It depends on what you’re looking for! The best surf is going to be on the Pacific side of the country. If you’re looking for something like a sea turtle rescue you might want to try the Gulf Coast.
• Puntarenas – Puntarenas is a surfer’s paradise with some of the best surfing in the world found here. The breaks are strong and consistent, inviting surfers from all over the globe. Jaco, Playa Hermosa, Mal Pais, Santa Theresa, and Dominical are all considered top surf destinations. Northern Puntarenas extends upwards from the ever-popular Manuel Antonio National Park to the mysterious Monteverde Cloud Forest, while Southern Puntarenas includes the Corcovado National Park and the former banana port of Golfito. This region is wild and untamed and is home to the Osa Peninsula, an area dubbed as one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet. North Puntarenas is ideal for those who prefer a more conventional vacation; while Southern Puntarenas opens the door for exciting adventures amidst the lush tracts of rainforests.
• Guanacaste Province – For those who would like nothing better than relaxing and sunbathing on the beach, head on to Guanacaste province in northwestern Costa Rica, the driest area of the country.
• Alajuela & Heredia – The provinces of Alajuela and Heredia contain much of Costa Rica’s breathtaking cloud forests. This region is pristine and green with coffee plantations found all over the place. Some of the most active volcanoes in the country are also located here like the famous Arenal Volcano.
• Limon Province (North Caribbean & South Caribbean Coast) – The more adventurous prefer the exotic Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica, or the Limon province, with its stunning beaches, and fantastic white water rafting. On the northern end of the Caribbean Coast, you’ll find Costa Rica’s version of the Amazon, the Tortuguero National Park; while towards the south you are treated to Costa Rica’s take on Afro-Caribbean culture. Sportfishing on the northern coast of Limon is the best in the country.
• San Jose Province & Cartago – San Jose and Cartago make up Costa Rica’s Central Valley, which is where a majority of Costa Ricans, or Ticos, live and where you can find all the comforts of modern living. A fertile and rich area with plenty to see and do, this region is dotted with countless ‘fincas’ (farms) and ranches, making it the nerve center of the country. Cool winds fan the rolling hills here, making the weather fantastic and inviting more and more people to settle down in this part of Costa Rica.
It would seem like west coast but east coast has more of the culture, it just gets more rain than the west coast more often. Good commentary on this topic: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/forums/americas-central-america/costa-rica/costa-rica-east-or-west-coast
According to Nomadic Matt of nomadicmatt.com…
“Transportation – Public transportation here is cheap. Short trips (3 hours) are about 1,600 CRC while longer trips are no more than 5,330 CRC. There are a number of private coach operators who go directly between major cities and tourist attractions. Those buses are about triple the price of the local public bus. The best way to get around is the bus.”
Private Transport Service 1
Gray Line / Fantasy Bus $39 /person
Sabana Norte – San José
San Jose Metro (w/ Airport Area), San Jose
Phone: 011 (506) 2 220-2126
Fax: 011 (506) 2 220-2393
Private Transport Service 2
Interbus – San Jose $30/person
San Jose Downtown
San Jose Metro (w/ Airport Area), San Jose
Phone: 011 (506) 8879-3637
Private Transport Service 3
A good reference:
Dollar, Mapache, Poas, Vamos, and Adobe are some of the best rental places for Costa Rica. Vamos seems to include everything in the quoted price even car insurance, which others may leave out until the final purchase.
According to costa-rica-guide.com, the best way to go about using your phone in Costa Rica if you’re not opting for the wifi only option is to buy a Sim Card and/or a Prepaid phone in Costa Rica. Check here for more info: http://costa-rica-guide.com/practical/sim-card-local-phone/
• Clothes for warm and cold weather, be prepared for anything
• Waterproof backpack
• Waterproof casing for electronics
• Plastic bags become very useful
• Ziplock bags
• Water shoes/sandals
• Rain jacket/windbreaker
• Or a poncho!
