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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

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COVID-19: travel health notice for all travellers

Costa Rica travel advice

Latest updates: Health - editorial update

Last updated: May 6, 2024 11:10 ET

On this page

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 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)

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


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


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


It is illegal to photograph official buildings.

Check with local authorities before taking photos.


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 90 days from your arrival. Even if you have been granted a longer stay, you will not be able to drive legally after the first 90 days.

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.

The Costa Rican government may prevent you from leaving the country until all injury claims have been settled if you are involved in a road accident, regardless of which party is at fault or insurance coverage.  Local judicial resolution 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

There are camera monitoring systems in various locations. You may receive a speeding ticket by mail if you exceed the speed limit.

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
  • COSEVI - 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.

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Costa Rica Traveler View

Travel health notices, vaccines and medicines, non-vaccine-preventable diseases, stay healthy and safe.

  • Packing List

After Your Trip

Map - Costa Rica

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

Level 1 Practice Usual Precautions

  • Dengue in the Americas April 18, 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, Ecuador, including the Galápagos Islands, French Guiana (France), Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Martinique (France), Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Turks and Caicos Islands (U.K.), Uruguay

⇧ Top

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


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


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


  • 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.


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.


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.


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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. 🙂


04/19/2024 at 10:25 pm


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.


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

Costa Rica   Travel Guide

travel advice for costa rica

Courtesy of Matteo Colombo | Getty Images

travel advice for costa rica

Why Go To Costa Rica

To many, Costa Rica's charm lies in its lush rainforests, unspoiled beaches and abundance of wildlife. With breathtaking landscapes and a myriad of creatures – from toucans to monkeys to jaguars – it's easy to see why. Where else can you hike active volcanoes, zip line through cloud-covered rainforests and surf warm turquoise waters within the span of just a few days? In this compact but diverse tropical paradise , exhilarating outdoor activities are abundant. Nature-seekers will roam thick jungles while beachgoers will sprawl across the powdery sands. It's hard not to admire all the splendors this "Rich Coast" has to offer.

However, for others, this small Latin American country has a different appeal: it's a relaxed way of life. Residents – known as  Ticos  – often recite the catchphrase " pura vida " (or "pure life"). This guiding philosophy can be observed from Costa Rica's central cosmopolitan capital of San José all the way to the sandy Atlantic and Pacific coasts. To truly immerse yourself in the good life, kick back and admire the awe-inspiring scenery. Surround yourself with graceful butterflies at  La Paz Waterfall Gardens , hike along the monumental  Arenal Volcano , mingle with locals at  Puerto Viejo de Talamanca , or simply sit in a hammock under a palm tree along the  Nicoya Peninsula . We have a strong feeling you'll discover the pure life, too.

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Costa Rica Travel Tips

Best months to visit.

The best time to visit Costa Rica is from mid-December to April (the dry season). This peak tourist season boasts plenty of sunshine making it an ideal time for exploring rainforests and lounging on beaches. That said, the dry season is the most popular (and expensive) time to visit. Luckily the U.S. dollar goes a long way in Costa Rica no matter the season. You'll have to book your room and tour reservations three months in advance to secure a spot. If you don't mind getting a little wet, visit between May and November when prices are at their lowest. During June and July, rain showers pause briefly, and Costa Rica's forests burst with green foliage.

While planning your trip, keep in mind that the weather varies by region. In the thick forests of the Caribbean Sea coast and Northern Plains, expect high humidity and temperatures ranging between the 70s and high 80s year-round. Conversely, in the North Pacific, prepare for lower humidity levels, but temperatures that often soar into the 90s during Costa Rica's dry months.

Weather in Costa Rica

Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center

What You Need to Know

Pack an umbrella Even if you're planning to visit during Costa Rica's dry season (December to April), don't count on continuous sunshine. Showers can occur year-round.

Bring small bills The U.S. dollar is widely accepted in Costa Rica. It's to your advantage to bring American money, particularly small bills for purchasing souvenirs and tipping.

Ask to see the ICT card You'll be approached by guides offering their services at many of Costa Rica's natural wonders. To ensure you're hiring a professional guide, ask to see their ICT card, which is issued by the Costa Rican Tourism Board. This will ensure you're receiving guide services that have been vetted by the government. You can also sign up for one of the best tours in Costa Rica to ensure you're being led by a professional.

How to Save Money in Costa Rica

Don't rent a car at the airport  Most car rental companies at Costa Rica's airports add a 13 percent charge to their rates. It's best to reserve a car ahead of time from a company located in the heart of town rather than the airport.

For better rates, exchange at the airport  The exchange rate is generally better in Costa Rica for American dollars. While you'll want to bring a few Costa Rican colóns with you for small purchases upon arrival, exchange the bulk of your cash once you're in the country or withdraw local currency from an ATM.

Make sure the meter is running  Taxi drivers have a reputation for charging extra by not switching the meter on. As soon as you step into a taxi, either check that the meter is running or negotiate a flat rate with the driver to avoid a scam.

Culture & Customs

Costa Rican residents ( los Costarricenses  or " Ticos ") are known for their pleasant and easygoing nature. Always warm, welcoming and living life to the fullest,  Ticos  often greet each other with a hearty " Pura Vida! " (meaning "pure life"). Don't be alarmed by their benevolence and eagerness to please guests. To blend in, just reciprocate with kindness and embrace their positive philosophy.

The official language here is Spanish; however, you'll find English-speakers in popular tourist areas. But using some key phrases, such as " por favor " ("please") and " gracias " ("thank you"), is a polite gesture that goes a long way.

Dressing in casual clothing coincides with the laid-back Costa Rican lifestyle. You'll want to pack loose fitting clothing and sturdy hiking shoes if you're planning to explore the country's rustic wildlife reserves, volcanoes and parks. You'll also want to lather up with sunscreen and insect repellent, as mosquitoes and other critters swarm Costa Rica's damp rainforests.

Coffee beans are commonly associated with the "Gold Coast." You're also likely to spot coffee plantations in the Central Plains; many travelers enjoy taking tours here. However, high-end coffee beans are hard to come by since they are commonly exported rather than sold locally.

Costa Rica's official currency is the Costa Rica Colón (CRC). Since the CRC to U.S. dollar exchange rate fluctuates, be sure to check  what the exchange rate  is before you go. Major credit cards are accepted at most restaurants and shops. 

As far as dining goes, travelers should note that restaurants add gratuity onto the bill. However, tipping extra is not uncommon; if the service is stellar, leave an additional tip. For tour guides and drivers, plan to dole out about $10 per day.

Costa Rica's official religion is Catholicism. More than 70 percent of Costa Rica's population identifies as Catholic; however, the Catholic Church's presence is not readily visible to the unsuspecting traveler, except during patron saint celebrations when locals flock to the streets outside churches for dancing, music and scrumptious cuisine.

In Costa Rica, you'll face few safety concerns. However, in congested San José, you'll want to keep an eye on your belongings and your rental car. Pickpocketing and car theft are common in heavily trafficked tourist areas.  

What to Eat

With its tropical temperatures, Costa Rican cuisine features an abundance of exotic fruits (especially pejibayes – a type of savory fruit) and vegetables, and depending on what part of the country you are in, lots of fresh fish. Black beans and rice are a staple and are a part of almost every traditional meal. Of course, Costa Rica is famous for its coffee beans (though much of it is exported), but you shouldn't leave without trying a cup.

Common dishes you will see on menus include gallo pinto (rice and beans), ceviche (fish marinated in lemon juice), pati (pastry dough stuffed with curried beef and onions) and agua dulce (warm melted sugarcane). If you visit San José, don't miss the Central Market, which opened in 1880, and is the largest market in the city, with more than 200 shops, stalls and small restaurants. Taking a food tour in San José is a great way to get a taste for the country's unique markets and flavors.

Getting Around Costa Rica

The best way to get around Costa Rica is by bus, which is reliable, navigable, inexpensive and frequently runs through  San José , Costa Rica's capital. Driving on your own is not highly recommended as some roads are tricky (speckled with potholes and ambiguously marked intersections). A better alternative to renting your own set of wheels is hiring a car-and-driver service recommended from your  hotel , so you can enjoy the country's gorgeous scenery without having to tackle challenging roads with confusing signage. Signing up for one of the best tours in Costa Rica is another great way to sightsee without having to navigate the country on your own. For a hassle-free means of getting to downtown San José from the Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO), you'll want to flag a taxi. Official taxis at the airport are orange. If you're planning to explore  Guanacaste  and the  Nicoya Peninsula  in the northwest region of Costa Rica, you can easily hail a taxi from the Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIR). 

Entry & Exit Requirements

U.S. citizens traveling to Costa Rica will need a passport that is valid for the length of their stay in Costa Rica. Many airlines also require travelers to have a round-trip ticket before boarding flights to Costa Rica to ward off fines imposed by Costa Rican immigration. Travelers should expect to pay a $29 airport departure tax. Visitors can pay the fee upon arrival in Costa Rica or before departure. Check to see if the fee was included in the price of your airline ticket, as some airlines do add this in. However, it is highly recommended to pay in advance as lines can get long at the airport. If you're planning to stay longer than 90 days, you are required to apply for an extension to the Office of Temporary Permits. To learn more, visit the U.S. State Department  website .

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Mar 12, 2024 • 22 min read

Next stop, Costa Rica! An expert's guide on maximizing your points & miles for the ultimate Costa Rica getaway in 2024.

Woman hiking the Arenal 1968 Trail, Costa Rica.

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travel advice for costa rica

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From weather-proof essentials to pura vida, here's our list of things to know before visiting Costa Rica © Matteo Colombo

Sep 1, 2023 • 7 min read

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Costa Rica Travel Information

Costa Rica Travel Guide

January 1, 2024 By Sammi 20 Comments

Costa rica travel guide

Discover pura vida , or pure life, as they say in Costa Rica. Trek through lush rainforests, explore empty beaches and have an epic adventure filled vacation. Our Mytanfeet Costa Rica travel guide will help you plan your dream vacation.

First, Where is Costa Rica?

Costa Rica is a country in Central America, 8 – 12 degrees above the equator. Nicaragua borders the north and Panama borders the south. Costa Rica is not an island.

Important Costa Rica Travel Information

COVID-19 entry requirements: None. Please read our Costa Rica COVID-19 travel post and Costa Rica COVID-19 information if you wish to see what it was like during the pandemic.

The official language of Costa Rica is Spanish. Many locals in touristic destinations and San Jose, the capital city, speak intermediate and high level English. Many indigenous languages are also spoken throughout the country.

Costa Rica uses 110 V (same as United States and Canada) and uses the metric system. Driving is on the right side of the road (like US and Canada).

Being 8-12 degrees above the equator, Costa Rica experiences tropical climate meaning it follows the typical tropical two seasons: dry and rainy. Dry season is the end of December – end of April. Rainy season is usually May through November. Average day time and night time temperatures don’t change much throughout the year but there are over 25 micro climates.

It is important to note that the Caribbean coast doesn’t strictly follow the tropical seasons. October is the “summer” month on the Caribbean coast while it is the rainiest month for the rest of the country. The Caribbean coast has the possibilities to rain at any time of the year.

Read more about Costa Rica weather, micro-climates and forecasts and what to pack for Costa Rica here.

International Airports

The two main international airports are SJO ( Juan Santamaria International Airport or San Jose International Airport ) and LIR ( Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport or Guanacaste Airport ). There are direct flights from USA, Canada, Mexico and European countries like Germany, Spain, UK and Netherlands. A direct flight from Newark and LAX to San Jose is 5.5 hours.

Find out how to book cheap airefare to Costa Rica in this post here and read more about going through customs and immigration in Costa Rica here.

Transportation Infrastructure

Costa Rica’s network of shared shuttles, domestic airports and public transportation offers travelers many options to get around the country. However, due to limited schedules, ever developing infrastructure and pricey routes, renting a car is the best way to explore with freedom and flexibility. Public buses are very affordable but with limited routes. Costa Rica drives on the right hand side of the road, same as United States and Canada.

Read more about getting around Costa Rica , get our Costa Rica car rental discount here and read our renting a car in Costa Rica tips.

When is the Best Time to Visit?

The best time to visit Costa Rica is during dry season for the best weather. These are generally the months of December through April for the whole country except the Caribbean coast which has its summer in October.

However, rainy season has much to offer, particularly to budget and off the beaten path travelers as prices drop and crowds thin out. Our personal favorite months are May, June, September and November for those exact reasons. The trade off is that there is tropical rain and may be storms.

Read more about the best time to visit Costa Rica or check our monthly guide s below.

January February March

Where are the Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica?

The main tourist destinations in Costa Rica are La Fortuna , Monteverde , Jaco , Manuel Antonio , Tamarindo , Papagayo Peninsula , Puerto Viejo de Talamanca , Tortuguero , Osa Peninsula and San Jose . All these destinations are excellent places to experience the numerous natural attractions such as waterfalls, rivers, volcanoes and beaches in Costa Rica.

Read more about the best places to visit in Costa Rica here.

The official currency of Costa Rica is called the Colón . The exchange rate is around 500 CRC to USD (as of April 2024) but the exchange rate fluctuates often (it can change day by day, even hour by hour). USD and credit/debit cards are readily accepted in touristic destinations.

Read more about handle money in Costa Rica here.


Ready to start booking your trip? Check out our sample Costa Rica itineraries ! We have written itineraries ranging from 5 days to 1 month that you can follow exactly or base your trip off of. There are itineraries for families, couples, solo travelers, backpackers, chock full of information.

Best of Costa Rica

Costa Rica has placed itself as a world leader in sustainable tourism and with nearly 25% of its land protected, it’s a dream destination for wildlife, nature and adventure lovers.

50 things to do in Costa Rica featured

Costa Rica’s abundant nature and open spaces create the perfect playground for kids and adults alike. Experience the tropical jungle on exciting outdoor adventures such as rafting and ziplining. Find out our favorite 50 things to do in Costa Rica!

best beaches in costa rica

Costa Rica’s Pacific and Caribbean coastlines offer thousands of miles of beautiful beaches of all types, from white sand, volcanic black sand and more. Surf, swim, snorkel, sunbathe and walk on these beaches for the ultimate beach vacation. Find out what our favorite beaches in Costa Rica are!

costa rica wildlife watching guide - when and where to see monkeys, sloths, toucans and other animals

Thanks to the many national parks, private reserves and wildlife refuges, it’s one of the best places in the world to see exotic tropical animals such as monkeys, sloths, snakes, frogs, turtles and whales. Find out where are the best places and times of year to see wildlife in Costa Rica in this post!

Want even more information about Costa Rica? Join the Mytanfeet mailing list to get our travel tips eBook and receive emails from us once a week to help you plan your trip! We send out all the goodies to our email subscribers first so don’t miss out.

Common Questions About Costa Rica

Is Costa Rica safe? Yes, it is a safe country to visit, even for solo travelers and solo female travelers. Costa Rica doesn’t have an army but they do have a police force and a tourism police. Petty theft is the most common crime.

Can you get around Costa Rica without knowing Spanish? Yes, although it doesn’t hurt to know a little bit. However, as tourism is one of the major economic backbones of the country, many locals speak fluent English, particularly those who work in tourism or live in San Jose.

Do I need a 4×4 in Costa Rica? That depends. First, if you’re going to popular destinations such as San Jose, La Fortuna, Manuel Antonio, Tamarindo, Puerto Viejo and Jaco, no. But if you plan to stay in more remote places or if your hotel is up in the mountains, then probably yes, or at least a high clearance car with a strong engine during dry season. These are places like Monteverde, San Vito, Osa Peninsula, Uvita, Dominical, Nicoya Peninsula, Bajos del Toro and Golfito. Always check with your host if a 4×4 is required to get to your lodging.

Which international airport in Costa Rica should I fly into? Depends. It’s always been a bit cheaper to fly into San Jose International Airport (SJO) than Guanacaste Airport (LIR) so compare prices of both first. Then, it will depend on your itinerary. Fly into SJO if you plan to visit the Caribbean coast, South Pacific Coast or Osa Peninsula. Fly into Liberia if you plan to go to Guanacaste or Nicoya Peninsula. You can fly into either to go to La Fortuna and Monteverde.

Is Costa Rica expensive? Yes. Just because it’s in Central America, don’t expect dirt cheap prices like Southeast Asia or Nicaragua. Average prices for standard hotels are around $80-100 USD a night and tours can range from $40-$280 USD per person. Nearly every attraction has an entrance fee. However, it is totally possible to travel on a budget but it does require more planning.

Do I need travel insurance? YES! You should purchase travel insurance whenever you go abroad, not just to Costa Rica. As we all now know, anything from a car accident to a world wide pandemic can happen so be prepared. Travel delays, lost luggage and cancellations are not uncommon nowadays. Click here to purchase travel insurance for your trip to Costa Rica.

Costa Rica Travel Videos

Watch below our videos of some of our favorite places and things to do in Costa Rica! You can watch all our videos on our Youtube channel

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca : The main town and tourism hub of the South Caribbean. See what the town and the surrounding beaches are like.

Rio Celeste Waterfall : The waterfall of the sky blue river, Rio Celeste, inside Tenorio Volcano National Park.

Tortuga Island : A day trip cruising through the Gulf of Nicoya to the white sand beach of Tortuga Island

Pacuare white water rafting Class 3 & 4 : An exciting white water rafting day excursion down the Pacuare River

If you’re interested in booking tours such as the Tortuga Island day cruise and Pacuare white water rafting, please check out our Costa Rica deals and discounts page . We have additional deals for tours in La Fortuna, Guanacaste and Manuel Antonio! There are affiliate links in this post.

Costa Rica Vacation Checklist

  • 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. Get 10% off your Airalo eSIM package with our promo code “mytanfeet”
  • 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!  

Exclusive deals



  • Planning Your Trip
  • Entry Requirements

Welcome to Costa Rica!

Requirements to enter the country.

Entry to Costa Rica has been opened to tourists from all countries.

All tourists must comply with the immigration processes established in the General Immigration and Aliens Act (Ley General de Migración y Extrangería).

During your visit in Costa Rica, you are required to comply with the health protocols put in place by private companies when participating in any tourism activities in the country.

