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Costa Rica travel guide - Travel S helper

Costa Rica

travel guide

Costa Rica, formally the Republic of Costa Rica (Spanish: Repblica de Costa Rica), is a Central American nation bordered to the north by Nicaragua, to the southeast by Panama, to the west by the Pacific Ocean, to the east by the Caribbean Sea, and to the south by Ecuador. It is home to about 4.5 million people, almost a quarter of whom reside in the metropolitan region surrounding the capital and biggest city, San José.

Costa Rica was lightly populated by indigenous people until the 16th century, when it came under Spanish control. It remained a peripheral colony of the empire until 1847, when it claimed independence as part of the short-lived First Mexican Empire. It then joined the United Provinces of Central America, from which it declared official autonomy in 1847. Costa Rica has been one of Latin America’s most stable, wealthy, and progressive countries since that time. Following a short but deadly civil war, it disbanded its army permanently in 1949, making it one of just a few sovereign countries without a regular army. Costa Rica is a member of the Organization Internationale de la Francophonie as an observer (OIF).

The country has regularly scored well on the Human Development Index (HDI), ranking 69th in the world in 2015, the best ranking of any Latin American country. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has also highlighted it as having much greater human development than other nations at comparable economic levels, with a superior track record on human development and inequality than the region’s median. Its fast growing economy, which was formerly largely reliant on agriculture, has expanded into areas like as banking, pharmaceuticals, and ecotourism.

Costa Rica is well-known for its progressive environmental regulations, being the only nation to fulfill all five UNDP sustainability criteria. It was ranked 42nd globally and third in the Americas in the 2016 Environmental Performance Index, was twice named the best performing country in the New Economics Foundation’s (NEF) Happy Planet Index, which measures environmental sustainability, and was named the world’s greenest country in 2009 by the NEF. Costa Rica has declared an official goal of being a carbon-neutral nation by 2021. It was the first nation in the Americas to prohibit recreational hunting in 2012.

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Costa Rica - Info Card




Costa Rican colón (CRC)

Time zone



51,100 km2 (19,700 sq mi)

Calling code


Official language


Costa Rica | Introduction

Weather & Climate in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is located between 8 and 12 degrees north of the equator, so the climate is tropical all year round. However, the country has many microclimates depending on the altitude, rainfall, topography and geography of each region.

Costa Rica’s seasons are defined by the amount of rain that falls in a given period, rather than the four seasons to which temperate inhabitants are accustomed. The year can be divided into two periods, the dry season, which locals refer to as summer, and the rainy season, locally known as winter. The “summer” or dry season runs from December to April, and the “winter” or rainy season runs from May to November, which almost coincides with the list of Atlantic hurricane seasons, and during this time it rains constantly in some areas.

The place that receives the most rain is the Caribbean side of the Cordillera Central, with annual rainfall of over 5,000 mm. Humidity is also higher on the Caribbean side than on the Pacific side. The average annual temperature is about 27°C in the coastal plains, 20°C in the main settlement areas of the Cordillera Central and less than 10°C on the highest mountain peaks.

Geography of Costa Rica

Costa Rica is located on the Central American isthmus, between latitudes 8° and 12°N and longitudes 82° and 86°W. It has a total of 1,290 kilometres of coastline, 212 km on the Caribbean coast and 1,016 km on the Pacific coast.

Costa Rica borders Nicaragua to the north (309 km or 192 mi border) and Panama to the south-southeast (639 km or 397 mi border). Costa Rica has a total area of 51,100 square kilometres (19,700 sq mi) and 589 square kilometres (227 sq mi) of territorial waters.

The highest point in the country is Cerro Chirripó at 3,819 m; it is the fifth highest peak in Central America. The highest volcano in the country is Irazú Volcano (3,431 m or 11,257 ft). The largest lake in Costa Rica is Lake Arenal.

Costa Rica also has several islands. Cocos Island (24 square kilometres) is notable for its distance from the mainland, being 480 km from Puntarenas, but Calero Island is the largest island in the country (151.6 square kilometres).

Almost 25% of Costa Rica’s land area is protected by the SINAC (National System of Protected Areas), which oversees all protected areas in the country.

Flora and fauna

Costa Rica is one of the most popular destinations for ecotourists because of its biodiversity. Costa Rica has the highest species density in the world and about 25 % of the national territory is protected by a system of protected areas and national parks. It has been repeatedly claimed that Costa Rica could be home to up to 6% of the world’s plant and animal species in an area equivalent to the US states of Vermont and New Hampshire. Tropical plant and animal species abound in Costa Rica. Among the most impressive plants are huge ficus trees with abundant epiphytes on their branches and about 1500 different orchids. The animals are equally impressive, be it a jaguar (the largest predatory cat in the New World), the elusive margay or wonderful birds like the green or scarlet macaws (lapas in Costa Rican Spanish). The amphibians are also impressive; the brightly coloured poisonous frogs catch the eye as do the giant toads.

Demographic in Costa Rica

The 2011 census counted 4,301,712 inhabitants, divided into the following groups: 83.6% white or mixed race, 6.7% mulatto, 2.4% Amerindian, 1.1% black or Afro-Caribbean and 5.2% other. The average Costa Rican in the Central Valley is 67.5% European, 29.3% Amerindian and 3.2% African.

There are also more than 104,000 Indian or indigenous inhabitants, who make up 2.4 per cent of the population. Most of them live in isolated reservations, divided into eight ethnic groups: Quitirrisí (in the central valley), Matambú or Chorotega (Guanacaste), Maleku (north of Alajuela), Bribri (south of the Atlantic Ocean), Cabécar (Cordillera de Talamanca), Guaymí (south of Costa Rica, along the border with Panama), Boruca (south of Costa Rica) and Térraba (south of Costa Rica).

The population of European origin is mainly Spanish, with significant numbers of Italian, German, English, Dutch, French, Irish, Portuguese and Polish families, and a large Jewish community. The majority of Afro-Costa Ricans are English-speaking Creole descendants of black Jamaican workers who immigrated in the 19th century.

In the 2011 census, 83.6% of the population was classified as white or mixed race. Mulattoes (a mixture of white and black) made up 6.7 % and indigenous people 2.4 %. The indigenous and European mestizo population is much smaller than in other Latin American countries. The exceptions are Guanacaste, where almost half the population is visibly mestizo, a legacy of widespread mergers between Spanish settlers and Chorotega Indians over several generations, and Limón, where the vast majority of the Afro-Costarican community lives.

Costa Rica receives many refugees, mainly from Colombia and Nicaragua. Due to this immigration and illegal immigration, an estimated 10-15% (400,000-600,000) of Costa Rica’s population is Nicaraguan. Some Nicaraguans migrate to find seasonal jobs and then return to their country. Costa Rica has taken in many refugees from various other Latin American countries who fled civil wars and dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s, including Chile and Argentina, as well as El Salvadorans who fled government guerrillas and death squads.

According to the World Bank, about 489,200 immigrants lived in the country in 2010, mainly from Nicaragua, Panama, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Belize, while 125,306 Costa Ricans lived abroad in the United States, Panama, Nicaragua, Spain, Mexico, Canada, Germany, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Ecuador.


Christianity is the predominant religion in Costa Rica, with Roman Catholicism being the official state religion under the 1949 Constitution, which also guarantees freedom of religion. It is the only state in the Americas that has Roman Catholicism as its state religion; the other such countries are European microstates: Liechtenstein, Monaco, the Vatican City and Malta.

According to the latest national survey on religion conducted by the University of Costa Rica in 2007, 70.5 per cent of Costa Ricans are Roman Catholic (44.9 per cent practising), 13.8 per cent are evangelical Protestants (almost all practising), 11.3 per cent say they have no religion and 4.3 per cent belong to another religion. The level of secularism is high by Latin American standards.

Due to small but continuous immigration from Asia and the Middle East, other religions have developed, the most popular being Buddhism with about 100,000 followers (over 2% of the population). Most Buddhists are members of the Han Chinese community, which numbers about 40,000, with some new local converts. There are also smaller numbers of Hindus, Jews, Baha’i, Muslims and neo-pagan followers.

Sinagoga Shaarei Zion Synagogue is located near La Sabana Metropolitan Park in San Jose. Several houses in the neighbourhood east of the park display the Star of David and other Jewish symbols.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has over 35,000 members and has a temple in San José that serves as the regional worship centre for Costa Rica. However, they represent less than 1% of the population.

Language in Costa Rica

Spanish is the official and most widely spoken language in Costa Rica. All major newspapers and official businesses are conducted in Spanish. English is widely spoken in most places, especially those frequented by tourists, and information for visitors is often bilingual or even exclusively in English. A number of shops run by European owners can receive customers in Spanish, English and their mother tongue.

Some colloquial expressions from Costa Rica :

  • Mae or sometimes “Maje” is used in reference to the American English word “dude”. Generally spoken among the male population or among friends. It is as informal as the word “mate”. Mae is mostly used by the younger population and maje by the older population. It is pronounced “maheh”.
  • Pura vida, literally translated as “pure life”, is a common expression in Costa Rica. It can be used in many contexts, as an expression of enthusiasm, approval or greeting. It is pronounced “poora veeda”.
  • Tuanis, means “OK” or “cool”. It was thought to be derived from the English expression “too nice”, but it is actually a word borrowed from the Código Malespín, a code used during the various civil wars in Central America in the 19th century.

A common version of slang in Costa Rica and other parts of Latin America is called “pachuco”“pachuquismo” or “costarriqueñismo” and is used by all social classes (to some extent), but can sometimes be vulgar and is considered an informal way of speaking.

For the word “you” (informal singular form), most people in the Central Valley use “vos” (as in “vos sos” – you are) instead of “tú”, which is also common in other Latin American nations (Argentina, Uruguay), but the word “usted” is prominent in the South Pacific of Costa Rica and is preferred to “vos”. In all cases, formal Spanish is understood and you can use any form of the word “you” that you deem appropriate.

Costa Ricans tend to use the term regálame, literally “give me”, instead of “take me”. For example, when a Costa Rican says “regálame la cuenta”, it literally means “give me the bill”, which is unusual in other Spanish-speaking countries but very common in Costa Rica. Another case is when Costa Ricans want to buy something. In this case, they use the expression in the following way: “Regáleme un confite y una Coca“, literally “Offer me a sweet and a Coke”, but it is understood that the person asking will buy these things and does not expect the other person to offer them to him. A more accurate formulation in standard Spanish would be: “Me vende un confite y una Coca“, which means: “Sell me a sweet and a Coke”.

