Costa Rica is a small Latin American country situated in Central America and not in South America as many people seem to believe! Costa Rica is bordered by Nicaragua, Panama, the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. While Costa Rica has more than 1200 km of coastline, its narrowest point from the Caribbean coast to the pacific coast only measures 120 km! Do not be fooled, Costa Rica may be a small country, but it is very diverse in terms of relief so it is not that easy and quick to get from one point to another.
Costa Rica has it all, from virgin primary rainforests to sandy white beaches and crystal clear waters; it offers something for everyone! Costa Rica will please nature, culture, wellness and adventure lovers. Whale watching, volcano exploring, tubbing and rafting down pristine rivers, hiking through cloud forests or visiting coffee plantations… you name it, Costa Rica has it!
Well..actually something like the best time to visit Costa Rica does not exist. It is a tropical country where you will find many different climates and microclimates despite the rather small size of the country. It is usually said that there are two seasons in Costa Rica, the dry season from November/December to the end of April and the green season that starts in May and usually ends in November/December. But the weather really depends on the regions of the country you are looking to visit. Some places are really humid and receive high amounts of rainfall (for example cloud forests and rainforests because yes, it rains a lot in rainforests!).
Costa Rica can be enjoyed all year long. It really depends on what you are looking to do and to see during your stay. While travelling during the green season is cheaper and the probability to see dolphins, whales and tortoises higher, you also have to be prepared to get more wet. But do not worry, rain here is actually quite warm and sometimes very enjoyable (temperatures can get very high in Costa Rica!). The advantage if you decide to travel during the dry season is that you can be pretty sure of the kind of weather you are going to get but the prices will rise up (high season). Some regions of the country are nicer to visit during certain months but make sure you do your research before coming because it can be rainy on the Caribbean side and very sunny on the Pacific side!
Don’t forget to have a look at our packing list to make sure you pack everything you need to face Costa Rica’s unpredictable tropical weather!
25% of the country’s surface is protected. The numerous private reserves and national parks of Costa Rica help to conserve its incredibly rich biodiversity. No wonder Costa Rica is famous worldwide for its nature conservation efforts!
Tourism contributes greatly to the conservation of these natural areas. The entrance fees of the national parks and private reserves and the government grants help paying the protection costs of this green paradise. Remember that when you pay an entrance fee to visit a private reserve or a national park, your money helps paying rangers, reforestation programs, community and tourist facilities, scientific research and many more small things that are needed to save the very diverse biodiversity of the country.
Costa Rica hosts approximately 4% of the world’s biodiversity, making it one of the richest countries in the world in terms of biodiversity! Now, that is really something!
Costa Rica is considered as a pioneer in Ecotourism because the government bet for this type of tourism very early, knowing that this industry could be of great help to protect its invaluable natural treasures.
Fun fact: Zipline or Canopy Tour as it is locally known was invented in Costa Rica by scientists as a way of studying the forest and the biodiversity of its canopies. It has become one of the most popular tourist attraction in Costa Rica and it helps preserving the forests. The view when you start to fly over the canopy of a forest is simply priceless.
Costa Rica is one of the very few countries in the world that does not have an army. Former President Figueres Ferrer disbanded the Costa Rican army in 1948. The country has been living in peace and democracy ever since that date despite the wars that were ravaging its neighbours.
Former president Oscar Arias Sánchez has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for its efforts to bring peace in all Central American countries. Its efforts eventually led to the signature of a peace agreement in Guatemala. Various Central American countries ratified this peace plan (Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua). That aimed at guaranteeing free elections, protecting human rights and ending foreign interference in these countries’ private affairs.
During the past decades, the country invested a lot of money in health and education. It earned the name of “the Switzerland of Central America” for its tranquillity and for its high score on the human and economic development index. Plus, as you will see, some areas of Costa Rica like Turrialba for example really look like Switzerland!
“Pura Vida”, you will hear this expression so often that you might even start to use it at the end of your stay in Costa Rica. It pretty much means everything and nothing: “thank you”, “you are welcome”, “don’t worry”, “keep calm”, “hello”, “goodbye”… “Pura Vida” literally translates as “Pure Life” and you will soon find out that this expression describes very well Costa Rica and its tranquil inhabitants, the “Ticos”.
