Travel to Costa Rica
Costa Rica, officially known as the Republic of Costa Rica, is a country in Central America. With Nicaragua at its northern border, and the Pacific Oceans and Caribbean Sea as a part of its borders, you can definitely assume that this place has some of the best beaches around the world.
The whole of Costa Rica’s land area is approximately 51,000 square kilometers. With 5 million inhabitants and over 100 tourist places that you can visit, you are guaranteed to have a great time in Costa Rica. San Jose, the largest and capital city of Costa Rica, houses about 300,000 of the country’s inhabitants.
If you are planning a trip to Costa Rica, the best time for you to visit the country is any time from mid-December to April. Costa Rica is known to be a tropical country with an average temperature of 70 to 81 degrees Fahrenheit (21 to 27 degrees Celsius). Hence, traveling to Costa Rica during these dry times would make it ideal for you to explore its rich rainforests and beaches.
However, since it’s the best weather that Costa Rica would have, this season is also considered to be the peak season. Expect that most tourist places will be packed with people and the prices of goods and services will shoot up.
Travel tips for Costa Rica
Visa Requirements for Costa Rica
Most visitors can get into Costa Rica without the need of a Visa and can stay in the country for up to 90 days. People of any nationality holding valid US, Canada, Japan, South Korea or Schengen visas do not need a prior visa. This will also depend on the purpose of your visit, country of residence, and the duration of your stay. To know if you would need to get a visa for Costa Rica, visit their embassy’s website here.
But for those who would need to submit some requirements for their visa application, you would need to have a valid passport for at least six months from the date of entry, detailed itinerary and accommodation, and application form. You will also need to provide your police record which is issued within the last six months and proof of stable economic status such as your bank account statements.
Also note that Costa Rica requires valid Yellow fever certificate if arriving from most neighbouring countries.
Important Cultural Information
Costa Ricans are straightforward to get along with. They aren’t uptight. Instead, they are warm, easygoing, friendly, and casual. Costa Ricans are conservative and very respectful. In most conversations, they are relatively formal. Hence, the use of the more formal “usted” is not new when meeting with tourists. When you are saying goodbye or offering a greeting, both males and females shake hands. Although for women, a light kiss on the cheek is the most common gesture.
When dressing up, it’s important to know that most Costa Ricans dress conservatively. In San Jose and other major cities, you will rarely see people wearing shorts. But with tourists, it’s acceptable to wear shorts and sandals. For women, one of the tips for Costa Rica travel is that no matter how you dress, you may find yourself at the receiving end of whistles and catcalls. Hence, if you are a bit uncomfortable receiving this kind of attention, you might want to cover yourself up.
When meeting Costa Ricans, don’t expect them to show up on time. This habit of theirs is called “Tico time” or la hora tica, wherein they could show up anywhere from 15 minutes to about an hour late to appointments. This is the same with transportation and businesses.
Banking & Money in Costa Rica
The official Costa Rica currency is the colon, which is named after Christopher Columbus. The plural is colones.
US Dollars are widely accepted in the country. However, it’s still recommended that you carry some colones with you, especially when you are dealing with local merchants. The use of US dollars is done more often at grocery stores and restaurants where they can put in the correct exchange rate for you to have a fair price.
When exchanging money in Costa Rica, you will get the best deal when you have it traded at a local bank. Make sure that you bring your passport with you. But you would have to know that the lines may get long. Airports give the worst deals when exchanging money. You will want to avoid this if you want to get a fair price.
At the same time, you can also get local currency out of the ATM. Just make sure that you have authorized your card and called your bank before you travel to Costa Rica.
Most internationally recognized credit and debit cards are widely accepted in Costa Rica. Most restaurants, hotels, gas stations, and tour operators will accept your credit cards. For the most part, Mastercard and Visa are the two cards that are most widely accepted in the country.
If you’re used to using ATMs as a way for you to get cash, then you shouldn’t worry about dealing with the situation in Costa Rica. There are quite a few ATMs in the country. You won’t have a problem with this at all. Most ATMs will dispense Costa Rican colones, but you can have the option of withdrawing US dollars as well.
Medical Emergency Information
Like the US, the main emergency contact number in Costa Rica is 911, this will get you in touch with the police and for all emergency queries.
More specific emergency contact:
- Ambulance – 128
- Fire – 118
To be safe, you should have travel insurance for Costa Rica. Make sure to get good travel insurance for Costa Rica beforehand. Compare options with both WorldNomads and SafetyWing.
Wi-Fi and Internet in Costa Rica
There are several options you can choose from when you would want to have a Wi-Fi connection in Costa Rica. RASCA, the internet service provider in the country, offers free wireless internet access in most tourist spots and popular locations in Costa Rica. This includes airports, terminals, and shopping malls. You can also get some internet access in hotels and restaurants such as McDonald’s and Subway. You can also find an internet cafe in almost every street. Make sure to set-up a VPN before using public Wi-Fi spots. Make sure to read our post on why it’s so important to use a VPN while traveling.
