Costa Rica is a small country in Central America bordered by Nicaragua to the north, Panama to the south, the Pacific Ocean to the west, and the Caribbean Sea to the east.
- San José – The capital.
- Alajuela – location of Juan Santamaría International Airport
- Cartago – Costa Rica’s first capital
- Dominical – the South Pacific coast’s largest city, among incredibly biodiversity and natural beauty
- Heredia – Coffee plantations
- Liberia – Location of Daniel Oduber International Airport and gateway to the beaches of Guanacaste, such as Samara, Nosara, Carillo
- Puerto Limón – Main city on the Caribbean side
- Puntarenas – Ferry to Nicoya Peninsula
- Quesada – the largest city by far in the country’s North, surrounded by hot springs popular with Costa Rican vacationers; known locally as “San Carlos”
- Arenal Volcano – active volcano
- Cahuita National Park
- Chirripo National Park
- Cocos Island National Park
- Corcovado National Park
- Manuel Antonio National Park
- Monteverde and Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserves
- Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park
- Tortuguero National Park
Flora and fauna
Costa Rica is one of the world’s most popular destinations for eco-tourists because of its biodiversity. Costa Rica possesses the greatest density of species in the world, and around 25% of its national territory is protected by a system of conservation areas and national parks. It has been stated in various places that Costa Rica may contain as much as 6% of the world’s plant and animal species in an area the combined size of the U.S. states of Vermont and New Hampshire. Both tropical plant and animal species abound in Costa Rica. Some of the more impressive plants range from huge ficus trees with epiphytes abounding on their limbs to approximately 1500 different orchids. The animals are equally as impressive, whether it’s a jaguar (the largest cat in the New World), the ever-elusive Margay, or the wonderful birds like the green or scarlet macaws (lapas in Costa Rican Spanish.) The amphibians are also quite impressive; the poison dart frogs with their bright colors are bound to catch your attention, or the giant cane toads.
Costa Rica is located between eight and 12 degrees north of the Equator, so the climate is tropical year around. However, the country has many microclimates depending on elevation, rainfall, topography, and by the geography of each particular region.
Costa Rica’s seasons are defined by how much rain falls during a particular period and not to the four seasons to which the residents of the temperate latitudes are accustomed. The year can be split into two periods, the dry season known to the residents as summer, and the rainy season, known locally as winter. The “summer” or dry season goes from December to April, and “winter” or rainy season goes from May to November, which almost coincides with the List of Atlantic hurricane seasons, and during this time, it rains constantly in some regions.
The location receiving the most rain is the Caribbean slopes of the Central Cordillera mountains, with an annual rainfall of over 5000 mm. Humidity is also higher on the Caribbean side than on the Pacific side. The mean annual temperature on the coastal lowlands is around 27°C, 20°C in the main populated areas of the Central Cordillera, and below 10°C on the summits of the highest mountains..
United States citizens need a passport to enter Costa Rica, and a visa if they plan on staying more than 90 days.
Juan Santamaría Airport (IATA: SJO) is located close to the cities Alajuela (3km), Heredia and the capital San José (25km).
SJO has pleasant airport features consisting of the normal assortment of duty-free shops, interesting souvenir and bookshops, but an inadequate selection of overpriced restaurants (Church’s Chicken, Burger King, Poás Deli Cafe and Papa John’s pizza). SJO is serviced daily by Air Transat (Seasonal) American Airlines, Canjet (Seasonal), Condor, Delta, Frontier Airlines, Iberia, Interjet, JetBlue Airways, Thomas Cook, Spirit Airlines, United, US Airways, Air Canada, Avianca, Taca, Copa Airlines and Air Panama. Connecting the airport with cities such as: Los Angeles, New York, Houston, Dallas, Miami, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Atlanta, Phoenix, Orlando, Chicago, and Newark.