In accordance with Article 42 of the General Law on Immigration and Aliens (No. 8764) and Article 30 of the Immigration Control Regulation (Executive Decree No. 36769-G), foreign nationals intending to enter Costa Rica must provide:

  • A valid passport or travel document. Passports and travel documents will only be accepted if they can be read electronically in line with the guidelines established by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and must be valid for the period set forth in these guidelines.
  • Visa, if required under these guidelines.
  • Proof of economic means, with a minimum of US$100.00 (one hundred US dollars) per month or partial month of legal stay in the country.
  • Return ticket to the country of origin or plan of onward travel that includes the next destination.
  • No impediment to entering Costa Rican territory.


The maximum legal stay for foreign nationals will be determined by the immigration agent upon their entry into the country.

Countries in the first group: UP TO 180 CALENDAR DAYS, NON-EXTENDABLE 

Countries in the second group: UP TO 30 CALENDAR DAYS

Countries in the third group: UP TO 30 CALENDAR DAYS, EXTENDABLE

Countries in the fourth group: UP TO 30 CALENDAR DAYS, EXTENDABLE

Please remember:

  • In order to enter Costa Rica, you will need a ticket for a return flight, which the immigration official will ask to see when you arrive. It is recommended that you make a photocopy of your passport with the entry stamp, which you should carry with you at all times during your stay.
  • The number of days you are permitted to stay in Costa Rica will depend on the group your country of origin belongs to.
  • The immigration official may ask you to demonstrate that you have the funds needed for your stay in the country.
  • The immigration official may indicate in your passport that your permitted stay will be for a different amount of time.
  • Visitors to Costa Rica must have a valid passport and proof that they will be leaving the country before their visa or entry stamp expires.

All travelers must therefore have a ticket for return or onward travel.

Non-residents must have a ticket for return or onward travel if they:

Are arriving on a one-way ticket.

Are entering the country with a return ticket that is more than 90 days after their date of arrival.

Are flying to Costa Rica and flying out of a different country.

By law, a return or onward travel ticket may be on one of the following means of approved commercial transportation:

  • A pre-purchased bus ticket out of the country.
  • A pre-purchased flight out of the country.
  • Proof of passage on a cruise ship.

Obligatory declarations when entering or leaving Costa Rica:

When entering or leaving a port of entry to Costa Rica, if you are carrying an amount equal to or greater than US$10,000 in cash or securities, or its equivalent in other currencies, you must request and complete the form designated for this purpose in the immigration checkpoint and present it to the Customs Authority for verification. The declaration must be made before finalizing the corresponding immigration procedures.

Failure to follow the provisions of Costa Rican law (No. 8204, Article 35) will result in the immediate forfeiture of the money.

What kind of vaccines do visitors to Costa Rica need?

As of July 30, 2007, Costa Rican authorities require all travelers from the following countries to have a certificate of vaccination against yellow fever: Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, The Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Bolivia, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador, as well as the Republic of Guyana.

If you need more information, please click here

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Costa Rica Travel Guide

Last Updated: November 2, 2023

a colorful tropical bird in the lush rainforest of beautiful Costa Rica

Costa Rica is one of my favorite countries in the world. It was the first country I ever traveled to — and it was the country that sparked my wanderlust.

These days, Costa Rica is one of the most popular destinations in Central America . It’s popular with expats, luxury travelers, and backpackers alike. While it is on the higher end of the price spectrum for the region, it’s nevertheless a phenomenal country to visit and remains affordable.

I love the never-ending activities, gorgeous beaches, diverse wildlife, delicious food, and friendly people.

The country may be expensive by regional standards but that doesn’t make it any less amazing. The beaches are picturesque, there’s great surfing and amazing diving, and there are plenty of places to get away from the hordes of retired Americans that live here.

This guide to Costa Rica can help you have the trip of a lifetime — and save money in the process!

Table of Contents

  • Things to See and Do
  • Typical Costs
  • Suggested Budget
  • Money-Saving Tips
  • Where to Stay
  • How to Get Around
  • How to Stay Safe
  • Best Places to Book Your Trip
  • Related Blogs on Costa Rica

Click Here for City Guides

Top 5 things to see and do in costa rica.

volcano in arenal, costa rica

1. Climb a volcano

Volcanoes are among the country’s top tourist attractions. There are currently 5 active ones and over 60 dormant ones. Arenal is the most popular, famous for its beautiful hikes and scenic views. Irazu is known for its astonishing green-blue lake in one of its craters, while the Poas Volcano is home to a boiling acid lake within its crater.

2. Visit Monteverde

Monteverde is one of my favorite places in Costa Rica. I always found this town to be a nice base to hike the surrounding cloud forest, take canopy tours, and visit coffee plantations. I still dream of the coffee from here — it’s like drinking liquid chocolate! Be sure to take a nocturnal rainforest tour while you’re here — they’re super fun and educational.

3. Explore Tortuguero National Park

This park on the Caribbean coast is regarded as one of the most important breeding grounds for the endangered green turtle. The park also helps protect manatees, sloths, and monkeys. If you like jungles, birds, and quiet, this is a must-see! Admission is $16.95 USD. You can visit as a guided full-day tour from San Jose for $195 USD.

4. Explore Corcovado

Established in 1975, Corcovado National Park is on the remote Osa Peninsula in the southwest. Spanning 424 square kilometers (164 square miles), it’s a rugged, quiet, off-the-beaten-path destination. Here you’ll find pristine jungles, hiking trails, and plenty of diving opportunities. There’s lots of wildlife too, including tapirs, jaguars, pumas, and the rare Harpy eagle. The peninsula is not easy to get to but it’s the highlight of the country for me.

5. Stay in Puerto Viejo

Other things to see and do in costa rica, 1. visit san josé.

Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose is in the center of the country. It’s sort of gritty and there’s not a whole lot to do (the city only requires a few days) but while you’re here, visit the Museum of Contemporary Art & Design to check out the future of Costa Rican art, as well as the magnificent Teatro Nacional to take in its décor. There are also many tour companies that offer day trips to the surrounding jungle for hiking, zip-lining, canopy tours, and more. Most start around $150 USD.

2. Zip through the rainforest canopy

The highest 10% of rainforest is where most activity takes place, filled with squawking birds, slow moving sloths, and monkeys scampering from tree to tree. For an adrenaline-pumping view of these vast, diverse ecosystems, take a zip line tour. There are dozens of companies throughout the country, though Monteverde is my favorite place to do it. Expect to pay around $75-85 USD for a multi-line tour lasting a couple of hours .

3. Explore Baru Wildlife Refuge

With over 330 hectares (815 acres) of land, 7 kilometers (4 miles) of walking trails, and 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) of fantastic beaches, this refuge is another prime example of Costa Rica’s natural beauty. Located on the coast south of Manuel Antonio , here you can go birdwatching, take canopy tours, and explore the park via guided tours to see the wildlife. Don’t miss the orchid and butterfly gardens. For something more unique, take a nighttime guided tour to see the region’s nocturnal animals. Self-guided tours cost $15 USD while guided tours start at $35 USD.

4. Go surfing in Jaco

Located on the Pacific Coast west of San Jose, Jaco was once a sleepy resort town whose main attraction was its excellent surfing. Growing tourism has transformed it into a haven of beach parties and nightclubs. Surf lessons and rentals are widely available on the beaches and sport-fishing is also popular here. For a more laid-back visit, head to the nearby Carara National Park to spot scarlet macaws, armadillos, and hundreds of species of birds (admission is $11.30 USD).

5. Learn some Spanish

Costa Rica is one of the most popular countries for learning Spanish due to the country’s easy-to-understand dialect. Programs vary in length and cost, but most offer the opportunity to do an immersive homestay with a Costa Rican family. Expect to spend around $500 USD for a basic week-long homestay language learning program.

6. See La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Located just one hour from San Jose, this makes for a popular day trip. Aside from the many stunning waterfalls throughout the lush cloud forest, here you’ll also find several beautiful gardens, an aviary, a hummingbird garden, a butterfly garden, and a reptile area. Plan to stay at least two hours to see everything. Admission is $50 USD. You can also do a full-day tour to the Waterfall Gardens that includes a visit to a coffee plantation and Poás Volcano for $159 USD.

7. Go fishing

Costa Rica is home to Marlin, Sailfish, Dorado, Snapper, Wahoo, and more. If you love to fish (or just want to give it a try), consider doing a half-day or full-day fishing excursion. A basic group excursion costs around $105 USD and usually includes food, though prices can be ten times as high for multi-day or exclusive charters. A half-day private charter is around $400-600 USD. You can usually find places that can cook your catch as well.

8. Chill out in Santa Teresa

At the bottom of the Nicoya Peninsula is the hippy backpacker town of Santa Teresa. This “town” is really nothing more than a beach with a road lined with eateries, surf shops, and hostels. Not much goes on here as everyone is up early to hit the waves. I enjoyed my time here as it’s a good place to just lay on the beach, hang out with people, and relax. It’s an easy place to fall into and spend weeks. Or, like most people who visit, months.

9. Learn to surf

Puerto Viejo , Cahuita , Manuel Antonio , Jaco, Santa Teresa, or Tamarindo all offer plenty of waves and lots of places to learn to surf. In fact, most travelers come here to surf because the waves are world renowned. If you have never learned but always wanted to try, this is the best place in the region to learn. Group lessons cost around $60 USD and private lessons are around $80-100 USD, while all-inclusive surf camps (including food, accommodation, lessons, and more) can be up to $2,500 USD. Board rentals are usually around $10 USD per day.

10. Walk through the treetops

The Rainmaker Aerial Walkway, located one hour from Jaco, was the first aerial walkway to be built in Central America. Spanning the canopy of a private rainforest, it’s still considered to be one of the top aerial walkways in the region. At the highest point on the walkway, you’ll find yourself 20 stories above the ground, giving you ample opportunities to spot all kinds of birds and monkeys. A self-guided tour is $23 USD, while guided tours start at $74 USD.

11. Wander a coffee plantation

Costa Rican coffee is famous the world over. On a coffee plantation tour you can learn about the entire bean-to-cup process and see it all up close — all while learning about the lives of the local farmers who grow it. While I personally dislike the taste of coffee, the kind I had in Monteverde tasted like chocolate and was delicious! Prices vary but expect to pay around $40-50 USD for a tour.

12. Take a chocolate-making workshop

Cacao is Costa Rica’s other famous bean (also technically a seed). Once widely exported, Costa Rican chocolate is now mostly made in small batches on local artisan farms. There are many places around the country where you can take chocolate making workshops, where you can see the entire process, sample the goods, and try your hand at grinding raw cacao. Tours generally last 2-3 hours and cost around $30-40 USD.

13. Experience the rainforest by night

A guided night walk offers the chance to spot and learn about some of the countless nocturnal animals that call the forest home, including tarantulas, armadillos, and stick bugs. It’s a cool way to see a different side of the jungle as your guide will point out animals, insects, and plants that you might not have noticed otherwise. You can take night walks at national parks and nature preserves around the country. Tours generally last around 2 hours and cost $25-35 USD.

14. Take a cooking class

One of my favorite ways to learn about a new culture is through its cuisine, and taking a cooking class is one of the best ways to do that. Taking home new recipes is also a great souvenir from your trip! In this 3-hour cooking class in La Fortuna, you’ll learn about typical Costa Rican produce and ingredients, and then prepare a few traditional dishes like picadillos (a spicy stew), tortillas, and guisados (a meat dish).

  For more information on specific destinations in the country, check out these guides:

  • Arenal Travel Guide
  • Manuel Antonio Travel Guide
  • Monteverde Travel Guide
  • Puerto Viejo Travel Guide
  • San Jose Travel guide
  • Tamarindo Travel Guide
  • Tortuguero Travel Guide

Costa Rica Travel Costs

Small resort and hotel buildings nestled in the rainforest with the ocean in the background in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Hostel Costs – A bed in a hostel dorm with 4-6 beds costs between $15-25 USD per night, while dorms with 8 beds and up can be found for as cheap as $11-14 USD. Private rooms in hostels are usually $35-60 USD.

Free Wi-Fi is standard and some hostels also include free breakfast. The majority of hostels around the country also have self-catering facilities too. Many also have bars/restaurants on site. In the beach areas especially, some hostels even have pools.

Budget hotel costs – Budget hotels begin around $50 USD per night but average closer to $65-70 USD.Breakfast is often included and most have basic amenities like AC and TV. Many budget hotels even have pools, especially in beachside towns.

For Airbnb, private rooms start around $40-60 USD per night. For an entire home or apartment, expect to pay at least $75-125 USD. Prices double when not booked in advance.

For those traveling with a tent, camping is an option all around the country. Most campgrounds usually charge around $10 USD per night for a basic plot without electricity. Avoid wild camping as it is often unsafe and illegal in many areas due to the protection of natural areas.

Food – Costa Rican cuisine is centered around rice and beans, which are usually eaten for every meal. Potatoes, plantain, pork, and beef are also popular. Gallo pinto (rice and bean stir-fry) is the national dish. You’ll find it mixed with eggs for breakfast. Casado is a typical lunch dish, which consists of rice, beans, veggies, fresh salad, and your choice of meat. Generally, the food here is quite mild.

Note: While you can easily pay for tours and entrance fees in USD, in smaller establishments, such as local restaurants, you’ll need colones (CRC). Prices in this section are in CRC to reflect this.

At sodas (cheap local restaurants serving traditional cuisine), expect a filling meal of casado (rice, beans, veggies, and meat) to cost around 3,500-5,000 CRC. You can usually find empanadas and other savory snacks from traditional bakeries for around 2,000 CRC or less.

At a mid-range restaurant or in touristy areas (like right along the beach) expect to pay around around 7,000-8,500 CRC for a fish dish, 6,000-7,000 for a burger or a simple pasta dish, and 9,000-11,000 CRC for a steak dish or large pizza to share. Seafood dishes like lobster start around 12,000-17,000 CRC.

For fast food (think pizza or burgers) or a dish of fried rice at a Chinese takeout place, expect to pay around 4,500-5,000 CRC.

Domestic beer costs around 1,500-2,000 CRC, a glass of wine is 3,000 CRC, a cocktail is 3,500-5,000 CRC, and a latte/cappuccino is around 2,000 CRC. Bottled water is 1,000 CRC. Fruit smoothies, which you can get made either with water or milk, are 2,000-2,500 CRC.

If you plan on cooking for yourself, a week’s worth of groceries costs around 20,000-30,000 CRC depending on the area. This gets you basic staples like rice, beans, veggies, fruit, and some meat or fish.

Backpacking Costa Rica Suggested Budgets

If you’re backpacking Costa Rica, my suggested budget is $50 USD per day. On this budget, you can stay in a hostel, cook most of your meals, have some cheap street food, take public transportation to get around, and enjoy mostly free activities like hiking and the beach.

On a mid-range budget of around $135 USD per day, you can stay in an Airbnb or private hostel room, eat out at local sodas, enjoy a couple of drinks, take the occasional taxi, and do more paid activities like guided tours, surf lessons, and museum visits

On a “luxury” budget of $250 USD or more per day, you can stay in a hotel, eat out anywhere you want, rent a car to get around, drink as much as you’d like, and do as many excursions as you want, including diving and canopy tours. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!

You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages — some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.

Costa Rica Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips

Costa Rica is one of the most expensive countries in Central America. Between food costs, accommodation, and activities, there’s a lot of ways to spend money. You can get by on a budget compared to other places in the world but it’s still an expensive place to visit. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to save money while you’re here:

  • Travel off-season – Late April to November is considered the rainy season and prices tend to be less expensive and the region is less crowded. If you’re on a budget, visit during this time.
  • Avoid tour activities – There are a lot of great (but expensive) group activities and tours in the country. Skip them and do free activities like hiking, swimming, and relaxing at the beach instead.
  • Eat at the sodas – “Sodas” are small family-run restaurants that specialize in inexpensive yet filling traditional meals, usually costing around 3,500-5,000 CRC. These hole-in-the-wall restaurants offer the best value in the country.
  • Go camping – Some hostels let you camp on their property if you have a tent. If not, there are plenty of campgrounds around the country where you can pitch a tent. Usually, this costs around $10 USD per night.
  • Visit the Caribbean side – Visiting the cheaper Caribbean side lets you see the beautiful country without the high prices of the popular Pacific destinations.
  • Avoid the tourist shuttles – While local buses are a lot slower than tourist shuttles, they are also a fraction of the price (i.e the local bus from San Jose to Monteverde is $6 USD while a shuttle is $60 USD). If you aren’t rushed for time, take the local buses.
  • Pack a water bottle – While the tap water is drinkable in most of the country, there are some remote and beach destinations where it’s recommended to drink bottled water. A reusable water bottle with a filter can help you save money (and thousands of plastic bottles) by purifying the tap water for you. My preferred bottle is LifeStraw .

Where to Stay in Costa Rica

Costa Rica has lots of fun, social, and affordable hostels. Here are some of my favorite places to stay in Costa Rica:

  • Arenal Backpackers Resort (Arenal)
  • Selina Puerto Viejo (Puerto Viejo)
  • Stray Cat Hostel (San Jose)
  • Costa Rica Backpackers (San Jose)
  • Pura Natura Lodge Manuel Antonio (Manuel Antonio)
  • Sloth Backpackers (Monteverde)
  • Pura Vida Hostel (Tamarindo)
  • Aracari Garden Hostel (Tortuguero)

How to Get Around Costa Rica

Sloth hanging from a tree in Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica

Bus – The cheapest and easiest way to get around Costa Rica is by bus. Short bus trips (under 3 hours) are usually around $2-10 USD while longer trips cost $10-20 USD. The Costa Rica tourism board has a comprehensive schedule and guide to help you plan your trip.

Minibus – Private minibuses or shuttles provide an easy way to get around the country, or to and from the airport. They are all over the place and are often quicker and more direct than the public buses (but also more expensive, starting at $50-60 USD). Ask your hotel/hostel staff for the local options as they vary around the country.

Flying – Since the country is so small, air travel within Costa Rica isn’t budget-friendly or efficient. I would skip this method of travel. It won’t save you time or money.

Car Rental – Car rentals are surprisingly affordable in Costa Rica. You can rent a car for as little as $30-45 USD per day. However, the roads here are not always great and drivers can be aggressive. Make sure you have insurance if you do rent a vehicle. Most rental companies require drivers to be 25 though some will rent to drivers who are 21. For the best car rental prices in Costa Rica, use Vamos (as a Nomadic Matt reader, you’ll get 5% off by using our link).

Hitchhiking – Hitchhiking isn’t common for long-distance rides, however, it’s possible in beach destinations or in remote places with less public transport. HitchWiki is the best website for additional hitchhiking tips and info.

