Located approximately 45 miles east of San Jose, Turrialba Volcano National Park protects one of Costa Rica’s least visited active volcanoes. The Turrialba Volcano reaches an elevation of over 10,000 feet and is covered in verdant montane rain forest. Prior to 2016, the last time that a major eruption occurred was in 1866, and it was possible to hike to the summit along a variety of scenic trails. Along the way you could explore various lava flows and at the apex you were rewarded for your efforts by brilliant 360-degree views. Since 2016 Turrialba has produced several substantial eruptions, some of which caused the closure of the airport and deposited ash as far away at San Jose, and the national park remains closed to visitors until further notice.
Whether you’re buying souvenirs or groceries, your best bet in Costa Rica is to shop at local markets. Although Costa Rica has large, American-style grocery stores, they can be a little pricey. The best deals on fresh produce can be found at a feria (farmers’ market). Most towns have a weekly feria where you can buy fresh, tropical fruits and vegetables. And if you happen to miss the weekly market, you’ll often see street vendors selling select items (like avocados and mangoes) every day.
There are approximately 8 different national beers available (and most international), which are sold in cans, bottles and even kegs. The most common beers in the country are Pilsen and Imperial: all bars and restaurants serve both. Bavaria, "Bavaria Negra" (dark) and Bavaria Light are considered higher quality but more expensive, Rock Ice and Rock Ice Limón (lemon flavor) has a higher alcohol percentage. Heineken is locally made under license and is more expensive as well.
In 1838, long after the Federal Republic of Central America ceased to function in practice, Costa Rica formally withdrew and proclaimed itself sovereign. The considerable distance and poor communication routes between Guatemala City and the Central Plateau, where most of the Costa Rican population lived then and still lives now, meant the local population had little allegiance to the federal government in Guatemala. From colonial times to now, Costa Rica's reluctance to become economically tied with the rest of Central America has been a major obstacle to efforts for greater regional integration.
It's no surprise Costa Rica is considered the "happiest place on earth." Once you land, you'll find it's easy to experience what Costa Ricans have been talking about since 1956: Pura Vida - a phrase that truly encapsulates the friendly vibe of Costa Rica, and is used by locals and means everything from "Hello," to "This is the life!" If you're looking to fall into the "Pura Vida" lifestyle, check out some of the top activities and accolades:
Pro Tip: Most Costa Rican vehicles have standard transmissions – stick shifts. This is a scary prospect for most North Americans, many of whom have no reason to know how to drive stick. If you know anyone with a standard transmission vehicle, ask them to show you the ropes before you arrive in Costa Rica. It’s better to learn in a parking lot near your house than an unfamiliar dirt road with jungle on one side and a sheer drop on the other.
Our fully customizable Costa Rica vacation packages deliver everything you need to enjoy an amazing vacation. Discover the wonders of Costa Rica while staying at top hotels, ecolodges, and resorts. Experience the best tours and attractions with hand-selected guides. You’ll move around the country in style with the best domestic transportation options. Every sample itinerary is tailored to your budget and preferences. Select the travel style that suits you best and start planning your trip today!
Apart from checking out the rainforest and surrounding lake and other lands while zipping along, not to mention spotting wildlife, the zipline tour gives a prime view of the Arenal Volcano. (Up until 2010 this volcano was one of the most active in the whole world, but its eruptive cycle has paused and it’s currently in a resting phase.) Arenal Volcano looms large over the hillsides surrounding it, and reaches close to 5,500 feet high.
Our favorite place to catch a show is the National Theater in San Jose. We saw Alice in Wonderland as a ballet there a few months ago and really enjoyed it. Ballet is not typically our thing, but the theater is beautiful and sometimes it’s nice to have an excuse to dress up fancy and go out. Just keep in mind that most shows are in Spanish, but honestly I didn’t feel like I really needed a good grasp on the Spanish language while watching Alice in Wonderland.
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.
