Essential Travel Guide to Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a traveler’s dream: beaches! jungles! nonstop flights from most North America! It’s no wonder 1.7 million people visit Costa Rica every year.

I’ve visited Costa Rica twice- in 2016 and 2018. Both vacations were unique and memorable in their own way and I’m already planning another trip back because there are still places I want to visit.

  • Language: Spanish
  • Currency: Costa Rica Colones (US Dollar also accepted in most places)
  • Climate: Tropical, rainy season from May-October
Volcan Terino National Park: the water is a vibrant blue because of the volcanic sulfur.

Which airport should I fly into?

You have two choices- Liberia or San Jose. I’ve flown into both and my preference is for Liberia. The airport is smaller and newer; San Jose felt chaotic in comparison. However, your airport choice is dependent on your final destination(s)

  • San Jose’s airport is a better choice if you are headed to the East Coast and places in Punta Arenas like Manuel Antonio.
  • Liberia is only an hour’s drive from Guanacaste beach towns including Playa Flamingo and Tamarindo.
  • La Fortuna, Monteverde, and Arenal Volcano are accessible from both.

Where should I stay?

Typically, travelers will stay in three main areas: La Fortuna, Guanacaste, or the Punta Arenas province. Personal preference: the capital of San Jose is didn’t wow me; I’d recommend skipping it in lieu of more beach time.

La Fortuna: for the adrenaline junkie and hiking addict

La Fortuna is a popular choice due to its proximity to both the Monteverde Cloud Forest and the Arenal Volcano.

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Catalinas Islands, Guanacaste, Costa Rica (2018)

Guanacaste Province: for the beach bum and digital nomad

Guanacaste is peppered with luxurious beach resorts (think JW Marriot, Hilton), hostels, and guesthouses. Weather you’re on a budget or ballin’ out, you’ll find something to hit your price point. Playa Flamingo, Playa Hermosa, and Tamarindo are most popular.

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Manuel Antonio National Park – Quepos, Punta Arenas (2016)

Punta Arenas Province: for the nature specialist who wants to see biodiversity

The Punta Arenas province stretches down the western coast of Costa Rica to the Panama border and includes multiple national parks- most notably Manuel Antonio outside the town of Quepos. If you want to explore a mix of tropical rain forests and sandy beaches, this destination is for you.

How easy is it to get around?

For non-Spanish speakers, I recommend splurging on an airport shuttle transfer services. It’s easy, reliable, and stress-free. On both vacations, I’ve stayed inside town and haven’t felt like I needed a car. However, if you want more independence, car rentals are fairly inexpensive (~$50/day). Use extra caution while driving at night as the roads can be curvy and poorly lit.

If you’re more adventurous, the public bus is cheap and easy to use. On my first trip, I used the public bus to get from San Jose to Quepos (Manuel Antonio). The one-way ticket to Quepos cost about $5 and took 4 hours with stops and traffic. The bus driver did not speak English however he was nice enough to let us know when we had arrived at our final destination. Once we arrived in Quepos, we continued using the local bus (about $0.25 each way) to travel around. It was easy to figure out however at night the bus comes with less frequency and we ended up taking cabs a few times ($5-$10).

Is it safe?

In general, yes. I always advise travelers to use basic common sense, especially if you’re going to be drinking or going out at night. San Jose doesn’t even crack the top 50 most dangerous cities in the world (the US lists 4: St. Louis, Baltimore, New Orleans, Detroit).

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Sunset in Tamarindo, Guanacaste (2018)

Tips

  • Bring USD with you in small denominations ($1, $5, $10). Most places in Costa Rica will accept either Colones or USD. The ATMs will allow you to take out USD but they only give denominations in $20 or higher.
  • Bring a reusable water bottle; the water is safe to drink in Costa Rica
  • Reserve your airport shuttle service before arriving to get the lowest price.
  • Book your tours directly through the operators in person or online. Your resort will book the same tours for you- and charge an extra $10-$20 per person.
Rio Celeste Waterfall

Have you visited Costa Rica? Share your experiences with me in the comments.

3 thoughts on “Essential Travel Guide to Costa Rica

  1. I need to go to Costa Rica. 1.7 million have been to Costa Rica already…. I need to get on a plane ASAP!

    Like

    1. I hope you can make it to Costa Rica soon! It is a beautiful country.

      Liked by 1 person

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