a foodie, too? Lucky for you, Costa Rican cuisine is simple, hearty, and delicious!

Here are some must-try Costa Rican dishes:

  • Gallo Pinto : A tasty and hearty breakfast of rice and beans. Calories are high but remember – they burn off quickly if you’re adventuring!
  • Casado : Beloved by locals, served for lunch or dinner, it’s a wholesome platter of rice and beans, some protein, and a side salad.
  • Ceviche : A perfect coastal treat, fresh raw fish is ‘cooked’ using lime juice and served chilled. Delicious and refreshing!

Remember, food is a culture’s identity. When you sample authentic local dishes, you taste a bit of Costa Rica’s history and identity.

13. The Pura Vida spirit – Understanding local customs and habits

“Pura Vida” – Pure Life. Beyond being just a phrase, Pura Vida is the philosophy of a nation. It’s about being happy and appreciating life’s simplicity. It’s used to say hello, goodbye, thank you — you name it!

Pura Vida symbolizes the Costa Rican mindset. For Ticos (Costa Ricans), life is not about worry and rush; it’s about taking things easy and enjoying every single moment.

It makes the locals some of the friendliest people you could ever meet. They respect nature, value family and social bonds, and, most importantly, know the fine art of relaxation.

Embrace the Pura Vida during your stay, and your trip will be an unforgettable one.

Essential Packing Tips

14. what to pack for a trip to costa rica.

costa rica travel tips

Did I pack everything I need? Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered.

Here’s your essential Costa Rican packing list:

  • Lightweight clothing for the tropical climate.
  • Go eco-friendly with a refillable water bottle—you’ll need to stay hydrated.
  • A sturdy pair of shoes for hiking through rainforests or up volcanoes.
  • A waterproof bag to protect valuable gadgets.
  • Sunscreen and bug spray—yes, it’s tropical!
  • A phrasebook or translator app to converse with locals.
  • Binoculars for those wildlife spotting adventures.

Remember, you’re visiting a haven of biodiversity, respect that fact by using eco-friendly products as much as possible.

Related Article: My Complete Costa Rica Packing List .

15. Gear up for some adventure

Ready to sail your boat in Costa Rican waters? Here’s some gear you’ll need for the most impactful experiences:

  • For Rafting and kayaking : Don a life vest, helmet, and grab an oar. Use protective gear: waterproof shoes, tennis shoes, or something similar.
  • Ziplining : Safety first! Ensure your harness, helmet, and security cable are properly in place before soaring across looming canopies.
  • ATV Riding : Live the adrenaline on four wheels! Wear your helmet, eye protection, and appropriate clothing, preferably boots and gloves.

Remember, adventure is fun, but safety comes first. It’s what makes the thrill worthwhile!

Health and Safety Considerations

16. about healthcare facilities and protection against common diseases.

Healthcare in Costa Rica is commendable and robust. Both public and private hospitals offer high-quality and affordable healthcare services. Pharmaceuticals are also readily available.

However, I recommend that you have adequate health insurance that covers medical evacuation. I use SafetyWing .

Costa Rica is a tropical country, and naturally, mosquitoes are a concern. Some diseases like Dengue Fever, Malaria, Chikungunya Virus, and Zika have occurred, however, their prevalence is quite low.

Wearing long sleeves, using bug repellent, and sleeping in air-conditioned or screened rooms can help prevent mosquito bites.

Remember, health is wealth – take good care.

17. Safety guidelines for travelers

costa rica travel tips

For an anxiety-free journey in Costa Rica, follow these safety guidelines:

  • Stay alert about your surroundings, especially in crowded places. Petty theft is the most common offense.
  • Do not walk alone at night, and avoid empty parking lots.
  • Keep your valuables in sight at all times and lock them up when left at the hotel.
  • Ensure you don’t leave any valuable items in the car or in an easily visible location.
  • Keep a copy of your passport handy at all times.

Remember, precautions are your safety net when traveling!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Is drinking tap water safe in costa rica.

Yes, the tap water is generally safe to drink in Costa Rica. However, most visitors opt for bottled water to err on the side of caution.

If you’re venturing into remote areas, it’s advisable to carry your water or check with your accommodation whether tap water is safe at that location.

For environment-friendly choices, consider carrying a refillable water bottle or a filtered water bottle. Stay hydrated!

How are the internet and cellular services in Costa Rica?

Saint Lucia Travel Tips

Reliable internet and good cell phone coverage are common in Costa Rica , especially in the urban areas. Many hotels provide free Wi-Fi, but it can get patchy the further you move from the lobby.

For consistent internet coverage during your trip, consider getting a local SIM card from popular carriers like Kolbi, Claro, or Movistar.

Also, be prepared for spotty cell phone reception in remote areas or in the mountains.

Do I need a visa to visit Costa Rica?

Travelers from the US, UK, European Union, and around 100 other countries do not need a visa to stay up to 90 days in Costa Rica.

However, confirming the latest visa requirements from your country’s embassy or consulate before your trip is best practice.

Remember, your passport should remain valid for a minimum of six months from your entry date into Costa Rica.

You may also be asked to show proof of return tickets or onward travel arrangements

What is the best month to go to Costa Rica?

costa rica travel tips

Costa Rica is blessed with good weather year-round, but the best time to visit depends on what you wish to do.

If beach lounging and suncatching are on your agenda, December through April — the dry season, is your best bet.

For fewer crowds, lush landscapes, and surfing, you might prefer the green season (May to November).

Remember, the Caribbean coast has a weather pattern that doesn’t always align with the rest of the country, and it might be a good option if you’re planning a trip in September or October.

Here is my complete list of The Top Beaches in Costa Rica .

Do they speak English in Costa Rica?

While the official language of Costa Rica is Spanish, you’ll find that many locals speak some English, especially in touristic areas. This is due to the high influx of tourists, and the residents’ interest and need to communicate with them.

However, don’t assume that everyone speaks English. Knowing a few basic Spanish words could make your trip smoother and more enjoyable. The locals always appreciate it, so why not give it a shot?

Made by travelers, for travelers, check out the Barefoot Caribou Products below!

Conclusions – Costa Rica Travel Tips

Making the most out of your costa rican trip - embrace pura vida.

As you pack your suitcase for this thrilling journey, remember one thing: Costa Rica’s beauty and charm lie in its simplicity and the Pura Vida spirit that echoes wherever you turn.

Forget your worries, gear up for Costa Rican adventures, taste the local cuisine, trek through the rainforest, lounge on the beaches, and make the most out of your Costa Rican voyage.

Living the Pura Vida means taking the time to soak in life’s beauty and truly appreciating the simple things. This is the secret to a fulfilling and joyous travel experience in Costa Rica. Embrace it, live it, love it!

I hope you enjoyed my 17 Costa Rica Travel Tips and you find them useful on your next trip. If I missed anything, Let me know in the comments below!

Picture of Chip Ge

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16 of the best things to do in Costa Rica

Mara Vorhees

Jun 27, 2024 • 9 min read

costa rica travel tips

Experience the best of Costa Rica with these top things to do © John Coletti / Getty Images

Come to Costa Rica to discover magnificent landscapes, endless outdoor activities and creatures great and small. This smallish Central American country offers a world of adventure, from water sports and mountain hikes to watching wildlife in the rainforest and birds in the cloud forest. 

And when you’re ready to take a break from outdoor activities, there are tree houses to sleep in, meals to relish and cities to explore. Here's our guide to the very best experiences you shouldn't miss in Costa Rica.

1. Fly through the clouds in Santa Elena

There are zip line courses all around the country – some higher or faster or longer than others – but the Santa Elena canopy tours are special.

The Costa Rica canopy craze started here, but more importantly, there’s something fantastic about soaring over the treetops with the clouds swirling all around you. Take in the misty magic of the cloud forest, supercharged with an adrenaline rush.

Planning tip : While zip-lining is on many people's Costa Rica travel list, make sure you check your operator's safety procedures before committing. It's also okay to change your mind when you're there – zip lining isn't for everyone.

2. Raft into the Pacuare Lodge

The Pacuare Lodge is a gorgeous, luxurious facility surrounded by dense rainforest and little else. The only road in is not a road at all, but rather a river: the namesake Río Pacuare. Here is a case where the journey rivals the destination, as you travel to the lodge by white-water rafting over Class III–IV rapids on this world-famous river.

The roar of the rapids, the spectacular scenery and the thrill of the ride make for a fantastic adventure – and you’re just getting started. Once at the lodge, you’ll enjoy sumptuous accommodations, incredibly satisfying meals, super-attentive service and a roster of activities before rafting back out again.

Planning tip: Pacuare Lodge packages include transportation to and from San José, but you can also have them deliver you anywhere on the Caribbean Coast.

A person walks on a beach in Nosara at sunset, surfboard in hand

3. Ride the waves

Surfers in the know plan their entire vacation around the wild and wonderful waves on the Costa Rica coastlines. If you're new to the surf scene, this is a fantastic place to find out what it’s all about thanks to inviting warm waters, long and luscious waves and non-stop good vibes.

The most popular surf destinations include Tamarindo , Nosara and Santa Teresa on the Nicoya Peninsula; Jacó , Dominical and Pavones on the central and south Pacific; and Puerto Viejo de Talamanca on the Caribbean side.

Note that any given destination has a few different surf spots, some of which are better for beginners and others that offer more challenging waves. They all enjoy a bit of a party scene, though Nosara and Santa Teresa are more laid-back.

Planning tip: Find the biggest waves on the Pacific coast from May to October (though the dry season is better for beginners). The waves are biggest on the Caribbean side from November to May.

4. Hike, swim and climb to La Leona Waterfall

This outing is more than a hike or a waterfall swim – it’s a canyoneering adventure. That’s the only way to describe this excursion down the Río Blanco in Curubandé de Liberia, which involves swimming, scrambling, spelunking, climbing and cliff jumping.

You’ll ogle three different waterfalls on the way, including a final celestial-blue beauty hidden inside a cave that's a real a stunner. 

Detour: This adventure takes place just outside of Parque Nacional Volcán Rincón de la Vieja , a great destination to see volcanic activity (more on that below) and soak in hot springs.

A tiny sea turtle peeks up from its nest in the sand on a Costa Rican Beach

5. Spy on nesting sea turtles

Every few years, female sea turtles perform an ancient ritual, returning to their natal beach to lay their eggs beneath the moonlight before heading back into the welcoming waters of the sea. Elsewhere on the same beach, tortuguita  (little turtle) hatchlings dig out of their nests and scurry to the sea. It’s an incredible and intimate episode to witness. 

Planning tip: The timing varies, depending on the location and turtle species, but you can see this spectacle of nature in Tortuguero in the north Caribbean and at Playa Grande and Playa Ostional on the Nicoya Peninsula.

6. Splurge on a multicourse meal in the sky

San Lucas is not just a restaurant; it's a dining experience – that is, a surprise nine-course menu that's also a lesson in Costa Rican history and culture.The food presentations are innovative, interesting and excellent overall, but the highlight is the fantastic setting in the sky. Each table occupies a private glass cube high atop a mountainside, overlooking the cloud forest and the village of Santa Elena below.

Planning tip: The San Lucas Treetop Dining Experience offers seatings at 12:30pm, 5pm and 8:30pm. If you reserve for the 5pm slot, your first course comes with a spectacular sunset.

7. Watch wildlife in Corcovado National Park

For wildlife watchers, there’s no better place in Costa Rica to meet fauna than the trails around Sirena station in Parque Nacional Corcovado , the last great original tract of tropical rainforest in Pacific Central America. Here, visitors have a good chance of seeing animals (some endangered) that are rare in other parts of the country, including peccaries, tapirs, crocodiles, tiny squirrel monkeys and more.

Planning tips:  Easier to reach and rich with life, the regions of Río Celeste and Sarapiquí have many eco-lodges and private reserves that are also fantastic for wildlife watching. Note that the best wildlife watching happens at dawn and dusk, which necessitates an overnight stay in the park.

On the Sendero Las Coladas in Arenal Volcano National Park, a tourist climbs over the rocky remnants of the southernmost lava fields from the last major eruption of the Arenal Volcano in 1968.

8. Explore an active volcano

The mountains of northern and central Costa Rica are lined up in a row of hissing, steaming, sputtering volcanoes, some of which are open for exploration.Wander among boiling mud pots and steaming fumaroles of Volcán Rincón de la Vieja ; hike the lava flows and soak in volcanic-heated pools at Volcán Arenal ; peer into the steaming crater at Poás and leave footprints in the lava fields of Irazú. Each experience is a little different, but all will leave you awestruck at the earth’s unbridled power.

9. Kayak through sea caves

Along the Costa Ballena on the southern Pacific coast, Playa Ventanas is a small but spectacular palm-backed beach that has a special feature: intriguing caves in the cliffs at its north end. At low tide, you can investigate the two caves that open onto the beach (taking care to retreat if the water starts to rise). But if you’re up for a challenge, you can paddle a kayak along the gorgeous coastline and explore the cliffs and sea caves along the way.

Planning tip: The sea caves are only accessible in certain weather conditions, and they are often impassable during the rainy season. Book tours in Uvita.

A turquoise and scarlet resplendent quetzal soaring through the trees with wings spread

10. See some magnificent birds

Even if you’re not a bird nerd, it’s easy to geek out about the avian life in Costa Rica. Of course, there are myriad multicolored beauties that you’ll see flitting about pretty much everywhere; then there are a few showstoppers – rare in other parts of the world but relatively easy to see in Costa Rica (if you know where to look).

Most famously, the scarlet macaw has made an incredible comeback along the Pacific coast, with sightings practically guaranteed in Parque Nacional Carara and on the Osa Peninsula. The aptly named resplendent quetzal makes seasonal appearances in the cloud forests of Monteverde and the Dota region . And the great green macaw – still critically endangered – is sometimes spotted in Sarapiquí and Boca Tapada. Getting a glimpse of these gorgeous creatures in the wild is an awesome and inspiring experience that might just turn you into a bona fide birder.

11. Sleep in a tree house

In the wilds of northern Costa Rica, surrounded by lush forestlands, you can indulge your inner monkey and spend the night in the treetops.

On the edge of its eponymous wildlife refuge, Maquenque Eco-Lodge has a collection of fantastic tree houses – each constructed amid the leafy canopy, 12m (39ft) off the ground and surrounded by trees. With wide balconies, outdoor showers and screen walls, the tree houses offer complete rainforest immersion with a touch of luxury. It’s a 10-minute walk to the main lodge (or a quick buzz on the walkie-talkie, in case of emergency). 

Detour: On your way to or from the hub town of Boca Tapada, stop in at the restaurant Centro Familiar Cuyito to try to glimpse a pair of great green macaws nesting in a wild avocado tree on the grounds.

Small groups of people in bathing suits gathered on the rocky ground around Montezuma Falls in Costa Rica

12. Cool off under a waterfall

There’s no more exhilarating plunge than one beneath the downpour of a wild waterfall. And Costa Rica has no shortage of glorious cascades – many of which are swimmable. One fan favorite is Montezuma Waterfalls , on the outskirts of the eponymous village. It requires a rugged hike, but the reward is a triple-tiered catarata , with a thrilling (and chilling) cliff jump from the top.

Detour: If you can’t get enough, El Chorro Waterfall  is another highlight in Montezuma. It’s a long hot hike, but the cascade – which falls from a high cliff directly into the ocean – is worth the effort.

13. Discover what happens after dark

Some 70% of animals are most active at night. Take a night hike with a nature guide to find out who they are and what they’re doing in the dark.

Night tours are popular in the main rainforest destinations in Costa Rica, including La Fortuna , Sarapiquí, Río Celeste and Manuel Antonio . You’re bound to see plenty of bugs and bats, frogs and snakes, but you might also catch a glimpse of a nocturnal mammal, such as a kinkajou or a tree possum.

A traditional passenger boat navigating the muddy-looking Tortuguero canal in Costa Rica

14. Cruise a jungle lagoon

One of the most rewarding ways to see wildlife in Costa Rica is to take a cruise through the jungly canals of Tortuguero  or the wild wetlands of Caño Negro . From the comfort of your boat, you’re likely to see several species of monkeys, two- and three-toed sloths, green iguanas, striped basilisks, caimans and crocs, not to mention incredible birdlife.

15. Witness a bay bathed in bioluminescence

Some aquatic organisms contain luciferin, which reacts with oxygen to produce a sparkly light. This magical glow in the water is called bioluminescence, and it lights up the coves of Ballena Bay, near Tambor on the Nicoya Peninsula. Bioluminescent tours depart from Santa Teresa, Montezuma or Tambor itself, giving you a chance to kayak over ethereal, illuminated waters. Remember, swimming in bioluminescent waters can cause harm to the glow bacteria.

Planning tip: Save some cash by driving yourself to Playa Pochote and booking a bioluminescence tour at Don Trino campground, where tours are far less expensive than in the larger towns. 

16. Take a city break in San José

You probably came to Costa Rica for wild animals and outdoor adventure. But guess what? San José is a cool, creative capital, packed with historic architecture, unique museums and trendy cafes and clubs.

Don’t miss the Museo del Jade for its insightful exhibits about pre-Columbian cultures and the  Teatro Nacional for its artistic misrepresentations of Costa Rican culture. Best of all, Barrio Escalante has the best dining scene in the city – if not the country – so here’s your chance to dig in before heading out to the land of rice and beans.

This article was first published Feb 7, 2023 and updated Jun 27, 2024.

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Costa Rica Travel Information

Important Things to Know About Costa Rica Before You Go

June 1, 2024 By Sammi 87 Comments

Although there is a lot of information about Costa Rica on the web, there is still so much misinformation. So the goal of this post is to share with you the most important things to know about Costa Rica before your visit. This is coming from a Costa Rican-American couple who has been traveling around Costa Rica together for over ten years and we want to share that knowledge with you whether you’re a first time visitor or repeat visitor.

Here are 17 things to know about Costa Rica before you visit.

There are affiliate links in this post.

1. Costa Rica is not as cheap people think

This is one of the most important things to know about Costa Rica. Many people assume that Central America automatically equals cheap travel. This is the biggest common misconception about Costa Rica . Yes, other Central American countries like Guatemala and Nicaragua are cheap to travel, but it is not the same in Costa Rica.

Those who don’t know this about Costa Rica get an unfortunate surprise when they see prices here. Tours can easily cost $150+ USD a person, food can be the same price as Canada/USA/Europe and gas has always been more expensive at around $5-6 USD a gallon. Without careful planning, you can blow through hundreds of dollars fairly quickly. The Costa Rican colón has gotten stronger against the US Dollar so you’ll need to watch your wallet if you’re on a tight budget.

