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Central America Destination Specialists 2 months, 1 week ago

Costa Rica Destination & Travel Guide

  • suspension bridge Monteverde

Essential Facts

Currency

The official currency of Costa Rica is the colon (CRC). The US dollar is accepted at many tourist sites, but change is given in colon. Major credit cards are accepted in the large cities and ATMs are common across the country.

Language

Costa Rica’s official language is Spanish. English, Creole, and Indigenous languages are also spoken. You’ll find that tourism professionals and many young people speak English, but don’t expect everyone to be fluent.

Best Time to Go

Due to its warm weather and coastal location, Costa Rica is a great year-round destination. The dry season between mid-December and April is the most popular time to visit due to the lack of rain. The rainy season does have its appeal, though, as the country turns a rich green. This is also when turtles are nesting in Tortuguero.

Climate

The dry season on the Pacific Coast and in the San Jose area is between December and April. Monteverde’s dry season is from January to May. Arenal Volcano and Fortuna have their dry season from May to November. On the Caribbean side, the dry season is February to March and September through October. It has tropical temperatures year-round, with an average high of 27°C/81°F and low of 18°C/64°F.

Ideal Traveller

Costa Rica is one of the world’s most popular destinations for adventurers, nature lovers, and eco-friendly travellers. It has great beaches along both coastlines, stunning natural sites to explore such as volcanoes and cloud forests, and large rainforests that are home to sloths, among other beloved animals. It’s also a convenient spot for a honeymoon, as it’s shorter to fly there than to other tropical destinations.

Getting There From North America

San Jose at night

Major Airports

The major airports are Juan Santamaria (SJO), located in the capital San Jose, and Daniel Oduber Quiros (LIR), located in the north near the popular beach resorts.

Major Air Routes from the United States

Most airlines in the United States offer direct flights to Costa Rica from major American cities including New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Miami, and Dallas.

Major Air Routes from Canada

In Canada, most direct flights to Costa Rica go through Vancouver or Toronto Pearson.

Essential Sights in Costa Rica

Arenal Volcano

Arenal Volcano

Arenal Volcano is one of Costa Rica’s most popular landmarks. It’s a picturesque, cone-shaped volcano located in the country’s north alongside dense rainforests. It’s a great place to go hiking to caves or waterfalls, or to search for animals like the elusive jaguar. The region also abounds with hot springs, so it’s a great place to go for a soak after a long day’s hike.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Located on the central Pacific coastline, Manuel Antonio is home to the nation’s largest numbers of birds and rainforest species, including sloths. It’s easily accessible and offers everything from stunning beaches to remote forest getaways. If you’re wanting to birdwatch, spot sloths in the wild, or relax on the beach, this is the place to be.

Monteverde Cloud Forest

The Monteverde Cloud Forest is one of the world’s leading ecotourism destinations. These lush rainforests are often draped in fog (giving them the name “cloud forest”) and are home to hundreds of species of animals, including rare species like howler monkeys, tapirs, sloths, and the occasional jaguar. The forest is also flush with orchids, with other 420 different species. Visitors can hike along the canopy on jungle boardwalks, zipline through the forest, or whitewater raft along the rapids.

Beaches of Guanacaste

This northwestern province along the Pacific Ocean is one of the country’s most popular resort regions. There are long, sandy beaches, thick rainforest, and lots of opportunity to go swimming, surfing, snorkelling, and fishing. There are many resorts that cater to families and honeymooners alike, so it’s easy to find a spot that’s right for you.

Other Highlights of Costa Rica Off the Beaten Path

turtles on log

Tortuguero National Park

This northern coastal park along the Caribbean is best known for its nesting areas of endangered green sea turtles. If you visit during the wet season, you may have the chance to see these turtles hatch and make their epic journey into the sea. The surrounding rivers and lagoons are great for water sports and kayak journeys.

Corcovado National Park

This remote park in the south is one of the world’s most biodiverse regions, with striking habitats of mangrove swamps, palm groves, and freshwater lagoons. It’s home to animals such as jaguars and scarlet macaws, as well as a large number of reptile species. You’ll likely have the wetlands to yourself unlike in more popular Monteverde.

