Ever wanted to visit the stunning country of Costa Rica? You’re in luck! We’ve developed this Costa Rica travel guide as a helpful tool to help you explore this amazing Central American country.
Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, many know this country for its beautiful nature, wildlife, and warm culture that you’ll love and remember forever. From its dense rainforests to its stunning beaches, this picturesque country has something for everyone.
This comprehensive travel guide will help you plan the perfect trip, whether you want to see the impressive Arenal Volcano or the relaxing beaches of the Nicoya Peninsula.
Below, you’ll find tips on some of the best places to visit, helpful travel information, and important cultural details to make your trip an easy and unforgettable adventure. Pura Vida!
Best Outdoor Activities in Costa Rica
Once you’re ready to go on your trip, there are lots of places to experience! Here are some of the best traveling spots in Costa Rica.
1. Arenal Volcano National Park
Arenal Volcano National Park is a popular tourist destination in Costa Rica, known for its stunning natural beauty and diverse outdoor activities. The park is located in the northern part of the country, about 90 kilometers (56 miles) northwest of the capital city, San José.
The centerpiece of the park is the Arenal Volcano, an impressive stratovolcano that stands 5,437 feet high. This volcano has been dormant since 2010 but still has an imposing presence that attracts visitors worldwide.
The Arenal Volcano National Park is also home to Arenal Lake, the country’s largest artificial lake. Here, you will find lots of opportunities to fish, kayak, and windsurf.
2. Guanacaste Province
Locals know Guanacaste Province for its stunning beaches and diverse wildlife. In fact, Guanacaste has over 125 miles of coastline filled with gorgeous beaches for you to enjoy. Some of the most popular beaches in the province include Tamarindo and Playa Flamingo.
There are also lots of wildlife reserves in the region that can give you the opportunity to hike or watch native animals. You can find jaguars, monkeys, and over 250 species of bird in this area!
Guanacaste also has a long and rich cultural heritage, so it’s a great opportunity to learn more about local traditions, music, and cuisine in the region. You may want to try a local cooking class to learn how to make a traditional Costa Rican dish!
3. La Fortuna Waterfall
If you love natural scenery, you’ll definitely want to visit La Fortuna Waterfall. This incredible waterfall is found in Arenal Volcano National Park and is surrounded by its lush rainforest.
The waterfall is approximately 230 feet high and falls into a clear, emerald-green pool, which makes it a popular spot for photographers and swimmers alike.
While you can certainly explore the region on your own, a guided tour will give you some more insight into the region. A guided tour will teach you which paths are safest to access the waterfall.
4. Sloth’s Territory
On the route from La Fortuna to San Jose, you’ll find an area commonly called Sloth’s Territory. The sloth is one of Costa Rica’s most beloved species and is found frequently throughout the country’s lush rainforests.
Sloth’s Territory is a popular area where many tourists can see sloths in their natural habitat. If you aren’t sure where to look, you can take a guided rainforest walk, where a local will bring you to the most popular spots within Sloth’s Territory.
There are also some sloth sanctuaries and rescue centers in the region which can give you more information about sloths and their habitat. It’s a great learning experience for kids and adults alike!
5. Nicoya Peninsula
On the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica is the Nicoya Peninsula, home to several beautiful beaches and landscapes. This peninsula is separated from the mainland by the Gulf of Nicoya and the Tempisque River, so you’ll have to travel by boat to access it.
The Nicoya Peninsula offers tourists lots of different activities to enjoy, including:
- Turtle nesting sighting
- Horseback riding
- ATV tours
- Yoga retreats
Because it is so popular among tourists, the Nicoya Peninsula truly offers activities for everyone to enjoy.
Other Things to Consider for Your Costa Rica Trip
Before you hop on that plane, there are some things you should consider to make your trip to Costa Rica as enjoyable as possible.
Most people who visit Costa Rica travel there by air. There are two main international airports in the region:
- Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) in San José
- Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIR) in Libera, Guanacaste
Which airport you travel to will ultimately depend on the destination you wish to travel to and your flight budget. SJO is larger than LIR, but LIR is closer to the more popular beaches in the northwestern part of the country.
After arriving in Costa Rica, you have to figure out how to get around. The most common methods of transport in the area are:
- Domestic flights
- Public buses
- Shared shuttles
- Taxis and Ubers
- Rental cars
- Private drivers
- Bicycles and scooters
The types of transport you pick ultimately depend on the type of traveler you are, whether you are a budget traveler, family traveler, solo traveler etc.
For example, some areas may only be accessible by boat.
After you get off the plane, you’ll need a place to put your belongings and sleep! The most common accommodations in Costa Rica include:
- Vacation rentals
- Luxury resorts
Every location is different, so you’ll have to decide what type of experience you’re looking for before choosing accommodations.
If you’re a single traveler looking to explore and backpack, a hostel is a great affordable option. If you’re a couple looking for an all-inclusive getaway, a luxury resort may be for you!
Regardless of your choice, remember to book accommodations in advance, especially if you plan to visit during busy seasons (between December to April).