But we can help! Read about the cost of Costa Rica in these posts to help you stay within your budget. Also don’t forget to take advantage of our Costa Rica deals . We have discounts for car rentals, tours and hotels.

  • Cost of traveling in Costa Rica : See how much food, transportation, tours, hotels and souvenirs cost.
  • Save money in Costa Rica: Our local insider tips for saving money traveling in Costa Rica.
  • Cheap things to do in Costa Rica : Activities under $20 USD.
  • 1 week Costa Rica budget : See how much 3 people spent in Costa Rica for 1 week.

2. Costa Rica is a small country but it takes longer than it seems to get around

Costa Rica is a little smaller than West Virginia and Denmark so it’s easy to think you can road trip and see the entire country in a week. Technically you can, but trust me, that wouldn’t be very fun!

This is because of the not so great infrastructure. Therefore, driving times in Costa Rica are never as the crows fly. The average speed limit on the highways here is 80 kmph (~50 mph) but you will be extremely lucky if you go that speed your entire drive, or even half your drive. Many routes have only one lane which causes tons of congestion and traffic as all the trailer trucks use the same route. There is no one road that goes all around Costa Rica either that easily connects coast to coast.

So when planning out your driving routes, make expect your drive to take longer than what your GPS says whether you’re using a GPS device, Google Maps or Waze. Read more about getting around Costa Rica here to plan out your trip.

For example, Tamarindo to San Jose is 259 kilometers or 161 miles. On a good day if we leave at like, midnight or 4 in the morning, it takes us 4.5 hours. However, due to lots of construction and more people on the road, the average drive time now is 5.5 hours. One time it took us 10 hours because an deadly accident occurred on the one lane roads. Unfortunately we were standstill for 2 hours and ended up arriving in San Jose during rush hour which then took us another few hours.

This is one of the mistakes to avoid when traveling in Costa Rica . Don’t try to drive everywhere, don’t drive cross country routes everyday and always know that your drive will take longer than what the GPS says. For a one week trip it’s best to choose 2 destinations or pick a home base and do day trips. Plan smart, travel easy.

3. Tap water is safe to drink in Costa Rica

In the Central Valley cities, you can indeed drink the tap water. We have no problem drinking tap water in San Jose, Heredia, Cartago and some mountain areas like Monteverde.

Though tap water is generally safe to drink, I still recommend bringing a filter if you’re sensitive. You can also help the environment by bringing an insulated water bottle and filters instead of buying bottled water.

However, more remote and rural places generally don’t have drinkable tap water or the tap water is high in calcium/minerals, which can cause upset stomach to those not used to it. These are places like Tortuguero , Osa Peninsula , the Guanacaste coast , Costa Ballena, Nicoya Peninsula , Sarapiqui and Golfito. Hotels will indicate whether the water is safe and tour guides will let you know which faucets to use. Some hotels will have a bottled water station for you to fill up your bottles.

Read more about drinking tap water in Costa Rica.

4. Dengue, not malaria is the main disease from mosquitoes in Costa Rica

The mosquito borne disease travelers should concern themselves with in Costa Rica is dengue fever, not malaria. Costa Rica has many more cases of dengue than Malaria and Zika.

Remember, mosquitoes are in Costa Rica year round and are worse in rainy season. Mosquitoes breed in stagnant water so bring plenty of repellent and cover up. Read our tips for protecting yourself against mosquitoes in Costa Rica.

Extra travel safety tip: Make sure to purchase travel insurance just in case you do catch something! You can read more about Costa Rica travel insurance in this post.

5. Costa Rica gets cold but it doesn’t snow

Costa Rica experiences typical tropical weather but it has many micro-climates. It doesn’t snow but it does get quite cold in some areas due to the high elevation. You can read more about Costa Rica weather in this post.

things to know about Costa Rica before you go - Irazu Volcano

Some of the colder areas are Monteverde , Poas, Vara Blanca, San Isidro de Perez Zeledon, Chirripo and San Gerardo de Dota . Temperatures in those areas can get down to 50s° Fahrenheit (10° C) at night. In Chirripo, the highest mountain in Costa Rica (elevation ~3800 meters or 12000 feet) can get frost as the coldest recorded night time temperatures were around -5° C (23° F). The coasts are always hot, mostly in the 80s° and 90s° Fahrenheit (27° – 32° C) during the day.

Make sure to research the area you are visiting so you come prepared. For packing tips, check out our Costa Rica packing list to see what you need to bring for different activities and destinations. Our must have items are an insulated water bottle , microfiber to wel, battery pack , sunscreen SPF 50 , sunglasses, dry fast clothes and mosquito repellent .

6. US dollars are readily accepted and are the standard currency in tourism

Hotels and tour companies quote their prices in USD in Costa Rica. This is normal in tourism. Additionally, Costa Ricans can have bank accounts in USD as mortgages and car payments are quoted in USD. US dollars have become the standard currency in tourism.

So when you’re trying to get your money together, don’t stress too much about exchanging it all beforehand as it’s not 100% necessary if you are from the USA. USD is accepted in pretty much every touristic destination and you can choose to pay in USD or CRC, even if it’s quoted in CRC.

If you are Canadian however, it will be better for you to have Costa Rican currency due to the Canadian dollar and USD exchange rate. Ask the hotels or tour companies if you can pay in colones instead and how much the exchange would be. Canadian dollars and other currencies are not accepted in Costa Rica, only USD.

Also make sure you check what the exchange rate is. The exchange rate changes everyday, sometimes even hour so you need to check. The current the exchange rate is around 500 CRC to 1 USD. The best place to exchange currency is at the bank, not at the airport exchange rate booth.

Read more about handling money in Costa Rica.

Tip for exchanging currency: supermarkets accept USD and if you pay in USD, they will give you your change back in Costa Rican colones. Easy way to exchange money without having to go to the bank. Just make sure to calculate the exchange rate. The supermarket should have a sign of the exchange rate for the day near the front or by the cashier.

7. You can still visit Costa Rica in rainy season and have a great time!

Dry season in Costa Rica has the best weather. Thanks to the sunny days, it is also our high tourism season because everyone wants to escape the winter up north.

Costa Rica’s rainy season is around beginning of M a y to end of November/beginning of December. The rainiest months for most of Costa Rica is October and then November and June for the Caribbean.

Yes it rains and you do need to pack and research more for rainy season. But you will still have a great time! Check out our Costa Rica rainy season packing list for tips.

Here are some other things to know about why it’s actually awesome to visit Costa Rica in rainy season.

  • Rainy season is also Costa Rica’s low season. This means less tourists, particularly in the months of May, September and October.
  • Prices for hotels and tours go down and businesses throw lots of promos in October. It’s the best time to travel cheap in Costa Rica.
  • A typical rainy season day is sunny and hot in the morning, cloudy in the afternoon and rainy in the evening/night.
  • Rainy season is the best time to see certain wildlife like humpback whales and turtles .

To read more about visiting Costa Rica in rainy season , click the link. Personally, we love rainy season in Costa Rica. Less crowds, not as hot, more wildlife and it’s cheaper!

8. Sloths aren’t everywhere (sorry)

As much as I hate to break it to you, sloths aren’t everywhere. I know Costa Rica markets their cuddly sloths so much it seems that the roads are crawling with them but it’s not true. Sloths, being the masters of camouflage, are normally very difficult to see without a guide or trained eye.

things to know about Costa Rica before you go - sloths

Additionally, there are some places where sloths aren’t found in Costa Rica which a lot of tourists don’t realize. For example, it is incredibly difficult to see one in Guanacaste due to the extremely dry climate. But if you visit the South Pacific or the Caribbean coast, sloths are much more common thanks to the lush rainforest.

One of the main “complaints” I’ve heard from visitors is that they didn’t see a sloth. I asked them where they were in Costa Rica and many of them were at the Pacific coast or in the city where sloths don’t live. If you want to see a sloth, then you need to go to where they live! Find out where are the best places to see sloths in Costa Rica in our guide.

To make sure you see a sloth, hire a guide. They have trained eyes and will have binoculars or telescopes to find them. If you’re staying on the Guanacaste coast and want to see sloths, check out this awesome Rainforest and Sloth day trip !

9. Police can stop and ask for your papers at any time

In Costa Rica, police are legally allowed to stop any car and ask for papers. Always have a color copy of your passport and photo of your tourist stamp with you. Remember that to legally drive in Costa Rica as a tourist, you need to have your original passport (not a color copy), your original driver’s license and a valid tourist stamp with you.

If a police stops you, they’ll ask you for your passport, ask you where you’re going and then send you on your way. Most of the time they don’t ask anything else and many of them speak some very basic English.

Also something else to note is that the police in Costa Rica are generally very nice. They don’t have a “shoot first ask later” mentality here and are willing to help tourists out. Likewise, there is a tourist police (policia turistica) that are specifically to help tourists so don’t be afraid to ask them questions.

10. Wi-Fi is readily available…

…at hotels. It is common for hotels to offer free Wi-Fi and many of them have it available throughout the whole property. Some hotels may only have it in reception but it is free.

However, it’s hard to find open Wi-Fi in public places. It’s not like NYC where you can find a Starbucks and use the free Wi-Fi. If you see a restaurant with a secure Wi-Fi connection, you can ask them for the password. I’ve found most places are OK with giving it out as long as you are a customer.

If you always want Internet during your time in Costa Rica, we highly recommend getting a prepaid SIM card for your phone or renting a Wifi hot spot. Find out how to get a prepaid SIM card in Costa Rica . Car rentals also have Wi-Fi hot spots for rent.

Travel tip: The way SIM cards work is you will take out the existing SIM card in your smartphone you use at home and put in the Costa Rican one. Now your phone will be on the Costa Rican network so you can make local calls and texts in Costa Rica and be able to go on the Internet. Your phone number from home will NOT work anymore. A prepaid SIM card will subtract the credit used from calls/texts/internet from your balance accordingly. When your balance is low, you can add more credit to it at a supermarket or cell phone store. If your phone has eSIM, eSIM is also available in Costa Rica. We personally use Airalo when we travel abroad, and they have plans in Costa Rica. Get 10% off your eSIM plan with Airalo using our promo code “mytanfeet”!

11. The standard tipping amount is 10%

This is something important to know about Costa Rica. First of all, tipping is not absolutely mandatory in Costa Rica. This is because tip, or service tax, is normally already included in the price so Costa Ricans don’t tip extra. Service tax is 10% in Costa Rica.

However, if you would like to tip your guide, driver, hotel maid, etc. you may do so and it is very well appreciated. The standard amount to tip in Costa Rica is 10% and you can tip in Costa Rican colones or USD. You can tip more or less depending on how you feel the service was.

Read more about tipping in Costa Rica in this post.

12. You must drive defensively in Costa Rica!

People are always surprised by the driving in Costa Rica . It’s something I warn people about when they are renting a car in Costa Rica because the driving here is not well organized due to the not so great infrastructure.

Simply stated, always drive defensively, especially in the cities. Don’t get stressed out or mad because it is a fact that you will get cut off and tailgated. You will see cars jump the line, not heed stop signs, run red lights and not use blinkers.

Of course not all Costa Ricans drive this way but for the most part, it is like that, especially in the cities. Once you get out to the rural areas, it’s much more relaxed since there are less cars but you still need to drive defensively due to the infrastructure. There are always people, dogs, chickens, cows and other things in the middle of the narrow road thanks to lack of sidewalks, street signs and street lights. Get our Costa Rica car rental discount here and save some $$!

13. San Jose’s not as bad as people make it out to be…

…for a day. San Jose is not the biggest nor prettiest capital city but it does have some hidden gems. You do not need many days in San Jose, just a day, day and a half or two is enough. You can find some of the best restaurants and craft beer in San Jose!

Then there are the cultural treasures: the National Theater and museums. Any history lover will want to stop by the city as there are few museums of this quality anywhere else in the country.

things to know about Costa Rica before you go - San Jose

So when it comes down to it, San Jose really isn’t as bad as people make it out to be for 1 or 2 days. And honestly, it is the best place to experience Costa Rican life since over 1 million Ticos live and work in the capital city (out of a population of ~5 million).

Also, we know many tourists who use San Jose as their home base and book day trips for their vacation. San Jose is centrally located so you can see many beautiful places on a day excursion.

Have a few days in San Jose? Check out our San Jose, Costa Rica travel guide for the best things to do or our San Jose day trips post. You can even get our San Jose tours discount to save some money!

14. English is widely spoken but not all Costa Ricans speak English

People assume that because Costa Rica is a touristic country and that there are so many North Americans here, that all the locals know English. Though many Costa Ricans know a degree of English, not all of them do. The Costa Ricans with higher education and who work in tourism, real estate or call centers are generally fluent in English.

But don’t assume that all Costa Ricans know English. For tourists, you can get around Costa Rica without knowing Spanish, but it is helpful to learn at least the basic words. You can download our handy Costa Rica Spanish cheat sheet to learn a little. Personally, we always learn how to say the basics like hello and thank you in the language of the country we’re visiting to be polite.

15. It gets dark by 6 PM everyday in Costa Rica

And the sun rises around 6 AM everyday since Costa Rica is only 8-12 degrees from the equator. It changes only about 15 minutes throughout the year. Being a tropical country, Costa Rica doesn’t have Daylight Savings Time either.

So make sure to take into account that it gets dark by 6 PM everyday when planning your trip. Many places close at 5 PM too, not many places open late night nor are there really any 24 hour supermarkets or restaurants. In Costa Rica, you will learn to enjoy the early mornings. Plus, it’s a bit hard to sleep in with so many monkeys howling and birds chirping at 5 AM!

Personal tip: we don’t recommend to drive long distances after dark or to walk on the beach or streets at sunrise or after sunset.

16. Costa Rica doesn’t have much in common with Mexico

For some reason, many foreigners think Costa Rica is like Mexico. But Costa Rica and Mexico are completely different!

Costa Rican food isn’t like Mexican food at all and even the Spanish is different. In Costa Rica, they don’t say andale andale or anything like that. They are two completely different countries with their own cultures, traditions and customs.

So when you visit Costa Rica, don’t crack any jokes about Costa Rica being Mexico or Costa Ricans as Mexicans. It’s one of the points about being a responsible traveler and as guests in a country, we have to be respectful.

PS. Costa Rica is not Puerto Rico either. For some reason lots of people get these two mixed up! We get a lot of “Costo Rico” or “Costa Rico” comments. People even think Costa Rica is an island, which it is not. We have even had people book their flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico instead of San Jose, Costa Rica! Do not make this mistake when planning your trip to Costa Rica!

17. Costa Rica doesn’t have a military and theft is the most common crime against tourists

Did you know that Costa Rica is one of 23 countries in the world with no military? There is only the police force, the OIJ and GAO (like a SWAT team). Because of the lack of military, Costa Rica is a a peaceful country, making it one of the safest countries in Latin America for traveling, especially families.

The most common crime in Costa Rica is theft: car/house break ins and pick pockets. To prevent this, a lot of it is common sense and a heightened sense of awareness. Don’t hang your purse on the back of your chair, don’t put your backpack in the overhead compartment or under your seat of the bus, don’t leave your wallet on the dashboard of your car, don’t leave your car windows open.

So when you’re traveling in Costa Rica, make sure to always lock the door, roll up the windows, have one person stay with your stuff at all times and don’t leave any valuables visible in the car. Don’t park in remote, dark areas. Don’t leave your belongings unattended on the beach. Use your common sense. Be alert and aware.

You can read more Costa Rica safety tips here and our Costa Rica tourist scams.

Read more Costa Rica travel tips below!

Types of accommodation in Costa Rica

How to get around Costa Rica

1 Costa Rica week itinerary

50 things to do in Costa Rica

Costa Rica Vacation Checklist

  • First time to Costa Rica? Read our First Time in Costa Rica guide.
  • Not sure how to move around Costa Rica? Read our How to Get Around Costa Rica guide to find the best transportation method for you.
  • Click the link to get our detailed Costa Rica Packing List so you know what essential items to bring.
  • Do not forget to purchase Travel Insurance for your trip to Costa Rica.
  • Stay connected by purchasing a prepaid SIM Card in Costa Rica. Get 10% off your Airalo eSIM package with our promo code “mytanfeet”
  • Save money with Mytanfeet Deals for tours and hotels. Save more money with our Costa Rica Car Rental Discount.

Join our mailing list and get our free Costa Rica eBook!  

Reader Interactions

Evelyn Burgos says

April 24, 2024

Please help.

I am a solo traveler staying by the San Jose airport for two days before heading to a private yoga retreat in the mountains of Alajuela. I arrive in CR within 24 hours.

This will be my 5th visit to Costa Rica. It’s my 4th to Alajuela. I rented a car, but never ever drove during any of my past visits.

I plan to visit Jaco Beach and go clothes shopping. How challenging is the drive to Jaco Beach as a fist timer? Will the GPS (Waze) on my Phone work? Can you recommend a shopping district in San Jose or Alajuela?

It’s easy to drive to Jaco but if you don’t want to worry about driving, I’d just take a shared shuttle or public bus.

Harriet says

February 4, 2024

Hi, thank you for all the really helpful information. We are coming to CR in December for 8 days with our two young teenagers. We don’t want to move around too much, my husband is keen really for one spot. Would you recommend Nicoya peninsula or Osa peninsula ? Thank you so much!

May 2, 2024

Those places are extremely different so it depends on a bunch of things. You can read our guides to get more information. Osa Peninsula and Nicoya Peninsula

January 29, 2024

Hi! How important is it to have our passports with us if traveling by car around town? I’m worried about losing them if we have them with us at all times, going to Manuel Antionio National Park, to dinner, etc. Thinking I’d rather risk not having them and getting pulled over than losing them…

February 1, 2024

Foreigners are supposed to have their original passport and drivers license with them when they drive per law…around town there wouldn’t be a high chance of being pulled over but if you get into an incident even in town which involves police and you don’t have your documents with you, it will be an issue.

July 11, 2023

So informative! This helped greatly!

Edison Scott says

November 12, 2022

I would like to drive from Liberia to Montezuma but road maps are unclear. Is this a good idea and are the roads clearly marked? Feb 1 11 2023

December 16, 2022

You should go around the peninsula, don’t take any of the roads that go through the peninsula. Stick to the road around it which is the main road

November 8, 2022

I’m coming to Costa Rica in January with my husband and three year old daughter. The thing I’m most scared about is Dengue, especially as we cannot use Deet on a 3 year old. Any recommendations? Our first stop is Cahuita. I’m so nervous that I’m wondering if it’s still a good idea to come.