When to Go to Costa Rica

Overall, temperatures and weather vary per region, but most people go to Costa Rica during the dry season, which takes place from December to April. Although it’s peak season and tourism is at its highest, there’s almost non-stop sunshine, ideal for enjoying the country’s beaches and rainforests. If visiting during this time, make all your reservations in advance since things fill up fast.

The rainy season is from May to November. This is when it’s cheapest to visit Costa Rica. It doesn’t rain all the time though and temperatures are still warm. The rain tends to lighten during June and July, making the country’s rainforests burst with life.

If you’re around the Caribbean coast and the Northern Plains, you can expect year-round humidity and temperatures somewhere in the 20s-30s°C (70s-80s°F). It’s not so humid in the North Pacific, but temperatures can get even hotter in this area during the dry season.

How to Stay Safe in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is one of the safest countries for traveling and backpacking in Central America . Most popular tourist towns are small and with little threat of violence. Solo female travelers should generally feel safe here, however, the standard precautions apply (never leave your drink unattended at the bar, never walk home alone intoxicated, etc.).

That said, it’s always good to play it safe. Petty theft (including bag snatching) is one of the most common types of crime here. Don’t flash your valuables and make sure they are always secure while you’re out. When going out for the night, only bring the money you need. Leave the rest of your cash and cards locked up in your accommodation.

There are some common scams here, including a taxi scam where the driver tells you the meter is broken once the drive has begun. For that reason, you should stick to metered taxis or negotiate a price in advance. You can read about common travel scams to avoid here .

If you rent a car, don’t leave any valuables in it overnight as break-ins do occur. Be mindful of missing road signs and potholes, as well as aggressive drivers.

Costa Rica’s natural wonders can be unpredictable. If you’re hiking in the jungle, always check the weather in advance and never stray from the trail. Doing so disturbs the fragile ecosystems, and opens yourself up to the possibility of encountering poisonous snakes and spiders. When in doubt, hire a guide. If you’re not a strong swimmer, stay out of the water. The currents and waves off the coast can be very strong, so heed signs and local advice on whether it’s safe to swim in a certain area or not.

If you experience an emergency, dial 911 for assistance.

The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against unexpected costs due to illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.

Costa Rica Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources

These are my favorite companies to use when I travel. They consistently have the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the companies I use the most and are always the starting point in my search for travel deals.

  • Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
  • Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
  • Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
  • Get Your Guide – Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace for tours and excursions. They have tons of tour options available in cities all around the world, including everything from cooking classes, walking tours, street art lessons, and more!
  • SafetyWing – Safety Wing offers convenient and affordable plans tailored to digital nomads and long-term travelers. They have cheap monthly plans, great customer service, and an easy-to-use claims process that makes it perfect for those on the road.
  • LifeStraw – My go-to company for reusable water bottles with built-in filters so you can ensure your drinking water is always clean and safe.
  • Unbound Merino – They make lightweight, durable, easy-to-clean travel clothing.
  • Top Travel Credit Cards – Points are the best way to cut down travel expenses. Here’s my favorite point earning credit cards so you can get free travel!

Costa Rica Travel Guide: Related Articles

Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling Costa Rica and continue planning your trip:

The Ultimate Guide to Renting a Car in Costa Rica

The Ultimate Guide to Renting a Car in Costa Rica

Do You Need Travel Insurance for Costa Rica?

Do You Need Travel Insurance for Costa Rica?

The Best Tour Companies in Costa Rica

The Best Tour Companies in Costa Rica

The 8 Best Hostels in San José, Costa Rica

The 8 Best Hostels in San José, Costa Rica

Is Costa Rica Safe to Visit?

Is Costa Rica Safe to Visit?

Is Central America Safe to Visit?

Is Central America Safe to Visit?

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  • Where To Stay
  • Transportation
  • Booking Resources
  • Related Blogs

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travel advice for costa rica

  • Passports, travel and living abroad
  • Travel abroad
  • Foreign travel advice

Before you travel check that: 

  • your destination can provide the healthcare you may need 
  • you have appropriate travel insurance for local treatment or unexpected medical evacuation 

This is particularly important if you have a health condition or are pregnant.

Emergency medical number 

Call 911 and ask for an ambulance. 

Contact your insurance company promptly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment.

Vaccinations and health risks 

At least 8 weeks before your trip check: 

  • the latest information on vaccinations and health risks in TravelHealthPro’s Costa Rica guide  
  • where to get vaccines and whether you have to pay on the NHS travel vaccinations page


Prescriptions from the UK cannot be used locally. To find a pharmacy (‘farmacia’) look for one of the big national chains such as Farmacia Fischel, Farmacia Sucre, FarmaValue, Farmacia Saba, or Farmacia Santa Lucia, among others; a quick search online should help you to identify the nearest one open. 

Read best practice when travelling with medicines on TravelHealthPro . 

The NHS has information on whether you can take your medicine abroad .

Healthcare facilities in Costa Rica  

Medical care in Costa Rica is of a generally high standard. Ambulance services in remote areas may vary. Only initial emergency medical treatment is available without charge for visitors. Subsequent treatment will be charged. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.

FCDO has a list of English-speaking doctors in Costa Rica .

Travel and mental health 

Read FCDO guidance on travel and mental health . There is also mental health guidance on TravelHealthPro . 

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90 Costa Rica Travel Tips: Things You Need to Know

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90 Costa Rica Travel Tips: Things You Need to Know

Are you looking for the best Costa Rica travel tips?

Costa Rica is a little slice of paradise located in Central America. The country is known for its biodiversity, beautiful beaches, dense rainforests, stable economy, and friendly citizens.

We have been living in Costa Rica since 2016 and have traveled extensively around the country. This place is amazing, but it has its quirks. There are definitely some things you should be aware of before visiting.

We compiled this list of 90 Costa Rica travel tips organized by category to help you have the best visit possible.

Get ready to learn about how to get around in this country that doesn’t have addresses, the best traditional foods you should try, the best way to pay for things, and so much more!

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And, make sure you read until the end to discover the most important Costa Rica travel tip!

Entering and Exiting the Country

san jose costa rica airport view

1. There are two international airports in Costa Rica

The San Jose Airport is the most visited airport in Costa Rica, however, Liberia International Airport in the northwest corner of the country is also a great option to fly in or out of.

We suggest the Liberia Airport if you plan to explore the Guanacaste region of the country.

We suggest the San Jose Airpor t if you plan to visit the Caribbean coast or south/ central Pacific coast.

2. Make sure you book your flight to San Jose, Costa Rica and NOT San Jose, California

Yea, it’s confusing and we have actually heard of people booking flights to the wrong airport.

The airport code for San Jose Costa Rica is SJO.

So, just make sure you are booking your flight to SJO and not SJC.

3. The San Jose Airport is not actually in San Jose

The airport is actually located in Alajuela and when looking for a place to stay near the airport you should search in Alajuela province. It is best to be as close to the airport as possible if you have an early flight because traffic around that area gets really crazy during rush hour.

Check out our guide to San Jose Airport hotels for more info.

4. We usually have the best luck finding flights on Skyscanner

Skyscanner is great for finding a wide variety of flights at affordable price points. If you would like to fly into San Jose and out of Liberia (or vice versa) we love to use their Multi-City feature.

5. Run to border control when you get off the plane

Sometimes the border control line moves fast and other times it can take foreverrrrrr.

While everyone else is hitting up the bathrooms when they get off the plane, run (or at least walk quickly so you don’t look crazy) to the customs line.

Do You Have Travel Insurance?

Don’t let unexpected medical expenses or trip interruptions overshadow your dream Costa Rican vacation.  

Secure your worry-free Costa Rican adventure with Heymondo travel insurance

6. You are only allowed to stay in Costa Rica for 90 days without a visa

If you plan to stay in Costa Rica for longer than 90 days at a time you will need some type of visa granting you this access.

Another option is to do a border run. Head to Panama or Nicaragua for a few days and then renter Costa Rica to stay for another 90 days. This is technically not legal, but it exists in some sort of gray area of legality.

Check out our guide to entry requirements for more info.

7. You may be asked to show proof of departure when entering the country

This is much more common at the borders rather than at the airport, but it’s still best to have a copy of your return ticket with you just in case. Make sure your ticket of departure is scheduled 90 days or less from your arrival.

If you are planning on backpacking through Central America you can also show proof of a bus ticket to the next country you are going to.

8. The Panama border is a disaster show

I have nightmares about the Panama border crossing madness.

Not really, but it is pretty bad.

Entering Costa Rica is generally pretty fast, but entering Panama can be a miserable experience. The last time we were there we waited for over three hours (no joke) in the sun to get our passports stamped to enter Panama.

For more info check out our complete guide to the Costa Rica / Panama border crossing .

9. The Nicaragua border is smooth sailing

When entering Nicaragua they actually have people whose job is to help guide you through the entry process.

It’s amazing!

At first, I thought the guys there were just trying to get money out of us, but then I realized they genuinely were just super helpful and doing their job.

The last time we crossed the border from Costa Rica the whole process took less than an hour. Woot!

For more info check out our guide to the Costa Rica / Nicaragua border . 

Transportation within Costa Rica

car rental liberia airport

10. There are domestic airports throughout the country

If you would like to get to your vacation destination as quickly and easily as possible, consider flying from one of the two international airports to one of the many international airports in the country.

You can find out more with our guide to Costa Rica’s domestic airports.

11. We suggest renting a car to get around

We almost always suggest renting a car to get around. It is the best way to have flexibility in where you visit and what you see.

We suggest booking your car through our favorite local company, Adobe Rent-a-Car.

We partnered with Adobe, to bring all Costa Rica Vibes readers a 10% car rental discount plus tons of other great perks.

90 Costa Rica Travel Tips: Things You Need to Know

Adobe Rent-a-Car

  • 10% discount for Costa Rica Vibes readers
  • Free second driver
  • 0% deductible on Liability Protection Insurance
  • Excellent customer service
  • New fleet of well-maintained vehicles

12. Waze works here and is your best bet for getting around

Don’t attempt to depend on paper maps. Roads in Costa Rica are crazy and constantly changing. We solely depend on the free app Waze to get around.

13. Uber is Illegal in Costa Rica

In the past, Uber lived in some legal gray zone in Costa Rica. However, the government has now made it clear that Uber is not allowed.

We always suggest taking an official Costa Rican taxi . These are the orange taxis with a green triangle on the door at the airport and red taxis with a yellow triangle everywhere else.

This is super important because the police are now stopping people they suspect of being an Uber driver. If you are in the car as a passenger you could be left stranded on the side of the road without transportation.

14. Shared or private shuttles are great

If you don’t feel comfortable driving long distances, you can always opt for a shared or private shuttle. You can then always rent a car once in town for day trips.

  • BookAway is AMAZING for the best selection of shared shuttles throughout the country.
  • And you can get a quote for a private shuttle with Adobe Transfers here.

15. Public buses are decent

The public buses in Costa Rica are ridiculously cheap and convenient. Unlike most other things in the country, they actually generally run on time. Granted they are not always the most comfortable, but they are OK.

If you want to travel to several destinations, buses are not the best because you will often have to go back to San Jose to connect to your next destination. It’s too much of a pain.

16. Drivers are a bit crazy

Get ready for people ignoring traffic signals and motorcycles speeding by you on either side of your lane.

It always makes me laugh because people in Costa Rica are so relaxed about everything else, but they are always in a rush when it comes to driving.

Although drivers are nuts, you should be fine driving here. Just don’t drive in downtown San Jose (that’s where the real crazies are).

17. Avoid San Jose like the plague during rush hour

First of all, I suggest avoiding driving in downtown San Jose always. It is a bit insane. If you do need to drive on the outskirts of the city (aka near the airport) avoid doing so during rush hour if possible.

Just as an example, from where we live it can take two hours to drive to the airport during rush hour. On a day without traffic, it takes about 15 minutes.

18. There are no addresses here

I’ve told my family a million times that we do not have addresses here, but they cannot seem to wrap their head around it.

It just seems so insane!

If you need to input a destination into your GPS, look for a nearby park ahead of time and input that as your destination.

19. Distances may seem close but can take forever to drive

Between traffic, curvy roads, unpaved roads etc it can take a lot longer to drive to a place than it looks.

While planning your travels, definitely look up the driving times of everything beforehand and then add at least 30 minutes to an hour to whatever it says.

20. There are tolls in Costa Rica

There are tolls on the major highway in the country heading from San Jose to the Pacific coast. They accept US dollars though, so if you are heading from the airport to the beaches, don’t stress if you haven’t switched to colones yet.

I like to pay with a $10 bill at the first toll and they will give you change in colones. This will be enough colones to pay the rest of the tolls on your drive.

Things to Do

zip line

21. Definitely make time to explore national parks

Costa Rica is renowned for its diverse ecosystems. Visit national parks like Manuel Antonio National Park , Poas Volcano , and Corcovado National Park to experience lush rainforests, active volcanoes, and abundant wildlife.

Check out our guide to Costa Rica National Parks for more details.

22. Experience zip lining

One of the most popular adventure activities in Costa Rica is ziplining. It is the perfect way to view Costa Rica’s diverse landscape from above.

You can enjoy the thrill of zip lining through the treetops in various locations across the country. Our personal favorite destinations for this are Monteverde and La Fortuna .

23. Make time to hit the beaches

With both Pacific and Caribbean coastlines, Costa Rica offers a variety of beaches. Whether you’re a surfer, sunbather, or nature enthusiast, there’s a beach for you.

Typically, the Pacific coast is known for white sand beaches and the Caribbean has more dark sand beaches.

Also, usually the Caribbean beaches are less crowded than the Pacific ones.

24. Try Surfing

Join the surfing culture in Costa Rica by catching waves along the coastline.

From beginner-friendly breaks to challenging swells, there’s a spot for every skill level.

Some of the most popular surfing towns are Tamarindo , Playa Avellenas , Santa Teresa, Pavones , and Hermosa (near Jaco) .

Check out our guide to surfing for more info

25. Visit Coffee Farms

If you have the chance, definitely embark on a coffee farm tour. This is the perfect way to learn about the coffee production process, from bean to cup.

Our favorite area for this activity is in the hills above Alajuela.

Check out our guide to Costa Rica coffee for more info

26. You should try and break out of your comfort zone

Costa Rica is an adventure paradise. I used to not be the most adventurous person, but this country has definitely expanded my adventure palate.

So, try rappeling down waterfalls, book the white water rafting tour, go snorkeling or diving. These are experiences you will likely look back on with fond memories and be thankful that you tried them.

27. You don’t need to reserve far in advance

Typically, it is possible to arrange tours up to a few days in advance. However, during the peak tourism season, it is always a good idea to book things. a bit further in advance.

28. A rental car will allow you to save money on activities

One downside in Costa Rica is that guided tours with transportation can be expensive, especially if you are traveling as a family.

Having a rental car will allow you to do more exploring on your own without depending on tours.

For example, you could take a national park tour with transportation and a guide. This will often run you at least $50 per person.

Or, you could drive and only pay for national park admission. This will run more like $15 per person.

29. It is sometimes worth it to take a wildlife tour

I know, I’m contradicting myself here. But, sometimes taking a tour is worth it.

One great thing about guided wildlife tours in national parks or reserves is that the guides usually walk those trails almost every day. They know exactly where the animals hang out and are usually super knowledgeable.

Plus, guides often carry telescopic lenses so you can get a great view of those hard to spot animals such as sloths.

30. Viator is great for booking activities

Recently we have been booking a lot of activities through the Viator website .

We have been doing this because they typically have great cancellation policies (but check each listing).

We feel it is a good way to support local companies but with the security of a big company like Viator.

Money and Currency

costa rica currency exchange airport

31. The currency in Costa Rica is colones

The official currency of Costa Rica is the Costa Rican Colón, often symbolized as “₡” or simply “CRC”.

However, U.S. dollars are widely accepted in many tourist areas.

32. Exchange Rate

The exchange rate between U.S. dollars and Colones can fluctuate. It’s a good idea to check the current rate before you travel.

We like the free app XE Currency Exchange for keeping track of the current rate.

33. Cash vs. Card

While credit and debit cards are widely accepted in larger cities and tourist areas, having some Colones in cash can be handy for small purchases, local markets, and more remote areas.

As far as credit cards, Visa and Mastercard seem to be the most widely accepted cards. We have heard that American Express is sometimes not accepted at certain places.

34. ATMs are common in cities and towns

Look for Banco Nacional, Banco de Costa Rica, and other reputable bank ATMs to withdraw Colones.

Be cautious of using standalone ATMs in remote locations. It is best to do this during daylight and not to take out large amounts at once.

35. You may pay foreign ATM fees

Check with your bank or card provider about foreign transaction fees and ATM withdrawal fees. Usually this is about $5.

Some banks offer fee-free international transactions or have partner banks in Costa Rica. So, if you are concerned about the cost of using an ATM, I suggest checking with your bank before traveling.

36. Currency conversion

If offered the choice to pay in U.S. dollars or Colones, always choose Colones.

Often businesses might not have the most updated exchange rate so you can end up paying more if using US dollars.

37. Pay in small denominations

It’s a good idea to carry smaller denominations of Colones for convenience. This is helpful when leaving a tip, paying for parking, or when making purchases at local markets or small shops.

38. Change in Colones

When receiving change for a purchase in U.S. dollars, you might receive it in Colones. Make sure to clarify the amount if needed.

39. Tipping

Tips are not included in restaurant bills, and it’s customary to leave a tip of around 10% to 15% in restaurants and for tour guides. However, it is not required. Most locals do not leave a tip.

40. Currency Exchanges

Don’t change currency at the currency exchange places in the airport. They tend to have a really bad exchange rate and you can lose out on a lot of money.

Instead, you’ll get the absolute best rate by asking your bank at home to get you some colones before your trip.

You can find out more with our Costa Rica Currency Guide

Local Cuisine and What to Eat

bahia restaurant

41. Eat at the small local “sodas” to save money

There are small local restaurants called “sodas” in every town. These restaurants will give you a basic plate of food which usually has rice, beans, salad, and a meat of the day for about $8 (this meal is called a casado).

Usually, these meals are incredibly tasty (and cheap).

You can get more tips with our full guide to eating in Costa Rica on a budget .

42. You need to try the local fruits

Have you ever eaten a guanabana? What about a granadilla?

I guarantee that there are fruits in Costa Rica that you have never even seen before!