Limonense Creole (Mekatelyu)

In addition to Costa Rican Spanish, there is also an English-based Creole language spoken in the province of Limón on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. It is called Limón Creole or Mekatelyu. This Creole language is essentially a localised form of Jamaican Patois and is similar to varieties such as Colón Creole, Miskito Coastal Creole, Belizean Kriol and San Andrés and Providencia Creole. The name Mekatelyu is a transliteration of the phrase “make I tell you”, or in standard English “let me tell you”.

Internet & Communications in Costa Rica

The international telephone/country code for Costa Rica is +506.

A stamp to Europe costs ₡125 (0.20 USD).

The main means of contact with the outside world are email, SIM cards for unlocked phones or public payphones.

Internet cafés are relatively easy to find in tourist areas, although prices vary widely. Some of them offer long-distance internet calls.

Call price

National calls are quite cheap and the price is the same no matter where you call. Calls to mobile phones are much more expensive.

International calls are quite expensive. The cheapest way to make them is over the internet with a service like Skype in an internet café. But short calls with national phone cards (you can make international calls with these cards, but the card values are quite small, so your call will be short!) or the international phone cards available in Costa Rica (all from the government phone monopoly ICE) are the other best solution. It is definitely better than making calls with your credit card or with a US phone card in general.

Public telephones

Public telephones are accessible with phone cards (tarjetas telefonicas), which can be bought in most shops, even in remote areas.

There are four different types of payphones:

  • Coin telephones. Note that these only accept old silver coins.
  • Smart phones. You can insert a smart phone card into these phones and make calls.
  • Hummingbird phones. These phones have a small swipe bar for a scratch card called a Hummingbird Calling Card, available from ₡500. Often, swiping doesn’t work – you still have to enter the calling card passcode using the keypad. Nevertheless, the Hummingbird calling card is recommended because you can use it on all kinds of phones, whereas with a smart card you have to look for a smartphone.
  • Multipago (multi-payment) phones. These phones accept coins, smart cards and Hummingbird cards. Most public phones in the country have been converted to this type of phone. They also allow the sending of SMS and e-mail.

Both types of phone cards are usually available in pharmacies and other places where you see the sticker on the door.

Mobile phones

SIM cards and frequencies

Bring an unlocked quadband or multiband mobile phone that works on the appropriate frequencies and get a SIM card, which you can easily buy on almost any corner. Costa Ricans call mobile phones “celulares” (mobile phones).

Frequencies and mobile operators in Costa Rica :

  • Kölbi: (part of Grupo ICE, the state-owned company that provides electricity and telecommunications services). Kölbi has good network coverage, but many users, which means you have a connection all over the country, but not the best internet speed.
    • GSM/2G : 1800Mhz
    • UMTS/HSDPA/3G: 850Mhz
    • 4G LTE: 2600Mhz
    • Additional configuration:
      • Internet: APN:kolbi3g, or you can send an SMS with the word “Internet” to the phone number 3001.
      • Multimedia SMS: Send an SMS with the word “Multimedia” to the call number 3001.
  • Claro: Second best coverage in the country, in a not so saturated network. In some remote areas it can be difficult to get a signal, but not in the Central Valley.
    • GSM/2G : 1800Mhz
    • UMTS/HSDPA/3G: 900Mhz, 2100Mhz
    • 4G LTE: 1800Mhz
  • Movistar:
    • GSM/2G : 1800Mhz
    • UMTS/HSDPA/3G: 850Mhz, 2100Mhz
    • 4G LTE: 1800Mhz

There are a few other second-tier suppliers that are simply resellers or re-brands of the previous three.

There are many tariffs to choose from, but for a short visit it is best to choose a prepaid tariff or Prepago, which is contract-free and where you pay in advance for what you will use. All operators offer such plans, with many possible combinations in terms of minutes, SMS, internet speed, etc. Prices start at around ₡2,500 (US$5).

To increase the value, you buy a recarga (top-up card), scratch the card to get a PIN code and send this PIN code from your phone to a special number. For the card to remain active, it must be topped up at least once within a 120-day period. If it is not charged within 120 days, you have a grace period of 30 days before your SIM chip is deactivated and you lose your phone number. Also, keep in mind that you may have problems activating your SIM card on Sundays, because like many things in Costa Rica, the SIM card activation system may be closed on that day. Also, not all shops sell SIM cards – many only sell top-up cards. Buy your SIM card at the airport if you can.


Grupo ICE, through Kölbi, is the main network where roaming takes place when you use a mobile tariff from abroad. The use of roaming tariffs depends on the contract concluded abroad and goes beyond the scope of this guide.


Most tourist areas (hotels, cafés, bars, restaurants) have free Wi-Fi access. Just ask someone for the password. You can bring your smartphone with Skype or Google Phone and make calls to your home country. It’s an easy way to stay connected with email and social media.

Economy of Costa Rica

According to the World Bank, Costa Rica’s GDP per capita is US$12,874 PPP (as of 2013); however, this developing country still struggles with a lack of maintenance and new investment in infrastructure, an estimated poverty rate of 23%, an unemployment rate of 7.8% (2012 estimate) and a trade deficit of 5.2%. In fiscal year 2007, the country recorded a budget surplus. Economic growth declined to an increase of 3 % in 2008 (compared to 7 % and 9 % growth in the previous two years) in the face of the global recession.

Costa Rica’s inflation rate was estimated at 4.5% in 2012. On 16 October 2006, a new exchange rate regime was introduced that allows the value of the CRC colón to fluctuate between two bands, as Chile did previously. The aim of this policy was to allow the central bank to better fight inflation and to discourage the use of US dollars. However, since August 2009, the value of the colón, Costa Rica’s unit of currency, against the dollar has fallen to 86% of its value at the end of 2006 (see commonly available charts on foreign exchange trading). In April 2014, it was trading at around 550 against the US dollar and around 760 colones against the euro.

The central government offers tax exemptions for those who want to invest in the country. Several global high-tech companies have already begun to expand and export goods in the region, including Intel, GlaxoSmithKline and Procter & Gamble. In 2006, Intel’s microprocessor plant alone contributed to 20 percent of Costa Rican exports and 4.9 percent of GDP. In 2014, Intel announced it would end production in Costa Rica and lay off 1,500 employees. The plant now continues as a test and engineering facility with about 1,600 remaining employees. Trade with Southeast Asia and Russia exploded in 2004 and 2005, and the country gained full membership of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in 2007 after having observer status in 2004. The Financial Times Intelligence Unit awarded Costa Rica the title of Caribbean and Central American Country of the Future 2011/12 for its success in attracting foreign direct investment (FDI). The country has led the region in the number of FDI projects since 2003.

Pharmaceuticals, financial outsourcing, software development and ecotourism have become the most important sectors of the Costa Rican economy. The high level of education of the population makes the country an attractive investment location. Since 1999, tourism has brought in more foreign exchange than the exports of the country’s three main cash crops combined: Bananas, pineapples and coffee. Coffee production has played a key role in Costa Rica’s history and economy and was the third most important export in 2006.

The largest coffee-growing areas are in the provinces of San José, Alajuela, Heredia, Puntarenas and Cartago. Costa Rica is famous for its gourmet coffee beans. Costa Rican Tarrazú is one of the best Arabica coffee beans in the world, used for espresso coffee along with Jamaican Blue Mountain, Guatemalan Antigua and Ethiopian Sidamo.

Costa Rica’s geographical location provides access to US markets, as it shares the same time zone as the central United States and has direct sea access to Europe and Asia. In a nationwide referendum on 5 October 2007, Costa Rican voters narrowly supported a free trade agreement with 51.6 percent voting in favour.

Costa Rica stands out as the most visited country in the Central American region with 2.2 million foreign visitors in 2011, followed by Panama with almost 1.5 million visitors. International tourism receipts rose to US$2.4 billion in 2012, and the top country of origin was the United States with 864,340 tourists, followed by Nicaragua with 474,011 visitors and Canada with 136,261. In 2005, tourism contributed 8.1% of the country’s gross national product and provided 13.3% of direct and indirect employment. Tourism now brings in more foreign exchange than bananas and coffee combined.

As a pioneer of ecotourism, Costa Rica attracts many tourists to its vast national parks and protected areas. In the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index 2011, Costa Rica ranks 44th in the world and second among Latin American countries after Mexico. In the Natural Resources sub-index, Costa Rica ranks sixth in the world, but 104th in cultural resources. Costa Rica ranks third among the sixty countries covered by the Global Green Economy Index 2014. In the category “Sustainable Tourism”, Costa Rica is in first place.

Costa Rica has also developed a system of payments for environmental services. Similarly, Costa Rica has introduced a water pollution tax to penalise businesses and property owners that discharge sewage, agricultural chemicals and other pollutants into waterways. In May 2007, the Costa Rican government announced its intention to become 100% carbon neutral by 2021. Since 2015, 93 % of the country’s electricity has come from renewable sources.

In 1996, the Forest Act was enacted to provide direct financial incentives to landowners for providing environmental services. This has helped shift the focus of forestry away from commercial timber production and associated logging, and raise awareness of the services it provides to the economy and society (carbon sequestration, hydrological services such as drinking water production, biodiversity protection and scenic beauty).

Entry Requirements For Costa Rica

Visa & Passport for Costa Rica

Most visitors can enter Costa Rica without a visa and stay in the country for 90 days. Costa Rica requires Indian nationals to have a valid visa on entry. However, people of any nationality with a valid visa from the USA, Canada, Japan, South Korea or a Schengen visa do not need a visa in advance. The only requirement is that the visa is valid for another 3 months and must be stamped in the passport.

Check with TimaticWeb or a Costa Rican consulate for current entry requirements before you travel. If your passport/visa combination is a bit unusual, allow extra time for check-in (especially if you are travelling with a smaller airline, such as InterJet, which may not have a TimaticWeb subscription or whose staff may not know how to use it).

One of the eligibility requirements is the possession of a return ticket. If you are travelling through several countries and the return ticket to your home country is from a neighbouring country such as Panama or Nicaragua, the immigration authorities and airline handling staff are usually satisfied. However, if you are travelling on such an itinerary (especially with an ‘unusual’ passport), it may be safer to buy a fully refundable ticket directly in Costa Rica and cancel it if it is no longer needed.

