In recent years, Costa Rica has become one of the great destinations because of its wonderful blending of majestic scenery, rich culture, laid-back and hospitality of its people. Adventure lovers and ecotourists will be mesmerized and overwhelmed by the country’s wide range of outdoor activities and attractions, especially by spectacular and biological diversity of its national parks. So, what to do and how to plan a perfect budget trip to Costa Rica for the first-time? Let’s check out our Costa Rica travel blog (Costa Rica blog) with the fullest Costa Rica travel guide (Costa Rica guide, Costa Rica tourist guide, Costa Rica visitor guide) from how to get there, best time to come, where to stay, best places to visit and top things to do to find out the answer!
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Costa Rica is a small country located in Central America, with the capital of San José. It’s about the size of West Virginia. Despite being so small, but Costa Rica is still one of the countries with the most diverse ecosystems in the world, because there are more than 500,000 species of diverse flora and fauna inhabiting and growing here. Scientists even claimed that “4% of the world’s flora and fauna are inhabiting in Costa Rica”.
Costa Rica travel blog: Overview of Costa Rica
Costa Rica has a very small area, only about 51,100 km2 with four sides bordering countries and coastlines: Nicaragua to the North, Panama to the South, the Pacific Ocean to the West, the Caribbean Sea to the East. With such a special geographical location, the already beautiful Costa Rica has become even more enriched by the influence of climate characteristics of land and sea that creating an extremely unique and diverse ecosystem.
With such a diverse and rich ecosystem, the Costa Rican government also plays an important role and responsible to its tourism, in order to keep the ecosystem as intact as possible. In addition, for those who love adventure travel, Costa Rica is also an attractive destination can satisfy their passion, with many outdoor activities to explore and experience such as hiking, canyoning, ziplining… Moreover, the people of Costa Rica also have a slogan, which is “Pura Vida”, which means “Pure Life”. So, they are are very friendly, cheerful and hospitable. They always bring to life an optimistic spirit and full of love.
From right the moment when I first set foot in Costa Rica, I was really surprised by the splendid, beauty and very closeness of this country. And because of that, I understand why many reviewers always vote Costa Rica is one of the must-visit places on earth. And I also believe that, if you learn about this country, you will immediately want to making a trip to visit this Caribbean country.
Costa Rica may not be a well-known country. It is just a small country located in Central America with a population of just over 5 million people as of 2021. However, if you ask people who travel often, there is no one who does not know about Costa Rica.
The only and official language in Costa Rica is Spanish. There are two main types of vernacular accents in Costa Rica: Standard Costa Rican and Nicoyan. The Nicoyan accent is very similar to the standard Nicaraguan accent, in part due to the country’s annexation of Nicaragua in 1824.
If you have recently visited some African or South American countries, including Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador or Peru, you will be required to show a document confirming that you have been vaccinated against yellow fever. If you coming from an infected area, you will be allowed to enter Costa Rica 10 days after being vaccinated. Despite being a tropical destination, Costa Rica has a very low risk of malaria. Most travelers choose not to take antimalarials during their stay, although the use of insect repellents containing high concentrations of DEET is recommended to prevent bites. You should get additional hepatitis A and tetanus vaccines or check with your doctor at least 8 weeks before traveling to Costa Rica.
Is Costa Rica safe to travel?
Costa Rica is a safe travel destination. Popular tourist places are generally the safest places in the country, and violent crimes involving tourists are relatively uncommon. The biggest problem for travelers is that petty theft and pickpocketing can happen almost anywhere, anytime, so be very careful with your personal belongings.
The currency of Costa Rica is the Colon (CRC). The symbol is ₡. The exchange rate: $1 ~ CRC 618.31.
In general, travel costs in Costa Rica are higher than in other Central American countries, but cheaper than in the US and European countries. Any bank here accepts foreign currencies to Colon. However, the US dollar is the most popular foreign currency, and you can exchange it easily. You can also exchange Euro.
