Having now spent many months in Costa Rica and with Max having grown up here, we know a thing or two about Costa Rica. And after helping 40 of our friends and family make their way to Costa Rica for our wedding in 2015, we know exactly the questions on first-time travelers’ minds. We decided to compile all our tips and tricks for traveling in Costa Rica, what to bring, what to avoid and, even, what to wear!
The coasts of Costa Rica are known for strong currents and rip-tides in some areas but most of them are great to be with the family. Costa Rica has some of the best beaches in the world. The Atlantic coast is just five hours away from the Pacific one and both offer completely different views and landscapes. There are no signs indicating an unsafe beach due to riptides, so take precautions and listen to the locals on where it is safe to swim. The public beaches do not have life guards. A traveler should learn how to swim out of a rip tide and not swim alone. There are some active volcanoes in Costa Rica and they are dangerous, so follow the warning signs posted. The slopes of the Arenal volcano invite visitors to climb closer to the summit, but there have been fatalities in the past with unseen gas chambers. Also be wary of the climate of Costa Rica. It is very hot in the daytime, but in the morning and evening it becomes very cool, so you should bring a light weight jacket.
For the word "you" (singular informal form), instead of "tú", most people of Cartago use "vos" (as in "vos sos" - you are) which is also common to other American dialects of Spanish (Argentina, Uruguay, Guatemala...), but the word "usted" is prominent in south Pacific Costa Rica and the Central Valley, and preferred over "vos". Either way, formal Spanish is understood and you may use any form of the word "you" you consider proper.
Welcome to the world as seen through the eyes of Cameron and Natasha. On this site you’ll find our experiences, photography, and informative travel guides. We love getting to off the beaten path destinations and aren’t afraid to go it alone. We hope to inspire other independent travelers and provide the resources to do so. If you want to find us, just head to the nearest coffee shop or check back here!
This sustainable Costa Rica hotel is typical of San Jose colonial hacienda architecture and offers spacious, comfortable guestrooms and suites with the latest amenities. Enjoy total convenience in its location, personalized services, delicious cuisine, and facilities like the pool and fitness center. Let the friendly staff help you relax while catering to your needs and helping you see all that Costa Rica has to offer.
There is a section of Rio Tárcoles that is especially famous for its abundance of very large American crocodiles. You can walk out onto a bridge and look down to see dozens of massive crocodiles laying on the embankment or just floating at the surface; a view that is straight out of a nightmare! You will pass this bridge when you are driving from San Jose toward Jaco Beach. You can’t miss it because you will see plenty of people on the side of the bridge admiring these ancient beasts.
If you’ve heard about the world’s Blue Zones, where the population lives healthier & longer than anywhere else, you’ll know that Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula is the place to stop! Along with beautiful natural scenery and an emphasis on yoga and healthy activities, Nicoya is also home to a number of culinary favorites – including the delectable deliciousness of Harmony Hotel’s juice bar.
Over 840 species of birds have been identified in Costa Rica. As is the case in much of Central America, the avian species in Costa Rica are a mix of North and South American species. The country's abundant fruit trees, many of which bear fruit year round, are hugely important to the birds, some of whom survive on diets that consist only of one or two types of fruit. Some of the country's most notable avian species include the resplendent quetzal, scarlet macaw, three-wattled bellbird, bare-necked umbrellabird, and the keel-billed toucan. The Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad is allowed to collect royalties on any biological discoveries of medical importance. Costa Rica is a center of biological diversity for reptiles and amphibians, including the world's fastest running lizard, the spiny-tailed iguana (Ctenosaura similis).
The population includes European Costa Ricans (of European ancestry), primarily of Spanish descent, with significant numbers of Italian, German, English, Dutch, French, Irish, Portuguese, and Polish families, as well a sizable Jewish community. The majority of the Afro-Costa Ricans are Creole English-speaking descendants of 19th century black Jamaican immigrant workers.
