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  • Tips for travelers
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Tips for travel to Costa Rica

We want you to get to know every corner of our beautiful country, travel like a local, enjoy and be safe, having in mind the following recommendations:.

Some travelers require a visa to visit Costa Rica, so check the list of countries before you buy your ticket and verify the entry requirements according to the country where your passport was issued.

Costa Rica is a place where nature always rules and the adventure awaits, just remember:

  • Book tours offered by authorized travel agencies
  • Always check the local weather conditions and forecasts before you take a tour.
  • Make sure the tour guide provides you the safety instructions and the activity´s regulation before starting the tour.
  • Ensure the company has the operating permit of the Ministry of Health, insurance policies and certified tour guides.

Going on adventure safely

Tips for rafting & kayak, enjoy the zip line.

Live exhilarating adventures in any of our rivers like Sarapiquí, Río Peñas Blancas, Balsa, Río Toro, Pacuare, Savegre, Río Reventazón and Naranjo. Always wear a life vest, helmet and use an oar. Wear protective gear: waterproof shoes, tennis shoes or similar, shorts, shirt, or bathing suit, as well as sunscreen. Bring a towel, clothing and shoes to change after the tour. The minimum age varies according to the type of tour, the season, the river´s level and the policies of the company. Generally, 8 years old is the minimum age for the tour. It is important for you to know how to swim. Avoid bringing anything of value. Companies will provide an "Acknowledgement of Risk and Release of Liability" waiver for you to read, fill out and sign. Be sure that you receive safety instructions from the tour guide, before and during the tour. The maximum weight allowed per person is 135 kg or 300 lbs.

How fast can you go on a zip line? Up to 90 miles? You must check it out!!! Be sure that the guides give the necessary instruction before starting such as the braking system, how to situate yourself along the cables, knee-bending, etc. Check that the harness, helmet, and security cable are properly in place before pushing off. Ziplining is permitted for 6 years old and up, with a minimum weight of 48.5 lbs. (22 kg) and a height of 4.75 ft (1.45 m). Weight should not exceed 300 lbs. (135 kg), and height, 7ft. (2.15 meters).

Live the adrenaline on four wheels! Remember to wear a helmet, appropriate clothing, eye protection, and preferably boots and gloves. Four wheelers are not to be ridden by minors under 16 years old. Avoid sudden acceleration or braking on slippery surfaces. Try to travel in groups, accompanied by an experienced tour guide, using the necessary communication equipment. In Costa Rica, it is prohibited to ride four wheelers along the beach or heavy trafficked roads. Avoid dangerous or sandy slopes.

& Climbing

Horseback riding.

Hundreds of waterfalls are waiting for you! Remember to check local weather conditions and forecasts before going rappelling and before the climb. Wear comfortable and durable shoes, light-weight clothes, sunscreen, insect repellent. Be sure to bring along the necessary equipment and secure it before starting the excursion.

Ride in the most beautiful landscapes and mountains! Don´t forget to wear a helmet, long pants, durable shoes, sunscreen and insect repellent. Avoid shouts or sudden movements near the horse, as you could startle it. Be alert along the trail and enjoy the ride.

Biking through the Ruta de los Conquistadores is one big challenge! When you go biking, before setting out, become familiar with the route, type of slopes and necessary equipment. Wear the proper equipment like helmet, knee pads, shin guards, elbow pads, gloves, reflective clothes or vest, and bring a small tool kit. Check the bike condition before setting out. It is recommended to ride in groups with an experienced tour guide.

Sport Fishing Tips

Hiking essentials.

Check the weather and ocean conditions before setting out. Everybody on board must wear a life vest. Make sure the boat has a first aid kit on board. Before casting your line into the water, make sure there is no one behind you. Protective gloves are recommended. Wear a cap or brimmed hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, light-weight clothes, and appropriate footwear to protect your feet against sharp objects and slipping. Avoid drinking alcohol or taking other types of drugs while on the boat. Always fish with someone who is experienced in the sport. Request the name of the location or the nearest town for guidance in case of an emergency.

You can´t miss the waves and cool waters; just remember to always stay alert about ocean conditions since they are dynamic and constantly changing. Avoid surfing in ocean conditions that are beyond your skill level. If you are a beginner, look for areas to surf with few people around. If surf lessons are offered in the area, make sure an expert give them. Don´t leave your belongings unattended at the beach. Use sunscreen. On some beaches, there may be crocodiles, so just ask people around before surfing.

Costa Rica is full of amazing hikes and adventures so be sure to back a good pair of walking shoes. Thoroughly enjoy your time while feeling comfortable! Wear light-weight clothes, cap or brimmed hat, sunscreen and insect repellent. Bring snacks and water. Check local weather conditions and forecasts before the hike and bring a poncho. If you need information regarding the trail ask a professional tour guide or a local. Avoid hiking in virgin forests and unmapped shortcuts. Let someone know about your route and estimated time of return. If you are traveling in a group, stay together on the same trail. Avoid touching or eating fruits, and tasting plants that you are unfamiliar with. In Costa Rica, it is prohibited to remove and sell wild plants or animal species.

Infographics for your safety

costa rica travel information

Inoculations

The health care system in Costa Rica is very good, both private and public. Although, basic vaccines for hepatitis A and B are recommended, as well as rabies and tetanus, before making the trip.

The government of Costa Rica requires the yellow fever vaccine certificate when traveling from countries in Africa (Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Sudan), Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil and the Republic of Guyana. The vaccine must be administered at least 10 days before the start date of your trip.

Solo Female Travel

We want you to enjoy exploring the beauty and culture of our country. And if you are traveling alone, please take the following precautions:

  • Use official transportation only.
  • Avoid walking, jogging, or sightseeing alone in secluded areas, especially at night.
  • Do not share the details of your itinerary on social media or with strangers.
  • Understand the risks of traveling alone and being with people you do not know.
  • You can trust the police. They are here to help you.
  • Always keep in touch with your family and friends.
  • In case of emergency or suspicious behavior, dial 9-1-1.

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Imagine you find yourself running low on bottled water and your only source is the water from the tap. You’re in luck! The tap water in Costa Rica is completely drinkable.

The biggest meal of the day in Costa Rica is lunch. Make lunch the main meal of your day and save your money for more adventures. Head to a soda (a small, locally owned cafe) or the local market for the freshest and most authentic cuisine. It is easy to find restaurants, sodas, cafes, bistros, and bakeries. The cuisine is quite extensive and includes both national and international options. In restaurants and hotels, 13% Value Added Tax and a 10% tip are included in the final price; however, if you are more than happy with the service and want to leave a gratuity, it will be welcome.

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An unlocked cell phone will work in Costa Rica. But remember to call your wireless provider before you go to add global roaming capabilities to your plan. You can also buy a SIM prepaid card and use your unlocked cell phone in Costa Rica. Find SIM cards at the Kolbi (the national telecommunications company) booth at the airport, or in any telephone company store around, such as Claro and Movistar. A local line is not required to dial 9-1-1 just in case of emergency.

Traveling on a budget? No problem. Costa Rica has a ton a things to do for travelers on almost any budget:

  • The colón is the currency of Costa Rica.
  • US$ dollars and major credit cards are widely accepted.
  • Exchange money only at banks and approved change offices. Check exchange rate here
  • Bank transactions require a valid passport (not a copy nor a picture).
  • ATMs are located throughout the country. Some of them remain closed from 11:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. Remember not to flash your cash.
  • Sales tax or Value Added Tax (VAT) is 13%. It is included in the final price of every service or product purchase.
  • The departure tax should be included in most of the airline tickets. For those flight tickets where it is duly stipulated that they do not include the departure tax, you must pay $29 per person, either in dollars, colones (local currency), credit or debit card.

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It’s always best to travel light

When you’re headed to Costa Rica, travel light. If there’s a way to avoid checking baggage, do it. Play it safe and carry on. You’ll be able to take advantage of hotel wash rooms and laundromats on your journey and the less you have to keep up with, the better. If you are checking baggage, remember to weigh bags before you get to the airport. Try to pack only what is necessary, cool clothes that are easy to wash and dry, since airlines and tour operators have weight restrictions on luggage, and you will probably move from one place to another. Include in your luggage all the medication you may need if you have a medical condition, since some medications in Costa Rica require a certified prescription.

We want you to have an incredible time exploring Costa Rica safely:

  • Always take care of all your belongings and valuables, even when traveling by bus.
  • Carry your backpack in front of you.
  • Avoid unsolicited help from strangers.
  • Avoid walking in isolated places and places without lighting.
  • Check your map and mobile phone in secure areas.

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Keeping safe on the road

Driving a car in Costa Rica gives you the freedom to navigate the beautiful landscape at your leisure. But there are a few things to keep in mind before you begin your adventure.

  • If you experience a mechanical issue or a flat tire avoid stopping in lonely places and don’t accept unsolicited help from strangers. It is better to call the Rent-a-Car or dial 9-1-1 to request help.
  • Don’t leave any valuables unattended in your car – such as credit cards, cash, jewelry, or your passport. Use public parking lot with surveillance.
  • Use a GPS or a GPS navigation app. It’ll save time and prove convenient when exploring. Just make sure you have a chip or an international data plan!
  • The terrain can get more adventurous depending on where you choose to go. So keep that in mind when renting your vehicle.
  • Verify the condition of the car and its required safety equipment (warning triangles, reflective vests, lug nut wrench, spare tire and a fire extinguisher).
  • When renting the car, read the contract thoroughly to understand what is covered and what is not. Ask for details of car policies and insurance. Be aware of all the details about the insurance policies.

Looking for a place to stay?

Mountain Lodge? All inclusive hotels? Luxury? Mountain and beach? Cozy cabins for a romantic outing or honeymoon? A hostel maybe? And more difficult is deciding among the hundreds of lodging options that Costa Rica offers you, and a wide variety for all budgets

  • No matter which one you choose, when booking a hotel ask for a written confirmation of the service and cancelation policy.
  • Do not give any information about your debit or credit card over the phone.
  • Outlets are 110 V, with standard US two prong plugs. Use the hotel’s safe-deposit box.
  • When you go on a tour close to your hotel, bring a copy of your passport.
  • Ask the front desk for the safest routes and means of transportation, especially at nighttime.

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When you’re headed on vacation, the idea is to keep it as stress-free as possible. Pay attention to the little things to avoid any snags. BRING THE RIGHT SHOES! There are a ton of fun things to do in Costa Rica and you don’t want your footwear to limit you or give you blisters. A pair of sandals and some decent sneakers should do fine. If you plan on doing some serious hiking or climbing, consider some heavier duty options.

Feel The Sand

  • Costa Rica is a year-round destination! Go get a tan, go surfing and walk on the beach, but don't leave your belongings alone when you do.
  • Ask locals or surfers about the beach conditions and about rip currents.
  • If someone is at risk, and you haven't been trained in first aid, seek for help.
  • When traveling with friends, don't joke around in a way that may put your life or others at risk.
  • Keep children, elderly people or people with physical limitations close to you, and avoid swimming alone.

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Local Language

Many Costa Ricans speak English quite well, but remember the native tongue is rooted in Spanish. When you’re planning a trip, we suggest brushing up on your Español. Download some audio lessons on your mobile device and listen while traveling or keep a pocket translator handy. Chat with the locals–maybe they can suggest an excursion you had not planned on!

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The 16 best things to do in Costa Rica

Mara Vorhees

Jan 26, 2024 • 9 min read

Stock photo of happy female friends laughing and talking in the streets of Costa Rica.

Read on for all the best experiences in Costa Rica from sleeping in a tree house to wild water sports © Kike Arnaiz / Stocksy United

Come to Costa Rica to discover magnificent landscapes, endless outdoor activities and creatures great and small. This smallish Central American country offers a world of adventure, from water sports to mountain hikes, and rainforest wildlife watching to cloud-forest birding. 

And when you’re ready to take a break from outdoor activities, there are tree houses to sleep in, meals to relish and cities to explore. Here are the 16 best things to do in Costa Rica.

A person walks on a beach in Nosara at sunset, surfboard in hand

1. Ride the waves

Surfers in the know plan their entire vacation around the wild and wonderful waves on the Costa Rica coastlines. If you're new to Costa Rica's surf scene, this is a fantastic place to find out what it’s all about thanks to inviting warm waters, long and luscious waves and non-stop good vibes.

The most popular surf destinations include Tamarindo , Nosara and Santa Teresa on the Nicoya Peninsula; Jacó , Dominical and Pavones on the central and south Pacific; and Puerto Viejo de Talamanca on the Caribbean side.

Note that any given destination has a few different surf spots, some of which are better for beginners and others that offer more challenging waves. They all enjoy a bit of a party scene, though Nosara and Santa Teresa are more laid-back.

Planning tip: Find the biggest waves on the Pacific coast from May to October (though the dry season is better for beginners). The waves are biggest on the Caribbean side from November to May.

2. Fly through the clouds in Santa Elena

There are zip-line courses all around the country – some higher or faster or longer than others – but the Santa Elena canopy tours are special.

The Costa Rica canopy craze started here, but more importantly, there’s something fantastic about soaring over the treetops with the clouds swirling all around you. Take in the misty magic of the cloud forest, supercharged with an adrenaline rush.

Planning tip : While zip-lining is on many people's Costa Rica travel list, make sure you check your operator's safety procedures before committing. It's also okay to change your mind when you're there – zip-lining isn't for everyone.

3. Raft into the Pacuare Lodge

The Pacuare Lodge is a gorgeous, luxurious facility surrounded by dense rainforest and little else. The only road in is not a road at all, but rather a river: the namesake Río Pacuare.

Here is a case where the journey rivals the destination, as you travel to the lodge by white-water rafting over Class III-IV rapids on this world-famous river.

The roar of the rapids, the spectacular scenery and the thrill of the ride make for a fantastic adventure – and you’re just getting started. Once at the lodge, you’ll enjoy sumptuous accommodations, incredibly satisfying meals, super-attentive service and a roster of activities before rafting back out again.

Planning tip: Pacuare Lodge packages include transportation to and from San José, but you can also have them deliver you anywhere on the Caribbean Coast.

4. Commune with the creatures

For wildlife watchers, there’s no better place to meet Costa Rica's fauna than the trails around Sirena station in Parque Nacional Corcovado , the area  National Geographic called “the most biologically intense place on the planet.”

Here, visitors have a good chance of seeing animals (some endangered) that are rare in other parts of the country, including peccaries, tapirs, crocodiles, tiny squirrel monkeys and more. Note that the best wildlife watching happens at dawn and dusk, which necessitates an overnight stay in the park.

Easier to reach and rich with life, the regions of Río Celeste and Sarapiquí have many eco-lodges and private reserves that are also fantastic for wildlife watching.

5. Hike, swim and climb to La Leona Waterfall

This outing is more than a hike or a waterfall swim – it’s a canyoneering adventure. That’s the only way to describe this excursion down the Río Blanco in Curubandé de Liberia, which involves swimming, scrambling, spelunking, climbing and cliff jumping.

You’ll ogle three different waterfalls on the way, including a final celestial-blue beauty hidden inside a cave that's a real a stunner. 

Detour: This adventure takes place just outside of Parque Nacional Volcán Rincón de la Vieja , a great destination to see volcanic activity (more on that below) and soak in hot springs.

A tiny sea turtle peeks up from its nest in the sand on a Costa Rican Beach

6. Spy on nesting sea turtles

Every few years, female sea turtles perform an ancient ritual, returning to their natal beach to lay their eggs beneath the moonlight before returning to the welcoming waters of the sea.

Elsewhere on the same beach, tortuguita  (little turtle) hatchlings dig out of their nests and scurry to the sea. It’s an incredible and intimate episode to witness. 

Planning tip: The timing varies, depending on the location and turtle species, but you can see this spectacle of nature in Tortuguero in the north Caribbean and at Playa Grande and Playa Ostional on the Nicoya Peninsula.

7. Splurge on a multicourse meal in the sky

San Lucas is not just a restaurant; it's a dining experience – that is, a surprise nine-course menu that's also a lesson in Costa Rican history and culture.

The food presentations are innovative, interesting and excellent overall, but the highlight is the fantastic setting in the sky. Each table occupies a private glass cube high atop a mountainside, overlooking the cloud forest and the village of Santa Elena below.

Planning tip: The San Lucas Treetop Dining Experience offers two seatings per night. If you reserve for the early one, your first course comes with a spectacular sunset.

On the Sendero Las Coladas in Arenal Volcano National Park, a tourist climbs over the rocky remnants of the southernmost lava fields from the last major eruption of the Arenal Volcano in 1968.

8. Explore an active volcano

The mountains of northern and central Costa Rica are lined up in a row of hissing, steaming, sputtering volcanoes, some of which are open for exploration.

Wander among boiling mud pots and steaming fumaroles of Volcán Rincón de la Vieja ; hike the lava flows and soak in volcanic-heated pools at Volcán Arenal ; peer into the steaming crater at Poás and leave footprints in the lava fields of Irazú.

Each experience is a little different, but all will leave you awestruck at the earth’s unbridled power.

Want some help? Let Elsewhere plan your next trip.

9. Kayak through sea caves

Along the Costa Ballena on the southern Pacific coast, Playa Ventanas is a small but spectacular palm-backed beach that has a special feature: intriguing caves in the cliffs at its north end.

At low tide, you can investigate the two caves that open onto the beach (taking care to retreat if the water starts to rise).

But if you’re up for a challenge, you can paddle a kayak along the gorgeous coastline and explore the cliffs and sea caves along the way.