Attention Nicaraguan citizens travelling via San Jose Airport: The thirty-day tourist visa for Nicaraguans only allows one entry. If you have a flight from San Jose to another place, check with the embassy, otherwise they will force you to buy an additional flight and will not let you enter.

Costa Rica requires a valid yellow fever certificate if you are entering from countries where yellow fever is present (such as Panama and most South American countries). If this certificate is not presented, you will not be allowed to board the flight. If you have a certificate at Bogota airport, you can email it to the airline and then go to the local vaccination office to get a free duplicate. The key is to get the printed version in time. If you don’t have a certificate or can’t get it in time, you will probably be approached by friendly police officers who will offer to get it for a fee. Remember that the date of vaccination must be at least 10 days before you enter the country you are leaving.

Another way to get to Costa Rica that many people don’t know about is to travel by car and take the Pan American Highway, which runs from Alaska to the southern tip of South America (with a stop at Darien Gap in Panama/Colombia) – it’s 27,197 miles long and runs through Costa Rica.

How To Travel To Costa Rica

Get In - By air

Juan Santamaría Airport (IATA: SJO) is located near the towns of Alajuela (3 km), Heredia and the capital San José (25 km).

SJO is currently being redeveloped and in July 2009 operations were taken over by the same organisation that manages the airports in Houston, Texas. This otherwise pleasant airport has the usual assortment of duty-free shops, interesting souvenir and book shops, but an inadequate selection of restaurants (Church’s Chicken, Burger King, Poás Deli Cafe and Papa John’s Pizza). SJO is served daily by Air Transat (seasonal) American Airlines, Canjet (seasonal), Condor, Delta, Frontier Airlines, Iberia, Interjet, JetBlue Airways, Thomas Cook, Spirit Airlines, United, Air Canada, Avianca, Copa Airlines and AirPanama. The airport is connected to cities such as: Los Angeles, New York, Houston, Dallas, Miami, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Atlanta, Phoenix, Orlando, Chicago, Newark, Toronto, Montreal, Madrid, Frankfurt, Mexico City, Bogotá, Medellín, Caracas, Lima, Guayaquil, Quito and all Central American capitals.

An exit fee of 32 USD is charged at Juan Santamaría Airport. This fee must be paid in cash or with Visa (in which case it is treated as a cash advance). This fee can also be paid in advance at some hotels or banks (Banco Crédito Agrícola de Cártago and Banco de Costa Rica).

Departure fees are gradually added to the ticket price by many airlines. According to the table below, the fees are already included when the tickets are sent to :

  • Juin 2015 : American Airlines, Avianca, Copa, Delta, Jet Blue, United.
  • 1 November 2015: Air Panamá
  • 1 December 2015: Aeromexico
  • 15 December 2015: Air Canada
  • No dates specified: Air Alaska, Air Costa Rica, Condor, Cubana, Iberia, Southwest, Spirit, Veca, Volaris

Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (IATA: LIR) is located near Liberia, in the province of Guanacaste. This airport is the closest to the Pacific Northwest coast. Liberia receives flights from Delta, American, United, JetBlue, Air Canada, CanJet (charter), Sun Wing (charter) and First Choice (charter). The airport is connected to Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Houston, Dallas, Newark, Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, London, etc. The new terminal has opened and is a wonderful addition to this airport.

Tobías Bolaños International Airport (Spanish: Aeropuerto Internacional Tobías Bolaños) (IATA: SYQ) is located in the Pavas district of San José, about a 10-15 minute drive from the city centre. This airport primarily serves as a gateway to local Costa Rican domestic flights or to nearby international destinations Nicaragua and Panama. This airport is the hub of Nature Air. The terminal building is neat and clean, albeit small. There is a reasonably priced cafeteria-style food service on the second floor of the terminal. The terminal is not open around the clock. So if you have an early flight, find out when it opens before taking a taxi. There is no comfortable place to wait near the terminal if you arrive early.

Get In - By car

The Interamericana (Panamericana Highway) runs through Costa Rica and is the main point of entry by car. The border crossing in the north (towards Nicaragua) is called Peñas Blancas and in the south (towards Panama) Paso Canoas (closes at 10 pm Costa Rican time or 11 pm Panamanian time). Virtually all travel outside the capital (except to the Caribbean) is via this route. The locals call this road the “Via Muerta“, and after driving it for a while, you can see why: near San José and other major cities, the road is paved and has excellent signage; outside the major cities, however, the road is gravelled in places, with some fairly sharp curves and significant elevation changes. You will see more large truck traffic on this road than in any other part of Costa Rica. There are many speed traps along this main artery, as well as random police checks for seat belt use and, especially near the border, for valid travel documents.

The speed limit on the highway is 80 km/h, but since the Interamericana (aka Highway 1) passes through countless small towns, the speed often drops to 50 or even 30 km/h if you suddenly find yourself in a school zone. Most of the highway is undivided. A common indication of a police checkpoint is the flashing of oncoming traffic. New laws that came into effect in 2010 have dramatically increased the amount of fines; previously the maximum was about $20 USD; now there are tickets of over $400 USD for attempting to bribe an officer, and more substantial tickets for drunk driving, speeding and other illegal acts, such as talking on a mobile phone and not wearing a seat belt. Be nice to the police when you are pulled over, because due to the new laws, they may “read you the riot act”, even though they normally don’t do that. This could mean that you are cited for minor offences that the new laws have introduced, such as the requirement that every car must have an emergency kit. The new laws also provide for a 3-year jail sentence for driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.8 and a $480 fine. Speeding over 20 miles per hour carries a $310 fine and the loss of 20 points. The police now tend to target tourists because they think Costa Ricans don’t have the money to pay the big fines, and they are right. The police officers themselves earn about $500 a month, which is the average monthly salary in Costa Rica.

The good news is that there is a new highway, known as the Autopista Del Sol (Highway of the Sun), which runs from the beaches around Orotina to San Jose. This highway is smooth like the American or European highways. It was built by a company based in Spain. There are tolls along this highway, but if you drive the entire highway, it will only cost you a few dollars in total. In 2011 there were problems on this highway and parts of it are sometimes closed for repairs.

Many roads in Costa Rica are in poor condition and short distances can take a very long time. Even the only roads in and out of popular tourist destinations are riddled with large potholes. To avoid potholes, drivers often weave back and forth between the left and right lanes, usually switching to the right lane when an oncoming vehicle approaches. This behaviour may seem unpredictable, but you can quickly get used to it. If you see a branch or a pole sticking out of the middle of the road, this is a “sign” that there is a deep well, a pothole or an uncovered gully. Do not approach it.

Driving at night is strongly discouraged due to unpredictable road conditions and the lack of safety features such as guardrails at the many hairpin turns in the hills. To put safety in perspective, Costa Rica’s per capita traffic fatality rate is comparable to that of the United States, but there are undeniably many dangers, and they are likely to be unfamiliar.

Many roads are unpaved, and even paved roads have many unpaved sections and dilapidated or unfinished bridges. Bridges are often only wide enough for one vehicle, and one direction usually has priority. Don’t expect to get anywhere quickly; supposed three-hour journeys can easily turn into five hours or more: There are always slow cars/buses/trucks on the road. There are always slow cars/buses/trucks on the road, resulting in crazy driving that you start to emulate if you stay in the country for more than a day. The government doesn’t seem to do a good job (or any job at all!) of fixing the infrastructure; 50 km/h is enough on dirt roads. Some hotels in the mountains require a four-wheel drive vehicle to reach the destination. Call ahead. This has more to do with ground clearance than road quality. Four-wheel drive vehicles are widely available from car rental agencies near the airport, but be sure to call ahead.

Navigation can be difficult. There are relatively few road signs and those that do exist can be inaccurate. It is advisable to have a good road map with small towns on it, as road signs often only point to the nearest town, not the direction of the next large town. Towns usually do not have town entrance signs; it is best to look at the names of grocery shops and restaurants on the side of the road to determine where you are passing. Stop and ask, practise your Spanish. The centre of town is usually a public park with a Catholic church across the street.

In Costa Rica there are no official addresses, but two informal systems. The first (often used in tourist information) indicates the street where the establishment is located (e.g. “6th Avenue”) and the distance of the intersection (e.g. “between 21st and 23rd Street”). In practice, there are practically no street signs and residents do not even know the name of the street they are on. The second system, which is much more reliable and understood by residents, is known as the “Tico address”, which usually implies an oriented distance (e.g. “100 metres south, 50 metres east”) from a landmark (e.g. “the cathedral”).

It is worth mentioning the special naming system of the streets in San Jose. Avenues run in an east-west direction and streets in a north-south direction. The numbering is less direct. Starting from Central Avenue and going south, one finds 2nd, 4th, 6th Avenue, etc., while going north, one finds 1st, 3rd, 5th, etc. The streets are numbered with even numbers to the west and odd numbers to the east. This means that if you are at the intersection of 7th Avenue and 4th Street and are looking for 6th Avenue and 5th Street, you are on the wrong side of town.

The petrol stations are full-service and the clerks are happy to accept dollars or colónes. The interesting thing is that Costa Rica is small and you don’t use a lot of petrol to get around, even if it seems like an eternity. Costa Rica is also a country of roundabouts, so Europeans won’t have a problem, but North Americans need to make sure they know how they work. The gas stations are really full service and you can have your oil checked, water filled and tyre pressure checked. The government owns an oil company and the private companies raise their prices to the level of the government price. It is recommended that you always use premium petrol and not regular petrol; regular petrol is contaminated. If you use “regular petrol”, you must change the fuel filter and clean the injectors after 5000 miles.

Get In - By bus

There are bus connections from neighbouring countries: Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico and Guatemala.

There is an extensive network of bus routes within the country, with reasonable fares. Departures are very punctual, but journeys often take longer than expected. Stop at the tourist office in the city centre (under the Gold Museum in the Plaza – ask anyone and they can help you). The bus system is a safe and even fun way to see much of the country for little money and not have to worry about hiring a car. Finding your way around without knowing Spanish is no problem.

San José has a remarkably large number of bus terminals for a city of its size; bus departure locations change occasionally. Find out the location of the terminal of the bus you want to take.

