Travel Buddy in Costa Rica

Pura Vida or ‘pure life’ is more than just a phrase. You will see for yourself that Costa Rica embodies the meaning in all aspects of their day-to-day life; a pure life. Whether it’s from the natural rainforests, unique wildlife, or pristine playas (beaches) that you can often have all to yourself. 

Along the sublime coastlines you can find highly renowned surf beaches, long stretches of white sand, and plenty of friendly locals ready to help you at any point in your travels. Costa Rica is a country in Central America neighboured by Nicaragua and Panama. You can even dip your toes into the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean in the space of one week.

Plan Your Next Trip to Costa Rica

With this guide you will learn how to get around, how much traveling here costs, and how to keep safe. See our hidden gems, must try foods, and ideal itinerary.

Top Things to do in Costa Rica

Surf

Even if you are a beginner or an experienced surfer you will be able to find waves that suit you. Tamarindo in the northwest of the country is famous for its great surfing beaches. 

Go zip-lining through the rainforest 

Monteverde is known for its zip-lining. Here, you can fly through the tree tops and marvel at the nature below. If you are a thrill-seeking and nature enthusiast then this is the perfect activity to include on your trip.

See sea turtles

Playa Grande is a nesting spot for the large leatherback turtle. On your visit to Tamarindo you should not miss seeing these magnificent creatures. This area is protected to keep the adult, hatchling, and egg safe. If you are lucky, you might see the hatchlings scrambling along the sand to the sea for the first time. 

Swim in natural hot springs

Costa Rica has many volcanos, meaning there is a lot of geothermal activity. Hot springs form in the streams and rivers below these magnificent volcanos, so take a nice evening soak to relax your muscles after a big hike.

Visit waterfalls

You could plan to visit a different waterfall or cascada everyday of your trip and still not see them all. Most sites require a hike to get there, but you will see plenty as you are driving along the road. 

See rare wildlife

One of the best places to see wildlife is in Corcovado National Park. Tapirs, white-faced capuchins, anteaters, toucans, sloths, and colorful birds are just some of the many incredible animals that you can see here and that you typically can’t see elsewhere in the world.

The 5 best Instagram Spots in Costa Rica 

1. Arenal Volcano

From the nearest town of La Fortuna, on a clear day, you will get a great shot of the almost perfectly symmetrical Arenal Volcano. This active volcano has a height of approximately 1,633 metres and features several hiking trails up and around it if you want an up close and personal view. 

2. Treetop Swing Bridge

High up in the treetops of the Monteverde rainforest is Sky Adventures Park, which has eight zip-lines and a treetop swing bridge completely surrounded by greenery. For a great view of the Arenal Volcano you can visit the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges to walk through the forest and swing amongst the trees. 

3. Rio Celeste Fortuna Waterfall

If you have seen any photos of Costa Rica on your timeline then you have seen the powerful waterfall of Rio Fortuna. Deep in the forest is this incredible cascada measures in at around 75 metres. You can swim in the freezing cold water or admire from the viewing platform above. Entrance fee is $15-17 depending on the season.

4. Sloths

Native to Costa Rica are the three-toed and two-toed sloths who are easy to capture due to their slow moving nature. There are many spots that you can find these slow creatures both in the wild and in rescue sanctuary. If you are looking in the wild you will need a good zoom on your camera as they can climb very high and opt to have a guide who can spot them much easier.

5. Beach sunset

End your day with a nice cold drink on or near the beach to watch the sunset over the ocean. Both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts offers stunning sunsets so make sure you check your whether app to find out what time the sun sets to capture that moment. 

The Best Costa Rica Travel Itinerary

You will never have a dull moment while visiting this Central America nation. As the name literally translates to Costa Rica has a very ‘rich coast’ with a surplus of white sand beaches, hikes through topical forests and many thrilling activities to get your heart rate rising. 

We recommend to stay 10 days or longer. The main features of this country is its coast so pack your beach towel to prepare for many days swimming in either the Pacific or Caribbean ocean. 

Day 1:

San Jose

It’s likely you will start your travels in the capital city of San Jose. Juan Santamaría International Airport is located 30 minutes from San Joses’ centre where you can book one night to briefly get your first glimpse of life in Costa Rica. 