Planning tip: The sea caves are only accessible in certain weather conditions, and they are often impassable during the rainy season. Book tours in Uvita. 

A turquoise and scarlet resplendent quetzal soaring through the trees with wings spread

10. See some magnificent birds

Even if you’re not a bird nerd, it’s easy to geek out about the avian life in Costa Rica. Of course, there are myriad multicolored beauties that you’ll see flitting about pretty much everywhere; then there are a few showstoppers – rare in other parts of the world but relatively easy to see in Costa Rica (if you know where to look).

Most famously, the scarlet macaw has made an incredible comeback along the Pacific coast, with sightings practically guaranteed in Parque Nacional Carara and on the Osa Peninsula.

The aptly named resplendent quetzal makes seasonal appearances in the cloud forests of Monteverde and the Dota region .

And the great green macaw – still critically endangered – is sometimes spotted in Sarapiquí and Boca Tapada. Getting a glimpse of these gorgeous creatures in the wild is an awesome and inspiring experience that might just turn you into a bona fide birder.

11. Sleep in a tree house

In the wilds of northern Costa Rica, surrounded by lush forestlands, you can indulge your inner monkey and spend the night in the treetops .

On the edge of its eponymous wildlife refuge, Maquenque Eco-Lodge has a collection of fantastic tree houses – each constructed amid the leafy canopy, 12m (39ft) off the ground and surrounded by trees.

With wide balconies, outdoor showers and screen walls, the tree houses offer complete rainforest immersion with a touch of luxury. It’s a 10-minute walk to the main lodge (or a quick buzz on the walkie-talkie, in case of emergency). 

Detour: On your way to or from Boca Tapada, stop in at the restaurant Centro Familiar Cuyito to try to glimpse a pair of great green macaws nesting in a wild avocado tree on the grounds.

Small groups of people in bathing suits gathered on the rocky ground around Montezuma Falls in Costa Rica

12. Cool off under a waterfall

There’s no more exhilarating plunge than one beneath the downpour of a wild waterfall. And Costa Rica has no shortage of glorious cascades – many of which are swimmable. One fan favorite is Montezuma Waterfalls , on the outskirts of the eponymous village.

It requires a rugged hike, but the reward is a triple-tiered catarata , with a thrilling (and chilling) cliff jump from the top.

Detour: If you can’t get enough, El Chorro Waterfall  is another highlight in Montezuma. It’s a long hot hike, but the cascade – which falls from a high cliff directly into the ocean – is worth the effort.

13. Discover what happens after dark

Some 70% of animals are most active at night. Take a night hike with a nature guide to find out who they are and what they’re doing in the dark.

Night tours are popular in the main rainforest destinations in Costa Rica, including La Fortuna , Sarapiquí, Río Celeste and Manuel Antonio . You’re bound to see plenty of bugs and bats, frogs and snakes, but you might also catch a glimpse of a nocturnal mammal, such as a kinkajou or a tree possum.

A traditional passenger boat navigating the muddy-looking Tortuguero canal in Costa Rica

14. Cruise a jungle lagoon

One of the most rewarding ways to see wildlife in Costa Rica is to take a cruise through the jungly canals of Tortuguero or the wild wetlands of Caño Negro . From the comfort of your boat, you’re likely to see several species of monkeys, two- and three-toed sloths, green iguanas, striped basilisks, caimans and crocs, not to mention incredible birdlife.

15. Witness a bioluminescent bay

Some aquatic organisms contain luciferin, which reacts with oxygen to produce a sparkly light. This magical glow in the water is called bioluminescence, and it lights up the coves of Ballena Bay, near Tambor on the Nicoya Peninsula.

Bioluminescent tours depart from Santa Teresa, Montezuma or Tambor itself, giving you a chance to kayak over ethereal, illuminated waters. Remember, swimming in bioluminescent waters can cause harm to the glow bacteria.  

Planning tip: Save some cash by driving yourself to Playa Pochote and booking a bioluminescence tour at Don Trino campground, where tours are far less expensive than in the larger towns. 

People walking through the square in front of the famous neoclassical National Theater of Costa Rica in San Jose at night.

16. Take a city break in San José

You probably came to Costa Rica for wild animals and outdoor adventure. But guess what? San José is a cool, creative capital, packed with historic architecture, unique museums and trendy cafes and clubs.

Don’t miss the Museo del Jade for its insightful exhibits about pre-Columbian cultures and the  Teatro Nacional for its artistic misrepresentations of Costa Rican culture.

Best of all, Barrio Escalante has the best dining scene in the city – if not the country – so here’s your chance to dig in before heading out to the land of rice and beans.

This article was first published Feb 7, 2023 and updated Jan 26, 2024.

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costa rica travel information

23 Epic Things to Do in Costa Rica

Updated Apr. 2, 2024

Costa Rica's strikingly diverse terrain – lush forests, wildlife reserves, hot springs and tropical beaches – offers a little something for every traveler. Beach lovers should head west and stay along the Pacific Coast; Guanacaste  and the  Nicoya

  • All Things To Do

costa rica travel information

Nicoya Peninsula Nicoya Peninsula free

The Nicoya Peninsula's sparkling, nearly 80-mile shoreline boasts beach-centric towns with cream-colored shores and dense forests. Half of the peninsula is found in the Guanacaste province, while the other half sits in the Puntarenas province. If you're looking for a shortlist of towns or attractions to visit while traveling around the peninsula, consider the following:

Tamarindo: For the most developed beach town, head to Tamarindo on the north end of the peninsula. Tamarindo's beaches gained popularity after being featured in the 1994 surf movie "Endless Summer II," and today, the town is home to a bustling nightlife scene and well-regarded restaurants. Some of its most popular beaches include Playa Grande and Playa Negra. You'll also find sea turtle beaches and birding hot spots along the Nicoya Peninsula – especially at Marino las Baulas National Park – in addition to leatherback turtles and more than 100 bird species at Playa Grande. In addition to its natural wonders, Tamarindo is also home to some of the best all-inclusive resorts in Costa Rica . 

costa rica travel information

Guanacaste Guanacaste free

Costa Rica's "Gold Coast" is one of the nation's top destinations, and that's not just because of its secluded beaches. The northwestern province's dry, sunny savannas contrast the misty cloud-covered rainforests found in other parts of the country. To the east, you'll admire volcanoes comprising the Cordillera de Guanacaste. Along the coast – which extends all the way to the Nicaraguan border – you'll find pockets of white sand flanking all-inclusive resorts and remote fishing villages. Farther inland, you'll discover a thriving cowboy culture that has flourished since Spanish colonial rule in the 19th century.

More notable highlights include the pristine, palm-studded Playa Carrillo, Rincón de la Vieja National Park and Costa Rica's first national park, Santa Rosa.  

costa rica travel information

Ecotermales Fortuna Ecotermales Fortuna

Located just outside the town of La Fortuna, the Ecotermales Hot Springs offer a relaxing break perfect for soothing post-hike muscles. Its magnesium-rich waters are heated by the natural energy of Arenal Volcano and collect in several rock-edged pools that are surrounded by lounge chairs and a lush tropical rainforest, not to mention views of the volcano. Constantly moving, the natural water refreshes itself every 45 minutes. Bathers will find five pools ranging from 90 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit, as well as a pair of bars and an on-site restaurant. There are also cool water pools and a waterfall perfect for enjoying a hydromassage.

Most recent travelers thoroughly enjoyed their experience at the hot springs, praising the clean facilities, the affordable drinks and the tasty food. Even in light rain (which is frequent in Costa Rica), visitors called it "paradise on Earth." Several visitors said the hot springs never felt crowded thanks to the size and variety of the pools. 

costa rica travel information

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costa rica travel information

Manuel Antonio National Park Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park is one of Costa Rica's smallest protected green spaces, but don't let its size throw you off. Within the park's 7 square miles, you'll find untamed beaches, secluded coves with coral reefs, nature trails and a thick rainforest. You can stretch out on the park's coastline or wander along one of the walking paths to spot rare birds, camouflaged iguanas and purple and orange crabs. If you're a lover of furry creatures, this park shelters sloths and a large population of monkeys. Though you can explore the park on your own, there are a variety of organized tours that take the hassle out of planning and range from guided hikes and kayak tours to boat rides, zip line tours and more.

For beach lovers, Playa Manuel Antonio is the most popular thanks to its spectacular views. But if you're hoping to avoid your fellow tourists, venture to Playa Espadilla, which combines an arching white sand beach with a rainforest backdrop. Many consider it one of the prettiest beaches in the area. Part of the beach is in Manuel Antonio National Park (where an entrance fee required), though the section near the town of Manuel Antonio (called Playa Espadilla Norte) is free to enjoy. Water sports enthusiasts can also sign up for surfing lessons and catamaran and banana boat rides.

costa rica travel information

San José San José free

San José, Costa Rica's vibrant capital, serves as a central base for exploration and features a large international airport. You'll likely want to stop here before heading off to the country's magnificent rainforests and beaches. A bustling metropolis, San Jose is home to a bevy of cultural attractions. For visitors, the city's museums and distinct interconnected  barrios  (districts) are the major draws, not to mention the vibrant dining scene.

Barrio Amón is popular with tourists for its centuries-old mansions and photo-worthy architecture. Barrio Escalante is equally popular for its variety of restaurants, bars, cafes and bakeries. If you plan on staying in the city for a few days before connecting elsewhere, consider heading downtown to the Plaza de la Cultura for the exquisite collections at the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum. For even more treasures, don't miss the Jade Museum, which sits in front of the Plaza de la Democracia. Both museums house dazzling and rare pre-Columbian artifacts. Other must-sees include the National Theater of Costa Rica, the National Museum of Costa Rica and the Central Market.

costa rica travel information

Jacó Jacó free

Far away from northern Costa Rica's foggy rainforests lies Jacó, a beautiful town teeming with shops, restaurants and beachfront hotels (some of the top Costa Rica all-inclusive resorts can be found here). It's also the closest beachside retreat to San José , the country's capital. Surfers should venture to Playa Hermosa, host of many surfing competitions and tournaments, for the best waves. If you're looking for a more relaxing stretch of sand with calm waters, consider Playa Herradura and Playa Blanca – two beaches perfect for swimming and sunbathing. Nature seekers should head to wildlife havens like the Pura Vida Gardens and Waterfalls, a 60-acre property that's home to the country's colorful birds and resident monkeys. For those who want a bigger dose of nature, Carara National Park is home to crocodiles, jaguars and the endangered scarlet macaw. For even more wildlife, venture about 45 miles down the coast to Manuel Antonio National Park . If you're traveling sans kids, you may also want to take advantage of the town's rollicking nightlife scene.

Recent travelers highlight one major drawback: the town's popularity. In addition to crowded beaches, family travelers cautioned against the rip currents at Playa Jacó and to heed the posted signs. For most travelers, surfing was the main draw, in addition to the unique gray and black sand beaches. Other reviewers said the national parks were a must.

costa rica travel information

Arenal Volcano Arenal Volcano

Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica's best-known stratovolcano, stands more than 5,000 feet high and appears to touch the clouds. For the latter half of the 20th century, admirers traveled to its base in droves to catch a glimpse of its glowing rocks and the molten lava tumbling down its sides. But Arenal wasn't always spewing fiery lava, rocks and ash. The volcano sat dormant for 400 years, then on July 29, 1968, Arenal awoke from its slumber. A thunderous earthquake shook the area and a subsequent explosion of lava wiped out three nearby villages. Frequent eruptions continued until 2010, when the volcano re-entered a resting cycle.

Today, you can explore the area by visiting the nearly 30,000-acre Arenal Volcano National Park, which is part of the larger 500,000-acre Arenal Tilaran Conservation Area. Given the area's immense size, the opportunities for adventure and exploration are nearly endless. Popular activities and attractions include hiking trails, hot springs, horseback riding, zip lining and river rafting.

costa rica travel information

Corcovado National Park Corcovado National Park

Visitors travel to this more than 160-square-mile misty rainforest for its wildlife. In fact, the park is in a region that's considered one of the most biologically diverse areas in Central America. Visitors have the opportunity to spot more than 300 different bird species, 140 types of mammals, 40 fish species and more than 100 different amphibians. Buzzing insects and chirping birds can be seen and heard as you stroll through the verdant jungle. Trek along the many trails and you're likely to spot macaws, tapirs, jaguars, sea turtles or squirrel monkeys. What's more, Corcovado National Park features an untamed beach area. For the adventurous, there’s primitive camping.

Note that permits and a reservation with an official guide are required to access the park. Permits can be obtained through a tour operator ; many local hotels work with tour operators and can book a tour for you. Past visitors spoke highly of Corcovado Info Center .

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Tortuga Island Full Day Tour from San José with Lunch

(283 reviews)

from $ 115.00

Upper Balsa River White Water Rafting Class 3/4 in Costa Rica

Upper Balsa River White Water Rafting Class 3 / 4 in Costa Rica

(1511 reviews)

from $ 85.00

North Fields Cafe: Craft Specialty Coffee and Chocolate Tour

North Fields Cafe: Craft Specialty Coffee and Chocolate Tour

(1245 reviews)

from $ 43.00

costa rica travel information

Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve

Imagine winding through a forest that touches the clouds with its strikingly tall trees that wrap you in a sea of green. Add to that more than 100 mammals, 400 types of birds and 1,200 amphibian species, and you have Monteverde's lush 35,000-acre reserve. What's more, Monteverde Cloud Forest is home to more than 2% of the world’s biodiversity and 10% of its plants are endemic to the preserve. With its unique setting, Monteverde is one of the most popular destinations in Costa Rica. Adventurous travelers explore Monteverde Cloud Forest from a zip line, but there's also a tram for those who’d like to see the cloud forest without long hikes. For more information about zip line tours, consult the Sky Adventures official  website . If you'd prefer to stay on ground, the reserve also offers guided walking tours year-round (for an extra fee).

More than a couple travelers called the experience of hiking through the cloud forest "magical." Recent visitors praised the forest signage and said it was easy to navigate with their group. Most said the park was a must-see example of Costa Rica's rich wildlife diversity. Recent visitors recommended taking a zip line tour to avoid the crowds and admire the reserve from an aerial view. Past visitors highly recommend hiring a guide if you've come to the reserve in search of wildlife as the local guides will be able to help you easily spot the animals. Another visitor recommended packing plenty of water and rain gear.

costa rica travel information

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca Puerto Viejo de Talamanca free

The village of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, located on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast, comes alive with reggae music, funky bamboo bars and a wild nightlife. Surfers crowd coconut-fringed Cocles Beach, a top-rated surf destination, and foodies check out the downtown's Caribbean-influenced cuisine. Meanwhile, nature lovers venture inland to explore rainforests and nearby Cahuita National Park or the Jaguar Rescue Center. Along the coast, you'll discover remote bungalows and empty stretches of sand.

Several recent visitors mentioned the rip current at Playa Cocles, the top surfing spot. Travelers recommend visiting Playa Negra's black-sand beach – located in the northwest end of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca – for its unique geography and lack of tourists. If you're just hoping to relax or swim, reviewers say the soft sand and stunning waters at  Playa Punta Uva can't be beat

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La Paz Waterfall Gardens La Paz Waterfall Gardens

La Paz may seem quiet and still at first glance. Though take another look, and you'll find this 70-acre eco-park buzzing with activity. From croaking frogs and fluttering butterflies to rumbling jaguars and howling spider monkeys, the park is a wildlife lover's paradise. For nature-seekers, the hiking trails, along with the garden's five flowing waterfalls are both must-dos. The entire La Paz Waterfall Gardens is draped in a sea of leafy green canopies dotted with colorful orchids. In addition to dining, visitors can book accommodations at the on-site Peace Lodge.

Recent travelers said La Paz Waterfall Gardens is a must-see for every first-time visitor to Costa Rica. Others were pleased with the friendly and knowledgeable staff and the ability to see the property in two hours. However, a few noted that the attraction felt very touristy, and some were disappointed with the small size of the animal enclosures. If you don't want to pay the admission price, you can see the waterfalls from the highway, according to visitors. Reviews for the buffet were mixed: some enjoyed the food, while others described it as overpriced.

costa rica travel information

Tabacón Hot Springs Tabacón Hot Springs

After a trek to  Arenal Volcano , take some time to soak in the Tabacón's luxurious thermal springs. With its serene flowing waterfalls, tropical foliage and mineral-rich natural springs, the Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort is a blissful escape for travelers. The volcano-heated mineral water collects in pools with temperatures that range from a refreshing 72 degrees to a muscle-relaxing 105 degrees. Next to the thermal baths, the Tabacón's top-notch spa boasts volcanic mud wraps, coffee exfoliations and a host of massage therapies. After relaxing under the canopy of trees, dine in one of two restaurants serving Costa Rican flavors along with international favorites. Luxury lodging is available on-site for overnight guests.

Past visitors called the experience relaxing and beautiful, with great facilities. A handy tip from recent travelers: Bring water shoes to protect your feet as you walk from one pool to another. Though past visitors bemoaned the presence of tour bus crowds, many still said this is a "must-do," especially if you're looking for a relaxing afternoon.

costa rica travel information

Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge

Bird-watchers rejoice: This swampy wildlife refuge houses thousands of water birds, including storks, cormorants and roseate spoonbills, along with rare jabirus. To spot these animals, you'll want to plan your visit during the dry season (July to November), when the refuge becomes a vital feeding ground for the birds. Note that this remote haven sits near the Nicaraguan border and a day tour is required to visit. Visitors will notice an abundance of wildlife, such as monkeys, sloths, crocodiles, lizards and possibly freshwater sharks along the Rio Frio.