There is a USD32 exit fee at the Juan Santamaría Airport. This must be paid in cash, or by Visa (in which case it will be processed as a cash advance). The fee can also be paid in advance at some hotels or banks (Banco Credito Agricola de Cartago and Banco de Costa Rica).
Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (IATA: LIR) is near Liberia in the Guanacaste province. This airport is closest to the Pacific Northwest coast. Liberia receives flights from Delta, American, United, JetBlue, Air Canada, CanJet (charter), Sun Wing (charter), and First Choice (charter). Connecting the airport with Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Houston, Dallas, Newark, Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, London, etc. The new terminal is open and is a wonderful addition to this airport.
Tobías Bolaños International Airport (Spanish: Aeropuerto Internacional Tobías Bolaños) (IATA: SYQ) is in the Pavas district of San José about a 10-15 minute drive from the city center. This airport primarily serves as the gateway linking to local Costa Rican domestic flights or nearby international destinations of Nicaragua and Panama.Currently, this airport is the hub for Nature Air. The terminal is neat, and clean though small. There is reasonably priced cafeteria style food service on the second floor of the terminal. The terminal is not open 24 hours a day so if you have an early flight verify what time the building opens before you take the taxi. There is no comfortable place to wait near the terminal if you arrive too early.
Small ship cruises carrying less than 100 passengers begin in Panama and end in Costa Rica or reverse. These cruises visit popular National Parks such as Manuel Antonio but also visit remote beaches and coastline not accessible by road. Prices range from $2000–$6000 per person for 7-10 day tours.
Larger cruise ships occasionally dock or anchor at Puerto Caldera and Puntarenas for a day or so, usually to begin, end or continue cruises with itineraries through the Panama Canal to or from Caribbean or U.S. ports.
Spanish is the official and most spoken language in Costa Rica. All major newspapers and official business are conducted in Spanish. English is used widely in most areas, especially those frequented by tourists, and information for visitors is often bilingual or even exclusively in English. A number of businesses operated by European proprietors can accommodate guests in Spanish, English and their native languages.
Costa Rica is world famous for having an incredibly high level of biodiversity throughout its tropical forests (this covers what you may hear referred to as rain forests, cloud forests, and dry forests). There are tropical mammals such as monkeys, sloths, tapirs, and wild cats as well as an amazing assortment of insects and other animals. There are many many birds (both migratory and resident) – more on that below. With 25% of the country being national parks and protected areas, there are still many places you can go to see the abundant wildlife and lush vegetation of the country. Just like anywhere, the farther you get off the beaten path, the more likely you are to see a wide variety of flora and fauna.
There is such biodiversity in Costa Rica not only because it’s a land bridge between North and South America, but also because the terrain is so varied and there are weather patterns moving in from both the Pacific and Atlantic/Caribbean. There are impressive volcanoes, mountain areas, rivers, lakes, and beaches all throughout the country. There are many beautiful beaches – most of the popular ones are on the Pacific side but the Caribbean has many excellent beaches as well.
One of the most wonderful activities for people who love nature is bird watching. You can enjoy bird watching in many areas of Costa Rica. Due to the great diversity of climates, temperatures and forest types in Costa Rica, there is a wonderful variety of birds, with over 800 species. Some helpful books available on bird watching are Birds of Costa Rica by F. Gary Stiles and Alexander Skutch (Cornell University Press) or An Illustrated Field Guide to Birds of Costa Rica, illustrated by Victor Esquivel Soto. These books can be found at certain bookstores in San José or before coming to Costa Rica. They are both heavy books; many people tear out the plates of the Stiles & Skutch book to carry into the field and leave the rest of the book in their car or room. Plastic cards with the most common birds are available for many areas and are sold at gift shops.
Costa Rica is a country with an extraordinary wealth of things to do, but regardless of your travel interests, you’re going to want to spend time at one of the country’s many great beaches. The Pacific coast’s main beaches are located in the Central Pacific region, the Nicoya Peninsula, and in Guanacaste. Less visited but no less beautiful beaches are located in the tropical rainforest of the southern Pacific coast near Corcovado National Park, or on the exotic eco-tourism paradise of the Caribbean side in Limón Province.
