With stunning beaches, volcanoes, and rainforests, Costa Rica is a country that’s famous for ecotourism. The small country has devoted 26% of its land to protecting the environment by making national parks and wildlife reserves.
The unique biodiversity of the country makes it wealthy in various animal species and ecosystems. With a lush tropical climate, Costa Rica sits in the lower half of Central America and features both a Caribbean and Pacific coast. The population of just over 4.9 million people is known for being very friendly and welcoming.
Bienvenidos – Welcome to Costa Rica!
San José is the capital of the country and it rests almost in the center of the country. The central location of the capital makes it a popular destination for tourists who are looking to explore the country’s urban culture before jumping to more remote or rugged destinations within the country.
- Culture and Language
- Spending Budget
- How to Get Around
- Top Cities to Visit
- Points of Interest
Culture and Language
Costa Rica sits within Latin America and has strong ties to both indigenous and Spanish colonial cultures. The indigenous people of Costa Rica exist today within 8 tribes that are located throughout the country and make up about 1.7% of the population. However, there are many Ticos or Ticas who have both European and indigenous heritage.
Tourists will also find that the culture on the Caribbean coast is different from the rest of the country because the Afro-Caribbean community within Costa Rica has its own rich heritage.
Immigrant populations from Asia have a small influence on Costa Rica’s culture and have helped make it the laid-back and calm country that it’s today.
Tourists will find that the predominant and official language spoken is Spanish. But with the strong influence of Caribbean culture on the East Coast and the indigenous tribes, you may hear a variety of languages.
While it’s rare to hear indigenous languages spoken, a type of Jamaican patois is spoken on the Caribbean coast and it’s a creole-based language.
While Latin and Caribbean cultures dominate the country, Costa Rica is diverse and does have a thriving immigrant population. Small immigrant communities, mostly from Asia, can be found throughout the country. These immigrant groups often bring their own culture and language, which makes Costa Rica a diverse home.
A nature lover’s paradise, many people are eager to explore the rich biodiversity of Costa Rica, but it’s important to consider your spending budget when you are planning your trip. With the country thriving on tourism, the cost of visiting Costa Rica may not be as affordable as you would think for a Central American country.
Many visitors will even make statements about how expensive it’s because of tourism. While it’s true that Costa Rica is not the most affordable, it can be traveled on a backpacker’s budget.
The plane ticket, accommodations, and transportation will be the three largest expenses of your trip. If you are traveling from the United States from Los Angeles, you should expect to pay anywhere from a few hundred to over a thousand dollars for a plane ticket. This cost depends on how early you book your trip.
The tourist season correlates to the dry season in Costa Rica, which makes December to April the most popular months to travel to the country. You’ll find that tickets are more expensive during these times because of the increase in tourism. In the off-season, you may find plane tickets for less.
If you book your plane ticket further in advance, you can also save more money.
Once you have booked a plane ticket, finding accommodation can be difficult because there are many options that range in price. The most affordable accommodation option would be to stay in a hostel, which is a popular choice for backpackers.
If you want to stay in a private or chain hotel, you should expect the prices to go up. Other luxury accommodations can have prices that are well into a couple of thousand dollars daily.
If you still want private accommodations but are looking to reduce your budget, Airbnb is a popular choice for travelers. There are plenty of Airbnb listings around Costa Rica for apartments and houses. The location of Airbnb and the size will affect the cost per night, making larger homes or luxury accommodations very expensive.
Costa Rican Food
Anyone traveling will also have to consider food, drink, and entertainment as part of their budget. Costa Rica has a food culture based on Latin flavors and spices. The local cuisine is known for Gallo pinto, which is rice and beans with meat or fish and plantains. When placed all together on a plate, the dish is known as Casado.
However, the coasts of Costa Rica provide rich fishing grounds and there are plenty of marine dishes available too. The most popular desserts are tres leches cake or Arroz con Leche. Tres leches cake has three forms of milk, while Arroz con Leche is a mixture of rice and milk with cinnamon and lemon flavors.
