Looking for a Costa Rica travel guide? Here’s everything you need to know to experience the best of the country.
I’ve just returned from my trip to Costa Rica, and while I saw and experienced lots, it definitely left me wanting more! The big attraction? The biodiversity and the pura vida way of life. There’s such a relaxed and friendly vibe here, and it feels very safe.
Costa Rica is a magnificent country full of active volcanos, waterfalls, lush rain forests, cloud forests and rare wildlife. It’s the most developed country in Central America, but also the most expensive, so be prepared to bust your wallet wide open (unless you follow my budget tips below).
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Costa Rica travel guide
In this Costa Rica travel guide, I’m sharing the most essential tips and information for a visit to Costa Rica. You’ll find the best activities and adventures, budget tips, visa requirements and more.
How to get around
You can get around Costa Rica by rental car, flight, shuttle bus or public transportation, with the latter being the most affordable, but still on time, reliable and in a good quality.
Best things to do in Costa Rica
Here’s a list of the best things to do in Costa Rica. You can also read my latest blog post about how to spend 10 days in Costa Rica.
- Hit the beach. Beaches at the Pacific coast are known for being the best surfer spots as they have the biggest waves. You’ll find many nice beaches along the coastline of Guanacaste.
- Learn how to surf. Along the Pacific coastline there are plenty of places to learn such as Tamarindo, Manuel Antonio and Puerto Viejo.
- Hike a volcano or two. There are many volcanos in Costa Rica, and some of them are rather easy to access. You can take a day tour to Poás volcano from San José or visit Arenal, which is 90km north of the capital. Most of the volcanos are close to waterfalls or wildlife, so you can easily include that in the trip.
- Visit a National Park. With 26 national parks, Costa Rica is the ideal place to watch wildlife, stunning waterfalls or lush rain forests. Monteverde Cloud Forest, Manuel Antonio and Arenal are some of the most popular ones.
- Jungle canopies and hanging bridges. This country has several zip lines and canopy hanging bridges. You will find the widest of the latter in Monteverde Cloud Forest.
- Turtle nesting. Several beaches in Costa Rica offer the opportunity to see turtles nest along the shoreline. The best time to see them is in April and May. Tortuguero National Park at the east coast is one of the best places to spot them, but other beaches at the west coast are perfectly fine as well. The nesting time depends on the breed.
- Visit a coffee plantation. Costa Rica is known for producing some of the best coffee in the world. You’ll have lots of opportunity to visit a coffee plantation, see how it all works and taste it, too.
- Chase waterfalls. Costa Rica has beautiful and well-kept nature surroundings, and waterfalls are not a rare sight around here. There’s a significantly stunning one up in Liberia, but don’t miss out on La Paz Waterfall Gardens or La Fortuna.
Best time to go
Like most other countries in Central America, high season in Costa Rica is between December and April. If you travel during this period, though, it’s more expensive and crowded. Plus, it’s much more lush during the rainy season, and this paves the way for some pretty awesome pictures.
Travelers from most countries will get a 90 day visa at the border, but countries like Australia and Japan need a visa in advance. Make sure to check with your local embassy for advice.
Safety in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is one of the safest countries in Latin America regarding crime, and in general you shouldn’t worry about your safety. However, since it’s home to active volcanos, earthquakes, and much wildlife (including poisonous snakes), do bear this in mind and keep updated on the latest news.
Living expenses in Costa Rica are quite high, and you should expect to pay between $50 and $100 per day. There are some ways to save money, though – just keep on reading.
How to travel Costa Rica on a budget
While it has a reputation for being expensive, it’s still possible to visit Costa Rica on a budget. We each spent $50 per day and traveled by local busses, shuttles, stayed at hostels and airbnbs. We also did a lot of fun tours and activities, so visiting doesn’t have to be expensive.
Here are my best budget tips:
- Take public transportation. The public buses in Costa Rica are well maintained and reliable. On several stretches, they match the Tica bus (International bus company) and buses in Mexico, which are great! They’re also super cheap compared to flying or the shuttle busses. Just to mention an example: We paid $5 to get from Monteverde to San José in a large bus with aircon and fancy leather seats, and the minibus (Intershuttle) costed $50.
- Drink the tap water. It’s perfectly safe to drink water from the tap, and it will save you a few dollars a day.
- Eat at sodas. These are family owned restaurants that offer cheap, large meals for around $5-$8. They serve local Costa Rican food and can be found in most cities throughout the country.
- Travel off-season. I guess this goes for most countries, but Costa Rica is just as beautiful in low season and the prices are much lower. Plus, the rain forests and country side will be more lush.
- Practice your Spanish. If you speak the language, taxi drivers and local vendors are more likely to expect you to bargain – and thus give you a fair price.
Got questions about my Costa Rica travel guide? Ask me in the comments!