Costa Rican are called “Ticos” because of the suffix “tico” “tica” that they add to a lot a words when they talk. Instead of saying “chiquito”, they might say “chiquitico”. Men are called “ticos” and women are called “ticas”. In Costa Rican Spanish, this suffix is mostly used to refer to small or cute things, persons or animals.
Ticos are very friendly, welcoming and patient and will always be happy to help you find your way or to order food in a restaurant. You will fall in love with their “Pura Vida” lifestyle and way of being. Oh and they love to talk.
Here are a few cultural tips that will help you understand the tico culture:
For most Costa Ricas, religion is very important. It is not an appropriate topic to bring up with people you have just met. Please be careful with what you say and respect the people’s faith even if you are not religious.
Greetings: Ticos are friendly people, they often even greet strangers. An air kiss to the person’s right cheek is the common greeting in Costa Rica.
Roads: In Costa Rica it is important to look out for cars before crossing the street as most drivers will not stop to let pedestrian pass.
Pura Vida: Be patient and relax. You are in a latin country and attitudes to time differ in comparison with western countries for example. Latin countries tend to have slower paced lifestyles. The famous saying Pura Vida describes this very well.
Do not be too direct! Ticos are non-confrontational people. Confrontation is not appreciated and will always be avoided. You should try not to shout, to raise your voice or to show signs of irritation in case of misunderstandings.
Don’t judge and embrace the difference. Being lost in translation and in a different culture is such an amazing feeling. Enjoy Costa Rica!
Spanish is the official language in Costa Rica but the country is linguistically very diverse. There are numerous indigenous languages still spoken in some communities (Cabécar, Maléku, Buglere etc) and there are various languages derived from Caribbean English such as the Mekatelyu or the Patua languages. English is widely spoken in the tourism industry and in touristy places. It is recommended to learn a few basic Spanish words to make you feel more at ease while travelling and locals always appreciate the effort.
As a first time traveller to Costa Rica, you probably have a few questions regarding the local money. In the following paragraph, we will try to briefly answer all of them.
The Colon (Colones in plural) is Costa Rica’s currency, it was named after Christopher Columbus. Currently, one Dollar is around 560 Colones. Check out this page for a more up to date rate conversion: www.xe.com/currencyconverter
Depending on your country of origin, you will probably not be able to exchange money for colones in a bank as banks do not always offer all the currencies. You can take US dollars with you as it is widely used in the tourism industry in Costa Rica and it is available in banks all over the world. You can pay most hotels, national parks, private reserves and restaurants in US dollars. But you will not be able to pay in dollars everywhere, the national currency being the Colon, dollars will not be accepted to pay local bus rides or to pay in small restaurants like “Sodas”. Soda is the name given to small restaurants in Costa Rica, usually they are quite cheap.
It is possible to change Euros or Dollars in most bigs cities throughout Costa Rica, in international banks such as Banco Nacional, Banco de Costa Rica and ATH. ATMs are available all around Costa Rica in small, medium and big cities. However, opening time should be taken into consideration as most banks and their ATMs are closed in the evening and reopen at 5am the next day.
If you travel to a rural area, you should always take enough cash with you as ATMs are not always available.
In Costa Rica tips are not required but they are always appreciated.
Entry requirements depend on your country of origin. Please click on the link below for more information or visit the website of the Costa Rican embassy of your home country for more detailed information: www.visitcostarica.com/ict/paginas/Requerimientos_de_Entrada_Extranjeros_eng.pdf
As most tourists who visit our country come from the either the USA, Canada or the European Union, we have written here their entry requirements. Visitors coming from these countries do not need a visa if they intend to stay less than 90 days within the country. If that is your case, please make sure you have a copy of your return ticket to present at the immigration desk upon entry to Costa Rica.
If you have a stopover in another country before coming to Costa Rica, please check their own transit regulations as you might need a transit visa in some countries.
Your passport should be valid for at least 6 month after you have entered the country.