One of our favorite things to do on the weekends is to go to our local farmers market and try some new unusual fruit.

You can find out all about the crazy fruits in Costa Rica with our complete Costa Rica fruit guide .

43. You can usually drink the water

In Costa Rica, the tap water is drinkable in most bigger towns.

However, if you would like to be a bit cautious, we suggest buying a big gallon jug of water and refilling smaller bottles.

I am a big fan of the LifeStraw water bottle for some added filtration (especially when drinking tap water).

Also, ask at your hotel before filling up your water bottle from the bathroom sink. This water is not always potable.

Check out our guide to Costa Rica tap water for more info.

44. Definitely try the local specialties

Have you ever eaten Gallo Pinto? What about a casado? Ceviche?

The items listed above are just a few of our favorite traditional foods in Costa Rica that we strongly suggest you try.

Check out our guide to Costa Rican foods for more delicious ideas.

45. Buy souvenirs at the grocery store

This may sound totally strange, but the best and cheapest souvenirs are at the grocery store.

What do people really want you to bring back for them from your Costa Rican travels? Most likely they’ll love some coffee or chocolate.

The coffee and chocolate here are on point. Instead of buying coffee or chocolate from a fancy souvenir shop you can buy the same products at the grocery store for usually about half the price.

For coffee, we highly suggest the brand Britt mostly because their bags are designed to look very Costa Rican.

46. If you are gluten-free you will have tons of options

My mom has a gluten allergy and she loves visiting us here versus when we used to live in Germany because there are so many food options for her.

Costa Rican diets are typically heavy on rice, beans, corn, meat, eggs, vegetables, and fruit. You will have no problem finding a meal that can satisfy a gluten intolerance or allergy.

47. Larger grocery stores have all the foods you are used to

The best (but also most expensive) grocery store in Costa Rica is called Automercado. This store feels a lot like any normal grocery store in the US.

Just keep in mind that all imported products tend to be expensive due to import taxes.

48. Go out for breakfast at least once

Traditional Costa Rican breakfast is the best! This meal typically consists of Gallo Pinto (a mix of rice and beans), eggs, fried plantains, and fresh fruit. Add a mixed fruit juice and you will have yourself the perfect Costa Rican breakfast.

If you stay at a hotel with breakfast included I can almost guarantee that this is what they will serve.

Planning Where to Stay

samara costa rica hotel

50. There are resorts for all budgets

Costa Rica is typically not the best place to stay if you are looking for a resort vacation, because it is an expensive country.

If you would like a more budget-friendly resort experience with luxury, head to Mexico or the Caribbean islands.

However, if you are eager to stay in a resort in Costa Rica, you can find a place for all budgets. Just know that you won’t get as much bang for your buck.

Check out our guide to resorts in Costa Rica for all the best places

50. We suggest one beach and one jungle destination for one week

With one week you can easily visit one beach and one jungle destination. This will give you the perfect brief overview of the country.

For a jungle destination, La Fortuna and Monteverde are always great options.

For beach, you really can’t go wrong with most places. I suggest deciding your destination based on which airport you are flying into and what you would like to do while on the beach.

51. VRBO is a great option

We love using VRBO in Costa Rica!

Usually, the rates are cheaper than on hotel booking sites and we like to have the option of getting our own place.

It can be nice to have your own little house instead of staying in a hotel with tons of other guests. Plus most places have a kitchen so you can save money by cooking your own meals.

52. Booking.com usually has free cancelations

If you do opt to book a hotel, we suggest doing so over Booking.com .

We love Booking.com for Costa Rica travel because most places have free cancellations up to a certain date.

That means you can secure your accommodations and always adjust your travel plans later if you find a better place to stay.

53. Stay in a place with a kitchen

Restaurants can be expensive in Costa Rica. We love to try and stay at a hotel or a VRBO with a kitchen.

You probably want to try out some of the great restaurants in the area, but it can be helpful to at least be able to make your own breakfast or store any leftovers in a fridge.

54. Read reviews in detail

Always check the reviews on VRBO and on Booking.com.

We only stay at places with at least five reviews and we read these reviews in detail.

You don’t want to end up at a horrible place on your Costa Rica vacation.

55. Pay attention to if a place has AC

This especially applies to beach destinations. Even at night, it can stay warm and humid. There is nothing more miserable than trying to sleep in sweaty sheets and only having a small fan.

56. Places with a pool are always a good idea

You are on vacation in a tropical destination so, book a place with a pool if you have the option.

57. Pay attention to the exact location of your hotel/ vacation rental

I say to pay attention to the exact location because sometimes places can be located on dirt side streets that may be hilly.

You need to make sure that you can actually get to your accommodation without a 4×4 vehicle.

Also, sometimes places are advertised as “near the beach” and you might actually have to drive 10 minutes or more to the beach.

So, definitely clarify the location before booking.

Travel Essentials (What to Pack)

Columbia Adult Bora Bora II Booney Omni Shade Sun Hat

Shop All The Costa Rica Packing Essentials

58. Leave the nice stuff at home

Costa Rica is safe, but it is best not to stand out too much. By leaving nice jewelry and fancy clothes at home you will make yourself much less of a target for petty theft.

59. Bring that rain jacket you are debating about

Every area of the country has a different climate and you never know when a torrential downpour will start.

Even if you are traveling during the dry season, certain parts of the country (Monteverde, Rio Celeste, San Gerardo de Dota) can have rain.

We like to pack a lightweight jacket that won’t get too sweaty while wearing.

Check out the rain jacket I own and love

60. Pack a dry shirt

No, I don’t mean a shirt that is dry.

I mean one of those shirts that dry really quickly which is meant to be worn in the water.

See the sun is so strong here that you can get burned really easily.

I like to swim with a dry shirt on to protect myself.

  • Check out the perfect dry shirt for men
  • Check out the perfect dry shirt for women

61. Pack gallon-size ziplock bags or keep your plastic shopping bags

Because of the humidity sometimes it is impossible to get your clothes to dry once they get wet.

We always carry a few plastic shopping bags or gallon size ziplock bags for when we move to our next location while traveling when we still have wet clothing.

They take up almost no space in your luggage but definitely come in handy.

62. Opt for a large backpack instead of a suitcase

Sometimes hotels or vacation rentals aren’t the easiest to access.

For example, we recently stayed in a place at Manuel Antonio that was located on the side of a hill. From the parking lot, we had to go up about 50 stairs to our bungalow.

In situations like these, it is so nice to have a large camping backpack rather than a suitcase.

Check out our go-to backpack that can usually be used as a carry-on

63. Don’t forget motion sickness pills

Some roads in Costa Rica are really curvy and hilly. If you or anyone in your group is prone to motion sickness, it is always a good idea to bring some motion sickness pills .

Personally, I find that I use them frequently here between boat rides and crazy roads.

If you forget them, you can always buy some at a local pharmacy or even usually in the grocery store.

At the grocery store, you most likely won’t see them on the shelf. They are often kept behind the counter at a cash register. They are often sold by pill not by the entire pack.

64. You can always purchase whatever you forget

Costa Rica has pretty much everything. If you forget something at home, have no fear! You can most likely find it here. Just note that you might pay a bit more than you would at home.

Local Culture and Customs

costa rica ox cart

And now, here are some fun facts about the country. This will give you a greater understanding pf the culture and what Costa Rica is all about.

65. Ticos & Ticas

Costa Ricans refer to themselves as “Ticos” ( for males) and “Ticas” (for females). Collectively they are known as “Ticos”.

66. Blue Zone

The Nicoya Peninsula (the area where Montezuma and Santa Teresa are located) is one of the five Blue Zones in the world. This means it is an area with the highest life expectancy rate.

67. Happiness

Costa Rica is categorized as one of the happiest countries in the world. You will see it when you are here. Ticos are almost always smiling and enjoying life to the fullest.

68. Pura Vida

The official motto of Ticos is “Pura Vida.” This directly translates to “Pure Life.” Costa Ricans take this motto very seriously and generally stay very relaxed about most things in life.

69. Language

The official language is Spanish in Costa Rica . However, a large percentage of citizens speak at least some English due to the high percentage of tourists. 

70. Literacy

Costa Rica has a 96% literacy rate. This is the highest of any Central America country.

71. Military

Costa Rica does not have a standing army. In fact, the army was abolished in 1953.

72. Important Exports

Bananas and coffee have historically been the biggest exports from Costa Rica. In fact, Costa Rica is the second-largest exporter of bananas in the world.

73. Renewable Energy

Costa Rica generates more than 99% of its electricity by renewable energy.

If you visit the northern part of the country near Rio Celeste you will see all of the windmills used for wind energy.

74. Ticos are generally the nicest people

Whenever I’m stressed and need to cheer up I like to go to our local farmers market because it is the perfect spot for seeing a genuinely nice and cheerful community in action.

However, sometimes they are so nice that they don’t want to let you down.

For example, if you ask for directions it is not unusual for someone to give you incorrect directions instead of just saying that they don’t know where you need to go. 

75. Tourism is Super Important

Tourism is the leading industry in Costa Rica with approximately 9% of the country’s citizens being employed in the industry. That means 600,000 jobs.

Over three million tourists typically visit the country annually with about 40% coming from the US and 6% from Canada.

Safety and Security

rio celeste view

76. The wildlife shouldn’t bother you

The keyword here is “shouldn’t,” but you just never know.

Yes, this is a country that has tons of poisonous or dangerous animals. Yes, you will probably see some of these animals in your travels. However, typically you will be fine unless you bother them.

77. Sign up for STEP

If you are a US citizen, head on over to the STEP websit e and sign up before your trip.

STEP stands for Smart Traveler Enrollement Program.

It is a free program by the US government meant to keep track of where you are in the world. It allows you to get notification of any safety concerns in the country you are traveling, allows the government to know where you are in case of an emergency such as a natural disaster, and helps you to stay connected to family in case of emergency.

78. Wear lots of bug spray

Zika and dengue can both be an issue in Costa Rica. Make sure to wear bug spray and you will hopefully be OK.

For more info check out our guide to mosquitos in Costa Rica .

79. Don’t forget to purchase travel insurance

Heymondo travel insurance was designed with ease and flexibility in mind.

Their comprehensive plans offer 24/7 assistance, trip cancellation and interruption coverage, lost baggage coverage, assistance in case of medical issues, as well as the option to add-on adventure activity coverage. 

↳ Get Your Travel Insurance Quote

80. The sun here is crazy strong

Don’t forget that Costa Rica is not too far from the Equator. If possible, we suggest bringing sunscreen with you from your home country.

You can most definitely buy it here but it is typically a bit more expensive.

For more info check out our guide to the sun in Costa Rica .

81. Petty crime can be an issue

Violent crimes are unusual, but petty crimes do happen. It is always best to be on guard.

For more info check out our guide to crime in Costa Rica and how to protect yourself .

82. Be careful in the water

The two things that freak me out sometimes in the ocean here are rip currents and crocodiles. Yes, there are crocodiles in the rivers that sometimes make their way into the ocean. This typically only happens at spots where large rivers make their way directly into the ocean.

Always ask at your hotel where it is safe to swim. Also, pay attention to signs on the beach and see where other people are swimming.

83. Make a copy of your passport

In the off chance that your passport is lost or stolen, it can be helpful to have a copy of your passport. This will help to expedite the process of getting you a new passport.

If you are a US citizen there is a US Embassy in San Jose. This is where you would need to go if something like this happens.

84. Never leave things of value in your rental car

Because petty theft is the most common crime, rental cars can become an easy target for robbers.

It is best to never leave anything visible in your vehicle and definitely never leave anything of value in the car.

When possible, park in protected lots with a guard.

Weather and Climate

costa rica september

85. The rainy season is opposite on each coast

The dry season on the Pacific and in the central part of the country runs from late December until the end of April.

On the Caribbean coast this is the rainy season.

So, if you experience bad weather, just drive a few hours to the other coast. 😉

86. The dry season is the most expensive time to visit

Most hotels and activity companies have different prices depending on the time of year.

During the dry season everything is at peak high price.

If you would like to save money, travel in July or August for lower prices, less tourists, and mostly OK weather.

87. July is our favorite month in Costa Rica

We love Costa Rica in July because everything is green again, prices are lower, and usually there are about two weeks in the middle of July when the rain will stop temporarily.

Even when it is raining, you can expect about a two-hour rainstorm every afternoon and then the weather turns nice again.

88. The sun rises and sets at almost the same time year round

The sun rises and sets around the same time every day of the year. In total there is about a thirty-minute difference in sunrise and sunset time throughout the entire year.

You can expect the sun to rise between 5:15am and 5:45am every day and the sun sets between 5:15am and 5:45pm every night.

Yeap, we have about exactly 12 hours of daylight every day. It gets a bit like groundhog day after awhile, but I’m definitely not complaining.

Check out our guide to Costa Rica weather for more info.

89. Yes, there are earthquakes

Earthquakes are quite common in Costa Rica. In fact, there are typically several small earthquakes every day in the country.

Fortunately, most are so minor that you won’t even feel them.

90. Hurricanes and tropical storms are rare

Since living here, Costa Rica has experienced a few topical storms and hurricanes , but typically this is very rare.

If a storm occurs it is usually in the fall, which most likely is not a time of year that you will be visiting the country in anyway.

Check out our guide to Costa Rica weather for all the weather related tips

The Most Important Costa Rica Travel Tip is…..

View of a woman looking out at the ocean from an infinity pool in Mal Pais, Costa Rica

You are going to need to relax

And we have come to the most important thing to know when traveling to Costa Rica!

Costa Rica is the most chill place we’ve ever been to. The mantra for life in Costa Rica is “Pura Vida” which directly translates to “pure life.” People here use this phrase as a greeting, but also as a way of saying, “All is good.”

You will need to adopt this attitude while visiting Costa Rica .

You may deal with traffic delays, electricity problems, canceled buses etc. Instead of getting frustrated, just take it in stride and think of it as part of the experience.

You’re on vacation! 🙂

By adopting this Costa Rica travel advice you’re guaranteed to have a great travel experience!

Conclusion: Costa Rica Travel Tips

In conclusion, you can never go wrong with a Costa Rica vacation! With these travel tips, you will be ready for the perfect experience.

We think that Costa Rica can definitely be a bit of a culture shock, but in our opinion, it is not extreme. It is the perfect paradise destination.

If you have any questions about Costa Rica travel tips, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you with your planning!

60 Things to Do in Costa Rica – For All Budgets and Interests

Is costa rica expensive what to budget for vacation costs, tipping in costa rica: how much to leave for gratuity, what to pack for costa rica for women, pura vida in costa rica: what the phrase means, costa rica map: detailed description of all areas, costa rica car rental: key tips for the best experience, costa rica sim or esim card: the best data options in 2024, costa rica facts – fun info about the country, how to celebrate costa rica holidays and festivals, 16 common scams in costa rica and how to avoid them.

Costa Rica Travel Details : What You Need to Know

🚗 Should I rent a car in Costa Rica?

Having a rental car will give you the most flexibility when traveling in Costa Rica. This will also allow you to take fun day trips on your own.

  • Save 10% Plus Other Perks with Our Adobe Rental Car Discount
  • You might also consider; shared shuttle services or private transfer services

🏄🏽 How can I book things to do?

We find that Viator tends to have the most comprehensive selection of activities with secure booking and good cancellation policies.

🍍 I’m overwhelmed with planning. Can you help?

Of course! I suggest joining our Facebook group for specific questions and head to our Start Here Page to get started planning.

✈️ What is the best way to book a flight?

Usually, we have the best luck finding great prices with Skyscanner . Check for flights to both San Jose Airport (SJO) and Liberia Airport (LIR).

🛏️ What is the best way to book my Costa Rica hotels?

We highly suggest Booking.com for hotel bookings and typically use VRBO for Costa Rica vacation rentals.

🗣️ What is the main language in Costa Rica?

The main language in Costa Rica is Spanish. Most people working in tourism speak at least some English.

💰 What is the currency in Costa Rica?

The currency used in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colón (CRC). However, the US dollar is widely accepted in most tourist areas

📞 What is the best way to stay connected?

An eSIM from Airalo is the easiest way to get 4G data while traveling in Costa Rica.

🌴 Is Costa Rica safe?

Generally, Costa Rica is considered safe for tourists. However, like any travel destination, it’s best to use caution and be aware of your surroundings.

🛂 Do you need a passport to go to Costa Rica?

Yes, Costa Rica is its own country. You will need a passport to visit.

travel advice for costa rica

Hi! We’re Thomas (the German) and Sarah (the US-er)

We met in Virginia, moved to Germany, and since 2016 we have lived in sunny Costa Rica. It was a spontaneous decision to move here, but it was the best decision! Now we spend our days roaming the country to bring you the very best in Costa Rica travel here on Costa Rica Vibes. Sarah is the writer. Thomas is the one keeping it all together. Want the whole crazy story?

travel advice for costa rica

Sarah McArthur

Sarah McArthur is the co-founder and main writer of Costa Rica Vibes. She is originally from the United States but has lived in sunny San Jose, Costa Rica since 2016.  She has traveled all over the country and now considers herself a self-proclaimed Costa Rica travel expert.  Want the whole crazy story?

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Hi Sarah, My flight has a stopover in Panama City for over an hour. I will be flying from California. Do I still need a yellow fever vaccine? Thank you.

Hi Linda, From Panama you do not need a yellow fever shot. Only from South American countries not Central American countries. Have a great trip! And feel free to message me if you have any other questions. Also, try to get a window seat if landing in Panama during the day. You usually get a great view of the Panama canal. 🙂

Hey there! My Fiancé and I are traveling to the Santa Teresa beach area in May for our honeymoon and we are trying to decide on the best travel route. What would you recommend to first time Costa Rica travelers: flying into the Liberia airport and renting a car for the drive or into the San Jose airport and renting a car/ catching a ride on the ferry? We are a bit intimidated by the ferry travel and aligning our flight schedule correctly. Also, your travel tips are so helpful! Thank you so so much! Answered so many of our questions 🙂

Hi Jocelyn, Personally, I would go for flying in to San Jose and taking the ferry. In May it tends not to be too crowded so you should be ok getting a spot on the ferry heading over. The drive is much much easier that way. If possible, try to get a flight that doesn’t get in too late in the evening. And, if you can only get a late flight then its best to stay near the airport for the first night and then try to get the first ferry the next day. I’m just saying that because it is best to get the 2pm ferry at the latest if possible so you won’t have to drive in the dark. Let me know if you have any other questions!