We can’t stress enough the importance of travel insurance, especially in a country like Costa Rica. Whether you just plan to hang out on the beach, do a little bit of hiking, or go extreme (think surfing, scuba diving, or zip-lining), being protected on your travels is an irreplaceable peace of mind. We learned about the importance of travel insurance the hard way and now we never travel without coverage.
The Poás Volcano National Park is one of the most visited volcanic parks and for a very good reason: The Poás volcano is the largest and most active volcano in Costa Rica. It rises 8,885 feet (2,708 meters) high, with a main crater filled with a stunning blue-green colored lake called Laguna Botas. Surrounding the volcanic area, there are multiple different ecosystems, including cloud forests, rainforests, and low mountain forests, which are home to 79 species of birds and a lot of small mammals. There are well maintained and marked hiking trails in the park, too.
Malaria is rarely found in Costa Rica. However, there have been limited confirmed cases in the past in Osa Peninsula (Puntarenas), Matina Canton (Limón), Sarapiquí Canton (Heredia), and San Carlos Canton (Alajuela). Travelers planning to visit these areas should take precautions to prevent mosquito bites and malaria transmission. Talk with a doctor or nurse about medicine to prevent malaria before leaving the United States. Learn more about malaria, how to prevent it, and what to do if you think you are infected, at CDC’s malaria page for travelers.
Physicians density: This entry gives the number of medical doctors (physicians), including generalist and specialist medical practitioners, per 1,000 of the population. Medical doctors are defined as doctors that study, diagnose, treat, and prevent illness, disease, injury, and other physical and mental impairments in humans through the application of modern medicine. They also plan, supervise, and evaluate care and treatment plans by other health care providers. The World Health Organization estimates that f . . . more
An eco-tourist's dream, Costa Rica has become synonymous with all an unspoiled tropical paradise can be. Rarely does reality measure up to hype, but Costa Rica certainly comes close. The country's quiet history as a backwater free of colonial excesses has today become a boon, and Costa Rica has cashed in on its purity. And not without merit: blessed with beaches and biodiversity, this is a verdant land of misty volcanoes, roaring rivers, and lush jungles teeming with exotic fauna. Throw in the friendly, educated Ticos (as Costa Ricans are known) and you can see why down here they call it Pura Vida – "pure life."
Economy - overview: This entry briefly describes the type of economy, including the degree of market orientation, the level of economic development, the most important natural resources, and the unique areas of specialization. It also characterizes major economic events and policy changes in the most recent 12 months and may include a statement about one or two key future macroeconomic trends.
Food – By eating at local restaurants you can expect to pay around 535-1,600 CRC (1-3 USD) for meals. These are a local favorite and will save you from paying tourist prices in other establishments. Typical meals like the traditional casado are 2,670 CRC (5 USD). Most restaurant meals will cost around 3,900 CRC (5 USD) or more. A very nice meal in a tourist area will cost around 9,000 CRC (15 USD). For cheap food, eat from the street vendors where snacks and light meals can cost as little as 265 CRC (less than 1 USD). If you plan on cooking for yourself, a week’s worth of groceries will cost around 15,000-20,000 CRC (25-35 USD).
A money belt with your passport, cash, credit/debit cards and ticket (bus or plane) is a good way to carry your travel documents. Even if all your other belongings are stolen, you would still be able to get to your next destination. The waist belts are best; a neck pouch can be lifted while you are asleep. A thief would really have to disturb you and your personal space to get a waist belt.
Cano Island is a protected marine park, with fishing prohibited for three miles around it. The harvesting of marine life and collection of shells is also against the law. As such, the waters are full of coral, fish, and other sea creatures such as reef sharks, sting rays, turtles, and eels, making it one of Costa Rica points of interest for marine life.
My trip was wonderful! It was my first trip with Gate1, and it was also my first ever solo trip and I must say that I could not have been more happy with my experience. Our tour manager was great, our driver was top notch and the people I met on the trip were the cherry in top. Thank you for your help with my reservation I will definitely travel with Gate1 again.
