Costa Rica is a small region in Central America with a rugged, rainforested climate and coastlines on the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. It is also known for its beaches, volcanoes, and immense biodiversity. In our Costa Rica travel guide, you will find lots of helpful information to plan a perfect trip.

Since the late 1980s, Costa Rica has been a popular nature travel destination. With a well-established system of national parks and protected areas and home to a variety of flora and fauna.

Costa Rica Trip Planning Guide

The first European explorer to encounter Costa Rica was the Great Navigator himself, Christopher Columbus. Columbus made his fourth and final voyage to the New World on September 18, 1502. As he was setting anchor offshore, a group of Carib Indians paddled out in canoes and greeted his crew.

The gold rings the people of this region wore on their noses and ears would inspire Spaniard Gil Gonzalez Davila to name this country Costa Rica, or Rich Coast.

In the Beginning

Costa Rica’s history began when the tribes of North America fled south during the last Ice Age 13,000 to 17,000 years ago. The first evidence of human settlement in Costa Rica comes from around 10,000BC (12,000 years ago). It was earlier than originally believed.

The 12,000-year-old sites, found in 2016 by the Reventazon River, are the oldest human remains ever found in Central America.  Between then and the European arrival in the 15th century, Costa Rica was home to at least 25 indigenous groups. Each group had its own culture and way of living.

Read more:  Wondering what do on your trip?  Find out in my sample itinerary

9-day Wildlife & Adventure Experience

Costa Rican Civil War

A civil war erupted in Costa Rica in 1948 after incumbent Dr. Rafael Angel Calderon and the United Social Christian Party refused to relinquish power after losing the presidential election. An exile named Jose Maria (Don Pepe) Figueres Ferrer managed to defeat Calderon in about a month.

He later became one of Costa Rica’s most influential leaders, head of the Founding Junta of the Second Republic of Costa Rica. Under Ferrer’s leadership, the Junta made vast reforms in policy and civil rights.

Women and blacks gained the right to vote, communism was outlawed, banks were nationalized, and presidential terms were limited.

Useful Costa Rica Travel Planning Info

What Currency Should You Bring?

Costa Rica’s currency is the colon (₡), named after Christopher Columbus. It comes in both paper and coin form.

Rest assured,  travellers, when it comes to spending money in Costa Rica, USD is widely accepted, as are Costa Rican colones. All but a handful of Costa Rican businesses with international owners accept foreign currency, except for CAD, Euros, and other foreign currencies.

Most Costa Rica establishments will not accept USD bills higher than $20.00 American dollar bills (only in rare cases are $50.00 American dollar bills accepted).

Credit Cards

Most major businesses in Costa Rica accept credit cards; the most commonly accepted are American Express, Visa, and MasterCard. The most widely used card in the country is a Visa.

However, many local businesses in Costa Rica do not accept credit cards, especially outside populated areas.  Businesses in the larger cities like San Jose and Puerto Limon accept credit cards.

 

Debit Cards

Debit and Bank cards are convenient, safe and quick.  You’ll generally pay between 0 and 1% exchange commission, plus flat fees of $US 1-3 per transaction.

ATM

There are surprising numbers of banks in Costa Rica, and almost every bank has an ATM. Machines use Spanish as the language to communicate. Therefore if you do not speak Spanish, you should use a phrasebook.

Important to note that ATMs of state banks – Banco Nacional (BN), Banco Popular, and Banco de Costa Rica (BCR) have restricted hours. Meanwhile, most of the ATMs of private banks operate on a 24-hour basis.

Climate

The climate in Costa Rica is hot all year round in the plains.  And along the coasts, while it’s milder in the plateau (in the so-called tierras templadas).

In the Pacific coast and the plateau, there is a dry season from December to April.  Followed by a wet season, during which it rains abundantly.  In the eastern plains and coasts, the climate is equatorial, with abundant rainfall.

Because the country lies close to the equator, the main difference between seasons is related to the rain. In any case, most of the country is covered by rainforest. The best time to visit Costa Rica is between January and mid-April, especially February and March.

Electricity

Costa Rica uses 110 volts, 60 cycle electricity, the same as the US. Plugs are typically the 2 pronged flat types so US travelers will not typically need a converter or adapter.

Technology & Communication

ICE (Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad) has been Costa Rica’s traditional monopoly provider of telecommunications, internet, and electricity services.