Hello, I am going to Costa Rica in a couple days. I plan on staying in la fortuna for a couple of days and then I want to head to a more beachy area. We will have a rental car to go from place to place I was thinking either tamarindo or jaco area in a resort. What do you suggest? I know the one is pretty far but I honestly am not sure of what to do in the jaco or central area.

Hi Emily, Personally I prefer Tamarindo. It is just an overall nicer town. If you go to Tamarindo I suggest doing a bit of beach hopping.Just north of Tamarindo are Playa Grande and Playa Flamingo. You could make a day of visiting those two beaches. about 45 minutes south of Tamarindo down a dirt road is Playa Avellanas. This beach is really nice and one of our favorite beach bars is there. https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g1075571-d1542328-Reviews-Lola_s-Playa_Avellanas_Tamarindo_Province_of_Guanacaste.html Let me know if you have any other questions!

Top Costa Rica travel tips

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Chloe Cann

written by Chloe Cann

updated 07.06.2023


Inspired by pictures of Costa Rica ’s rainforests brimming with exotic flora and fauna, steaming volcanoes and world-class beaches? Us too. If you're dreaming of a trip to this Central American nation, here are eleven indispensable Costa Rica travel tips to help you plan your holiday.

1. Plan for the high season

2. consider an organised tour, 3. bring cash with you, 4. be prepared to spend, 5. try costa rican cuisine, 6. watch your belongings, 7. heed caution when it comes to the weather, 8. having bug spray on hand - one of the most important costa rica travel tips, 9. learn the language, 10. choose between the adventure gateways, 11. rent a 4x4, 12. swap the pacific coast for the caribbean, 13. tie in a neighbour, 14. respect the country’s sustainability credentials, 15. enjoy pura vida.

Given that has made our list of the best places to go with kids , and our round-up of the world's best adventure holidays, it's fair to say that Costa Rica has a richness of experiences for all kinds of travellers.

The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guide to Costa Rica , your essential guide for visiting Costa Rica .

Tailor-made travel itineraries for Costa Rica, created by local experts

Costa Rica: Coast to Coast

12 days  / from 2980 USD

Costa Rica: Coast to Coast

From paradise beaches, scenic narrow waterways and magical rainforests, Costa Rica has much to offer. Head east and discover the tranquil Caribbean Sea, head west for the tumultuous Pacific Ocean and surfer’s paradise.

Discover Northern Costa Rica

10 days  / from 1825 USD

Discover Northern Costa Rica

This self drive itinerary allows you to explore the Central and Northern highlights of Costa Rica: from the active volcano Arenal to the cloud forest of Monteverde and the beaches of Guanacaste with plenty of surf & yoga - discover why they call it the land of Pura Vida - pure life!

A self drive Caribbean adventure

10 days  / from 1440 USD

A self drive Caribbean adventure

It's time to discover Costa Rica's Caribbean coast in your own rental car: From Boca Pacuare, where the turtles come to lay their eggs, to the unique culture of Cahuita and the beaches of Puerto Viejo! Your trip will finish in Turrialba, home of the main archaeological monument in our country.

With so many North Americans flying south for the winter – not to mention locals travelling home – it’s pivotal to book in advance if you want to visit Costa Rica during the high season. Christmas and New Year periods are especially busy.

Hotel rooms and buses can sell out weeks ahead, but by being savvy and using several transport links (such as a private shuttle), it’s possible to make things work. Alternatively, you can hire a car for greater flexibility.

The week leading up to Easter is another pressure point, though the parades and processions that take place during this time are quite unique and well worth seeing.


Arenal Volcano © Esdelval/Shutterstock

Veteran independent travellers might sniff at the idea of taking an escorted tour. Doubly so as Costa Rica is a country where hostels and hotels are plentiful and English is quite widely spoken.

Despite this, we recommend you don't rule out a tour entirely. Many activities have both high demand and surprisingly high prices, and there are few regular public bus services around the country. Joining a guided tour is one of the top Costa Rica travel tips as it means you can pack a lot of experiences into one 10-day visit without fretting about availability or logistics.

Rough Guides' own Tailor-Made Trips offers a full trip-planning and booking service in Costa Rica. We pair you with a local expert on the ground working for a local tour operator to design, book and execute a personalised itinerary that works for you. Get inspired by one of our sample itineraries, such as our ' Discover Northern Costa Rica ' or ' Beaches and Volcanoes ' - of course, all modifiable to fit your preferences.

Tourists on horseback in Costa Rican cloud forest © Shutterstock

Tourists on horseback in Costa Rican cloud forest © Shutterstock

When heading for the more remote areas in Costa Rica, try to carry sufficient colones (the official currency of Costa Rica) with you, especially in small denominations. Banking facilities can be scarcer here, and you may have trouble changing a 5000 note in the middle of the Nicoya Peninsula, for example.

Going around with stacks of colones may not seem safe, but you should be alright if you keep them in a money belt — and it will save hours of time waiting in line. Some banks may not accept bent, smudged or torn dollars.

It’s also worth noting that, due to an influx of counterfeit US$100 notes a few years ago, some shops, and even banks, are unwilling to accept them. If you bring any into the country, make sure that they are in mint condition.

Costa Rica is among the most expensive countries to visit in Latin America – and it’s not just pricey when compared to its neighbours. The country can rival the UK and the USA for certain supermarket items, such as bottled water and sunscreen.

To save money, eat plates of gallo pinto at small family-run sodas , pay for groceries and other small purchases with local currency colónes instead of dollars and travel during the low season (aka the rainy season) for reduced room rates. If you're eating out, be aware that a 10% service charge and 13% tax are added to most restaurant bills and budget accordingly.

Additionally, many nature sites, from waterfalls to national parks, charge an entry fee so you'll need to factor that in too. Read our Costa Rica Travel Essentials page for Costa Rica travel tips on budgeting and more.

Costa Rica fruits stand market © Shutterstock

Costa Rica fruits stand market © Shutterstock

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Costa Rican food – called comida típica (“native” or “local” food) by Ticos – is best described as unpretentious. Simple it may be, but it’s tasty nonetheless. Especially when it comes to the interesting regional variations found along the Caribbean coast, with its Creole-influenced cooking, and in Guanacaste, where there are vestiges of the ancient indigenous peoples’ use of maize.

Típico dishes you’ll find all over Costa Rica include rice and some kind of meat or fish often served as part of a special plate with coleslaw salad and plantain, in which case it’s called a casado (literally, “married person”).

The ubiquitous gallo pinto (“painted rooster”), often described as the national dish of Costa Rica is a filling breakfast combination of red and white beans with rice, sometimes served with huevos revueltos (scrambled eggs). The heavy concentration of starch and protein reveals the rural origins of Costa Rican food: gallo pinto is food for people who are going out to work it off.


Plantain, rice and beans is a Costa Rican lunch staple © EQRoy / Shutterstock

While Costa Rica is, in general, a very safe country, pickpockets and petty theft can be a problem. Applying basic common sense will mean you avoid the hassle of lost belongings. Firstly, never leave items on show in your parked car. If you're heading to the beach try and park in a carpark (some are guarded by enterprising locals) or near other cars.

Next, be aware that pickpockets operate at bus stations and other crowded places like markets. Don't leave your bags unattended.

Even in the dry season (between December and April) visitors to the central highlands and the Atlantic coastal plain should prepare for frequent downpours. The rainy season starts in earnest in May.

In late September and October, many Pacific coast hotels and restaurants are closed for a break before gearing up again for high season. You might find a few more options on the Caribbean coast at this time of year.

The Rough Guides to Costa Rica and related travel guides

In-depth, easy-to-use travel guides filled with expert advice.

The Rough Guide to Costa Rica

No matter how clear the skies look at daybreak, make sure you pack waterproof clothing and dry bags for valuables on any trips into the rainforest. And if the showers are dampening your spirits you can always head west to the sun-scorched plains of the Pacific slope.


A rope bridge through Monteverde's Cloud Forest Reserve © Simon Dannhauer / Shutterstock

In Costa Rica, insect protection is crucial to prevent diseases such as dengue and zika. One of the essential Costa Rica travel tips to repel mosquitoes and other insects is to use a bug spray containing DEET. It is important to apply the spray to exposed skin and clothing, especially during the rainy season when mosquito populations increase.

In addition to bug spray, wearing long-sleeved clothing and using mosquito nets will also help prevent insect bites.

You won’t struggle to find locals with good English in Costa Rica, but picking up some Spanish can not only earn you kudos and a warm welcome – it can really boost your bargaining power.

Those with a good chunk of time on their hands can go one step further and enrol in one of the many local language schools that are scattered across the country, putting their tico accent straight to the test.

Monteverde and La Fortuna are two of northern Costa Rica’s backpacker favourites and both are excellent for outdoor activities. However, getting between the two can prove a lengthy process and much of the adventure offering is similar.

If you don’t have time for both, among our top Costa Rica travel tips is to pick Monteverde, as it boasts the trump card thanks to its drier climate and bohemian hilltop charm. Book ahead for an all-in-one adventure tour in Monteverde or if you prefer a more relaxed pace, check out this authentic farm experience , a fun tour for the whole family.

Where to stay in Monteverde

  • For couples: La Guayaba Monteverde
  • For unity with nature: Los Pinos Cabins & Reserve
  • For stunning views: Hotel Flor de Bromelia

Find more accommodation options to stay in Monteverde


La Fortuna de San Carlos waterfall in Arenal volcano national park, Costa Rica © FCG/Shutterstock

If you're planning to self-drive in Costa Rica, you need to consider a 4x4 . While some major roads are paved, many others are still little more than dirt tracks. Add in heavy rainfall and you've got a muddy mess to navigate.

Even if the weather is dry, keep your eyes peeled for potholes which can cause car trouble. Keep water and snacks in the car in case you break down, and try to carry a mobile with you so you can contact the car rental company if needed.

Our local expert in Costa Rica is happy to assist you with the planning and booking process, like this self-driving trip on the Caribbean coast. If the idea of driving sounds intimidating you can opt for a guided trip that includes transport, like this trip discovering the beaches in the South as well as cloud forests and volcanoes.

One quick fix for escaping Costa Rica’s crowds is to head east instead of west. With the international airport of Liberia so close to the Pacific coastline, it’s an easily accessible beach destination . The beaches of the Caribbean coast, are much harder to reach, meaning the region is also much less developed. If you're looking for an off-the-beaten-track experience you'll enjoy exploring the Caribbean coast.

Costa Rica Travel Tips Manzanillo-Caribbean-Coast

Costa Rica's Caribbean coastline is less well known, so one of the top Costa Rica travel tips is to head east instead of west© Simon Dannhauer / Shutterstock

Although they’re tightly packed into the waist of the Americas, each Central American nation boasts its own character, attractions and heritage. Next-door neighbours Nicaragua and Panama make the easiest and most obvious add-ons to a sojourn in Costa Rica.

Nicaragua is a more raw destination that’s best suited to intrepid, budget-conscious travellers. Panama offers a cosmopolitan capital as well as lashings of more rural adventure activities. To plan the trip of your dreams, see our tailor-made trip service. Trips like ' Highlights of Panama ' or ' Thrilling Adventures in Panama ' can be great extensions to your Central America trip.

Costa Rica has set its sights on becoming the world’s second carbon-neutral country (after Bhutan) by 2021. To help support its green goals, opt for locally owned ecolodges and operators that practise sustainable tourism wherever possible.

To help distinguish between the good, the bad and the ugly, the Costa Rica Tourism Institute has developed the CST (Certificate of Sustainable Tourism). Businesses are ranked from levels one to five based on their commitment to the cause.


Ecolodge with a view of Lake Arenal in central Costa Rica © Alexey Stiop/Shutterstock

The phrase Pura Vida does not just mean "simple life" or "pure life" for the people of Costa Rica it is a philosophy and a motto for life. Pura Vida is a way of life that incorporates relaxation, enjoyment of nature and good spirits.

Whether hiking through lush rainforests, relaxing on a white sand beach or enjoying the local cuisine, one of the best Costa Rica travel tips is to enjoy Pura Vida, which reminds us to live in the present moment and enjoy the simple joys of life.

Relaxing on a hammock ©  soft_light/Shutterstock

One of the best Costa Rica travel tips is to enjoy Pura Vida © soft_light/Shutterstock

Ready for a trip to Costa Rica ? Check out the snapshot of The Rough Guide to Costa Rica .

If you prefer to plan and book your trip to Costa Rica without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our l ocal travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.

We may earn a commission when you click on links in this article, but this doesn’t influence our editorial standards. We only recommend services we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.

Header image: Sunrise Arenal volcano in Costa Rica, Central America © Antonio Fernandez Dieguez/Shutterstock

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10 of the best places to visit in Costa Rica

Stunning beaches, lush rainforests and incredible wildlife make this central american nation the perfect getaway for thrill-seekers and sun-seekers alike.

Playa Samara is regarded as one of the prettiest beaches in Costa Rica

I ’ll never forget the first time I woke up in a Costa Rican cloud forest. Put it this way: I didn’t need an alarm clock — the sunrise symphony of hoots, whistles, barks, toots, trills, buzzes and howls did the job. It was like getting out of bed with a backing track provided by a David Attenborough documentary. I’ve been hooked on Costa Rica ever since.

Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. The great pleasure of travelling here is the opportunity to encounter the menagerie of macaws, toucans, turtles, sloths, hummingbirds, tree frogs, resplendent quetzals and many other creatures that call this Central American country home. I’ve explored many of the country’s national parks over the past decade: from cruising past caimans and turtles in Tortuguero to watching whales on the Osa Peninsula. It’s made me realise that Costa Rica is truly one of the world’s great wildlife-watching destinations.

But while nature is the main draw, there’s more to explore in Costa Rica if you’re feeling adventurous. With two coastlines — one Caribbean, one Pacific — it’s a great destination for some beach time too. Surfing is hugely popular, and there are lots of laid-back beach towns where you can while away a few days — or weeks. The buzzy capital of San José is worth taking time to explore, as are the coffee plantations of the central valley, and the jungly, volcanic regions around Arenal and Poás. And if you can, make time for a homestay with a local family: it’s the best way to really understand what makes this nation tick. These are the best places to visit in Costa Rica.

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If you only have….

One week Begin in San José, with side trips to Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, Monteverde Cloud Forest and Volcán Arenal, plus the central coffee area

Two weeks Head to the Caribbean Coast for some beach time, followed by jungle treks and river safaris in Parque Nacional Tortuguero

Three weeks Venture south to the Osa Peninsula to escape the crowds and experience Costa Rica’s most pristine ecosystems

A tight budget Costa Rica’s rattly old public buses travel everywhere and are very cheap — but do note that journey times are long and you’ll get to know your neighbours extremely well

1. Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio

Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio

At 680 hectares, this may be Costa Rica ’s most diminutive national park, but it’s worth recommending given its proximity to San José, making it handy for wildlife watchers with limited time. Encompassing a varied terrain of beaches, jungle and craggy coastline, it offers a good chance of seeing many of Costa Rica’s signature species — including toucans, sloths and capuchin monkeys. Arrive early to avoid the crowds, or buy your tickets the day before.

Make it happen

Just outside the park, Hotel Vela is a friendly, 21-room hotel with cheery murals of flamingos and waves and a pleasant, palm-shaded pool. Larger rooms have kitchenettes

Destination Services Costa Rica’s great-value eight-day tour follows a classic Costa Rican loop, visiting San José, Arenal, Monteverde and Manuel Antonio

2. Volcán Arenal

Arenal Volcano

Dominated by the brooding cone of its eponymous volcano, this verdantly forested national park feels like a set from Jurassic Park. The volcano burst unexpectedly into explosive life in 1968, and carried on spewing out smoke, lava and ash until 2010, when it unexpectedly fell silent again — for now. With nine miles of signed paths winding amongst the old lava flows, it’s perfect for a hike: keep your eyes peeled for sloths, howler monkeys and white-faced capuchins as you trek the trails. It’s three hours northwest from San José.

Chic timber bungalows, geothermally heated hot tubs and majestic views of the Arenal volcano make Amor Arenal an indulgent spoil

Explore’s nine-day trip visits two volcanoes — Arenal and Poas — plus a visit to a local family and trekking in the Monteverde Cloud Forest

3. Parque Nacional Tortuguero

Roseate Spoonbills  at the Tortuguero National Park

Cruising the waterways of this coastal park feels like a lost-world adventure. Tangled jungle cloaks the river banks right down to the water’s edge, and at dawn or dusk, guided boat safaris go in search of wildlife, from caimans to macaws and night herons. The most memorable experience here is the spectacle of sea turtles laying their eggs on Tortuguero’s inky-black beaches, and you can do your bit to counter egg-poachers by joining a torch-lit night patrol. Tortuguero is on the northeast coast, about 75 miles from San José.

Tortuga (Tortoise) Lodge is a hacienda-style hotel with views of the river from the balcony, and its own private nature reserve to explore

Indus Travel’s ten-day loop heads up to Tortuguero after a couple of days in San José, then circles back via volcanoes, cloud forest and tropical beaches

4. Osa Peninsula

Corcovado National Park, Osa Peninsula

Well off the beaten track, this southern peninsula is the place for a properly wild experience. Much of Osa remains pristine, from steamy jungle to the mountain peak of Cerro Chirripó, Costa Rica’s highest summit — a once-in-a-lifetime hike. It’s also adventure central: dive with sea turtles and manta rays in Reserva Biológica Isla del Caño, watch whales in Bahia Drake (Drake Bay) or head out on multi-day wildlife-watching expedition in Osa’s fabulous, wildlife-rich Parque Nacional Corcovado, one of the country’s last remaining lowland rainforests and a refuge for the critically endangered Baird’s tapir.

Costa Rica’s original eco-lodge, Lapa Ríos, sits on the tip of the Osa peninsula, with luxurious stilt bungalows rising out of primary rainforest

Exodus’ 15-day epic hits ventures to the edge of the Oia Peninsula for hiking in Piedras Blancas National Park and the Savegre Cloud Forest

5. Golfo Dulce

Golfo Dulce

Snaking between the Osa Peninsula and the mainland, the remote Golfo Dulce gulf is one of Costa Rica’s premier locations for whale watching. Several types of cetaceans can often be spotted here, including bottlenose dolphins, spotted dolphins, orcas, false killer whales, and humpbacks. These creatures migrate here in the summer to calf, attracted by the warm waters and plentiful food supply. July to September is peak whale-watching time.