Recent travelers enjoyed visiting the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge; many took a boat cruise to see the wildlife and birds. In fact, some reviewers said they were overwhelmed by the amount of birds they saw, in addition to the monkeys and sloths that tend to hide in the trees. Many visitors recommend bringing insect repellent and binoculars. 

costa rica travel information

Rio Celeste Hiking, Sloth Sanctuary & Llanos de Cortes Waterfall Tour

(766 reviews)

Sunset Sailing Catamaran Tour from Tamarindo

Sunset Sailing Catamaran Tour from Tamarindo

(286 reviews)

FLAMINGO, Guanacaste All Inclusive Catamaran Snorkel Adventure

FLAMINGO, Guanacaste All Inclusive Catamaran Snorkel Adventure

(138 reviews)

from $ 92.00

costa rica travel information

Tortuguero National Park Tortuguero National Park

Tortuguero National Park sits tucked away in a northeastern pocket of the Caribbean coast and is only accessible via plane or boat (though boat is the most common). Tied to Costa Rica's mainland by weaving rivers and canals, this isolated park is the second-largest wetland in Costa Rica and lures nature seekers looking for a remote piece of jungle paradise. At various times during the year, visitors can spot sea turtles – green, leatherback, hawksbill and loggerhead – nesting in the area. If you want to witness turtle nesting, plan a visit between July and mid-October. Turtle nesting walks can be arranged through a licensed guide (past visitors praised Tortuguero Tours and Tortuguero Eco Experiences). The Asociacion de Guias de Tortuguero is another resource for finding local guides.

Tortuguero National Park is also an important manatee habitat. With numerous aquatic trails (travel within the park is by canoe or skift), visitors can admire more than 400 different bird species, hundreds of different mammals and reptiles, followed by more than 400 arthropods (insects and spiders). The park is also home to white-faced monkeys, toucans, jaguars, bright lizards, red-eyed frogs and blue morpho butterflies. 

costa rica travel information

Nauyaca Waterfalls Nauyaca Waterfalls

Costa Rica could be called the land of waterfalls as there are hundreds nestled in the rainforests. The Nauyaca Waterfalls are located along the country's South Pacific coast, and they're considered a must-see if you're exploring this area of Costa Rica. Discovered and managed by the same family, the popular Nauyaca Waterfalls feature two tiers of falls within a nearly 30-foot-wide canyon that are part of the Barucito River. The upper section of the falls measures approximately 145 feet; the lower section spans 65 feet and features a six-foot-deep pool that visitors can swim in. There are additional pools for wading and swimming in the area as well.

You have a few options for reaching the falls. The hike to the waterfalls from the parking lot is about 2 miles (which will take approximately an hour). However, you can also sign up for horseback riding or four-wheel drive vehicle tours, which can be reserved through the same company that manages the falls. Whichever way you choose to access the falls, note that advance reservations are required.

costa rica travel information

Catarata del Toro Catarata del Toro

Measuring approximately 300 feet, this waterfall plunges over the edge of an extinct volcanic crater and is surrounded by lush tropical landscaping and mist. Unlike some of the country's other popular waterfalls, admiring Catarata del Toro doesn't necessarily require a strenuous hike. The waterfall is privately owned, and can be viewed from the on-site restaurant and several lookout points. If you'd like to get closer, there is a trail departing from the visitor center.

The first part of the self-guided trail is flat and features three lookout points. The second part of the hike requires that you traverse more than 300 concrete steps. The total length of the trail is about 2 miles round-trip. Though you can't swim in the pool at the bottom of the falls, it's still worth the trek for the views alone, according to recent vactioners.

costa rica travel information

Irazu Volcano Irazu Volcano

Standing 11,260 feet tall, Irazu is the highest active volcano in Costa Rica (its last eruption was in 1994) and one of the most popular for Costa Rica visitors. From its peak on a clear day, visitors can see across Costa Rica to both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, and with the aid of a telescope, Lake Nicaragua. As a stratovolcano, it features five different craters at its peak, giving the Irazu Volcano an irregular shape. The scenery is described as moon-like, and provides a stark contrast to the lush terrain the rest of the country is known for. It also lacks the animal diversity found elsewhere due to the dry conditions, altitude and volcanic activity. Aside from the view, perhaps the biggest draw to a visit to Irazu Volcano is its craters. There are a variety of paved paths that allow visitors to safely and easily observe the craters, including the popular Diego de la Haya crater, which fills with an aquamarine lake if the precipitation conditions are right.

According to recent visitors, you'll want to plan your trip here early to avoid the usual tourist crowds (which start arriving around 10 a.m.) and to enjoy the view before the clouds and fog start to roll in. Note that the crater lake only fills during periods of rainfall, and may be empty during your visit. Reviewers also advised wearing layers and bringing a jacket or other warm clothing as it can get chilly due to the elevation.

costa rica travel information

Rio Celeste Rio Celeste

The turquoise waters of the Celeste River attract visitors from far and wide to the Cordillera de Guanacaste, a volcanic mountain rage that sits in the northwestern corner of the country near the Nicaragua border. Visitors are drawn to this region for Tenorio Volcano National Park, which is home to the nearly 300-foot-tall Rio Celeste Waterfall. The waterfall attracts visitors for its brilliant blue water. Local lore attributes the stunning beryl-tinted waters to God, who legend says rinsed his paintbrushes in the river after painting the sky blue. However, scientists attribute the color to a chemical reaction between the volcanic minerals in the water. (If you want to observe the falls and the pool at their most striking, visit in the dry season; rain can dull the blue tint of the waters.)

To reach the waterfall, you'll have to traverse a short, relatively easy trail. The first portion is paved, and then it transitions to gravel. To get closer to the waterfall, you'll have to descend a set of concrete steps. After admiring the waterfall, you can turn around, or keep going to discover the rest of the natural wonders along this approximately 3 1/2-mile path, including Laguna Azul (another blue pool) and El Teñidero (the meeting of two rivers, Quebrada Agria and Rio Buena Vista).

costa rica travel information

Sunset Catamaran in Playa Flamingo

(636 reviews)

Sloth Forest Tour, Organic Coffee and Chocolate Tour and Waterfall

Sloth Forest Tour, Organic Coffee and Chocolate Tour and Waterfall

(84 reviews)

from $ 165.00

Arenal 12 Zipline Cables Experience with La Fortuna Waterfall

Arenal 12 Zipline Cables Experience with La Fortuna Waterfall

(435 reviews)

from $ 96.00

costa rica travel information

Pacuare River Pacuare River

For whitewater rafters, the top destination in Costa Rica sits on the Caribbean side along Pacuare River, or Rio Pacuare, which is home to rapids ranging in difficulty from Class II to Class IV. Along with its thrilling rapids, the river is also known for its wildlife, including sloths, toucans and parrots, and dramatic scenery: you'll be surrounded by a lush rainforest and cascading waterfalls.

Keep in mind: The river runs faster and the rapids are more challenging from June to October, with the highest water flows in September and October (peak rainy season). If you're up for the challenge the upper section of the river, which spans 16 miles, is rated difficult to extreme. For novices, the lower section of Pacuare River is tamer. Guided tours , which include access to helmets, life jackets and an experienced river runner, are a must. Exploradores Outdoors earns high praise from past travelers for its adept and friendly guides.

costa rica travel information

Caño Island Caño Island

As one of the top diving and snorkeling destinations in Costa Rica, Caño Island draws travelers for its diverse marine life. Only accessible by organized tour, the waters surrounding the island are crystal clear and the coral reef protects smaller marine life. Scuba divers and snorkelers swim with several types of rays, along with whale sharks and even sea turtles. Most tours last all day and include a 45-minute boat ride to and from the island; visitors should come prepared with motion sickness medication as the water can be choppy. 

Several recent snorkelers said the experience topped their expectations, with sharks and turtles swimming close by and dolphins visible on the boat ride to the island. For other avid divers, the quality of the coral reef seemed to be declining, a problem the world over due to climate change. Several reviewers reported being stung repeatedly by tiny jellyfish, which are known to frequent the waters around the island. Wearing a rash guard can help protect your skin from the jellyfish.

costa rica travel information

Jade Museum Jade Museum

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costa rica travel information

El Toledo Coffee Tour El Toledo Coffee Tour

costa rica travel information

Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary

costa rica travel information

Arenal Volcano Full-Day Combo Tour with Lunch and Dinner

(2644 reviews)

from $ 179.00

Full Day Poas Volcano, La Paz Waterfall Gardens and Coffee Plantation Experience

Full Day Poas Volcano, La Paz Waterfall Gardens and Coffee Plantation Experience

(296 reviews)

ATV or Buggy Private Tour from Tamarindo or Conchal

ATV or Buggy Private Tour from Tamarindo or Conchal

(456 reviews)

from $ 80.00

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PLAN YOUR TRIP Costa Rica

Travel advice, essential costa rica.

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Where to stay

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How I planned my trip to Costa Rica

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Ties Lagraauw

written by Ties Lagraauw

updated 28.05.2024

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Some say that planning your trip is more fun than the trip itself. Although I think that's a bit of an exaggeration, I do believe that planning is fun. And essential. As a content manager for Rough Guides, I’m no stranger to the intricacies of organizing travel, but I wanted a trip that went beyond the usual tourist spots. Something that would immerse me in the vibrant culture, diverse wildlife, and stunning landscapes that Costa Rica is famous for. So here is how I planned my trip to Costa Rica (and how you can do this too).

First, I decide what I want to get out of the trip

Next, when is the best time to go, how long do i need in costa rica, i book some activities in advance, how i budget my trip, i enjoy reading about the culture, mistakes i made (and how to avoid it).

First, I decide what I want to get out of the trip. Having visited over 70 countries, I can confidently say this is one of the best tips for planning a trip to Costa Rica. It's essential to start with a clear vision of what you want from your travel experience.

I wanted a combination of adrenaline-pumping activities and serene moments in nature, and decided to skip cities. To be honest, you don't travel to Costa Rica for the cities. If you are keen to explore old Spanish cities, opt for Nicaragua instead (I loved it!). Anyway, I envisioned walking through Manuel Antonio National Park , gazing at the Arenal Volcano , surfing at pristine beaches and some relaxing in the best hot springs .

This clarity helped shape my entire itinerary and ensured my trip was aligned with my interests and desires.

Take some time to think about what excites you most about your destination. Make a list of must-see places and activities . Knowing your goals will make the planning process smoother and more enjoyable. 

My tip: Always start your travel planning with a clear vision of what you want to experience.

The weather can make or break your trip. You can travel to the most remote beaches in the world with the whitest sand you've ever seen. If it's raining cats and dogs, it's just not as good. So always check the best time to visit your destination.

The best time to visit Costa Rica is during the dry season, which runs from December through April . There is plenty of sunshine during this period, making it ideal for exploring beaches , rainforests, and volcanoes. 

However, this is also the peak tourist season , so I had to book accommodation and activities well in advance to get the best deals. If you want to save money and don't mind a little rain, the green season from May to November is also a great option. 

The landscapes here are lush and the crowds are smaller, making for a more relaxing and secluded vacation

costa rica travel information

I visited Monteverde Cloud Forest, and as the naming suggests.. it's a bit cloudy. But also beautiful!

I would have preferred to stay here for a few months, but unfortunately, I didn't have that time. In addition, experience shows that no matter how much time you plan, it is almost always too short.

You definitely need 3 or 4 weeks in Costa Rica. Shorter than that is also possible, but then you will have to delete places from your to-do list. Fortunately, travelling around Costa Rica is easy. Pricey, but efficient. By the way, the best way to travel around Costa Rica is a rental car.

I ended up travelling in Costa Rica for about 4 weeks and was able to see most of the things I wanted to see. I allowed me to enjoy a balanced itinerary without feeling rushed.

My tip: Give yourself enough time to truly experience the destination. A well-paced trip is more enjoyable and allows you to make the most of every moment without feeling rushed.

Although I enjoy the freedom of not booking in advance, I've also learned that securing spots for popular activities ahead of time can make a huge difference. Both in hassle at the moment as in price. For example, a boat tour in Tortuguero National Park , is sold out quickly in high season.

I don’t want to miss out or waste time waiting in long lines. By booking activities in advance, I ensure I have a spot and can plan the rest of my trip around these highlights.

Booking in advance also gives me peace of mind and allows me to spread out my activities to avoid cramming too much into a single day. 

My tip: Booking ahead not only guarantees your spot but also helps you plan a well-paced and enjoyable itinerary.

The best time to visit Cost Rica, beach in Cape Uvita

Make sure to visit Cape Uvita © Shutterstock

My least favourite part of planning a trip. Especially after the trip. But very important. And especially after COVID, ticket prices, but also hotels, activities and food, have become a lot more expensive.

That is why it is extra important to know what you can spend while travelling and where. And no matter how well you budget, you often end up spending more than you plan. There's nothing wrong with that, since travelling (at least for me) is also a bit about letting go.

In any case, what you should consider is that Costa Rica is not very cheap. Expect to pay at least US$150 per day including accommodation, food and transport. If you have a rental car, it will be a little more expensive.

Of course, this depends on how you travel, with whom ( travelling with kids , for example) and what activities you undertake.

My tip: I sometimes meet travellers, staying at their hotel because they want to save money. Whatever floats your boat of course, but you don't travel to Costa Rica each year, right?

That may sound a bit boring, but I think it is important. I am surprised, and not always positively, by travelers who seem to have no idea where they have ended up. That's how they behave, anyway.

Fortunately, the cultural differences in Central America are not very great, but I did read about Pura Vida. And you should too!

“Pura Vida” - the art of slowing down, is more than just a phrase. It’s a way of life that emphasizes simplicity, happiness, and living in harmony with nature. It's what the locals do and it’s best to go with it. This sometimes means that you'll have to wait longer than you hoped or that buses don't always go on time. Just take it as it is!

My tip: Take time each day to enjoy a moment of tranquillity. Just sit down, listen to the birds or people chatting. Enjoy!

Costa Rica Tulemar beach © Shutterstock

Beautiful Tulemar beach© Shutterstock

I think it's safe to say I'm an experienced traveller, but wow.. I've made some horrible planning mistakes! From overloading my itinerary to seriously misjudging the weather conditions. And from spending 28 hours in a bus instead of 8 (don't travel during Easter in the Philippines) to not having enough cash with me.

I've made a list of most common planning mistakes, so you can hopefully avoid spending 28 hours in a never-ending traffic jam!

Planning travel times

On my trip to the Philippines , I travelled from Manila to Banaue in the north. A trip that should take around 8 to 10 hours. What I didn't realize was, that I travelled on a Friday right before Easter. Apparently, all locals had a long weekend and travelled back home.

The bus ride took 28 hours! Ever since that trip, I check holidays, travel times and bus routes. I’m never spending 28 hours in a bus again!

Overloading your itinerary

I always like to see and experience as much as possible, but unfortunately that is not possible. You cannot experience an entire country in just a few weeks. As much as you would like that. 

The biggest mistake many travellers make is planning their itinerary from day to day.

The result: an itinerary that is planned minute by minute, with a maximum of 2 overnight stays in one place. Result: a beautiful trip, but very rushed and not very relaxed. And the great thing about travelling is freedom, right?

Ignoring the weather

I climbed Acatenango in Guatemala (and you should too!) and I heard many stories about the changeable weather. Although I was reasonably well-prepared for what I was doing, the weather at the top was terrible!

It was windy, it was raining and I couldn't even see (or hear) the guide, who was walking 2 meters in front of me. There I was in my sweatpants and a wind jacket that was too thin. I could have turned around and enjoyed the view at base camp, but it's not every day you're at the top of Acatenango!

Tip, if you plan to go hiking, especially volcanoes, don't choose a lot of clothes, but choose the right clothes!

Not carrying enough cash

Back to the Philippines again! I travelled to El Nido somewhere around 2010, when there was only one ATM in the area. I should've done my research, because when there's only one ATM, changes are, that one is either empty or broken. And it turned out to be.

I ended up without cash and back then (and still) the Philippines was a cash-only destination. With the help of a local, I was able to use my credit card to get cash at a gas station for a shocking fee. Unfortunately, there was little else I could do. 

If I only knew what I know now!

Ties is a true world explorer - whether it be for work or leisure! As Content Manager at RoughGuides, and the owner of Dutch travel platform Reis-Expert.nl , Ties is constantly on the move, always looking for new destinations to discover.

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Travel advice for Costa Rica

From travel safety to visa requirements, discover the best tips for traveling to Costa Rica

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Be aware of current health issues in Costa Rica. Learn how to protect yourself.

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  • Dengue in the Americas May 16, 2024 Dengue is a risk in many parts of Central and South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Some countries are reporting increased numbers of cases of the disease. Travelers to the Americas can protect themselves by preventing mosquito bites. Destination List: Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Curaçao, Ecuador, including the Galápagos Islands, French Guiana (France), Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Martinique (France), Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay

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Check the vaccines and medicines list and visit your doctor at least a month before your trip to get vaccines or medicines you may need. If you or your doctor need help finding a location that provides certain vaccines or medicines, visit the Find a Clinic page.

Routine vaccines

Recommendations.

Make sure you are up-to-date on all routine vaccines before every trip. Some of these vaccines include

  • Chickenpox (Varicella)
  • Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis
  • Flu (influenza)
  • Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR)

Immunization schedules

All eligible travelers should be up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines. Please see  Your COVID-19 Vaccination  for more information. 

COVID-19 vaccine

Hepatitis A

Recommended for unvaccinated travelers one year old or older going to Costa Rica.