Get In - With the boat

There is a twice-daily boat service between Los Chiles (in north-eastern Costa Rica), the former home of the Contras, and San Carlos, Nicaragua. The cost is about US$9 (payable in dollars, colones or Nicaraguan cordobas), plus a US$1 tax. The boats usually leave San Carlos at 10:30 am and 4 pm.

Small boat tours with less than 100 passengers start in Panama and end in Costa Rica or vice versa. On these cruises you can visit popular national parks like Manuel Antonio, but also remote beaches and stretches of coastline that are inaccessible by land. Prices range from $2,000 to $6,000 per person for tours of 7 to 10 days.

Large cruise ships sometimes dock or anchor in Puerto Caldera and Puntarenas for a day or two, usually to begin, end or continue cruises through the Panama Canal to or from the Caribbean or the United States.

How To Travel Around Costa Rica

Note that while Costa Rica has adopted official street names for government purposes in most towns, most of the population is unaware of these names, and if they are known, most streets do not have signs indicating these names. Asking a local for directions can be a lengthy and difficult conversation as directions are given to a common or familiar building, shop, office or other landmark to find what you are looking for. So you need to know the important landmarks and their locations to find your way more easily.

Note that “cien metros” or 100 metres usually refers to a “block”, which is usually 100 metres long but can sometimes be longer or shorter. Regardless of the exact distance, many locals tend to use 100 metres or a block when giving directions.

Get Around - Road conditions

Most of Costa Rica’s roads are paved, but maintenance is minimal. In addition, there are many narrow bridges scattered throughout the country. Be careful when travelling during the rainy season, as some roads in low-lying areas may be washed out or flooded. If you plan to travel to mountainous areas such as Monteverde, four-wheel drive vehicles are strongly recommended. These roads are NOT paved and can be slippery due to the constant rain. Rock falls and landslides are common and guard rails are rare. In addition, visibility can be poor in cloudy forest areas, so caution is advised.

Get Around - Public buses

Most major tourist destinations in Costa Rica are served by at least two daily buses to and from San José. The advantages of public transport in Costa Rica are that tickets are cheap (rarely more than US$7 per person) and cover most cities in the country. However, almost the entire bus network is based on routes in and out of San José, which can add significantly to travel time. The buses also do not have a reservation system, so it is possible not to get a seat on the most popular routes. However, most buses have assigned seats once you have bought a ticket at the bus stop, so arrive early to make sure you get your bus.

In San José, there is not one central bus station, but several different stations, each serving roughly a different region of the country, with a few exceptions. For example, most flights to the Caribbean part of the country depart from the Gran Caribe terminal. Direct connections to the southernmost part of the Caribbean coast are available from the bus station in Puntarenas, which mainly serves the western side of the country. However, you can get to the Caribbean side by taking a bus (on the Autotransportes Caribeños line) from the Gran Caribe terminal to Limón and then changing to the southbound bus (Mepe line). In short, do your research in advance so that you don’t get lost trying to find your bus. Often a phone call or email to your final destination (e.g. your hotel) is enough to tell you which bus to take, where to take it and how often it runs.

Get Around - Car rental

One of the great advantages of renting a car is that you can visit many remote beaches and mountainous regions. And thanks to the power of the internet, you can now rent any vehicle online and have it waiting for you when you arrive.

For US$350-700 per week you can rent a medium-sized Ecocar/ 4×4. Insurance makes up most of this cost and is not optional. It is good to have a 4×4 vehicle for travel outside the Central Valley, especially during the rainy season. During the dry season, the direct route from La Fortuna to Monteverde required a 15-30 km/h road covered with boulders. Four-wheel drive was also useful on the Nicoya coast. (The above figures are based on 2001 roads.) It is often possible to hire a car with a local driver from the various tour operators if driving yourself seems a little daunting.

Due to the condition of most roads outside San Jose, car insurance, even with a zero excess, does not usually cover tyres and rims. Car rental companies require a $750 USD deposit during the rental period, which requires a credit card. Using an insurance programme offered by certain types of gold or platinum credit cards is a good advantage, as these credit cards cover minor scratches, dents and the entire rented vehicle in the event of a collision or theft.

You should be careful when renting a car in Costa Rica, as it is not uncommon for rental companies to claim “damage” allegedly done to the vehicle. It is much better to rent a car through a Costa Rican travel agency. If you are travelling with a package deal, your agent will take care of the issue. Otherwise, go to an ICT-accredited travel agency in San Jose and ask them to take care of the rental for you. This should be no more expensive than renting yourself and will protect you from false claims for damages and other fees; rental companies will make less fuss with an agent who regularly sends them clients than with individual clients they may never see again.

Check the vehicle thoroughly before signing the damage sheet. Check the oil, brake fluid, fuel gauge (to make sure it is full) and that there is a spare tyre with good air pressure and a jack. First find out the Spanish word for “scratch” (rayas) and other relevant terms so you can at least question the landlord’s assessment. Ask them to note any minor damage, not just check the drawing, and keep a copy of this document with you.

Take the maximum insurance (approx. US$15-20 per day); due to the country’s high accident rate, you should be insured for damage to the vehicle, yourself, third parties and public property.

Get Around - Motorbike rental

For about US$420 per week, depending on the motorbike and season, you can rent a dual-sport motorbike or a chopper. One motorbike rental requires a US$600 deposit during the rental period.

Get Around - Taxi

Another easy way to get around Costa Rica is to use the services of minivans. In most hotels, the reception is able to help arrange a driver for travellers who want to move around the country. Prices are reasonable (e.g. US$29 per person from San José to Tamarindo in April 2007). The drivers know the roads well, the vans are clean and comfortable, and they take you from door to door.

Taxis are available in most major cities. They are usually cheap and only require a few dollars to get almost anywhere in the city. The meter is called “la maria“; ask the driver to turn it on as soon as you get in the car, otherwise he may not turn it on and set his own, more expensive fare once you arrive at your destination. Also try to check that it was not switched on before you got in. The initial fare should not be more than ₡600. Most drivers know familiar routes like San Jose to Santa Ana and you can find out the fare by typing “Cuanto para ir _____a . Pirate taxis” are sometimes cheaper but not safe. Don’t risk it. Especially if you are alone. If you are a woman, get in the back as riding in the front can be considered lewd by the driver. You must be careful when using this service, very careful. It is not recommended to take non-red taxis.

Get Around - Hitchhiking

Hitchhiking is much more common in rural areas than in urban areas. If you decide to hitchhike, Costa Ricans are generally very friendly and helpful, especially in rural areas where traffic can be light on dirt roads. As always, be friendly and offer some money, which will probably be refused because of the friendliness.

Get Around - By air

There are two major domestic airlines connecting the main tourist cities, NatureAir and Sansa. They are limited to 25 or 30 pounds of hand luggage per person, depending on the airline. Nature Air allows more luggage per person because their planes are larger and also twin-engine. Neither of these airlines will carry a longboard, and both limit the number of shortboards they can carry. Check with the airline for the current limits on the length of boards allowed.

Get Around - By train

Although rail service ceased in 1995, Incofer (the Costa Rican Railway Institute) continues to operate and reactivate disused tracks in the greater San Jose area. Rail transport still suffers from decades of neglect and rarely is a train faster or cheaper than a bus, but new lines and improvements to existing lines (mainly for commuters in and around San Jose) are planned for the near future.

There are two services, the price is about ₡500€.

  • Heredia – San Jose Service
  • Pavas – San Jose Service

Destinations in Costa Rica

Regions in Costa Rica

  • Middle Valley
    The centre of Costa Rica; mainly urban. The country’s most populous cities are located here, including San José. Many museums and some volcanoes are to be noted in this region.
  • Central Pacific
    Home to some of Costa Rica’s most famous beaches and national parks. Perhaps one of the most touristy regions of Costa Rica, along with Guanacaste.
  • Guanacaste
    The “dry region” of Costa Rica, with little rain at any time of year, fabulous beaches and surfing, and some great volcanic and dry forest parks in the north, near the Nicaraguan border.
  • Limón
    The least visited region in the country, due to its relative isolation. Nevertheless, there are great opportunities for white water rafting and sea turtle watching. There are also many beautiful beaches. It is also considered an outpost of Jamaican culture in Costa Rica due to the high percentage of residents of Jamaican descent.
  • Northern Costa Rica
    A sparsely populated but beautiful and mountainous region best known for its active Arenal Volcano and surrounding hot springs, volcanic lakes and cloud forests.
  • South Pacific Costa Rica
    One of the most diverse environments on the planet, rich in exotic endemic flora and fauna, and some of the most beautiful and remote tropical beaches on the planet.

Cities in Costa Rica

Due to Costa Rica’s topography and historical development, most of its economic growth has been concentrated in the country’s central valley, which includes four cities: San José (capital), Alajuela, Cartago and Heredia. The provincial capitals (Liberia, Puntarenas and Limón) and other strategically located cities are of regional importance, especially for tourism. The most important cities in Costa Rica for travellers are:

  • San José – The capital.
  • Alajuela – Location of the Juan Santamaría International Airport
  • Cartago – first capital of Costa Rica
  • Jacó – the largest city on the central Pacific coast, surrounded by incredible biodiversity and natural beauty, famous surf spot.
  • Heredia – Coffee plantations
  • Liberia – Location of the Daniel Oduber International Airport and gateway to the beaches of Guanacaste, such as Samara, Nosara, Carillo.
  • Puerto Limón – Main town on the Caribbean side
  • Puerto Jiménez – Small town and hub of the South Pacific region of Costa Rica.
  • Quesada – the largest town in the north of the country, surrounded by hot springs popular with Costa Rica holidaymakers; locally known as “San Carlos”.

Other destinations in Costa Rica

  • Arenal Volcano – active volcano
  • Cahuita National Park
  • Chirripo National Park
  • Cocos Island National Park
  • Corcovado National Park
  • Manuel Antonio National Park
  • Monteverde and Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserves
  • Rincón de la Vieja National Park
  • Tortuguero National Park

Accommodation & Hotels in Costa Rica

Throughout Costa Rica you will find many accommodations including hotels, aparthotels, condos, holiday homes and cabinas. Holiday homes, cabinas and condos can be less expensive than hotels and offer more flexibility in your Costa Rica adventure. Costa Rica is known for being a world leader in green and sustainable travel, and accommodations are often listed as “eco-lodges”.