Cielo (Sky) Lodge lives up to its name. Its bungalows perch above the forest and are linked by rope bridges, offering fabulous views out to the coast

Adventure travel specialist Yellowwood Adventures has a ten-day trip with stops at Drake Bay and Marino Ballena National Park, plus side-trips to Corcovado and Cano Island

• Best hotels in Costa Rica • Best things to do in Central America

6. The Caribbean Coast

Manzanillo, Puerto Viejo

Balmy, laid-back and dotted with surf towns, Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast is the place to go to spend a few lazy days on the sand. There are scores of beaches to discover here — some busy and well-known, others secret and secluded — but all ideal for topping up your tan or catching a wave. The surf haven towns of Cahuita, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and Manzanillo make fun bases.

Outside Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Banana Azul offers cabins, villas and sumptuous suites (as well as a fab treetop hideaway) and a lovely tropical garden — and it’s steps from Playa Negra

Surf’s up: Bamba Travel’s 14-day tour includes stops on both the Caribbean and the Pacific Coast for surf lessons and beach yoga.

7. The Orosi Valley

Orosi Village

Costa Rica’s rich soil and tropical climate are ideal for coffee growing. This central valley southeast of San José is home to some of Costa Rica’s top coffee plantations, including Finca Cristina, an all-organic farm that’s been in business since 1977. The farm produces around 15 tons of coffee every year: you can take a two-hour tour, learn about the cultivation and roasting process, and of course taste the goods. It makes a good day-trip from San José.

Rio Perlas is a hillside resort in the Orosi Valley near Cartago. It has a good choice of suites and cabins, and geothermally heated pools to relax in

Visit the Orosi Valley, Irazu volcano and San José City on Destiny Travel Costa Rica’s good-value five-day tour

8. Nicoya Peninsula

White-faced Capuchin monkeys in Montezuma

Four hours due west of San José, Nicoya is Costa Rica in a nutshell. There are beaches galore — from famous Playa Grande to little-known Playas San Miguel & Coyote. There are also boho surf towns like Montezuma, Santa Teresa and Nosara. And there’s adventure aplenty, whether it’s snorkelling with leatherback turtles in Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas de Guanacaste, spelunking in the limestone caves of Parque Nacional Barra Honda or spotting monkeys amongst the mangroves of Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Curú.

Casa Chameleon offers glamorous villas with private plunge pools overlooking Nicoya’s idyllic Guanacaste coast

Nicoya’s beaches, forests and coastline are the focus of G Adventures’ 11-day Epic Costa Rica tour, plus stops in La Fortuna and Monteverde en route

9. Rio Pacuare

Pacuare River

Pick up a paddle and prepare for an adrenaline rush as rafting the Pacuare River is a heart-in-the-mouth, seat-of-the-pants experience. Ranked among the world’s great white-water destinations, the Pacuare plunges through narrow, jungle-cloaked canyons, offering terrifying swells and surges that will leave you soaked to the skin but smiling ear to ear. Expeditions head out from Turrialba to different sections of the river depending on the season. June to October is the best time of year, although the river is highest (and therefore at its wildest) from October to December.

Adrenaline ahoy: G Adventures’ 13-day trip takes in rafting on the Pacuare, trekking, biking, horseback riding, kayaking and zip-lining

The wildlife lodge of Rancho Naturalista is famous for birdwatching: you can watch hummingbirds buzzing past while you breakfast on the balcony


10. Cloud forests

Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve

Costa Rica’s “cloud forests” are unique, precious habitats. Mountainous and drenched in mist (hence the name and the greenness), they harbour an astonishing array of biodiversity, from towering ferns to colourful bromeliads, buzzing hummingbirds to noisy toucans. The most famous cloud forest reserve is Monteverde, where Quaker settlers arrived in the 1950s, and were enlightened enough to protect the area from exploitation. It now forms part of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. At an altitude of 1,500m (4921ft), it contains an amazing 50 per cent of Costa Rica’s total biodiversity — including 3,200 species of plant, 425 birds, 120 mammals and 101 reptiles. Guided walks explore the forest, with the highlight a creepy-crawly-filled night walk. Three hours west of San José, it makes a good combo with the Arenal volcano.

Intrepid Travel has a ten-day, family-orientated trip that features cooking lessons with a local farming family, guided wildlife walks in Monteverde, volcano hikes in Arenal and even more wildlife in Manuel Antonio

The reserve’s own La Casona Lodge is a simple, hostel-style affair, but you’re free to explore the forest, and proceeds support conservation work


• Best Costa Rica tours for a spectacular getaway • Best hotels in Guatemala

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  • Hotels + Resorts

14 Best Hotels and Resorts in Costa Rica

These are the best hotels in Costa Rica for every type of traveler.

Lindsay Cohn is a writer, editor, and avid traveler who has visited 45 countries across six continents — and counting. She contributes to Travel + Leisure, Hotels Above Par, InsideHook, Well+Good, The Zoe Report, and more.

travel advice for costa rica

Arenas del Mar

Costa Rica — Travel + Leisure ’s Destination of the Year for 2024 —  is a biodiverse wonderland with rainforests, cloud forests, volcanoes, hot springs, sandy beaches along the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, and incredible wildlife (including three-toed sloths and white-faced capuchin monkeys).

A hub of ecotourism, the best things to do in Costa Rica range from cloud forest hikes and chocolate farm tours to surfing and yoga. Sure, you could fill a trip with myriad activities, but it’s equally wonderful to kick back, relax, and soak in the chilled-out spirit. For these reasons and so many more, this peaceful Central American nation wedged between Nicaragua and Panama stands out as a top vacation destination and one of my all-time favorite countries to visit. (We even spent an entire month in the beach town of Santa Teresa to celebrate my son’s first birthday .)

When it comes to accommodations, the hotel scene is as diverse as the terrain and varied attractions themselves. There are beautiful beach resorts that put guests steps from the waves, luxury tented camps, more rustic eco-lodges surrounded by prolific jungles, and five-star stays focused on wellness. Budget travelers will also find cool hostels with excellent Wi-Fi that allow digital nomads to work and play the pura vida way.

To help pick the perfect home base to make your tropical vacation dreams come true, we’ve rounded up the 14 best hotels in Costa Rica according to readers, travelers, and experts.

Nayara Springs

Nayara Resorts

Also available to book at Hotels.com

It’s perfect for a romantic vacation or a relaxing grown-up escape.

Leave the kids at home; Nayara Springs is adults-only.

Lauded as a grown-up getaway with romance relaxation in spades, Nayara Springs — a World’s Best Award winner in 2021, 2022, and 2023 — is an adults-only retreat and member of Relais & Chateaux that’s tucked away in the heart of the Arenal Volcano National Park. Framed by lush flora, each of the 35 luxury villas feels like a private hideaway. While it might be tempting to spend the whole time in your spring-fed plunge pool and outdoor shower, the rest of the estate is well worth exploring, too! Not surprisingly, the amenities are equally grown-up, with daily yoga, massages, volcanic mud facials in the open-air spa, and coffee tastings as standouts. Book a table at the fine dining restaurant for a memorable date night.

The Details:

  • Accommodations: Full breakfast, free wireless internet, access to the gym, and complimentary daily yoga included
  • Location: Located in La Fortuna, Costa Rica
  • Nearby Attractions: Within the heart of the Arenal Volcano National Park
  • Rates: Rates start at $860 per night for two adults

Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo

Four Seasons Resort

It’s a resort lovers' dream with loads of upscale amenities.

The property attracts a lot of families.

A favorite of families, romance-seeking couples, and groups of pals, the Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo — named one of the best hotels in the world by Travel + Leisure readers — truly ticks the boxes for luxury-living travelers of all ages. Occupying a prime position overlooking the waves on Costa Rica’s Peninsula Papagayo , an exclusive 1,400-acre resort community, the five-star beach resort offers two beaches, six restaurants, four pools, watersports, kids and teen clubs, and an 18-hole Arnold Palmer golf course. The modern spa encourages guests to unwind with rituals inspired by local healing traditions. Accommodations range from guest rooms and suites to sprawling private residences for more extended stays. The concierge team will happily set up excursions. Waterfall hikes to horseback riding, anyone?

  • Accommodations: On-site amenities include six restaurants, four pools, two beaches, kids and teen clubs, and an 18-hole Arnold Palmer golf course
  • Location: Located in Peninsula Papagayo, Costa Rica
  • Distance from Airport: 45-minute drive from Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIR)
  • Rates: Rates start at $1,200 per night

Hacienda AltaGracia, Auberge Resorts Collection

Auberge Resorts Collection

Accommodations, meals, non-alcoholic beverages, mindful movement classes, amenities, and daily programming are included in the nightly rate.

Accommodations are one- or two-bedroom casitas only.

If you’re looking for R&R of the luxury variety, there’s no better place to recharge than Hacienda AltaGracia, Auberge Resorts Collection. The five-star property and World's Best Awards winner in 2023 is the pinnacle of a well-heeled holistic escape with swish accommodations and a spate of experiences to awaken the mind, body, and soul. Sweeping views of the San Isidro Valley and the sounds of bird singing set the tone for a magical stay at the 50-casita resort, which covers 180 acres of tropical forests, a coffee farm, stables, and organic gardens. For well-being seekers, The Well — the world-leading on-site wellness center — tops the list of restorative reasons to visit. Besides healing rituals and mindful movement classes, thrilling adventures like ficus tree climbing and horseback riding are also major drawcards.

  • Accommodations: Meals, non-alcoholic drinks, experience designer, domestic air transfers, and select activities included as part of the holistic rate
  • Location: Located in Pérez Zeledón, Costa Rica
  • Distance from Airport: Thirty-five-minute plane ride from Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO)
  • Rates: Rates start at $1,550 per night

Nayara Tented Camp

It’s five-star, safari-style glamping with rainforest views.

Buckle up for a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO).

Nestled in the heart of the Arenal Volcano National Park and drawing inspiration from luxury safari lodges in Africa and Asia, Nayara Tented Camp — a World's Best Awards winner in 2022 and 2023 — takes glamping to the next level. Tented accommodations vary in size from romantic suites to family-friendly four-bedroom villas and show off canopy beds, freestanding tubs, and volcano-view terraces with private plunge pools fed by thermal waters. Though, that’s far from the only place to take a dip! The self-guided wellness circuit comprises six interconnected hot springs heated to varying temperatures. Guests can also take advantage of the restaurants and amenities at Nayara Spring and Nayara Gardens, which are linked via footbridges and jungle pathways.

  • Distance from Airport: Two-and-a-half-hour drive from Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO)
  • Nearby Attractions: Sits within the heart of the Arenal Volcano National Park
  • Rates: Rates start at $1,070 per night

Nayara Gardens

Great for families.

The property welcomes a lot of kids, especially during school holidays and the summer.

A family-friendly base camp in Arenal Volcano National Park, Nayara Gardens — a Worlds Best Awards winner in 2021, 2022, and 2023 — lures adventure lovers of all ages with its lush surroundings, hilltop rainforest views, and abundance of outdoor activities. After a full day of exploring — and ideally a little downtime in the mineral springs and resort pool — guests can refuel with Latin American or Asian fusion fare before retiring to spacious casitas with private terraces, outdoor showers, hammocks, and hot tubs. Parents won't want to miss the volcanic massage in the open-air spa pavilions.

  • Rates: Rates start at $480 per night for two adults

Origins Lodge

Delicious food and a dazzling rainforest setting.

Don’t expect to find air conditioning or televisions in the rooms.

Answer the call of the wild at Origins Lodge, an off-the-grid, eco-conscious refuge ensconced by 111 acres of untamed jungle. It’s got all the wildlife peeping (hello, howler monkeys and sloths) you’d expect, plus hiking, horseback riding, organic garden tours, and an on-property waterfall. All seven luxury lodgings have private plunge pools heated by outdoor fireplaces. The lack of televisions encourages guests to disconnect completely. Head to the stunning yoga studio or spa suite to unwind even further. Surprising for such a remote retreat, the culinary program is positively pilgrimage-worthy, with a delicious daily breakfast that’s included, as well as supplemental gourmet prix fixe lunch and dinner options with menus that change daily.

  • Accommodation: Breakfast and select activities such as yoga, on-site hikes, trekking and horseback riding to the waterfall, and an organic garden tour are included
  • Location: Located in the north rainforest jungle of Costa Rica
  • Distance from Airport: Ninety-minute drive from Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIR)
  • Rates: Rates start at $908 per night for two adults

Hotel Belmar

Andres Garcia Lachner / Hotel Belmar

The carbon-neutral, planet-positive, family-owned hotel was one of the first eco-hotels in the region.

It’s located three hours from Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO).

The oldest continually operated eco-lodge in Monteverde , a town at the edge of the famous Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, Hotel Belmar provides access to boundless eco-adventures such as horseback riding, a thrilling ropes course, and ATV excursions at the adjacent Savia private reserve and Finca Madre Tierra. Even with rugged terrain and opportunities for outdoor recreation at every turn, the experience of staying at this planet-positive property and 2023 World's Best Awards winner isn’t as rugged as one might think. Treehouse-style rooms are draped in wood and have floor-to-ceiling windows, freestanding tubs, and substantial wraparound terraces. Folks keen to sample Costa Rica’s local culinary exports are in for a treat as cocktail classes and organic coffee and craft beer tastings are included in the rate.

  • Accommodations: Select activities such as on-site yoga, mocktail classes, organic coffee tastings, and craft beer tastings included
  • Location: Located in Monteverde, Costa Rica
  • Distance from Airport: Three hours from Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO)
  • Nearby Attractions: On the edge of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve and with access to the hotel’s Savia private reserve for eco-adventures and Finca Madre Tierra organic farm
  • Rates: Rates start at $235 per night for two adults

Rio Celeste Hideaway Hotel

Hideaway Rio Celeste

Also available to book at Tripadvisor.com

It’s the only luxury hotel on the Rio Celeste.

You’re packing for the rainforest, so bring a waterproof jacket, sturdy boots, and insect repellent.

A World's Best Awards winner in 2023, Rio Celeste Hideaway Hotel earns top billing for its location on an 80-acre rainforest reserve in the foothills of northern Costa Rica’s Tenorio Volcano National Park. Past guests rave about the wildlife encounters, scenic trails, exclusive swimming access, and wild spirit. Light-filled casitas look out over the gardens or rainforest. While lounging by the pool or relishing a massage at the spa, there’s a real sense that you’re a million miles away from the realities of the daily grind. Despite its off-the-grid atmosphere, the property does have Wi-Fi if you need to check on things back home (though disconnecting is obviously encouraged and honestly pretty easy to do in such a stunning environment).

  • Accommodations: Breakfast, wireless internet, and access to the gym included; private river access
  • Location: Located in Rio Celeste, Costa Rica
  • Nearby Attractions: Sits within the heart of the Tenorio Volcano National Park
  • Rates: Rates start at $435 per night for two adults

Lapa Rios Lodge

Accommodations, meals, non-alcoholic drinks, and most on-site activities are included in the rate.

The minimum guest age is 6 years old.

Set on 1,000 acres of tropical lowland rainforest overlooking the Golfo Dulce on the Osa Peninsula, Lapa Rios Lodge is a true luxury eco-lodge — and one of the first properties in the country to earn the distinction. The sustainably minded hotel supplies open-air, treehouse-style bungalows with ceiling fans, solar-heated water, and bamboo furnishings. Favored for its commitment to nature and immersive experiences, guests love seeing frogs, howler monkeys, and scarlet macaws on guided night walks and birdwatching activities. For more adrenaline-pumping adventures, why not try surfing or scuba diving? On the food front, the chefs at Brisa Azul spotlight seasonal ingredients through plant-based and carnivore-friendly menus.

  • Accommodations: Meals, non-alcoholic drinks, and select on-site experiences included
  • Location: Located on the Osa Peninsula
  • Nearby Attractions: Sits within 1,000 acres of rainforest reserve, overlooking the point at which the Pacific Ocean meets the Golfo Dulce
  • Rates: Rates start at $1,268 per night for two adults

Hotel Nantipa

Also available to book at TripAdvisor.com

It’s a boutique oasis in the chill beach town of Santa Teresa.

High season (December through April) books up quickly.

Located in Santa Teresa , a low-key beach town on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula , one of the world's Blue Zones, Hotel Nantipa channels laid-back vibes in a design-forward way that still speaks to the untamed nature of the region. Sheltered by foliage-frame pebbled paths, standalone bungalows flaunt breezy decor and indoor/outdoor showers. Our favorite feature? The private terraces with hammocks and plunge pools. While the fully stocked beachfront villas are perfect for multigenerational families and larger groups. There’s also a lovely main pool and an intimate spa sanctuary. Manzu Restaurant occupies a prime spot right on the sand. It’s a splendid setting to eat fresh sea bass ceviche, sip on a pineapple margarita, and watch the sunset.

  • Accommodations: Breakfast included, on-site activities include yoga, movie nights, beach clean-ups, and surfboard rentals
  • Location: Located in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica
  • Distance to Airport: Fifty-minute drive from Tambor Airport (TMU)
  • Rates: Rates start at $495 per night for two adults

Arenas Del Mar Beachfront & Rainforest Resort

It’s the only luxury resort in Manuel Antonio that’s right on the beach.

You’ll need to take a flight, rent a car, or arrange transport through the hotel from San Jose to Arenas del Mar.

Positioned within an 11-acre private nature reserve that connects to Manuel Antonio National Park, Arenas Del Mar Beachfront & Rainforest Resort is the luxury beachfront resort in Manuel Antonio. So, if you’re a fan of swimming in the ocean, building sandcastles, and lounging under a shaded umbrella, it’s the best option. Further distinguishing itself from other properties in the area, it has luxury suites with sweeping views and plush king-size beds that helped earn it a coveted spot on T+L’s World's Best Awards list in 2023. The property also brings guests close to incredible wildlife with the chance to spot red-eyed tree frogs on nocturnal walks with in-house naturalists and go on daytime excursions to the biodiverse Barú National Wildlife Refuge.

  • Accommodations: Full a la carte breakfast included
  • Location: Located in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
  • Nearby Attractions: Sits within an 11-acre private nature reserve and connects to Manuel Antonio National Park

Pacuare Lodge

The minimum guest age is 7 years old.

There are no roads leading to Pacuare Lodge; most guests arrive via the Pacuare River.