Dining, Nightlife, and Activities
Food is always fun to try on vacation, but tourists also want to do fun things during the day and night. Costa Rica has plenty of activities that are outdoor-based like hiking, zip-lining, horseback riding, and boating. There are many different tour companies that offer package experiences that are sure to give you a thrill.
For the nightlife, San José has plenty of bars with a fun atmosphere. Downtown San José is extremely popular with tourists and you may find yourself sipping a drink in fun places like The Cinebar. Tamarindo, which is centered around tourism also has a lively bar called Sharky’s.
The costs of accommodation, transportation, excursions, and experiences are added to that budget and can be quite expensive. If you want to reduce your budget, you should consider finding accommodation with a kitchen so that you can cook your own food.
There are many quality grocery stores and local markets throughout Costa Rica, which can reduce your overall budget.
How to Get Around
How you travel around Costa Rica can greatly impact your budget. Most cities in Costa Rica are easy to navigate and will have multiple transportation options. Public transport is available throughout the country in the form of city buses. Other ways to travel include renting a car, taking a taxi, hiring a private driver, or walking.
Flights and Car Rentals
If you are looking to go further, the better option would be to fly to an airport close to your destination and then rent a car, take a taxi, find a shuttle, or hire a private driver. Renting a car can be expensive.
You should also be aware that outside of large cities, most roads are two lanes with one lane for each direction. Also, be very aware of obstacles on the road. Animals are also frequently free-roaming and may try to cross the road.
Shuttles, Buses, and Ride-Hailing Apps
Shuttle services from the airport can be more affordable. Uber is also legal in Costa Rica and can be much more affordable than an official taxi. However, you will need Wi-Fi or internet service on your telephone to access the Uber app.
For tourists who want to tour the entire country, renting a private car or finding a charter bus would be the safest and most affordable option. There are many buses that depart from San José and head both north and south so that you can position yourself closer to your final destination. Renting a car would allow you to travel at your own pace and have a safe and reliable vehicle at the ready.
Walking and Taxis
If you are staying within San José, the best ways to get around are an official taxi or walking. If you need to go further, a taxi would be the safest option. But if you are just looking to explore a small tourist area, walking will be safe in the daytime. Costa Rica looks to increase tourist safety by having official taxis that service the country.
An official taxi is always red and should have a yellow triangle on the side that has information about the taxi. For short distances, a taxi can be affordable, meanwhile, long distances can add up quickly.
Top Cities to Visit
Costa Rica is a small country, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t an abundance of places to visit. Whether you want to stay in the city, get into nature, or sit on a beach, each location has something unique to offer. Here, we will give you a brief overview of some of the most popular city destinations in the country.
Translated to Saint Joseph, San José is the capital of the country and rests almost in the center. The sprawling urban landscape is surrounded by green hills and lush mountains. The tropical climate is both wet and dry, depending on the time of year, and can bring heavy rains.
The Pre-Colombian Gold Museum and The National Theater are popular tourist attractions in the city. But Downtown San José remains the most popular destination for tourists to eat, drink, stay, and find entertainment in the city.
Monteverde is a small community located in the Puntarenas Province of Costa Rica. It’s situated in the Cordillera de Tilarán mountain range and is one of the most famous ecotourism destinations in the country.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve displays the country’s unique biodiversity and has many trails and tours available for exploring. The hanging bridges are a popular attraction that put you high up in the rainforest canopy. However, extreme ziplining is also popular.
Tamarindo is a small beachside town located in the Guanacaste Province on the Pacific coast. The beach is extremely popular for surfers because of the strong surf at Playa Tamarindo and Playa Langosta.
Just north, Playa Grande is a major nesting site for leatherback turtles and is part of the Las Baulas National Marine Park. The small town is also lively and hosts a variety of tourists who are seeking a relaxing day and a thriving nightlife scene.
Jacó is located on the Pacific coast, just south of San José. The Jacó and Hermoso beaches are known for their strong surf. With numerous protected lands around Jacó, the town is often considered to be a gateway to the country’s national parks.
