Costa Rica Travel Guide

Costa Rica is an amazingly diverse country, unlike anywhere else in the world.  The country features a wide array of attractions including scores of beautiful beaches along both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, rainforests teaming with exotic wildlife, cloud forests that seemingly disappear into the sky, and active volcanoes with hot springs.  Within Costa Rica, there are twelve distinct climate and life zones.  These zones provide habitat for nearly 4% of Earth's species making it one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet.  The people of Costa Rica are just as beautiful as the country, ever warm and welcoming.

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Important Costa Rica travel information

Costa Rica is considered to have a tropical and subtropical climate.  There are two main seasons; the rain season and the dry season, which vary regionally.  No matter what time of the year or where you visit, you should bring a rain jacket as it can rain at any given time.

The official language of Costa Rica is Spanish.  Most tourism professionals such as tour guides and hotel employees speak English as a second language.

The busiest times of the year for travelers are December through April and then again from June through August.  Peak seasons include December 15 – January 5, the entire months of February and March, Easter week and the first two weeks of July.  Quality accommodations are generally reserved solid 6 or more months in advance for these times of the year.

Getting to Costa Rica

There are two international airports in Costa Rica.  Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) is located in the center of the country, near the capital, San Jose.  Liberia International Airport (LIR) is located in northwest Costa Rica, near Liberia.

Visitors to Costa Rica will need a valid passport or visa, depending on what country you are a citizen of.  Requirements vary; you can find more information by following this link to the Costa Rica Embassy.

Transportation in Costa Rica

There are two domestic airlines that operate within Costa Rica, Nature Air and Sansa.  Between these two companies, they offer flights to, from and between 14 destinations. 

There are numerous rental car options and just as many scams.  Be careful when reserving your rental car as there is a mandatory insurance that usually costs as much as the vehicle each day. 

Private transfers are available between most destinations, making this a popular way to get around.  Shared shuttle transfers are also an option between the more popular tourist destinations.  Finally, there is a good public bus system that you can utilize if you have the time, patience and don’t mind sacrificing the comfort.

Currency and prices

The official currency of Costa Rica is the Costa Rica Colon, though the United States dollar is widely accepted.  The conversion rate hovers between 500 – 550 Colones to $1 US dollar.  Most tourist related businesses list their rates in US dollars.  Prices in Costa Rica are generally a little higher than other Central Amercan countries due to the higher standards of living.

Food prices vary depending on where you choose to eat.  If you eat at local sodas (small Costa Rican style restaurant), you can expect to pay around 2,500 – 3,000 Colones per meal.  Most tourist destinations have international style restaurants with meals raging in price from around $10 -30 per plate.

Clean tap water is available throughout most of the country, including nearly all tourist destinations.  For those that prefer bottled water, you will find it in all small stores at a cost of around 800 Colones.

Costa Rica is a safe country, but you should use common sense when traveling

Costa Rica is statistically the safest country in Central America to visit.  In fact, USA today recently posted an article which ranked Costa Rica in the top 10 safest countries in the world for women travelers.  While safety is not really a factor, petty theft is an issue, though a small amount of common sense will go a long way.

Costa Rican is not known for the best road conditions.  This is attributable to the mountainous terrain and extreme climates.  While primary roads are generally paved, many side roads are not or are in poor condition.  Distances that may appear like a short drive when looking at a map, may take much longer to traverse than expected.  In some cases, roads are seasonal depending on river levels.

Immunizations and vaccinations for traveling in Costa Rica

Most travelers will not need any special immunizations or vaccinations that they do not already have.  The Center for Disease Control recommends all routine vaccines such as the MMR , diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, chickenpox, polio and the yearly flu shot.  They also recommend that most travelers get vaccinated for hepatitis A and typhoid.  Please check the CDC website for details and possibilities of other vaccines.  In addition to checking the CDC website, you should also check with your doctor prior to traveling.

The geography of Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a small country, located in Central America between the countries of Nicaragua and Panama.  It is bordered to the east by the Caribbean Sea and to the west by the Pacific Ocean.  The country is a little smaller than the state of West Virginia, United States at only 51,100 sq km. 

The terrain of Costa Rica can be summed up as coastal plains separated by towering mountains.  There are several major, active volcanoes including Arenal, Poas, Irazu, Turrialba and Rincon de la Vieja.

This is a country of extremes due to the mountainous terrain.  From sea level on the coasts to the highest peak at Cerro Chirripo, there is a difference of 3,810 meters in elevation gain.  To put this in perspective, Cerro Chirripo is located only 40 kilometers inland from the coast.  It can be a balmy 85 degree morning on the beach and there can be frost covered slopes on the highest peaks on the same day.

Climate and weather of Costa Rica

Costa Rica is divided by the Talamanca Mountain range which runs through the center of the country. There are distinct weather patterns on the Caribbean and Pacific slopes, 12 distinct climate and life zones as well as numerous micro-climate pockets.

The Pacific side generally experiences the Dry Season from December through April and the Green Season from May through November. The mountainous southern Pacific zone of the country experiences the highest precipitation totals from July through November. The drier northwest Pacific coast has a shorter period of heavy rains lasting from the September through October.   

The Caribbean side of the country is flatter than the Pacific side and the weather is less predictable.  There is however a more distinct Dry Season between mid-August through October.

Though there are relatively defined seasons, it can rain anywhere at any time.  This is the rainforest after all.  Having realistic expectations about Costa Rica’s unstable weather patterns will ensure a more pleasant stay.  In truth, if a little rain will ruin your vacation, you may want to consider an alternative destination.

Historical background and social development of Costa Rica

Costa Rica was originally explored in the early 16th century by the Spanish.  The initial colonization attempts were unsuccessful due to a variety of reasons including seemingly impassible swamps along the coast, heat, pirate raids and native resistance.  The first permanent settlement was established in the fertile highlands of Cartago in 1563. Costa Rica remained a colony of Spain until 1821 when the country joined forces with several other Central American provinces and declared independence from Spain in 1821.  In 1838, Costa Rica separated as its own independent country.  The country later dissolved its military forces in 1949 and has remained without armed forces since then.

Costa Rica has one of the highest literacy rates in the world at 96%.  The country provides its citizens with free health care and free education up to the 11th grade.  The average life expectancy is 78 years.  Costa Rica has a stable democratic government with elected officials. 

Tourism plays a vital role in the economic growth of Costa Rica.  There is an official tourism board to oversee this, the ICT.  Costa Rica also recognizes the importance of sustainable tourism, which is a primary purpose of the ICT.  Recognizing the importance of sustainable tourism, the country has dedicated over 25% of the land to national parks and protected refuges.  This will ensure not only the protection of endangered wildlife and rainforest, but also leave this treasure for generations to come.

Important Websites for Costa Rica Travel

Passport/Visa Regulations, Embassy of Costa Rica

United States Department of State 

Center of Disease Control

Last Minute Passport Issues 

Free Costa Rica Map Download

Trip Insurance

Travel Guard Trip Insurance

Insure My Trip

 

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