Pacuare Lodge makes eco-tourism dreams come true, starting with the adrenaline-pumping approach. Most guests arrive at the far-flung refuge by rafting in on one of the world’s most beautiful white-water rivers. The thrills continue with ziplining through the forest canopy and canyoning. A scenic backdrop for adventure or relaxation, the intimate property marries an untamed landscape and indigenous Cabécar-inspired architecture. When it’s time to kick back, gardens and secluded suites with large terraces and private spring-fed pools await. Alternatively, a trip to Jawa Juü Spa or downward dog by the river is a great way to reset. True to its low-impact quintessence, the culinary program takes a farm-to-table approach emphasizing fresh, local ingredients.

  • Accommodations : Meals, non-alcoholic drinks, transportation, select on-site experiences, and electric golf carts to get around included
  • Location: Located in Turrialba, Costa Rica
  • Rates: Rates start at $1,336 per night for two adults

Finca Rosa Blanca

Piotr Bratosiewicz / Finca Rosa

The signature shade-grown organic coffee tour includes a cupping experience.

It is close to the capital but far from the beach (about two hours).

Situated in the highlands above the capital of San Jose, Finca Rosa Blanca blends hospitality and agriculture. A 14-key inn and sustainable coffee farm, the property is the perfect place to sip home-grown java while admiring the majesty of volcanoes and tropical forests. Not surprisingly, given the quality of the crops, the gourmet offerings are a standout across the board. The cuisine celebrates the region's culinary traditions while introducing creative twists that excite the palate. In addition to touring the shade-grown coffee plantation and tantalizing their tastebuds, guests have the opportunity to swim in the infinity pool, do yoga, go on excursions with in-house naturalist guides, bliss out at the wellness center, and snooze in character-filled suites featuring comfy beds, jacuzzi tubs, private verandas, and hand-crafted artwork.

  • Accommodations: Breakfast, afternoon Rosa Blanca organic coffee, and cookies included
  • Location: Located in the coffee highlands of the Central Vally in Costa Rica
  • Distance from Airport: Twenty-five-minute drive ride from Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO)
  • Rates: Rates start at $360 per night for two adults

Hotel Aguas Claras

Full board upgrades are available.

The high season is typically the opposite of the rest of Costa Rica’s peak rainy period.

Seated between the rainforest and beach on Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean coast, Hotel Aguas Claras gives travelers a taste of two different realms of natural beauty. That means access to Playa Chiquita and an abundance of tropical flora. Besides its spellbinding nature, it has plenty of design credentials courtesy of individually designed one- and two-bedroom bungalows and themed suites appointed with local art and handcrafted decor. At this easy-going boutique oasis in Puerto Viejo, guests can also look forward to experiencing Afro-Caribbean culture. Love aquatic adventures? The property is located just 25 minutes from Cahuita National Park, which houses the country's largest system of coral reefs.

  • Location: Located in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
  • Distance from Airport: Twenty-five minutes from Cahuita National Park
  • Rates: Rates start at $365 per night for two adults

Know Before You Go 

Decide what kind of trip you want..

What’s so amazing about visiting Costa Rica is that you can tailor a vacation to your interests. Do you prefer to hang by the pool or spend days riding waves and building sand castles? Are rugged rainforest adventures a must, or would you like more spa time? Are you traveling with kids? (Some properties have age minimums, so that’s something to consider.)

Be honest about how much you’re willing to “rough it."

Costa Rica is a bastion of untamed natural beauty. And while it's tempting to go all in on a remote lodge, that might not be the best fit for every traveler. Before settling on a hotel, ask yourself: Do I need Wi-Fi? Is air conditioning a must? Am I OK with a long drive on windy roads?

Consider seasonality.

Because of Costa Rica’s topography and varied terrain, certain times of the year bring swings in weather to different parts of the country. Looking into this ahead of booking will help you to avoid the rainy season in the rainforest or skip the peak period by the beach.

Be mindful of budget.

Accommodations in Costa Rica run the gamut from backpacker-friendly hostels to five-star resorts. Some luxury hotels cost upwards of $1,500 a night. But you certainly don’t need to spend that much for a five-star stay. Whatever your budget, it’s possible to find a fabulous overnight.

How We Chose These Hotels

Lindsay Cohn is a travel journalist with a deep love and appreciation for Costa Rica. The hotels on this list were chosen based on her personal experience and research and the first-hand accounts of Travel + Leisure editors and other contributors. Many of these hotels have also been voted into their respective categories in the World’s Best Awards by T+L readers.

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travel advice for costa rica

Is Costa Rica Safe to Visit in 2024? Travel Crime Advice

One of the most common questions we get asked is, “Is Costa Rica safe to visit?” The short answer is, “usually”.

We started this website to give you all the most genuine information about Costa Rica travel and we take that responsibility very seriously. 

However, one thing I didn’t consider when we started this site is how responsible I would end up feeling for your safety while you are in Costa Rica. I genuinely want you to have the best trip here possible and that means that you should feel secure while traveling.

Crime in Costa Rica is an ever-evolving issue. In general, this is a very safe country. The most common crime is petty theft. Violent crimes targeting tourists such as armed robberies, sexual assault, or homicide are very very unusual. In general, you will likely meet wonderful people and have the vacation of a lifetime. 

However, because we feel responsible, here are all our tips about safety in Costa Rica. Please read through them and please contact us if you have any safety questions.

Our Perspective on Crime in Costa Rica

Thomas and I agree that in general, we feel secure in Costa Rica. 

We, fortunately, have never had any crimes committed against us in our several years of living here. 

That being said, we also use extreme caution and I sometimes feel it is exhausting to maintain our level of security. 

Although nothing has happened to us, that doesn’t mean that we haven’t heard of crimes being committed against friends. This has always been theft in various forms.

We have had friends leave things out visible in their car and their car has been broken into, a friend got robbed walking alone at night, a friend had their house broken into, and another friend was robbed in their driveway. 

Keep in mind that these incidents have been over about 8 years of living here. This is not an everyday occurrence.

But, yes, crime happens and it can be very scary. 

However, even if you are extremely cautious sometimes you just never know. We had a crime committed against us once in Europe in a very safe neighborhood. So, unfortunately, bad things can happen anywhere.

As of now, we still feel 100% secure in recommending that you visit Costa Rica.  It is a beautiful country and in general, the threat against tourists is low. 

If at any point we feel that the security level in this country is too unstable, we will update this to reflect that. 

​How the Costa Rican Government Protects Tourists

Tourism is the biggest industry in Costa Rica. With that in mind, the government works hard to make this the safest destination for tourists as possible. 

In recent years there has been an increase in homicides. This is largely due to drug trafficking and gangs. I have read a lot of articles about it in the news recently. It seems that the government is taking action to alleviate the situation. Although, it is hard to say exactly what is being done. 

Crime rates against tourists have remained somewhat steady. However, the president of Costa Rica along with the Ministry of Public Security (MSP) are making it their mission to lower these rates.

One way they are doing that is by identifying crime hot spots. They are now working to increase police presence in these areas. 

Sometimes I wonder if this is just talk to keep tourists coming here and feeling safe, but I really don’t think it is. 

I have noticed an increase in police presence in some areas and I have even been stopped by a police officer on the beach to tell me that there had been a few robberies there recently and to keep an eye on my stuff. 

How to Protect Yourself in Costa Rica

Here are all the safety tips I suggest doing to protect yourself while traveling in this foreign country. 

Pre-Trip Preparation

Here is what you need to do before you even leave home. 

Register With STEP

If you’re a United States citizen,  enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) .

This program allows the US government to notify you regarding potential security threats in the area you are visiting, get in contact with you regarding  natural disasters , and give family and friends a way to contact you in the case of emergencies.

If you are from another country. see if your government offers a similar program. 

Check Embassy Warnings:

The US government has a whole  page dedicated to the safety in Costa Rica . 

Make sure to check it our before you travel so you can be aware of any areas to avoid or current crime situations.

Get Travel Insurance

Travel insurance  has multiple benefits. Not only will it help you out in case you get hurt, but it is also great if one of your belongings is stolen. 

Get your travel insurance quote from Heymondo here .

Give Travel Plan to Trusted Person

Inform a trusted person of your travel plans and keep them updated. I like to write out a document with all hotel info, any preplanned activities, flight info etc. for my mom.

I then update her on my license plate number if I have rented a car once I arrive in a destination.

I usually also try to check in once a day and just send her a quick message of my plans.

That way, if I go missing, somebody has a record of my intended movements. 

Travel Tip : If you are an iPhone user you can turn on “share your location” with a trusted family member or friend. That way, someone always knows exactly where you/ your phone is.

Rent Your Car Directly from a Company

Third party sites often have car rental deals that seem too good to be true…they are. These rates don’t include any added taxes, fees, or mandatory rental insurance. Check out our  guide to rental scams for more info .

We work exclusively with our favorite local rental company, Adobe Rent-a-Car.  You can get a 10% discount plus other great perks here.

Make a Photocopy of Your Passport

I suggest making one or two copies of your passport to bring with you while traveling.

Then, while in Costa Rica you can leave your passport in your hotel safe and only carry the paper copies with you. 

Get an eSIM Card

It is a good idea to always be able to stay connected and have a working cell phone.

We suggest getting an  eSIM card from Airalo  for this.

However, you can  check out our guide to SIM cards in Costa Rica  for all the different ways to stay connected. 

Purchase Security Products

This is not absolutely necessary, but there are a few products I really like for keeping me and my stuff safe while traveling. 

  • Doorstop : Put this under your door at a hotel. When someone tries to open the door the alarm will sound.
  • Money belt : Helpful for walking around towns so that your money, cards, etc are hidden. This one is also RFID blocking so nobody can scan your cards.
  • Safety Alarm :  Carry on your keys. Presd the button to activate the alarm if you are attached.
  • Headlamp : It gets dark very early here. If you plan to walk around at night it is a good idea to have a headlamp.

Monetary Theft

Here are some of the ways you can protect yourself from being scammed or robbed while in Costa Rica. 

Pay with Credit Card Instead of Debit Card

Credit cards make it easier to refute fraudulent charges than debit cards. I suggest checking your credit card account after any transactions to make sure that the amount is correct. 

Travel Tip: I t is a good idea to get a credit card that is made for travel so you will not pay a percentage on every transaction.

Keep Money in Several Locations

Don’t put all your money in your pocket or purse. It’s best not to carry much money at all, but if you have to, divide it up.

I put some in my shoe, some in my bra, and some in each of my pockets.

That way if I am robbed they hopefully won’t find all of the money and I can just give them my wallet and move on.

If you need more info on whether you should carry money or use credit cards in Costa Rica, we have a full post on  currency and paying .

Only Change Currency at Banks

The currency exchange places at the airport will give you a very bad exchange rate. Don’t use them!

Also, there are often people exchanging currency on the Nicragua or Panama border. Don’t use them either.

Instead, you will get the best exchange rate directly at a bank. 

Check All Receipts

After any payment, check the receipt to make sure the amount adds up correctly. Often in Costa Rica store employees need to manually enter the total on a credit card machine.

It is so easy to accidentally (or purposely) add an extra “0” and overcharge a customer.

We’ve had it happen to us. Luckily, the employee noticed it when he charged us several hundred dollars instead of about $50 for gas.

He was so embarrassed and pointed out his mistake to us and fixed it.

So, just double-check. 

Personal Safety and Awareness

Here are all the things you should do to protect yourself.

Be Aware of Your Surroundings

When you are traveling it’s easy to get distracted by all the beautiful new sights, but you need to also be aware of the people around you.

Look around often and avoid standing in large crowds.

If you feel uncomfortable in a situation or place, just leave.

If you take money out of the bank pay attention to who is around and watching you.

Dress Like You Belong

We get it, you are on vacation and probably want to wear all your nice warm weather clothing.

However, in Costa Rica it is best to blend in.

Leave the nice jewelry or flashy items at home and dress in a relaxed way.

Don’t Walk Around Alone at Night

Unfortunately, it  gets dark by 6pm  in Costa Rica year round. 

As I mentioned above, it is a good idea to have a headlamp if you plan to walk around after dark.

Also, it is best to never go out alone.

Trust Your Instincts

If you feel hesitant about a person or a location, trust yourself. Your gut instinct is usually right. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Don’t Leave Your Stuff Unattended

If you plan to go to the beach it is never a good idea to leave your personal belongings unattended while you are in the ocean or taking a walk. 

​Keep Stuff Secure at Restaurants

A lot of restaurants in Costa Rica are open air. This means it is easy for anyone from outside to walk by your table and swipe something.

Don’t leave your cell phone, wallet, keys, etc just sitting on the table.

Also, don’t just put your purse or backpack on the back of your chair. I always put mine on the floor between my legs with one strap under my leg so it can not be taken. 

Know Your Hotel Location

If you get lost, your phone dies etc. it is good to know the place you are staying in your mother tongue and in Spanish.

In Costa Rica this is difficult because there are no addresses. It’s strange but true.

Instead, make sure you know the name of your hotel and any landmarks that are located nearby the place you are staying.

Keep Personal Info Private

People in Costa Rica generally really enjoy talking to tourists and they are usually extremely nice and welcoming.

However, to stay safe in Costa Rica you should still be cautious. Don’t reveal too much.

If you are a  solo traveler , NEVER tell anyone that you are by yourself. I always just say I’m with my husband and he is on his way to meet me.

I also never say which hotel I am staying in.

Lock Everything

When going out make sure you lock your car, hotel room etc.

Also, don’t leave anything of value in your rental car. It is not unheard of for windows to be smashed and things stolen.

When driving, lock your doors and use the AC instead of rolling down your windows.

We have heard stories of people getting robbed while waiting at traffic lights.

Because of this I always keep my purse on the floor between my feet while in the car.

Don’t Leave Your Drink Unattended

If I feel a bit sketched out by a place I always order bottled beer and keep my finger over the opening when I’m not drinking it.

Tell Someone Where You’ll Be 

In order to stay safe in Costa Rica, you should always tell someone where you’ll be when going out.

Even when traveling alone just send someone from home a quick message telling them where you are going that day.

Keep Your Room Secure

Try to get a room  not  on the first floor of a hotel (they are the most likely to be broken into).

I always put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on my door even when I’m not there, so it looks like someone is in the room.

Transportation Safety

Here is how you can protect yourself from transportation-related crimes.

Be Wary of Rental Car Issues

We have heard recently about  a travel scam  in which people are slashing tires at traffic lights and then conveniently pulling up when you pull off to the side of the road.

They will then rob you.

If you can, always drive to a gas station or another populated place before fixing your tire.

Check out our  guide to driving in Costa Rica  for more info.

Only Use Registered Taxis

Make sure to only use official taxis while in Costa Rica so that you do not get scammed out of a lot of money.

You can tell an official taxi because it will be red (or orange if coming from the airport) with a yellow triangle on the drivers and passenger side door (or green triangle from the airport). 

We wrote a complete  guide to using taxis and Uber here in Costa Rica . I suggest reading that to help you stay safe in taxis.

Be Cautious in Public Transportation

If you opt to take a public bus it is best to keep an eye on any belongings you put on the shelf above your seat.

Always make sure you keep your passport and valuables physically on you.

We have heard about people having their bags stolen while they were sleeping on public buses. 

Walk Facing the Traffic

If you walk facing traffic, motorcyclists will not be able to drive up behind you and grab your bag.

Walking facing traffic also means you will see any cars coming and are much less likely to get hit (and people drive like maniacs here sometimes).

Don’t leave Your Rental Car in a Remote Place

Sometimes cars are broken into when left in remote places.

At most public places there will be a guard watching cars. You can (usually) trust them to keep a good eye on your car.

However, we still strongly suggest that you never leave anything of value in your car and definitely don’t leave anything of value visible.

What to Do if a Crime Happens in Costa Rica

If someone robs you, let them. It’s better to have to cancel your credit cards and lose some money than to fight back and get attacked. It’s just not worth it.

If something happens to you and you need to call the local authorities just dial 9-1-1. There should be at least one person at the police station who speaks a little bit of English.

Also, it is best to contact your embassy as soon as possible. They can assist you in whatever you need as a citizen. Contacting the embassy is also important because it can help future travelers. Most embassies will then update their safety pages accordingly.

If you are a United States citizen the US embassy is located in the Pavas / Rohrmoser neighborhood of San José. The phone number is (506) 2519-2000.

Dangerous Areas

Here are some areas that are sometimes considered unsafe. In general, the larger cities such as San Jose, Alajuela, Puntarenas, and Limon tend to have a higher crime rate. 

San Jose  is the capital city of Costa Rica. This is where we live and I feel mostly safe here during the day.

However, you need to stick to exploring the downtown area or reputable neighborhoods.

If you plan to stay downtown I suggest Barrio Escalante or the area near the stadium at La Sabana Park.

Petty theft during the day is very widespread here. It is a good idea to have a secure backpack and hide stuff in a money belt.

In downtown  Alajuela , you should use increased caution.

However, above the city in the beautiful rural areas you should feel very safe.

Tamarindo  is a popular destination for families, surfers, and backpackers. It is a larger town, so mostly due to its size there tends to be more crime.

Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa  is one of our favorite places in the country. It is a beautiful remote Pacific Coast surfing town.

However, because it is so remote it seems to be a hot spot for criminals to hide out in.

This doesn’t just mean Costa Rican criminals. I also mean shady people from around the world who have committed crimes tend to hide in this area.

For example, I just watched  this episode of 48 Hours  recently about a woman from the US who murdered another woman and was hiding out in Santa Teresa. 

Anyway, during the day you should be completely fine here, but use more caution at night. This especially applies to walking alone or if you plan to enjoy the nightlife scene. 

Panama Border on Osa Peninsula

This area is mostly safe for tourists. However, this is where a lot of drugs pass through from Panama into Costa Rica. So, use caution if in very remote areas.

Other Safety Concerns

It’s impossible not to fall in love with Costa Rica, but sometimes I feel like this country is slowly trying to kill me in a million ways.

From poisonous animals, earthquakes, erupting volcanoes, weird illnesses, a crazy high UV index, etc.