Day 2-4: 

Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio

Howler monkeys calls echoing around the forest. Toucans high up in the branches. And if you are lucky you can see sloths up close moving slowly across the path right in front of you. Hold on to your belongs on the beach as monkeys will be fast to take any loose items. The animals are often well hidden in the trees so be patient and quiet to increase your chances of spotting them. Entrance fee $15.

Day 4-6:

La Fortuna

La Fortuna is the town closest to Arenal Volcano. Many visitor hike the volcano trails and spend their time visiting the waterfalls in the area. A hidden gem in La Fortuna is El Salto waterfall. This waterfall is walkable distance from town and has a rope swing that is worth trying for those who love an adrenal rush. Rio Fortuna waterfall is the most famous in the area and country. You will be astounded by the amount of water coming down the pool below. In the area you will find many natural hot springs that are great option in in the evening. 

Day 6-8:

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

Enjoy some relaxation on the Caribbean coast in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. This spot is popular among backpackers so if you are looking to indulge in some coconut rum and have a little party stint then this could be the best spot for you. Find some shade under the many arching palm trees and embrace life as if you were on a Caribbean island. 

Day 8-10:

Tamarindo

Switch coast to see what the Pacific side has to offer. Great surf and long stretches on coastline awaits you. Check out the Tamarindo night market and the cute cafes that are scattered along the beach. Don’t miss seeing the leatherback turtles at Playa Grande.

If you have more time:

Visit neighbouring countries Nicaragua and Panama is a great way to extend your vacation if you have time to spare. In Panama near the border with Costa Rica is Starfish beach. This beach has calm, clear waters and of course many star fishes sprawled along the shore. San Juan del Sur is a great little town in Nicaragua close to the Costa Rican border. This town offers a nice beach community and amazing sunsets that are not to be missed. 

Best Time to Visit Costa Rica

Deciding what time is the best to visit Costa Rica will depend on a few different factors. If you are looking to visit during when the cost of travel is at its lowest then you should visit in May, June or October. If you are wanting maximum sunny days then January through to April will be the best as rainfall is at its lowest. If you are wanting to avoid the crowds then May through to October will be best as this is the low season, however keep in mind it has less tourist usually due there not being prime weather then.

Hidden Gems in Costa Rica

Finding the best hidden gems can be difficult, so this list will help you to get off the packed tourist track and experience a more authentic version of Costa Rica. 

Here are the Top 6 hidden gems in Costa Rica to inspire you for your trip.

1. Santa Theresa 

Along the west coast you will find many small beach towns which are great to visit if you like to have a longer stay in a more quiet part of the country. You can still find plenty of cool cafes and great swimming beaches. 

2. Nosara

Yoga retreats, great coffee shops, amazing surf and wildlife sanctuary’s are just a few great reasons why you should visit Nosara. Located on the northwest coast below Tamarindo this is one to not miss.

3. Refugio Nacional Gandoca-Manzanillo

Hidden right on the most southeastern part of Costa Rica is Gandoca Manzanillo. This area is protected meaning the coral reef, forest and wetlands are preserved well and still untouched by tourism. You can find great eco-villages to stay in and even a tree top observation platform to see the surrounding nature. 

4. Black Sand Beach

Yes, just are the name suggest this beach has black sand, which is typical of the west coast throughout Central America. Visitors can hike here (6km each way) from Tamarindo. You can often be the only one on this beach.

5. Catarata Del Toro

This big waterfall can be tricky to reach meaning only the most agile will attempt the hike there. Swimming in the pool is not allowed but the spray from the waterfall is a nice way to cool off after the journey through the forest. 

6. Poas Volcano

Just north of San Jose is Parque Nacional Volcán Poás. This volcano is active and has a hot crater lake that visitors can see steam rising from. If you are feeling very active you can take the trails to the viewing area.

Getting Around Costa Rica

Transport throughout Costa Rica is easy and frequent. There is always an option to get from place to place even if it is super remote. If you tend to get car sick then prepare before your big journey’s as the roads can often be windy and gravel so it can be very bumpy. Once you overlook how rough the ride is you will get to appreciate the insane views from the window. Rolling green hills, countless volcanoes and trees everywhere you turn.

Bus

Buses are the cheapest way to move around in Costa Rica. However, they are the slowest. Research to see what the latest bus schedule is as you can often find outdated schedules in the main terminals. If you have plenty of time on your side and are looking to save a few colones then taking the bus will be the best option.

