Costa Rica vacation travel guide
Why choose Costa Rica?
A Costa Rica vacation promises an unforgettable blend of experiences. Its rainforests are home to an incredible variety of wildlife, while its beaches provide ideal relaxation spots. Towering volcanoes add to the breathtaking scenery.
Yet, what truly sets Costa Rica apart is its friendly, welcoming culture, that invites travelers to embrace the laid-back “Pura Vida” lifestyle. Whether you’re seeking thrilling adventures or simply looking for a peaceful beach getaway, Costa Rica offers a perfect mix of excitement and relaxation.
Planning your Costa Rica vacation
• Visa: Citizens of many countries, including the United States, Canada, the European Union member states and Australia, do not need a visa for tourist visits to Costa Rica for stays of up to 90 days. Verify the specific visa requirements and entry conditions for your nationality and travel circumstances.
• Vaccinations: Ensure your routine vaccines (MMR, DTaP) are up-to-date. Get vaccinated for hepatitis A and consider hepatitis B if needed. Typhoid vaccination is advisable, particularly for adventurous eaters. Yellow fever vaccination may be required if arriving from high-risk areas. Rabies is optional but prudent for certain activities. Influenza shots are recommended during the May-November flu season. Stay vigilant against mosquito-borne diseases, use repellent, and wear protective clothing.
• Flight Booking: Check out our flight booking tips to make sure you get the best value for your money.
• Currency: Costa Rica’s official currency is the Costa Rican colón (CRC). While the United States dollar (USD) is widely accepted, it’s a good idea to have some colónes on hand, especially for smaller purchases and in more remote areas.
Best beaches in Costa Rica
• Tamarindo Beach: Tamarindo, on the Pacific coast, is a popular surf destination with consistent waves. It offers a lively atmosphere with numerous restaurants, bars, and shops.
• Playa Conchal: This beach is known for its unique crushed seashell sands, making it incredibly beautiful. It’s a great spot for swimming and snorkeling in crystal-clear waters.
• Montezuma Beach: A charming coastal town with a beautiful beach, Montezuma is a great place to relax, swim, and explore nearby waterfalls and hiking trails.
• Playa Avellanas: Known for its consistent waves, Avellanas is a surfer’s paradise. It’s often referred to as “Little Hawaii.”
• Playa Potrero: Potrero is a quiet beach with a small-town atmosphere. It’s a great place to relax and enjoy local culture.
Can't-miss Costa Rica attractions
• Arenal Volcano: Witness the famous Arenal Volcano, an active stratovolcano, and explore the surrounding Arenal Volcano National Park. Enjoy activities like hiking, hot springs, and zip-lining.
• Tortuguero National Park: Observe nesting sea turtles on the beaches of Tortuguero National Park, which is a vital nesting site for green sea turtles.
• Corcovado National Park: Experience the wilderness and incredible biodiversity in Corcovado National Park, located on the Osa Peninsula. It’s one of the most biodiverse places on Earth.
• Turrialba Volcano: Explore the Turrialba Volcano region, known for its coffee plantations, beautiful landscapes, and the opportunity to hike to the summit of the volcano.
• Pacuare River: Embark on an exciting white-water rafting adventure down the Pacuare River.
Our favorite food in Costa Rica
• Gallo Pinto: This is a quintessential Costa Rican breakfast dish made from rice and black beans, sautéed together with onions, bell peppers, and spices. It’s typically served with eggs, cheese, and a side of sour cream or natilla (a sweet, creamy, and custard-like dessert).
• Olla de Carne: A hearty beef soup, olla de carne is made with a variety of vegetables, yuca (cassava), and sometimes plantains. It’s a popular Costa Rican comfort food.
• Chifrijo: A popular bar snack, chifrijo consists of a layer of black beans topped with fried pork belly (chicharrón), diced tomatoes, chopped onions, and cilantro. It’s often served with tortilla chips.
• Rondón: Commonly enjoyed on the Caribbean coast, rondón is a flavorful coconut seafood stew made with fish, shrimp, and often crab or lobster, along with yams, plantains, and spices.
• Tres Leches Cake: For dessert, indulge in tres leches cake—a sponge cake soaked in a mixture of three milks (evaporated milk, condensed milk, and cream).
Cultural experiences in Costa Rica
• Indigenous Reservations: Visit indigenous reservations, such as the Bribri and Cabécar communities in Talamanca, to learn about indigenous cultures, traditions, and artisanal crafts.
• Dance and Music: Attend a traditional dance performance, such as the “Punto Guanacasteco” or “Tambito”, featuring colorful costumes and lively music. Look out for local marimba bands playing traditional tunes.
• Coffee and Chocolate Tours: Visit coffee and cacao plantations to learn about the process of coffee and chocolate production. Participate in tastings to savor the flavors unique to the region.
• Religious Festivals: Participate in religious festivals like Semana Santa (Holy Week) or the Feast of Our Lady of the Angels (Virgen de los Ángeles) to witness the deep-rooted religious traditions of Costa Ricans.