It’s not very common to get dengue to be honest, I cannot say it will never happen but it’s not rampant that everyone who visits Costa Rica gets dengue… I’ve been here 10+ years on the coast and never got it, Yeison’s never got it and he grew up here and I don’t know any of my friends who have gotten it and only a couple of Yeison’s Costa Rican friends who were all naturalist guides have gotten it. Covering up is the best protection and there are many natural repellents now without DEET.

November 20, 2021

We are planning to take our kids to CR soon. We are concerned about safety above all else. Is it a bad idea to pack our belongings and then go to the beach (leaving our suitcases in the car) the day we go to the airport? Also, what do you recommend as far as COVID testing before we head for home? We must test negative before we can fly back and aren’t sure when/where to do this. We have a packed agenda and are hopeful we can do some adventures in both the Arenal area as well as Tamarindo before we head for home. Is that too ambitious for a week trip? Thanks for any tips.

November 26, 2021

Hello Nic, we don’t really recommend to leave valuables and belongings alone in the car to an unsecure parking, there are lots of places that offer COVID testing in Costa Rica, many hotels even offer in-hotel services.

Amanda says

October 26, 2022

I spent 6 months in Costa Rica as a 19-year old woman and never had a problem, even in the city. Other than cat calling but I get that in the US too.

September 18, 2021

Hi. This was really helpful. I am visiting Utiva in October and this is my first time staying in an air bnb opposed to a resort and I’m quite nervous I’m forgetting things.

We fly into San Jose, then the next morning we have a flight through Sansa to Quepos to get to Utiva. Does that sound right?

Also, I have no idea what to do when we get there lol. I’m just winging it I guess. Any advice on this area?

September 23, 2021

Hi Kelli, you can check our Uvita, Costa Rica post for more information. Have a nice time.

June 26, 2021

I’m bringing my teen boys to Playa Grande near Tamarindo in July for surfing. I’d love to do something besides watching them surf all day every day. Any recommendations on where we can drive for a day trip to see/hike to beautiful waterfalls?

I would definitely check out Rio Celeste and/or Catarata Llanos de Cortes

Adrienne Campolmi says

March 20, 2021

Hi – We are planning a 10 day to 2 week trip to CR in the beginning of August. We would like to split our time by between beach and wildlife. We will be traveling with our two teenage sons. However, one of our children has developmental disabilities. He will be unable to participate in some activities ( for example; snorkel, difficult hikes and zip lining). Are there areas you could recommend for both beach and cloud / rainforest ? We are thinking of flying into Liberia but we can be open to San Jose as well. We would love to hear your input. thank you

March 25, 2021

Hello Adrienne, there isn’t 1 destination in Costa Rica that has both beach and cloud forest because cloud forest is high up over 1500 meters in elevation and the beach is on the coast.

For cloud forest, Monteverde is the most common one, then for beach there are many beach towns close to Liberia Airport like Playas del Coco, Costa Rica which would be a nice, quiet beach town.

February 28, 2021

Hi Sammi, what a great blog!! Found so much helpful information. Do you think the wifi at hotels or in air bnbs will be stable enought for (business) video calls? Is it depending on the area? Thanks again!

March 2, 2021

Hello Sarah, it really depends on the hotel and area. We have been in a couple hotels that actually had fiber optic and then we have been in hotels with like 2 mb speed internet and horrible. I would read reviews of each place to see if anyone says anything about the internet.

June 20, 2019

My boyfriend and I are headed to Costa Rica this upcoming July. Place we are planning to visit include: Monteverde, La fortuna, Playa hermosa, and Tamarindo. Do you recommend a 4X4 car for this trip?

June 21, 2019

Hi Nat, for Monteverde it is recommended to have a higher car, especially in rainy season. A 4×4 is not a must but a higher car or 4wd is usually fine.

March 25, 2019

Great info!

I am leaving the country Jan. 2020 and have been looking for a good place to start my journey. I think I have decided on starting in Costa Rica.

Your post has really helped me with some questions I’ve had about Costa Rica.

Sissel says

December 27, 2018

Thank you very much for all this great information we are looking so much forward to our one month trip from cold Norway in January. We will visit osa the tree first weeks, 2 weeks at bosquelcabo and one week at the beach, Punta preciosa before we visit leaves and lizards near bye vulkano and hot springs with horses.

Suzanne says

December 4, 2018

I have been loving all your tips about Costa Rica and looking forward to coming later this month. I can’t find any useful info about drinks. I understand that it’s a good idea to bring spirits but what about wine? Is it really expensive? Is it Ok to drink? I don’t want to spend $15 per bottle…..

Hi Suzanne! So wine is pretty expensive here if you want to get a nice bottle… Costa Rica does have their own wine but it’s box wine and around $6 a box. If you want nice wine, like from Italy or Chile, it can get expensive. If you want reallllly nice wine, it can get up to $100 but you can find wine of all qualities and prices.

GSE Solutions says

I have just found this site and is really helpful, it is great you have included some basic Spanish words as well, thank you!

October 25, 2018

You don’t need a specific stamp to drive a car, you just need the normal tourist stamp you will get when you go through immigration. How long the visa lasts will depend on your passport, you can read the immigration and customs requirements for each country here: Costa Rica entry requirements

It is better to use a GPS device, Waze the GPS app works best in Costa Rica.

Jacqueline says

Where do we get the tourist stamp to drive a car in Costa Rica? How long is the stamp good for? If were driving, should we to use a map or is it better to use GPS?

Jasmine Aguayo says

April 19, 2018

Thank you SO much for this! It is so helpful and I cannot wait to read everything else you have on Costa Rica! I am planning on visiting in late July, and we are going to be staying in Tamarindo! Any recommendations or do you suggest we stay somewhere else?

Thank so much!

Hi Jasmine! You are very welcome. We have written several articles about Tamarindo you can read here: Things to do in Tamarindo and Tamarindo Costa Rica

Ting-Ting says

March 14, 2018

Before anything, I want to give a huge thanks to you for making this website and being so helpful anyone that’s planning to visit Costa Rica. It’s real rare to see videos of driving on the actual road. Your advises are thoroughly explained and it’s just heart warming to know that someone out there is looking out for first time traveler like me. My boyfriend and I are going to Costa Rica the first week of April. We’re going for ten days and are hopping from San Jose to Manuel Antonio National Park, La Fortuna, and finally the coast for beautiful beaches. As for La Fortuna, I’ve noticed that both the Waterfall and Arenal closes at 4pm. What do you recommend for activities after 4pm? Also, which beach do you recommend going first?

March 15, 2018

Hi Ting Ting, I’m glad that the blog has been helpful for your trip planning! If you want to hike, I recommend going to the Arenal 1968 private reserve which is right next to the national park but it closes at 6 PM. This is a really nice reserve with hiking trails and great view points. You can read about it here: Arenal 1968

And of course you have to visit the hot springs which this area is famous for. There are several in Arenal and best to go at night when the temperature is cooler so you can enjoy the hot water more. You can read more about them here: Best Arenal hot springs

As for beaches, which coast will you be going to? Guanacaste coast or the Central/South Pacific coast?

Colleen Corbett says

February 20, 2018

This is so helpful! I can’t wait to read all your posts before my trip in April

February 21, 2018

Hi Colleen, glad it’s helpful!

January 11, 2018

Your whole site has been so helpful for my sister and I, who are planning a 2 week trip in February. I’ve soaked up all your advice and especially value your local knowledge and personal-experience based insights, which I have no doubt are going to be useful to us – Thank you so much!

Hi Kenda! Aw we’re so happy to hear that! Our main goal for Mytanfeet is to help as many people as possible have a safe and fun time in Costa Rica so I’m glad to hear that. If there is any topic you’d like us to cover, please feel free to let us know and we will do our best 🙂

January 22, 2018

Don’t forget to be vigilant if you go to Costa Rica. My friend just returned from there where he was robbed and beaten, and he’s still in the hospital.

From what I gather, this is nothing new as several Americans that I’ve talked to have either been targeted in some way, robbed, or had their stuff stolen from them in during break-ins while they were gone exploring.

You would be better off- or safer- if you considered a different country. I figure it was worth mentioning.

Stacey says

July 21, 2017

Thanks for the tips! Just returned from CR. Definitely found your info to be true-it takes a very long time to get places. We did not get to do many of the things we wanted. Plus when the Braulio Carrillo park at Volcan Barva did not open on time at 8am, it put us behind and unable to complete the day’s adventure. (We wanted to visit from both entrances but not enough time to drive around before they closed at 3:30. We still had a great visit though!) we did see a sloth but only thanks to a local kind enough to take the time to point it out-would never have seen it otherwise.

Also, it was chilly to cold most of the time. Being from the Gulf Coast of the US we expected temps/climate to be similar. But with the rain and altitude we were never really hot. Very glad we brought rain gear for our hikes!

Great adventure in CR. Just wish we had more time….

Hi Stacey! Yes definitely that’s one of the greatest (and most confusing) thing about Cost Rica is that there are soo many places to go but it’s so hard to get around, even with a car because of times and schedules for places opening, traffic and long drives. Right now is rainy season so it does get pretty cold in the mountains and central Valley. Always best to bring a rain jacket!

Glad you enjoyed CR and hopefully next time you can come back for longer!

May 12, 2017

Hi Janice, you can read our post for recommendations and ideas for best places to stay: Best places in Costa Rica for first timers

Janice says

May 10, 2017

Where is the best location to stay.. I am confused with all the different areas. I want to do the ATV, zip lining, beach and see the volcanos

April 26, 2017

Hi Chayanne, thanks for your kind words and glad the blog is helpful! I don’t know where your house is in Ojochal but many of the houses in that area are up in the mountains and the road into Ojochal is not paved, so a 4×4 is a good idea especially for that area. A lot of roads in the Costa Ballena up in the mountains are steep and unpaved so they do require a 4×4.

There aren’t many ziplining tours in that area but there is a private reserve, Hacienda Baru near Dominical that has one. We visited it last year and wrote about it here: Hacienda Baru . It’s about 20-30 minutes driving from Ojochal.

There should be taxis in Ojochal but since it’s not a super touristic area, I wouldn’t count on taxis as your main form of transportation. It’s good you’re renting a car because that area is hard to get around without one (you’ll see lots of people hitchhiking). It’s best to have a car, or hire a private driver but that can get expensive. Uber only exists in San Jose.

Have a great time!

Chayanne says

April 25, 2017

I LOVE your article and have been reading all of the comments. My boyfriend & I are flying in to San Jose & driving to a house we rented in Ojochal. It appears that our house is near “Tortuga Arriba” & “Calle del Bosque”. Would you ancipate this is a tough drive? We plant to rent a 4×4 and have planned on about a 4 hour drive.

Also- is there a zip lining place in Ojochal you can reccomend?

Lastly- is there a taxi service that could pick us up and bring us places? I am from NYC so am expecting big differences.

Thank you for any & all info/help! 🙂

Steven says

April 12, 2017

Hey everybody, Thinking about heading to CR in late June/July and maybe staying at Hotel Del Rey or Jaco for some unwinding and debauchery. Im early 30s, speak near fluent spanish and seeing if anyone wants to buddy up just to hang and for safety as most of my friends are married/too broke to go. -Steven. ([email protected])

March 25, 2017

Hi! We are headed to Costa Rica next year! I am just concerned about safety. We plan on renting a car to drive to the house we rented in Avellanas from La fortuna. I have been hearing stories of robberies. I figured common since should be enough but am just worried. Is it safe?

Hi Jess, if you’re talking about safety while renting a car, just make sure to never leave anything in the car, don’t leave a bag or backpack out in the seat even if it’s empty because if a thief sees it, he could try to steal it. We’ve known people who left their bags out right in plain view in the backseats and got their car robbed so make sure never to leave anything in the car. As for houses, it’s fairly safe in Costa Rica and Avellanas is not a very busy area. Always lock up, don’t leave your valuables in sight and close your curtains. Most houses here have gates on windows and doors, so always lock the gates and many places that are rented to tourists have some sort of security system set up so I’d ask the person you’re renting from if there is anything you need to be aware of.

March 7, 2017

Hi Sammi, So glad I found your article and these post! I’m planning to travel there for my birthday next month, but also want to visit Panama. I want to experience the culture, food & nightlife of both places…where should I stay in CR to be able to spend time in Panama?

March 8, 2017

Hi Kemme, Puerto Viejo is the best option. It’s really close to the Panama border and they even offer 1 and 2 day trips to Bocas del Toro so you can take a bus/shuttle to the border and then visit Bocas for a few days.

Florence says

March 4, 2017

Very interesting article. I may rethink my vacation destination!

Karen Paul says

February 5, 2017

We are flying into San Jose and renting a car, is it better to take a tour bus to the volcano Poas or is it worth driving ourselves and saving the money? Or which volcano is the best one to visit? We have 2 days on our own before we have to be at our hotel (Jungle Creek Villa) is it worth staying a night in Jaco or somewhere else before we head to Manuel Ontonio?

February 6, 2017

You don’t really need to take a tour to the Poas Volcano, the national park isn’t huge and lots of people visit on their own. But if you want a guide and don’t want to drive, then you should take a tour. Poas Volcano is the most popular and it’s not too far from San Jose, plus the trail is very well maintained and they have nice facilities.

February 2, 2017

I have a bottle of 100% Deet and when I use it, it works like a charm. Granted it’s a lot of chemicals but it really does the job so if you plan to use that, then you should be pretty ok. If you’re really scared or paranoid about getting bit, make sure you’re always wearing long sleeves and pants as that gives the best protection. The mosquitoes in the Guanacaste area are bad, but dengue fever has gone down a lot in the past couple years and it’s quite rare (not impossible) for people to get it, you’d have to be really unlucky. But it seems you are taking the necessary precautions so just make sure always have a bottle handy.

The road to Tenorio Volcano National Park where Rio Celeste is is pretty bad – it is definitely recommended to get a 4×4. If you get stuck, car rental companies have an emergency hotline you can call and they also give you an emergency kit with an extra tire, fire extinguisher and if you get the full insurance, most rental car companies have you covered 100% up to a certain amount, say $5 million.

We have a post about tips for renting a car you can check out here: Costa Rica car rental tips and we also offer a car rental discount here: Costa Rica car rental discount

Im going to arenal and going to do the waterfall repeling. Then from arenal springs hotel to the rio celest hideway then to the beach at the guanacaste.

Im super nervous about dungue. I plan on using 100 deef spray but do u think i have concerns to get this, if so what kind of percentage rate? This trip will cost be 5000 and im worry i will not be able to enjoy it due to the misquote’s. Do they bite often if u use the bug spray? Also will there be so many on the beach that it will be unenjoyable? Lastly: do i need a 4 by 4 vehicle for the locations im going? I heard that the rio celest hideway has some rocky roads? I then heard it was paved? Unsure what to believe. I did contact the resort but havnt heard back. Would i be ok with a regular 4 by 2 car? It saves me 300 bucks but i dont want to get stuck! I also plan on paying the extra for insurance and getting fully covered.. So if i did get stuck by a rock or such in the road, would i be reliable? Or would that be covered with the full protection.

Belinda says

January 24, 2017

We will be doing a tour, just for the relaxing aspect of the trip, but after its completion we want to go to the sloth sanctuary. Is it worth it, and what is our best way to get from San Jose to Cahuita? Are there tours from San Jose to the sanctuary?

January 25, 2017

There is a bus from San Jose to Puerto Viejo but I actually recommend going to the Jaguar Rescue Center instead. That one is very close to Cahuita.

January 18, 2017

Hi, if you’re visiting Playa Hermosa next to Jaco, we have a post about things to do in Jaco/Hermosa here: Things to do in Jaco and a things to do in Tamarindo guide here: Things to do in Tamarindo If you’re staying in Playa Hermosa in Guanacaste, we have a things to do in Playas del Coco which is really close to Hermosa here: day trips from Playas del Coco

January 17, 2017

Visiting both Playa Hermosa then Tamarindo. What is the best to see and do while in Playa Hermosa then the best to see and do from Tamarindo.

yeison says

January 6, 2017

Hello Angie, congratulations for your daughter’s wedding, if you are planning to stay I would recommend you to take a boat tour, visit a volcano like the rincon de la vieja and enjoy some waterfalls you can find information about all this activities:

Boating Gulf of Papagayo Hacienda Guachipelin combo adventure tour Catarata Llanos de Cortes

There are more things that you can do but all the ones above are not that far, please let us know if you have any questions and if you like to book any of this tours we can help you.

Angie Dahm says

We will be attending our daughter’s wedding in Playa Ocotel in late .April 2017. We want to stay another 4 days after the wedding and explore another part of CR. Any suggestions? We love the outdoors & nature and hiking. Flying in and out of Liberia

January 4, 2017

We could use some advice on getting From Dominical to Sierpe. We want to travel on a Sunday. I expect we can catch a bus from Dominical to Palmar Norte then a cab from there to Sierpe. However a lot of places Sunday is a family day, might we have a problem finding a cab in Palmar Norte? Or should we try to get private transportation from Dominical. Renting a car is not an option as we are going on to Drake bay and then flying out from there. Thanks Jim

Hi Jim, being Sunday doesnt matter for cab drivers, there are taxis all the time especially in touristic areas so you should be able to find one.

If you like culture, I recommend flying into San Jose. There are a handful of museums and cultural sites in the city that are really interesting and the city is really the only place in Costa Rica with that many excellent museums and historical/cultural sites. Then head down to the South Pacific towards Panama. The SOuth Pacific area: Dominical, Uvita and Ojochal are really beautiful and full of nature, here are some things to do in Uvita: Things to do in Uvita and Dominical and here is our San Jose guide: Things to do in San Jose

Ionela says

Hey guys! I’m having difficulties drawing an intinerary. I will have 2-3 weeks to chill in Costa Rica and my plan is to cross into Panama from there. Where do you think I should fly? Liberia and the go south? Or south and then go all around? I’m more in nature and cultural tourism. Wanna see places and people. Thank you

Elizabeth says

December 29, 2016

I hate to be the one to ask this, but you have any advice regarding buying Marijuana while in Costa Rica? We are going to be staying in Puerto Viejo and as Marijuana enthusiasts we are hoping to buy some. Any tips?? Thanks for any help you can offer.

Hi Elizabeth, you should be able to find some pretty easily in Puerto Viejo (super hippie laid back town). A lot of locals sell and most are hanging out near the beach. If you guys are staying in a hostel, you can ask the other backpackers too since it’s not a rare thing to find in PV.