• Quick-dry travel towel
• Waterproof map
• Any waterproof/resistant clothing
• Optional: Umbrella, rain boots, extra battery pack
• DON’T FORGET: Sunscreen and bug spray
As low as $1,500 and as high as $5,500. This site also has money-saving tips: http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-guides/costa-rica-travel-tips
Culture and Special Events
Official Costa Rica Holidays:
• January 1st: New Year’s Day
• March/April: Easter Week
• April 11: Juan Santamaria Day
• May 1st: Labor Day
• July 25: Annexation of Guanacaste Day
• Aug 2: Patron Saint Day
• Aug. 15: Mother’s Day
• Sept. 15: Independence Day
• Nov. 2: All Soul’s Day
• Dec. 25: Christmas Day
• – See more at: http://costarica.com/culture/holidays-festivals/#sthash.HtZPjQmw.dpuf
• ***Expect some things to be closed… The Park at Ocean Ranch is open 7 days a week all year round!
Here are a few to witness:
1. Study the Mystery of the Stone Spheres – The island of Yap has stone money. Easter Island is known for its moai. And Costa Rica, few people know, has its own mysterious stone carvings too: petrospheres, or stone spheres. Ranging in size from less than an inch to nearly seven feet in diameter, the stones are believed to have been carved between 200 B.C. and 1500 A.D. and were discovered by workers clearing jungles for banana plantations.
2. Buy pottery — or make your own – Observe the ancient art and buy pieces from the artists themselves at Guaitil Artisan Village, in the Carrillo community in Guanacaste. Or take a five-day workshop at Guaitil Pottery Studio to learn how to create your own pottery, starting with harvesting the clay and ending with crafting your own work of art. Costa Rica has a fine history of artisanal crafts. Archeologists have discovered pottery dating back more than 2,500 years to pre-Hispanic days. In the towns of San Vicente de Nicoya and Guaitil in Guanacaste, you can observe artisans, who are descendants of Chorotega Indians, creating earthenware using the same techniques as their ancestors.
3. Learn how coffee is made – Costa Rica is well known for its coffee, which revolutionized the small country’s economy (that’s why it’s known locally as grano de oro, or the “golden grain”). Heck, coffee has revolutionized the world — you try going to work without chugging a cup in the morning. Seeing how the ruby-colored coffee berry is converted into the most important of all beverages is quite remarkable.
4. Village of Cahuita – The city of Cahuita is located in the southeast of Costa Rica, within the Talamanca Canton of the Limon Province. As a small city, Cahuita has a very small but very lively year-round population that has been largely shaped through a shared Afro-Caribbean culture. This makes for excellent local cuisine, in particular, its famous dessert crepes made with locally grown bananas, strawberries, and chocolate.
5. Immerse yourself in the local culture – A visit to Costa Rica during Limon Carnival is the perfect way to immerse oneself in the local culture. Throughout the week, many typical dishes from the region are served, including “Rica and Beans” a unique take of gallo pinto Caribbean style, a popular dish consisting of beans and rice with coconut and Caribbean spices. Tourists can purchase this delicious fare at a variety of stands while also checking out the exhibits of local artists who view the festival as an opportunity to showcase their work.
Food and Beverage
Here is “A Foodie’s Guide to Costa Rica” from Forbes.com
Traditional food as well as unique foods you should try:
- Gallo Pinto & Casado – Signature breakfast food
- Casado Plate – Typical lunch/dinner plate with rice, beans, meat, salad and fried plantains/tortilla/cheese…if they add a fried egg, you’re at a super traditional restaurant.
- Arroz con X – Rice with chicken/shrimp/seafood/squid, salad and fries.
- Chilera – Pickled vegetables. Every soda (small restaurant) makes their own — just ask!
- Chifrijo – In a bowl: Rice, beans, chicharrones (fried pork), avocado and chopped veggies. Eat it with chips!
- Empanadas – You can order them relleno, or stuffed with cabbage, or you can order them plain.
- Whole red snapper – Seafood restaurants usually offer them 2 ways: A grilled/breaded filet or a fried/grilled whole red snapper.
