Costa Rica attracts adventure and relaxation-seeking travelers looking to get a taste of pura vida (pure life) – after all it is one of the world’s happiest countries. Home to jungles, rainforests, 5 active volcanoes, hot springs, beaches, waterfalls, and 28 national parks, Costa Rica has tons of untouched nature waiting to be explored with over 5% of the world’s biodiversity.
Diverse flora and fauna, surfing, beaches, sunsets, and epic eco-adventures come to mind when thinking of this peace-loving Central American country – not to mention it won’t break the bank compared to more expensive islands in the Caribbean. Famous products (and must-have things to bring back home) that come from Costa Rica include coffee, bananas, and chocolate.
Costa Rica and ecotourism go hand in hand. After all, pristine natural environments and protected wildlife brings in the tourists mostly coming from North and Central America. Having said that, Costa Rica today is becoming more and more modernized while maintaining a high quality of life for its citizens (especially compared to neighboring countries). It’s no wonder why it is a popular place for expats, both young and old, to move to – especially since healthcare is cheap and accessible. Likewise, Costa Rica is all about renewable energy generating 99% of its electricity.
Locals known as ticos inhabit this peace-loving Central American destination and are known for being friendly and helpful to foreigners. It is not uncommon to meet friendly Costa Ricans during your trip and be invited to their house or party with them. Moreover, ticos are proud and passionate about environmentalism. They love setting an example for the rest of the world! Native Costa Rican music and street art are also interesting and allow you to see another side of its vibrant culture. A good time to experience Costa Rica is whenever a festival takes place.
Costa Ricans are also known for being religious (predominantly Catholic) and huge soccer lovers. Holidays, traditions, and soccer all play a large role in Tico pride and identity. Key religious events for Costa Ricans are Easter Week and Christmas Week. Many local businesses shutdown as people want to head to the beach to spend time with family. The biggest day of the day is August 2nd in Cartago for romería, the annual pilgrimage in honor of the Virgin of the Angels.
Costa Rican cuisine may not be decadent or full of spice, but it is hearty and is always paired with the country’s world famous coffee and fresh tropical fruits. Rice and beans (coconut milk, red beans, thyme, and spicy Panamanian chilies), prepared several different ways, are a main staple in Costa Rican meals. It’s not uncommon for restaurants to prepare it for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. Other common things to eat include lots of pork, chicken, Casado, soups, stews, and fresh seafood. A few of our favorite dishes to try are ceviche, empanadas, gallo pinto, Chifrijo, Sopa de mondongo, and Tres leches cake.
When in Costa Rica, do as the locals do… which is drink alcohol made in the country. It’s cheaper! Popular types of beer include Imperial, Pilsen, and Bavaria. Drinking shots of Chile gauro, the national liquor of Costa Rica, is common during a night out in the town. Costa Ricans mainly go out on the weekends with groups of friends and love to dance up a storm. Note that regular dance clubs are called clubs, while “night clubs” connotate strip clubs. Karaoke is also another popular nighttime activity. Most nightlife hotspots are located in San Jose, however Jaco, Playa Tamarindo, and Puerto Viejo have a decent amount of options.
Making hotel arrangements in advance is key during peak tourist periods. No matter your budget, Costa Rica has something for everyone ranging from luxury hotels and villas to backpacker hostels and everything in between. Staying at a boutique hotel, private vacation rental, or legitimate eco-lodge are also popular options, as well as beachfront resorts (some of which are all-inclusive). Most hotels require a credit card or a deposit to secure your reservation.
November to January (Peak Season)
● Also known as “dry season” which typically results in sunny and rain-free days.
● Most popular and expensive time to visit particularly around Christmas and New Years amongst North American and European tourists.
● Optimal wildlife viewing especially birds and turtles
● Lots of cool holidays and festivals happening like the Envision Festival.
● Ideal time to surf.
● Book accommodation well in advance.
March to May (Shoulder Season)
● Tends to get wetter/greener as the season progresses.
● Much more attractive hotel and tour prices, as well as fewer tourists.
● Another surge of tourists come for Easter and Spring Break.
● Good chance of spotting leatherback sea turtles and whales.
June to August (Wet Season)
● You may get lucky with milder weather in the Tamarindo area.
● Rain is usually prevalent on the Caribbean side but well worth the visit.