Air

Flying is not the most popular option as the distances by plane are very short however if you want to avoid those bumpy, windy roads then opt for the smooth flight route. This is also the best option if you are short on time and want to maximise your travel time. 

Car rental

Renting a car in Costa Rica is for the most attentive drivers as the roads are riddled with pot holes and can have many tight corners. If you are willing to compensate the rough roads for complete freedom, then renting a car will be best. 

Shuttle

Choose between private or shared shuttles when traveling here depending mainly on budget. This is not the cheapest option however depending on the frequency of the buses and if you are staying somewhere more remote it could work out more in your favour to choose shuttles.

What does it cost to travel to Costa Rica? 

It is well known that Costa Rica is the most expensive country in Central America and there may be many time that you get stung in the wallet while traveling here. Groceries, transport and accomodation can all be on the higher end of the scale but if you are a savvy traveler then there are ways to make this an affordable trip. 

Daily costs, on average, excluding accommodation to consider when traveling to Costa Rica:

a) Budget-friendly: $30

b) Mid-range budget: $92

c) High budget: $300

Accommodation:

a) Budget-friendly: 

·  a hostel: around $13 per night for a single bed in a shared dorm

·  a small and basic hotel room $35

 

b) Mid-range budget:

·  Hotel rooms with private bathroom can be anywhere around $60

c) High budget:

·  a private hotel room or resort $140-180

 

Food:

a) Budget-friendly:

·  You can find a meal for around $3-4

 

b) Mid-range budget:

·  A meal in a simple restaurant will cost around $7

 

c) High budget:

·  Upper restaurants: about $27 and upwards

Transportation:

a) Budget-friendly:

·  Bus: $13

 

b) Mid-range:

·  Shuttle (Shared): is $25-50

 

c) High budget:

·  Shuttle (Private): is $120-150

Must-Try Foods in Costa Rica

Similar to the cuisines in the surrounding nations Costa Rica’s must try dishes have the classics- rice, beans, tortilla and lots of flavour. 

Plantain Chips

Easily mistaken for a normal banana, Plantain is more similar to a potato in texture and makes great chips perfect for snacking on the long journeys from town to town. 

Casado

One of the most popular Costa Rican dishes is Casado. Rice, beans, tortilla, salad, fried plantain and a meat is the typical ingredients. 

Gallo Pinto

This breakfast dish is a rice and bean mix usually served with eggs, cheese and plantain. 

Sopa Negro

Translating to black soup, this is made of black beans and is a flavourful staple.

Exotic fruit

You will have the chance to try fresh, tasty exotic fruit. Take a risk at your local supermarket and try something you’ve never tried. 

Travel Tips for Costa Rica 

Here are some important this to note before visiting Costa Rica. Knowing this information will help you to have a safe and fun time!

Entry requirements

There are a few requirements to keep in mind before you enter the country. All travellers entering will need proof of an onward ticket. US, Canadian, EU, Australian and New Zealand residents can enter for free for either 30 or 90days. Check on your own countries embassy website to see what your visa requirements are.

Exit requirement

If you are leaving Costa Rica by air or road you will have to pay an exit tax or ‘departure fee’. This costs $29usd which is best to pay in cash to avoid credit card fees being added. 

Currency

The currency is colon or colones. ATMs are plentiful and cash exchange is easy if you carry USD or Euros. Often you will see hotels, tours, or private shuttles listed in USD and can be paid in both colones or USD. 

650 Colones  = 1 USD

Language

Spanish is the national language and you will find the locals speak English on the Caribbean side. Before you arrive you should learn a few Spanish phrases to greet the locals and to have a back up if you encounter a non-English speaker. 

Hola - Hello

Cómo estás? - How are you?

- Yes

No - No

Gracias - Thank you

Cuánto cuesta este? - How much does this cost?

Dónde está el baño? - Where is the bathroom?

Dónde esta la estación del bus? - Where is the bus station?

Public toilets

Finding a toilet while you are out and about may be difficult for a traveler in Costa Rica. If you are willing to pay a small fee most cafes will let you use their toilet. Bus stations also charge a small fee. You may rarely find toilet paper available so bring some with you at all times. However, flushing the paper is not advised but there are bins provided for you to dispose of it. 

Tap water

Can you drink the tap water in Costa Rica? Sí, in most parts of the country the water is safe to drink. However, if you find yourself in a rural or less touristy area then it may be best to buy bottled water. 

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