They tend to be more expensive, but the government has an effective certification programme in place. Beware of so-called “motels”. In Costa Rica, as in much of Latin America, this term tends to refer to places associated with short-term stays by couples seeking a little privacy. The rooms are often rented out by the hour.

Things To See in Costa Rica


Costa Rica is known worldwide for the incredibly high biodiversity in its tropical forests (this includes rainforests, cloud forests and dry forests). There are tropical mammals such as monkeys, sloths, tapirs and wild cats, as well as an amazing range of insects and other animals. There are many birds (both migratory and resident) – more on this below. With 25% of the country made up of national parks and protected areas, there are still many places where you can see the country’s abundant wildlife and lush vegetation. As everywhere, the further you get off the beaten track, the more likely you are to see a wide variety of flora and fauna.

Costa Rica is so rich in species, not only because it is a land bridge between North and South America, but also because the terrain is so diverse and the weather patterns come from the Pacific and Atlantic/Caribbean. Throughout the country there are impressive volcanoes, mountainous areas, rivers, lakes and beaches. There are many beautiful beaches – most of the popular beaches are on the Pacific side, but the Caribbean also has some excellent beaches.


One of the best activities for people who love nature is bird watching. You can see them in many parts of Costa Rica. Due to the wide variety of climates, temperatures and forest types in Costa Rica, there is a wonderful diversity of birds, with over 800 species. Some useful birding books are Birds of Costa Rica by F. Gary Stiles and Alexander Skutch (Cornell University Press) or An Illustrated Field Guide to Birds of Costa Rica, illustrated by Victor Esquivel Soto. These books can be found in some bookshops in San José or before entering Costa Rica. These are two heavy books; many people tear the panels out of the Stiles & Skutch book to take into the field and leave the rest of the book in the car or bedroom. Plastic cards with the most common birds are available for many areas and are sold in souvenir shops.

The list of Costa Rican birds includes:

  • 16 parrot species, including the fabulous Scarlet Macaw.
  • 50 species of hummingbirds.
  • 10 species of trogons with the magnificent quetzal as the jewel.
  • 6 species of toucans, including the ring-billed toucan and the pine toucan.
  • Half of Costa Rica’s bird species are passerines, including warblers, sparrows and finches.
  • 16 species of duck, including the sooty plover, white-faced duck and wigeon.
  • 13 species of falcon, including the Peregrine, the Merlin and the American Kestrel.
  • 36 raptor species, including grey hawk, swallow hawk, lone eagle and marsh harrier.
  • 6 species of Cracidae that look like turkeys.
  • 8 quail species from the new world.
  • 15 Rallidae species, including the red-necked wood rail, the American coot and the red-headed duck.
  • 19 owl species, including the Black and White Owl, the Costa Rican Pygmy Owl, the Central American Pygmy Owl and the Barred Owl.
  • 3 types of potos, including the large, the Nordic and the common.
  • 16 woodpecker species, including cinnamon, brown and pale-billed woodpeckers.

The list of shorebirds includes:

  • 19 species of herons and waders such as great blue heron, great egret, broad-billed heron, great egret and yellow-crowned night heron.
  • 2 species of recurvirostraid, which are waders and include the Black-necked Stilt and the American Avocet.
  • 2 species of jays, including the Northern and Wattle Jay.
  • 34 species of scolopacids, including the short-billed sandpiper, spotted sandpiper, peregrine thrush, surfbird and red-necked parrot.
  • 9 species of gull, including Grey Gull, Heermann’s Gull and Ring-billed Gull.
  • 14 species of tern, including gull-billed, Forster’s, Little and Ivory-billed.
  • 4 species of vulture, including the king vulture.
  • 24 species of pigeons and pigeon beetles.
  • 11 swift species, including the black swift, the spotted swift and the Costa Rican swift.
  • 6 species of kingfishers, including the green, Amazon and American pygmy bird.
  • 5 species of Threskiornithidaes, including the Roseate Spoonbill and the White-faced Ibis.
  • 2 species of Ciconiidae, including the wood stork and the jabiru.

Good places to watch birds include:

  • The Monteverde cloud forest is home to more than 400 bird species, including the magnificent quetzals.
  • There are 300 species of birds in Tortuguero National Park.
  • There are over 250 species of birds in Santa Rosa National Park.
  • Cahuita National Park is home to toucans, parrots and red kingfishers; the park is right on the beach.
  • The biological station of La Selva, in the northern lowlands, is home to 420 species of birds.
  • There are 228 species of birds on Helconia Island.
  • There are 400 species of birds and 1,200 scarlet macaws in Corcovado National Park.
  • The Huedal Nacional Terraba-Sierpe is home to a variety of birds along the coast and in the marshes.
  • There are 400 species of birds in Carara National Park.
  • In Tárcoles there are 400 species of birds and great river trips where you can see crocodiles.
  • Whale Marine National Park is home to frigatebirds, boobies, ibises and pelicans.
  • La Amistad National Park is home to 500 species of birds, including magnificent quetzals.
  • Manuel Antonio National Park has 350 species of birds and three beautiful beaches.

Most hotels and tourist information centres offer birdwatching guides, maps and other essentials for birdwatching. Unless you are an experienced birder, it can be much more productive to go with an experienced birding guide. Don’t forget to bring a hat, mackintosh, boots, binoculars and camera. In hot areas, an umbrella can be more useful than a poncho or jacket. The south of Costa Rica is generally considered the best option for bird watching.


Costa Rica is a geologically active country. The most notable volcanoes are :

  • Arenal, (Spanish: Volcán Arenal): an active stratovolcano with lava domes and daily eruptions near La Fortuna.
  • Irazú, (Spanish: Volcán Irazú): a complex active stratovolcano in the Cordillera Central near the city of Cartago. The last eruption took place in 1994.
  • Poás, (Spanish: Volcán Poás): an active stratovolcano in central Costa Rica near Alajuela. It has erupted 39 times since 1828. The last eruption took place in 2012.

Things To Do in Costa Rica


Costa Rica is a country with an extraordinary wealth of activities, but whatever your interests, you will want to spend time on one of the country’s many great beaches. The main beaches on the Pacific coast are in the Central Pacific region, on the Nicoya Peninsula and in Guanacaste. Less visited, but no less beautiful beaches can be found in the rainforest of the southern Pacific coast, near the Corcovado National Park, or in the exotic ecotourism paradise on the Caribbean side of the country, in the province of Limón.

In general, the Caribbean region of Costa Rica is characterised by the diversity of its aquatic ecosystems and its beautiful white and black sand beaches, which provide an ideal environment for activities such as sport fishing, snorkelling and sunbathing. The Pacific coast concentrates large tourist centres and its beaches are very popular for surfing; for example Esterillos, Jaco, Hermosa, Boca Barranca. In the Golfito region, surf lovers will find the famous “long left wave” of Pavones.

Here is a short list of the biggest and most popular beach destinations in the country. Ask locals about small, quiet beaches away from the tourist crowds nearby:

  • Manuel Antonio – one of the most famous destinations in Central America, whose main feature is a beautiful, small national park with clear water beaches and lots of wildlife.
  • Jacó, the “surf city” of Costa Rica, hosts national and international tournaments. It is close to beautiful natural areas such as Carara National Park in the north and Manuel Antonio in the south. It is also known for its nightlife and restaurants.
  • Corcovado – one of the most diverse and dense areas of Costa Rica, the main attraction of the Osa Peninsula, with its black sand beaches bordered by the dense Costa Rican rainforest.
  • Dominical – small town for surfing with good nightlife at the northern end of the South Pacific.
  • Montezuma – the bohemian option, on the Nicoya Peninsula, full of dreadlocks, surfers and what you would expect from them (called “monte fuma” by the locals).
  • Playa Grande – this quiet white sand beach is home to the largest leatherback nesting site on the Pacific coast, as well as one of the best surf waves in Guanacaste province.
  • Tamarindo – the upmarket option, with great beaches, shopping and upmarket restaurants.
  • Tortuguero – is for ecotourists who want to explore the rainforest and see manatees, monkeys and birds. Tortuguero is both a small town that can only be reached by boat and the name of the national park nicknamed “the Amazon of Central America”.
  • Puerto Viejo – the main Caribbean centre in southern Costa Rica, has a relaxed atmosphere with small hotels and beautiful, clear sandy beaches. Nearby are Cahuita National Park and the Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, attractive protected coastal areas.


Costa Rica is one of the countries with the most rivers per square kilometre in the world. Almost everywhere you go, you will find some kind of river trip to enjoy nature from a unique perspective.

Costa Rica offers a wide range of exciting rafting tours. For many years, the rafting mecca in Costa Rica was Turrialba, a large town nestled in the mountains near the Reventazon and Pacuare rivers on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica.

However, the area around Arenal Volcano is now an increasingly popular destination for whitewater rafting, with close access to the Sarapiqui and Toro Rivers and the Class II-III Río Balsa, popular with rafting enthusiasts on the country’s northern slopes.

On the Pacific side, the highest volume river, El General, is famous for multi-day adventures and as an incredible playground for kayakers. The Coto Brus River is also part of this watershed. Further north, on the central Pacific coast, are the Savegre and Naranjo rivers. In this area, you have the option of half-day tours on the Naranjo River and one to two-day tours on the Savegre River.

The Class III-IV Tenorio River near Canas, Guanacaste, is a popular day-trip destination from Guanacaste’s beaches and is part of the shuttle service from Arenal Volcano and Monteverde to the Guanacaste region. The lower section of the Tenorio River is widely known as an excellent nature boat trip.

The Pacuare River (Class III-IV) is at the top of the list for 2- or 3-day adventures. If you are interested in similar tours, the Savegre River (Class III-IV) is an excellent alternative for an overnight rafting trip.

If you want more adrenaline, the Chorro section (Class IV+) of the Naranjo River, near Manuel Antonio, Quepos is one of the most exciting rafting routes in the country. This section operates from December to May.

For nature excursions, the Peñas Blancas River near Arenal Volcano offers an excellent overview of the country’s enormous biodiversity.

Chances are that one or more of these rafting trips will be the highlight of your active holiday, so don’t miss your chance to paddle one.