● Popular time to go rafting and waterfall rappelling,
September to October (Shoulder Season)
● Visit as early as possible to avoid rainfall
● Best time to head to less touristy spots like Guanacaste or Osa Peninsula.
The most common airports to arrive at are Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) serving the capital region, Daniel Oduber Airport (LIR) serving the Guanacaste region, and Limon International Airport serving the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. There are also several smaller airports in Drake Bay, Golfito, La Fortuna, Nosara, Palmar Sur, Puerto Jiménez, Punta Islita, Quepos, San Isidro, Tamarindo, Tambor, and Tortuguero. You will also find a sprinkling of regional airports served by domestic and low-cost carriers including Barra del Colorado, Buenos Aires, Cañas, Carrillo, Coto 47, Finca 63, Guápiles, Laurel, Nicoya, Parismina, Sirena, and Southern Zone International Airport.
Via Land Borders
Costa Rica borders with Panama in the south and Nicaragua in the north – all of which are connected via the Pan-American Highway. From Nicaragua, you can enter via Penas Blancas or Los Chiles. If entering from Panama, you can cross via Paso Canoas. Crossing borders can be stressful and time-consuming. If you enter by car, you will have to present your passport, driver’s license, vehicle registration and insurance. You may be also required to pay minimal exit/entrance fees so make sure bring small bills in USD. The earlier you cross, the better.
Using Car & Motorcycle
Rental cars are readily available at major airports and most major city centers. Rural areas will be more sparse in their availability.Moped and motorcycle rentals are also available.
It is possible to cross into Costa Rica from Panama (and vice versa) by simply taking a local bus to La Frontera (border). After getting your passport stamped, walk through and find your corresponding bus to Costa Rica. Same goes for the Nicaraguan-Costa Rican border. Main cities to connect to our Panama and Managua. Look into Transnica and Tica Bus for bus schedules and routes. Always keep an eye on your belongings. The journey will take 11-20 hours or longer.
Flying domestically via Sansa Airlines allows you to see more remote parts of the country. Flights are usually under 1 hour (departing almost always from San Jose) and economical averaging around $70 one-way. Note that advance reservations are highly recommended and only up to 25lb of luggage per person is allowed. It is recommended to check-in extra early.
With Car & Motorcycle
Hands down, driving is the best way to get around Costa Rica. Driving allows you to see what you want at your own pace. The main highways are well-kept for the most part. Potholes and windy steep roads can be problematic in more remote locations. Motorcyclists need to pay extra attention to animals and avoid crossing in rivers. While renting a car may be cheap, Costa Rica insurance is mandatory and at an additional cost ($20-$30 per day).
By Public Transit
Costa Rica’s bus system is cheap, comfortable, and well connected throughout the country – although sometimes a few changes may be necessary with or without air conditioning. Interbus and Gray Line Costa Rica are the companies to book and travel with. Smaller towns usually have service, but may run less frequently so be sure to be extra early for your scheduled departure. Additionally, taxis, ferries and Uber are also widely used. Only take official red taxis and ask the driver to run the meter.
Costa Rica, home to countless biking paths and trails, is a trending cycling destination. From beginner-friendly day-trips to advanced cross-country cyclers, there is something for everyone. For those seeking a multi-day adventure, the Nicoya bikepacking route doesn’t disappoint. Bike rules require you to wear a helmet at all times and reflective gear at night. Riders must follow the same rules of the road as motorists. While theft may not be common, don’t let your guard down. Always lock up your bike wherever you go.
The currency in Costa Rica is the colón. Bartering is not common, but you may have a chance of getting a better place at smaller establishments. Tolls are throughout the country and are typically under 250 colones. Gasoline is expensive due to government taxes. A fair amount of cajero automáticos (ATM’s) can be found which charge a varying degree of withdrawal fees for international cards. Many small restaurants or places in rural areas will not accept credit cards. Always have some cash on hand. Tipping is not mandatory but appreciated particularly by hotel staff, taxi drivers, and tour guides. Costa Rican restaurants automatically add a 10 percent gratuity to your bill. If excellent service is received, feel free to give a few extra colones.
If you decide to go away, book your hotel, flights and activities through our trip concierge for discounts and benefits. We offer free upgrades, free breakfasts, free hotel credit and VIP gifts at many luxury hotels for the same price as the hotel’s own websites. (Book direct and you don’t get these benefits so why would you?). Our packaged vacation prices tend to be considerably cheaper than flight and hotel prices available online.