Infants 6 to 11 months old should also be vaccinated against Hepatitis A. The dose does not count toward the routine 2-dose series.

Travelers allergic to a vaccine component or who are younger than 6 months should receive a single dose of immune globulin, which provides effective protection for up to 2 months depending on dosage given.

Unvaccinated travelers who are over 40 years old, immunocompromised, or have chronic medical conditions planning to depart to a risk area in less than 2 weeks should get the initial dose of vaccine and at the same appointment receive immune globulin.

Hepatitis A - CDC Yellow Book

Dosing info - Hep A

Hepatitis B

Recommended for unvaccinated travelers younger than 60 years old traveling to Costa Rica. Unvaccinated travelers 60 years and older may get vaccinated before traveling to Costa Rica.

Hepatitis B - CDC Yellow Book

Dosing info - Hep B

CDC recommends that travelers going to certain areas of Costa Rica take prescription medicine to prevent malaria. Depending on the medicine you take, you will need to start taking this medicine multiple days before your trip, as well as during and after your trip. Talk to your doctor about which malaria medication you should take.

Find  country-specific information  about malaria.

Malaria - CDC Yellow Book

Considerations when choosing a drug for malaria prophylaxis (CDC Yellow Book)

Malaria information for Costa Rica.

Cases of measles are on the rise worldwide. Travelers are at risk of measles if they have not been fully vaccinated at least two weeks prior to departure, or have not had measles in the past, and travel internationally to areas where measles is spreading.

All international travelers should be fully vaccinated against measles with the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, including an early dose for infants 6–11 months, according to  CDC’s measles vaccination recommendations for international travel .

Measles (Rubeola) - CDC Yellow Book

Costa Rica is free of dog rabies. However, rabies may still be present in wildlife species, particularly bats. CDC recommends rabies vaccination before travel only for people working directly with wildlife. These people may include veterinarians, animal handlers, field biologists, or laboratory workers working with specimens from mammalian species.

Rabies - CDC Yellow Book

Recommended for most travelers, especially those staying with friends or relatives or visiting smaller cities or rural areas.

Typhoid - CDC Yellow Book

Dosing info - Typhoid

Yellow Fever

Required for travelers ≥9 months old arriving from countries with risk for YF virus transmission. 1 Included in this requirement are travelers arriving from Tanzania and Zambia, and designated areas of: Colombia (the entire country, except the cities of Barranquilla, Bogotá, Cali, Cartagena, and Medellín, and the archipelago department, San Andrés and Providencia); Ecuador (the provinces of Morona-Santiago, Napo, Orellana, Pastaza, Sucumbíos, and Zamora-Chinchipe, and excluding the rest of the country); Paraguay (the entire country, except the city of Asunción); Peru (the entire country, except the cities of Cusco and Lima, the regions of Cajamarca, Lambayeque, Piura, and Tumbes, and the highland tourist areas of Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail); Trinidad & Tobago (the entire country, except the urban areas of Port of Spain; travelers with itineraries limited to the island of Tobago, and travelers with airport transits or layovers are also exempt from this requirement). Travelers arriving from Argentina and Panama are exempt from this requirement.

Yellow Fever - CDC Yellow Book

Avoid contaminated water

Leptospirosis

How most people get sick (most common modes of transmission)

  • Touching urine or other body fluids from an animal infected with leptospirosis
  • Swimming or wading in urine-contaminated fresh water, or contact with urine-contaminated mud
  • Drinking water or eating food contaminated with animal urine
  • Avoid contaminated water and soil

Clinical Guidance

Avoid bug bites, chagas disease (american trypanosomiasis).

  • Accidentally rub feces (poop) of the triatomine bug into the bug bite, other breaks in the skin, your eyes, or mouth
  • From pregnant woman to her baby, contaminated blood products (transfusions), or contaminated food or drink.
  • Avoid Bug Bites

Chagas disease

  • Mosquito bite

Leishmaniasis

  • Sand fly bite
  • An infected pregnant woman can spread it to her unborn baby

Airborne & droplet

  • Breathing in air or accidentally eating food contaminated with the urine, droppings, or saliva of infected rodents
  • Bite from an infected rodent
  • Less commonly, being around someone sick with hantavirus (only occurs with Andes virus)
  • Avoid rodents and areas where they live
  • Avoid sick people

Tuberculosis (TB)

  • Breathe in TB bacteria that is in the air from an infected and contagious person coughing, speaking, or singing.

Learn actions you can take to stay healthy and safe on your trip. Vaccines cannot protect you from many diseases in Costa Rica, so your behaviors are important.

Eat and drink safely

Food and water standards around the world vary based on the destination. Standards may also differ within a country and risk may change depending on activity type (e.g., hiking versus business trip). You can learn more about safe food and drink choices when traveling by accessing the resources below.

  • Choose Safe Food and Drinks When Traveling
  • Water Treatment Options When Hiking, Camping or Traveling
  • Global Water, Sanitation and Hygiene | Healthy Water
  • Avoid Contaminated Water During Travel

You can also visit the  Department of State Country Information Pages  for additional information about food and water safety.

Prevent bug bites

Bugs (like mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas) can spread a number of diseases in Costa Rica. Many of these diseases cannot be prevented with a vaccine or medicine. You can reduce your risk by taking steps to prevent bug bites.

What can I do to prevent bug bites?

  • Cover exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and hats.
  • Use an appropriate insect repellent (see below).
  • Use permethrin-treated clothing and gear (such as boots, pants, socks, and tents). Do not use permethrin directly on skin.
  • Stay and sleep in air-conditioned or screened rooms.
  • Use a bed net if the area where you are sleeping is exposed to the outdoors.

What type of insect repellent should I use?

  • FOR PROTECTION AGAINST TICKS AND MOSQUITOES: Use a repellent that contains 20% or more DEET for protection that lasts up to several hours.
  • Picaridin (also known as KBR 3023, Bayrepel, and icaridin)
  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or para-menthane-diol (PMD)
  • 2-undecanone
  • Always use insect repellent as directed.

What should I do if I am bitten by bugs?

  • Avoid scratching bug bites, and apply hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion to reduce the itching.
  • Check your entire body for ticks after outdoor activity. Be sure to remove ticks properly.

What can I do to avoid bed bugs?

Although bed bugs do not carry disease, they are an annoyance. See our information page about avoiding bug bites for some easy tips to avoid them. For more information on bed bugs, see Bed Bugs .

For more detailed information on avoiding bug bites, see Avoid Bug Bites .

Stay safe outdoors

If your travel plans in Costa Rica include outdoor activities, take these steps to stay safe and healthy during your trip.

  • Stay alert to changing weather conditions and adjust your plans if conditions become unsafe.
  • Prepare for activities by wearing the right clothes and packing protective items, such as bug spray, sunscreen, and a basic first aid kit.
  • Consider learning basic first aid and CPR before travel. Bring a travel health kit with items appropriate for your activities.
  • If you are outside for many hours in heat, eat salty snacks and drink water to stay hydrated and replace salt lost through sweating.
  • Protect yourself from UV radiation : use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, wear protective clothing, and seek shade during the hottest time of day (10 a.m.–4 p.m.).
  • Be especially careful during summer months and at high elevation. Because sunlight reflects off snow, sand, and water, sun exposure may be increased during activities like skiing, swimming, and sailing.
  • Very cold temperatures can be dangerous. Dress in layers and cover heads, hands, and feet properly if you are visiting a cold location.

Stay safe around water

  • Swim only in designated swimming areas. Obey lifeguards and warning flags on beaches.
  • Practice safe boating—follow all boating safety laws, do not drink alcohol if driving a boat, and always wear a life jacket.
  • Do not dive into shallow water.
  • Do not swim in freshwater in developing areas or where sanitation is poor.
  • Avoid swallowing water when swimming. Untreated water can carry germs that make you sick.
  • To prevent infections, wear shoes on beaches where there may be animal waste.

Keep away from animals

Most animals avoid people, but they may attack if they feel threatened, are protecting their young or territory, or if they are injured or ill. Animal bites and scratches can lead to serious diseases such as rabies.

Follow these tips to protect yourself:

  • Do not touch or feed any animals you do not know.
  • Do not allow animals to lick open wounds, and do not get animal saliva in your eyes or mouth.
  • Avoid rodents and their urine and feces.
  • Traveling pets should be supervised closely and not allowed to come in contact with local animals.
  • If you wake in a room with a bat, seek medical care immediately. Bat bites may be hard to see.

All animals can pose a threat, but be extra careful around dogs, bats, monkeys, sea animals such as jellyfish, and snakes. If you are bitten or scratched by an animal, immediately:

  • Wash the wound with soap and clean water.
  • Go to a doctor right away.
  • Tell your doctor about your injury when you get back to the United States.

Consider buying medical evacuation insurance. Rabies is a deadly disease that must be treated quickly, and treatment may not be available in some countries.

Reduce your exposure to germs

Follow these tips to avoid getting sick or spreading illness to others while traveling:

  • Wash your hands often, especially before eating.
  • If soap and water aren’t available, clean hands with hand sanitizer (containing at least 60% alcohol).
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. If you need to touch your face, make sure your hands are clean.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Try to avoid contact with people who are sick.
  • If you are sick, stay home or in your hotel room, unless you need medical care.

Avoid sharing body fluids

Diseases can be spread through body fluids, such as saliva, blood, vomit, and semen.

Protect yourself:

  • Use latex condoms correctly.
  • Do not inject drugs.
  • Limit alcohol consumption. People take more risks when intoxicated.
  • Do not share needles or any devices that can break the skin. That includes needles for tattoos, piercings, and acupuncture.
  • If you receive medical or dental care, make sure the equipment is disinfected or sanitized.

Know how to get medical care while traveling

Plan for how you will get health care during your trip, should the need arise:

  • Carry a list of local doctors and hospitals at your destination.
  • Review your health insurance plan to determine what medical services it would cover during your trip. Consider purchasing travel health and medical evacuation insurance.
  • Carry a card that identifies, in the local language, your blood type, chronic conditions or serious allergies, and the generic names of any medications you take.
  • Some prescription drugs may be illegal in other countries. Call Costa Rica’s embassy to verify that all of your prescription(s) are legal to bring with you.
  • Bring all the medicines (including over-the-counter medicines) you think you might need during your trip, including extra in case of travel delays. Ask your doctor to help you get prescriptions filled early if you need to.

Many foreign hospitals and clinics are accredited by the Joint Commission International. A list of accredited facilities is available at their website ( www.jointcommissioninternational.org ).

In some countries, medicine (prescription and over-the-counter) may be substandard or counterfeit. Bring the medicines you will need from the United States to avoid having to buy them at your destination.

Select safe transportation

Motor vehicle crashes are the #1 killer of healthy US citizens in foreign countries.

In many places cars, buses, large trucks, rickshaws, bikes, people on foot, and even animals share the same lanes of traffic, increasing the risk for crashes.

Be smart when you are traveling on foot.

  • Use sidewalks and marked crosswalks.
  • Pay attention to the traffic around you, especially in crowded areas.
  • Remember, people on foot do not always have the right of way in other countries.

Riding/Driving

Choose a safe vehicle.

  • Choose official taxis or public transportation, such as trains and buses.
  • Ride only in cars that have seatbelts.
  • Avoid overcrowded, overloaded, top-heavy buses and minivans.
  • Avoid riding on motorcycles or motorbikes, especially motorbike taxis. (Many crashes are caused by inexperienced motorbike drivers.)
  • Choose newer vehicles—they may have more safety features, such as airbags, and be more reliable.
  • Choose larger vehicles, which may provide more protection in crashes.

Think about the driver.

  • Do not drive after drinking alcohol or ride with someone who has been drinking.
  • Consider hiring a licensed, trained driver familiar with the area.
  • Arrange payment before departing.

Follow basic safety tips.

  • Wear a seatbelt at all times.
  • Sit in the back seat of cars and taxis.
  • When on motorbikes or bicycles, always wear a helmet. (Bring a helmet from home, if needed.)
  • Avoid driving at night; street lighting in certain parts of Costa Rica may be poor.
  • Do not use a cell phone or text while driving (illegal in many countries).
  • Travel during daylight hours only, especially in rural areas.
  • If you choose to drive a vehicle in Costa Rica, learn the local traffic laws and have the proper paperwork.
  • Get any driving permits and insurance you may need. Get an International Driving Permit (IDP). Carry the IDP and a US-issued driver's license at all times.
  • Check with your auto insurance policy's international coverage, and get more coverage if needed. Make sure you have liability insurance.
  • Avoid using local, unscheduled aircraft.
  • If possible, fly on larger planes (more than 30 seats); larger airplanes are more likely to have regular safety inspections.
  • Try to schedule flights during daylight hours and in good weather.

Medical Evacuation Insurance

If you are seriously injured, emergency care may not be available or may not meet US standards. Trauma care centers are uncommon outside urban areas. Having medical evacuation insurance can be helpful for these reasons.

Helpful Resources

Road Safety Overseas (Information from the US Department of State): Includes tips on driving in other countries, International Driving Permits, auto insurance, and other resources.

The Association for International Road Travel has country-specific Road Travel Reports available for most countries for a minimal fee.

For information traffic safety and road conditions in Costa Rica, see Travel and Transportation on US Department of State's country-specific information for Costa Rica .

Maintain personal security

Use the same common sense traveling overseas that you would at home, and always stay alert and aware of your surroundings.

Before you leave

  • Research your destination(s), including local laws, customs, and culture.
  • Monitor travel advisories and alerts and read travel tips from the US Department of State.
  • Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) .
  • Leave a copy of your itinerary, contact information, credit cards, and passport with someone at home.
  • Pack as light as possible, and leave at home any item you could not replace.

While at your destination(s)

  • Carry contact information for the nearest US embassy or consulate .
  • Carry a photocopy of your passport and entry stamp; leave the actual passport securely in your hotel.
  • Follow all local laws and social customs.
  • Do not wear expensive clothing or jewelry.
  • Always keep hotel doors locked, and store valuables in secure areas.
  • If possible, choose hotel rooms between the 2nd and 6th floors.

Healthy Travel Packing List

Use the Healthy Travel Packing List for Costa Rica for a list of health-related items to consider packing for your trip. Talk to your doctor about which items are most important for you.

Why does CDC recommend packing these health-related items?

It’s best to be prepared to prevent and treat common illnesses and injuries. Some supplies and medicines may be difficult to find at your destination, may have different names, or may have different ingredients than what you normally use.

If you are not feeling well after your trip, you may need to see a doctor. If you need help finding a travel medicine specialist, see Find a Clinic . Be sure to tell your doctor about your travel, including where you went and what you did on your trip. Also tell your doctor if you were bitten or scratched by an animal while traveling.

If your doctor prescribed antimalarial medicine for your trip, keep taking the rest of your pills after you return home. If you stop taking your medicine too soon, you could still get sick.

Malaria is always a serious disease and may be a deadly illness. If you become ill with a fever either while traveling in a malaria-risk area or after you return home (for up to 1 year), you should seek immediate medical attention and should tell the doctor about your travel history.

For more information on what to do if you are sick after your trip, see Getting Sick after Travel .

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20 Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Costa Rica

01/14/2024 by Emily Becker 10 Comments

This post was written by Emily Becker, a Costa Rica–based freelance writer for BMTM.

Costa Rica is a nature-lover’s paradise. With so many opportunities to hike, zip-line, kayak, and partake in all kinds of outdoor activities, it’s no surprise that ecotourism is so mainstream here. Some travelers are drawn to Costa Rica for the pristine beaches, perfect for relaxing the day away; others are in it for the adrenaline-pumping activities, like white-water rafting. The beauty of this country is that you can do both!

But after over a year of living here and traveling extensively in the country, I realized there were a few things I wish I had known before my first visit in 2022.

These are some tidbits of information, pieces of advice, and general things to know before you travel to Costa Rica, so you can have an awesome time and hopefully not repeat my mistakes and faux pas:

Table of Contents

1. Costa Rica can be very expensive.

Costa Rica travel tips

I anticipated this before my trip, but I was surprised at how expensive it was to travel through Costa Rica, even with prior knowledge that it was pricier than other Latin American countries. Especially in tourist hot spots like Manuel Antonio and La Fortuna , the cost of accommodation , food, and activities was comparable to some cities in the US. It’s pretty tough to find free things to do in Costa Rica, and entrance fees for the national parks start around $15 per day; tours start at $60.

Not all hope is lost for backpackers and budget travelers, though. There are plenty of affordable hostels in Costa Rica, many of which include breakfast and have less expensive tour options. My money-saving advice is to choose affordable lodging but splurge on activities. After all, you’ll likely be spending most of your time outside of your hotel having a blast outdoors anyway!

2. For cheap eats, go to the sodas .

One way to save money while traveling through Costa Rica is to dine in the sodas , i.e., mom-and-pop restaurants. These are always clearly marked as such, and serve up hearty meals that capture the essence of daily Costa Rican cuisine. The most typical plate is called a casado , which includes the traditional gallo pinto (rice and black beans), with some kind of meat or fish and a salad. These usually cost around 4,000-6,000 colones ($8-12 USD) and are filling.

To save money on food, you can also choose a hostel or hotel that includes breakfast and then go to sodas for lunch. Considering that entrees at restaurants in touristy areas can cost $12-20, sodas are a bargain.

-READ NEXT-

How Much Does a Costa Rica Trip Cost?

3. The weather can change in an instant.

Costa Rica travel tips

Sometimes, I still can’t believe how sunny skies can turn into a complete downpour in the blink of an eye. Flash rainstorms are common, especially if you plan to visit Costa Rica during the wet season (May to November). However, this doesn’t have to put a damper on your trip.