The good news is that there is a brand new highway known as Autopista Del Sol (Highway of the Sun) that stretches from the beaches around Orotina all the way into San Jose. This highway is smooth as U.S. or European highways, in fact it was constructed by a company that is based in Spain. There are tolls along this highway but if you travel the entire stretch it will still only come out to be a few dollars in total. 2011 update: unfortunately, problems have been found with this highway and parts of it are sometimes closed for repairs.
Population: This entry gives an estimate from the US Bureau of the Census based on statistics from population censuses, vital statistics registration systems, or sample surveys pertaining to the recent past and on assumptions about future trends. The total population presents one overall measure of the potential impact of the country on the world and within its region. Note: Starting with the 1993 Factbook, demographic estimates for some countries (mostly African) have explicitly taken into account t . . . more
Costa Rican cuisine is a blend of Native American, Spanish, African and many other cuisine origins. Dishes such as the very traditional tamale and many others made of corn are the most representative of its indigenous inhabitants, and similar to other neighboring Mesoamerican countries. Spaniards brought many new ingredients to the country from other lands, especially spices and domestic animals. And later in the 19th century, the African flavor lent its presence with influence from other Caribbean mixed flavors. This is how Costa Rican cuisine today is very varied, with every new ethnic group who had recently become part of the country's population influencing the country's cuisine.[unreliable source?]
Costa Rica and Nicaragua regularly file border dispute cases over the delimitations of the San Juan River and the northern tip of Calero Island to the International Court of Justice (ICJ); in 2009, the ICJ ruled that Costa Rican vessels carrying out police activities could not use the river, but official Costa Rican vessels providing essential services to riverside inhabitants and Costa Rican tourists could travel freely on the river; in 2011, the ICJ provisionally ruled that both countries must remove personnel from the disputed area; in 2013, the ICJ rejected Nicaragua's 2012 suit to halt Costa Rica's construction of a highway paralleling the river on the grounds of irreparable environmental damage; in 2013, the ICJ, regarding the disputed territory, ordered that Nicaragua should refrain from dredging or canal construction and refill and repair damage caused by trenches connecting the river to the Caribbean and upheld its 2010 ruling that Nicaragua must remove all personnel; in early 2014, Costa Rica brought Nicaragua to the ICJ over offshore oil concessions in the disputed region
If you plan on driving in Costa Rica it’s best to know that the roads can be pretty awful, some of the worst in all the Americas to be exact. It all depends on where you travel, but almost any road not part of the national highway we found to be pretty meh. The worst we personally traveled on was from Nicoya to Santa Teresa (I may or may not have had back spasms from the constant crater-like potholes).
It’s worth noting that anytime you eat out whether it be at a cafe, soda shop, or restaurant there will be a 10% service charge and 13% tax added to every bill. So don’t be surprised if your bill is 23% more than what you thought it was going to be. This also means that there is no need to leave an extra tip for your server unless you want to (looking at you Americanos)
“The hotels were an outstanding value. Each was clean, comfortable and had a special charm of its own. The meals were ample, excellent choices wide enough to satisfy a picky eater like me. It ranged from excellent to superb. Mexico’s Ancient Civilizations last year rated ten out of ten with our tour director. This tour director made Costa Rica fifteen out of ten. I will schedule Tikal, Copan sometime next year.”
Wow what an awesome post! Thank you for all this information! I am heading down for 8 nights in mid May with my husband and 3 littles – almost 2, 3 & 5 – so we’ll be limited by their activity level, yet still so much we can do and see. I have a lot of parsing through to figure that all out so we don’t drive 3 hours and end up not being able to do something. Hiking, beaches, bridges, volcanoes, jungle, and some boating are on the list, as well as lots of fresh seafood! Any suggestions on areas we should avoid because of their ages? I am hoping we can find a boating excursion that doesn’t have an age minimum, as well as maybe horseback riding. Oh and dolphins! That’s my oldests’ request 🙂
According to Lonely Planet, Parque Nacional Corcovado houses “the last great original tract of tropical rainforest in Pacific Central America.” It’s home to half of all Costa Rican species, including the world’s largest bird of prey (the harpy) eagle and several endangered mammals. Some naturalists regard Corcovado as the most biologically diverse place on the planet, as measured by density of unique species.