While some of the best beach vacations will be found on tiny quiet beaches off the beaten path, or even at exclusive resorts, here’s a quick list of the country’s biggest and most popular beach destinations:
- Corcovado — the main beach on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, with black sand beaches fronted by the thick Costa Rican tropical rainforest
- Dominical — probably the biggest surfing destination in the country, with a good nightlife scene
- Jacó — the party beach city right by San José, a surfer’s paradise full of nightlife and casinos
- Montezuma — the bohemian option, on the Nicoya Peninsula, full of dreadlocks, surfers, and what you would expect would come along with them (known as “monte fuma” by the locals)
- Playa Grande — this tranquil white sand beach is home to the largest nesting site for the leatherback sea turtle on the Pacific coast, as well as, one of the best surfing waves in the Guanacaste Province
- Tamarindo — the upscale option, with beautiful beaches complemented by boutique shopping and high class dining
- Tortuguero — the Caribbean side’s most famous beach, which caters to eco-tourists looking to explore the rainforest and spot some manatees
Costa Rica is one of the countries with more rivers per square kilometer than anywhere else in the world. Nearly anywhere you go you will find some kind of river trip to enjoy nature from a very unique point of view.
There is a wide variety of exciting rafting trips offered in Costa Rica. For many years, the rafting Mecca of Costa Rica was Turrialba, a large town embedded in the mountains near the Reventazon and Pacuare Rivers, on the Caribbean slope of Costa Rica.
Most likely, a rafting trip will be the highlight of your active vacations, so don’t miss your chance to paddle one.
Costa Rica has some of the best Sport Fishing in the world and is the first country to practice catch and release fishing. The Pacific side has incredible fishing for Sailfish, Marlin, Dorado, Tuna, Wahoo, Roosterfish, Snapper, and more. The Caribbean side and Northern regions of Costa Rica are famous for big Tarpon and big Snook. Over sixty-four world records have been caught in Costa Rica. Half day, Full day and Multi-Day Trips are available.
Costa Rica has many surfing hotspots. The best time of year to surf is from November – August.
The Pacific coast, particularly in the Central Pacific and Guanacaste, has some of the best surfing in Central America.
Other Active/Extreme Sports
Windsurfing in the Tilarán area is some of the best in the world.
“Canopy tours” or ziplines are very popular tourist activities and are found all over Costa Rica. These typically cost between $30–$50 depending on the company and use a series of zip-lines to travel between platforms attached to the trees, through and over the forest canopy and over rivers. The person is secured with harnesses to the metal cords, as some go very high off the ground. Be sure to ask about the zipline certification before booking and be sure to take part in the safety briefing before participating.
Another form of canopy tour is via an aerial tram which are ski lifts modified for the rainforest. These trams are slower allowing the visitor to view wildlife in the canopy. Each tram has a guide who will explain the flora and fauna. The trams exist at adventure parks near Jaco Beach and just outside Braulio Carrillo National Park and are appropriate for all ages. The trams may be combined with ziplining and often have other attractions such as medicine gardens or serpentaria so guests may learn more about Costa Rica.
The local currency is the Costa Rican colón (plural, colones) CRC named after Christopher Columbus (whose name was Cristobal Colón in Spanish) sometimes shown locally as ₡ and sometimes shown using the more commonly available US cent symbol ‘¢’ or ₵.
Money exchange is provided at most banks, however it is recommended to do so at the state banks, especially the Banco Nacional, since they have lower rates. There is also a money exchange service at the airport, but it is outrageously expensive. But note that the use of US dollars is quite common; in the tourist setting, almost everything is priced in US dollars (but sometimes prices are cheaper in colones). When a price is quoted in “dollars”, the speaker may be thinking of a dollar as 500 colones; so it is always worth checking whether this is what is meant. When paying with US dollars, you may receive change in local currency; thus, if you are about to leave the country and don’t need colones any more, make sure to have small-denomination US dollar bills.