Carara National Park is where tourists can see crocodiles and the Pura Vida Park has the Bijagual waterfall. The town of Jacó is also lively because it has a thriving nightlife scene. Many bars line the main strip and are popular with tourists.
The stunning Puerto Viejo is located on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and provides the chance for tourists to see wildlife and black sand beaches. The Jaguar Rescue Center is a rehabilitation center for wild cats and the Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge is home to an abundance of critters.
Just to the north of Puerto Viejo, open water enthusiasts can dive into a shipwreck or coral reef in the Cahuita National Park.
Drake Bay derives its name from the famous explorer, Sir Francis Drake, and is fabled to hold hidden treasure. Located in the north of the Osa Peninsula, it’s one of the more remote locations on our list. But the isolation leads to the gorgeous scenery and a Lost World view.
Corcovado National Park has a Jurassic Park feel and is home to howler monkeys, macaws, and a sprawling rainforest canopy.
Tortuguero is a unique location because it’s a rainforest-covered sandbar located on the Caribbean coast. Part of the Tortuguero National Park, this area is a major nesting site for green turtles.
The Sea Turtle Conservancy runs a research station and visitor center close to the beach. Other animals in the area include jaguars, tapirs, and manatees which call the freshwater canals, wetlands, and forests their home.
Points of Interest
Cities are always providing tourists with great exploration options, but you may also find that there is a specific attraction that you want to see. Being a country bountiful in natural features, consider adding one of these Costa Rican options to your itinerary.
Discover the best of Costa Rica’s thermal springs to add to your itinerary, on our sister site, Top Hot Springs.
Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Reserve
The Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Reserve is located near Mal Pais in the Nicoya Peninsula. It’s often considered one of the most beautiful areas in the country and was the first area that was protected specifically for nature conservation in 1963.
Today, there is an abundance of wildlife both on land and underwater. Nature enthusiasts are certain to love the reserve and can explore a variety of hiking options for a chance to catch a glimpse of the unique wildlife.
Manuel Antonio National Park
The Manuel Antonio National Park is the smallest park but has the most beautiful beaches. Many people consider Manuel Antonio to be the jewel of the country because of the stunning white sand beaches and clear blue water. A guided park tour is available and would give the best overview of the area, but there are many adrenaline tours offered as well.
Arenal Volcano and Lake
The Arenal Volcano is an active volcano that hosts the Arenal Lake at its base. Located in the La Fortuna area, the volcano is a popular destination for tourists because of the stunning views and nearby all-natural hot springs. The mineral water of the area has been collected into several hot spring resorts, which guests can enjoy for relaxation.
The Baldi Hot Springs Resort Hotel and Spa is a luxury option and is located at the base of the volcano.
La Fortuna Waterfall
The La Fortuna Waterfall is a gorgeous hike and destination within Costa Rica that draws many tourists. The waterfall rests at the base of the Chato Volcano and drops about 200 feet down into the jungle.
The base of the waterfall forms a large pool and river, which is where most tourists spend their time relaxing. A 500-step staircase hike gives you access to the base of the falls and the river.
Rincón de la Vieja National Park
The Rincón de la Vieja National Park is located just outside of Liberia and boasts an impressive 2 volcanos and 32 rivers. There are 7 different trails that are the most hiked and they have beautiful viewpoints and landscapes. A few unique locations in the park include the Mud Pots and the Guachipelin Hot Springs.
Playa Sámara is the ideal location if you want to break away from the tourist crowds. This beach is considered to be more popular amongst the locals but does have a small tourist crowd.
Located south of Tamarindo, the white sand beach is a unique horseshoe shape and has a stunning coral reef for snorkelers. Various outdoor activities make this beach popular for water sports enthusiasts.
“Pura Vida” (“Pure Life”)
It’s extremely difficult to find a poor destination in Costa Rica because the country has such a stunning landscape full of beaches, rainforests, and waterfalls. The diversity of the country in the people, environment, and wildlife make it ideal for eco-tourists.
But truth be told, any traveler can enjoy the beauty of Costa Rica. The numerous protected lands provide you with endless adventures and will surely have you returning for more.