Costa Rica has some of the best sport fishing in the world and is the first country to practice catch and release fishing. The Pacific side offers incredible fishing for sailfish, marlin, dorado, tuna, wahoo, roosterfish, snapper, etc. The Caribbean side and the northern regions of Costa Rica are famous for their large tarpon and snapper. More than sixty-four world records have been caught in Costa Rica. Half-day, full-day and multi-day trips are available. They love to eat turtles.


Costa Rica has many hot spots for surfing. The best time of the year to surf is from November to August.

The Pacific coast, especially in the Central Pacific and Guanacaste, offers some of the best surf spots in Central America.

In the Guanacaste region there are several beaches to choose from if you want to surf. Among them, Playa Negra and Playa Grande are two notable breaks. Playa Negra breaks on a shallow lava reef and produces fast, hollow waves that are only suitable for experienced surfers. Playa Grande is the most consistent break in the area, with conditions suitable for surfing most days of the year. It breaks on a sandy bottom and is suitable for both beginners and experienced surfers. Playa Nosara is another option for beginners and advanced surfers. The waves might be a bit overwhelming for a complete novice, but for someone who knows the technique well, it’s a nice place with a good local scene.

Tamarindo is a good beach to learn to surf, while Playa del Coco offers advanced surfers the chance to surf at Witches Rock and Ollie’s Point. There are some nice beaches on the Caribbean side, but surfing opportunities are limited.

The southern region of Costa Rica has two very good surf spots: Dominical and Pavones Beach. Pavones Beach has thick, heavy waves that roll over constantly and can get very big. It is a little-known but picturesque and wild spot that is definitely not for the faint-hearted.

At the southern end of the Nicoya Peninsula is Montezuma, with one of the most beautiful beaches in the area, Playa Grande. It is a short walk east of the village of Montezuma. This beach is ideal for all surfers.


Costa Rica has some excellent mountain bike routes, especially near the Irazu, Turrialba and Arenal volcanoes. A popular dirt road connecting Irazu Volcano with the foothills of Turrialba Volcano is perfect for mountain biking as it crosses the mountain and offers great views of the Cartago Valley (weather permitting, of course).

The area around Lake Arenal is also a great place for cycling. You can cycle around the lake in one long day or split the trip into two nights in Tilarán or Nuevo Arenal. Mountain bikes are a must as the south shore of the lake is not paved.

The Nicoya Peninsula also offers excellent hiking opportunities, especially the stretch between Sámara, Puerto Coyote and Malpais. A coastal road connects these three places.


Costa Rica is also known as a paradise for some of the most lush and tropical golf environments in the world. On each course you can expect an array of exotic and native wildlife, jungle, mountainous terrain and a surreal blue ocean that makes for a brilliant and secluded experience.

The courses are located in three main regions of Costa Rica: Guanacaste, San Jose and Mid Pacific. Due to road conditions, you should check the travel times between courses.

There are many tournaments throughout the year in which every traveller can participate. Most courses offer shoe and club hire.

Extreme sports

The windsurfing in the Tilarán region is some of the best in the world.

Canopy tours or ziplines are very popular tourist activities and can be found throughout Costa Rica. They usually cost between $30 and $50, depending on the company, and use a series of ziplines to move between platforms attached to trees, through and over the forest canopy and across rivers. The person is attached to the metal cables with harnesses as they sometimes float very high above the ground. Inquire about the certification of the zipline before booking and be sure to attend the safety briefing before participating.

Another form of canopy tour is the ride on a cable car adapted to the rainforest. These trams are slower and allow visitors to observe the flora and fauna in the treetops. Each tram is accompanied by a guide who explains the flora and fauna. Trams are available at the adventure parks near Jaco Beach and outside Braulio Carrillo National Park and are suitable for all ages. Trams can be combined with ziplining and often include other attractions such as medical gardens or serpentaria so visitors can learn more about Costa Rica.

Food & Drinks in Costa Rica

Food in Costa Rica

Costa Rican cuisine can be described as simple but healthy. The spiciness often associated with Latin America comes mostly from Mexico. Most Costa Rican food is not spicy, but when it simmers in a large pot, the flavours blend.

Gallo pinto is a mixture of rice and beans with a little coriander or onion. Although it is most often served for breakfast, it can also be served for lunch or dinner.

Casado, meaning married, is the typical lunch in Costa Rica and consists of rice and beans with meat, chicken or fish, always accompanied by salad and fried plantains.

The plato del dia is the plate of the day. It is often a casado, but with the meat or fish selection of the day. Usually around 5.00 USD and includes a natural juice.

Good quality fresh fruit is plentiful and inexpensive. Mercados are a great place to enjoy Costa Rican fruits and other produce, and many include sit-down snacks. We encourage you to experiment as some local fruits do not travel well as they are easily mashed or have a short shelf life. Mangoes found in North American shops are much more fibrous and less sweet than those from Costa Rica. Fingerling bananas are much creamier and less tart than those found in North America.

Don’t forget to stop at a rest area on one of the roads: a casado and a beer will cost you about $3.

Don’t forget to try the Salsa Lizano, which you are sure to find in any restaurant. It is a mild vegetable sauce, slightly sweet, with a hint of curry. It is often referred to as Costa Rican ketchup. It’s an acquired taste, but Ticos eat it with almost everything. Take some home with you! You can find small bottles at any market.

Also, as is common in Central America, the standard breakfast is rice and beans.

Vegetarians will find it surprisingly easy to eat well in Costa Rica.

Don’t forget to tip tour guides, drivers, bellboys and chambermaids. Restaurant bills include a 10% tip, but leave an extra tip for good service. North Americans often get better service because they are used to tipping separately, but it is not necessary.

Cattle are raised on grass; the meat will taste different from that of cattle fed on maize. The types of meat served in local restaurants are also different. Chicken does not taste much different.

Drinks in Costa Rica

Drinking water is available in most places, so don’t worry about drinking tap water. Bottled water is also available at reasonable prices.

Refrescos are drinks made of fresh fruit (cas, guanabana, sandia/ watermelon, mora/blackberry, fresa/strawberry, granadilla/passion fruit), sugar and water or milk. All lemonades (family restaurants) serve it. You can also just buy the usual international lemonades. We recommend ‘Fresca’, ‘Canada Dry’ and the local ‘Fanta Kolita’ (fruit punch).

The national drink is called guaro, which is made from fermented sugar cane. It is similar to vodka and is usually drunk with water and lemon. Note that it is not a very “clean” liquor, so be careful.

There are about 8 different national beers (and most international beers) sold in cans, bottles and even kegs. The most common beers in the country are Pilsener and Imperial: all bars and restaurants serve both. Bavaria, “Bavaria Negra” (dark) and Bavaria Light are considered better quality but are more expensive, Rock Ice and Rock Ice Limón (lemon flavour) have a higher alcohol content and are less common in rural areas. Heineken is produced locally under licence and is also more expensive.

The ready-to-drink coffee is excellent and (again) considered one of the best in the world.

Money & Shopping in Costa Rica

The local currency is the Costa Rican Colón (plural, ColonesCRC, named after Christopher Columbus (whose name in Spanish was Cristobal Colón), sometimes given locally as ₡ and sometimes with the more common American cent symbol ‘¢’ or ₵.

As of March 2014, 1 US$ = ₡548 or 1 € = CRC762. Currency exchange is offered at most banks, but it is recommended to do so at state-owned banks, especially Banco Nacional, as they charge lower rates. There is also a currency exchange service at the airport, but it is outrageously expensive. Note, however, that the use of US dollars is quite common; almost everything in the tourist trade is priced in US dollars (although prices are sometimes cheaper in colones). When a price is quoted in “dollars”, the speaker may think that one dollar is equivalent to 500 colones, so it is always worth checking that this is what is meant. If you pay in US dollars, you may get change in the local currency. So if you are about to leave the country and no longer need colones, make sure you have small denominations in US dollars.

You will find ATMs in most places. They usually dispense US dollars and colones. With Visa, you can withdraw money from almost any ATM. If you have a MasterCard, try the ATMs in AM/PM supermarkets, they will give you up to ₡250,000 (~US$500). Another option is ATH ATMs, but they will only give you up to ₡100,000 (~US$200) per transaction. EC (European) cards are accepted at all ATMs. The limit is usually set by the card only. Also, you will almost always get a better exchange rate when withdrawing money with your EC card than when exchanging cash at a bank. Around payday, the 15th of the month, ATMs may be empty, especially in small towns like La Fortuna or Quepos, and some cards may not work.

It is also very common to pay even small amounts with Visa or MasterCard, Amex is much less common.

It is possible to get a discount (between 5 and 10 %) if you pay in cash, but it is not so common to expect this. It is also not really necessary to get colones at the airport, as you can pay with US dollars everywhere and get colones as change. Most places, except the smaller restaurants, accept credit cards and many places, including petrol stations, accept American Express.

Travellers’ cheques are rarely used. If you pay with traveller’s cheques, except for hotel accommodation, change them first at a bank. Expect long waiting times for travellers’ cheques at the bank, lots of stamps, the higher the bank official, the more stamps he has. Dollars are easier.

The most common souvenirs are made of wood. If it is not labelled as responsible (plantation wood), it is very likely that it is not and that it contributes to the deforestation of Costa Rica, even Nicaragua or Panama!

Most returning visitors are not allowed to bring raw food or plants. Therefore, the most sought-after commodity for visitors is roasted (not green) coffee, considered by many to be among the best in the world. Many websites explain the qualities of the different growing regions, bean varieties, roasting methods and sources of supply. The best prices are obtained by buying several bags (sealed) of about 12 ounces. Experts recommend buying whole beans (entero), regardless of storage method; whole beans have a longer shelf life, and ground coffee from Costa Rica often contains sugar, which is preferred by locals. You can get excellent coffee in the shops at San José airport, but you can also find other good quality blends in local supermarkets and directly from roasters. It’s an expensive but delicious habit. If you are serious about your coffee, take at least a partially empty suitcase with you and fill it with a supply for maybe a year (there are websites on how to keep it that long). Watch out for tourist outlets where small quantities can cost as much as an internet order.