The Butterfly Conservatory is located in El Castillo at the east end of Lake Arenal and has the biggest collection of butterflies in Costa Rica. There are six different atriums that mimic the natural habits of the variety of butterflies that live here. The beautiful and giant blue morpho butterfly can be seen here. There is a fabulous educational tour that takes you through the atriums where you will learn all about the different moths and butterflies of Costa Rica, along with the frogs and insects, too. This is a lovely afternoon activity; who doesn’t want to be surrounded by butterflies?
Humpback whale mothers give birth in the pockets of shallow temperate waters off the shores of Costa Rica while orcas and bottlenose dolphins troll for sushi. All of this and more can be seen on dolphin and whale watching excursions into Costa Rica's ocean habitats – some of the most biologically diverse marine habitats in the world. Explore pristine gorges and canyons embedded in the Costa Rican rainforest as you hike, down climb, swim, jump, rappel and zipline your way through an adventure of a lifetime. Waterfall rappelling is one of Costa Rica’s ultimate adventure sports. Using a variety of techniques developed for a sport known as canyoneering, you'll hike ... Assail Costa Rica's class II-V rapids in one of the most vibrant and vivacious corners of the planet. Explore the wilderness while rafting down spring-fed rivers rambling through primary and secondary rainforest among rolling hills, pastures and valleys tossing and bucking visitors who dare to test its raging waters. Costa Rica ... The rare, the mystical, the brilliant and the cuddly hide in the foliage of the Costa Rican rainforest. Many nature lovers come to Costa Rica looking for just one animal: a sloth chewing on a fistful of leaves, a capuchin monkey jumping between tree branches or a chance to see the resplendent quetzal's azure and ruby plumage. While ...
En route to San José, visit SARCHI Village, known as the center of Costa Rican handcrafts and where you will see the artists in their workshops making the famous oxcarts. Next stop is Grecia Village to see the metal church that was imported from Belgium to Puerto Limon in 1897. The church was transported by oxcarts to its present-day location, but sat in the plaza for 10 years before being reconstructed.
Thanks for the input, Emilia. We have heard of Waze before, but haven’t given it a try yet. Google Maps has not let us done in Costa Rica yet! As for the price of gas, the small side of the road stall definitely overcharge (i don’t think they abide by the laws all that much), but that’s the “convenience tax” you pay to fill up in a small town without having to travel to a city with a real gas station.
Visitors seeking metropolis-aimed vacations can enjoy San Jose's colonial-era architecture juxtaposed with the city's urban street art - the dichotomy creates a dynamic beauty that no other city can quite encapsulate. The sweet smells of Costa Rican bananas, fresh coffee beans and chocolate can be found at the Central Market, and if you'd like to pick up a souvenir, everything from artisan leather goods to handmade musical instruments can be found here.
Food: Get off the beaten path to eat whenever possible. Our best-value meals came at independently owned restaurants in Liberia. One place, basically a lunch counter serving authentic Costa Rican cuisine, set us back about $5 per person for a lunch big enough to skip dinner on. The area’s touristy restaurants cost triple that. If you’re renting, make sure your place has a kitchen, and hit the grocery store as soon as you get settled. We visited a Walmart in Liberia and a Super Compro in Tilaran; both had excellent meat counters and solid produce sections.
Another important factor behind Costa Rica's poverty was the lack of a significant indigenous population available for encomienda (forced labor), which meant most of the Costa Rican settlers had to work on their own land, preventing the establishment of large haciendas (plantations). For all these reasons, Costa Rica was, by and large, unappreciated and overlooked by the Spanish Crown and left to develop on its own. The circumstances during this period are believed to have led to many of the idiosyncrasies for which Costa Rica has become known, while concomitantly setting the stage for Costa Rica's development as a more egalitarian society than the rest of its neighbors. Costa Rica became a "rural democracy" with no oppressed mestizo or indigenous class. It was not long before Spanish settlers turned to the hills, where they found rich volcanic soil and a milder climate than that of the lowlands.