At state-owned banks such as Banco Nacional, Banco de Costa Rica, Banco Popular, you have to wait in line for your transaction. But you do not have to pay transaction fees when exchanging money here. As for private banks such as Banex, Banco Interfin, Scotiabank, it will cost a transaction fee of 1-3%, but the exchange procedure is faster. In addition, at hotels or tourist places you can also exchange money, the process is also very quick and convenient.
In big cities like San José, foreign ATM cards are mostly accepted. Visa cards here are more supported than Master.
Compared to other Central American destinations, Costa Rica is a relatively expensive country to visit. Basic dorm rooms cost around $10/person/bed, while mid-range hostels and hotels range from $30 to $80 per night. You should use public transport such as bus instead of taxis, eating in local restaurants instead of spending a lot of money in luxury restaurants.
Another way to save money is to travel to Costa Rica in the low season, between mid-September and December, the rainfall will be higher than other times of the year. You should enjoy the Caribbean coast in Costa Rica at this time because the weather here is extremely wonderful.
Costa Rica travel blog: When to come?
Costa Rica’s climate has two distinct seasons: The dry season lasts from December this year to April next year and the rainy season from May to November. However, even in the same season, each region in this country has its own relative different temperatures. For example, If in the mountainous regions is a cold season, but in the capital San José is a warm spring. The average annual temperature ranging from 15 to 26 degrees Celsius, the weather is also quite cool. Therefore, you can planning a trip to Costa Rica at any time of the year.
An advice for those who love nature and want to explore romantic landscapes is, you should visit Costa Rica in the period from May to July when the scenery is most beautiful and charming. As for sea activities, you should come here between September and October, because waves are big and the blue sea is very suitable for windsurfing. Finally, from November to April next year is the good time for pinic, hiking.
If you want to visit Costa Rica during Christmas, New Year and the week before Easter, you need to be aware that at this time, there are many tourists from all over the world flocking here. So you should avoid traveling on these occasions, or book tours and rooms early.
Costa Rica travel blog: Getting to Costa Rica
There are many international flights landing at Juan Santamaría International Airport in the country’s capital, San Jose. Major airlines in the Northern America such as American Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Air Canada all offer direct flights to Costa Rica from all over the regions. While European airlines such as British Airways, Lufthansa and Air France offer direct flights from London, Frankfurt and Paris. Most international flights will land at Aeropuerto International Juan Santamaria airport, located away 17 km to the north of the capital San José.
Costa Rica travel guide: Getting around
To getting around Costa Rica and its cities, you can choose the means of transportation in the cities that are most convenient for your trip. Visitors can take a plane, bus, taxi or bicycle in Costa Rica. There are two domestic airlines here, Sansa Airlines and Nature Air. Visitors can choose this mean to travel, quite fast and you will be where you want. However, the flight schedule will often be delayed or canceled by the influence of weather.
Several bus companies operate both national and international routes along the highway, with connections to all major tourist attractions, making it the preferred mode of transport for travelers. However, it’s quite slow. The Pan-American Highway serves as the region’s main transportation route, connecting Costa Rica with Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south.
You will find many major bus companies setting up its major ticketing offices around the cities. However, the day before and after major holidays, the bus is quite crowded and cramped. In big cities like San José, there are bus routes that only serving tourists.
Taxis serve as far away as possible, even in remote lands. It is quite useful means to go to places far from the city center, because there are places that the bus cannot reach.
Bike or train
If you are tired of the narrow streets and dangerous traffic, you can rent a bicycle or take a train in the towns to make a new and more meaningful sightseeing trip. You will get a broader and more comprehensive view of this beautiful Central American country.
Costa Rica travel blog: Where to stay?
Below we recommend more best budget, mid-range and upscale hotels with good ratings and reviews you can refer to.
- The Springs Resort and Spa (Agoda.com or Booking.com).
- Makanda By The Sea (Agoda.com or Booking.com).
- Hotel El Silencio del Campo (Agoda.com or Booking.com)
- Andaz Costa Rica Resort At Peninsula Papagayo (Agoda.com or Booking.com)
- Arenal Manoa Hotel (Agoda.com or Booking.com)
In addition, you can refer to one of the best Airbnb in Costa Rica for budget stay:
- TREE HOUSE, Manuel Antonio/ with great pool !!!
