Costa Rica’s Pacific waters are among the world’s best places to glimpse humpback whales in their natural element. They’re present roughly 50% of the year, in two distinct episodes: late July through November, and December through March. The most reliable sightings happen off the Osa Peninsula, in southern Costa Rica, where distinct populations from both hemispheres intermingle. You’re also likely to encounter bottlenose and spotted dolphins – about 25 cetacean species in all – in this area.
Are you looking for the ultimate in Costa Rica vacations? Our team of local experts will design your custom, vacation package. We do NOT sell cookie-cutter trips. Instead, we take the time to get to know your unique “travel personality”. Then we match you with a hand-picked selection of hotels, tours & transportation. The result is a tailor-made Costa Rica journey that will fit you like a glove.
After a minivan pickup from your hotel in San Jose, your day trip begins with the 35-minute drive northwest to Sarchí, a Central Valley town famous for its crafts, particularly wood and leather furniture and decorated oxcarts. Pick up a souvenir or two from a local artisan before making the 2.5-hour drive further north to the town of La Fortuna, which sits below Arenal and offers an unobstructed view of the volcán on clear days. On arrival in La Fortuna, head to a local restaurant for a typical Costa Rican lunch of rice, beans, chicken or steak, and plantains, accompanied by a great view of Arenal. Then, continue your tour about 20 minutes down the road to Mirador Arenal 1968, a trail system on the edge of Arenal Volcano National Park (Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal) named for the 1968 eruption. Walk along the paths to find the best photo spots of the volcano and Lake Arenal (Lago Arenal), and watch for glimpses of bright orange lava flowing down the volcano. Finally, head a few miles back toward La Fortuna to the Tabacón hot springs — officially Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort — one of Costa Rica’s biggest and most luxurious hot springs resorts. Enjoy roughly 3.5 hours here to soak in the various pools, which range in temperature from 77 to 102°F (25 to 38°C).The resort is beautifully landscaped with waterfalls and lush vegetation and offers many ways to relax, from secluded pools to a swim-up bar (drinks at your own expense), so sit back and enjoy it until dinner is served. The resort’s buffet dinner lasts about 30 minutes and offers a selection of Costa Rican cuisine, similar to lunch. After dinner, head back to your hotel in San Jose (about 2.5 hours), where your tour ends.
One of the best parts of staying at budget hotels in Costa Rica is many of these accommodations have a kitchen that guests can use. Some even have kitchenettes in the hotel rooms. If you are looking to save a little money this is a great option. We have cooked our own meals at several hotels and while we love to explore new restaurants sometimes while traveling it is actually really nice to have a home-cooked meal.
Known for its ecotourism, Costa Rica has plenty of sustainable hotels and eco-lodges that require you to unplug from civilization and revel in Pura Vida. The Pacuare Lodge, perched in the remote Central Valley, is as luxe as it is unplugged. Swap electricity and Wi-Fi for a personal open-air villa complete with an infinity pool, deck, hammock, and claw-foot tub. The lodge also boasts some of the best things to do in Costa Rica: zip lines, waterfalls you can swim in, and authentic home-cooked food (dinner is by candlelight only, of course).
The natural protected areas represent 31% of the national territory. Here, there are majestic primary and secondary forests, cloud forests such as the Monteverde Reserve, Santa Elena and San Gerardo de Dota, extensive rainforests such as Braulio Carrillo National Park, Sarapiquí, Corcovado National Park, Manuel Antonio National Park, the unique transitional rainforest of the Carara National Park, or the dry tropical forest of Santa Rosa National Park in the North Pacific.
All that said, you’ll get a lot farther in Costa Rica with basic Spanish familiarity. My wife and I can both navigate basic social and commercial situations in Spanish, and (not surprisingly) we found that people were both friendlier and more communicative in the local language. If you already know some Spanish, spend a few hours before your trip brushing up, and get in the habit of beginning interactions in the local tongue.
In most parts of the country, you will be completely fine drinking water from the sink. Just make sure to ask your hotel ahead of time to make sure the water in your hotel room is actually drinkable. I’m a water addict and I must say the water quality here is pretty great. We always bring a reusable water bottle while traveling and just fill it up as we need. If you are in a really rural area I would suggest buying water just in case.
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The Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels is a Roman Catholic cathedral dedicated to the patron saint of Costa Rica, located in the town of Cartago. The church was built on the spot where the small statue of the famous Black Virgin was discovered in 1635 and is a place of pilgrimage for Catholics from all over Costa Rica. The basilica was built between 1912 and 1924 and is an impressive structure in the neo-Byzantine style. You can visit the cathedral to admire the architecture and acoustics, see the stained-glass windows, and perhaps dip your fingers in the famous holy water font. The famous statue of the Black Virgin is not on display however – it is kept locked away at the altar.
Manuel Antonio National Park is one of Costa Rica’s most famous parks, and one that should definitely not be missed. There are 1,680 acres of rainforests containing hiking trails that will take you through dense vegetation and out to white sand beaches. This is an incredibly picturesque place that is filled with all sorts of plants and animals – if you are on a search to see a three-toed sloth, this is where you will most likely find one. When you picture Costa Rica, you are probably picturing Manuel Antonio.
Tortuguero National Park protects more than 46,800 acres of pristine habitat, including 20 miles of coastline on which Olive Ridley, leatherback, loggerhead, and hawksbill turtles hatch. A surprising addition to the diversity of the protected waters’ is the West Indian manatee, which populates shallow estuaries near open water. Traveling in Tortuguero feels more akin to the raw wonders of the Amazon as the park is home to over 300 species of birds, along with jaguars, spotted caiman, boa constrictors, and common tink frogs.
Much of the historical machismo of the Central American culture has changed over the past 30 years. Where women once stayed in the home tending to the children and housework, they now pursue careers and occupations with salaries equal to men. It is still common for men to stare, whistle, or tout pickup lines at passing women, but is often considered complimentary by both the men and women involved. Confrontations are rare and considered ill-mannered in a society that prides itself on serene ambiance and politeness. Ticos say please and thank you whether speaking to servers at a restaurant, staff at a shop, or friends inside the home, formality remains integral to the culture.