So, crime is not the only thing you need to think about in regards to safety here. A few other tips to stay secure from just this crazy tropical country as a whole are…

  • Always Stay on Marked Trails : This will help keep you away from some potential wildlife threats like snakes. 
  • Don’t Swim in Weird Bodies of Water : This should go without saying, but it is easy to get weird rashes and skin issues from unclean water. Check out our  guide to safety from environmental issues  for more info.
  • Only Drink Bottled Water : In most towns, it is fine to  drink the tap water  here. However, because you are not used to the water it is best not to risk your vacation. Just buy bottled water so you don’t end up with stomach illnesses. I like to bring my refillable water bottle from home and buy several-gallon jugs while traveling. 
  • Avoid Street Food : It is a good idea to be cautious of food safety so that you don’t get sick while visiting. The best way to do that is by only eating at reputable restaurants or cooking your own food. 
  • Trust Your Instincts During Activities : If participating in day tour or activities with reputable companies you can generally expect a high standard of safety. However, if something feels unsafe to you, trust yourself. It is best not to risk your security. 
  • Be Cautious of Flooding During the Rainy Season:  It is not unusual for there to be flash floods or road flooding.
  • Be Aware of Natural Disasters : There are five active volcanoes in Costa Rica. That doesn’t mean that they are all actively erupting, but some are actually active at the moment. Earthquakes occur pretty much every day. Again, that doesn’t mean that you will actually feel them. Usually they are so minor that you won’t even notice. For more info,  check out our natural disaster guide . 
  • Wear Bug Spray : The mosquitos here are generally not a problem during the day, but once the sun goes down they come out in full force.  Mosquitos here  can carry dengue, zika, and more. So, always load up on bug spray to avoid mosquito bites.
  • Wear SPF 50+ Sunblock : One of your biggest concerns here needs to be the sun. Costa Rica is not THAT far from the equator.  The UV index is really high . Bad sunburns are often the number one medical issue that travelers face when visiting. 
  • Be Aware of Entry Requirements : Check out our  guide on entry requirements  to stay up to date on things like Yellow Fever vaccine requirements, how long you can stay in the country, etc.

It’s Not All Bad

I know this post is a lot of doom and gloom. But, in reality, Costa Rica is an amazing travel destination filled with friendly people. In general, Costa Ricans are welcoming, kind, and peaceful. 

When we first moved here after living in Europe for four years we were so caught off guard. Several people that we had never met before went out of their way to help us find a place to live, help us buy furniture, gave us things, helped us adjust to the lifestyle etc. 

We turned down a lot of help because we felt like we would then owe them something. 

It took us a while to realize that no, people here are just very kind-hearted. The country operates a lot based on helping out your friends, family, and neighbors when you can with the mindset that someday they might need help and you can step in. 

Also, a lot of people work in tourism. They want to make sure that tourists feel welcome here.

Conclusion: Safety in Costa Rica

In conclusion, there are several things that can happen while traveling in Costa Rica, but with common sense and some caution, you should find that Costa Rica is a safe place.

Overall this is a peaceful country filled with beautiful beaches, lush rainforests, and kind people. 

Costa Rica is a beautiful country to visit. However, there are some safety issues you need to be aware of before visiting to ensure that you have a great time traveling. Discover what crimes to look out for and how to protect yourself.

Deciding Whether To Exchange Money Before Traveling To Costa Rica: What You Need To Consider

  • Last updated May 13, 2024
  • Difficulty Beginner

Pop Panupong

  • Category Travel

should I exchange money before costa rica travel

Are you planning a trip to Costa Rica? If so, you may be wondering whether it's better to exchange your money before you leave or wait until you arrive. This decision can have a big impact on your travel budget, so it's important to consider all the factors before making a final decision. In this guide, we'll explore the advantages and disadvantages of each option, as well as provide some tips for getting the best exchange rate. So, if you're ready to make an informed decision about exchanging money for your trip to Costa Rica, keep reading!

What You'll Learn

Factors to consider before exchanging money for costa rica travel, pros and cons of exchanging money before traveling to costa rica, alternatives to exchanging money before your trip to costa rica, tips for getting the best exchange rate when exchanging money for costa rica.


When planning a trip to Costa Rica, one important factor to consider is whether or not to exchange money before traveling. While it is possible to use US dollars in Costa Rica, it is generally recommended to exchange some money to the local currency, the Costa Rican colón. Here are some factors to consider before making the decision:

  • Exchange Rate: It is important to consider the current exchange rate between the US dollar and the Costa Rican colón. While the exchange rate may vary, it is generally more favorable to exchange money before traveling rather than doing it in Costa Rica. This can help you get more value for your money and minimize fees.
  • Accessibility: While US dollars are accepted in some places in Costa Rica, it is not universally accepted. It is more common to use the local currency for everyday transactions such as shopping, dining, and transportation. By having local currency, you can ensure that you have access to a wider range of goods and services during your trip.
  • Convenience: Exchanging money before traveling to Costa Rica can be more convenient than trying to find an exchange bureau or ATM upon arrival. This way, you can have cash on hand to pay for taxis, tips, and small expenses as soon as you arrive. Additionally, it is advisable to have some cash for emergencies or in case you come across establishments that do not accept credit or debit cards.
  • Safety: Carrying large amounts of cash while traveling can be risky. By exchanging money before traveling, you can avoid the need to carry a large sum of cash with you. Instead, you can carry smaller amounts and replenish when necessary. Make sure to keep your money in a secure place such as a money belt or a hotel safe.
  • Budgeting: Exchanging money before traveling can help you stick to your budget more easily. By having the local currency in hand, you can better estimate your expenses and avoid overspending. It also allows you to compare prices and take advantage of any discounts or offers.

In conclusion, while it is possible to use US dollars in Costa Rica, it is advisable to exchange some money to the local currency for a more convenient and cost-effective travel experience. Consider the exchange rate, accessibility, convenience, safety, and budgeting aspects before making the decision. By planning ahead and exchanging money before your trip, you can ensure a smoother and more enjoyable time in Costa Rica.

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When planning a trip to Costa Rica, one important consideration is whether to exchange money before traveling. While it may seem convenient to wait until you arrive in the country to exchange your currency, there are both pros and cons to consider. In this article, we will explore the advantages and disadvantages of exchanging money before traveling to Costa Rica.

Pros of Exchanging Money Before Traveling to Costa Rica:

  • Convenience: One of the main benefits of exchanging money before your trip is convenience. By having the local currency, the Costa Rican colón, on hand, you won't have to worry about finding an exchange office or ATM as soon as you arrive. This can save you time and energy, allowing you to start your vacation without any delays.
  • Exchange Rates: Another advantage of exchanging money before traveling is the ability to take advantage of potentially better exchange rates. By researching different currency exchange providers, you can compare rates and choose the one that offers the best value for your money. This can result in more colónes for your currency, giving you a better financial position during your trip.
  • Budgeting: Exchanging money before traveling also allows you to have a clear budget in colónes. By knowing exactly how much you have to spend, you can avoid overspending and stay within your financial limits. This can be particularly helpful if you are on a tight budget or have specific expenses you need to account for.

Cons of Exchanging Money Before Traveling to Costa Rica:

  • Exchange Fees: One potential disadvantage of exchanging money before your trip is the possibility of incurring exchange fees. When exchanging currency, banks and exchange providers often charge a fee for their services. This can eat into your overall travel budget, potentially reducing the amount of colónes you have to spend in Costa Rica.
  • Safety: Carrying a large amount of cash with you can also be a safety concern. While Costa Rica is generally a safe country for tourists, it's always best to take precautions and minimize the risk of theft. If you exchange a significant amount of money before traveling, you'll need to be extra cautious with your cash and consider carrying it in a secure manner.
  • Currency Fluctuations: Another factor to consider is the potential for currency fluctuations between the time you exchange your currency and when you arrive in Costa Rica. If the value of the colón decreases during this period, you may end up with fewer colónes than you originally anticipated. On the other hand, if the colón strengthens, you may benefit from having exchanged your currency earlier.

In conclusion, there are both pros and cons to exchanging money before traveling to Costa Rica. It's important to weigh these factors and consider your personal circumstances and preferences. If convenience and the possibility of better exchange rates outweigh the potential fees and safety concerns for you, then exchanging money before your trip may be the right choice. However, if you prefer to wait and exchange your currency once you arrive in Costa Rica, that option is also available. Ultimately, the decision is yours, and it's important to make an informed choice that suits your individual needs.

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If you're planning a trip to Costa Rica, one of the most important things to consider is how to handle your money while you're there. While many travelers choose to exchange their currency for Colones (the local currency of Costa Rica) before they embark on their trip, there are some alternatives worth considering. These alternatives can not only save you money but also provide you with more flexibility and convenience during your stay.

Here are some alternatives to exchanging money before your trip to Costa Rica:

  • Use your debit or credit card: One of the easiest and most convenient ways to access money in Costa Rica is by using your debit or credit card. Most major hotels, restaurants, and shops in popular tourist areas accept international cards. However, it's essential to notify your bank or credit card provider of your travel plans to avoid any blockages or security issues. Check with your bank about any foreign transaction fees and inform them about your destination to ensure a smooth experience.
  • Withdraw cash from ATMs: ATMs are widely available throughout Costa Rica, even in smaller towns and rural areas. By withdrawing cash from ATMs, you can get local currency at the current exchange rate. However, be mindful of ATM fees and any additional charges your bank may impose on foreign transactions. It's recommended to use ATMs located within banks or secure locations to minimize the risk of fraud or skimming devices.
  • Use a prepaid travel card: Prepaid travel cards are becoming increasingly popular for international travel. These cards allow you to load money onto them before your trip and use them like a regular debit or credit card. They offer the convenience of card payments while providing better control over your budget. Just like with regular cards, it's essential to check for any applicable fees, exchange rates, and security measures.
  • Bring a small amount of local currency: While it's not necessary to exchange a large sum of money before your trip, having a small amount of Colones can be handy for immediate expenses upon arrival. You can exchange a small amount at your local bank or at the airport, although exchange rates might not be as favorable there. Keep in mind that US dollars are widely accepted in Costa Rica, especially in tourist areas. However, expect to receive change in colones, and note that using USD may yield a less favorable exchange rate.
  • Mobile payment apps: Some mobile payment apps, such as PayPal or Venmo, offer international payment options. If you have an account with these payment providers, you may be able to use their services to pay for goods and services in Costa Rica, especially at businesses that accept online or mobile payments. It's essential to check if these services are widely accepted in Costa Rica and understand any associated fees or limitations.
  • Consider a combination of options: Depending on your preferences and needs, a combination of the above options might work best for you. For example, you could bring a small amount of local currency, use your debit card for larger purchases, and have a prepaid travel card as a backup. By diversifying your payment methods, you can ensure you have access to cash and a means to pay for your expenses no matter the situation.

Before making any decisions, it's advisable to research and compare exchange rates, fees, and accessibility of different options. Additionally, it's a good idea to inform yourself about the current economic and financial situation in Costa Rica to make informed decisions regarding your money. By using the right payment methods, you can travel more comfortably and with peace of mind during your trip to Costa Rica.

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When you are planning a trip to Costa Rica, one important aspect to consider is how to get the best exchange rate for your money. While it is possible to exchange money in Costa Rica, it is often more convenient and cost-effective to exchange your money before you travel. To help you get the best exchange rate when exchanging money for Costa Rica, here are a few tips:

  • Research the current exchange rates: Before you exchange your money, it is important to research the current exchange rates. This will give you an idea of how much your money is worth in Costa Rican colones. You can check the latest exchange rates online or visit your bank or an exchange service to get accurate information.
  • Exchange money at your local bank: One of the best places to exchange money is at your local bank. Banks typically offer competitive exchange rates and may have lower fees compared to other options. It is a good idea to contact your bank in advance to check if they have Costa Rican colones available, as they may need to order them for you.
  • Avoid exchanging money at the airport: While it may be tempting to exchange money at the airport for convenience, you will often get a lower exchange rate. Airports usually have higher fees and less favorable rates compared to banks or exchange services. If possible, it is better to exchange a small amount of money in your home country and then find a better option in Costa Rica.
  • Consider using a reputable exchange service: If your local bank does not offer Costa Rican colones or if you prefer an alternative option, you can consider using a reputable exchange service. Look for exchange services that have a good reputation, offer competitive rates, and have low fees. It is important to compare rates and fees from different services to ensure you are getting the best deal.
  • Use credit cards for larger purchases: For larger purchases such as hotel stays or car rentals, using a credit card can be a good option. Credit cards often offer favorable exchange rates and may have additional benefits such as travel insurance or rewards. However, it is important to inform your credit card company about your travel plans in advance to avoid any issues with international transactions.
  • Be cautious with ATMs: While ATMs are widely available in Costa Rica, it is important to be cautious when using them. Some ATMs may have high fees or unfavorable exchange rates. Additionally, be aware of your surroundings and use ATMs that are in well-lit and secure areas to ensure your safety.

By following these tips, you can get the best exchange rate when exchanging money for Costa Rica. Remember to plan ahead, compare rates, and consider using a combination of cash and credit cards for your travel expenses. With the right strategy, you can ensure that you are making the most of your money during your trip to Costa Rica.

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I think I’ve decided to not rent a car . I am assuming that it may be relatively easy to book a shared shuttle from the airport to Arenal and from MA to the airport. From what I’ve read, it’s possible to do a shared shuttle between Arenal and MA with planning.

I am not looking to travel far from where I’’ll be staying in any location. In Arenal, I’’ll do one or two hikes in the national park and relax in some hot springs. In MA, I plan to hang on the porch where I’m staying, which has a beautiful view of the ocean and abundant wildlife. My stay in Uvita is near the beach.

I have two questions-

How easy is it to get a shared shuttle from MA to Uvita? From Uvita to the airport.

Is it feasible to get around the Arenal and MA areas via scooter to get to and from town and places to get food.

Thank you all so much for your time and willingness to help. It’s much appreciated!

5 replies to this topic

' class=

There are a few hotel to hotel (or airport area to hotels) shared shuttle van companies that do your common itinerary/transfers.a

As you know from the reply in Post 1 to your earlier thread ( https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g291982-i813-k14672827-Trip_planning_for_July-Costa_Rica.html#120004602 ), one of such shared shuttle companies could be Interbus ( https://www.interbusonline.com/ ). We used them on most of our trips to CR, incl. for the areas you are mentioning. Shared shuttles operate on schedule, are paid per seat, and might offer you a discount for booking 2+, 3+ Transfers during the same trip. E.g., 20% off the total for 3+ trips. Besides Interbus, you can look into https://www.easyridecostarica.com/uvita-shuttle/ , etc. companies.

We usually booked our transfers after we reserved our accommodations, mostly, not always, before our arrival to CR.

In Arenal, you could look into https://www.easyhop.co/rutas/la-fortuna-en - a local shared shuttle to get to some attractions. Or use return transportation(s) from the area’s hotels, provided by the attractions like Mistico bridges and others. You can see online how the price of the local transfers can be increased if you add local transfers. There are also taxis, an occasional Uber.

Thank you kindly. I just finished booking my lodging 😀

Um what is a "scooter"? (in your world), Berni

Pura Vida Hotel

@3, I understand it as a small motorcycle, like https://www.suzuki.ca/catalogue/motorcycles/scooter/ .

Yes, a small motorcycle.

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Exchange Rate Crisis Hits Costa Rica’s Banana Sector

Power outages scheduled by ice across costa rica, president chaves’ legislative address: a tale of two costa ricas, costa rica may gardening: tips and tricks for a bountiful harvest, costa rica drops in world press freedom index 2024, expat living: moving to a new house in costa rica.

Vincent Losasso

Moving isn’t fun in any country. Nothing extols the virtues of minimalism like picking up all your stuff and putting it back down again a few times. That being said, sometimes a move is necessary, which was the case for my family in recent days. We did all of the normal packing, moving, and unpacking but with a little Costa Rican flair of course.

Packing up everything from the old house had the side effect of disquieting all of our non-human roommates. Inside the house, the fat red ants that rush around in a frenzy carrying their big oval eggs upon discovery were discovered at least five times. They come in groups of about 50 or so, and they hide amongst the items that you don’t mess with very frequently.

I also found out that if they’re living in your camera trap equipment closet for a at least a year, they leave a big sticky black stain and a smell that immediately made me think of the smell of dirty hamster cage from my youth. The geckos were unhappy just because we were stealing all of their best hiding places behind paintings and curtains. Outside of the house, a juvenile boa constrictor gave my wife a good scare when she was relocating all of her potted plants.

Physically moving everything to the new house went relatively smoothly. I have a pickup truck, and I was able to make approximately one million trips back and forth while my wife was at work and the kids were at school. The new house is a traditional Costa Rican house which means it’s not new construction and it has its quirks.

All of the doors and a lot of the trim are what I’d call ‘startlingly red,’ but I find I’m already getting used to it. So far, two of the doorknobs on those bright red doors have exploded in my hand, but those were easy enough to replace.

My youngest son has taken it upon himself to test all of the remaining doorknobs’ locking mechanisms, and we’ve found that not a single one of the keys in the jar that the landlord gave us opens an interior door in the house, forcing me to use the old ‘open the locked door with a credit card’ trick.

We splurged and bought two new TVs to place onto the existing TV mounts that were already stuck on the wall in the living room and a room that I’ll use as an office. I now know that nothing tests the mettle of a marriage like a husband and wife attempting to place a TV on a wall-mounted TV bracket together.

Through pouring sweat and exclamations of ‘I can’t hold it anymore!’ and ‘Lift it higher! Too high!’ we were able to get the living room TV onto the wall. The office TV mount defeated us. I’ve learned that when an inanimate object makes me reach a certain fury level, that I need to take a break and try again later. And it’s a good thing that we took that break because a few hours later the first rainstorm of the season stormed in, and we found that we had a leak in the roof of the office directly above the TV bracket.

The rainstorm also made a few of our new housemates reveal themselves. The first rains always fill the air with either flying termites or a species of ant, I’m not sure which, but they came by the truckload and their under-door invasion informed me that the outside doors require those bristly/sweepy strips that you tack onto the bottom of the door to keep bugs out.

The rains also awoke a few species of frog which started singing and splashing around in our adorable little pool, much to the delight of my younger son.

The food is all still in boxes in the kitchen, and I couldn’t locate a t-shirt to save my life, but we’re slowly but surely settling into the new house. Moving is a stressful experience anywhere, but at least in Costa Rica it involves getting to play with boa constrictors and frogs .

About the Author

Vincent Losasso, founder of  Guanacaste Wildlife Monitoring , is a biologist who works with camera traps throughout Costa Rica. Learn more about his projects on  facebook  or  instagram . You can also email him at:  [email protected]

Vincent Losasso

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