This destination guide was created for you by our global team here at Go Ahead Tours! Whether we’re designing new trips or writing guides like this one, everything we do is handcrafted. Read on to get our staffers’ insider tips from their travels.
With incredible scenery and wildlife, warm and welcoming people, and adventure for all ages, Costa Rica is a can’t-miss destination. The country’s name translates as “Rich Coast”—and it’s no surprise, considering it’s home to over 500,000 different species of plants and animals! Continue reading our Costa Rica travel guide for our team’s expert suggestions for things to do in Costa Rica, tips for traveling to Costa Rica, and more.
P.S. Want to experience the famous Costa Rican hospitality before you depart? Check out our virtual Online Escape to an organic pineapple farm and learn to make the perfect piña colada!
Currency: colón (though the U.S. dollar is widely accepted)
Language: Spanish and indigenous languages, though many locals in cities and popular tourist destinations speak English
Getting around: With so much beautiful scenery to explore and places to visit in Costa Rica, you’ll be glad to have a private deluxe motor coach on our Costa Rica tours!
Phrases to know: Costa Rica’s homegrown philosophy is “pura vida,” which means “pure life” or “simple life,” and captures the welcoming spirit of the country and the locals’ laid-back approach to life. You can use it as a greeting, a way of saying thanks, or just to express how great your trip to Costa Rica is going. Another word to know is “Tico,” which means “Costa Rican”—it’s how locals refer to themselves!
WHEN TO TRAVEL TO COSTA RICA
Costa Rica is a relatively small country, about the size of the U.S. state of West Virginia. Despite its size, it has amazingly diverse scenery, altitudes, and weather conditions. Located just north of the equator, Costa Rica enjoys moderate temperatures year-round. But, if you’re wondering “When is the best time to travel to Costa Rica?” we’ve got the answer: summertime!
Instead of four seasons, it has just two: a dry summer from January–April and a rainy winter from May–December. And when we say “rainy,” we mean rainy. Some areas of Costa Rica can get over 260 inches (that’s 21 feet!) of rain a year. The best time to travel to Costa Rica is during the drier months to take full advantage of all that the country has to offer.
Since the weather can vary widely between the rainforests and the beaches found just hours away, you’ll want to make sure you pack for all conditions when you travel to Costa Rica.
WHAT TO PACK FOR A TRIP TO COSTA RICA
Costa Rica is a study in contrasts. Visiting Monteverde in the north, you’ll experience lush rainforest, cooler temperatures, and near-constant mist. Along the Pacific coast, you’ll encounter arid beaches and palm trees, while on the Caribbean coast, you might visit more rainforests, mangrove forests, sandy beaches, and swamps. When thinking about what to pack for Costa Rica, remember that it can be very humid and sunny. Here our some of our expert’s packing tips for planning a trip to Costa Rica.
- Rain gear. Staying comfortable on tour in Costa Rica starts with staying dry, so be sure to pack a quality rain jacket and waterproof shoes.
- Layers! One of our best packing tips for Costa Rica is to bring lightweight clothing that’s easy to layer and wicks moisture. Costa Rica may be a tropical country, but temperatures fall at higher elevations, so pack a light jacket.
- Sun protection. This close to the equator, the sun is very strong! So, take this tip for traveling to Costa Rica to heart: Come prepared with a sun hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
- Binoculars. Since one of the best parts about visiting Costa Rica is seeing the incredible diversity of flora and fauna, one of our can’t-miss Costa Rica travel tips is to pack a pair of binoculars.
- Health sundries. Pack hand sanitizer, a small first aid kit, and medication if you’re prone to sea sickness, as you may travel by boat to some of the places you visit on tour in Costa Rica. Plus, some of Costa Rica’s dirt roads can get pretty bumpy!
PLACES TO VISIT IN COSTA RICA
Driving just a few hours in Costa Rica will take you through a variety of microclimates and landscapes. The country’s volcanic soil and access to both the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean combine for some of the richest biodiversity on the planet. Here are our top picks for places to visit in Costa Rica (with your camera in hand, of course!).