It is easy to fall in love with the beauty, and the relaxed pace of Costa Rica captures a wealth of cultural and natural histories that spread from Guanacaste to San Jose, Tortuguero to the Osa Peninsula. Your introduction to Costa Rica will provide easy to access, practical information that will better acquaint you with everything from the must-do activities and sites to visa questions, pre-trip healthcare worries, and the hidden wonders of Central America’s most exciting destination. Put your mind at ease over the Zicasso planning process and embrace the excitement of your dream Costa Rica tour.
Those traveling immediately from Sub-Saharan Africa or South America must have proof of the yellow-fever vaccine on hand upon entering the country. Routine vaccines such as these below should be considered with your local practitioner: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid, Measles-mumps-rubella, and Polio. The above are recommended, along with rabies vaccines for those who plan on being in close contact with wild animals that often carry the disease, which includes bats.
Another Costa Rican tour highlight is the Arenal Volcano, considered one of the most active volcanoes in the world. You may witness the red lava streaming down the sides as you hear the volcano’s grumbling. Relax as you soak in the ecothermal hot springs and perhaps watch the lava flow down the volcano—a spectacular sight! In Monteverde, visit the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, home to forest fauna such as jaguars, resplendent quetzal, monkeys, ocelots, and many species of birds—not to mention the large diversity of plant species.
It’s also one of the few places in Costa Rica where English is the de facto language. That’s down to the area’s unique Afro-Caribbean pedigree, which shows in local cuisine and culture too. The best way to experience the unique flavors (literally) of this distinctive corner of Costa Rica is to spring for Wolaba Tours’ 3.5-hour Food and Culture Tour. It’ll set you back $65 per person, but you won’t walk away hungry.
In San José there is not one central bus station, but rather several different ones, with each station roughly serving a different area of the country, with some exceptions. For example, most of the service to the Caribbean side of the country leaves from the Terminal Gran Caribe. However, in November 2012 the direct service to the far south Caribbean coast moved to the Puntarenas bus station, which mostly serves the west side of the country. Still, you can still get to the Caribe side by taking a bus (on the Autotransportes Caribeños line) from the Terminal Gran Caribe to Limón, and then transferring there to another bus south (the Mepe line). Or just go to the Mepe terminal in SJ for a direct bus to Puerto Viejo or any other place on the South Caribean coast. In short, do some research beforehand so you don't get lost looking for your bus. Often you can just call or email your final destination (e.g. your hotel) and they will tell you what bus to take, where to catch it and how often it runs. Schedules are available online.
Parque Nacional Guanacaste is one of the best places in Central America to experience a pristine Pacific dry forest. Perhaps because the dry forest lacks the jungle’s charisma, it’s under relentless attack by prosperous cattle ranchers hungry to expand their holdings elsewhere in northwestern Costa Rica and western Nicaragua. Just bear in mind that it’s not particularly scenic during the dry season, when most trees lose their leaves and the understory turns various shades of brown and yellow.
Costa Rica has free trade agreements with many countries, including the US. There are no significant trade barriers that would affect imports and the country has been lowering its tariffs in accordance with other Central American countries. The country's Free Trade Zones provide incentives for manufacturing and service industries to operate in Costa Rica. In 2015, the zones supported over 82 thousand direct jobs and 43 thousand indirect jobs in 2015 and average wages in the FTZ were 1.8 times greater than the average for private enterprise work in the rest of the country. In 2016, Amazon.com for example, had some 3,500 employees in Costa Rica and planned to increase that by 1,500 in 2017, making it an important employer.