Things to know before traveling to Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a tropical country located in Central America, between Panama (to the south) and Nicaragua (to the north). As part of the land-bridge that formed recently in geological time between North and South America, it is a rich and interesting crossroads of species and cultures. Costa Rica is marked by its central mountain range and both the Caribbean and Pacific Coasts. It is home to many micro-climates where diverse flora and fauna flourish, making it one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet. It has a well-established network of national parks and private reserves protecting its unique ecosystems and biological corridors.
The first inhabitants of this land were Indigenous people, whose descendants now live primarily in eight territories throughout the country. Due to its history of Spanish colonization starting in the 1500s until its independence in 1821, Costa Rica is primarily a Spanish-speaking country, although English is also widely spoken, especially on the Caribbean Coast, in main cities, and in areas where tourism is well-established. It is an excellent place to learn Spanish thanks to its clear and universally understood accent. Its current population is about 4.9 million, with the majority residing in cities in the central valley.
A renowned destination for ecotourism, Costa Rica is developing rapidly. It is home to remote and pristine wilderness areas, nature-based destinations with well-established hotels and tours, as well as cosmopolitan cities with access to world-class healthcare, pharmacies, and hospitals. It has earned a reputation as one of the most economically and politically stable and prosperous countries in the region. It prides itself on being a peaceful, democratic country, having abolished the military in 1948-49. You will need a valid passport and meet immigration requirements to enter Costa Rica.
How to Plan a Trip
There are multiple factors to consider when planning a trip to Costa Rica. You’ll want to think about the destinations you want to visit, activities you want to do, cultures and micro-climates, time of year, and length of stay. Costa Rica has a range of transportation and lodging options. Our experts can assist you in crafting the ideal itinerary, specifically tailored to your needs and interests.
Where to Fly
Costa Rica has two main international airports. One is SJO, the Juan Santamaría airport, which is located in Alajuela in the Central Valley, near the capital of San José. This airport is a great jumping-off point your itinerary includes beaches of the central and south pacific, Caribbean. The other main airport, LIR, the Daniel Oduber Quirós airport, is located in Liberia, the capital of the northwestern province of
Costa Rica also has a handful of smaller airports and domestic flights including Limón on the Caribbean Coast, Manuel Antonio on the Central Pacific coast, the inland town of La Fortuna, and Puerto Jiménez with access to the remote region of the Osa Peninsula.
What to Bring
Although it may look small on a map, Costa Rica is by no means homogenous. It has many microclimates, thanks to its location near the equator and its range of elevations and ecosystems. Pack according to your itinerary, destinations, and time of year. Temperatures are generally warm and tropical on the beaches and lowlands, yet it can be cool and misty in the cloud forest and mountains. It is always important to bring rain gear at any time of year, just in case. Adequate footwear is important, especially if you plan on hiking in the tropical forest or white water rafting on a tropical river.
Your packing list should include a range of outfits for various temperatures, times of day, and activities. Basics include sunglasses, sun hat, shorts, lightweight pants and long sleeve shirts for sun and insect protection, swimsuit, rain jacket, and water shoes. If you use prescription or over the counter medication, bring enough for the duration of your trip. It is important to have a personal first aid kit with basics such as band-aids, aspirin, hand sanitizer, sunscreen, and insect repellent. If you are going to spend time in cities, or plan on going out to nicer restaurants you’ll want to pack accordingly, as Costa Ricans are known for dressing up for an occasion.
When to Visit Costa Rica
Costa Rica draws visitors from around the world year-round. When deciding when to visit Costa Rica, it is important to know that it has two main seasons and that the weather can vary depending on the region and time of year. The majority of visitors come during the dry season from December to April, which locals refer to as “summer”. It is less visited, and prices are lower, during the wet or rainy season from May to November, which locals refer to as “winter”. It is important to note that even during the “winter” months, hot, sunny mornings with afternoon rain showers are common.
Where to Go
When considering where to go in Costa Rica has so many spectacular locations to visit, tours and activities for every type of traveler, that the hardest part is narrowing down to a reasonable and logistically feasible itinerary based on the length, budget and type of trip you are planning. Spectacular beaches, rainforest, cloud forest, hot springs, wildlife, zip line canopy tours, volcanoes, and mountains are highlights of the country that you won’t want to miss. The best way to decide is to consult with experts who can guide you through the planning process.
How to Stay Safe While Travelling in Costa Rica
Basic safety precautions should be taken while traveling to any part of the world, including Costa Rica. Keep passports and valuables in your hotel safe. Avoid leaving valuables such as electronics, documents, credit cards or money in an unattended vehicle. If you are driving a rental car, it is best to park in a secure parking lot. In areas where there are no parking lots available, it is common to pay an informal watchman. On beaches, always have a travel companion watch your valuables and you. Be mindful of rip currents and coral reefs or rocks. Some, but not all beaches have lifeguards. Wear hiking boots when hiking to protect against snakes and insects.
Always wash fruits and vegetables before eating, and wash your hands. Avoid street food. Stick to purified or bottled water in coastal areas and be mindful of ice. Tap water is potable in most major cities and some inland areas. Stay up-to-date with travel vaccinations. Use insect repellent and long-sleeves to prevent mosquito bites. Stay hydrated, use sunscreen and UV-protective clothing. Only use laptops or other electronics in secure locations. Always make sure to have International health and accident insurance, rental car insurance, and if you are traveling with other valuables also have those insured as well.
Currency and How Much Things Cost
The Costa Rican currency is the colón, which can be obtained by exchanging US dollars or euros at banks or by withdrawing directly from ATMs throughout the country. Major credit cards and US dollars in good condition are widely accepted in most areas.
In general, prices are similar to the United States or other developed countries. Some imported items such as sunscreen and specialty food items are slightly more expensive. Visitors may find that certain services such as haircuts, manicure-pedicure, and massages are more affordable than in their home country. There is a range of prices for restaurants, transportation, and accommodations, for modest to extravagant budgets. Please read our article on Costa Rica trip costs for more information.
Although tax and tips called IVA are usually included in restaurant bills, an additional small tip is appreciated for good service. It is always nice to tip tour guides and other people in the service industries.