The official currency of Costa Rica is the colon (CRC). The US dollar is accepted at many tourist sites, but change will be given in colon. Major credit cards are accepted in large cities and ATMs are common across the country.
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 you meet to be fluent. A little basic Spanish will take you a long way.
Best Time to Go
Due to its warm weather and coastal location, Costa Rica is a year-round destination. The dry season, between mid-December and April in most of the country, is the most popular time to visit. The rainy season does have its appeal, though, showing off the country at its greenest. This is also when turtles are nesting in Tortuguero.
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. On the Caribbean side, the dry seasons go from February to March and from September through October. Arenal Volcano and Fortuna are different again, with a dry season lasting from May to November. It has tropical temperatures year-round, with an average high of 27°C/81°F and a low of 18°C/64°F.
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 sights including volcanoes and cloud forests, and large rainforests that rank among the most biodiverse in the world. It’s also a popular spot for a honeymoon, and has well maintained roads for those wanting to rent a car in Costa Rica.
Getting There From North America
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
Airlines in the United States offer abundant direct flights to Costa Rica from many American cities including New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Dallas, Denver, Baltimore, and Orlando, plus seasonal services. However, not all of these are operated by full-service airlines. Check with your travel advisor and stick to routes transfer through major airline hubs for a full-service experience.
Major Air Routes from Canada
In Canada, direct flights service San Jose from Toronto and Montreal. Flights to Liberia operate year-round from Toronto, while seasonal service operates from Montreal, Calgary, and Edmonton. Other Canadian cities will usually connect via Toronto or the United States. Some of these routes are operated by discount or leisure airlines, so check with your travel advisor if you're unsure and require a full-service flight.
Essential Sights in Costa Rica
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. Hot springs also dot the region, 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 population 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, including rare 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 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 rainforests, and lots of opportunities to go swimming, surfing, snorkelling, and fishing. There are many resorts that cater to families and couples alike, so it’s easy to find a spot that’s right for you.
Other Highlights of Costa Rica Off the Beaten Path
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 isolated 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. Corcovado is the most expensive and remote of Costa Rica's well-known parks, but for our money, the rewards, including unparalleled wildlife viewing (even by Costa Rica's standards) and lighter visitor numbers are worth it.
This bay in the country’s north is the legendary site of pirate treasure from Sir Francis Drake’s days raiding the Spanish. Regardless of whether the treasure is real, the bay is a secluded spot ideal for natural adventures from water sports and snorkelling to horseback riding and birdwatching.
Top Activities and Experiences in Costa Rica
With so many volcanoes and rainforests, ziplining is a popular activity in Costa Rica. It has arguably the best installations for ziplining in the world, letting you defy gravity and fly through 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 thanks to its geothermal activity and volcanoes. Since so many of its popular activities are adventure-based, these 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 a 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 scurry 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 mysterious collection of 300 stone balls dating back to the pre-Columbian period. These are often attributed to the extinct Diquis culture, an indigenous people who used to live in the region. The stones remain mysterious artifacts and continue to fascinate anyone who visits the region.
Essential Costa Rican Foods to Try
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 for lunch or dinner.
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 comfort food for families but is also popular in restaurants.
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
Costa Rica is one of the world’s top ecotourism destinations, so you’ll find many accommodations across the country that focus on green energy and carbon-neutral tourism. Staying at an eco-lodge in the rainforest is one of the best and easiest ways to practice sustainable travel. Be sure to avoid leaving waste behind when visiting many of Costa Rica’s natural habitats and avoid 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 to 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 or neighbouring Panama.
Most Popular Itineraries for Costa Rica
Costa Rica Wonders is a perfect introduction to Costa Rica, visiting the natural areas of Arenal Volcano, Monteverde Cloud Forest, and Manuel Antonio. 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.