Go to Costa Rica prepared for heavy rain, mud, and hot and cold weather. Have at least one pair of waterproof shoes, a rain shell, a waterproof bag, and layers for chilly weather if you go somewhere like Monteverde, where the higher altitude means colder temps. If you plan to spend the day in nature at a national park, always bring your rain gear with you, even if it doesn’t look like it will rain.

4. Renting a car is the way to go…

Having a car can be a game changer in Costa Rica. Many of the places I wanted to visit were either too far (and expensive) to get to via taxis, or there was no public transport available. I met a local in Uvita who told me that having a car isn’t just a luxury, it’s a necessity.

If you want to get to a place before the tour crowds arrive, having a car is the only way to do it. For example, when I visited the La Fortuna waterfall on a tour, I didn’t have the freedom of choosing when to visit, and there were already many people there. We also encountered rain when we arrived, which I could have avoided if I had had a car.

The big downside of renting a car in Costa Rica is the price. I found out that rates start at $80/day. Booking online is a gamble, too, as often tourists are given a much higher rate when they pick up the car than what they were quoted. A rule of thumb: if the quote is less than $80/day, there’s a good chance that there will be hidden fees you’ll have to pay when picking it up.

If you decide to rent a car, do not skimp on insurance. After living here for over a year with my own vehicle, I’ve learned that accidents are prevalent and that driving here can be risky.

5. …but public transportation can be cheap and easy.

Costa Rica travel tips

If you’re alone and traveling on a budget, relying on public transportation to get from place to place in Costa Rica is a great choice most of the time. Although renting a car allows for more flexibility for where you go and when, public transportation is totally doable between cities. Plus, it’s incredibly cheap and easy to navigate.

If you’re starting your journey in San José, you can easily hop on a bus to any of the major touristy areas in the country. For example, to get to Uvita on the Pacific coast, it only cost me about $7 USD, and the 7:30am bus arrived there around 11am, ahead of schedule. However, once I got to Uvita, it was challenging to get from place to place via public transportation, hence why I got stranded at Playa Ventanas ( read about that here ).

Plus, if you get somewhere like La Fortuna, where many of the main attractions are hard to reach without taking a tour, you can rent a car for just a couple of days. I wish I had known this beforehand, as it would have improved my experience there.

6. The national parks are fantastic.

Costa Rica travel tips

Being from the States, I have been spoiled all my life with amazing national parks. Let’s just say, the bar is pretty high. However, Costa Rica’s blew me away with their preservation, accessibility, and overall beauty. From the wild trails through Manuel Antonio to the waterfall in Tenorio Volcano and the Amazon-like canals of Tortuguero, these places are astounding.

Since Costa Rica is home to 6% of the world’s biodiversity, it’s no surprise that the parks are bursting with life. Even though I knew this, it never ceased to amaze me when I saw it with my own eyes.

Since my first trip to Costa Rica in 2022, I have visited Cahuita National Park, Irazú National Park (the Prussia section), and many others. I recommend stopping in any and all parks that are close to your route, as each of them has something different to offer, due to Costa Rica’s numerous microclimates.

7. There are wild animals nearly everywhere.

Costa Rica travel tips

Speaking of Costa Rica’s impressive biodiversity, national parks aren’t the only places to find wild animals. From mischievous monkeys to roadside sloths and the occasional shower-drain scorpion, there seem to be wild animals everywhere here.

I wish I had known how common critters are inside accommodations. After finding a couple of them in my bag, I realized that I needed to keep it zipped at all times. Luckily, I wasn’t stung or bitten by anything, but there were a couple of close calls.

8. …but if you want to see them, hire a guide.

While wild animals are plentiful here, it isn’t always easy to see them without a guide. I’ve been lucky to see sloths on the side of the road and monkeys swinging in the trees outside my hotel window, but if you want to get the most out of the wildlife viewing here, a nature guide is your best bet. Those in Costa Rica are highly trained to spot animals, and they bring binoculars with them to help visitors get the best views.

The difference between when I went to Rio Celeste with a guide and when I went recently without one was huge. The second time around, I thought, “I’ve been here, and I’ve seen so many animals. Of course I’ll see tons this time!” Wrong. The first time I went was far better, because my guide’s expert eye caught sight of animals I would have otherwise missed.

9. The two coasts are very different.

Costa Rica travel tips

Since I have visited both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, I’ve seen how diverse such a small country can be.

For one, the beaches are very different. The Pacific coast has small coves, with rocky cliffs and waves ideal for surfing. The sand is mostly golden and glistens beautifully when the sun sets. I also noticed that it was much more Americanized and more touristy overall, with more expensive restaurants.

The Caribbean coast, on the other hand, has a larger Afro-Latino population and therefore a different cultural landscape than the west coast. Puerto Viejo, for example, is known for its bolder flavors, impromptu dance parties, and reggae music blasting everywhere. If you are excited to dive into Costa Rican culture, the Caribbean side is an ideal place to do it.

10. Addresses aren’t really a thing.

Even in the largest city, San José, addresses (as we know them) don’t exist in Costa Rica. Even on official documents, Costa Ricans give descriptions of their address instead of a number and a street. For example, somebody might describe their address as “a big white house next to the Catholic church.”

This might not be an issue when you travel to Costa Rica, as most taxi drivers know the main landmarks and hotels. However, if you stay in an Airbnb, it can be difficult to describe its location to a driver. In any event, make sure you have an offline map (I use the app maps.me), so you can show your driver where you want to go.

11. Sometimes, tours really are worth the money.

Costa Rica travel tips

I experienced sticker shock when looking at the prices for some of the tours in Costa Rica. After going on a few, though, I realized that some of them were worth it (while others were not).

I recommend booking through GetYourGuide when you can. The platform gives a detailed description of what is included in the tour and what you can expect in terms of how long it will take, what to bring, where you’ll be going, etc.

If you wait to book your tours until you get to your destination, always make sure to do so at the tour office itself. I talked a bit about this in my Costa Rica safety guide , but basically, there are scammers on the street who try to get tourists to book with them.

Overall, the best experience I had on a tour was in Tortuguero . I booked directly with the guide himself, and his expertise, kindness, and quirkiness were what made the experience worthwhile. Plus, booking directly with the guide meant the tour was much more affordable than if it were with a large company.

You won’t find this kind of direct offer everywhere in Costa Rica, but you can look for mom-and-pop tour companies with a more down-to-earth feel.

12. Prepare yourself for tourist traps.

Beyond the abovementioned tour scams, there are quite a few tourist traps throughout Costa Rica. I find this pretty unsurprising, considering how touristy the country is overall.

One is the expensive shuttle services that are not much faster or more reliable than simply taking a public bus. If you are not renting a car, check out the public transportation options before opting for a shuttle. If you are going from San José to pretty much anywhere in Costa Rica, the bus will likely be just as easy. For other routes, like between La Fortuna and Tortuguero, a shuttle is definitely a great option, because public transportation takes twice as long. I use Rome2Rio to get a general idea of public transportation routes, but keep in mind that that it isn’t always 100% accurate.

Other tourist traps in Costa Rica include hokey restaurants with Americanized menus and astronomical prices, and overpriced souvenir shops, which you’ll likely find at the exit of national parks and ecological reserves.

– READ NEXT-

Is Costa Rica Safe? My Take as a Solo Traveler

13. Get to places as soon as they open.

Costa Rica travel tips

Even during the low season, from May to November, there is a steady stream of tourists in Costa Rica. That means the best places get packed in the late morning and early afternoon. If you are like me and enjoy being in nature without too many other people around, make sure to get to your destination first thing in the morning.

The sun rises around 5am during most of the year in Costa Rica, which meant a lot of very early wake-up calls for me. It was worth it, though! I enjoyed visiting the waterfalls, swimming holes, and jungle paths — and even just walking down the street — at this hour. Going to these places early also meant I could spend more time there, just soaking in the beautiful surroundings without any distractions.

Also keep in mind that tour groups tend to arrive at big attractions around the same time. I noticed that sites would get busy around 9 or 10 in the morning, then clear out around noon, then get busy again around 2 or 3 in the afternoon before the park closed at 4pm. The best time to visit busy spots, like the La Fortuna Waterfall or Manuel Antonio National Park, is right when they open (usually 7am) — or during lunchtime if you don’t mind the scorching sun.

14. Make sure to carry enough cash.

Some smaller and more remote places in Costa Rica, like Tortuguero, for example, don’t have ATMs readily available. Considering that some hotels and hostels charge a 2-5% fee to pay for accommodations with a card, having cash on hand is a good idea. Carrying large amounts of cash can be nerve-wracking, sure, but if you spread it out among multiple bags and pockets, you lessen the risk of losing it all in one go.

Also, try to have colones (the local currency) instead of dollars when possible. Although Costa Rica uses dollars, some small restaurants and shops prefer that patrons pay in colones. The value of the dollar has also been steadily decreasing since I moved here in February 2023.

15. San José is worth a couple of days.

Costa Rica travel tips

Too many travelers pass up the opportunity to spend a couple of days in Costa Rica’s capital city, San José . It has a reputation for being a dirty, even dangerous place, with little to do. I disagree with this, and I actually really enjoyed exploring San José at the beginning and end of my trip in 2022. Now, I live just 30 minutes outside of town, and I constantly find new and interesting things to do there.

San José is Costa Rica’s cultural capital. There are great museums, a thriving art scene, and some of the country’s best restaurants (like Silvestre!) and bars. I loved visiting the Spirogyra Butterfly Garden, venturing out to the Hacienda La Chimba, and checking out the nearby city of Cartago.

16. Uber is illegal but cheaper than taxis.

In larger cities like San José and even La Fortuna, Uber is available, safer, and even cheaper than taking a taxi. However, it’s technically illegal throughout Costa Rica. It’s common for drivers to ask you to sit in the front seat so as not to raise suspicions that they are driving for Uber. I’ve never had an issue taking Ubers in Costa Rica, though.

Also, considering the point above about addresses, Uber is much easier to use because your driver has your exact location and that of your drop-off point. Otherwise, it can be hard to explain to a taxi driver (especially if you don’t speak Spanish) where you need to go.

17. A little Spanish goes a long way.

Things to Do in San José Costa Rica

I might sound like a broken record on this one, but knowing (at least) a few phrases of Spanish can be a game-changer in Costa Rica. Locals appreciate it when visitors speak Spanish, even if it’s just “hola” or “gracias.” I know my life is significantly easier here because I speak Spanish, and that was also true when I came here for the first time as a backpacker.

If you don’t have any Spanish knowledge before you come, I recommend downloading an offline translator if you need to communicate in a pinch. While many Costa Ricans speak English, there’s no guarantee that your taxi/Uber driver, waiter, etc. will.

18. Costa Rica’s tourism infrastructure is one of the best in the world.

Although having some basic Spanish knowledge is helpful, Costa Rica’s impressive tourism infrastructure makes it one of the easiest places to travel for non-Spanish speakers and first-time international travelers. Companies like Intrepid and G Adventures offer multiday (even multiweek) tours on which everything is meticulously planned. Hotels often offer airport pickup and dropoff, along with many other perks. And nearly 13% of the population works in tourism . That means that there are people willing to help visitors around every corner.

19. Yes, you can drink the tap water.

I lived in Mexico for four years before I moved to Costa Rica, so imagine my surprise (and excitement!) when I learned that you can drink the tap water here. There are exceptions, but there will likely be signs letting you know if you can’t drink it. This is a stellar tip, because you can bring a smaller water bottle with you on hikes or long walks, knowing that there will be places where you can fill it.

20. Tips are usually included in the final price.

In Costa Rica, most restaurants will charge a 10% service fee, which is the same as the tip. If this has been added to your bill, there’s no need to tip. Of course, if you’d like to tip your wait staff, go for it! But it’s certainly not expected.

There are some things that are hard to prepare for before heading to a new place. These tips were all things I either didn’t know or only knew a little bit about before I went for the first time. I hope they help you prepare for your trip, so you can enjoy the magic of Costa Rica.

If you’ve been to Costa Rica, what other helpful tips do you wish you knew before you went?

*Some links in this post are affiliate links for products and services we personally use and love. Any purchase you make through them supports us at no extra cost to you. Thanks so much!

About Emily Becker

Emily Becker is a digital nomad based in Costa Rica. She's been traveling on and off since 2014 and has visited 15 countries—planning to tick many more off her bucket list. In addition to writing for BMTM, she works as a copywriter and project manager.

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cupskill says

08/17/2022 at 12:37 pm

Nice place…….

08/21/2022 at 3:33 pm

Hi Emily: Thanks for these important tips to give us a step up regarding making our Costa Rica trip that much better and how to avoid pitfalls. I have not been to Costa Rica, but one thing that I did not think of doing until you described Costa Rica would be to try the sunrise over the ocean on a Caribbean beach and on the same day see the sunset over the ocean on the Pacific side! Is that doable and/or worth it? 🙂

08/22/2022 at 9:23 am

Hey Gil! Yes, in theory you could drive from one side of the country to the other to see the sunrise & sunset, but I’d guess that it would mean spending the whole day in the car. Maybe not worth it as the sunsets are only vibrant and colorful if the weather conditions are right (ie. not raining). If you try it, let me know how it works out! Sounds like a fun mission. 🙂

RUSTY GREEN says

04/19/2024 at 10:25 pm

WHICH IS THE BEST PLACE TO LIVE COSTA RICA OR PANAMA CANAL.. IM RETIRED MILITARY AND POLICE.. I DO NOT WANT TO LIVE IN THE U.S. IM SOO TIRED OF PAYING MY 2700 DOLLARS HOUSE PAYMENT..AND THE CRIME IS JUST CRAP.. IF YOU HAVE A ANSWER…

Emily Becker says

04/22/2024 at 10:09 am

Hi there! I’ve lived in Costa Rica for about a year (moved in February 2023) and there are a few distinct areas where retirees tend to settle. One is the central valley (near San José, specifically the areas of Santa Ana and Escazú), another is Guanacaste (near Nosara), and another is the mountainous region parallel to the Pacific Coast (Tinamaste). The cost of living here is comparable to some places in the USA, but the quality of life (in my opinion) is much better. Fresh food easily accessible, low crime rates, and stunning nature everywhere in the country. I recommend looking for Facebook groups with retirees in Costa Rica and asking around there. 🙂 Pura vida!

01/31/2023 at 11:32 am

Great info, thank you!

Andrea says

03/10/2023 at 2:06 pm

I am leaving in a week for CR and am solo. I appreciated your articles and found them helpful. Thank you for sharing!!

03/25/2023 at 8:50 am

Thank you for all the tips! I’m traveling with a group of women this October for a woman’s retreat . We will e spending one night in San Juan before heading to our destination (4 hours away)! I’m really thankful for you telling me that Uber is illegal!

03/27/2023 at 3:01 pm

Hi Dee! Uber is technically illegal but it’s totally fine to use in Costa Rica. The driver will just ask you to sit up front. Keep in mind that Uber isn’t widely available and is mostly used in San José and the surrounding areas.

MIGUEL BONILLA says

08/30/2023 at 11:41 pm

Hi Emily, I’m traveling with my kids to Costa Rica on February, what is my best option to get to the fortuna from the airport? And thank you for all your tips. Miguel

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Costa Rica Travel Information

17 Things to Know About Costa Rica Before You Go

September 10, 2023 By Sammi 87 Comments

Although there is a lot of information about Costa Rica on the web, there is still so much misinformation. As we have been traveling around Costa Rica together for over ten years, we’ve learned a lot and want to share that knowledge with you whether you’re a first time visitor or repeat visitor.

Here are 17 things to know about Costa Rica before you visit.

There are Amazon affiliate links in this post.

1. Costa Rica is not as cheap people think

This is one of the most important things to know about Costa Rica. Many people assume that Central America automatically equals cheap travel. This is the biggest common misconception about Costa Rica . Yes, its neighbor, Nicaragua is dirt cheap but it’s is also one of the poorest countries in Latin America so you can stretch your money very far there.

Those who don’t know this about Costa Rica get an unfortunate surprise when they see prices here. Tours can easily cost $150 USD a person, food can be the same price as Canada/USA/Europe and gas has always been more expensive at around $5-6 USD a gallon. Without careful planning, you can blow through hundreds of dollars fairly quickly.

But we can help! Read about the cost of Costa Rica in these posts to help you stay within your budget. Also don’t forget to take advantage of our Costa Rica deals ! We have discounts for car rentals, tours and a couple hotels.

  • Cost of traveling in Costa Rica : See how much food, transportation, tours, hotels and souvenirs cost.
  • Save money in Costa Rica: Our local insider tips for saving money traveling in Costa Rica.
  • Cheap things to do in Costa Rica : Activities under $20 USD.
  • 1 week Costa Rica budget : See how much 3 people spent in Costa Rica for 1 week.

2. Costa Rica is a small country but it takes longer than it seems to get around

Costa Rica is a little smaller than West Virginia and Denmark so it’s easy to think you can road trip the whole country in a week. Technically you can, but trust me, that wouldn’t be very fun!

This is because of the not so great infrastructure so the roads in Costa Rica are never as the crows fly. The average speed limit on the highways here is 80 kmph (~50 mph). Many routes only have one lane which causes lots of congestion and traffic as all the trailer trucks use the same route. There is no one road that goes all around Costa Rica either that easily connects coast to coast.

So when planning out your driving routes, make sure you always add at least 1 hour to whatever what your GPS says. Read more about getting around Costa Rica here to plan out your trip.

