Costa Rica Holiday Planning Guide
Tiny in terms of land area, Costa Rica is astoundingly diverse when it comes to culture and natural attractions. In a country called "Rich Coast," it's no surprise most Costa Rica vacations dedicate at least a few days to picturesque Pacific and Caribbean beaches, ideal for water sports and relaxation. Few small countries offer such a range of landscapes, allowing tourists to observe towering volcanoes while soaking away their worries in a hot spring, or hike into dense rainforests in the morning and surf at a modern resort in the afternoon. A trip to Costa Rica also lets you discover pristine national parks, ensuring plenty of chances to view wildlife from the comfort of eco-friendly lodges packed with amenities even ardent nature lovers secretly desire.
Places to Visit in Costa Rica
Regions of Costa RicaProvince of San Jose
: Home to the country's heritage-rich capital city, this province offers not only a chance to learn about regional history and culture, but also scenic nature and pleasant climate.Province of Limon
: Nestled on the sunny Caribbean coast, the Jamaica-influenced Limon boasts lush rainforests and long swathes of sandy beaches, ideal for adventurous tours of Costa Rica.Province of Puntarenas
: A surfer's paradise, this sprawling, verdant province provides the best of both worlds--unspoiled nature ripe for exploration and idyllic sandy shores.Province of Guanacaste
: An evergreen staple of a well-rounded Costa Rica vacation, Guanacaste is renowned for its biodiversity, evident in its many national parks and pristine beachfront.Province of Alajuela
: This cloud forest-filled region is home to Arenal Volcano, a prime Costa Rica tourist attraction.
Cities in Costa RicaSan Jose
: Although it can be described as crowded and chaotic, after a closer look San Jose reveals vibrant neighborhoods, buzzing nightlife, and a wealth of heritage sites.Monteverde
: This former Quaker settlement is situated between two cloud forest reserves, making it a gateway for endless explorations of pristine forest trails.Tamarindo
: Known as a hub for beach bums and partygoers, surf spot-laden Tamarindo remains a popular choice for an active vacation in Costa Rica.Cartago
: One of the oldest cities in the country, Cartago boasts many historic attractions and offers easy access to several national parks, which make it a prime destination for sightseeing in Costa Rica.La Fortuna de San Carlos
: This sleepy town, hailed for its spa resorts, offers plenty of outdoor activities and stunning natural attractions--it also serves as a base point for visiting the famous Arenal Volcano.Tortuguero
: The access point to the eponymous national park, this remote village remains a premier spot for turtle watching, hiking, and fishing tours.
Popular Costa Rica Tourist Attractions
Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio: Although small, this coastal wildlife refuge is one of the most popular places to visit in Costa Rica, renowned for its tropical beaches and animal-filled jungle.La Fortuna Waterfall
: Plenty of hiking, swimming, and picnic opportunities await on a visit to this picturesque waterfall, formed by the Arenal River and located in a verdant rainforest setting.Foundation Jaguar Rescue Center
: Dedicated to the rehabilitation of local wildlife, this foundation offers interactive tours and houses creatures that range from primates and wild cats, to various reptiles and birds.Tabacon Hot Springs
: Nestled at the base of the majestic Arenal Volcano, this spa resort boasts natural thermal and mineral springs, providing relaxing treatments in a lush forest environment.Playa Biesanz
: Remote and unburdened by development, Playa Biesanz provides a picturesque spot for swimming and sunbathing.Poas Volcano
: A perennially popular Costa Rica attraction, this active volcano features a vivid crater lake set in the middle of a lush cloud forest.Baldi Hot Springs
: An assortment of thermal pools await you at Baldi, a spa and mineral spring complex fed by natural volcanic waters.Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve
: Monteverde's lush cloud forest draws visitors with its verdant scenery and staggering biodiversity, its dense landscape housing thousands of plant and animal species, many of them endemic.Tortuguero National Park
: On a tour of this wildlife-rich reserve, you'll witness diverse habitats, lush natural scenery, and the nesting of sea turtles.La Paz Waterfall Gardens
: Nestled in the foothills of Poas Volcano, these gardens contain scenic riverside trails, aviaries, a butterfly observatory, and of course, picturesque waterfalls.
Planning a Costa Rica Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Costa Rica with Kids
A family vacation in Costa Rica can be a good choice whether you're looking for lazy days on the beach, or jungle adventures.
Head to Tamarindo
, both lively coastal towns, to spend days lounging on the beach and learning how to surf.
If you're looking for more than just that classic sun-and-sand experience, many outdoor activities remain at your disposal in Costa Rica.
From exploring cloud forests around Monteverde
, turtle watching in Tortuguero
, or discovering staggering biodiversity of Manuel Antonio National Park
, memorable experiences are inevitable.
Visitors looking for historic sights can check out the oldest city in Costa Rica
, rich in heritage and close to several national parks
Things to Do in Costa Rica with Kids
You won't run out of things to do in Costa Rica, as the country is teeming with agencies offering a wide variety of trips and recreational activities. Options range from wildlife watching and ziplining through the rainforests, to river rafting and learning how to surf.
Natural attractions remains among Costa Rica's top sites, with nature reserves, volcanoes
, and waterfalls
dotting the lush landscape.
Spend some quality time at a ranch
, or take your kids to a zoo
to glimpse diverse Costa Rican wildlife.