- Caribbean chicken with rice and beans (Caribbean side only) – Costa Rican Caribbean food is quite different than the rest of the country’s cuisine as they use a key ingredient: coconut milk.
- Rondon – Caribbean coconut milk soup with fish and veggies like corn, yuca, panamanian pepper, and potato.
- Crema de pejibaye – They make this into a cream soup so it’s quite rich but full of nutrients as pejibaye is very healthy. The peach palm fruit tastes a bit like sweet potato.
- Ceviche de banano verde – This is an excellent dish for vegans as it’s made with green bananas, onions, celery and other veggies. Eat it like a real Tico and put it on chips with some ketchup and mayonnaise!
- Olla de carne – Costa Rican beef stew with big chunks of beef, corn, yuca, potato and yam.
- Chorreadas – Costa Rican corn pancakes are a yummy snack and especially good for breakfast drizzled in some honey with coffee.
- Arroz con leche – A sweet rice dessert made with condensed milk, cinnamon and raisins.
5 Places to Eat
1) Restaurante Grano de Oro
A San Jose local favorite for special occasions—it’s especially popular with those looking to pop the question—the eatery is helmed by French chef Francis Canal, who prepares Costa Rican ingredients using European techniques.
2) Soda Tapia
A 120-year-old corner café in San Jose serving one of the city’s best tamales and casados.
3) El Mirador Bar & Restaurant
Arenas Del Mar’s signature eatery in Manuel Antonio, is upping the ante on Costa Rica’s coastal cuisine.
4) El Tigre Vestido Restaurant and Bar Búho
Located at Finca Rosa Blanca in the Central Highlands of Costa Rica, take full advantage of the hotel’s onsite fruit trees and hydroponic herb greenhouse in dishes that range from ocean-fresh tuna tartare to a traditional casado lunch (rice, black beans, plantains, salad, vegetables, homemade tortillas and chicken, beef fajitas or fish) with chillero, a spicy Costa Rican salsa.
5) Soda La Parada
Located in the heart of La Fortuna, in front of the bus stop, the restaurant is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All they do is churn out amazing typical Costa Rican food at rock bottom prices, and this restaurant is a local favorite.
1. Gallo pinto (rice and beans)
4. Fried plantains
5. Batidos and more here…
Check out our Pinterest page for authentic Tico recipes.
There are a TON of things to cover but here are our top suggestions:
- Ziplining (some of the most epic views in the world via zipline)
- What’s so special about ziplining? – It’s the best way to see the breathtaking untouched forests and landscapes of Costa Rica
- How does it make you feel? – scared at first (holding onto the rope for dear life), but by the end, you’re flipping upside down and totally conquering your fears!
- Visit Arenal Volcano and the different hot springs
- Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the most beautiful parks in the country with lots to see
- What’s so special about the park?
- The rich biodiversity of this area, coupled with a wealth of activities makes this a destination that offers something for everyone. It’s easy to spend your entire holiday in this area of the country! Manuel Antonio is the premier destination of the Central Pacific region offering a variety of small intimate hotels artistically built into a rainforest hillside between town and the popular Manuel Antonio National Park. Manuel Antonio National Park (closed on Mondays) contains three beautiful beaches, casual forest trails, and a dense rainforest teeming with animal life. In 2011, it was named by Forbes as one of the world’s most beautiful parks. See Capuchin, Howler, and Squirrel monkeys, sloths, birds, iguanas, agoutis, hundreds of species of birds and be careful of the kleptomaniac raccoons.
- Explore the 3 beaches… the main beaches are Playa Espadilla Sur and Playa Manuel Antonio
- Hike the trails: The main trail within the park is a 1.3-mile flat, sandy trail that links the park’s beaches. This trail is perfect for travelers of all ages. Another slightly more challenging trail for the adventurous is Punta Catedral, a beautiful 0.9-mile loop trail of moderate difficulty and some steep inclines. The trail is accessible from both Manuel Antonio Beach and Espadilla Sur Beach.
- What’s so special about the park?