For SIM cards for mobile phones, it’s easy to get one at the airport, gas stations, newsstands, and grocery stores. There are three main mobile operators in Costa Rica: I.C.E., Movistar and Claro. You will need to show your passport in order to get a SIM card. It is a relatively quick and easy process, with your new local phone number being available straight away.
Arrival in Costa Rica
When you are traveling to Costa Rica by plane, there are two international airports you could possibly land at. The largest one, Juan Santamaría Airport, is located in Alajuela which is at the Central Valley region just north of San Jose. The other airport, Daniel Oduber Airport, is located in Liberia, which is more accessible to the northwestern Guanacaste region in Costa Rica.
The main airlines that fly in and out of the Juan Santamaria Airport include:
- Delta Air Lines
- Air France
- SANSA Regional
- Copa Airlines
- Air Panama
- SA AVIANCA
- Albatros Airlines
Search for flights to Costa Rica on Expedia.
You could also arrive to Costa Rica by sea, there are four major ports that your cruise ship may dock. These include:
- Pacific Coast, Caldera
- Golfito, southern Pacific Coast
- Moin, north of Limon
Some of the cruise lines that travel to Costa Rica are the Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Lines, and Princess Cruises. There is also a daily boat service from Los Chiles to Nicaragua.
There are bus services from the neighbouring countries of Nicaragua, Panamá, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Guatemala. Tica and Tracopa are examples of bus companies that operate international bus routes.
You can of course also arrive via car from neighboring countries. The Interamericana (Pan-American Highway) runs through Costa Rica and is the main entry point by car. Note that the road conditions in Costa Rica are not the greatest in some parts.
Areas of Costa Rica
The main areas of travel in Costa Rica include:
San Jose and Catago
San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital and largest city, makes up most of the country’s Central Valley region. It is here that you can join many Costa Rica tours. You can also find all the comforts of modern living and travel in this area. But modern life isn’t only what you are going to experience in this place as it has a fertile and vibrant city, too. You can visit countless fincas or farms and ranches in the Central Valley Region. The climate in this area of the country is more refreshing than some of the districts in this place. Because it is also the country’s capital, you can expect that it will be more populated than other areas of Costa Rica.
North Puntarenas & South Puntarenas
The Puntarenas is a surfer’s paradise. If you are a surfer, adding this place to your Costa Rica itinerary is an absolute must! You cannot afford to miss some of the best surfing spots in the world. This is considered to be so as the breaks are strong and consistent.
Aside from finding beautiful Costa Rica beaches in this part of the country, there’s also a Monteverde Cloud forest up in the Northern Puntarenas where you can visit the Corcovado National Park at the Southern area of the Puntarenas. The Northern part is ideal for those who would want a more relaxing and chill stay while the Southern region is perfect for those who like to go on exciting adventures.
North Caribbean & South Caribbean Coast
If you are the kind of person who really dares to travel the most exotic beaches in the world, then you should head to the Caribbean coast. On the Northern part of the coast, you can find Costa Rica’s version of the Amazon River, the Tortuguero National Park. On the southern part of the Caribbean coast, you can find the locals’ take on Afro-Caribbean culture.
Alajuela & Heredia
You can definitely have the best of both worlds in this country! The Alajuela and Heredia region are one of the best places to go in Costa Rica. Experience cloud forests like no other! Here, you can enjoy the pristine and green condition of the coffee plantations. But what makes the Alajuela region popular is its most active volcanoes and fantastic firework displays. It is also here that you can see the Arenal Volcano. If you’re lucky, you might even get to see the red molten lava that spurts from the volcano’s cone!
The Guanacaste region has the best all inclusive resorts Costa Rica has to offer. Here, you can relax and sunbathe on the beach without having to worry about other people. Although it’s one of the most popular and frequented places in the country, it’s not as crowded as it is in the country’s capital area. In Guanacaste, you can find Costa Rica hotels on the beach. These accommodations come with a hefty price tag though, but the experience and the view makes it all worth it.
Read our post on things to do in Tamarindo, a town in the Guanacaste Province.
Travel Planning for Costa Rica
Transportation in Costa Rica
Costa Rica transportation is a bit challenging to get used to. Don’t worry though, it’s just the same as with any other country. Although if you would want to get your money’s worth, make sure that you take necessary precautions.
Getting around in a taxi is one of the most affordable and convenient ways to go. Just to be sure, only take authorized taxi cabs. These taxis are known as Rojos because of their cherry-red color. Before you start with your journey, make sure that the meter is running to avoid any discussions with the taxi cab driver at the end of the trip. If you’re not comfortable in hiring local taxi cabs, Uber is also available in Costa Rica.
