A Complete Travel Guide to Costa Rica
Interested in planning a remarkable vacation to Costa Rica and not sure where to start? Whether you’re looking for adventure, total relaxation or mega beach time, we’re here to help! This post will provide you with a complete travel guide to Costa Rica to help you effectively plan your travels.
Within the post, you’ll learn why you should visit, what to pack, money saving tips and much more to help you make the most out of your vacation!
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Complete Costa Rica Travel Guide Contents
- Top 5 Absolute Must-Do’s in Costa Rica
- Why you Should Visit Costa Rica
- How to Get to and Around Costa Rica
- How Long to Stay in Costa Rica
- The Best Time to Visit Costa Rica
- Where to Stay in Costa Rica
- Budget Considerations
- What to Pack for Costa Rica
- Tips and Other Important Info
Top 5 Absolute Must-Do’s in Costa Rica
- Soak in the Hot Springs in La Fortuna
- Go on a Sloth Watching Trail
- Admire the Sunset over the Papagayo Peninsula
- Brave the Hanging Bridges in the Monteverde Cloud Forest
- Book at Chocolate Making Experience in San Jose
Why you Should Visit Costa Rica
To begin this complete travel guide to Costa Rica, let’s start with why you should visit! Costa Rica has SO much to offer that will fit anyone’s ideal vacation! From the lush rainforests, to the gorgeous coastline, from the serenity of nature, to the bustling city of San Jose, Costa Rica is an ultimate destination for a tropical, adventurous or relaxing getaway!
Do you enjoy hiking over lava fields? Traversing hanging bridges above the rainforest? Spotting sloths in the treetops? Soaking in glorious hot springs? Eating the freshest tropical fruits? Sunset cocktails in the pool? Fine dining in the cloud forest? Jumping in waterfalls? If you answered yes to any of these, then Costa Rica is definitely the place for you!
With so much to do in Costa Rica, you’ll definitely find reasons to visit (then visit again!)
How to Get to and Around Costa Rica
Depending on where exactly you are going, you will have multiple options to get there. We flew from the US to the San Jose Airport. This is a perfect starting location if you plan to visit multiple areas in Costa Rica, due to it’s central location. If you’re just planning a trip to the Guanacaste Region, then flying into Liberia would be best for you!
The type of transportation you need will depend on where you plan to visit. We planned a Costa Rican road trip from San Jose to La Fortuna, then the coast of Guanacaste to Monteverde. So we rented a car from the airport, which was affordable and convenient.
If you are not comfortable renting a car, there are also many private drivers and bus tours for hire.
Pro-Tip: If you plan to rent a car, be sure to get a vehicle with 4 wheel drive. There are many windy, steep and uneven roads in Costa Rica. Also, always prepare to plan lots of extra time when driving. Because many of the roads are narrow or even one lane, it’s very common to get stuck behind a truck or semi that will drastically slow your pace.
How Long to Stay in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is incredibly diverse, so you could spend months here and still find new areas to explore! But if you’re on a budget or have limited time off, we recommend staying at least a week!
We spent 11 days total in Costa Rica, with the following itinerary:
- 3 nights in La Fortuna
- 2 nights on the Gulf of Papagayo
- 2 nights in Reserva Conchal
- 2 nights near Nosara
- 1 night in Monteverde
- 1 night in San Jose
The Best Time to Visit Costa Rica
Any time is a good time to visit Costa Rica! Because of it’s varied geography, there are multiple microclimates in Costa Rica. It’s consistently warm and tropical all year round with temperatures averaging in the mid-70s Fahrenheit – seriously, how perfect!?
Depending on which region you’re traveling to, there will be 2 seasons: a rainy season and a dry season. Check out this guide that provides a super helpful review of the seasons in each region to help you determine the best time and place to visit.
Pro-Tip: Don’t be afraid to travel during the “rainy season”, remember, most areas in Costa Rica are rainforests, so there’s always a possibility for some rain! Like most places, weather can be unpredictable and pleasantly surprising. Even in the rain, you’ll have lots to do and an amazing time in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica in November and December
We left for Costa Rica on Thanksgiving Day in order to avoid peak season which is two weeks before Christmas and through New Years. It was the best time for us to escape our frigid Wisconsin winter to enjoy the tropical heat and sun!
We definitely recommend traveling to Costa Rica in November and December, the weather is great! It was sunny and pleasantly hot for the whole trip and there were only a few scattered showers during our time.
Pro-Tip: if your family won’t disown you if you miss family Thanksgiving, consider traveling over this holiday! Not only is it an ideal time to visit Costa Rica, you’ll get holiday time off (YAY to saving PTO days) and are usually much cheaper.
Where to Stay in Costa Rica
There are many factors to consider when deciding where to stay in Costa Rica. You will find many options from rental units to B&Bs to hotels that will fit any budget and preferences. We recommend first deciding which areas you want to travel to, then narrow your options from there.
HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST STAY FOR YOU:
- Location: remember, some vacation rentals in Costa Rica can be challenging to get to by car. Make sure to check the information on how to get to your accommodation and ensure your vehicle will be able to get you there safely and comfortably.
- Room Type: Consider what features are most important to you. We highly recommend booking places with a pool and great views of the incredible landscape.
- Family Travel or Traveling with Little Kids: you’ll have plenty of options when it comes to vacation rentals and hotels. Just be sure to ensure the room has adequate safety features for the little ones.
- Hotel Group or Chain: Costa Rica has many popular hotel brands, especially in San Jose and Guanacaste, so if you’re looking to utilize those hotel points, you should be able to find a property to suit your needs.
We found Costa Rica to be incredibly affordable! Your flights, accommodations and car rental will likely take up majority of your budget. Our trip was brought to us in part Scott’s Cheap Flights – they identified tickets from Milwaukee to San Jose for $380 per person roundtrip on Delta! Food and beverage can fit any budget as well! Restaurants within hotels and near the main attractions will always be more expensive, so if you’re on a budget find yourself some cute local places a bit further off the main roads.
Tips for saving money in Costa Rica:
- Be flexible with your travel dates
- Consider traveling during shoulder season or the off-season
- Take advantage of special travel card deals and offers like Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton
- Utilize airline miles and hotel points
- Sign up for Scott’s Cheap Flights to get up to 90% off airfare
- Eat local foods – the seafood is amazing and affordable
- Buy drinks and food at the local grocery store
What to Pack for Costa Rica
Costa Rica is hot and humid in some areas and damp and wet in others. The weather may also change quickly, so you’ll want to pack practical clothing and plan your outfits in layers. Costa Rica is laid back and super casual, so unless you’re solely staying at a swanky resort, leave the dress clothes and nice shoes at home.
If you haven’t already invested in a quality travel backpack, we highly recommend this one, it’s so comfortable, can hold SO much and comes with a removable day pack. Review our complete Costa Rica Packing Guide for an in-depth summary of what to bring and why.
Clothing, Shoes and Accessories:
- Plan outfits with moisture-wicking or breathable fabric – think “athleisure” vibes
- Pack plenty of swimsuits and coverups
- Long pants or hiking pants
- Long sleeved shirt or jacket
- Hats (and if you’re extra cool like Vanessa, a waterproof bucket hat)
Travel Must Haves:
- Mosquito Repellant – portable Thermacell
- Bluetooth Portable Speaker
- Day pack
- Reusable water bottle
- Raincoat or Poncho
- Large reusable bag or duffle: for dirty clothes, extra space for souvenirs or to carry groceries
- Waterproof Hiking Boots
Pro-Tip: we highly suggest purchasing a Thermacell for Costa Rica. We loved that we could clip this to our day pack when hiking, or keep it by us at night to keep those pesky skeeters at bay. Vanessa has had Dengue Fever before from mosquitoes during travel, and trust her, you do NOT want to get it.
Complete Travel Guide to Costa Rica Tips and Other Important Info
Check out our other posts on Costa Rica for further information covering in-depth reviews of each city we visited, where we stayed, what we ate and more!
- Will I need to learn Spanish? Not necessarily, we found English spoken at all places we went to. However, we always recommend learning a bit of the local language out of courtesy! Learn your basics: hello, please, thank you, toilet, help etc.
- Do most places accept credit cards? Yes, but always carry cash with you as some smaller outlets will not accept cards. At some resorts you’ll also be able to tip in US dollars.
- Is it hard to drive in Costa Rica? Depends on your definition of hard. If you don’t like curvy, narrow roads scattered about with pot holes, you may not enjoy driving in Costa Rica. However, there are many roads that are just fine! It really depends how far off the beaten path you are going. We didn’t encounter any issues with our 4-wheel drive vehicle and only hit some slower traffic a few times when driving from San Jose to Arenal.
- What about the bugs? This was Vanessa’s biggest concern about Costa Rica – she HATES spiders. Yes, you will see some bugs out in nature, but it was totally manageable! At our accommodations the bugs really weren’t an issue. Except, we did see some pretty big spiders come out at night at one location that was out in the middle of nowhere. The Airbnb did warn us there will be bugs since it was an open-air style home. As long as you close any doors and windows at night, you should be just fine!
- Is Costa Rica Safe? From our experience (and others) YES! We felt very safe in all the areas we went to and the people of Costa Rica are incredibly kind and helpful. Of course, like everywhere else in the world, there is always potential for theft, scams, etc. so just be diligent and smart when traveling. The best practice to avoid car theft is to always park in designated parking areas – just pay the $$ parking and not risk it! It’s also recommended to keep valuables out of the car. That being said, we actually had quite a few times that we had ALL of our belongings left in our car and never had any issues.
Be sure to check out all of our Costa Rica Resources for more planning tips and inspiration! If this complete travel guide to Costa Rica helped you out, let us know and share with a friend! If you’ve traveled to Costa Rica, we’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below!
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