Festivals & Holidays in Costa Rica

Holidays in Costa Rica

  • 1 January – New Year’s Day (Aňo Nuevo)
  • 19 March – Saint Joseph (Dia de San José)
  • Maundy Thursday / Good Friday – (Jueves y Viernes Santo)
  • 11 April – Juan Santamaria Day (commemoration of the Battle of Rivas 1856)
  • 1 May – Labour Day (Dia del Trabajo)
  • 25 July – Guanacaste Day (Anexión de Guanacaste)
  • 2 August – Day of the Patron Saint of Costa Rica Our Lady of the Angels (Virgen de los Ángeles)
  • 15 August – Mother’s Day (Dia de la Madre)
  • 15 September – Independence Day (Dia de la Independencia)
  • 12 October – Columbus Day (Dia de la Raza)
  • 25 December – Christmas (Navidad)

Festivals in Costa Rica

January Fiesta de Palmares. During the first two weeks of January, in Palmares, music, carnival, rodeo and fireworks.
Fiesta Patronale de Santo Cristo. Two days of rodeos, dances, street parties and a parade of ox carts (carretas) in Santa Cruz.
Festival de las Mulas. Donkey races on the beaches of Esterillos (in Jacó). Bullfighting, dancing and music.
February Perez Zeledón Exhibition. Livestock market and orchid exhibition in San Isidro de El General. Together with an agricultural exhibition.
Good Neighbours Jazz Festival. Jazz in Manuel Antonio.
Carnival in Puntarenas. Flotilla and markets in the last week of February in Puntarenas.
March Dia del Boyero. On the second Sunday in March, San Antonio de Escazú hosts a parade of decorated ox carts, with music and dancing.
Festival Internacional de Arte. Theatre and dance performances, concerts and conferences in San José.
Semana Santa. Processions take place throughout the country during Easter. The crucifixion of Christ is depicted in Cartago and in San Joaguin de Flores, for example.
April Dia de Juan Santamaria on 11 April in Alajuela. The fight against William Walker is celebrated with horse shows and drum bands. There is also a beauty contest.
Feria del Ganada. The largest cattle market in the country is held in Ciudad Quesada in mid-April. Horse parade and bullfight.
Feria de Orquideas. Orchid festival at the Museo Nacional de San José.
Romeria Virgen de la Candelaria. A 6 km pilgrimage route from Paraiso to Ujarrás, commemorating a miracle that took place here in the 17th century. Third Sunday in April.
Semana Universidad. Last week in April. Exhibitions, concerts and the coronation of the University Queen on the campus of the University of San José.
May Dia de los Trabajadores. Labour Day is celebrated in the big cities on 1 May.
Fiesta Civica. Bullfights and horse shows are held in Cañas at the beginning of May.
Dia de San Isidro Labrador. On 15 May a parade of ox carts takes place in San Isidro de el General in honour of the patron saint of farmers.
Corpus Christi. Religious processions in Cartago and Pacayas on 29 May.
June Dia de San Pedro y San Pablo. Festival in honour of Peter and Paul in San José. 29 June.
Compañia de Lirica Nacional. A two-month opera festival at the Teatro Melico in San José. From mid-June.
July Feast of the Virgen del Mar. Festival in Puntarenas in honour of Carmen, the Virgin of the Sea, including a regatta. Mid-July.
Dia de la Anexión de Guanacaste. 25 July is celebrated throughout the country where Guanacaste was annexed in 1824, with music and folkloric dances.
Chorotega Tourist Fair. Demonstrations of handicrafts, indigenous cuisine and educational activities in Nicoya. End of July.
Festival Internacional de Música. Classical music performed by an international group of musicians throughout the country.
August Dia de Nuestra Señora de la Virgen de los Ángeles. On 2 August, religious processions take place in Cartago in honour of La Negrita, the patron saint of Cartago.
Liberia Blanca. A week of traditional local festivals are celebrated in Liberia. Early August.
Dia de las Madres. 15 August. Mother’s Day the Costa Rican way. A singer is often hired to serenade the mother.
National Festival of Adventure Tourism. End of August in Turrialba, mountain biking, rafting and kayaking competitions.
Dia de San Ramón. Celebration in honour of the local patron saint, San Ramón, on 31 August. Marimba music.
Semana Afro-Costarricense. A week-long festival celebrated by Afro-Costa Ricans in Puerto Limón at the end of August, beginning of September.
September Correo de la Candela de Independencia. 14 September. A torch of freedom is carried by runners from Guatemala to Cartago. Children parade through the streets with lanterns.
Dia de la Independencia. 15 September. Independence Day with street festivals throughout the country.
October Carnival. In the second week of October, Puerto Limón hosts the Caribbean Carnival with floats, reggae and calypso music.
Dia de las Culturas. On 12 October, the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus is commemorated with cultural events throughout the country.
Fiesta del Maiz. Maize festival in Upala. Mid-October.
Dia del Sabanero. 18 October is the day of celebration of the cowboy. Celebrations all over the country, especially in Liberia.
November Dias de todos Santos. 2 November. All Souls’ Day is celebrated throughout the country with processions and the laying of flowers on graves.
La Ruta de los Conquistadores. A coast-to-coast mountain bike race along the Conquistadors’ Route takes place in mid-November.
Feria Agroecoturistica. Lumberjack competition and tractor race in Atenas. Mid-November.
Fiesta de las Carretas. A parade of ox carts from Parque Sabana to Paseo Colón takes place in San José at the end of November.
December Fiesta de los Negritos. Dances in Boruca on 8 December, accompanied by traditional drums and flutes.
Fiesta de la Yegüita. On 12 December, a procession in honour of the Virgin of Guadalupe takes place in Nicoya. Bullfighting, concerts and fireworks.

Culture Of Costa Rica

Costa Rica was the meeting point of Mesoamerican and South American indigenous cultures. The northwestern part of the country, the Nicoya Peninsula, was the southernmost point of Nahuatl cultural influence when the Spanish conquistadores arrived in the 16th century. The central and southern parts of the country were under the influence of the Chibcha. The Atlantic coast, on the other hand, was settled by African workers in the 17th and 18th centuries.

As a result of the immigration of Spaniards, the Spanish culture of the 16th century and its development continue to shape daily life and culture to this day, with the Spanish language and the Catholic religion being the main influences.

The Department of Culture, Youth and Sport is responsible for the promotion and coordination of cultural life. The work of the department is divided into the Directorate of Culture, Fine Arts, Performing Arts, Music, Heritage and the Library System. Permanent programmes, such as the National Symphony Orchestra of Costa Rica and the Youth Symphony Orchestra, are a combination of two areas of work: Culture and Youth.

Dance-oriented genres such as soca, salsa, bachata, merengue, cumbia and Costa Rican swing are more popular with older people than with younger ones. The guitar is popular, especially for accompanying folk dances, but the marimba has become the national instrument.

“Pura Vida” is the best-known phrase attached to Costa Ricans, and it reflects the Costa Rican way of life. Often, people walking down the street or buying groceries in shops greet you with “Pura Vida“, which means “pure life” or “good life”. This can be phrased as a question or an acknowledgement of someone’s presence. A recommended response to “How are you?” would be “Pura Vida“.


Costa Rican cuisine is a mixture of indigenous, Spanish, African and many other origins. Dishes such as the very traditional tamale and many other corn-based dishes are very representative of the indigenous population and similar to those of other neighbouring Mesoamerican countries. The Spanish brought many new ingredients into the country from elsewhere, including spices and domestic animals. And later, in the 19th century, African flavours brought their presence along with the influence of other mixed Caribbean flavours. As a result, Costa Rican cuisine today is very diverse, with each new ethnic group that has recently arrived in the country influencing its cuisine.


Costa Rica first participated in the Summer Olympics in 1936 with fencer Bernardo de la Guardia and in the Winter Olympics for the first time in 1980 with skier Arturo Kinch. Costa Rica’s four Olympic medals were won by sisters Silvia and Claudia Poll in swimming, with Claudia winning the only gold medal in 1996.

Football is the most popular sport in Costa Rica. The national team has participated in four FIFA World Cups and reached the quarter-finals for the first time in 2014. Their best result in the CONCACAF Regional Gold Cup was second place in 2002. Paulo Wanchope, a striker who played for three English Premier League clubs in the late 1990s and early 2000s, is credited with improving the recognition of Costa Rican football abroad.

Stay Safe & Healthy in Costa Rica

Stay Safe in Costa Rica

Travel to Costa Rica is widespread: 1.9 million travellers visit the country every year, more than any other country in Latin America. Nevertheless, travellers to Costa Rica should exercise caution. The emergency number in Costa Rica is 911.

  • Traffic in Costa Rica is dangerous, so be careful. Pedestrians generally do not have the right of way. Roads in rural areas also tend to have many potholes. Driving at night is not recommended.
  • Use your common sense. Don’t leave valuables open in the car or leave your wallet on the beach when you go into the water. Close car windows and lock them, or do other things you might not do in your own country.
  • In the cities, robberies with knives are not uncommon.
  • Buses and bus stops – especially those going to San Jose – are common places for theft. Any bus rider who falls asleep has a good chance of waking up to find their luggage missing. Don’t trust anyone on the bus to look after your belongings, especially near San Jose.
  • As with any other tourist destination, beware of pickpockets.
  • Handbag thefts, armed robberies and car thefts are on the rise lately. Stay alert and protect your valuables at all times, especially in the San Jose area.
  • “Car window thefts are very common throughout the country. Do not leave valuables in your vehicle.
  • Another common theft trick is to slash your tyres. Then, when you stop to fix the puncture, one or two “friendly” people stop to help you and instead grab all the valuables they can find.
  • If someone signals you to stop, do not do so until you are in a safe, well-lit area.
  • Use the hostel or hotel safes if they are really safe – this is great if you want to swim or relax and not worry.
  • On a longer trip, it is advisable to make backup CDs (or DVDs) of your digital photos and send a copy home. In case of theft, you will be glad you did!
  • When you come across a new currency, find out the exchange rate from a reliable source (preferably online in advance or at a local bank) and make a small checklist to convert it into US dollars or another Central American currency you are familiar with. Travel with small US dollar denominations (1, 5, 10) as a reserve…. You can usually use these if you run out of local currency.
  • Go to a bank to change money whenever it is possible and convenient. If you have to use the services of a money changer (e.g. at the border on Sunday morning), make sure you have your own calculator. Do not trust money changers and their fake calculators, change as little money as possible and look closely at the notes – there are many fakes. Always insist that your change is in small notes – you’ll lose more than a penny if a large note is counterfeit, and large notes are difficult to change (even the equivalent of $20 in Costa Rica or $5 in Nicaragua can be difficult in some small towns, believe it or not!) Money changers don’t use the official exchange rate – it’s best to go to a government bank to change your currency for free. It is also not possible to change Brazilian reals, although there are many Brazilian tourists in Costa Rica.
  • Do not change money when you arrive at San José airport. The exchange rate used there is not the official rate and you will get far less colones. However, there is a BCR bank in the departure hall on the top floor with normal exchange rates. It is right next to the departure tax payment office. Buy as soon as you arrive to avoid the queue at departure.
  • Travelling alone in Costa Rica is fine and generally safe, but think carefully about what risks you are willing to take (if any). Always hike with others and try to explore a new city with others. If you feel uncomfortable, find a group of other people (men and women). A well-lit place with people you trust is always an advantage. A busy restaurant or hostel is a good source of local information as well as a great place to relax and recharge.


