Costa Rica Travel: Before You Go

Costa Rica, Monteverde Cloud Forest, three people on 'sky walk'
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Costa Rica is a nation of impossible natural beauty. Misty purple volcanoes, radiant sunsets, steaming rainforests, and beaches crawling with sea turtles are common sights. Add together these unforgettable vistas with the country’s matchless ecotourism, (comparably) low prices, and warm-hearted locals, and it comes as no surprise that Costa Rica is one of the most popular travel destinations in all of the Americas.

Costa Rica Travel: Where Should I Go

San Jose, Costa Rica's capital, definitely has its enthusiasts. If you're a budget traveler and need a place to stay, try Costa Rica Backpackers Hostel.

The most common Costa Rica travel itinerary is Forest--> Beaches, in that order. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is the most popular destination for canopy tours and zip lining, like those offered by Aventura Canopy Tours. Stay in Santa Elena for some local color and better prices. Nearby La Fortuna, beside Lake Arenal and the Arenal volcano, is another great destination. Visit a hot spring like Baldi Termae, and enjoy steaming pools and swim-up bars.

On the coast, travelers frequent every beach along the Nicoya Peninsula, from Playa Hermosa to Playa Tamarindo down to Montezuma. Other popular beaches are Jaco and Manuel Antonio. Scuba diving and snorkeling is spectacular anywhere, but the best is found far offshore, at Costa Rica’s remote island reserves like Tortuga and Cocos—-book a boat trip from any major city.

What Can I See?

Costa Rica boasts approximately five percent of the biodiversity in the entire world. Fortunately, the county has its act together. Twenty-five percent of its total territory is protected in a series of wildlife refuges, parks, and biological reserves. The national parks are more frequently visited by tourists, and provide a greater deal of activities and amenities.

Because of its progressive thinking, Costa Rica offers pure scenery at its best. It’s a patchwork nature-nation of cloud forests swirling with fog, rainforests, mangrove swamps, pastureland, and dry tropical forests, all ringed with innumerable beaches.

Costa Rica is a birdwatcher's paradise. As for mammals, the largest ones, like sloths, jaguars, and tapirs, are shy and rarely glimpsed. But you’ll more than likely see a monkey or a whole troop of them, swinging through the canopy overhead. You’ll hear the howlers for sure—-their rumbling calls can be heard up to two miles away!

What Are the People Like?

Costa Ricans, called Ticos, have a strong sense of nationalism. They take pride in their country’s natural beauty, and in its democracy. While much of Costa Rican culture is distinctly western, Costa Rica is a Catholic nation, and is more conservative in many aspects than the United States—it’s important to dress respectfully in all areas except the beach resorts. 

How Do I Get There and Around?

The public bus system in Costa Rica is the cheapest, and often the most convenient way to travel anywhere you want to go. Buses range from flashy old American school buses (or “chicken buses”) to higher-quality express buses with air conditioning--check out Toucan Guides' Costa Rica bus schedule for times and destinations.

The main hub of bus transit in Costa Rica is the Coca Cola Bus Terminal in San Jose.

If you’re traveling with a good deal of luggage and not visiting any remote areas, it may be worth it to rent a car. Taxis are also widespread and will take passengers long distances for a price.

If you’re country-hopping, Ticabus is the best way to do it. This comfortable, accommodating bus line runs all the way through Costa Rica, up to Guatemala in the north, and to Panama in the south.

How Much Will I Pay?

Costa Rica is a country that can accommodate travelers seeking every level of comfort. Budget hostels and guesthouses are everywhere, and local bus travel is dirt cheap, but luxury travelers will also find resorts and amenities of top American quality. If you like, you’ll never have to walk through a local village at all—but where’s the fun in that?

When Should I Go?

The American summer is Costa Rica’s wet season. While that means occasional rainstorms (often tempestuous), it also means far fewer travelers. November and December are the driest months to visit, but prices skyrocket, and there are so many travelers reservations must be made for everything far in advance. Thus, it’s a toss-up—-it all depends on your personal concerns.

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