- Arenal Volcano. Costa Rica lies along the Ring of Fire, an area of active volcanic and earthquake activity caused by the tectonic plates along the Pacific Coast. About a hundred total volcanic formations dot the country but only six are currently considered active—including Costa Rica’s most famous volcano, Arenal. It’s a perfect cone and is bordered by beautiful Lake Arenal, making it one of the top things to see in Costa Rica.
- Monteverde. Home to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, this district in the northwest part of Costa Rica is known for its biodiversity and near-constant mist. There are over 3,000 species found here, including 755 different species of trees! You can zipline, hike, or meander along the bridges in the cloud forest canopy. We highly recommend taking a guided nature walk—the local guides can spot animals and plants you’re sure to miss on your own, including the rare (and colorful!) resplendent quetzal.
- Manuel Antonio. It may be the smallest of Costa Rica’s National Parks, but Manuel Antonio packs a big punch, and deserves a place in every Costa Rica travel guide. The park features gorgeous beaches on the Pacific coast, beautiful weather, and access to hiking trails. One of our Costa Rica travel tips for this park is to keep an eye out—you might see monkeys, iguanas, or some of the numerous species of birds!
- Tortuguero. Tortuguero is located on the Caribbean coast and is another one of the national parks in Costa Rica. The park is famous for being a habitat for sea turtles (“tortugas”), and you might even spot some on the beach. Tortuguero is also unique for being accessible only by plane or boat—no cars here!
WHAT TO EAT & DRINK IN COSTA RICA
No Costa Rica travel guide is complete without a mention of the food! In short: It’s hearty, fresh, nutritious, and delicious. Costa Rican cuisine, unlike that of some of its neighbors in Central and South America, tends to be mild. Thanks to its climate, the country boasts an impressive array of locally grown fruits and vegetables. You’ll find rice and beans are offered with most meals, along with pork, beef, chicken, and fresh fish from the coastal regions. Here are some of our favorite dishes to try on tour in Costa Rica.
- Casado, which literally means “married man.” This is a typical Costa Rican meal of rice and beans, salad, fried plantains, and meat or fish. You can find casados offered in nearly any restaurant. Want to eat like a true Tico? Head to a soda, a lunch counter or diner serving traditional Costa Rican cuisine, often at a very reasonable price.
- Gallo pinto, meaning “spotted rooster.” This combination of rice and beans, herbs, and vegetables is often served as a side dish. It’s simple and delicious, and trying it on tour is one of the best tips in our Costa Rica travel guide.
- Patacones, which are green plantains that are sliced, smashed, and fried, and often served as a crispy snack with lime and salt or salsa.
- Café! Costa Rica’s mountainous terrain, volcanic soil, and mild temperatures combine to create the perfect climate for growing coffee. Some of the best coffee in the world is grown here, and one of the best things to do in Costa Rica is try a perfectly brewed cup.
- Refrescos, which are fresh fruit smoothies made with any of Costa Rica’s myriad of tropical fruits. Talk about a wonderfully refreshing way to relax after a hot day at the beach or beautiful walk through the rainforest!
- Guaro, the national liquor of Costa Rica. This clear spirit distilled from sugar cane juice. With a flavor similar to vodka, guaro is slightly sweeter and is found in many delicious cocktails, like the ubiquitous guaro sour.
SOUVENIRS TO BUY IN COSTA RICA
While you’ll take home wonderful memories and beautiful photos from your trip to Costa Rica, you’ll also find a number of souvenirs to help you remember the magic of your Costa Rica tour. Here are some of our team’s favorites to pick up.
- Costa Rican coffee is some of the best you’ll find anywhere! Coffee producers offer a variety of roasts and blends for you to take back home. Nothing will transport you back to Costa Rica like a cup of coffee! Look for “grano entero” on the label for whole bean coffee and “molido” for ground coffee.
- A chorreador de café, or drip coffee maker. With a wooden frame and cloth filter, these coffee makers are simple to use and clean, but produce rich, full-bodied coffee. Bring one home for a true Tico experience every morning.
- Locally grown chocolate. Chocolate was once Costa Rica’s leading export and cacao producers are still found all over the country. On our Costa Rica: Rainforests, Volcanoes & Wildlife tour, you’ll even have the chance to learn how it’s made before you sample some!