Anne Kinchen says

December 13, 2016

Is San Jose to Uvita too long of a drive to make in one day by first time visitors in a rental 4 x 4? Anne

Hi Anne, the drive is around 3.5 hours. It’s not that bad, but I do recommend using Waze to navigate your way out of San Jose. Once you’re out of the city and on the highway, exit to Jaco and just keep on going south. Pretty easy drive once you’re out of the city so it’s definitely doable for first time visitors, just use Waze for San Jose.

December 8, 2016

Hi Do you know if there is an ATM machine close to Playa Flamingo Beach Hotel?

Does the ATM accept Canadian bank cards that have a chip ?

Thank you !

December 9, 2016

Hi Jim, yes there is a bank at Flamingo, it should accept all CC’s.

Hi Jim, I have seen a couple of ATM’s around the Flamingo Beach hotel and most of the North American Cards works here, just make sure to ask your bank about international withdrawal fees and all that. In the worst case scenario you will have to go to Tamarindo downtown where you will find many banks and ATM’s people from all over world use them without any problem.

November 6, 2016

Thanks so much! This is very helpfull!!

November 7, 2016

You’re welcome! We’re glad it’s helpful 🙂

Manuel says

August 27, 2016

I read that most places accept credit cards that have raised numbers on their surface only as they will be pressed on a paper voucher. is that true? all banks in the US only issue flat card with chip nowadays.

where do you recommend exchange currency? at the airport, bank or atm?

August 29, 2016

WE used to used those credit cards “machines” but that was long time ago, I haven’t see them for years, now everyone uses the credit card wireless machines that reads chips. The best place to exchange money is at the bank make sure to bring a picture ID otherwise they will not exchange any money.

Michelle says

August 14, 2016

These are all great tips! I’ve never been but I would love to one day.

August 15, 2016

Thanks Michelle, hope you can visit one day 🙂

Rosemarie Driscoll says

August 8, 2016

Great guide! It helps knowing what you could expect before going there. Hope you to see your next adventure!

August 10, 2016

Thanks Rosemarie!

August 4, 2016

Great post. At least we are aware if ever we’ve got a chance to visit Costa Rica.

August 5, 2016

Thanks Gina, glad you found it useful!

nutshellortwo says

August 2, 2016

I enjoyed this article. Great advice for first time visiting

Great to hear!

August 1, 2016

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Your Trip to Costa Rica: The Complete Guide

costa rica travel tips

The name of this Central American country—meaning “rich coast”—evokes paradisiacal visions of beaches lapped with world-class waves and bordered by dense jungles. Costa Rica has that and much more: the highest level of biodiversity in the world (sloths, sea turtles, and rainbow-colored birds, to name just a few), towering volcanoes and winding rainforest trails to trek, a lively capital with a growing culinary and craft beer scene, and a taste of Caribbean culture on the eastern coast. It’s the perfect place to get your blood pumping with an active adventure and then slow down and immerse yourself in nature—at an eco-retreat, on the beach, in the jungle, under a waterfall, or with a soak in some thermal hot springs. This guide will get you acquainted with some of the best of Costa Rica so you can design your dream trip.

Planning Your Trip

  • Best Time to Visit : Dry season is the best time to visit, which is generally mid-November through April. However, prices are cheaper during the wet, green season.
  • Language: Spanish
  • Currency: Colones
  • Getting Around: Due to rough and often winding roads, elevation changes, and weather conditions, journeys that appear short on the map can take much longer than you might expect. Public transportation is not always the most efficient way to get around and can be a challenge if you don’t speak Spanish (though it is quite safe), so it’s best to either rent a car if you’re comfortable driving; book a shuttle such as Interbus (which offsets 100 percent of its carbon footprint  ), or hire a driver-guide. In the main cities like San José, you can also make use of taxis and rideshare apps but keep in mind that the local taxis are currently opposed to rideshare apps so this can cause some tension. If you book a ride in a rideshare app, locals recommend sitting in the front seat to avoid becoming a target of disgruntled taxi drivers.
  • Travel Tip: Pack a rain jacket and don’t be deterred by rain in the forecast, it's a common occurrence in Costa Rica but the sun is still out for at least part of the day. Embrace the rain; after all, it is one of the reasons this country is so lush and abundant.

Things to Do

Build an ideal itinerary that balances the best of Costa Rica: adventure, nature, culture, wildlife, and wellness. And, of course, food! Sample the comida tipica (typical or traditional food) around town or the local brew on a culinary or craft beer tour. Fly through the treetops on a zipline and immerse yourself in the natural environment at a jungle eco-retreat. Tour an organic coffee or chocolate plantation and learn to cook corn tortillas with a local family. Take a surf lesson, dive into the underwater world, or reset yourself with some peaceful days by the sea. 

  • Get your adrenaline fix at Lost Canyon where you’ll hike deep into the jungle near Arenal Volcano and rappel a 200-foot waterfall. 
  • If sun, sand, and surf are more your speed, head for the Pacific side and beach hop down the coast to find your favorite . 
  • Visit the Caribbean coast from August through December and witness tiny green sea turtles as they hatch and scurry into the sea. Tortuguero National Park is the largest nesting site in the Western Hemisphere for endangered green sea turtles  .

Unearth more Costa Rican adventures with our articles on the best hiking trails and family-friendly resorts in Costa Rica .

What to Eat and Drink

Costa Rican food may not have the same level of international recognition as other Latin American cuisines, but you will certainly find hearty and delicious dishes here. Meals are traditionally uncomplicated and home-cooked, incorporating fresh produce, meats, cheese, rice, and tortillas. Start your day with some tropical fruits, a big scoop of gallo pinto (rice with black beans, seasoned with garlic, onions, peppers, cilantro, and often, Lizano sauce), eggs, a side of sweet plantains, and a mug of Costa Rican-grown coffee poured through the choreador (a cloth filter traditionally used here). Lunch is often arroz con pollo (a bowl of seasoned rice and chicken) or a casado of rice, picadillo (a cooked vegetable hash) or salad, and a protein such as beans, grilled chicken, or fish. If you want authentic local food like a Costa Rican grandmother makes, try La Esquinita de JM in San José. Wherever you dine, don’t forget dessert; grab a locally-made bar of chocolate to go or lap up a plate of tres leches (cake doused in three kinds of milk and considered the national dessert).

Beer lovers rejoice: Costa Rica has a growing craft beer scene. Join local guides from Carpe Chepe for a craft beer tour and sip your way around the city, learning how local brews like Cerveceria Calle Cimarrona are made and where they are served.

Explore more articles on the best restaurants in Monteverde , the best restaurants in San José , must-eat foods in Costa Rica , and a guide to tropical fruits in Costa Rica .

Where to Stay

When you touchdown in San José, a stay at Gran Hotel puts you in the heart of the city, next to the National Theatre and walking distance to a number of attractions like the Central Market and the trendy Barrio Escalante neighborhood.

Arenal has it all—except a coastline. And it should be your next stop. Spend at least a day or two here soaking in thermal hot springs, hiking an active volcano, zipping through the forest canopy, and scouting wildlife (yes, sloths live here) before you head for the beaches. You can find the full range of accommodations in the area around Arenal: sustainable farm stays at Rancho Margot , luxury hotels such as Arenal Kioro with direct views to the volcano, and serene escapes at eco-inns such as Living Forest .

If you’re after black sand beaches and breaking waves, spend some time on the Caribbean coast. En route, book a stay at family-run Chilamate Rainforest Eco Retreat in the Sarapiqui area for wildlife (toucans, howler monkey, red-eyed tree frogs, and green macaws are common in this biological corridor) and white water rafting.

On the opposite side of the country, the Pacific coast is the perfect place to soak up some sun and do some deep diving—both into the ocean and internally, as this Blue Zone is known for its colorful marine life as well as its wellness retreats.

Explore the different regions of Costa Rica and our recommendations on the best family-friendly resorts , the best all-inclusive resorts , and the best hotels in San José

Getting There

From the U.S., the majority of travelers arrive by plane to San José’s Juan Santamaria International Airport or Liberia International Airport on international carriers such as Delta Airlines, United Airlines, American Airlines, Jet Blue, and Southwest. Decide first where you will be staying in Costa Rica before choosing your arrival airport. If you’re starting your trip in Guanacaste, for example, flying to Liberia will get you closer to your destination. Whereas if your trip begins with Arenal, you’ll need to arrive in San José. 

If you’re confident about driving in Costa Rica, you can rent a car at the airport. It’s wise to book ahead to ensure one will be available. Shared shuttles are another option and most, such as Interbus, are efficient and comfortable. Ask your hotel what shuttle options are available to your first stop, as many of them run set routes. Private shuttles or private driver-guides are other (and arguably the best if you’d like to relax and let someone else handle the driving) possibilities, though they are more expensive.  

Culture and Customs

  • The spirit of pura vida (translated directly to “pure life” but is used to convey many meanings including “no worries” and “all is good”) is infectious and you’ll find Ticos (Costa Ricans) are typically friendly and welcoming, particularly if you spend time in the rural areas.
  • Tipping is not mandatory but you’ll see that restaurants include a 10 percent service charge and leaving some extra cash for the server is always appreciated. It’s also common to tip $1: per bag to the airport driver and bellhop, per drink to the bartender, to the doorman for hailing a cab, to the concierge, if they help with a difficult request or make an exceptional recommendation
  • You should also tip tour guides and drivers that give great service. These tips range from $5-20 per day per person depending on the group size; the larger the group, the less per person. If you are pleased with your salon or spa experiences, leave 15 percent for the provider.
  • Ask permission before photographing anyone.
  • Costa Rica contains 6 percent of the world's biodiversity  , so do your part to protect it. Don’t disturb wildlife and natural environments and always heed guide instructions.
  • Be mindful of your valuables when walking in crowded areas or on public transportation. While Costa Rica is generally a safe country, pickpockets do exist. Necklace snatching occurs occasionally in San José, so it’s best to leave jewelry in a safe or at home.
  • San José is a growing city with neighborhoods evolving every day. If you’ll be spending time in San José, take advantage of the free city tour so you can familiarize yourself with the walkable neighborhoods and get the best and most up-to-date insight from locals.

Money Saving Tips

  • Take a free walking tour in San José.
  • Skip expensive meals and hit up a local pulperia (grocery store) for snacks such as tortilla chips, cheese, refried beans, and avocados instead. 
  • Book a homestay experience to connect with locals and save some cash. 
  • Travel in the green season when rates are lower. 
  • If you’re visiting Arenal area, consider staying at a hotel with hot springs on-site so you can avoid paying an additional fee for one of the larger hot springs facilities. 
  • Buy gifts such as coffee, Lizano sauce, and chorreador in a grocery store where prices are generally lower than the tourist shops. If you’ve got time in San José, the Mercado Central (Central Market) is also an option. Patrons are largely local, so prices tend to be more reasonable than you might find in other areas frequented by visitors.
  • Bring your own reusable water bottle to refill from the tap. You will not only save money but you’ll also help the planet by creating less single-use plastic waste. Tap water in Costa Rica is generally safe to drink, but you can pack a purification bottle such as GRAYL or a device like the Steripen for peace of mind (and stomach). 

Learn more about affordable ways to have fun with our article about what to do on a budget in San José .

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90 Costa Rica Travel Tips: Things You Need to Know

90 Costa Rica Travel Tips: Things You Need to Know

Are you looking for the best Costa Rica travel tips?

Costa Rica is a little slice of paradise located in Central America. The country is known for its biodiversity, beautiful beaches, dense rainforests, stable economy, and friendly citizens.

We have been living in Costa Rica since 2016 and have traveled extensively around the country. This place is amazing, but it has its quirks. There are definitely some things you should be aware of before visiting.

We compiled this list of 90 Costa Rica travel tips organized by category to help you have the best visit possible.

Get ready to learn about how to get around in this country that doesn’t have addresses, the best traditional foods you should try, the best way to pay for things, and so much more!

And, make sure you read until the end to discover the most important Costa Rica travel tip!

Entering and Exiting the Country

san jose costa rica airport view

1. There are two international airports in Costa Rica

The San Jose Airport is the most visited airport in Costa Rica, however, Liberia International Airport in the northwest corner of the country is also a great option to fly in or out of.

We suggest the Liberia Airport if you plan to explore the Guanacaste region of the country.

We suggest the San Jose Airpor t if you plan to visit the Caribbean coast or south/ central Pacific coast.

2. Make sure you book your flight to San Jose, Costa Rica and NOT San Jose, California

Yea, it’s confusing and we have actually heard of people booking flights to the wrong airport.

The airport code for San Jose Costa Rica is SJO.

So, just make sure you are booking your flight to SJO and not SJC.

3. The San Jose Airport is not actually in San Jose

The airport is actually located in Alajuela and when looking for a place to stay near the airport you should search in Alajuela province. It is best to be as close to the airport as possible if you have an early flight because traffic around that area gets really crazy during rush hour.

Check out our guide to San Jose Airport hotels for more info.

4. We usually have the best luck finding flights on Skyscanner

Skyscanner is great for finding a wide variety of flights at affordable price points. If you would like to fly into San Jose and out of Liberia (or vice versa) we love to use their Multi-City feature.

5. Run to border control when you get off the plane

Sometimes the border control line moves fast and other times it can take foreverrrrrr.

While everyone else is hitting up the bathrooms when they get off the plane, run (or at least walk quickly so you don’t look crazy) to the customs line.

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6. You are only allowed to stay in Costa Rica for 90 days without a visa

If you plan to stay in Costa Rica for longer than 90 days at a time you will need some type of visa granting you this access.

Another option is to do a border run. Head to Panama or Nicaragua for a few days and then renter Costa Rica to stay for another 90 days. This is technically not legal, but it exists in some sort of gray area of legality.

Check out our guide to entry requirements for more info.

7. You may be asked to show proof of departure when entering the country

This is much more common at the borders rather than at the airport, but it’s still best to have a copy of your return ticket with you just in case. Make sure your ticket of departure is scheduled 90 days or less from your arrival.

If you are planning on backpacking through Central America you can also show proof of a bus ticket to the next country you are going to.

8. The Panama border is a disaster show

I have nightmares about the Panama border crossing madness.

Not really, but it is pretty bad.

Entering Costa Rica is generally pretty fast, but entering Panama can be a miserable experience. The last time we were there we waited for over three hours (no joke) in the sun to get our passports stamped to enter Panama.

For more info check out our complete guide to the Costa Rica / Panama border crossing .

9. The Nicaragua border is smooth sailing

When entering Nicaragua they actually have people whose job is to help guide you through the entry process.

It’s amazing!

At first, I thought the guys there were just trying to get money out of us, but then I realized they genuinely were just super helpful and doing their job.

The last time we crossed the border from Costa Rica the whole process took less than an hour. Woot!

For more info check out our guide to the Costa Rica / Nicaragua border . 

Transportation within Costa Rica

car rental liberia airport

10. There are domestic airports throughout the country

If you would like to get to your vacation destination as quickly and easily as possible, consider flying from one of the two international airports to one of the many international airports in the country.

You can find out more with our guide to Costa Rica’s domestic airports.

11. We suggest renting a car to get around

We almost always suggest renting a car to get around. It is the best way to have flexibility in where you visit and what you see.

We suggest booking your car through our favorite local company, Adobe Rent-a-Car.

We partnered with Adobe, to bring all Costa Rica Vibes readers a 10% car rental discount plus tons of other great perks.

90 Costa Rica Travel Tips: Things You Need to Know

Adobe Rent-a-Car

  • 10% discount for Costa Rica Vibes readers
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  • 0% deductible on Liability Protection Insurance
  • Excellent customer service
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12. Waze works here and is your best bet for getting around

Don’t attempt to depend on paper maps. Roads in Costa Rica are crazy and constantly changing. We solely depend on the free app Waze to get around.

13. Uber is Illegal in Costa Rica

In the past, Uber lived in some legal gray zone in Costa Rica. However, the government has now made it clear that Uber is not allowed.

We always suggest taking an official Costa Rican taxi . These are the orange taxis with a green triangle on the door at the airport and red taxis with a yellow triangle everywhere else.

This is super important because the police are now stopping people they suspect of being an Uber driver. If you are in the car as a passenger you could be left stranded on the side of the road without transportation.

14. Shared or private shuttles are great

If you don’t feel comfortable driving long distances, you can always opt for a shared or private shuttle. You can then always rent a car once in town for day trips.

  • BookAway is AMAZING for the best selection of shared shuttles throughout the country.
  • And you can get a quote for a private shuttle with Adobe Transfers here.

15. Public buses are decent

The public buses in Costa Rica are ridiculously cheap and convenient. Unlike most other things in the country, they actually generally run on time. Granted they are not always the most comfortable, but they are OK.

If you want to travel to several destinations, buses are not the best because you will often have to go back to San Jose to connect to your next destination. It’s too much of a pain.

16. Drivers are a bit crazy

Get ready for people ignoring traffic signals and motorcycles speeding by you on either side of your lane.

It always makes me laugh because people in Costa Rica are so relaxed about everything else, but they are always in a rush when it comes to driving.

Although drivers are nuts, you should be fine driving here. Just don’t drive in downtown San Jose (that’s where the real crazies are).

17. Avoid San Jose like the plague during rush hour

First of all, I suggest avoiding driving in downtown San Jose always. It is a bit insane. If you do need to drive on the outskirts of the city (aka near the airport) avoid doing so during rush hour if possible.

Just as an example, from where we live it can take two hours to drive to the airport during rush hour. On a day without traffic, it takes about 15 minutes.

18. There are no addresses here

I’ve told my family a million times that we do not have addresses here, but they cannot seem to wrap their head around it.

It just seems so insane!

If you need to input a destination into your GPS, look for a nearby park ahead of time and input that as your destination.

19. Distances may seem close but can take forever to drive

Between traffic, curvy roads, unpaved roads etc it can take a lot longer to drive to a place than it looks.

While planning your travels, definitely look up the driving times of everything beforehand and then add at least 30 minutes to an hour to whatever it says.

20. There are tolls in Costa Rica

There are tolls on the major highway in the country heading from San Jose to the Pacific coast. They accept US dollars though, so if you are heading from the airport to the beaches, don’t stress if you haven’t switched to colones yet.

I like to pay with a $10 bill at the first toll and they will give you change in colones. This will be enough colones to pay the rest of the tolls on your drive.

Things to Do

zip line

21. Definitely make time to explore national parks

Costa Rica is renowned for its diverse ecosystems. Visit national parks like Manuel Antonio National Park , Poas Volcano , and Corcovado National Park to experience lush rainforests, active volcanoes, and abundant wildlife.