Because Costa Rica is located near the equator, it has a tropical climate. The weather there is typically warm and humid year-round, so you should pack with this type of weather in mind.
Costa Rica has two primary seasons: dry season and rainy season. The dry season runs from December to April, and the rainy season runs from May to November.
Most people travel during the dry season because they want to enjoy sunny beach days. Others may prefer the rainy season so they can enjoy the lush green landscape.
You should keep these differences in mind depending on the activities you want to enjoy while on your trip. If you want to visit during a less busy season, the rainy season is a good choice. However, there are some things you’ll have to keep in mind to have a successful trip:
- Bring appropriate clothing for rainy and humid weather conditions (e.g. breathable clothing, rain jackets, boots, etc.)
- Schedule outdoor activities in the morning hours before heavy rain typically begins to fall in the afternoon and evening
- Explore indoor activities during the rainy afternoons and evenings
- Watch the weather forecast regularly to avoid hazardous areas due to heavy rainfall (when in doubt, ask a local!)
As long as you keep these in mind, you should be able to have a safe and enjoyable trip during the less-busy rainy season.
Costa Rica is generally considered a safe vacation spot for tourists. However, you should still take some safety precautions as you would with any destination.
Some primary safety issues to consider on your trip include:
- Secure accommodations
- Health precautions
- Adventure activities
- Local laws and customs
While you enjoy yourself on your trip, you should always stay aware of your surroundings. Try not to go anywhere secluded by yourself or after dark if you can help it.
You should also keep in mind that Costa Rica has some health concerns that you may not have at home. For example, you should stick to drinking bottled water on your trip to avoid any water-borne illnesses.
You’ll also want to be aware of local laws where you’re traveling so you don’t accidentally break any of them.
Finally, make sure any fun activities you’re planning are safe to enjoy. There are lots of swimming areas in the country, so you want to make sure everyone in your party knows basic water safety. Staying safe is the first step to ensuring a fun vacation at the beach for you and your family!
Just like many other countries, Costa Rica has its own set of health and travel guidelines before it lets tourists into the country. These guidelines may change over time, so make sure you check them just before your trip so you aren’t surprised.
Every traveler has to complete a Health Pass Form (Pase de Salud) within 72 hours of arrival. You must also have valid travel insurance that covers potential medical expenses if you get sick.
Though not currently required, some countries recommended getting some vaccines before visiting Costa Rica. In particular, your doctor may recommend vaccines for Hepatitis A and Typhoid to protect against food- and water-borne illnesses.
Costa Rica’s official currency is the Costa Rican Colón (CRC). When planning your trip, you should make sure you’re prepared for financial transactions.
Many tourist areas can accept credit and debit cards, but some of the more rural areas may not. You should always plan to have some cash on hand no matter where you are in the country.
Before traveling, check the current exchange rate between your currency and the CRC. This will tell you how much CRC you can get for your currency.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the US dollar (USD) is widely accepted in Costa Rica, especially in popular tourist areas. If you’re traveling from the US, you may not have to exchange currency at all depending on where you are!
If you do need to exchange currency, you can do so easily at local banks, exchange offices, and many hotels. Each place offers a different exchange rate, so check with each one to find the best deal. However, banks usually have the lowest exchange rates compared to other places.
Costa Rica’s official language is Spanish, and is spoken by the majority of its population. However, English is also widely spoken in larger cities and more popular tourist regions. If a business caters to tourists, they likely have staff members that speak some degree of English.
Additionally, many areas have signs in both Spanish and English to accommodate tourists.
To make your trip as seamless as possible, you should at least plan to learn a few key Spanish phrases before your trip. Some of the most essential include:
- Hola (Hello)
- Por favor (Please)
- Gracias (Thank you)
- ¿Cuánto cuesta? (How much does it cost?)
- ¿Dónde está…? (Where is…?)
- No entiendo (I don’t understand)
- Habla inglés? (Do you speak English?)
If you’re not up to date on your Spanish, consider using a translation app to help you navigate the country.
The people of Costa Rica are generally known as warm and welcoming. When visiting, you should make every effort to be respectful and considerate of the locals there.
Remember to greet new people with a friendly handshake and a hello (“hola”). If you’re meeting someone you already know, they may greet you with a kiss on the cheek or a pat on the shoulder.
Physical touch is generally common as well, and it’s not uncommon for someone to place their hand on your arm or shoulder while speaking to you.
If you plan to speak Spanish, you should also remember your verb conjugations. The verb “usted” is used with older people or people in authority as a form of respect. You don’t want to accidentally disrespect them by using the wrong verb!
Finally, keep in mind that Costa Ricans are especially committed to environmental conservation. Respect the environment during your trip by not littering, treating local wildlife with care, and conserving water and energy.
Costa Rica is a stunning Central American destination that offers tourists lots of different experiences to enjoy. Between abundant wildlife, rich culture, and thrilling outdoor activities, everyone in your family can find something to enjoy in this beautiful country.
Remember to plan your trip carefully and keep this information on travel, safety, and activities in mind before flying out on your dream vacation. As you plan, use this guide to help you have the safest and most enjoyable trip possible!