If you're spending time in San Jose, you can opt for a visit to a kid-friendly museum, such as Museo de los Ninos
or La Salle
Tips for a Family Vacation in Costa Rica
Although considered a developing country, Costa Rica is a safe choice for a family vacation, as food hygiene is up to international standards, no vaccinations are necessary, and good private healthcare is available.
As Costa Ricans are known for their love of children, hotels and restaurants are no exception, with most options being kid-friendly. That said, always reserve your accommodations ahead of time to make sure all your specific needs are met.
Although most childcare amenities are widely available, it's always good to stock up on necessities if you're touring remote places on your Costa Rica vacation. Tap water is potable everywhere in Costa Rica, but you'll easily find bottled options all throughout the country as well.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Costa Rica
Cuisine of Costa Rica
Known for its mild taste, Costa Rican cooking tends to rely heavily on fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as plenty of rice and beans, considered staple ingredients.
Plantains are also widely consumed, while the cuisine of the Caribbean coast incorporates spices and coconut milk into traditional dishes.
While pork and chicken are common, seafood is very popular among the locals, especially in the form of "ceviche," raw fish soaked in lemon juice.
On a tour of Costa Rica, you'll surely encounter the national dish called "gallo pinto," a type of breakfast food made of beans and rice.
Check out a few marketplaces
or opt for a coffee tour
to get a taste of homegrown Costa Rican flavors.
Shopping in Costa Rica
While on holiday in Costa Rica, you'll find plenty of opportunities for a shopping spree. Shopping malls
are abundant, especially in larger cities, while most destinations house plenty of smaller boutiques, souvenir shops, and markets
Although Costa Rica is not known for its handicrafts, there are a few destinations that offer authentic pieces. Head to Sarchi
for quality furniture and crafts, or check out the traditional techniques at Guaitil Pottery Studio
Costa Rican coffee, hailed for its excellent quality and easily found everywhere in the country, can be a good gift choice.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Costa Rica
Interesting Facts About Costa Rica
● Despite its small size, Costa Rica houses more than five percent of the world's biodiversity
● Costa Ricans call themselves "Ticos" and "Ticas"
● More than 25 percent of Costa Rica is made up of protected areas
● Seven active volcanoes dot the Costa Rican landscape
● Costa Rica is known as the "Hummingbird Capital of the World" because it shelters more than 50 species of these tiny birds
Things You Should NOT Do in Costa Rica
Known to be a major tourist hub, Costa Rica boasts a friendly and welcoming culture. That said, you should always follow some basic social rules, such as avoiding littering and public nudity.
Overt displays of affection are very much frowned upon, while smoking is prohibited in most public places, including hotels, bars, and restaurants.
On a tour of Costa Rica, always be respectful of the country's natural scenery and refrain from damaging or picking up plants and animals, as most of the wildlife is protected by law.
Holidays & Festivals in Costa Rica
Besides a variety of Catholic holidays and national observances, Costa Ricans celebrate a range of festivals throughout the year, showcasing their heritage and traditions.
In Province of Alajuela
, lively New Year parties are followed by two weeks of concerts, parades, and rodeos. February brings the festival of "Little Devils" to Boruca indigenous communities, who don traditional masks and costumes to recreate battles with the Spanish.
If you're planning a Costa Rica vacation in September, you'll experience the country-wide celebrations surrounding Independence Day (September 15).
On October 12, the streets of Puerto Limon
come to life with celebrations of the annual carnival.
Useful Costa Rica Travel Tips
Common Greetings in Costa Rica
When meeting someone, the locals usually go with a handshake or a fleeting kiss on the cheek, while hugs are reserved for close friends and family members.
On vacation in Costa Rica, you should try to incorporate a few basic phrases in Spanish, as your attempt will be appreciated by the friendly and talkative natives. Greet everyone you meet with "buenos dias" (good day), or the informal "buenos," and say goodbye with "adios."
Climate of Costa Rica
Often sunny and warm, the weather in Costa Rica can be divided into two distinct seasons.
The dry season, or "verano," usually lasts from December to April, while the rainy, or "green" season brings heavy showers and lush vegetation during the rest of the year.
Humidity levels depend on the region, with the rainforests and the Caribbean coast being more humid than the generally arid Pacific shore.
There's no specific best time for tours of Costa Rica, but fares are generally lower and accommodations less crowded during the wet season. Temperatures in the country vary by altitude, with the lowlands and coastal areas averaging from 15 C to 45 C (59 F to 113 F), while the highlands are cooler, ranging from 0 C to 30 C (32 F to 86 F).
Transportation in Costa Rica
There are various options for traveling between destinations on your Costa Rica itinerary.
Renting a car can be a good option for traversing the country, as rental agencies operate almost everywhere.
An expansive web of public bus lines connects most destinations, providing the most affordable form of transport, while private shuttles can be a good choice for larger groups. If you're looking to cover a longer distance or visit a remote location, flying via a domestic airline can be very convenient.
Tipping in Costa Rica
Although Costa Rica doesn't have a tipping culture per se, a token of gratitude will be appreciated in most cases.
When dining out during a Costa Rica vacation, you'll notice that a 10 percent service charge is often added to the bill, but you can opt to leave an additional tip if you feel so inclined.
It is considered polite to leave a tip for the bellhop and hotel cleaning staff, while some tourists choose to reward drivers and tour guides as well.