You can find ATMs in most places. They normally dispense US dollars and colones. With Visa you get money at almost all ATMs. If you’ve got a MasterCard try the ATMs in the AM/PM supermarkets, they give you up to CRC250,000 (c. USD500). It is also very common to pay even small amounts by Visa or MasterCard with Amex much less common.
Travel in Costa Rica is common with 1.9 million travelers visiting annually, more than any Latin American country. Still, travelers to Costa Rica should exercise caution. The emergency number in Costa Rica is 911.
- Traffic in Costa Rica is dangerous, so be careful. Pedestrians in general do not have the right of way. Roads in rural areas may also tend to have many potholes. Driving at night is not recommended.
- Use common sense. Do not leave valuables in plain view in a car or leave your wallet on the beach when going into the water. Close the car windows and lock the car or other things that you might not do in your own country.
- In the cities, robbery at knife point is not altogether uncommon.
- Buses and bus stops – especially those destined for San Jose – are frequent locations for robbery. Any bus rider who falls asleep has a good chance of waking up and finding his baggage missing. Don’t trust anyone on the buses to watch your things, especially near San Jose.
- Like any other tourist destination, watch out for pickpockets.
- Purse snatchings, armed robberies and carjackings have been on the rise lately. Stay alert and protect your valuables at all times, especially in the San Jose area.
- “Smash and grabs” of car windows are very common all over the country so do not leave valuables in your vehicle.
- Another common robbery scheme includes slashing your tires, then when you stop to fix the flat, one or two “friendly” people stop to help and instead grab what valuables they can.
- If you are motioned to pull over by anyone, do not do so until you are at a well-lit and safe place.
- Make use of hostel or hotel lock boxes if they are really secure – this is great when you want to swim or kick back and really not worry.
- On a long trip, it’s advised that you make back-up CDs (or DVDs) of your digital photos and send a copy back home. In the event that you are robbed, you will thank yourself!
- When encountering a new currency, learn the exchange rate from a reliable source (online ahead of time or a local bank, preferably) and create a little cheat sheet converting it to US dollars or the other Central American currency you are comfortable with. Travel with small denominations of US dollars (crisp 1s, 5s, 10s) as back-up… usually you’ll be able to use them if you run out of local currency.
- Go to a bank to change money when possible and practical. If you find yourself needing to use the services of a person who is a money changer (Sunday morning at the border, for instance) make sure to have your own calculator. Do not trust money changers and their doctored calculators, change the least amount of money possible and take a hard look at the bills – there’s lots of false ones out there. Always insist that your change be in small bills – you’ll lose more at one time if a large bill is false, plus large bills are hard to change (even the equivalent of $20 USD in Costa Rica or $5 USD in Nicaragua can be difficult in some small towns, believe it or not!) Money changers do not use the official exchange rate – you are better off going to a state owned bank to exchange your currency at no fee. Also, it’s impossible to change Brazilian reals, although there are a lot of Brazilian tourists in Costa Rica.
- Do not exchange money when arriving at the San Jose airport. The exchange rate used there is not the official rate and you will get a lot fewer colones. However, the departure hall upstairs has a BCR bank with normal exchange rates. It is right next to the departure tax payment area, buy when you arrive to avoid the queue on departure.
- Traveling alone is fine and generally safe in Costa Rica, but carefully consider what kind of risks (if any) you are willing to take. Always hike with other people and try to explore a new city with other people. On solo forays, if you feel uncomfortable seek out a group of other people (both women and men). A well lighted place with people you can trust is always a plus. A busy restaurant or hostel is a great source of local info as well as a great place to relax and recharge.
Costa Rica. (2015, September 6). Wikivoyage, Free travel information around the globe. Retrieved 01:30, September 13, 2015 fromhttps://en.wikivoyage.org/w/index.php?title=Costa_Rica&oldid=2852907.