For example, Tamarindo to San Jose is 259 kilometers or 161 miles. On a good day if we leave at like, midnight or 4 in the morning, it takes us 4-4.5 hours. However, due to lots of construction and more people on the road, the average drive time now is 5.5 hours. One time it took us 10 hours because an deadly accident occurred on the one lane roads. Unfortunately we were standstill for 2 hours and ended up arriving in San Jose during rush hour.

This is one of the mistakes to avoid when traveling in Costa Rica . Don’t try to drive everywhere, don’t drive cross country routes everyday and always know that your drive will take longer than what the GPS says. For a one week trip it’s best to choose 2 destinations or pick a home base and do day trips. Plan smart, travel easy.

3. Tap water is safe to drink in Costa Rica

In the Central Valley cities, you can indeed drink the tap water. We have no problem drinking tap water in San Jose, Heredia, Cartago and some mountain areas like Monteverde.

Though tap water is generally safe to drink, I still recommend bringing a filter if you’re sensitive. You can also help the environment by bringing an insulated water bottle and filters instead of buying bottled water.

The more remote and rural places generally don’t have drinkable tap water however. These are places like Tortuguero, Osa Peninsula, Santa Teresa, Sarapiqui and Golfito. Hotels will indicate whether the water is safe and tour guides will let you know which faucets to use. Some hotels will have a bottled water station for you to fill up your bottles.

Read more about drinking tap water in Costa Rica.

4. Dengue, not malaria is the main disease from mosquitoes in Costa Rica

The mosquito borne disease travelers should concern themselves with in Costa Rica is dengue fever, not malaria. Costa Rica has many more cases of dengue than Malaria and Zika.

Remember, mosquitoes are in Costa Rica year round and are worse in rainy season. Mosquitoes breed in stagnant water so bring plenty of repellent and cover up. Read our tips for protecting yourself against mosquitoes in Costa Rica.

Extra travel safety tip: Make sure to purchase travel insurance just in case you do catch something! You can read more about Costa Rica travel insurance in this post.

5. Costa Rica gets cold but it doesn’t snow

Costa Rica experiences typical tropical weather but it has many micro-climates. It doesn’t snow but it does get quite cold in some areas due to the high elevation. You can read more about Costa Rica weather in this post.

things to know about Costa Rica before you go - Irazu Volcano

Some of the colder areas are Monteverde , Poas, Vara Blanca, San Isidro de Perez Zeledon, Chirripo and San Gerardo de Dota . Temperatures in those areas can get down to a chilly 50s Fahrenheit (10 C) at night if the winds are strong. The coasts stay nice and hot, mostly in the 80s and 90s Fahrenheit (27 – 32 C) during the day.

Make sure to research the area you are visiting so you come prepared. For packing tips, check out our Costa Rica packing list to see what you need to bring for different activities and destinations. Our must have items are an insulated water bottle , microfiber to wel, battery pack , sunscreen SPF 50 , sunglasses, dry fast clothes and mosquito repellent .

6. US dollars are readily accepted and are the standard currency in tourism

Hotels and tour companies quote their prices in USD in Costa Rica. This is normal in tourism. Additionally, Costa Ricans can have bank accounts in USD as mortgages and car payments are quoted in USD. US dollars have become the standard currency in tourism.

So when you’re trying to get your money together, don’t stress too much about exchanging it all beforehand as it’s not 100% necessary if you are from the USA. USD is accepted in pretty much every touristic destination.

If you are Canadian however, it will be better for you to have Costa Rican currency due to the Canadian dollar and USD exchange rate. Ask the hotels or tour companies if you can pay in colones instead and how much the exchange would be. Canadian dollars and other currencies are not accepted in Costa Rica, only USD.

Also make sure you check what the exchange rate is. The exchange rate changes everyday, sometimes even hour so you need to check. Since the current the exchange rate is around 540 CRC to 1 USD, some places may try to stiff you by using a 500 to 1 rate and you will lose out a bit. The best place to exchange currency is at the bank, not at the airport exchange rate booth.

Read more about handling money in Costa Rica.

Tip for exchanging currency: supermarkets accept USD and if you pay in USD, they will give you your change back in Costa Rican colones. Easy way to exchange money without having to go to the bank. Just make sure to calculate the exchange rate. The supermarket should have a sign of the exchange rate for the day near the front or by the cashier.

7. You can still visit Costa Rica in rainy season and have a great time!

Dry season in Costa Rica has the best weather. Thanks to the sunny days, it is also our high tourism season because everyone wants to escape the winter up north.

Costa Rica’s rainy season is around beginning of May to end of Nov/beginning of December. The rainiest months for most of Costa Rica is September and October and November and June for the Caribbean.

Yes it rains and you do need to pack and research more for rainy season. But you will still have a great time! Check out our Costa Rica rainy season packing list for tips.

Here are some other things to know about why it’s actually awesome to visit Costa Rica in rainy season.

  • Rainy season is also Costa Rica’s low season. This means less tourists!
  • Prices for hotels and tours go down and businesses throw lots of promos in October. It’s the best time to travel cheap in Costa Rica.
  • A typical rainy season day is sunny and hot in the morning, cloudy in the afternoon and rainy in the evening/night.
  • Rainy season is the best time to see certain wildlife like humpback whales and turtles .

To read more about visiting Costa Rica in rainy season , click the link. Personally, we love rainy season in Costa Rica. Less crowds, not as hot, more wildlife and it’s cheaper!

8. Sloths aren’t everywhere (sorry)

As much as I hate to break it to you, sloths aren’t everywhere. I know Costa Rica markets their cuddly sloths so much it seems that the roads are crawling with them but it’s not true. Sloths, being the masters of camouflage, are normally very difficult to see without a guide or trained eye.

things to know about Costa Rica before you go - sloths

Additionally, there are some places where sloths aren’t found in Costa Rica which a lot of tourists don’t realize. For example, it is incredibly difficult to see one in Guanacaste due to the extremely dry climate. But if you visit the South Pacific or the Caribbean coast, sloths are much more common thanks to the lush rainforest.

One of the main “complaints” I’ve heard from visitors is that they didn’t see a sloth. I asked them where they were in Costa Rica and many of them were at the Pacific coast or in the city where sloths don’t live. If you want to see a sloth, then you need to go to where they live! Find out where are the best places to see sloths in Costa Rica in our guide.

To make sure you see a sloth, hire a guide. They have trained eyes and will have binoculars or telescopes to find them. If you’re staying on the Guanacaste coast and want to see sloths, check out this awesome Rainforest and Sloth day trip !

9. Police can stop and ask for your papers at any time

In Costa Rica, police are legally allowed to stop any car and ask for papers. Always have a color copy of your passport and photo of your tourist stamp with you. Remember that to legally drive in Costa Rica as a tourist, you need to have your original passport (not a color copy), your original driver’s license and a valid tourist stamp with you.

If a police stops you, they’ll ask you for your passport, ask you where you’re going and then send you on your way. Most of the time they don’t ask anything else and many of them speak some very basic English.

Also something else to note is that the police in Costa Rica are generally very nice. They don’t have a “shoot first ask later” mentality here and are willing to help tourists out. Likewise, there is a tourist police (policia turistica) that are specifically to help tourists so don’t be afraid to ask them questions.

10. Wi-Fi is readily available…

…at hotels. It is common for hotels to offer free Wi-Fi and many of them have it available throughout the whole property. Some hotels may only have it in reception but it is free.

However, it’s hard to find open Wi-Fi in public places. It’s not like NYC where you can find a Starbucks and use the free Wi-Fi. If you see a restaurant with a secure Wi-Fi connection, you can ask them for the password. I’ve found most places are OK with giving it out as long as you are a customer.

If you always want Internet during your time in Costa Rica, we highly recommend getting a prepaid SIM card for your phone or renting a Wifi hot spot. Find out how to get a prepaid SIM card in Costa Rica . Car rentals also have Wi-Fi hot spots for rent.

Travel tip: The way SIM cards work is you will take out the existing SIM card in your smartphone you use at home and put in the Costa Rican one. Now your phone will be on the Costa Rican network so you can make local calls and texts in Costa Rica and be able to go on the Internet. Your phone number from home will NOT work anymore. A prepaid SIM card will subtract the credit used from calls/texts/internet from your balance accordingly. When your balance is low, you can add more credit to it at a supermarket or cell phone store. If your phone has eSIM, eSIM is also available in Costa Rica. Airalo is a good option for eSIM.

11. The standard tipping amount is 10%

This is something important to know about Costa Rica. First of all, tipping is not absolutely mandatory in Costa Rica. This is because tip, or service tax, is normally already included in the price so Costa Ricans don’t tip extra. Service tax is 10% in Costa Rica.

However, if you would like to tip your guide, driver, hotel maid, etc. you may do so and it is very well appreciated. The standard amount to tip in Costa Rica is 10% and you can tip in Costa Rican colones or USD. You can tip more or less depending on how you feel the service was too.

Read more about tipping in Costa Rica in this post.

12. You must drive defensively in Costa Rica!

People are always surprised by the driving in Costa Rica . It’s something I warn people about when they are renting a car in Costa Rica because the driving here is not well organized due to the not so great infrastructure.

Simply stated, always drive defensively, especially in the cities. Don’t get stressed out or mad because it is a fact that you will get cut off and tailgated. You will see cars jump the line, not heed stop signs, run red lights and not use blinkers.

Of course not all Costa Ricans drive this way but for the most part, it is like that, especially in the cities. Once you get out to the rural areas, it’s much more relaxed since there are less cars but you still need to drive defensively due to the infrastructure. There are always people, dogs, chickens, cows and other things in the middle of the narrow road thanks to lack of sidewalks, street signs and street lights. Get our Costa Rica car rental discount here and save some $$!

13. San Jose’s not as bad as people make it out to be…

…for a day. San Jose is not the biggest nor prettiest capital city but it does have some hidden gems. You do not need many days in San Jose, just a day, day and a half or two is enough. You can find some of the best restaurants and craft beer in San Jose!

Then there are the cultural treasures: the National Theater and museums. Any history lover will want to stop by the city as there are few museums of this quality anywhere else in the country.

things to know about Costa Rica before you go - San Jose

So when it comes down to it, San Jose really isn’t as bad as people make it out to be for 1 or 2 days. And honestly, it is the best place to experience Costa Rican life since over 1 million Ticos live and work in the capital city (out of a population of nearly 5 million).

Also, we know many tourists who use San Jose as their home base and book day trips for their vacation. San Jose is centrally located so you can see many beautiful places on a day excursion.

Have a few days in San Jose? Check out our San Jose, Costa Rica travel guide for the best things to do or our San Jose day trips post. You can even get our San Jose tours discount to save some money!

14. English is widely spoken but not all Costa Ricans speak English

People assume that because Costa Rica is a touristic country and that there are so many North Americans here, that all the locals know English. Though many Costa Ricans know a degree of English, not all of them do. The Costa Ricans with higher education and who work in tourism, real estate or call centers are generally fluent in English.

But don’t assume that all Costa Ricans know English. For tourists, you can get around Costa Rica without knowing Spanish, but it is helpful to learn at least the basic words. You can download our handy Costa Rica Spanish cheat sheet to learn a little. Personally, we always learn how to say the basics like hello and thank you in the language of the country we’re visiting to be polite.

15. It gets dark by 6 PM everyday in Costa Rica

And the sun rises around 6 AM everyday since Costa Rica is only 8-12 degrees from the equator. It changes only about 15 minutes throughout the year. Being a tropical country, Costa Rica doesn’t have Daylight Savings Time either.

So make sure to take into account that it gets dark by 6 PM everyday when planning your trip. Many places close at 5 PM too, not many places open late night nor are there really any 24 hour supermarkets or restaurants. In Costa Rica, you will learn to enjoy the early mornings. Plus, it’s a bit hard to sleep in with so many monkeys howling and birds chirping at 5 AM!

Personal tip: we don’t recommend to drive long distances after dark or to walk on the beach or streets at sunrise or after sunset.

16. Costa Rica doesn’t have much in common with Mexico

For some reason, many foreigners think Costa Rica is like Mexico. But Costa Rica and Mexico are completely different!

Costa Rican food isn’t like Mexican food at all and even the Spanish is different. In Costa Rica, they don’t say andale andale or anything like that. They are two completely different countries with their own cultures, traditions and customs.

So when you visit Costa Rica, don’t crack any jokes about Costa Rica being Mexico or Costa Ricans as Mexicans. It’s one of the points about being a responsible traveler and as guests in a country, we have to be respectful.

PS. Costa Rica is not Puerto Rico either. For some reason lots of people get these two mixed up! We get a lot of “Costo Rico” or “Costa Rico” comments. People even think Costa Rica is an island, which it is not. We have even had people book their flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico instead of San Jose, Costa Rica! Do not make this mistake when planning your trip to Costa Rica!

17. Costa Rica doesn’t have a military and theft is the most common crime against tourists

Did you know that Costa Rica is one of 23 countries in the world with no military? There is only the police force, the OIJ and GAO (like a SWAT team). Because of the lack of military, Costa Rica is a a peaceful country, making it one of the safest countries in Latin America for traveling, especially families.

The most common crime in Costa Rica is theft: car/house break ins and pick pockets. To prevent this, a lot of it is common sense. Don’t hang your purse on the back of your chair, don’t put your backpack in the overhead compartment of the bus, don’t leave your wallet on the dashboard of your car, don’t leave your car windows open.

So when you’re traveling in Costa Rica, make sure to always lock the door, roll up the windows, have one person stay with your stuff at all times and don’t leave any valuables visible in the car. Don’t park in remote, dark areas. Don’t leave your belongings unattended on the beach. Use your common sense. Be alert and aware.

You can read more Costa Rica safety tips here and our Costa Rica tourist scams.

Read more Costa Rica travel tips below!

Types of accommodation in Costa Rica

How to get around Costa Rica

1 Costa Rica week itinerary

50 things to do in Costa Rica

Costa Rica Vacation Checklist

  • First time to Costa Rica? Read our First Time in Costa Rica guide.
  • Not sure how to move around Costa Rica? Read our How to Get Around Costa Rica guide to find the best transportation method for you.
  • Click the link to get our detailed Costa Rica Packing List so you know what essential items to bring.
  • Do not forget to purchase Travel Insurance for your trip to Costa Rica.
  • Stay connected by purchasing a prepaid SIM Card in Costa Rica.
  • Save money with Mytanfeet Deals for tours and hotels. Save more money with our Costa Rica Car Rental Discount.

Join our mailing list and get our free Costa Rica eBook!  

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Costa Rica travel advice

Latest updates: Entry and exit requirements - added information on entry stamp; Laws and customs – updated information on the validity of a Canadian driver’s license in Costa Rica

Last updated: May 22, 2024 13:54 ET

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Safety and security, entry and exit requirements, laws and culture, natural disasters and climate, costa rica - exercise a high degree of caution.

Exercise a high degree of caution in Costa Rica due to crime.

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Petty crime

Petty crime, such as pickpocketing and purse snatching, occurs frequently. Tourists are common targets for theft because they are perceived as being wealthy.

Crime against property, such as house burglary, theft from cars, and vehicle theft, is frequent. Passport theft is also extremely common and increases in frequency during the peak tourist seasons, from November to May and from July to August.

Thieves often work in teams, in which one thief diverts the victims’ attention while the other snatches their possessions. Thefts commonly occur: 

  • in popular tourist areas, including viewpoints
  • on buses, on trains, in bus and train stations as well as in airports terminals
  • in hotel lobbies
  • at restaurants, including on patios located near streets

While you’re in Costa Rica:

  • ensure that your belongings, including your passport and other travel documents, are secure at all times
  • carry your passport, including the Costa Rican entry stamp received at the immigration entry point
  • avoid showing signs of affluence or wearing expensive jewellery
  • avoid carrying large sums of cash or unnecessary valuables
  • avoid isolated or deserted areas
  • avoid walking alone at night
  • be aware of your surroundings, particularly in crowded and tourist areas
  • be extra cautious when withdrawing cash from ATMs
  • San José

In San José, high-risk areas for theft include:

  • the Coca-Cola bus terminal area, located between El Paso de la Vaca, Calle 12 and the Coca-Cola market
  • the inner downtown area, located between the San Juan de Dios Hospital, the National Museum, Avenida 1 and Avenida 14
  • the Mercado central areas
  • public parks

Pacific Coast

In Puntarenas province, the following areas are of particular concern for theft:

  • Jacó, including the crocodile viewing area along the Tárcoles River
  • Manuel Antonio national park
  • Cóbano area, including the small seaside towns of Mal País, Montezuma and Santa Teresa, as well as the port of Puntarenas

Caribbean Coast

On the Caribbean coast, the following areas are of particular concern for theft:

  • Puerto Limón 
  • Puerto Viejo

Residential break-ins

Residential break-ins occur. Burglars may target rental accommodations or houses and apartments owned by foreigners.

  • Choose well-secured accommodation
  • Make sure you lock doors and windows at night and when you’re away

Car break-ins and theft are very common throughout the country. Rental and luxury vehicles are a target of choice. Theft commonly occurs: 

  • supermarkets
  • restaurants
  • national parks

If driving in Costa Rica:

  • familiarize yourself with your route before starting the trip
  • keep your windows and doors locked at all times
  • keep your belongings out of reach
  • use secure parking facilities, especially overnight
  • never leave belongings unattended in a vehicle, even locked or out of sight in the trunk
  • don’t stop to change a flat tire in an isolated area, and beware of strangers offering their help
  • ensure emergency assistance and car insurance are offered by the rental agency when renting a car

Violent crime

Violent crime, including murders and armed robberies, occurs. Drug trafficking is common, and most incidents are drug-related.  The most affected provinces are:

  • Limón

Although not frequent, violent assaults against travellers have occurred on the Caribbean coast in:

  • Puerto Limón

If you are threatened, hand over your cash and valuables immediately without resistance.

