Planning a Trip to Costa Rica: Complete Guide for a Memorable Vacation

Every time we board a flight to Costa Rica, we look around at the travelers joining us for their first or hundredth trip to Costa Rica, and there is so much variety! An excited family ready for the beach, a crew of ruddy-faced fishermen excited to get on the boat they’ve chartered, a quiet group of bird watchers with binoculars and broad-rimmed hats, and, inevitably, a few honeymooners who are still buzzing from the wedding, but ready for a relaxing trip.

Each one of these groups is traveling to Costa Rica for something distinct and memorable. They have invested money, time, and resources in planning something special, and Costa Rica does not disappoint. There is something special about every trip to Costa Rica. This article will walk you through some questions to help you plan a memorable vacation in Costa Rica.

Relaxed woman on palm tree on beach in Costa Rica

Do you need a travel agent?

Short answer: no. Long answer: it might help! Costa Rican-based travel agencies know Costa Rica inside and out, and they know how to help you maximize your trip so that you aren’t stuck in 4 pm San Jose traffic on the first day of your vacation! Here is a list of some of the things a travel agent would know that would help you make the most of your time:

  • Costa Rican holidays and events and how they would impact your trip
  • The best times of day to travel from point A to point B to avoid potential traffic, rainstorms, and road construction
  • The best travel dates for your trip. For example, between December and May, hotels change their pricing at least five different times due to peak seasons, high seasons, green seasons, and low seasons. Knowing how each hotel manages these dates could help you save substantially on your trip.
  • If you should tip, when to tip, and how to tip. A detailed itinerary from a travel agent provides all of these little details to inform you about cultural nuances.
  • How to organize all the activities you want to maximize your time. For example, many travelers have been disappointed to show up at the famous Manuel Antonio National Park on a Tuesday just to find out that it is closed and that reservations are purchased weeks in advance.

We especially encourage families or groups of any size to converse with a travel agent because it helps ensure everyone can enjoy their trip! Learn more about the value of hiring a travel agent for your Costa Rica vacation.

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Family on beach at sunset in Costa Rica

What are your goals?

By the time you read this article or check plane tickets, you have probably already started thinking about your goals for the trip. That’s great! Costa Rica is so much more than just a sunny place with beaches. Dreaming up your goals for the trip and even setting some intentions will guide all of the rest of your preparations. Here are some sample goals we hear from travelers that might help guide you:

  • Family memories
  • Relaxation
  • Being immersed in the rainforest
  • Hiking volcanoes
  • Adrenaline rushes like white-water rafting and zip-lining
  • Connection with nature

What is your budget?

Not everyone starts their travel planning with a budget, but it is one of the first questions that a travel agent will ask, and this is because it helps to guide all of your planning. Learn more about Costa Rica trip costs.

Map of Costa Rica

Where should you go?

Your trip goals will help you define where to go in Costa Rica. Most first, second, or third-time trips to Costa Rica include a combination of volcanoes, rivers, rainforests, and beaches. Check out some of our itineraries below for ideas:

Chart: Best Time to Visit Costa Rica

When should you go?

Some things you may want to take into consideration when deciding when to travel to Costa Rica are:

  • Flights: Flights tend to be more expensive during peak season (December/January, Easter), and summer travel (May-August)
  • Weather: Learn more about weather patterns here
  • Travel seasons: Prices for lodging, activities, and transportation within Costa Rican fluctuate according to Peak (December/January, Easter), High (January-April), and Low seasons (May-November).

How long should you stay in Costa Rica?

More than likely, you will always wish you could have stayed longer! However, we generally recommend 6-7 nights as a minimum. This is because you will find that although Costa Rica is a small country, travel between locations can be very lengthy and tiring due to the traffic and the quality of the roads.

How should you get around in Costa Rica?

There are two international airports for flying into Costa Rica: San Jose (SJO) and Liberia (LIR). Within the country, there are several options for getting around:

  • Buses: Ideal for backpackers or budget-conscious travelers.
  • Car rentals
  • Hiring drivers

We have an entire article dedicated to whether or not to rent a car, and we suggest you read it before deciding.

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Where should you stay?

Our experience is that one of the most essential elements of a trip is the accommodations. This is where you will relax by the pool, meet fellow travelers, and eat a delicious breakfast to charge up for the day. Given that there are more than 3,000 hotels in Costa Rica, you should do some research to make the most of your experience.

When we are planning a trip, the qualities we want to see in our lodging partners are:

  • Authenticity (nothing generic)
  • Boutique
  • Environmentally friendly
  • Excellent administration and customer service

It is important to note that the costs, availability, and experiences for different accommodations will vary throughout the year. Peak season around Christmas and Easter are incredibly complicated times for getting reservations. Learn more about lodging options here.

Man zip lining in Costa Rica

What should you do?

The sky is the limit! Check out our article about the Top 10 Things to Do in Costa Rica.

What else should you keep in mind when planning a trip to Costa Rica?

A few other things to take into consideration are:

  • Meals and dining (where and how to eat on your trip, food safety, water safety, etc.)
  • Safety and communications (avoiding crime, cell phone usage, etc.)
  • Currency, exchange rate, and using credit cards, etc.
  • Visa and passport guidelines

Remember that Costa Rica’s motto is Pura Vida, which literally means “the pure life” but roughly translates into “it’s all good.” That means there’s a good chance that no matter what you forgot to plan, pack, or prepare for, the people of Costa Rica will help you figure it out.

That being said, Costa Rica is a separate country where most people speak only Spanish, the currency is in colones, the customs are Central American, and the weather is its own beast! Many tourists have bought plane tickets to Costa Rica, thinking it will be like going to Florida or Hawaii, only to realize that there are significant differences.

Hopefully, this guide helps you to think through some of the questions to plan a meaningful trip to Costa Rica. If you want some extra help to do so, please contact us using the form below.

  • Planning Tip: Please include your phone number. We want to respect your time. A quick phone call is a mutually beneficial way to start planning your dream trip to Costa Rica!

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