• Coffee Farm Stay: Experience a coffee farm homestay where you can live with a local family, work on the coffee farm, and learn about their daily routines and traditions.
Costa Rica customs and etiquette
• Pura Vida: “Pura Vida” is a popular Costa Rican expression that translates to “pure life.” It’s used to convey a sense of happiness, contentment, and an appreciation for life’s simple pleasures.
• Addressing People: Use titles like “Señor” (Mr.), “Señora” (Mrs.), or “Señorita” (Miss) followed by the last name when addressing people formally. In informal settings, first names are often used.
• Use “Usted”: When addressing someone formally, use the polite form “usted” rather than the informal “tú.” This is a sign of respect, especially when speaking to older individuals or people in authority.
• Punctuality: Costa Ricans tend to have a relaxed attitude toward time, and it’s common for events and meetings to start a little later than scheduled. However, it’s still considered polite to be punctual.
• Use “Buen provecho”: It’s common to say “Buen provecho” (enjoy your meal) to people dining in restaurants. This polite phrase is a way to wish fellow diners a good meal.
How do I avoid Costa Rica roaming charges?
Travel tips for your Costa Rica vacation
Famous Costa Rica festivals
• Fiestas de Palmares (Palmares Festival): Held in January in Palmares, this is one of Costa Rica’s largest and most popular festivals. It features rodeos, live music, carnival rides, bullfights, parades, and traditional food.
• Día de los Boyeros (Oxherders’ Day): Celebrated on the second Sunday in March, this festival in San Antonio de Escazú pays homage to the traditional ox cart drivers. You can witness colorful oxcarts, traditional music, and folkloric dances.
• Festival de la Luz (Festival of Lights): Held in December, this festival in San José kicks off the holiday season with a grand parade featuring illuminated floats, marching bands, dancers, and fireworks.
• Festival Nacional de las Mulas (National Mule Festival): Celebrated in Liberia in late February or early March, this unique festival features mule parades, rodeos, folkloric dances, and traditional Costa Rican cuisine.
• Carnaval de Limón (Limón Carnival): Taking place in October in Limón, on the Caribbean coast, this lively carnival features colorful parades, music, dance, and cultural exhibitions.
Costa Rica interesting facts
• Carbon Neutrality: Costa Rica is on a mission to become the world’s first carbon-neutral country. It places a strong emphasis on renewable energy sources like hydroelectric, wind, and solar power.
• Abundant National Parks: Despite its relatively small size, Costa Rica has an impressive number of national parks and protected areas, making up nearly a quarter of its territory. These areas are home to diverse ecosystems, wildlife, and rare species.
• Certified Sustainable Lodgings: Many accommodations in Costa Rica are certified as sustainable by the Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST) program. These lodges prioritize environmentally friendly practices (sustainable agriculture, reforestation, wildlife conservation etc).
• Wildlife and Biodiversity: Costa Rica has an incredible biodiversity, which includes over 500,000 species, making up nearly 4% of the world’s total species.
• Clean and Safe Water: Costa Rica is known for having some of the cleanest and safest tap water in Central America, reducing the need for bottled water and plastic waste.
The best coffee in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is known for producing high-quality Arabica coffee beans, and you can find various coffee types and blends when visiting the country. Here are some:
• Tarrazú: Tarrazú is a renowned coffee-growing region in Costa Rica, famous for its high-altitude coffee farms. Tarrazú coffee is known for its bright acidity and crisp, citrusy notes.
• Tres Ríos: This region produces coffee with a delicate and well-balanced flavor, often featuring fruity and floral undertones. Tres Ríos coffees are grown in volcanic soil.
• Naranjo: Naranjo coffee is celebrated for its honey-sweet notes, medium body, and bright acidity. The Naranjo region is known for its coffee farms.
• Peaberry: Peaberry coffee beans are unique and sought after. They are the result of a single bean inside the coffee cherry instead of the usual two. Peaberry beans are known for their intense flavor.
• Turrialba: Turrialba coffee is characterized by its full body and rich flavor, with hints of nuttiness. The Turrialba region is famous for its coffee production.
Go on a Costa Rica shopping spree!
• Coffee and Chocolate: Costa Rica is known for its high-quality coffee and chocolate. Buy these products from reputable stores or coffee plantations for the best quality.
• Buy Authentic Handmade Souvenirs: Look for items made by local artisans, like pottery, traditional musical instruments (maracas, ocarinas, and flutes), wooden carvings, Pura Vida bracelets, Guayabera shirts, hand-painted oxcarts (known as carretas) and ceramic masks.
• Costa Rican Art: Art galleries and studios in cities like San José, Escazú, and Santa Ana showcase a wide range of Costa Rican art. Popular options include Galería Namu, Galería Andrá, and TEOR/éTica in San José.
• Shop at Local Markets: Visit local markets, such as Mercado Central in San José or artisan markets in tourist destinations, for a wide range of handmade crafts, jewelry, and souvenirs.
• Jewelry: Costa Rica is known for its unique gemstones, such as blue and green stones like larimar and jade. Consider purchasing jewelry featuring these local gems as a distinctive souvenir.