Credit card and ATM fraud occurs. Be cautious when using debit or credit cards:

  • pay careful attention when others are handling your cards
  • use ATMs located in well-lit public areas or inside a bank or business
  • avoid using card readers with irregular or unusual features
  • cover the keypad with one hand when entering your PIN
  • check for any unauthorized transactions on your account statements

Overseas fraud

Spiked food and drinks

Snacks, beverages, gum and cigarettes may contain drugs that could put you at risk of sexual assault and robbery.

  • Be wary of accepting these items from new acquaintances
  • Never leave food or drinks unattended or in the care of strangers

Unregulated alcohol

Some people died after consuming adulterated alcohol in Costa Rica during the summer of 2019. Further incidents occurred in October 2020.

  • Be cautious if you choose to drink alcohol
  • Be wary of lesser-known or illegal brands
  • Avoid buying alcohol from individuals
  • Seek medical assistance if you begin to feel sick

Alcohol, drugs and travel

Women’s safety

Women travelling alone may be subject to some forms of harassment and verbal abuse. Incidents of sexual assault against foreigners at beach resorts and by taxi drivers in San José have occurred.

Advice for women travellers

Demonstrations

Demonstrations take place from time to time, particularly in San José. Even peaceful demonstrations can turn violent at any time. They can also lead to disruptions to traffic and public transportation.

Costa Rican law prohibits political activity by foreigners. Participating in demonstrations or activities may result in you being detained and/or deported.

  • Avoid areas where demonstrations and large gatherings are taking place
  • Follow the instructions of local authorities
  • Monitor local media for information on ongoing demonstrations

Mass gatherings (large-scale events)

Water activities

Coastal waters can be dangerous. Riptides are common. Several drownings occur each year.

Very few beaches are supervised by lifeguards.  There are no warning signs of dangerous conditions.

  • Exercise caution when swimming
  • Don’t swim alone, after hours or outside marked areas
  • Consult residents and tour operators for information on possible hazards and safe swimming areas
  • Monitor weather warnings

Useful links

  • Tips for travellers - Costa Rica Tourist Board
  • Water safety abroad

Adventure tourism

Outdoor activities, such as white-water rafting, scuba diving, bungee jumping, canopy touring and other adventure sports can be dangerous if unprepared. Trails are rarely marked, and weather conditions can change rapidly, even in summer.

Safety features on small boats used in river and lake excursions are not always reliable.

Life-threatening fauna such as jaguars, pumas, wild pigs and poisonous snakes are common in the densely wooded areas.

If you intend to practice adventure tourism:

  • never do so alone, and don’t part with your expedition companions
  • obtain detailed information on your activity and on the environment in which you will be before setting out
  • buy travel insurance that includes helicopter rescue and medical evacuation
  • ensure that your physical condition is good enough to meet the challenges of your activity
  • avoid venturing off marked trails
  • don’t camp or sleep overnight on beaches
  • ensure that you’re adequately equipped and bring sufficient water
  • stay informed of weather and other conditions that may pose a hazard
  • know the symptoms of acute altitude sickness, which can be fatal
  • inform a family member or friend of your itinerary
  • refrain from using facilities or equipment if you have doubts on their safety

National parks

You must obtain a permit to access national parks.

Nation Parks – Costa Rica Tourist Board

Road safety

Road conditions and road safety are generally poor throughout the country. Costa Rica has one of the highest traffic accident rates in the world.

Road conditions

Most roads are not paved and those paved are generally in poor condition. Driving conditions may be hazardous, especially during the rainy season, due to:

  • sharp curves
  • lack of traffic signs
  • narrow or unpaved roads

Driving habits

Drivers don’t respect traffic laws. Motorists often drive without lights at night.

While driving:

  • remain vigilant when stopped at lights or stop signs
  • keep doors locked and windows closed at all times
  • keep your valuables out of plain sight
  • avoid travel at night

Public transportation

Public bus transportation is unreliable. Schedules and routes may not be accurate. Vehicles are often late due to traffic and road conditions. Itineraries may also vary from the ones originally announced.

Pickpockets often target tourists in public buses.

If travelling by public bus:

  • keep your ID and valuables with you
  • avoid placing your bags in the overhead compartment or under your seat
  • avoid sleeping

Police checks of passengers on public transportation also occur. Officers often use those checks to determine if foreigners have overstayed the 90-day visa exemption period.

Always carry your proof of legal stay on your person.

Official taxis are safe. They are orange at the airport and red with a yellow triangle on the side elsewhere in the country.

  • Use official taxis only booked ahead of time
  • Never board taxis at taxi stands or flag taxis in the street
  • Note the driver’s name and plate number
  • Make sure the driver uses the meter
  • Never use shared taxis

We do not make assessments on the compliance of foreign domestic airlines with international safety standards.

Information about foreign domestic airlines

Every country or territory decides who can enter or exit through its borders. The Government of Canada cannot intervene on your behalf if you do not meet your destination’s entry or exit requirements.

We have obtained the information on this page from the Costa Rican authorities. It can, however, change at any time.

Verify this information with the  Foreign Representatives in Canada .

Entry requirements vary depending on the type of passport you use for travel.

Before you travel, check with your transportation company about passport requirements. Its rules on passport validity may be more stringent than the country’s entry rules.

Regular Canadian passport

Your passport must be valid for the duration of your stay.

Passport for official travel

Different entry rules may apply.

Official travel

Passport with “X” gender identifier

While the Government of Canada issues passports with an “X” gender identifier, it cannot guarantee your entry or transit through other countries. You might face entry restrictions in countries that do not recognize the “X” gender identifier. Before you leave, check with the closest foreign representative for your destination.

Other travel documents

Different entry rules may apply when travelling with a temporary passport or an emergency travel document. Before you leave, check with the closest foreign representative for your destination.

  • Foreign Representatives in Canada
  • Canadian passports

Tourist visa: not required for stays up to 180 days Business visa: required Student visa: required

Length of stay

The immigration officer will determine the permitted length of your stay when you enter Costa Rica. As a tourist, you may be granted a stay up to 180 days.

If you intend to stay for more than 180 days, you must obtain a residency status from the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería.

You may face deportation if you overstay the authorized 180-day period. Persons deported from Costa Rica will not be allowed to re-enter the country for 5 to 10 years.

  • Immigration department – Costa Rica government (in Spanish)

Entry stamp

You must obtain an entry stamp from immigration officials upon entry into Costa Rica.

Other entry requirements

Customs officials will ask you to show them a return or onward ticket and proof of sufficient funds to cover your stay.

Minors with dual citizenship

Costa Rica strictly enforces requirements for the departure of minors with dual citizenship.

The Canadian passport of a dual citizen child must have a Costa Rican departure approval delivered by the immigration authorities. The granted permission may be temporary or permanent and will be recorded in the Costa Rican immigration electronic system.

The approval must be requested jointly by both parents, prior to departure, to either of the following authorities:

  • Costa Rica’s immigration department
  • the Embassy of Costa Rica in Canada

Several cases of departure denials have occurred due to the lack of proper documentation.

Minors with dual citizenship who are travelling unaccompanied must also have legally certified written consent from both parents.

Useful Links

Children and travel.

Learn more about travelling with children .

Yellow fever

Learn about potential entry requirements related to yellow fever (vaccines section).

Relevant Travel Health Notices

  • Global Measles Notice - 13 March, 2024
  • Zika virus: Advice for travellers - 31 August, 2023
  • COVID-19 and International Travel - 13 March, 2024
  • Dengue: Advice for travellers - 6 May, 2024

This section contains information on possible health risks and restrictions regularly found or ongoing in the destination. Follow this advice to lower your risk of becoming ill while travelling. Not all risks are listed below.

Consult a health care professional or visit a travel health clinic preferably 6 weeks before you travel to get personalized health advice and recommendations.

Routine vaccines

Be sure that your  routine vaccinations , as per your province or territory , are up-to-date before travelling, regardless of your destination.

Some of these vaccinations include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, varicella (chickenpox), influenza and others.

Pre-travel vaccines and medications

You may be at risk for preventable diseases while travelling in this destination. Talk to a travel health professional about which medications or vaccines may be right for you, based on your destination and itinerary. 

There is a risk of hepatitis A in this destination. It is a disease of the liver. People can get hepatitis A if they ingest contaminated food or water, eat foods prepared by an infectious person, or if they have close physical contact (such as oral-anal sex) with an infectious person, although casual contact among people does not spread the virus.

Practise  safe food and water precautions and wash your hands often. Vaccination is recommended for all travellers to areas where hepatitis A is present.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

  • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country. 
  • Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required if you are coming from a country   where yellow fever occurs , excluding Argentina and Panama, or if you are coming from Tanzania or Zambia.
  • Vaccination is not recommended.
  • Discuss travel plans, activities, and destinations with a health care provider.
  • Contact a designated   Yellow Fever Vaccination Centre   well in advance of your trip to arrange for vaccination.

About Yellow Fever

Yellow Fever Vaccination Centres in Canada * It is important to note that   country entry requirements   may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest   diplomatic or consular office   of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.

Measles is a highly contagious viral disease. It can spread quickly from person to person by direct contact and through droplets in the air.

Anyone who is not protected against measles is at risk of being infected with it when travelling internationally.

Regardless of where you are going, talk to a health care professional before travelling to make sure you are fully protected against measles.

  Hepatitis B is a risk in every destination. It is a viral liver disease that is easily transmitted from one person to another through exposure to blood and body fluids containing the hepatitis B virus.  Travellers who may be exposed to blood or other bodily fluids (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment, sharing needles, tattooing, acupuncture or occupational exposure) are at higher risk of getting hepatitis B.

Hepatitis B vaccination is recommended for all travellers. Prevent hepatitis B infection by practicing safe sex, only using new and sterile drug equipment, and only getting tattoos and piercings in settings that follow public health regulations and standards.

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious viral disease. It can spread from person to person by direct contact and through droplets in the air.

It is recommended that all eligible travellers complete a COVID-19 vaccine series along with any additional recommended doses in Canada before travelling. Evidence shows that vaccines are very effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19. While vaccination provides better protection against serious illness, you may still be at risk of infection from the virus that causes COVID-19. Anyone who has not completed a vaccine series is at increased risk of being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 and is at greater risk for severe disease when travelling internationally.

Before travelling, verify your destination’s COVID-19 vaccination entry/exit requirements. Regardless of where you are going, talk to a health care professional before travelling to make sure you are adequately protected against COVID-19.

 The best way to protect yourself from seasonal influenza (flu) is to get vaccinated every year. Get the flu shot at least 2 weeks before travelling.  

 The flu occurs worldwide. 

  •  In the Northern Hemisphere, the flu season usually runs from November to   April.
  •  In the Southern Hemisphere, the flu season usually runs between April and   October.
  •  In the tropics, there is flu activity year round. 

The flu vaccine available in one hemisphere may only offer partial protection against the flu in the other hemisphere.

The flu virus spreads from person to person when they cough or sneeze or by touching objects and surfaces that have been contaminated with the virus. Clean your hands often and wear a mask if you have a fever or respiratory symptoms.

Malaria  is a serious and sometimes fatal disease that is caused by parasites spread through the bites of mosquitoes.   There is a risk of malaria in certain areas and/or during a certain time of year in this destination. 

Antimalarial medication may be recommended depending on your itinerary and the time of year you are travelling. Consult a health care professional or visit a travel health clinic before travelling to discuss your options. It is recommended to do this 6 weeks before travel, however, it is still a good idea any time before leaving.    Protect yourself from mosquito bites at all times:  • Cover your skin and use an approved insect repellent on uncovered skin.  • Exclude mosquitoes from your living area with screening and/or closed, well-sealed doors and windows. • Use insecticide-treated bed nets if mosquitoes cannot be excluded from your living area.  • Wear permethrin-treated clothing.    If you develop symptoms similar to malaria when you are travelling or up to a year after you return home, see a health care professional immediately. Tell them where you have been travelling or living. 

In this destination, rabies is carried by dogs and some wildlife, including bats. Rabies is a deadly disease that spreads to humans primarily through bites or scratches from an infected animal. While travelling, take precautions , including keeping your distance from animals (including free-roaming dogs), and closely supervising children.

If you are bitten or scratched by an animal while travelling, immediately wash the wound with soap and clean water and see a health care professional. Rabies treatment is often available in this destination. 

Before travel, discuss rabies vaccination with a health care professional. It may be recommended for travellers who are at high risk of exposure (e.g., occupational risk such as veterinarians and wildlife workers, children, adventure travellers and spelunkers, and others in close contact with animals). 

Safe food and water precautions

Many illnesses can be caused by eating food or drinking beverages contaminated by bacteria, parasites, toxins, or viruses, or by swimming or bathing in contaminated water.

  • Learn more about food and water precautions to take to avoid getting sick by visiting our eat and drink safely abroad page. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!
  • Avoid getting water into your eyes, mouth or nose when swimming or participating in activities in freshwater (streams, canals, lakes), particularly after flooding or heavy rain. Water may look clean but could still be polluted or contaminated.
  • Avoid inhaling or swallowing water while bathing, showering, or swimming in pools or hot tubs. 

Travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers. It is spread from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.

Risk of developing travellers' diarrhea increases when travelling in regions with poor standards of hygiene and sanitation. Practise safe food and water precautions.

The most important treatment for travellers' diarrhea is rehydration (drinking lots of fluids). Carry oral rehydration salts when travelling.

Typhoid   is a bacterial infection spread by contaminated food or water. Risk is higher among children, travellers going to rural areas, travellers visiting friends and relatives or those travelling for a long period of time.

Travellers visiting regions with a risk of typhoid, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation, should speak to a health care professional about vaccination.  

Insect bite prevention

Many diseases are spread by the bites of infected insects such as mosquitoes, ticks, fleas or flies. When travelling to areas where infected insects may be present:

  • Use insect repellent (bug spray) on exposed skin
  • Cover up with light-coloured, loose clothes made of tightly woven materials such as nylon or polyester
  • Minimize exposure to insects
  • Use mosquito netting when sleeping outdoors or in buildings that are not fully enclosed

To learn more about how you can reduce your risk of infection and disease caused by bites, both at home and abroad, visit our insect bite prevention page.

Find out what types of insects are present where you’re travelling, when they’re most active, and the symptoms of the diseases they spread.

There is a risk of chikungunya in this country.  The risk may vary between regions of a country.  Chikungunya is a virus spread through the bite of an infected mosquito. Chikungunya can cause a viral disease that typically causes fever and pain in the joints. In some cases, the joint pain can be severe and last for months or years.

Protect yourself from mosquito bites at all times. There is no vaccine available for chikungunya.

  • In this country,   dengue  is a risk to travellers. It is a viral disease spread to humans by mosquito bites.
  • Dengue can cause flu-like symptoms. In some cases, it can lead to severe dengue, which can be fatal.
  • The level of risk of dengue changes seasonally, and varies from year to year. The level of risk also varies between regions in a country and can depend on the elevation in the region.
  • Mosquitoes carrying dengue typically bite during the daytime, particularly around sunrise and sunset.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites . There is no vaccine or medication that protects against dengue.

Zika virus is a risk in this country. 

Zika virus is primarily spread through the bite of an infected mosquito. It can also be sexually transmitted. Zika virus can cause serious birth defects.

During your trip:

  • Prevent mosquito bites at all times.
  • Use condoms correctly or avoid sexual contact, particularly if you are pregnant.

If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, you should discuss the potential risks of travelling to this destination with your health care provider. You may choose to avoid or postpone travel. 

For more information, see Zika virus: Pregnant or planning a pregnancy.

American trypanosomiasis (Chagas disease)   is a risk in this country. It is caused by a parasite spread by infected triatomine bugs. The infection can be inactive for decades, but humans can eventually develop complications causing disability and even death.

Risk is generally low for most travellers. Protect yourself from triatomine bugs, which are active at night, by using mosquito nets if staying in poorly-constructed housing. There is no vaccine available for Chagas disease.

Animal precautions

Some infections, such as rabies and influenza, can be shared between humans and animals. Certain types of activities may increase your chance of contact with animals, such as travelling in rural or forested areas, camping, hiking, and visiting wet markets (places where live animals are slaughtered and sold) or caves.

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, livestock (pigs, cows), monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats, and to avoid eating undercooked wild game.

Closely supervise children, as they are more likely to come in contact with animals.

Mpox (monkeypox)   is a risk in this country. It is a viral disease that can cause serious illness in some circumstances. Risk is generally low for most travellers.

Mpox spreads in 3 ways:

  • from animals to humans through direct contact or by eating or preparing undercooked meat of infected animals or coming into contact with an infected animal's body fluids
  • from person to person through close contact, including direct contact with the skin lesions, blood, body fluids, or mucosal surfaces (such as eyes, mouth, throat, genitalia, anus, or rectum) of an infected person
  • through direct contact with contaminated objects such as bedding and towels, or by sharing personal objects used by an infected person

Follow recommended public health measures   and avoid contact with animals such as rodents and primates to help prevent getting or spreading the infection.