Check out our guide to Costa Rica National Parks for more details.

22. Experience zip lining

One of the most popular adventure activities in Costa Rica is ziplining. It is the perfect way to view Costa Rica’s diverse landscape from above.

You can enjoy the thrill of zip lining through the treetops in various locations across the country. Our personal favorite destinations for this are Monteverde and La Fortuna .

23. Make time to hit the beaches

With both Pacific and Caribbean coastlines, Costa Rica offers a variety of beaches. Whether you’re a surfer, sunbather, or nature enthusiast, there’s a beach for you.

Typically, the Pacific coast is known for white sand beaches and the Caribbean has more dark sand beaches.

Also, usually the Caribbean beaches are less crowded than the Pacific ones.

24. Try Surfing

Join the surfing culture in Costa Rica by catching waves along the coastline.

From beginner-friendly breaks to challenging swells, there’s a spot for every skill level.

Some of the most popular surfing towns are Tamarindo , Playa Avellenas , Santa Teresa, Pavones , and Hermosa (near Jaco) .

Check out our guide to surfing for more info

25. Visit Coffee Farms

If you have the chance, definitely embark on a coffee farm tour. This is the perfect way to learn about the coffee production process, from bean to cup.

Our favorite area for this activity is in the hills above Alajuela.

Check out our guide to Costa Rica coffee for more info

26. You should try and break out of your comfort zone

Costa Rica is an adventure paradise. I used to not be the most adventurous person, but this country has definitely expanded my adventure palate.

So, try rappeling down waterfalls, book the white water rafting tour, go snorkeling or diving. These are experiences you will likely look back on with fond memories and be thankful that you tried them.

27. You don’t need to reserve far in advance

Typically, it is possible to arrange tours up to a few days in advance. However, during the peak tourism season, it is always a good idea to book things. a bit further in advance.

28. A rental car will allow you to save money on activities

One downside in Costa Rica is that guided tours with transportation can be expensive, especially if you are traveling as a family.

Having a rental car will allow you to do more exploring on your own without depending on tours.

For example, you could take a national park tour with transportation and a guide. This will often run you at least $50 per person.

Or, you could drive and only pay for national park admission. This will run more like $15 per person.

29. It is sometimes worth it to take a wildlife tour

I know, I’m contradicting myself here. But, sometimes taking a tour is worth it.

One great thing about guided wildlife tours in national parks or reserves is that the guides usually walk those trails almost every day. They know exactly where the animals hang out and are usually super knowledgeable.

Plus, guides often carry telescopic lenses so you can get a great view of those hard to spot animals such as sloths.

30. Viator is great for booking activities

Recently we have been booking a lot of activities through the Viator website .

We have been doing this because they typically have great cancellation policies (but check each listing).

We feel it is a good way to support local companies but with the security of a big company like Viator.

Money and Currency

costa rica currency exchange airport

31. The currency in Costa Rica is colones

The official currency of Costa Rica is the Costa Rican Colón, often symbolized as “₡” or simply “CRC”.

However, U.S. dollars are widely accepted in many tourist areas.

32. Exchange Rate

The exchange rate between U.S. dollars and Colones can fluctuate. It’s a good idea to check the current rate before you travel.

We like the free app XE Currency Exchange for keeping track of the current rate.

33. Cash vs. Card

While credit and debit cards are widely accepted in larger cities and tourist areas, having some Colones in cash can be handy for small purchases, local markets, and more remote areas.

As far as credit cards, Visa and Mastercard seem to be the most widely accepted cards. We have heard that American Express is sometimes not accepted at certain places.

34. ATMs are common in cities and towns

Look for Banco Nacional, Banco de Costa Rica, and other reputable bank ATMs to withdraw Colones.

Be cautious of using standalone ATMs in remote locations. It is best to do this during daylight and not to take out large amounts at once.

35. You may pay foreign ATM fees

Check with your bank or card provider about foreign transaction fees and ATM withdrawal fees. Usually this is about $5.

Some banks offer fee-free international transactions or have partner banks in Costa Rica. So, if you are concerned about the cost of using an ATM, I suggest checking with your bank before traveling.

36. Currency conversion

If offered the choice to pay in U.S. dollars or Colones, always choose Colones.

Often businesses might not have the most updated exchange rate so you can end up paying more if using US dollars.

37. Pay in small denominations

It’s a good idea to carry smaller denominations of Colones for convenience. This is helpful when leaving a tip, paying for parking, or when making purchases at local markets or small shops.

38. Change in Colones

When receiving change for a purchase in U.S. dollars, you might receive it in Colones. Make sure to clarify the amount if needed.

39. Tipping

Tips are not included in restaurant bills, and it’s customary to leave a tip of around 10% to 15% in restaurants and for tour guides. However, it is not required. Most locals do not leave a tip.

40. Currency Exchanges

Don’t change currency at the currency exchange places in the airport. They tend to have a really bad exchange rate and you can lose out on a lot of money.

Instead, you’ll get the absolute best rate by asking your bank at home to get you some colones before your trip.

You can find out more with our Costa Rica Currency Guide

Local Cuisine and What to Eat

bahia restaurant

41. Eat at the small local “sodas” to save money

There are small local restaurants called “sodas” in every town. These restaurants will give you a basic plate of food which usually has rice, beans, salad, and a meat of the day for about $8 (this meal is called a casado).

Usually, these meals are incredibly tasty (and cheap).

You can get more tips with our full guide to eating in Costa Rica on a budget .

42. You need to try the local fruits

Have you ever eaten a guanabana? What about a granadilla?

I guarantee that there are fruits in Costa Rica that you have never even seen before!

One of our favorite things to do on the weekends is to go to our local farmers market and try some new unusual fruit.

You can find out all about the crazy fruits in Costa Rica with our complete Costa Rica fruit guide .

43. You can usually drink the water

In Costa Rica, the tap water is drinkable in most bigger towns.

However, if you would like to be a bit cautious, we suggest buying a big gallon jug of water and refilling smaller bottles.

I am a big fan of the LifeStraw water bottle for some added filtration (especially when drinking tap water).

Also, ask at your hotel before filling up your water bottle from the bathroom sink. This water is not always potable.

Check out our guide to Costa Rica tap water for more info.

44. Definitely try the local specialties

Have you ever eaten Gallo Pinto? What about a casado? Ceviche?

The items listed above are just a few of our favorite traditional foods in Costa Rica that we strongly suggest you try.

Check out our guide to Costa Rican foods for more delicious ideas.

45. Buy souvenirs at the grocery store

This may sound totally strange, but the best and cheapest souvenirs are at the grocery store.

What do people really want you to bring back for them from your Costa Rican travels? Most likely they’ll love some coffee or chocolate.

The coffee and chocolate here are on point. Instead of buying coffee or chocolate from a fancy souvenir shop you can buy the same products at the grocery store for usually about half the price.

For coffee, we highly suggest the brand Britt mostly because their bags are designed to look very Costa Rican.

46. If you are gluten-free you will have tons of options

My mom has a gluten allergy and she loves visiting us here versus when we used to live in Germany because there are so many food options for her.

Costa Rican diets are typically heavy on rice, beans, corn, meat, eggs, vegetables, and fruit. You will have no problem finding a meal that can satisfy a gluten intolerance or allergy.

47. Larger grocery stores have all the foods you are used to

The best (but also most expensive) grocery store in Costa Rica is called Automercado. This store feels a lot like any normal grocery store in the US.

Just keep in mind that all imported products tend to be expensive due to import taxes.

48. Go out for breakfast at least once

Traditional Costa Rican breakfast is the best! This meal typically consists of Gallo Pinto (a mix of rice and beans), eggs, fried plantains, and fresh fruit. Add a mixed fruit juice and you will have yourself the perfect Costa Rican breakfast.

If you stay at a hotel with breakfast included I can almost guarantee that this is what they will serve.

Planning Where to Stay

samara costa rica hotel

50. There are resorts for all budgets

Costa Rica is typically not the best place to stay if you are looking for a resort vacation, because it is an expensive country.

If you would like a more budget-friendly resort experience with luxury, head to Mexico or the Caribbean islands.

However, if you are eager to stay in a resort in Costa Rica, you can find a place for all budgets. Just know that you won’t get as much bang for your buck.

Check out our guide to resorts in Costa Rica for all the best places

50. We suggest one beach and one jungle destination for one week

With one week you can easily visit one beach and one jungle destination. This will give you the perfect brief overview of the country.

For a jungle destination, La Fortuna and Monteverde are always great options.

For beach, you really can’t go wrong with most places. I suggest deciding your destination based on which airport you are flying into and what you would like to do while on the beach.

51. VRBO is a great option

We love using VRBO in Costa Rica!

Usually, the rates are cheaper than on hotel booking sites and we like to have the option of getting our own place.

It can be nice to have your own little house instead of staying in a hotel with tons of other guests. Plus most places have a kitchen so you can save money by cooking your own meals.

52. Booking.com usually has free cancelations

If you do opt to book a hotel, we suggest doing so over Booking.com .

We love Booking.com for Costa Rica travel because most places have free cancellations up to a certain date.

That means you can secure your accommodations and always adjust your travel plans later if you find a better place to stay.

53. Stay in a place with a kitchen

Restaurants can be expensive in Costa Rica. We love to try and stay at a hotel or a VRBO with a kitchen.

You probably want to try out some of the great restaurants in the area, but it can be helpful to at least be able to make your own breakfast or store any leftovers in a fridge.

54. Read reviews in detail

Always check the reviews on VRBO and on Booking.com.

We only stay at places with at least five reviews and we read these reviews in detail.

You don’t want to end up at a horrible place on your Costa Rica vacation.

55. Pay attention to if a place has AC

This especially applies to beach destinations. Even at night, it can stay warm and humid. There is nothing more miserable than trying to sleep in sweaty sheets and only having a small fan.

56. Places with a pool are always a good idea

You are on vacation in a tropical destination so, book a place with a pool if you have the option.

57. Pay attention to the exact location of your hotel/ vacation rental

I say to pay attention to the exact location because sometimes places can be located on dirt side streets that may be hilly.

You need to make sure that you can actually get to your accommodation without a 4×4 vehicle.

Also, sometimes places are advertised as “near the beach” and you might actually have to drive 10 minutes or more to the beach.

So, definitely clarify the location before booking.

Travel Essentials (What to Pack)

Columbia Adult Bora Bora II Booney Omni Shade Sun Hat

Shop All The Costa Rica Packing Essentials

58. Leave the nice stuff at home

Costa Rica is safe, but it is best not to stand out too much. By leaving nice jewelry and fancy clothes at home you will make yourself much less of a target for petty theft.

59. Bring that rain jacket you are debating about

Every area of the country has a different climate and you never know when a torrential downpour will start.

Even if you are traveling during the dry season, certain parts of the country (Monteverde, Rio Celeste, San Gerardo de Dota) can have rain.

We like to pack a lightweight jacket that won’t get too sweaty while wearing.

Check out the rain jacket I own and love

60. Pack a dry shirt

No, I don’t mean a shirt that is dry.

I mean one of those shirts that dry really quickly which is meant to be worn in the water.

See the sun is so strong here that you can get burned really easily.

I like to swim with a dry shirt on to protect myself.

  • Check out the perfect dry shirt for men
  • Check out the perfect dry shirt for women

61. Pack gallon-size ziplock bags or keep your plastic shopping bags

Because of the humidity sometimes it is impossible to get your clothes to dry once they get wet.

We always carry a few plastic shopping bags or gallon size ziplock bags for when we move to our next location while traveling when we still have wet clothing.

They take up almost no space in your luggage but definitely come in handy.

62. Opt for a large backpack instead of a suitcase

Sometimes hotels or vacation rentals aren’t the easiest to access.

For example, we recently stayed in a place at Manuel Antonio that was located on the side of a hill. From the parking lot, we had to go up about 50 stairs to our bungalow.

In situations like these, it is so nice to have a large camping backpack rather than a suitcase.

Check out our go-to backpack that can usually be used as a carry-on

63. Don’t forget motion sickness pills

Some roads in Costa Rica are really curvy and hilly. If you or anyone in your group is prone to motion sickness, it is always a good idea to bring some motion sickness pills .

Personally, I find that I use them frequently here between boat rides and crazy roads.

If you forget them, you can always buy some at a local pharmacy or even usually in the grocery store.

At the grocery store, you most likely won’t see them on the shelf. They are often kept behind the counter at a cash register. They are often sold by pill not by the entire pack.

64. You can always purchase whatever you forget

Costa Rica has pretty much everything. If you forget something at home, have no fear! You can most likely find it here. Just note that you might pay a bit more than you would at home.

Local Culture and Customs

costa rica ox cart

And now, here are some fun facts about the country. This will give you a greater understanding pf the culture and what Costa Rica is all about.

65. Ticos & Ticas

Costa Ricans refer to themselves as “Ticos” ( for males) and “Ticas” (for females). Collectively they are known as “Ticos”.

66. Blue Zone

The Nicoya Peninsula (the area where Montezuma and Santa Teresa are located) is one of the five Blue Zones in the world. This means it is an area with the highest life expectancy rate.

67. Happiness

Costa Rica is categorized as one of the happiest countries in the world. You will see it when you are here. Ticos are almost always smiling and enjoying life to the fullest.

68. Pura Vida

The official motto of Ticos is “Pura Vida.” This directly translates to “Pure Life.” Costa Ricans take this motto very seriously and generally stay very relaxed about most things in life.

69. Language

The official language is Spanish in Costa Rica . However, a large percentage of citizens speak at least some English due to the high percentage of tourists. 

70. Literacy

Costa Rica has a 96% literacy rate. This is the highest of any Central America country.

71. Military

Costa Rica does not have a standing army. In fact, the army was abolished in 1953.

72. Important Exports

Bananas and coffee have historically been the biggest exports from Costa Rica. In fact, Costa Rica is the second-largest exporter of bananas in the world.

73. Renewable Energy

Costa Rica generates more than 99% of its electricity by renewable energy.

If you visit the northern part of the country near Rio Celeste you will see all of the windmills used for wind energy.

74. Ticos are generally the nicest people

Whenever I’m stressed and need to cheer up I like to go to our local farmers market because it is the perfect spot for seeing a genuinely nice and cheerful community in action.

However, sometimes they are so nice that they don’t want to let you down.

For example, if you ask for directions it is not unusual for someone to give you incorrect directions instead of just saying that they don’t know where you need to go. 

75. Tourism is Super Important

Tourism is the leading industry in Costa Rica with approximately 9% of the country’s citizens being employed in the industry. That means 600,000 jobs.

Over three million tourists typically visit the country annually with about 40% coming from the US and 6% from Canada.

Safety and Security

rio celeste view

76. The wildlife shouldn’t bother you

The keyword here is “shouldn’t,” but you just never know.

Yes, this is a country that has tons of poisonous or dangerous animals. Yes, you will probably see some of these animals in your travels. However, typically you will be fine unless you bother them.

77. Sign up for STEP

If you are a US citizen, head on over to the STEP websit e and sign up before your trip.

STEP stands for Smart Traveler Enrollement Program.

It is a free program by the US government meant to keep track of where you are in the world. It allows you to get notification of any safety concerns in the country you are traveling, allows the government to know where you are in case of an emergency such as a natural disaster, and helps you to stay connected to family in case of emergency.

78. Wear lots of bug spray

Zika and dengue can both be an issue in Costa Rica. Make sure to wear bug spray and you will hopefully be OK.

For more info check out our guide to mosquitos in Costa Rica .

79. Don’t forget to purchase travel insurance

Heymondo travel insurance was designed with ease and flexibility in mind.

Their comprehensive plans offer 24/7 assistance, trip cancellation and interruption coverage, lost baggage coverage, assistance in case of medical issues, as well as the option to add-on adventure activity coverage. 

↳ Get Your Travel Insurance Quote

80. The sun here is crazy strong

Don’t forget that Costa Rica is not too far from the Equator. If possible, we suggest bringing sunscreen with you from your home country.

You can most definitely buy it here but it is typically a bit more expensive.

For more info check out our guide to the sun in Costa Rica .

81. Petty crime can be an issue

Violent crimes are unusual, but petty crimes do happen. It is always best to be on guard.

For more info check out our guide to crime in Costa Rica and how to protect yourself .

82. Be careful in the water

The two things that freak me out sometimes in the ocean here are rip currents and crocodiles. Yes, there are crocodiles in the rivers that sometimes make their way into the ocean. This typically only happens at spots where large rivers make their way directly into the ocean.

Always ask at your hotel where it is safe to swim. Also, pay attention to signs on the beach and see where other people are swimming.

83. Make a copy of your passport

In the off chance that your passport is lost or stolen, it can be helpful to have a copy of your passport. This will help to expedite the process of getting you a new passport.

If you are a US citizen there is a US Embassy in San Jose. This is where you would need to go if something like this happens.

84. Never leave things of value in your rental car

Because petty theft is the most common crime, rental cars can become an easy target for robbers.

It is best to never leave anything visible in your vehicle and definitely never leave anything of value in the car.

When possible, park in protected lots with a guard.

Weather and Climate

costa rica september

85. The rainy season is opposite on each coast

The dry season on the Pacific and in the central part of the country runs from late December until the end of April.

On the Caribbean coast this is the rainy season.

So, if you experience bad weather, just drive a few hours to the other coast. 😉

86. The dry season is the most expensive time to visit

Most hotels and activity companies have different prices depending on the time of year.

During the dry season everything is at peak high price.

If you would like to save money, travel in July or August for lower prices, less tourists, and mostly OK weather.

87. July is our favorite month in Costa Rica

We love Costa Rica in July because everything is green again, prices are lower, and usually there are about two weeks in the middle of July when the rain will stop temporarily.

Even when it is raining, you can expect about a two-hour rainstorm every afternoon and then the weather turns nice again.

88. The sun rises and sets at almost the same time year round

The sun rises and sets around the same time every day of the year. In total there is about a thirty-minute difference in sunrise and sunset time throughout the entire year.

You can expect the sun to rise between 5:15am and 5:45am every day and the sun sets between 5:15am and 5:45pm every night.

Yeap, we have about exactly 12 hours of daylight every day. It gets a bit like groundhog day after awhile, but I’m definitely not complaining.

Check out our guide to Costa Rica weather for more info.

89. Yes, there are earthquakes

Earthquakes are quite common in Costa Rica. In fact, there are typically several small earthquakes every day in the country.

Fortunately, most are so minor that you won’t even feel them.

90. Hurricanes and tropical storms are rare

Since living here, Costa Rica has experienced a few topical storms and hurricanes , but typically this is very rare.