- Cruise the waterways of Damas Island Estuary on a boat or kayaking tour. Just a 15-minute drive from Quepos, Damas Island is its own unique ecosystem where estuary animals like monkeys, snakes, sloths, and crocodiles can be observed in their natural habitat with a professional guide. This is a wonderful adventure for travelers of all ages. Tours can be arranged during the day or in the evenings.
- Monteverde Cloud Forest
- Monteverde or “Green Mountain” as it is directly translated is aptly named for its extensive reserve of lush, verdant cloud forests. National Geographic has described it as “the jewel in the crown of cloud forests.” In 2007, Costa Ricans voted the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve one of the country’s seven wonders. This green oasis is the pride and joy of ecotourism in Costa Rica.
- Costa Rica’s cloud forests – where misty fog clings to the treetops – offer a refreshingly cool retreat from the warmer, tropical areas of the country. These high-elevation forests contain 420 different kinds of orchids, ferns, and a wide assortment of mosses. The slight changes in elevation have made these areas hotbeds of wildlife diversity. Birding is especially treasured here. Nature enthusiasts travel far to spot the rare Resplendent Quetzal bird hiding amidst the trees. The Quetzal can only be found in the cloud forests of Central America. Once regarded as a god by the Aztecs, the Quetzal is renowned for its stunning, colorful feathers and shy disposition. Travelers are considered very lucky to have even just one Quetzal sighting during their stay to Monteverde.
- Monteverde Reserve Hike
- Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve Hike
- Coffee, Chocolate, & Sugarcane Tour
- Butterfly Garden Tour
- Hummingbird Garden Tour
- The hummingbird garden is home to 24 species of these vibrantly colored little creatures. This is home to the largest butterfly observatory in the world. Five waterfalls, cloud forest and rain forest, safe hiking trails, aviary with numerous species of birds, toucan feeding, insect exhibit, butterfly observatory, capuchin (white-faced) monkeys, black-handed spider monkeys, hummingbird garden with 26 documented species, hummingbird hand feeding in the mornings and afternoons, serpentarium (snake exhibit), jaguars, pumas, ocelots, margays, tica house with petting zoo and ox cart, ranarium (frog exhibit), orchid exhibit, heliconia exhibit. All of these offered at one place, makes us the best eco park in Costa Rica.
- Bird Watching Hike
- Canopy Zip-Lining
- Tree-top Walkways Tour
- Horseback Riding
- La Paz Waterfall Gardens
- The splendid gardens of La Paz are located on the slopes of the Poas volcano, just an hour from San Jose, in the central highlands. This area is rich in biodiversity thanks to an altitude that varies between 4,000 and 5,000 feet, allowing for both cloud forest and rain forest to coexist. Be prepared for a truly magical experience. Here, visitors will find the largest butterfly observatory in the world, hummingbird and bromeliad gardens, a serpentarium, frog pond, and 5 striking waterfalls.
- Five waterfalls, cloud forest and rain forest, safe hiking trails, aviary with numerous species of birds, toucan feeding, insect exhibit, butterfly observatory, capuchin (white-faced) monkeys, black-handed spider monkeys, hummingbird garden with 26 documented species, hummingbird hand feeding in the mornings and afternoons, serpentarium (snake exhibit), jaguars, pumas, ocelots, margays, tica house with petting zoo and ox cart, ranarium (frog exhibit), orchid exhibit, heliconia exhibit. All of these offered at one place, makes us the best eco park in Costa Rica.
- Ziplining (some of the most epic views in the world via zipline)
Here are a few secret spot suggestions:
1) Piscina de los Pobres
Eight miles from La Fortuna, right next door to the mega-resort Tabacon, two thermal rivers merge and create the free natural hot springs known to locals as the Piscina de los Pobres or Pool of the Poor. Not many tourists are aware of this place, which is marked only by a yellow gate and requires a bit of hiking. The current here is strong, so wear water shoes and leave young kids at the hotel.
2) Cabuya Island
The people most familiar with Cabuya are supposedly dead. At the very end of the Nicoya Peninsula, this tiny island that doubles as a cemetery can be reached only at low tide, and according to local legend, it’s haunted by ghosts. At night, people occasionally take candlelit walks on the island for funerals, casting an eerie glow over the water.