If you are in a budget, then the most affordable way for you to get around is by taking the public bus. The only problem is that there’s no such thing as a unified national bus network. Buses stop and go along the route. There are also shared shuttles which you can avail of. These are more convenient and comfortable to ride on compared to public buses.
Accommodations in Costa Rica
When you’re traveling to Costa Rica, you won’t have to worry about your lodging and accommodation. Depending on which area you are staying at, there are various accommodation options you can choose from. In those areas that are surrounded by rainforests, ecolodges are the best way to go. There are also many small inns and hotels in these areas if you’re not comfortable to stay at the ecolodges.
Hotels with the global chain brands such as the Marriott, Radisson, Crowne Plaza, and Hyatt are also the best standard hotels that you can find. At the same time, if you want to have that kind of Costa Rican feel, there are also locally owned hotels that you can stay in. For the areas near the beaches, there are several hotels and beach resorts that you can find.
We recommend looking for accommodation online on Booking or Agoda.
What to Eat and Drink in Costa Rica
Costa Rica isn’t only known for its wonderful places. At the same time, the country is also known for its cuisine.
Here are some of the most sought-after food that you shouldn’t miss trying when you’re in the country.
- Gallo Pinto – a mixture of rice and beans with a little cilantro or onion thrown in.
- Arroz con Leche
- Sopa Negra – black bean soup
- Olla de Carne
- Refrescos – fruit smoothies made with water or milk
- Agua duice – water sweetened with sugar cane
- Beer – Cerveza; the national beer of Costa Rica is Imperial
Good, fresh fruit is found everywhere with great variety and low in cost. Finding vegetarian food in Costa Rica is also relatively easy. Besides from local restaurants you will also find a variety of restaurants specialising in international cuisine like Italian, Mexican and Indian.
Things to Do and See in Costa Rica
If you’re planning where to go in Costa Rica, here are some of the places that you could consider adding to your itinerary.
Experience Costa Rica’s Ecotourism. By far, Costa Rica is the world’s best ecotourism destination. One of the best places to go to in Costa Rica is the Finca Rosa Blanca. Here, you can experience a carbon-neutral organic coffee farm. Stay in touch with your nature-loving side! And definitely go snorkeling in Costa Rica.
Get a view of the Arenal Volcano. If you want to see molten hot lava flowing from the cone of the volcano, then it’s best that you visit this place at night. But you won’t just have the opportunity to see it; you also have the chance to hike around the volcano! Did you know that it’s also possible to literally be on cloud nine in Monteverde, Costa Rica? You can do this at the ever-famous Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.
These are just some of the things you can do and places you can visit when you’re in Costa Rica.
Things to Do and See in Costa Rica
Shopping in Costa Rica
If you’re a shopaholic in Costa Rica, you won’t be let down with all the major shopping districts in the country. Visit Mercado Central if you want to experience what it’s like to haggle with Costa Rica’s local merchants and buy their traditional items. You can also do this at the National Craft Market which is also known as the Mercado Nacional de Artesania. It is in this place that you can find the perfect one-stop-shop for all of your souvenir shopping needs.
However, if you prefer to shop in air conditioned and more relaxing places, then the Avenida Escazu is the best place for you to go to. After shopping, there are also many upscale restaurants and food chains you can eat at in this area.
Costa Rica’s Nightlife
Nightlife in Costa Rica isn’t as abundant as you’d expect it to be. Most of the shops and malls are already closed by 10 PM. But in most tourist destinations, the nightlife can be as alive as ever.
One of the best nightlife places you can go to is at Jaco. There are a lot of bars and restaurants you can visit. Playa del Coco also becomes one of the liveliest beach towns that you can go to. If you’re not into loud parties and would just like to chill out, you can achieve this by going to Puerto Viejo.
Safety Tips for Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a relatively safe country for you to visit. However, just to be sure you must look after your belongings and take extra safety measures at all times. The crime rates are far higher in most urban areas and tourist destinations. When you’re traveling, make sure that you only bring your essentials with you. Don’t keep too much cash or expensive gadgets in your bag. Take only what you need and avoid wearing flashy jewelry as it could attract pickpockets. Always bring a flashlight with you, especially if you know that you’re going to stay up late. Also, when going back to your hotel, it’s better that you take a cab at night instead of walking.
Costa Rica is such a beautiful place to visit – especially if you would want to experience a one-of-a-kind journey. In Costa Rica, you get to be one with nature and just have fun with what the surroundings would have to offer you.
From the beautiful beaches and tropical forests through to the urban cities, there is something for all kinds of travelers. Adventure loving travelers though, will most definitely enjoy traveling in Costa Rica with so many outdoor activities available.
To get the best weather, make sure to go between mid-December and April. This is peak season though, so try to book your accommodation and activities beforehand to avoid disappointment.
Travel tips for Costa Rica