Plan the perfect Costa Rica vacation
Costa Rica in January
Traveling to Costa Rica in January is a great choice because it’s one of the coolest and driest months, making it perfect for various activities.
In places like San José and central Costa Rica, you can expect warm days with temperatures typically around 22-28°C (72-82°F) and mild nights.
Northern Costa Rica offers cooler, breezy days with temperatures averaging around 18-24°C (64-75°F), which are great for hiking and cycling. However, evenings can be chilly, so pack some warmer clothes.
Since January is a peak tourist season, it’s smart to book your travel and accommodations early.
Costa Rica in February
In spots such as San José and central Costa Rica, prepare for pleasantly warm days, with temperatures typically between 22-30°C (72-86°F), coupled with mild evenings that are perfect for city explorations.
For those seeking outdoor adventures in northern Costa Rica, February offers cooler and pleasant days, with temperatures averaging around 18-26°C (64-79°F). These conditions are ideal for activities such as hiking and nature exploration.
Costa Rica in March
March is slightly warmer than February, with daytime highs ranging from 22-31°C (72-88°F) in central Costa Rica. Northern Costa Rica experiences cooler temperatures, while central and Pacific regions enjoy warmth and minimal rainfall. March is ideal for outdoor activities and tourism.
Costa Rica in April
As the dry season continues, you can expect warm and pleasant conditions across the country in April. In popular destinations like San José and central Costa Rica, April offers daytime temperatures typically ranging from 23-31°C (73-88°F).
For outdoor enthusiasts heading to northern Costa Rica, April’s warm days with averages around 19-27°C (66-81°F) are perfect for hiking.
Costa Rica in May
May in Costa Rica brings in a transition from the dry season to the rainy season, making it a unique time to visit. The weather can vary depending on the region. In places like San José and central Costa Rica, you’ll experience a mix of warm and rainy days with temperatures typically ranging from 22-30°C (72-86°F).
In the Pacific coastal areas, the dry season lingers a bit longer, offering warm and sunny conditions. However, in the northern and Caribbean regions, May marks the start of the rainy season, with increased rainfall and occasional afternoon showers.
Costa Rica in June
June in Costa Rica marks the onset of the rainy season, known locally as the “green season.” Throughout the country, you can expect a mix of warm and wet conditions. In popular destinations like San José and central Costa Rica, temperatures typically range from 22-29°C (72-84°F) with frequent afternoon showers and occasional thunderstorms. In the Pacific coastal areas, the rain becomes more frequent.
Costa Rica in July
July in Costa Rica continues the “green season” with a mix of warm and rainy weather. In popular destinations like San José and central Costa Rica, you can expect temperatures ranging from 22-29°C (72-84°F) along with frequent afternoon showers and thunderstorms. The Pacific coastal areas experience regular rainfall.
While July is part of the rainy season, it offers travelers the opportunity to experience Costa Rica’s beauty in a quieter and less crowded environment.
Costa Rica in August
August in Costa Rica marks the heart of the “green season,” characterized by regular rainfall. Throughout the country, you can expect comfortably warm temperatures ranging from 22-29°C (72-84°F). Afternoon showers and thunderstorms are common, particularly in regions like San José and central Costa Rica.
Outdoor adventures like hiking, wildlife tours, and canopy tours are still popular options during this time of the year, despite the rainy weather.
Costa Rica in September
Throughout the country, temperatures typically range from 22-29°C (72-84°F) in September. This month sees frequent and often heavy rainfall, especially in regions like San José and central Costa Rica. Coastal areas on both the Pacific and Caribbean sides experience consistent rain.
September is part of the low tourist season due to the weather conditions, making it an ideal time for travelers seeking a vacation without the usual hustle and bustle.
Costa Rica in October
The “green season” gradually gives way to the dry season in October. While the weather can still be somewhat unpredictable, especially in the early part of the month, October generally experiences less rainfall than the previous months.
Temperatures remain pleasant, ranging from 22-29°C (72-84°F) across the country. Coastal areas, both on the Pacific and Caribbean sides, start to see improved weather conditions, making it an excellent time for beach enthusiasts.
Costa Rica in November
November in Costa Rica heralds the beginning of the dry season, known as the “high season.” Travelers can expect excellent weather conditions with warm and pleasant temperatures ranging from 22-29°C (72-84°F) across the country.
Both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts offer fantastic opportunities for water sports and sunbathing.
Costa Rica in December
December in Costa Rica welcomes the peak of the dry season, offering travelers fantastic weather. Across the country, you can expect warm and inviting temperatures ranging from 22-29°C (72-84°F).
Rainfall is minimal, ensuring clear skies and ideal conditions for outdoor activities like hiking and water sports.
How do I use my phone in Costa Rica?
Choose a data package
Install your eSIM
An eSIM is a downloadable SIM card, so you’ll install your eSIM on your phone or tablet. It takes less than two minutes, and then you will have a Costa Rica eSIM on your phone.
Activate your package
When you’re ready to start using your Costa Rica eSIM you’ll activate your data package and make sure your device knows to use your Costa Rica eSIM for all mobile data.