Drake Bay

This bay in the country’s north is the legendary site of pirate treasure from Sir Francis Drake’s days of raiding the Spanish. Regardless of whether the treasure is real, the bay is a secluded spot to avoid the tourist trail and enjoy some natural adventure, from water sports and snorkelling to horseback riding and birdwatching.

Top Activities and Experiences in Costa Rica

zipline over forest

Go Ziplining

With so many volcanoes and rainforests, ziplining is a popular activity in Costa Rica. It has the best installations for ziplining in the world, letting you defy gravity and fly along the canopies of its dense rainforests. The most popular ziplines are found in Arenal, Monteverde, and Manuel Antonio.

Relax in Hot Springs 

Costa Rica has many hot springs within its borders, resulting from the geothermal activity and volcanoes. Since so many of its popular activities are adventure-based, its abundant hot springs offer a chance to relax and unwind after a day of excitement. The region around Arenal Volcano is particularly renowned for its hot springs.

See Nesting Turtles and Hatchlings

Costa Rica is the nesting site for many turtle species. The most popular are the green sea turtles that nest along Tortuguero National Park from July through October, but hawksbill and leatherback turtles also nest in the country. If you visit at the right time, you can see turtle hatchlings scurrying across the sands to reach the waters of the ocean.

Ponder the Stone Spheres in Puntarenas

In the southern region of Puntarenas, archaeologists found a collection of 300 stone balls mysteriously deposited in the area. The balls date back to the pre-Columbian period and are often attributed to the extinct Diquis culture, an Indigenous people who used to live in the region. The stones remain mysterious artifacts of the past and fascinating to anyone who visits the region.

Essential Costa Rican Foods to Try

gallo pinto

Gallo Pinto

Literally translated as “spotted rooster,” gallo pinto is a traditional dish of rice and beans that’s cooked along with onions, peppers, and garlic. It’s typically served at breakfast alongside eggs, but you’ll also find it in restaurants as lunch or dinner.

Casado

If gallo pinto is the typical breakfast in Costa Rica, casado is the typical lunch. More a meal than a single dish, casado consists of a hearty plate of rice, beans, plantains, salad, tortilla, and often meat, such as chicken or beef.

Olla de Carne

This beef stew is similar to other variations found across Central America. It consists of fresh roots and vegetables, such as cassava, carrots, corn, plantains, and taro cooked alongside beef and simmered in broth. It’s a favourite weekend meal for families, but is also popular in restaurants.

Sopa Negra 

This vegetarian soup is a great alternative to heavier, meat-based dishes in the country. It’s a black bean soup cooked with onions, peppers, and cilantro. It’s often topped with hot sauce for an added spicy kick.

Tips for Sustainable Travel

Tortuguero National Park

Costa Rica is one of the world’s foremost destinations for ecotourism, so you’ll find many accommodations across the country that focus on green energy and carbon-neutral tourism options. Staying at an eco-lodge in the rainforest is the best way to practice sustainable travel. You can also make sure to avoid leaving waste behind when visiting many of Costa Rica’s natural habitats and avoiding buying products made from endangered animals and other local species. Don’t pick flowers, don’t take shells back home, and keep your distance from animals when you encounter them in the wild. 

Where to Go Next

Costa Rica is centrally located, making it a great jumping off point for a vacation through the rest of Central America or further south. You can continue into Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador to explore the history of the Maya or connect to Colombia or Peru to begin a journey through South America. You can also easily connect to Caribbean island nations.

Most Popular Itineraries for Costa Rica

Costa Rica Wonders is a perfect introduction to the nation, visiting the natural areas of Arenal Volcano, Monteverde Cloud Forest, and Manuel Antonio, starting and ending in the capital San Jose. Discover Costa Rica Small Group Tour extends the journey to take in other parts of the country, including the turtle nesting sites of Tortuguero and the Savegre Valley, where you can see migrating quetzals. Coast & Rainforest narrows the trip to the coastal northwest, focusing on the beaches of Flamingo as well as the canopies of the Blanco River Canyon.

23 Sep 2020, 6:43 p.m.

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