In the country, telephone coverage is extensive. U.S. visitors have experienced difficulty in using their GSM phones in Costa Rica, due to differences in the frequency band used in each country.

Internet usage for cellular phones is prevalent in urban areas. Internet cafes are available in some areas (especially in San José), and Wi-Fi in hotels and restaurants continues to expand, particularly in the Central Valley.

amazing suspension bridges - Monteverde

Infrastructure & Transport

Most Costa Rica travel guides will tell you the infrastructure in Costa Rica today is almost no better than when it rolled out the foreign retiree welcome mat all those years ago. Infrastructure has not met economic growth numbers.

Ineffective and insufficient maintenance and investment efforts are the main offenders. The road network is extensive, with more than 35,705 kilometers (22,187 miles) of roads, but most of them, are in poor condition. Only 12 to 56 percent of local roads are paved.

In Case of Emergency

In case of emergency, it’s important to include in a travel guide to dial 911. You will be able to find a hospital in most of the major cities. In places where there are no hospitals, you will find a clinic, which simple medical care. The Red Cross provides ambulance service throughout Costa Rica. You can reach them directly by calling 128.

Language

Spanish is the official language in Costa Rica, though English is also spoken. This language is common in touristic regions; you will find it at hotels and restaurants, as well as with tour guides. Moreover, in some certain touristic areas, you can find information leaflets and restaurant menus in English.

Furthermore, in Caribbean areas, mainly in the province of Limón, it is spoken in English pidgin called Creole English or Creole Limonese. An English variant brought by Jamaican immigrants in the 19th-Century. The French language is the second most spoken language. Schools teach it, so some people understand it.

Religion

Roman Catholicism is the state religion of Costa Rica, and Christian values are present in many aspects of daily life. Town names often begin with San or Santa; familiar expressions include “If God wishes it” and “God bless, and every city has a Catholic church.

Evangelical Christians make up the second-largest religious group in Costa Rica. Established Protestant denominations, like Methodist or Presbyterian, are uncommon in Costa Rica

Entry Requirements

We think it’s important to mention in our travel guide to Costa Rica, you should always check out the latest entry requirements before travel.  

Flying into Costa Rica Airports

Costa Rica has two international airports. Juan Santamaría (SJO), just outside San José, receives the majority of flights. Daniel Oduber (LIR) handles most flights from the United States, Canada, and occasionally from the United Kingdom.

Although there are a few direct flights from Europe, the vast majority of routes pass through the US, meaning that passengers have to comply with US entry requirements, even if merely transiting the country.

Airfares always depend on the season, with the highest being around July, August, and December to mid-January; you’ll get the best prices during the wet summer (May–Nov).

Driving

If you plan on driving in Costa Rica, you should be aware that many roads are in poor condition. However, the natural attractions and amazing landscapes are worth the rough ride.

Many visitors choose self-drive vacations because it allows them to explore the country while getting to know the locals. When you drive to Costa Rica, you can stay there for up to 90 days.

Local Culture

Costa Rican culture, arts, and traditions evolved as a result of diverse ethnic and native influences. The people of Costa Rica are welcoming and friendly, yet sophisticated and proud. They are known for being the happiest country in the world.

The priorities of the country are evident in its progressive social and environmental policies. Education and healthcare for all are fully supported.

Costa Rica practices eco-stewardship with over 25% of its territory remaining undeveloped to allow it to preserve its incredible biodiversity for generations to come. 

Also, the culture and traditions reveal their passion for democracy, freedom, and equality for all.

Fortuna National Park

Highlights of Costa Rica

  • Turtle viewing in Tortuguero National Park
  • Horseback riding in Mulguri Waterfalls
  • Canoeing, kayak, or boat tours on Damas Island
  • Visiting the quaint town of Quepos
  • Visiting chocolate factories and farm tours in Puerto Viejo
  • Snorkelling in Playa Cahuita and Playa Negra
  • Whale watching and boating in Bellena  National Park

Foods to Try

  • Casado
  • Gallo pinto
  • Chicharrones
  • Patacones
  • Olla de Carne
  • Rondon
  • Naturales
  • Cacao fresco
  • Trits

I hope this Costa Rica travel guide is helpful with planning your trip.  If you are interested in booking a trip to Costa Rica, you can schedule a free consultation here.