- Apartment Colibrí & A/C#4
- Villa Falling Water
- Sacred GeomeTree House
- Bed & Breakfast Near SJO Airport
–> Use this link https://www.airbnb.com/c/anht5185, to register for an Airbnb account and book a room, you will get a discount up to $55 for the first booking.
Costa Rica blog: What to do?
Owning a surprisingly beautiful natural scenery, when traveling to Costa Rica, you will find many different large and small national parks. However, when it comes to the most beautiful and diverse ecological park in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio is always a name mentioned by both tourists and locals. Although it is the smallest national park in Costa Rica, when it comes to diverse flora, there is no place that can match Manuel Antonio.
Manuel Antonio National Park is a small nature reserve, but home to nearly 300 different species of birds and mammals. If visitors come here on weekends, they can also be lucky to participate in many interesting activities organized by the park, such as: rafting through waterfalls, visiting mangrove forests, horses riding … Manuel Antonio is the area with the most diverse ecosystems in the world with a mix of terrain from tropical forests to long white sandy beaches or colorful coral reefs…
There is a special thing when you come to Manuel Antonio is to be completely immersed in nature. When exploring its tropical forests, you will be in close contact, sometimes directly touching the mischievous monkeys. Or more amazingly, you can observe the daily life of many rare and precious tropical animals at extremely close range. Besides, there are many exciting adventure activities or water sports games that you can try.
Address: Puntarenas Province, Quepos, Costa Rica
Hours: 7AM–4PM/Monday: Closed
Phone: +506 2777 5185
Tortuguero National Park
You can only reach this place by seaplanes or small boats. If you getting here by boat, you will be able to weave through the beautiful canals and see the wild nature. Along the two banks are green forests, here and there are muster of storks roaming around, crocodiles lying in the sun and groups of birds chirping creating a vivid picture. Tortuguero is also home to endangered green turtles, which come here to breed every year from early summer to late autumn. If you are lucky, you will be able to encounter these special creatures.
In the national park, there are also long and sturdy suspension bridges, when crossing them, you will feel like walking above the forest, freely for sightseeing and taking pictures. For those who love thrills and adventure, even using the swings to moving is also extremely interesting.
Cocos Island Shark Conservation Area
If you have traveled to Costa Rica, the famous shark island (Cocos Island National Park) in this country is a place that you cannot miss. Called shark island because this is home to a large community of sharks, this is also home to countless other diverse and abundant marine plants in the world. Therefore, UNESCO has recognized this place as one of the world’s natural heritages to be preserved.
On the way to visit Cocos, when you see the sharks swimming around the side of the boat, you will feel both scared but also very excited. Especially when setting foot on the island, if lucky you will have an opportunity to see large schools of sharks swimming and hiding under rocks.
Area: 23.52 km²
Max length: 7.6 km
Location: Approximately 550 km (340 mi) off the shore of Costa Rica
The people of Costa Rica are extremely proud when it comes to Monteverde, one of the most beautiful rainforests in their country. Even many Costa Ricans think that Monteverde is the country’s precious green pearl. Not only appreciated by the people in the country, Monteverde is also known as the first eco-tourism destination in the world with extremely rare plants. In particular, you will be immediately attracted to countless orchids blooming in this forest. Especially, all year round, the reserve is covered with a layer of fog, which is favorable conditions for the flora in the forest to develop. That’s why the name “cloud forest” was given.
The best way for visitors to explore this forest is on foot. In the Monteverde rainforest, roughly 90% of the creatures live in the canopy, with a rich ecosystem. Therefore, the Costa Rican government built a suspension bridge more than 10 km long, so that tourists and nature lovers can visit and enjoy the scenery here in the fullest way. It can be said that the Monteverde rainforest is the “treasure” of this Central American country.
Address: Carretera a Reserva de Monteverde, Provincia de Puntarenas, Monteverde, Costa Rica
Phone: +506 2645 5122
National Theater of Costa Rica
This national theater was built in 1890, with magnificent, solid and luxurious architecture. If you are lucky enough to set foot here, you will be ecstatic at its shimmering, picturesque beauty.