As all good things must come to an end, you will sadly have to say goodbye to Costa Rica. We recommend arriving at the international airport at least 3 hours prior to departure as the check in takes quite a long time. Bear in mind that you will have to pay a departure tax of US $ 29,00 (some airlines include the departure tax in the price of your ticket) before leaving the country.
Here is a packing list for your Costa Rican holiday:
As we are not medical professionals, we cannot advise you on this matter and you will see that medical recommendations vary greatly from one country to another as do mandatory vaccinations. You should get an appointment with your doctor before coming to Costa Rica to check which vaccinations are recommended in your country.
When coming to Costa Rica through South America or another yellow fever infected area, you may be asked to show a document stating that you received this injection.
Costa Rica is one of the safest and most developed countries in Central America. As always, you should take simple safety precautions as you would in your home country.
Please follow these basics safety guidelines when traveling:
You will find getting around in Costa Rica quite difficult at first. This is due to the fact that Ticos do
not use addresses. They use landmarks to indicate an address. For foreigners it can therefore be
difficult to find an address.
When indicating an address, locals will usually speak of “blocks” or “cuadras” in Spanish or of
meters. “100 meters” means “one block”, “200 meters” means “two blocks”. Here is an example of a
typical Costa Rican way to indicate an address: “200 meters south of the pharmacy Los Angeles
and 300 meters east of the Plaza Central”.
Once you understand our logic, it actually gets very easy to get around any Costa Rican city.
Locals are always more than happy to help you find your way.
By plane: In Costa Rica, we have two international airports: Aeropuerto Internacional Juan Santamaría (SJO) near San Jose and Aeropuerto Internacional Daniel Oduber Quirós (LIR) in Liberia.
Here is a non exhaustive list of the countries and the airlines that have a direct flight to Costa Rica:
Bear in mind that even if there is no direct flight from your country or our city, most airlines
nowadays serve this destination via their partner airlines so it is relatively easy to catch a flight with
a stopover or two in different cities.
Canada: AirCanada, SunWing Airlines, Westjet
El Salvador: Avianca, VECA Airlines
Germany: Condor, Lufthansa
Guatemala: Air Costa Rica, Avianca, Copa
Honduras: Avianca, Copa
Mexico: Aeromexico, Interjet, Volaris
Nicaragua: Copa, Lacsa, NatureAir
Panama: Air Panama, Avianca, Copa, NatureAir
United Kingdom: British Airways, Thomson Airways
USA: Alaska Airline, American Airlines, Delta, JetBlue, SouthWest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, United
By bus or taxi: It is also relatively easy to enter Costa Rica by land from Panama or Nicaragua.
There are various buses that can take you to the various frontiers Nicaragua or Panama have with
Costa Rica. Some buses also directly connects cities from these two Central American countries to
cities in Costa Rica. You might also consider the option of taking a taxi or a private shuttle from your
hotel in Nicaragua or Panama.
Costa Rican cuisine is very fresh and diversified. The country’s fertile volcanic lands produce all the fruits, vegetables and root vegetables you could ever dream of. The Pacific ocean and the Caribbean sea provides the whole country with very fresh fish and seafood. Feast on these fresh tropical products and treat your taste buds! Bon appétit!
Costa Rican food is not very spicy as it is in other Latin American countries but we use a lot of fresh herbs to season our cuisine. We especially love coriander. The caribean cuisine, which is influenced by caribean islands cuisine such as Jamaica for example, is a bit more spicy.
Rice and beans are usually the base of every meal in Costa Rica. You will find them in the traditional breakfast “gallo pinto” and in the traditional lunch “casado”. Most locals eat rice and beans with every meal (we do!).
Locals usually have their meal with a natural fruit drink “refresco”. Fruit lovers will be in paradise because you can find smoothies and fresh coconuts nearly everywhere and they are usually very affordable.
Check out our blog posts for more information on local dishes and drinks.
Costa Rica is very often associated with wild and colorful animals such as toucans, pumas, monkeys, crocodiles and iguanas. Well, you will not be disappointed because there is actually a high chance that you will come across most of them during your stay in exotic Costa Rica. But please be considerate of them. You are so lucky and privileged to be able to observe them in their natural habitat and not in a zoo.