If a storm occurs it is usually in the fall, which most likely is not a time of year that you will be visiting the country in anyway.

Check out our guide to Costa Rica weather for all the weather related tips

The Most Important Costa Rica Travel Tip is…..

View of a woman looking out at the ocean from an infinity pool in Mal Pais, Costa Rica

You are going to need to relax

And we have come to the most important thing to know when traveling to Costa Rica!

Costa Rica is the most chill place we’ve ever been to. The mantra for life in Costa Rica is “Pura Vida” which directly translates to “pure life.” People here use this phrase as a greeting, but also as a way of saying, “All is good.”

You will need to adopt this attitude while visiting Costa Rica .

You may deal with traffic delays, electricity problems, canceled buses etc. Instead of getting frustrated, just take it in stride and think of it as part of the experience.

You’re on vacation! 🙂

By adopting this Costa Rica travel advice you’re guaranteed to have a great travel experience!

Conclusion: Costa Rica Travel Tips

In conclusion, you can never go wrong with a Costa Rica vacation! With these travel tips, you will be ready for the perfect experience.

We think that Costa Rica can definitely be a bit of a culture shock, but in our opinion, it is not extreme. It is the perfect paradise destination.

If you have any questions about Costa Rica travel tips, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you with your planning!

60 Things to Do in Costa Rica – For All Budgets and Interests

Is costa rica expensive what to budget for vacation costs, tipping in costa rica: how much to leave for gratuity, what to pack for costa rica for women, pura vida in costa rica: what the phrase means, costa rica map: detailed description of all areas, costa rica car rental: key tips for the best experience, costa rica sim or esim card: the best data options in 2024, costa rica facts – fun info about the country, how to celebrate costa rica holidays and festivals, 16 common scams in costa rica and how to avoid them.

Costa Rica Travel Details : What You Need to Know

🚗 Should I rent a car in Costa Rica?

Having a rental car will give you the most flexibility when traveling in Costa Rica. This will also allow you to take fun day trips on your own.

  • Save 10% Plus Other Perks with Our Adobe Rental Car Discount
  • You might also consider; shared shuttle services or private transfer services

🏄🏽 How can I book things to do?

We find that Viator tends to have the most comprehensive selection of activities with secure booking and good cancellation policies.

🍍 I’m overwhelmed with planning. Can you help?

Of course! I suggest joining our Facebook group for specific questions and head to our Start Here Page to get started planning.

✈️ What is the best way to book a flight?

Usually, we have the best luck finding great prices with Skyscanner . Check for flights to both San Jose Airport (SJO) and Liberia Airport (LIR).

🛏️ What is the best way to book my Costa Rica hotels?

We highly suggest Booking.com for hotel bookings and typically use VRBO for Costa Rica vacation rentals.

🗣️ What is the main language in Costa Rica?

The main language in Costa Rica is Spanish. Most people working in tourism speak at least some English.

💰 What is the currency in Costa Rica?

The currency used in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colón (CRC). However, the US dollar is widely accepted in most tourist areas

📞 What is the best way to stay connected?

An eSIM from Airalo is the easiest way to get 4G data while traveling in Costa Rica.

🌴 Is Costa Rica safe?

Generally, Costa Rica is considered safe for tourists. However, like any travel destination, it’s best to use caution and be aware of your surroundings.

🛂 Do you need a passport to go to Costa Rica?

Yes, Costa Rica is its own country. You will need a passport to visit.

costa rica travel tips

Hi! We’re Thomas (the German) and Sarah (the US-er)

We met in Virginia, moved to Germany, and since 2016 we have lived in sunny Costa Rica. It was a spontaneous decision to move here, but it was the best decision! Now we spend our days roaming the country to bring you the very best in Costa Rica travel here on Costa Rica Vibes. Sarah is the writer. Thomas is the one keeping it all together. Want the whole crazy story?

costa rica travel tips

Sarah McArthur

Sarah McArthur is the co-founder and main writer of Costa Rica Vibes. She is originally from the United States but has lived in sunny San Jose, Costa Rica since 2016.  She has traveled all over the country and now considers herself a self-proclaimed Costa Rica travel expert.  Want the whole crazy story?

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Hi Sarah, My flight has a stopover in Panama City for over an hour. I will be flying from California. Do I still need a yellow fever vaccine? Thank you.

Hi Linda, From Panama you do not need a yellow fever shot. Only from South American countries not Central American countries. Have a great trip! And feel free to message me if you have any other questions. Also, try to get a window seat if landing in Panama during the day. You usually get a great view of the Panama canal. 🙂

Hey there! My Fiancé and I are traveling to the Santa Teresa beach area in May for our honeymoon and we are trying to decide on the best travel route. What would you recommend to first time Costa Rica travelers: flying into the Liberia airport and renting a car for the drive or into the San Jose airport and renting a car/ catching a ride on the ferry? We are a bit intimidated by the ferry travel and aligning our flight schedule correctly. Also, your travel tips are so helpful! Thank you so so much! Answered so many of our questions 🙂

Hi Jocelyn, Personally, I would go for flying in to San Jose and taking the ferry. In May it tends not to be too crowded so you should be ok getting a spot on the ferry heading over. The drive is much much easier that way. If possible, try to get a flight that doesn’t get in too late in the evening. And, if you can only get a late flight then its best to stay near the airport for the first night and then try to get the first ferry the next day. I’m just saying that because it is best to get the 2pm ferry at the latest if possible so you won’t have to drive in the dark. Let me know if you have any other questions!

Hello, I am going to Costa Rica in a couple days. I plan on staying in la fortuna for a couple of days and then I want to head to a more beachy area. We will have a rental car to go from place to place I was thinking either tamarindo or jaco area in a resort. What do you suggest? I know the one is pretty far but I honestly am not sure of what to do in the jaco or central area.

Hi Emily, Personally I prefer Tamarindo. It is just an overall nicer town. If you go to Tamarindo I suggest doing a bit of beach hopping.Just north of Tamarindo are Playa Grande and Playa Flamingo. You could make a day of visiting those two beaches. about 45 minutes south of Tamarindo down a dirt road is Playa Avellanas. This beach is really nice and one of our favorite beach bars is there. https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g1075571-d1542328-Reviews-Lola_s-Playa_Avellanas_Tamarindo_Province_of_Guanacaste.html Let me know if you have any other questions!

Top Costa Rica travel tips

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Chloe Cann

written by Chloe Cann

updated 31.05.2024


Inspired by pictures of Costa Rica ’s rainforests brimming with exotic flora and fauna, steaming volcanoes and world-class beaches? Us too. If you're dreaming of a trip to this Central American nation, here are eleven indispensable Costa Rica travel tips to help you plan your holiday .

1. Plan for the high season

2. consider an organised tour, 3. bring cash with you, 4. be prepared to spend, 5. try costa rican cuisine, 6. watch your belongings, 7. heed caution when it comes to the weather, 8. having bug spray on hand - one of the most important costa rica travel tips, 9. learn the language, 10. choose between the adventure gateways, 11. rent a 4x4, 12. swap the pacific coast for the caribbean, 13. tie in a neighbour, 14. respect the country’s sustainability credentials, 15. enjoy pura vida.

Given that has made our list of the best places to go with kids , and our round-up of the world's best adventure holidays, it's fair to say that Costa Rica has a richness of experiences for all kinds of travellers.

The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guide to Costa Rica , your essential guide for visiting Costa Rica .

Travel ideas for Costa Rica, created by local experts

Costa Rica: Coast to Coast

Costa Rica: Coast to Coast

From paradise beaches, scenic narrow waterways and magical rainforests, Costa Rica has much to offer. Head east and discover the tranquil Caribbean Sea, head west for the tumultuous Pacific Ocean and surfer’s paradise.

Discover Northern Costa Rica

Discover Northern Costa Rica

This self drive itinerary allows you to explore the Central and Northern highlights of Costa Rica: from the active volcano Arenal to the cloud forest of Monteverde and the beaches of Guanacaste with plenty of surf & yoga - discover why they call it the land of Pura Vida - pure life!

A self drive Caribbean adventure

A self drive Caribbean adventure

It's time to discover Costa Rica's Caribbean coast in your own rental car: From Boca Pacuare, where the turtles come to lay their eggs, to the unique culture of Cahuita and the beaches of Puerto Viejo! Your trip will finish in Turrialba, home of the main archaeological monument in our country.

Beaches and Volcanoes

Beaches and Volcanoes

Escape to Arenal for volcanoes, waterfalls and wildlife reserves. Enjoy gentle hikes or partake in adrenaline-fuelled river rafting. Then journey down to Costa Rica’s Central Pacific for some sand and surf fringed by dense forest that’s teeming with wildlife.

From the Cloud Forest to the Beaches

From the Cloud Forest to the Beaches

On this amazing trip, you will explore the Cloud Forest and rural life of Dota, including a community visit to get to know the real Tico life before heading to the incredible Drake Bay and Corcovado National Park with its stunning biodiversity, and then the amazing beaches of Manuel Antonio.

Tropical Costa Rica

Tropical Costa Rica

Visit volcanoes, take a dip in a hot springs, drift lazily along the country’s waterways and seek out wildlife in tropical lowland forest. Costa Rica’s diverse ecosystem beholds a whole host of natural treasures.

With so many North Americans flying south for the winter – not to mention locals travelling home – it’s pivotal to book in advance if you want to visit Costa Rica during the high season. Christmas and New Year periods are especially busy.

Hotel rooms and buses can sell out weeks ahead, but by being savvy and using several transport links (such as a private shuttle), it’s possible to make things work. Alternatively, you can hire a car for greater flexibility.

The week leading up to Easter is another pressure point, though the parades and processions that take place during this time are quite unique and well worth seeing.


Arenal Volcano © Esdelval/Shutterstock

Veteran independent travellers might sniff at the idea of taking an escorted tour. Doubly so as Costa Rica is a country where hostels and hotels are plentiful and English is quite widely spoken.

Despite this, we recommend you don't rule out a tour entirely. Many activities have both high demand and surprisingly high prices, and there are few regular public bus services around the country. Joining a guided tour is one of the top Costa Rica travel tips as it means you can pack a lot of experiences into one 10-day visit without fretting about availability or logistics.

Rough Guides' own Tailor-Made Trips offers a full trip-planning and booking service in Costa Rica. We pair you with a local expert on the ground working for a local tour operator to design, book and execute a personalised itinerary that works for you. Get inspired by one of our sample itineraries, such as our ' Discover Northern Costa Rica ' or ' Beaches and Volcanoes ' - of course, all modifiable to fit your preferences.

Tourists on horseback in Costa Rican cloud forest © Shutterstock

Tourists on horseback in Costa Rican cloud forest © Shutterstock

When heading for the more remote areas in Costa Rica, try to carry sufficient colones (the official currency of Costa Rica) with you, especially in small denominations. Banking facilities can be scarcer here, and you may have trouble changing a 5000 note in the middle of the Nicoya Peninsula, for example.

Going around with stacks of colones may not seem safe, but you should be alright if you keep them in a money belt — and it will save hours of time waiting in line. Some banks may not accept bent, smudged or torn dollars.

It’s also worth noting that, due to an influx of counterfeit US$100 notes a few years ago, some shops, and even banks, are unwilling to accept them. If you bring any into the country, make sure that they are in mint condition.

Costa Rica is among the most expensive countries to visit in Latin America – and it’s not just pricey when compared to its neighbours. The country can rival the UK and the USA for certain supermarket items, such as bottled water and sunscreen.

To save money, eat plates of gallo pinto at small family-run sodas , pay for groceries and other small purchases with local currency colónes instead of dollars and travel during the low season (aka the rainy season) for reduced room rates. If you're eating out, be aware that a 10% service charge and 13% tax are added to most restaurant bills and budget accordingly.

Additionally, many nature sites, from waterfalls to national parks, charge an entry fee so you'll need to factor that in too. Read our Costa Rica Travel Essentials page for Costa Rica travel tips on budgeting and more.

Costa Rica fruits stand market © Shutterstock

Costa Rica fruits stand market © Shutterstock

Related articles from the blog


Costa Rican food – called comida típica (“native” or “local” food) by Ticos – is best described as unpretentious. Simple it may be, but it’s tasty nonetheless. Especially when it comes to the interesting regional variations found along the Caribbean coast, with its Creole-influenced cooking, and in Guanacaste, where there are vestiges of the ancient indigenous peoples’ use of maize.

Típico dishes you’ll find all over Costa Rica include rice and some kind of meat or fish often served as part of a special plate with coleslaw salad and plantain, in which case it’s called a casado (literally, “married person”).

The ubiquitous gallo pinto (“painted rooster”), often described as the national dish of Costa Rica is a filling breakfast combination of red and white beans with rice, sometimes served with huevos revueltos (scrambled eggs). The heavy concentration of starch and protein reveals the rural origins of Costa Rican food: gallo pinto is food for people who are going out to work it off.


Plantain, rice and beans is a Costa Rican lunch staple © EQRoy / Shutterstock

While Costa Rica is, in general, a very safe country, pickpockets and petty theft can be a problem. Applying basic common sense will mean you avoid the hassle of lost belongings. Firstly, never leave items on show in your parked car. If you're heading to the beach try and park in a carpark (some are guarded by enterprising locals) or near other cars.

Next, be aware that pickpockets operate at bus stations and other crowded places like markets. Don't leave your bags unattended.

Even in the dry season (between December and April) visitors to the central highlands and the Atlantic coastal plain should prepare for frequent downpours. The rainy season starts in earnest in May.

In late September and October, many Pacific coast hotels and restaurants are closed for a break before gearing up again for high season. You might find a few more options on the Caribbean coast at this time of year.

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No matter how clear the skies look at daybreak, make sure you pack waterproof clothing and dry bags for valuables on any trips into the rainforest. And if the showers are dampening your spirits you can always head west to the sun-scorched plains of the Pacific slope.


A rope bridge through Monteverde's Cloud Forest Reserve © Simon Dannhauer / Shutterstock

In Costa Rica, insect protection is crucial to prevent diseases such as dengue and zika. One of the essential Costa Rica travel tips to repel mosquitoes and other insects is to use a bug spray containing DEET. It is important to apply the spray to exposed skin and clothing, especially during the rainy season when mosquito populations increase.

In addition to bug spray, wearing long-sleeved clothing and using mosquito nets will also help prevent insect bites.

You won’t struggle to find locals with good English in Costa Rica, but picking up some Spanish can not only earn you kudos and a warm welcome – it can really boost your bargaining power.

Those with a good chunk of time on their hands can go one step further and enrol in one of the many local language schools that are scattered across the country, putting their tico accent straight to the test.

Monteverde and La Fortuna are two of northern Costa Rica’s backpacker favourites and both are excellent for outdoor activities. However, getting between the two can prove a lengthy process and much of the adventure offering is similar.

If you don’t have time for both, among our top Costa Rica travel tips is to pick Monteverde, as it boasts the trump card thanks to its drier climate and bohemian hilltop charm. Book ahead for an all-in-one adventure tour in Monteverde or if you prefer a more relaxed pace, check out this authentic farm experience , a fun tour for the whole family .

  • For couples: La Guayaba Monteverde
  • For unity with nature: Los Pinos Cabins & Reserve
  • For stunning views: Hotel Flor de Bromelia

Find more accommodation options to stay in Monteverde


La Fortuna de San Carlos waterfall in Arenal volcano national park, Costa Rica © FCG/Shutterstock

If you're planning to self-drive in Costa Rica, you need to consider a 4x4 . While some major roads are paved, many others are still little more than dirt tracks. Add in heavy rainfall and you've got a muddy mess to navigate.

Even if the weather is dry, keep your eyes peeled for potholes which can cause car trouble. Keep water and snacks in the car in case you break down, and try to carry a mobile with you so you can contact the car rental company if needed.

Our local expert in Costa Rica is happy to assist you with the planning and booking process, like this self-driving trip on the Caribbean coast. If the idea of driving sounds intimidating you can opt for a guided trip that includes transport, like this trip discovering the beaches in the South as well as cloud forests and volcanoes.

One quick fix for escaping Costa Rica’s crowds is to head east instead of west. With the international airport of Liberia so close to the Pacific coastline, it’s an easily accessible beach destination . The beaches of the Caribbean coast, are much harder to reach, meaning the region is also much less developed. If you're looking for an off-the-beaten-track experience you'll enjoy exploring the Caribbean coast.

Costa Rica Travel Tips Manzanillo-Caribbean-Coast

Costa Rica's Caribbean coastline is less well known, so one of the top Costa Rica travel tips is to head east instead of west© Simon Dannhauer / Shutterstock

Although they’re tightly packed into the waist of the Americas, each Central American nation boasts its own character, attractions and heritage. Next-door neighbours Nicaragua and Panama make the easiest and most obvious add-ons to a sojourn in Costa Rica.

Nicaragua is a more raw destination that’s best suited to intrepid, budget-conscious travellers. Panama offers a cosmopolitan capital as well as lashings of more rural adventure activities. To plan the trip of your dreams, see our tailor-made trip service. Trips like ' Highlights of Panama ' or ' Thrilling Adventures in Panama ' can be great extensions to your Central America trip.

Costa Rica has set its sights on becoming the world’s second carbon-neutral country (after Bhutan) by 2021. To help support its green goals, opt for locally owned ecolodges and operators that practise sustainable tourism wherever possible.

To help distinguish between the good, the bad and the ugly, the Costa Rica Tourism Institute has developed the CST (Certificate of Sustainable Tourism). Businesses are ranked from levels one to five based on their commitment to the cause.


Ecolodge with a view of Lake Arenal in central Costa Rica © Alexey Stiop/Shutterstock

The phrase Pura Vida does not just mean "simple life" or "pure life" for the people of Costa Rica it is a philosophy and a motto for life. Pura Vida is a way of life that incorporates relaxation, enjoyment of nature and good spirits.

Whether hiking through lush rainforests, relaxing on a white sand beach or enjoying the local cuisine, one of the best Costa Rica travel tips is to enjoy Pura Vida, which reminds us to live in the present moment and enjoy the simple joys of life.

Relaxing on a hammock ©  soft_light/Shutterstock

One of the best Costa Rica travel tips is to enjoy Pura Vida © soft_light/Shutterstock

Ready for a trip to Costa Rica ? Check out the snapshot of The Rough Guide to Costa Rica .

If you prefer to plan and book your trip to Costa Rica without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our l ocal travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.

We may earn a commission when you click on links in this article, but this doesn’t influence our editorial standards. We only recommend services we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.