Address: Avenida 2, calle1, Catedral, San José, Costa Rica
Phone: +506 2010 1100
Architectural style: Neoclassical architecture
Opened: October 21, 1897
Costa Rica is a country with many volcanoes, and one of them is Mount Arenal – a place that attracts many tourists in America in general and Costa Rica in particular. Arenal Volcano has not erupted in recent years – the last time was in 2010, but it is still a remarkable landscape for visitors to see. And you can feel the high temperature of the volcano through many hot springs around the mountain.
In particular, besides the natural beauty, when coming to Arenal, you can experience hot spring bath services, visit the 39-kilometer-long Arenal artificial lake, fishing or explore the rainforest by suspended bridges.
Last eruption: 2010
Elevation: 1,657 m
Prominence: 813 m
Location: Alajuela Province, Costa Rica
Age of rock: 7,000 years old
La Fortuna Waterfall
La Fortuna Waterfall is an attractive tourist destination in Costa Rica that you should not miss. This waterfall is located at the foot of the volcano, with the height of the waterfall falling from 70m to the lake surface, creating a magnificent scene of white foam, it is an extremely impressive natural picture. You not only can enjoy the breathtaking scenery, but at La Fortuna waterfall you can also enjoy immersing yourself in the cool, clear blue water.
Address: Alajuela Province, La Fortuna, Costa Rica
Phone: +506 2479 9515
Total height: 70-75 m
Costa Rica has a lot of national pride, and visitors can see them in the many celebrations and traditions that take place across the country. Visitors can enjoy the vibrant atmosphere at the annual pilgrimage to the Basilica of Cartago, which sometimes attracts nearly two million visitors. In addition, Costa Rica has a national horse parade that takes place the day after Christmas, with the participation of horse enthusiasts from all over the country.
Or you can also visit here on the independence day on September 15, after the declaration of independence from Spain in 1821. This is considered a festive day, so the people often wear traditional costumes and join in exciting dances.
If you are a beach lover, you should go to Conchal. Because this place has a lot of secluded, beautiful beaches, surrounded by mountains and trees, with a wide coastline and stretching white sand. You can choose to walk, or ride a horse to enjoy the beautiful scenery here. In addition, you can also sailboat, or rent a boat to go fishing in groups, to catch giant fish up to several meters long offshore.
Costa Rica travel blog: What to eat?
Like many other Latin American countries, Costa Rican cuisine often has rice and beans. Restaurants in seaside towns and large cities serve a variety of foods. You can find everything here, from Argentinian steaks to Middle Eastern, American, Chinese, French, Italian, Mexican and North American food.
Below, I will introduce you to the traditional dishes that you must try when coming to this beautiful country:
It’s a traditional dish. Casado is a dish that combines white rice, beans, bananas, salad and picadillo along with other meats like pork, beef or chicken.
However, when you come to night markets, you will find this dish is much more diverse in cooking. Accordingly, it could be added corn, cheese or butter to create more flavor. And the difference in taste, its price will vary depending on regions or tourist places. Despite, Casado retains the original taste of traditional Costa Rican food.
Gallo Pinto (Costa Rican Beans and Rice)
Gallo Pinto is a combination of white rice, beans, herbs, chili, onions served with Lizano Salsa Sauce. In Costa Rica, people often have Gallo Pinto for breakfast. Come here, if you want to find a place that fully shows the taste of Gallo Pinto, you can visit Churro Manolos or Chelles Soda restaurant to enjoy.
Lizano Salsa Sauce
It is made from chili, water, celery spice, sugar, salt, carrots, cucumbers, cauliflower, mustard, turmeric, molasses. You can’t miss the Lizano Salsa Sauce if you want to fully enjoy Costa Rican cuisine. It has is smooth and a bit runny. This is not only the famous sauce in Costa Rica, but it is also very healthy. Lizano Salsa is actually a traditional Costa Rican sauce from the 1920s by Lizano company. It has slightly sweet, very slightly spicy brown sauce. This sauce can combine with many other traditional dishes and becomes one of the most special sauces you can try when you visit this country.