Trade, distribution and sale of marijuana are illegal in Costa Rica. There are no penalties for carrying marijuana for personal use only (up to 3 joints). The police may try to take money from you or detain you for 12 hours at the local commissary. The US Drug Enforcement Agency is also present in Costa Rica and has been known to impersonate tourists. There is also a Costa Rican equivalent of the DEA. It is not advisable to use illegal drugs in Costa Rica. It is also not advisable to bribe a police officer. You do so at your own risk.


Prostitution is legal in Costa Rica and can be a destination for those looking for more than sun and surf on their holiday. San Jose and Jaco are hotspots for this activity. Prostitution with minors (under 18) is a criminal offence in Costa Rica. The majority of sex tourists in Costa Rica are from the United States, and if they engage in prostitution with a minor, they can be prosecuted under the Protect Act of 2003. This law gives the US government the power to prosecute US citizens who travel abroad to engage in sex tourism with children under 18. Several other countries, including France, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands and Australia, have similar laws. Arrests, warrants and prosecutions are made under these laws.

Tips for travelling by bus

Below is a list of suggestions for bus tours in Costa Rica and neighbouring countries. These are over-cautious tips, but the bottom line is that they can help you avoid getting ripped off. Almost all bus robberies are preventable!

  • If possible, travel with another person. Of course, it’s best if you have a trusted friend – not just someone you met at the hostel last night, but he or she will do if needed. (Trust your instincts about your new friends – most are great, but some can be scammers). Travelling with a friend makes the trip more fun and entertaining…. You can chat and swap travel stories and each of you can take turns sleeping on the long bus rides. Also, “two heads are better than one” and it is always good to be able to brainstorm if you are unsure of the answer to your travel question or concern.
  • Be sure to take a money belt with you that contains your passport, cash, credit/debit cards and your ticket (bus or plane). Even if all your other belongings are stolen, you can still get to your next destination. Waist belts are best; a neck pouch can be pulled up while you sleep. A thief would have to really disturb you and your personal space to get hold of a waist belt.
  • On all buses (1st, 2nd, 3rd class, whatever!) try to sit above the luggage compartment so you can watch your bag not escape when other people get off the bus. Costa Rican buses usually have one compartment for those going to the main destination and another for those getting off en route to avoid problems. Be careful if the “destination” compartment is opened during the journey!
  • For trips that end in San Jose, for example from Quepos, the bus driver will ask you if you are going to the airport when he sees that you have large luggage with you. Answer no, because he is asking you this so that he can call his taxi friends to pick you up at a stop outside San Jose and take you to the airport. Firstly, you cannot be sure that this friend is an official taxi driver and secondly, he will charge you several times the normal amount for the bus driver’s share. If you are going to the airport, plan your trip in advance so you know exactly how to get from San Jose to the airport, don’t leave it to chance.
  • Try not to fall asleep or take turns with a travel partner (if you are lucky enough to have one). The best way to fall asleep alone is to put your bag on your lap and clasp your hands together. Do not leave valuables in the outside compartments.
  • Talk to the locals on the bus so they see that you know Spanish and feel comfortable in the Spanish-speaking environment. (They will have fun and maybe it will make them friendlier to you and more likely to alert you if someone is going through your things. Or it might make them aware that if they steal from you, you will talk to the bus driver and the police and make a full complaint). A little Spanish is better than none – use what you have! It’s great practice and the better you get, the safer you will be!
  • Don’t take anything with you that you’re not prepared to lose. Always keep your daypack strapped on when travelling – the straps wrap around your leg and the bag is compressed between your knees or feet. You don’t want to lose your travel notes, camera, etc.
  • Never leave anything in the luggage compartments. Almost 100% of bus thefts take place in the luggage compartments. Keep it in your lap.
  • The buses are cheap but their quality is very basic, old torn and dirty chairs, no toilets, no air conditioning so the windows are usually open except when it rains.

Beaches, weather and wildlife

Costa Rica’s coasts are known for strong currents and oil spills in some areas, but most are great for family get-togethers. Costa Rica has some of the best beaches in the world. The Atlantic coast is only five hours from the Pacific coast and both offer different views and scenery. There are no signs indicating that a beach is unsafe due to currents, so take precautions and listen to the locals about where it is safe to swim. There are no lifeguards on public beaches. A traveller should learn how to get out of a rising tide and not swim alone. There are a few active volcanoes in Costa Rica and they are dangerous, so follow the posted warning signs. The slopes of Arenal Volcano invite visitors to approach the summit, but invisible gas chambers have claimed lives in the past. Also be aware of the climate in Costa Rica. It is very hot during the day, but cool in the mornings and evenings, so bring a light jacket.

  • Crocodiles are quite common in parts of Costa Rica, and although they are not as dangerous as the Nile or saltwater species, they are still considered occasional man-eaters and can grow up to 20 feet long. The largest spot for them is the Tarcoles River Bridge in the Central Pacific, as listed in the Jaco Wiki. It is recommended to stop your vehicle nearby and walk across. Some locals throw chicken and watch them eat. Be very careful when swimming or snorkelling, especially near areas where fishing is common or near river mouths.

If you go to the beaches of Guanacaste, on the Pacific Ocean, you can see crocodiles on the Tempisque River. The bridge over this river was donated by the Taiwanese government. (Later, China donated a 35,000-seat stadium after Costa Rica ended its diplomatic recognition of Taiwan).

  • Although large, the magnificent jaguar is extremely rare and even most locals have never seen this very large predatory cat. They seem to be very shy and evasive; the risk of attack is very low.
  • Bull sharks share much of the same territory as crocodiles and are probably responsible for more shark attacks worldwide than any other species.
  • Dogs are trained to protect property and people (perro bravo) and there are also many stray dogs. Dog bites are not uncommon. Do not approach an unknown dog.
  • Snakes are common in many parts of Costa Rica and there are believed to be 139 different species. The vast majority are not dangerous to humans, but as in most countries, there are exceptions. Venomous snakes are generally divided into two groups, coral snakes and pit vipers. Coral snakes are easily recognised by their colourful bands. They have a small mouth with out-of-place fangs for biting people. Pit vipers almost always have a triangular head, but can also come in different sizes and colours. Most snakes, including venomous snakes, are shy and secretive and do their best to avoid humans, but they may strike if startled or deliberately provoked. Snake bites are rare in Costa Rica, but still occur from time to time. As always, the best solution is prevention. When walking in the countryside or jungle, be careful where you step and do not walk barefoot anywhere except on the beach. If you see a snake, remember the cardinal rule about wildlife: look but don’t touch and keep a safe distance. In the extremely unlikely event that you are bitten by a snake, you should consider this a potential medical emergency and seek medical attention immediately, especially if you think the snake may be venomous. Some Costa Rican snakes, such as the famous Fer-de-Lance and Bushmaster, have an extremely potent venom that can be life-threatening if left untreated. The good news is that Costa Rica, as mentioned above, probably has the best medical infrastructure in Central America. Antivenoms for all known native snakes are readily available in all major hospitals.

Gay and lesbian travelers

Costa Rica is a very conservative and traditionalist country. The official state religion is Roman Catholicism and the population is quite religious. Nevertheless, Costa Rica caters to the needs of gay and lesbian travellers. The gay scene is thriving in San José, with many nightlife options for gays and lesbians (La Avispa, Club Oh! , Bochinche, among others). The area around Manuel Antonio, Jacó and Quepos is also a hotspot with several gay hotels and bars.

There are a number of gay/lesbian or gay-friendly accommodations in Costa Rica. The accommodations seem to be of better quality, offer a variety of services and of course discretion. Many hotels, travel agencies and resorts are gay-run and/or gay-friendly.

Medical tourism

According to the Costa Rican Tourist Board, about 200 medical procedures are performed each month in the country’s hospitals for medical tourists. The procedures performed include cosmetic surgery, knee and hip replacements, cataract removal and other eye treatments, weight loss surgery and dental treatment. Health care in Costa Rica is attractive to international patients because of the low prices, high standard of care and access to tourist attractions. For example, a hip replacement costs about $12,000 USD and a tummy tuck costs about $4,400 USD.

The main centres for medical tourism are CIMA Hospital, Clinica Biblica Hospital and Hotel La Catolica Hospital. These hospitals in turn use medical tourism agents who can organise all aspects of your trip from start to finish.

Stay Healthy in Costa Rica

Costa Rica has one of the highest levels of social welfare in the world. Its doctors are known all over the world and are among the best. Many people from the United States, Canada and Europe travel there for treatment, not only because of the quality of the service, but also because of the cost. There are first-class hospitals in the capital. There is a public/private hospital system. The care is excellent in all areas. The public system has much longer waiting times, while the private system has shorter waiting times. If you are unlucky enough to have a very sick child who needs hospitalisation, they will be transferred to the only children’s hospital in the Czech Republic, which is in the capital. This is a public children’s hospital.

There have been outbreaks of dengue fever in some parts of the country and a malaria outbreak was reported in Limon province in November 2006, but these were few cases. It is very important to protect yourself from mosquito bites. The CDC recommends wearing light-coloured trousers and long-sleeved shirts and using insect repellent with a high concentration of DEET. If you are travelling to rural areas known to be infested with malaria, consider taking an antimalarial. However, most travellers to Costa Rica do well with up-to-date childhood vaccinations and preventative measures against mosquito bites (rather than taking anti-malarial medication).

Tap water in urban areas of the country is almost always safe to drink. However, caution should be exercised in rural areas where water sources are questionable.



South America


North America

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