Header image: Sunrise Arenal volcano in Costa Rica, Central America © Antonio Fernandez Dieguez/Shutterstock

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Nomadic Matt: Travel Cheaper, Longer, Better

Costa Rica Travel Guide

Last Updated: November 2, 2023

a colorful tropical bird in the lush rainforest of beautiful Costa Rica

Costa Rica is one of my favorite countries in the world. It was the first country I ever traveled to — and it was the country that sparked my wanderlust.

These days, Costa Rica is one of the most popular destinations in Central America . It’s popular with expats, luxury travelers, and backpackers alike. While it is on the higher end of the price spectrum for the region, it’s nevertheless a phenomenal country to visit and remains affordable.

I love the never-ending activities, gorgeous beaches, diverse wildlife, delicious food, and friendly people.

The country may be expensive by regional standards but that doesn’t make it any less amazing. The beaches are picturesque, there’s great surfing and amazing diving, and there are plenty of places to get away from the hordes of retired Americans that live here.

This guide to Costa Rica can help you have the trip of a lifetime — and save money in the process!

Table of Contents

  • Things to See and Do
  • Typical Costs
  • Suggested Budget
  • Money-Saving Tips
  • Where to Stay
  • How to Get Around
  • How to Stay Safe
  • Best Places to Book Your Trip
  • Related Blogs on Costa Rica

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Top 5 things to see and do in costa rica.

volcano in arenal, costa rica

1. Climb a volcano

Volcanoes are among the country’s top tourist attractions. There are currently 5 active ones and over 60 dormant ones. Arenal is the most popular, famous for its beautiful hikes and scenic views. Irazu is known for its astonishing green-blue lake in one of its craters, while the Poas Volcano is home to a boiling acid lake within its crater.

2. Visit Monteverde

Monteverde is one of my favorite places in Costa Rica. I always found this town to be a nice base to hike the surrounding cloud forest, take canopy tours, and visit coffee plantations. I still dream of the coffee from here — it’s like drinking liquid chocolate! Be sure to take a nocturnal rainforest tour while you’re here — they’re super fun and educational.

3. Explore Tortuguero National Park

This park on the Caribbean coast is regarded as one of the most important breeding grounds for the endangered green turtle. The park also helps protect manatees, sloths, and monkeys. If you like jungles, birds, and quiet, this is a must-see! Admission is $16.95 USD. You can visit as a guided full-day tour from San Jose for $195 USD.

4. Explore Corcovado

Established in 1975, Corcovado National Park is on the remote Osa Peninsula in the southwest. Spanning 424 square kilometers (164 square miles), it’s a rugged, quiet, off-the-beaten-path destination. Here you’ll find pristine jungles, hiking trails, and plenty of diving opportunities. There’s lots of wildlife too, including tapirs, jaguars, pumas, and the rare Harpy eagle. The peninsula is not easy to get to but it’s the highlight of the country for me.

5. Stay in Puerto Viejo

Other things to see and do in costa rica, 1. visit san josé.

Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose is in the center of the country. It’s sort of gritty and there’s not a whole lot to do (the city only requires a few days) but while you’re here, visit the Museum of Contemporary Art & Design to check out the future of Costa Rican art, as well as the magnificent Teatro Nacional to take in its décor. There are also many tour companies that offer day trips to the surrounding jungle for hiking, zip-lining, canopy tours, and more. Most start around $150 USD.

2. Zip through the rainforest canopy

The highest 10% of rainforest is where most activity takes place, filled with squawking birds, slow moving sloths, and monkeys scampering from tree to tree. For an adrenaline-pumping view of these vast, diverse ecosystems, take a zip line tour. There are dozens of companies throughout the country, though Monteverde is my favorite place to do it. Expect to pay around $75-85 USD for a multi-line tour lasting a couple of hours .

3. Explore Baru Wildlife Refuge

With over 330 hectares (815 acres) of land, 7 kilometers (4 miles) of walking trails, and 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) of fantastic beaches, this refuge is another prime example of Costa Rica’s natural beauty. Located on the coast south of Manuel Antonio , here you can go birdwatching, take canopy tours, and explore the park via guided tours to see the wildlife. Don’t miss the orchid and butterfly gardens. For something more unique, take a nighttime guided tour to see the region’s nocturnal animals. Self-guided tours cost $15 USD while guided tours start at $35 USD.

4. Go surfing in Jaco

Located on the Pacific Coast west of San Jose, Jaco was once a sleepy resort town whose main attraction was its excellent surfing. Growing tourism has transformed it into a haven of beach parties and nightclubs. Surf lessons and rentals are widely available on the beaches and sport-fishing is also popular here. For a more laid-back visit, head to the nearby Carara National Park to spot scarlet macaws, armadillos, and hundreds of species of birds (admission is $11.30 USD).

5. Learn some Spanish

Costa Rica is one of the most popular countries for learning Spanish due to the country’s easy-to-understand dialect. Programs vary in length and cost, but most offer the opportunity to do an immersive homestay with a Costa Rican family. Expect to spend around $500 USD for a basic week-long homestay language learning program.

6. See La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Located just one hour from San Jose, this makes for a popular day trip. Aside from the many stunning waterfalls throughout the lush cloud forest, here you’ll also find several beautiful gardens, an aviary, a hummingbird garden, a butterfly garden, and a reptile area. Plan to stay at least two hours to see everything. Admission is $50 USD. You can also do a full-day tour to the Waterfall Gardens that includes a visit to a coffee plantation and Poás Volcano for $159 USD.

7. Go fishing

Costa Rica is home to Marlin, Sailfish, Dorado, Snapper, Wahoo, and more. If you love to fish (or just want to give it a try), consider doing a half-day or full-day fishing excursion. A basic group excursion costs around $105 USD and usually includes food, though prices can be ten times as high for multi-day or exclusive charters. A half-day private charter is around $400-600 USD. You can usually find places that can cook your catch as well.

8. Chill out in Santa Teresa

At the bottom of the Nicoya Peninsula is the hippy backpacker town of Santa Teresa. This “town” is really nothing more than a beach with a road lined with eateries, surf shops, and hostels. Not much goes on here as everyone is up early to hit the waves. I enjoyed my time here as it’s a good place to just lay on the beach, hang out with people, and relax. It’s an easy place to fall into and spend weeks. Or, like most people who visit, months.

9. Learn to surf

Puerto Viejo , Cahuita , Manuel Antonio , Jaco, Santa Teresa, or Tamarindo all offer plenty of waves and lots of places to learn to surf. In fact, most travelers come here to surf because the waves are world renowned. If you have never learned but always wanted to try, this is the best place in the region to learn. Group lessons cost around $60 USD and private lessons are around $80-100 USD, while all-inclusive surf camps (including food, accommodation, lessons, and more) can be up to $2,500 USD. Board rentals are usually around $10 USD per day.

10. Walk through the treetops

The Rainmaker Aerial Walkway, located one hour from Jaco, was the first aerial walkway to be built in Central America. Spanning the canopy of a private rainforest, it’s still considered to be one of the top aerial walkways in the region. At the highest point on the walkway, you’ll find yourself 20 stories above the ground, giving you ample opportunities to spot all kinds of birds and monkeys. A self-guided tour is $23 USD, while guided tours start at $74 USD.

11. Wander a coffee plantation

Costa Rican coffee is famous the world over. On a coffee plantation tour you can learn about the entire bean-to-cup process and see it all up close — all while learning about the lives of the local farmers who grow it. While I personally dislike the taste of coffee, the kind I had in Monteverde tasted like chocolate and was delicious! Prices vary but expect to pay around $40-50 USD for a tour.

12. Take a chocolate-making workshop

Cacao is Costa Rica’s other famous bean (also technically a seed). Once widely exported, Costa Rican chocolate is now mostly made in small batches on local artisan farms. There are many places around the country where you can take chocolate making workshops, where you can see the entire process, sample the goods, and try your hand at grinding raw cacao. Tours generally last 2-3 hours and cost around $30-40 USD.

13. Experience the rainforest by night

A guided night walk offers the chance to spot and learn about some of the countless nocturnal animals that call the forest home, including tarantulas, armadillos, and stick bugs. It’s a cool way to see a different side of the jungle as your guide will point out animals, insects, and plants that you might not have noticed otherwise. You can take night walks at national parks and nature preserves around the country. Tours generally last around 2 hours and cost $25-35 USD.

14. Take a cooking class

One of my favorite ways to learn about a new culture is through its cuisine, and taking a cooking class is one of the best ways to do that. Taking home new recipes is also a great souvenir from your trip! In this 3-hour cooking class in La Fortuna, you’ll learn about typical Costa Rican produce and ingredients, and then prepare a few traditional dishes like picadillos (a spicy stew), tortillas, and guisados (a meat dish).

  For more information on specific destinations in the country, check out these guides:

  • Arenal Travel Guide
  • Manuel Antonio Travel Guide
  • Monteverde Travel Guide
  • Puerto Viejo Travel Guide
  • San Jose Travel guide
  • Tamarindo Travel Guide
  • Tortuguero Travel Guide

Costa Rica Travel Costs

Small resort and hotel buildings nestled in the rainforest with the ocean in the background in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Hostel Costs – A bed in a hostel dorm with 4-6 beds costs between $15-25 USD per night, while dorms with 8 beds and up can be found for as cheap as $11-14 USD. Private rooms in hostels are usually $35-60 USD.

Free Wi-Fi is standard and some hostels also include free breakfast. The majority of hostels around the country also have self-catering facilities too. Many also have bars/restaurants on site. In the beach areas especially, some hostels even have pools.

Budget hotel costs – Budget hotels begin around $50 USD per night but average closer to $65-70 USD.Breakfast is often included and most have basic amenities like AC and TV. Many budget hotels even have pools, especially in beachside towns.

For Airbnb, private rooms start around $40-60 USD per night. For an entire home or apartment, expect to pay at least $75-125 USD. Prices double when not booked in advance.

For those traveling with a tent, camping is an option all around the country. Most campgrounds usually charge around $10 USD per night for a basic plot without electricity. Avoid wild camping as it is often unsafe and illegal in many areas due to the protection of natural areas.

Food – Costa Rican cuisine is centered around rice and beans, which are usually eaten for every meal. Potatoes, plantain, pork, and beef are also popular. Gallo pinto (rice and bean stir-fry) is the national dish. You’ll find it mixed with eggs for breakfast. Casado is a typical lunch dish, which consists of rice, beans, veggies, fresh salad, and your choice of meat. Generally, the food here is quite mild.

Note: While you can easily pay for tours and entrance fees in USD, in smaller establishments, such as local restaurants, you’ll need colones (CRC). Prices in this section are in CRC to reflect this.

At sodas (cheap local restaurants serving traditional cuisine), expect a filling meal of casado (rice, beans, veggies, and meat) to cost around 3,500-5,000 CRC. You can usually find empanadas and other savory snacks from traditional bakeries for around 2,000 CRC or less.

At a mid-range restaurant or in touristy areas (like right along the beach) expect to pay around around 7,000-8,500 CRC for a fish dish, 6,000-7,000 for a burger or a simple pasta dish, and 9,000-11,000 CRC for a steak dish or large pizza to share. Seafood dishes like lobster start around 12,000-17,000 CRC.

For fast food (think pizza or burgers) or a dish of fried rice at a Chinese takeout place, expect to pay around 4,500-5,000 CRC.

Domestic beer costs around 1,500-2,000 CRC, a glass of wine is 3,000 CRC, a cocktail is 3,500-5,000 CRC, and a latte/cappuccino is around 2,000 CRC. Bottled water is 1,000 CRC. Fruit smoothies, which you can get made either with water or milk, are 2,000-2,500 CRC.

If you plan on cooking for yourself, a week’s worth of groceries costs around 20,000-30,000 CRC depending on the area. This gets you basic staples like rice, beans, veggies, fruit, and some meat or fish.

Backpacking Costa Rica Suggested Budgets

If you’re backpacking Costa Rica, my suggested budget is $50 USD per day. On this budget, you can stay in a hostel, cook most of your meals, have some cheap street food, take public transportation to get around, and enjoy mostly free activities like hiking and the beach.

On a mid-range budget of around $135 USD per day, you can stay in an Airbnb or private hostel room, eat out at local sodas, enjoy a couple of drinks, take the occasional taxi, and do more paid activities like guided tours, surf lessons, and museum visits

On a “luxury” budget of $250 USD or more per day, you can stay in a hotel, eat out anywhere you want, rent a car to get around, drink as much as you’d like, and do as many excursions as you want, including diving and canopy tours. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!

You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages — some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.

Costa Rica Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips

Costa Rica is one of the most expensive countries in Central America. Between food costs, accommodation, and activities, there’s a lot of ways to spend money. You can get by on a budget compared to other places in the world but it’s still an expensive place to visit. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to save money while you’re here:

  • Travel off-season – Late April to November is considered the rainy season and prices tend to be less expensive and the region is less crowded. If you’re on a budget, visit during this time.
  • Avoid tour activities – There are a lot of great (but expensive) group activities and tours in the country. Skip them and do free activities like hiking, swimming, and relaxing at the beach instead.
  • Eat at the sodas – “Sodas” are small family-run restaurants that specialize in inexpensive yet filling traditional meals, usually costing around 3,500-5,000 CRC. These hole-in-the-wall restaurants offer the best value in the country.
  • Go camping – Some hostels let you camp on their property if you have a tent. If not, there are plenty of campgrounds around the country where you can pitch a tent. Usually, this costs around $10 USD per night.
  • Visit the Caribbean side – Visiting the cheaper Caribbean side lets you see the beautiful country without the high prices of the popular Pacific destinations.
  • Avoid the tourist shuttles – While local buses are a lot slower than tourist shuttles, they are also a fraction of the price (i.e the local bus from San Jose to Monteverde is $6 USD while a shuttle is $60 USD). If you aren’t rushed for time, take the local buses.
  • Pack a water bottle – While the tap water is drinkable in most of the country, there are some remote and beach destinations where it’s recommended to drink bottled water. A reusable water bottle with a filter can help you save money (and thousands of plastic bottles) by purifying the tap water for you. My preferred bottle is LifeStraw .

Where to Stay in Costa Rica

Costa Rica has lots of fun, social, and affordable hostels. Here are some of my favorite places to stay in Costa Rica:

  • Arenal Backpackers Resort (Arenal)
  • Selina Puerto Viejo (Puerto Viejo)
  • Stray Cat Hostel (San Jose)
  • Costa Rica Backpackers (San Jose)
  • Pura Natura Lodge Manuel Antonio (Manuel Antonio)
  • Sloth Backpackers (Monteverde)
  • Pura Vida Hostel (Tamarindo)
  • Aracari Garden Hostel (Tortuguero)

How to Get Around Costa Rica

Sloth hanging from a tree in Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica

Bus – The cheapest and easiest way to get around Costa Rica is by bus. Short bus trips (under 3 hours) are usually around $2-10 USD while longer trips cost $10-20 USD. The Costa Rica tourism board has a comprehensive schedule and guide to help you plan your trip.

Minibus – Private minibuses or shuttles provide an easy way to get around the country, or to and from the airport. They are all over the place and are often quicker and more direct than the public buses (but also more expensive, starting at $50-60 USD). Ask your hotel/hostel staff for the local options as they vary around the country.

Flying – Since the country is so small, air travel within Costa Rica isn’t budget-friendly or efficient. I would skip this method of travel. It won’t save you time or money.

Car Rental – Car rentals are surprisingly affordable in Costa Rica. You can rent a car for as little as $30-45 USD per day. However, the roads here are not always great and drivers can be aggressive. Make sure you have insurance if you do rent a vehicle. Most rental companies require drivers to be 25 though some will rent to drivers who are 21. For the best car rental prices in Costa Rica, use Vamos (as a Nomadic Matt reader, you’ll get 5% off by using our link).

Hitchhiking – Hitchhiking isn’t common for long-distance rides, however, it’s possible in beach destinations or in remote places with less public transport. HitchWiki is the best website for additional hitchhiking tips and info.

When to Go to Costa Rica

Overall, temperatures and weather vary per region, but most people go to Costa Rica during the dry season, which takes place from December to April. Although it’s peak season and tourism is at its highest, there’s almost non-stop sunshine, ideal for enjoying the country’s beaches and rainforests. If visiting during this time, make all your reservations in advance since things fill up fast.

The rainy season is from May to November. This is when it’s cheapest to visit Costa Rica. It doesn’t rain all the time though and temperatures are still warm. The rain tends to lighten during June and July, making the country’s rainforests burst with life.

If you’re around the Caribbean coast and the Northern Plains, you can expect year-round humidity and temperatures somewhere in the 20s-30s°C (70s-80s°F). It’s not so humid in the North Pacific, but temperatures can get even hotter in this area during the dry season.

How to Stay Safe in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is one of the safest countries for traveling and backpacking in Central America . Most popular tourist towns are small and with little threat of violence. Solo female travelers should generally feel safe here, however, the standard precautions apply (never leave your drink unattended at the bar, never walk home alone intoxicated, etc.).

That said, it’s always good to play it safe. Petty theft (including bag snatching) is one of the most common types of crime here. Don’t flash your valuables and make sure they are always secure while you’re out. When going out for the night, only bring the money you need. Leave the rest of your cash and cards locked up in your accommodation.

There are some common scams here, including a taxi scam where the driver tells you the meter is broken once the drive has begun. For that reason, you should stick to metered taxis or negotiate a price in advance. You can read about common travel scams to avoid here .

If you rent a car, don’t leave any valuables in it overnight as break-ins do occur. Be mindful of missing road signs and potholes, as well as aggressive drivers.

Costa Rica’s natural wonders can be unpredictable. If you’re hiking in the jungle, always check the weather in advance and never stray from the trail. Doing so disturbs the fragile ecosystems, and opens yourself up to the possibility of encountering poisonous snakes and spiders. When in doubt, hire a guide. If you’re not a strong swimmer, stay out of the water. The currents and waves off the coast can be very strong, so heed signs and local advice on whether it’s safe to swim in a certain area or not.

If you experience an emergency, dial 911 for assistance.

The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against unexpected costs due to illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.

Costa Rica Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources

These are my favorite companies to use when I travel. They consistently have the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the companies I use the most and are always the starting point in my search for travel deals.

  • Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
  • Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
  • Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
  • Get Your Guide – Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace for tours and excursions. They have tons of tour options available in cities all around the world, including everything from cooking classes, walking tours, street art lessons, and more!
  • SafetyWing – Safety Wing offers convenient and affordable plans tailored to digital nomads and long-term travelers. They have cheap monthly plans, great customer service, and an easy-to-use claims process that makes it perfect for those on the road.
  • LifeStraw – My go-to company for reusable water bottles with built-in filters so you can ensure your drinking water is always clean and safe.
  • Unbound Merino – They make lightweight, durable, easy-to-clean travel clothing.
  • Top Travel Credit Cards – Points are the best way to cut down travel expenses. Here’s my favorite point earning credit cards so you can get free travel!

Costa Rica Travel Guide: Related Articles

Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling Costa Rica and continue planning your trip:

The Ultimate Guide to Renting a Car in Costa Rica

The Ultimate Guide to Renting a Car in Costa Rica

Do You Need Travel Insurance for Costa Rica?

Do You Need Travel Insurance for Costa Rica?

The Best Tour Companies in Costa Rica

The Best Tour Companies in Costa Rica

The 8 Best Hostels in San José, Costa Rica

The 8 Best Hostels in San José, Costa Rica

Is Costa Rica Safe to Visit?

Is Costa Rica Safe to Visit?

Is Central America Safe to Visit?

Is Central America Safe to Visit?

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The best things to do in Costa Rica: How to plan a memorable trip

view of beach in costa rica from above

Costa Rica is an absolutely beautiful country with stunning natural scenery, incredible biodiversity, and friendly people. Whether you’re looking for outdoor adventures, cultural immersion, or just a chance to relax on the beach, “the rich coast” has something for everyone. Here’s a guide to the best things you can do in Costa Rica.

Explore the rainforests and wildlife

Adventure activities, beach escapes, cultural experiences, wellness and relaxation, unique experiences, monteverde cloud forest reserve.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is a must-visit for nature lovers. This forest is home to over 2,500 plant species , 400 bird species, and a wide array of mammals. The reserve offers various trails where you can hike and experience the greenery, exotic birds, and even spot animals like the jaguar. Guided night tours give you a unique opportunity to see nocturnal creatures in their natural habitat.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park combines rainforest with beaches. It’s one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, offering a glimpse into the incredible wildlife of Costa Rica. The park is famous for its population of monkeys, sloths, iguanas, and a variety of bird species. Walking trails within the park lead to viewpoints and beaches, perfect for swimming and sunbathing.

Zip-lining in Arenal

Adrenaline junkie? Zip-lining near the Arenal Volcano is an unforgettable experience. Arenal is one of Costa Rica’s most famous volcanoes, and its surrounding rainforest provides the perfect setting for zip-lining. As you soar above the treetops, you’ll be treated to panoramic views of the volcano and Lake Arenal.

White water rafting on the Pacuare River

Costa Rica ’s rivers offer some of the best white-water rafting experiences in the world. The Pacuare River, in particular, is known for its challenging rapids and scenic beauty. Rafting down the Pacuare will take you through rainforests, past waterfalls, and alongside steep canyons. It’s an exhilarating way to experience the wild side of Costa Rica.

Tamarindo, located on the Pacific coast, is a vibrant beach town perfect for surfing and relaxation. With consistent waves, it’s a favorite spot for both novice and experienced surfers. Beyond surfing, Tamarindo offers a lively nightlife, excellent restaurants, and opportunities for snorkeling, diving, and deep-sea fishing.

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

On the Caribbean side, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is known for its laid-back vibe, reggae music, and stunning beaches. Playa Cocles and Punta Uva are among the most beautiful beaches in the area, offering clear waters and golden sands. The town is also a great place to experience Afro-Caribbean culture and cuisine.

San José’s museums and markets

Costa Rica’s capital, San José, is a hub of culture and history. The National Museum, housed in a former military barracks, offers fascinating exhibits on Costa Rican history, archaeology, and culture. The Pre-Columbian Gold Museum showcases an impressive collection of gold artifacts. To experience local life, visit the bustling Mercado Central, where you can sample traditional foods, buy handmade crafts, and mingle with locals.

Coffee plantation tours

Costa Rica is famous for its coffee, and a tour of a coffee plantation is a great way to learn about the country’s coffee-making traditions. The Central Valley, particularly around the town of Alajuela, is home to many coffee farms. These tours typically include a walk through the coffee fields, a demonstration of the roasting process, and, of course, a tasting session. You’ll gain a deep appreciation for the art of coffee production and the hard work that goes into every cup.

Hot springs in La Fortuna

After a day of adventure, unwind in the natural hot springs of La Fortuna, near the Arenal Volcano. The geothermal activity in the area heats the waters, creating a range of hot springs where you can soak and relax. Many resorts in the area offer access to these hot springs, some featuring beautifully landscaped pools, waterfalls, and swim-up bars.

Yoga retreats in Nosara

Nosara, on the Nicoya Peninsula, is a wellness spot known for its yoga retreats. The town’s serene beaches and tranquil environment make it an ideal place for relaxation and meditation. Yoga studios and wellness centers offer a variety of retreats, combining yoga practice with healthy eating and holistic treatments. Nosara is also a great spot for surfing and stand-up paddleboarding, adding a touch of adventure to your wellness retreat.

Turtle nesting tours in Tortuguero

Tortuguero National Park, on the Caribbean coast, is a critical nesting site for several species of sea turtles. From July to October, you can join guided tours to witness the magical sight of turtles laying their eggs on the beach. The park’s network of canals and rivers also makes it a great place for boat tours, where you can spot manatees, caimans, and a variety of bird species.

Explore caves in Barra Honda National Park

Barra Honda National Park, in the Nicoya Peninsula, is famous for its limestone caves. A guided tour of the caves takes you deep underground to explore stunning stalactites and stalagmites formations. The park also offers hiking trails with panoramic views of the surrounding landscape, making it a great destination for both adventure and natural beauty.

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Looking pretty, Music City. Are you thinking about taking a trip to Nashville this year? Nashville offers a rich blend of culture, history, and entertainment that promises a memorable experience for every visitor. Whether you’re a music enthusiast looking to explore iconic venues or a foodie ready to dive into delicious Southern cuisine, Nashville has something for you. If you aren’t sure what to do in Nashville, TN, we’ve got you covered. Here are just a few of the best things to do in Nashville, Tennessee. Take a stroll down Lower Broadway

Lower Broadway consistently makes the list of the top things to do in Nashville. This vibrant stretch, often referred to simply as “Broadway,” is lined with honky-tonk bars, live music venues, and busy eateries that showcase the best of Nashville’s legendary music scene. Lower Broadway is not only the heart of Nashville’s nightlife but also a hub where famous musicians bring their flair to the local scene. Jason Aldean’s Kitchen + Rooftop Bar offers a mix of Southern cuisine and stunning rooftop views, while Blake Shelton’s Ole Red combines great food with live music.  Indulge in some hot chicken

Are you thinking about planning a trip to Portugal? Known for its stunning coastline, charming cities, and delectable foods, Portugal is a popular year-round vacation destination. However, the best time to visit Portugal depends on what you are looking for. Whether you’re a budget traveler seeking the best deals, a beach lover chasing the sun, or an adventurer eager to immerse yourself in local festivals and events, timing your trip right can make all of the difference. From the hot temperatures of summer to the festive charm of winter, let’s discover the best time for you to head out on the perfect Portuguese adventure. The best time to visit for good weather

For travelers seeking the best weather, summer (June to August) is the ideal time to visit Portugal. This season boasts the warmest and sunniest days, with daytime temperatures often reaching the high 80sºF and minimal rainfall. This time is perfect for beach vacations, particularly in the Algarve region, where you’ll find crystal clear waters and golden sands. 

Summer in Europe. There is so much to see and do — especially if you’re a sports fan. But if it’s your first time visiting, or you don’t know your way around, you could be lost and confused instead of having the time of your life. Not only that, but flying between cities takes time and energy, taking away from time spent exploring.

To help you plan a European vacation like nothing else, Trainline — Europe’s No. 1 train and bus booking service — tapped Olympic gold medal-winning diver Tom Daley. With Tom’s experience traveling the world and his diverse interests, he authored “Tom Daley's Summer Sports Tour of Europe,” so you can know where to go and enjoy the convenience of going by train.

costa rica travel tips

Costa Rica in May: Guide to Weather, Where to Go, What to Do

C osta Rica in May is the start of the rainy season throughout most of the country. It is a great time to visit, but there are a few things you should know as you plan your trip.

Thomas and I created this post to detail the pros and cons of May in Costa Rica. We have lived in Costa Rica since 2016, so we are somewhat experts on the weather you can expect each month of the year. We also included tips on what to pack, the best areas to visit, and the pros and cons of this time of year.

So, let’s get to all the tips to make sure you have an amazing experience while visiting Costa Rica during the month of May.

Costa Rica in May at a Glance

  • This is a transition month between the end of dry season and the start of rainy season. Weather will be hot and sunny with occasional afternoon rain showers on the Pacific Coast.
  • Typically tourism starts to go down a bit at this time of year. That means prices also get a bit lower.
  • Focus on sun-blocking clothing, high SPF sunscreen, bug spray, rain protection, and lots of water for hydration. This time of year is humid!

Should You Travel to Costa Rica in May? 

We say definitely! It’s actually one of the best months of the year to visit Costa Rica (in our opinion).

Pros of Visiting Costa Rica in May

  • The weather should be good. We go into the weather details further in this post, but in general, you can expect perfectly sunny days, afternoon rain storms, and warm evenings.
  • Everything will be open at this time. Sometimes later in the year tour companies and hotels close because there are just not enough tourists for there to be a reason to stay open.
  • Everything starts turning green again after the dry season, and it is so beautiful!
  • There are still a lot of tourists, but it is not as busy as peak high season ( January – April).
  • You can expect what is referred to as “mid-season prices”. That means rates aren’t as high as in peak season, but not as low as later in the year when the chance of rain is higher. 
  • Hotels, activities etc, aren’t as full.
  • Wildlife can be more active because the temperatures cool down a bit. It’s a great time to visit national parks !

Cons of Visiting Costa Rica in May

  • This is the beginning of the green season and you may have to contend with afternoon rain.
  • Rates go down a bit, but not as much as later in the year
  • The mosquitoes tend to be worse in the rainy season versus dry season

Costa Rica Weather in May

​​May is the start of the rainy season in many parts of Costa Rica, which means you can expect some wet weather during your visit. 

The weather can vary significantly depending on where you are in the country. 

The sun rises daily around 5:15 am and sets around 5:50 pm. 

One thing to keep in mind is that the weather forecast online is never correct during the rainy season. They typically predict rain showers all day long. This is luckily all lies.

Pacific Coast

On the Pacific Coast, we suggest getting up as early as possible. Usually, you won’t really be able to sleep in anyway because the however monkeys and other loud wildlife will make sure you are up early.

In our opinion, the early morning hours are the very best time of the day. It’s beautiful!

You can expect hot days (mid 80’s Fahrenheit) with plenty of sunshine until the early afternoon.

Around 2pm the afternoon rain storms usually roll in. These storms typically last for an hour or two. This is a great time to take a little siesta. 

After that, the weather tends to cool off a bit. But, “cools off” is a relative term. Really, it typically gets down to the mid to high seventies Fahrenheit. 

The evenings tend to be clear with nice sunset views. 

After sunset, you will need bug spray.

On the northern Pacific Coast in the Guanacaste Province , you can expect even less rain. Typically this area tends to stay dry a bit longer.

San Jose & Central Valley

San Jose and the Central Valley area is always bit cooler than the Pacific Coast.

The average daytime temperatures range from around 75°F to 80°F (24°C to 27°C), while nighttime temperatures usually drop to around 60°F to 65°F (16°C to 18°C).

Just note that temperatures can vary depending on the specific location within the Central Valley. Higher elevation areas tend to be cooler.

Northern Mountains   

The Northern Mountains region consists of La Fortuna and Monteverde.

The days should be clear enough that you will be able to enjoy good views in mountain towns. For example, Arenal Volcano should be mostly clear for viewing. 

In Monteverde , you may have more rain. Usually, it is not super heavy, but the rain can occur more throughout the day and tends not to be limited to only the afternoons. 

Caribbean Coast

The Caribbean Coast has the opposite rainy and dry season the Pacific Coast. May in the Caribbean can mean heavier rains. In our experience, usually, it rains more in the evening than during the day, but you never know.

Average highs range from 80°F to 85°F (27°C to 29°C) and lows from 70°F to 75°F (21°C to 24°C).

What to Pack for Costa Rica in May

In May, layers are also a good idea because it can get cool in the evenings after the daily rain. 

  • Lightweight and breathable clothing (shorts, T-shirts, tank tops). We suggest opting for moisture-wicking clothing that also blocks UV rays. 
  • Long-sleeved shirts and lightweight pants for cooler evenings and sun protection
  • Swimsuits for beach and water activities
  • Comfortable walking shoes or sandals for exploring
  • Rain jacket for occasional showers during the transition to the rainy season
  • Sunglasses for sun protection

Weather-Specific Items:

  • Sunscreen (high SPF) for sun protection in the tropical climate
  • Insect repellent to ward off mosquitoes, especially during evenings
  • Daypack for carrying essentials during day trips and excursions. I suggest a dry bag. 
  • Plastic bags or waterproof pouches for protecting electronics and important documents from rain

Outdoor and Adventure Gear:

  • Sturdy and comfortable hiking shoes for exploring natural trails. We like Keens .
  • Pocket binoculars for wildlife viewing, especially in national parks
  • Refillable water bottle to stay hydrated during outdoor activities. I suggest LifeStraw bottles .
  • A glasses strap to keep your sunglasses secure during adventures like zip lining and boat trips
  • Quick-dry microfiber travel towel for convenience on the go

Electronics and Accessories:

  • Camera or smartphone for capturing the stunning landscapes and wildlife
  • Portable charger to keep devices powered during outdoor excursions

Health and Safety:

  • Travel first aid kit with basic medications, bandages, and any necessary prescriptions
  • Motion sickness tablets if you’re sensitive to travel on winding roads or if you plan to take boat trips
  • Hydration tablets or electrolyte supplements for staying hydrated in the warm weather
  • Hat with a wide brim for added sun protection, especially during outdoor activities

Miscellaneous Items:

  • Copies of important documents (passport, travel insurance, itinerary)
  • Zip lock bags to separate wet items in your luggage

Check out our complete packing list for women and packing list for men for more ideas of what to bring.

The Best Places to Visit and Places to Avoid

There is nowhere I would suggest completely avoiding. You will likely have more rain on the Caribbean Coast, but it is a beautiful area to visit.

As always, you can expect more tourists in the bigger towns (La Fortuna, Monteverde, Playas del Coco, Tamarindo, Jaco, Manuel Antonio) but it shouldn’t be too crazy. 

Things to Do at this Time of Year

This is a great time of year for pretty much all activities. When booking your Costa Rica tours, keep in mind that there may be afternoon storms. We like to try and schedule as much as we can in the morning to avoid the possibility of being rained out. 

Some of our favorite activities are:

  • Visit a Waterfall : The water levels will be a bit higher than during the dry season, so you can enjoy a better experience.
  • Go Hiking in a National Park : We love it when everything turns lush and green again. Plus, with fewer crowds, the national parks are super enjoyable. This is a great time to go to Corcovado National Park or Manuel Antonio National Park .
  • Go Zip Lining : Again, with everything starting to turn green and vibrant in May it is a great time to get overhead views of the jungle canopy with a zip-lining adventure. We suggest this activity in Monteverde or La Fortuna .
  • Take a Catamaran Sunset Tour : This is a fun activity to do after the brief afternoon rain shower. A catamaran tour typically includes a fun time out on a nice boat, Usually, these tours are a bit cheaper than in the high season.
  • Visit the Beautiful Beaches : It is always a good time to visit the amazing beaches. All beaches in Costa Rica need to have free public access by law. That means there is thousands of miles of coastline for you to explore.

Booking Transportation

Typically, we think renting a car is the best way to easily get around.

In May, demand isn’t as high, but it is still best to book somewhat early because things can still book out.

Adobe Rent-a-Car

  • 10% discount for Costa Rica Vibes readers
  • Free second driver
  • 0% deductible on Liability Protection Insurance
  • Excellent customer service
  • New fleet of well-maintained vehicles

Some other transportation options you might consider are:

  • Book a shared shuttle on BookAway
  • Book a private shuttle with Adobe Transfers

Booking Hotels

We like to use Booking.com and reserve places with free cancellations up to a certain date. This will give you the most flexibility if your plans change or if you find a better option. Just make sure to remember to cancel in time!

We also really like VRBO for booking villas or houses. Again, we suggest filtering by places that allow free cancellation if you are concerned about your plans possibly changing.

When booking a place make sure it has AC. sometimes you might be fine with just an electric fan, but we have definitely learned to give preference to places with AC because the evenings can stay semi-warm. 

Holidays and Festivals

There is one Costa Rican national holiday in May.

Labor Day : May 1st is celebrated as Labor Day in Costa Rica, and it is a public holiday. Many businesses and shops are closed, and there are often parades and demonstrations in the major cities.

Another fun festival is, Día de San Isidro Labrador on On May 15th. This event is observed in various towns near San Jose such as San Isidro de Heredia, Perez Zeledon, and Atenas.

This festivity pays homage to the patron saint of farming. It features vibrant parades, traditional cuisine, and a ceremonial blessing of the crops.

Our Travel Tips for Visiting Costa Rica in May

  • Check out flying into both the San Jose and Liberia Airport for your trip to Costa Rica in May. More and more flights are flying into Liberia Airport and sometimes you might find great deals. We like San Jose Airport because it is very centrally located, but Liberia is a lot less hectic and great if you are planning to visit the Guanacaste Province or Northern Mountain region. 
  • If you need more info, we have a complete guide to Costa Rica weather with more details of what to expect in every month.
  • Don’t forget travel insurance. Since we suggest booking everything as early as possible. It is always good to have travel insurance if your travel plans change. 

Do You Have Travel Insurance?

Don’t let unexpected medical expenses or trip interruptions overshadow your dream Costa Rican vacation.  

Secure your worry-free Costa Rican adventure with Heymondo travel insurance

Conclusion: Costa Rica in May

In conclusion, May is a great month to visit Costa Rica for a fun and unique experience. Get ready for sunny days, afternoon rains, and lush landscapes!

While May is part of the rainy season, don’t let the occasional showers dampen your spirits. Just remember to pack lightweight rain gear, insect repellent, and you’ll have an amazing experience!

So what do you think? Are you ready to plan your Costa Rica vacation in May and enjoy the start of the green season? If you have any questions about visiting at this time of year, just leave them in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you out!

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The post Costa Rica in May: Guide to Weather, Where to Go, What to Do appeared first on Costa Rica Vibes .

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