Queso Palmito is a delicious snack, and also a favorite food of many people. Queso Palmito is a fresh cheese, prepared by the chef according to a unique and very personal recipe to create a unique flavor that you only taste it in Costa Rica.
Arreglado feels like hamburgers. However, this is a type of pastry served with salad, cheese and ribs that is very popular in Costa Rica. So, you give it a try when you come here.
Surf and Turf
This is one of the extremely famous traditional dishes in Costa Rica that is a combination of seafood with premium beef. However, in some restaurants, to create a novelty, instead of beef, other meats such as fish, pork, and chicken are also used quite a lot.
Besides the typical traditional dishes mentioned above, in Costa Rica there are many other delectable and attractive traditional dishes that you can try. Owning a rich ecosystem, in Costa Rica, of course, there are also extremely diverse and fresh dishes. And if you have tasted all of the above dishes, you can discover more special dishes below:
- Chifrijo: If you’ve ever visited Costa Rica without enjoying Chifrijo, it’s a big mistake. A unique and novel combination of corn, fried pork and beans.
- Tres Leches: An attractive dessert with sponge cakes covered with 3 different types of milk and beautifully decorated with fruits or dark chocolate.
- Tamales: A famous cornbread cake with a filling of cornmeal, meat, fish, grapes, olives, carrots, and chili wrapped in dried banana leaves or corn leaves which is very eye-catching.
- Pops: A unique dessert by combining ice cream with milkshakes or mashed bananas.
Costa Rica blog: What to buy as a gift?
Beautiful, colorful souvenirs will attract visitors when shopping in Costa Rica. Commodity prices in Costa Rica are slightly higher than in other Latin American countries. It is best to buy wooden items, carved masks, pottery, jewelry and leather handicrafts as gifts.
In San Jose you’ll find many standard shopping malls, with quality clothing, cheaper than in the US. In particular, you should not buy goods made with animal bones, skin or fur because it will be confiscated by customs. If you want to buy, you need a CITES certificate.
Costa Rica travel blog: How long is enough to travel?
Despite its relatively small size, Costa Rica can offer you amazing experiences, majestic landscapes and rich culture, you can enjoy trips from a few days to a few weeks or even even a month.
In general, 7 days in Costa Rica is enough to have enjoyment, great experiences when explore dreamy attractions like Arenal Volcano and Manuel Antonio National Park. If you love going to the beaches, plan a trip at least a few days to explore the golden sand beaches in Jaco or Tamarindo. For the best experience, plan to spend at least 2 weeks in Costa Rica. You’ll have enough time to experience the best of Costa Rica from rainforests, beaches, volcanoes to wildlife and adventure activities.
Costa Rica travel blog: Some useful notes before traveling to Costa Rica
- In the villages, places far from the cities, there are no brand taxis, you should consult the prices with the locals first. It is best to negotiate a price before getting on.
- As the population grows, so does crime in San José. Beware of pickpockets and other petty thieves, especially in crowded places like the Mercado Center.
- Do not forcefully close the car door in Costa Rica, because the sound of this car door slamming is considered impolite here. For some taxi drivers, this can give travelers an unpleasant ride.
- Visitors should also be aware of the tense historical relationship between Costa Rica and its northern neighbor Nicaragua to avoid mentioning this sensitive issue to indigenous people.
Costa Rica blog: Some best day tours, trips, activities and transfer services, tickets in, from and to Costa Rica you can refer to
- Arenal Volcano, La Fortuna Waterfall, and Hot Springs Tour
- San José: Arenal Volcano, Hot Springs, & Zip Lining w/ Meals
- San José: Arenal Volcano, Waterfalls, Coffee and Hot Springs
- La Fortuna: 6-Hour Arenal Volcano Observatory & Lake Tour
- From Jaco: Full-Day Manuel Antonio National Park Tour
- Manuel Antonio National Park Combo Tour from San Jose