3) Bahia de los Piratas
This lengthy stretch of rose-colored sand and rocks used to be a hiding spot for pirates, hence the name. Ensconced in dry forest, the beach still has a clandestine feel and just one lonely hotel. Activities include kayaking, paddleboarding, and snorkeling. It’s also possible to horseback ride to this secluded beach for the day.
4) Barra Honda – Costa Rica isn’t well known for its caves, but boy does it have some great ones, and they’re all in Barra Honda National Park. Although just one of the 42 known caves is accessible to the public, the area is an ideal stopping point if you’re driving from San José to Guanacaste. Beneath a majestic dry forest, the deep limestone cavern features stalactites and stalagmites. Around the caves, cacti are everywhere. Monkeys and bats, too. It’s weird, man.
5) Playa Zancudo – This enormous but virtually unknown beach stretches for 6 miles on the shores of the Golfo Dulce in southern Costa Rica, dotted with coconut palms and almond trees and adjacent to a mangrove lagoon. Wildlife abounds, as do tiny, relaxing accommodations. The only other humans you encounter will be hotel staff, local fishermen, and a handful of lucky travelers.
A: La Paz Waterfall Gardens have epic views of stunning waterfalls, we also have some pretty impressive ones at The Park at Ocean Ranch as well.
• EL ENCANTO WATERFALL RAPPEL TOUR
1. Help at a sea turtle rescue
2. Learn to surf
3. Go for a fishing tour
4. Stay in a treehouse
5. Visit a hot spring
If you’re near Jaco… The Park at Ocean Ranch!
According to costa-rica-guide.com, “Be ready for wet, muddy and buggy but if you enjoy backpacking there are some excellent treks in Costa Rica. Corcovado and Chirripó are the two most popular. For the truly adventurous the ten-day trail across the Talamancas from the Caribbean Coast to the Pacific was one of my favorite adventures ever.
A few of the national parks have campgrounds and especially in the dry season in Guanacaste, it can be a great way to spend some time inside the park after everyone else has headed back to the resorts. Rincón de la Vieja Santa Maria Station has a particularly nice camping area and Santa Rosa has several.
However, camping is not necessarily a great way to travel around tourist destinations Costa Rica.
Twenty years ago, camping was permitted or at least tolerated on most of Costa Rica’s beaches. It was also relatively easy to find a spot far enough off the beaten path that you didn’t have to worry much about someone happening by and cleaning out your tent while you were out for a swim.
Now, camping is prohibited or at least strongly discouraged on developed and many protected (national parks and wildlife refuges) beaches. If you do find a place to camp and leave stuff in your tent it will probably be missing when you return.
Also, it’s more expensive than you might think. At national parks, you’ll pay even more with entry fees ranging from $10 to $18 per person and camping around $15 per person. For a couple that could be as much as $102 for one night (two days entry fees plus the camping fee) but probably averages $50-60 since many only charge one entry fee.”
Here is a list of wildlife conservation volunteer programs: https://www.gooverseas.com/volunteer-abroad/costa-rica
Weather and Seasonal Information
Costa Rica Weather Chart High Season(Dry Season) Green Season(Rainy Season) North Pacific Coast December to April May to November Nicoya Peninsula December to April May to November Central Pacific Coast December to April May to November Central Valley December to April May to November Arenal Volcano & Northern Lowlands May to November(September & October best to see volcano) December to April Monteverde (Area) January to May June to SeptemberNovember (windy)
Caribbean North (w/ Tortuguero) February, March, September & October November – January, April – August Caribbean South (w/ Puerto Viejo) February, March, September & October November – January, April – August Osa Pennisula & Drake Bay December to April May to November San Jose Highlands December to April May to November San Jose Metro (w/ Airport Area) December to April May to November Southern Costa Rica (w/ Golfito) December to April May to November Rincon de la Vieja Area December to April May to November
Usually only if they’re in a National Park for some holidays.