Person-to-person infections

Stay home if you’re sick and practise proper cough and sneeze etiquette , which includes coughing or sneezing into a tissue or the bend of your arm, not your hand. Reduce your risk of colds, the flu and other illnesses by:

  •   washing your hands often
  • avoiding or limiting the amount of time spent in closed spaces, crowded places, or at large-scale events (concerts, sporting events, rallies)
  • avoiding close physical contact with people who may be showing symptoms of illness 

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) , HIV , and mpox are spread through blood and bodily fluids; use condoms, practise safe sex, and limit your number of sexual partners. Check with your local public health authority pre-travel to determine your eligibility for mpox vaccine.  

Medical services and facilities

Health care is very good.

Public hospitals offer very good services throughout the country but waiting times may be long. Doctors rarely speak English or French.

Private clinics and hospitals provide excellent health care. They are mainly located in San José. Services may be expensive. Doctors and hospitals typically require upfront payment.

Emergency services may be limited in rural areas.

Medical evacuation can be very expensive and may be necessary in case of serious illness or injury.

Make sure you get travel insurance that includes coverage for medical evacuation and hospital stays.

Travel health and safety

Medications

Some prescription medication may not be available in Costa Rica.

If you take prescription medication, you’re responsible for determining its legality in the country.

  • Bring sufficient quantities of your medication with you
  • Always keep your medication in the original container
  • Pack your medication in your carry-on luggage
  • Carry a paper and an electronic copy of your prescriptions

Medical tourism

Canadian citizens have had serious health complications following cosmetic or other elective surgeries abroad.

Before leaving for medical travel:

  • make sure you’ve done your research
  • use reputable health-care providers only

Receiving medical care outside Canada

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a   travel health kit , especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You must abide by local laws.

Learn about what you should do and how we can help if you are arrested or detained abroad .

Transfer to a Canadian prison

Canada and Costa Rica are signatories to the Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons. This enables a Canadian imprisoned in Costa Rica to request a transfer to a Canadian prison to complete a sentence. The transfer requires the agreement of both Canadian and Costa Rican authorities.

This process can take a long time, and there is no guarantee that the transfer will be approved by either or both sides.

If you violate Costa Rica’s laws, even unknowingly, you may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.

Overview of the criminal law system in Costa Rica

Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are severe. Convicted offenders can expect lengthy jail sentences or heavy fines.

Drugs, alcohol and travel

Child sex tourism

It's a serious criminal offence to have sex with minors in Costa Rica.

Conviction may result in a lengthy prison sentence.

Child Sex Tourism: It’s a Crime

Identification

Authorities may request to see your ID at any time.

  • Carry valid identification at all times
  • Keep a photocopy of your passport and entry stamp in case it’s lost or seized
  • Keep a digital copy of your ID and travel documents

Photography

It is illegal to photograph official buildings.

Check with local authorities before taking photos.

Investments

Disputes related to property acquisition or other investments are costly and take time to resolve.

If you plan on buying property, or making other investments in Costa Rica:

  • seek legal advice in Canada and in Costa Rica before making commitments
  • choose your own lawyer
  • avoid hiring a lawyer recommended by a seller

Dual citizenship

Dual citizenship is legally recognized in Costa Rica.

If you are a Canadian citizen, but also a citizen of Costa Rica, our ability to offer you consular services may be limited while you're there. You may also be subject to different entry/exit requirements .

Travellers with dual citizenship

International Child Abduction

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is an international treaty. It can help parents with the return of children who have been removed to or retained in certain countries in violation of custody rights. The convention applies between Canada and Costa Rica.

If your child was wrongfully taken to, or is being held in Costa Rica, and if the applicable conditions are met, you may apply for the return of your child to the Costa Rican court.

If you are in this situation:

  • act as quickly as you can
  • contact the Central Authority for your province or territory of residence for information on starting an application under The Hague Convention
  • consult a lawyer in Canada and in Costa Rica to explore all the legal options for the return of your child
  • report the situation to the nearest Canadian government office abroad or to the Vulnerable Children’s Consular Unit at Global Affairs Canada by calling the Emergency Watch and Response Centre

If your child was removed from a country other than Canada, consult a lawyer to determine if The Hague Convention applies.

Be aware that Canadian consular officials cannot interfere in private legal matters or in another country’s judicial affairs.

  • List of Canadian Central Authorities for the Hague Convention
  • International Child Abduction: A Guidebook for Left-Behind Parents
  • Travelling with children
  • The Hague Convention - Hague Conference on Private International Law
  • Canadian embassies and consulates by destination
  • Emergency Watch and Response Centre

You can drive with your valid Canadian driver’s licence in Costa Rica  for up to 180 days, or the length of the stay granted on your entry stamp.

You must also carry your passport when driving in the country. Photocopies are not acceptable. You may face a fine if you fail to provide proper documentation when stopped by a traffic officer.

If you are involved in a road accident, the Costa Rican government may prevent you from leaving the country until all injury claims have been settled, regardless of which party is at fault or has insurance coverage. The local legal process may take several months.

In the event of a car accident:

  • don’t move your vehicle until the authorities arrive
  • remain at the scene
  • call 911 to report the accident

Automatic speed cameras are common. If you exceed the speed limit, you may receive a speeding ticket by mail.

Traffic fines don’t have to be paid on the spot. You can pay a fine:

  • at COSEVI (Costa Rican Road Safety Council)

If a police officer asks you for money, you may make a complaint to the Costa Rican Tourism Bureau.

  • Costa Rican Tourism Bureau
  • Road Safety – Costa Rican Road Safety Council (in Spanish)
  • International Driving Permit

The currency in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colón (CRC).

Credit cards are generally accepted.

It’s extremely difficult to exchange Canadian dollars in Costa Rica. U.S. dollars are more easily exchanged.

Cash withdrawals are possible with a 4-digit PIN only.

Hurricane season

Hurricanes usually occur from mid-May to the end of November. During this period, even small tropical storms can quickly develop into major hurricanes.

These severe storms can put you at risk and hamper the provision of essential services.

If you decide to travel to a coastal area during the hurricane season:

  • know that you expose yourself to serious safety risks
  • be prepared to change your travel plans on short notice, including cutting short or cancelling your trip
  • stay informed of the latest regional weather forecasts
  • carry emergency contact information for your airline or tour operator
  • follow the advice and instructions of local authorities
  • Tornadoes, cyclones, hurricanes, typhoons and monsoons
  • Large-scale emergencies abroad
  • Active storm tracking and hurricane watches and warnings  - United States’ National Hurricane Center

The rainy season extends from May to November, which sometimes extends into January.

Torrential rains and landslides occur frequently in the lowlands and mountainous areas along the Caribbean and in the Central Valley.

Seasonal flooding often causes power outages.  It can also hamper overland travel and reduce the delivery of other essential services. Roads may become impassable and bridges damaged.

Earthquakes and tsunamis

Costa Rica is located in an active seismic zone. Earthquakes and tremors occur regularly. Tsunamis are possible.

A tsunami can occur within minutes of a nearby earthquake. However, the risk of tsunami can remain for several hours following the first tremor. If you’re staying on the coast, familiarize yourself with the region’s evacuation plans in the event of a tsunami warning.

There are several active and potentially active volcanoes in the country, including:

  • Poás
  • Rincón de la Vieja

Eruptions may occur at any time. They sometimes lead to evacuations of surrounding areas on short notice.

In the event of an earthquake or volcanic eruption:

  • pay careful attention to all warnings issued for national parks
  • monitor local media to stay informed of the evolving situation
  • follow the instructions of local authorities, including evacuation orders 
  • Earthquakes  - What to Do?
  • Latest earthquakes  - U.S. Geological Survey
  • Tsunami alerts  - U.S. Tsunami Warning System
  • National Commission for Risk Prevention and Emergency Response  (in Spanish)
  • Volcanological and Seismological Observatory of Costa Rica (in Spanish)

Local services

In case of an emergency, dial 911.

Consular assistance

Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua

For emergency consular assistance, call the Embassy of Canada to Costa Rica, in San José, and follow the instructions. At any time, you may also contact the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa.

The decision to travel is your choice and you are responsible for your personal safety abroad. We take the safety and security of Canadians abroad very seriously and provide credible and timely information in our Travel Advice to enable you to make well-informed decisions regarding your travel abroad.

The content on this page is provided for information only. While we make every effort to give you correct information, it is provided on an "as is" basis without warranty of any kind, expressed or implied. The Government of Canada does not assume responsibility and will not be liable for any damages in connection to the information provided.

If you need consular assistance while abroad, we will make every effort to help you. However, there may be constraints that will limit the ability of the Government of Canada to provide services.

Learn more about consular services .

Risk Levels

  take normal security precautions.

Take similar precautions to those you would take in Canada.

  Exercise a high degree of caution

There are certain safety and security concerns or the situation could change quickly. Be very cautious at all times, monitor local media and follow the instructions of local authorities.

IMPORTANT: The two levels below are official Government of Canada Travel Advisories and are issued when the safety and security of Canadians travelling or living in the country or region may be at risk.

  Avoid non-essential travel

Your safety and security could be at risk. You should think about your need to travel to this country, territory or region based on family or business requirements, knowledge of or familiarity with the region, and other factors. If you are already there, think about whether you really need to be there. If you do not need to be there, you should think about leaving.

  Avoid all travel

You should not travel to this country, territory or region. Your personal safety and security are at great risk. If you are already there, you should think about leaving if it is safe to do so.

Security Alert May 17, 2024

Worldwide caution, update may 10, 2024, information for u.s. citizens in the middle east.

  • Travel Advisories |
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  • MyTravelGov |

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Costa Rica Travel Advisory

Travel advisory july 17, 2023, costa rica - level 2: exercise increased caution.

Reissued with obsolete COVID-19 page links removed.

Exercise increased caution in Costa Rica due to  crime .

Country Summary:  While petty crime is the predominant threat for tourists in Costa Rica, violent crime, including armed robbery, homicide and sexual assault, occurs in Costa Rica. The Costa Rican government provides additional security resources in areas frequented by tourists.

Read the  country information page for additional information on travel to Costa Rica.

If you decide to travel to Costa Rica:

  • Be aware of your surroundings.
  • Do not physically resist any robbery attempt.
  • Do not display signs of wealth, such as wearing expensive watches or jewelry.
  • Enroll in the  Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive Alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
  • U.S. citizens should always exercise caution when traveling abroad.
  • Follow the Department of State on  Facebook,   Twitter, and Instagram .
  • Review the  Country Security Report  for Costa Rica.
  • Prepare a contingency plan for emergency situations. Review the  Traveler’s Checklist .
  • Visit the CDC page for the latest Travel Health Information related to your travel. 

Travel Advisory Levels

Assistance for u.s. citizens, costa rica map, search for travel advisories, external link.

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Costa Rica Contract Nightmares: How to Protect Yourself

Jorge Montero

Signing a contract or making a deal in Costa Rica can be the simplest thing, full of good faith and trust for all parties involved or it can be a nightmare experience in which, usually the weakest party, must suffer the loss of time, money and hope and in some cases the stronger party can count on this as leverage.

Investors and businesspeople that visit Costa Rica can be divided into those that have great corporate legal advice and on the other hand, the rest of the people that come to buy a property, lease a house, rent a cabin, build a house, buy a car, start a business and so on and don’t expect to have to hire a lawyer to enter into a relatively small deal.

When a person decides to contract a good or service, he or she has usually had some communication with the seller or offeror and is usually pleasantly impressed with the manner, treatment, and service, simply because the seller will probably put his best foot forward in order to get the sale. In my experience one can usually trust reputable businesses to carry out their obligations in a timely and responsible manner. The trick is distinguishing those who are reputable from those who are not.

In the beginning there is a lot of trust involved and in many, many cases, even a friendship has evolved between the parties. The buyer or client finds it hard to “offend” the seller by requesting all the elements of guarantee that, deep down in his or her mind, they know they should require.

A contract in Costa Rica has some very simple rules and some nuances that people should consider before signing and handing over their hard-earned money.

A contract must clearly state who is contracting for each side. Identifying the contracting parties should be a simple matter but contracts are often negated or annulled because the contracting parties are unclear or outright false. If it is an individual, the contract must state the full name, with both last names if they are from Costa Rica, the marital status, the activity or profession, the exact address and the cedula (national ID) or passport number.

It must be stated if the person is acting on their own behalf or in representation of a company, an association or other group. Corporations must be identified by name and by “cédula jurídica” number (corporate ID number) and it´s essential to check that the corporation is current and up to date in taxes.

If more than one corporation is mentioned, the responsibility for each entity should be precisely defined. The address for the purpose of notification is extremely important in case the situation ends up in court and the opposing party must be served.

A contract must have a specific time frame for compliance, for both or all parties. It should be clear who is supposed to perform each action and on which dates. Very often these aspects are so uncertain that it is difficult to prove there is a breach of contract. There should be no blank spaces that can be filled in later. Each party must perform some consideration. It is important each party is certain they can perform theirs in a timely manner.

Performance is an essential aspect of the contractual relationship, and it is sometimes difficult to pinpoint. For example, in construction contracts, the owner can often want to change his mind about this or that element (color, types of materials, etc.) and those changes can cause important additional expenses which were not contemplated in the contract wording.

Other examples can be the quality of the materials, the time of performance, warehousing costs, unexpected expenses, import duties, transportation, security, weather issues and many others.

In Costa Rica a contract must be set in Spanish because if that contract ends up being disputed in court, it will not only have to be officially translated but at that point the parties are leaving, in the hands of the translator, the possible meaning of essential concepts. Many times, to make it easier or more convenient for the client, sellers or agents will have the contracts drafted in English and as long as everything goes well, there’s obviously no problem but when problems arise, and the contract has to be judicially disputed, legal costs skyrocket.

In Costa Rica a contract can certainly be stated in US dollars but if it goes to court, that dollar amount must be converted into Costa Rica colones at the outset of the court process and the final sentence will be in colones, and the collection of money will necessarily be done in colones.

There are some special contracts that can be executed in dollars for certain reasons, such as import and export contracts but, in any case, at the end of the day, the loser who must pay, can pay in colones, at the official exchange rate of the Costa Rica Central Bank. The colon has been a very stable coin for a long time, but when dealing with large sums of money, that exchange rate should be an important consideration.

When entering an important contractual relationship, no matter how nice or responsible the opposing party may seem to be, one must, for a moment, mentally assume that this business relationship will end up in court and one must do that in order to take all necessary precautions, precisely to avoid going to court, spending thousands of dollars and losing a friend.

Some important questions one must ask oneself are the following: If things go bad what are my real chances of recovery? Does this person or company have enough assets or insurance to reimburse me if there is a problem? Is there a way to establish an escrow or trust account where the money can be safeguarded until my opposing party complies?

If a person finds it difficult to be upfront with their counterpart, they might consider hiring a lawyer or other representative to speak for them. It will be less expensive to hire a representative before the contract is signed than hiring a lawyer when you must go to court.

An important difference with other countries is that, in Costa Rica, certain contracts or actions must be performed by a Public Notary. The Public Notary here is very different from the U.S. figure. In the U.S., the public notary is no more than a qualified witness, whereas in Costa Rica the “Notario Público” will necessarily be a lawyer (or a diplomatic official in embassies overseas).

He is obligated to give BOTH parties legal advice and cannot represent one party in detriment of the other. He or she must be impartial. The “Notario Público” is there to ensure the LEGAL ACT ITSELF is done correctly.

He is not there to represent one party against the other but rather to protect the legality of the act he is authorizing. That said, the Notario Público will probably be more likely to protect the interests of the party paying his fees, for which reason, in practical reality, each party usually hires their own.

Contracts that must be registered such as marriages, divorces, wills and estates, transfers of property, mortgages, car sales, liens, encumbrances, property limitations, subdivisions of land and many other acts MUST be performed by a Notario Público and must be entered into a large book with Folio size pages that is called a “PROTOCOLO”.

Contracts is an enormous area of the law. A failed contract does not necessarily need to end up in court because an important option, usually for smaller claim issues, is the “Comisión Nacional del Consumidor” (Consumer Defense Office), which is a powerful government office that protects the consumer and works very well.

For everyday contractual situations the best thing is to use keen common sense. In the first place, understand we are in a different country, with some particular rules and a specific legal culture. One cannot simply try to transpose a foreign legal culture. It is important to not be impulsive; to check a business´ references (performing a background check can usually prove useful) and find others that have contracted with them. In business reputation should be paramount. It is impossible to foresee all possible scenarios but the best advice, in practical terms, is always to deal with very reputable businesses.

About the Author

Lic. Jorge Montero B. is an attorney educated in the U.S.A. and in Costa Rica. He holds various specialties and master’s degrees in criminal, Commercial, Environmental and Agrarian Law from the University of Costa Rica and has over 30 years of litigation, contract and counsel experience. Email: [email protected] Tel: (506) 8384 – 2246 WhatsApp: (506) 8384 – 2246

Jorge Montero

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  1. Welcome to Costa Rica

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    Poas Volcano in the Central Highlands of Costa Rica is one of the most active volcanoes in the country. Due to its perfect location near the capital city of Costa Rica, 2708 meters high Poas Volcano is best visited on a day tour from San Jose. Of all volcanoes in the country, Arenal is the most famous one.

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    14. Make sure to carry enough cash. Some smaller and more remote places in Costa Rica, like Tortuguero, for example, don't have ATMs readily available. Considering that some hotels and hostels charge a 2-5% fee to pay for accommodations with a card, having cash on hand is a good idea.

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    Lic. Jorge Montero B. is an attorney educated in the U.S.A. and in Costa Rica. He holds various specialties and master's degrees in criminal, Commercial, Environmental and Agrarian Law from the University of Costa Rica and has over 30 years of litigation, contract and counsel experience. Email: [email protected] Tel: (506) 8384 - 2246

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