Costa Rica, while small, is an extremely diverse country. The following advice and suggestions will help you discover all the wonderful things you can see and do when planning your vacation to this beautiful and friendly country .
Flying to Costa Rica
While most international flights land in the capital, San José, there are also international flights to Liberia. If you plan to spend your time in the northwestern part of Costa Rica you may want to consider this option. For most of Costa Rica, San José is still the best choice. Due to the local geography (I do not recommend driving over the mountains at night), I suggest you spend at least your first night in San José.
With its cosmopolitan flavor and comfortable temperature, some people choose to spend several days in the capital city and if you do so, there are many tours are available from. If you would like some assistance on where to stay in San Jose, you can see my post on my Recommended Hotels in San José and from there you can select one that fits your budget and taste.
In regards to getting a good deal on flight to Costa Rica, I have relationship with Momondo, one of the leading and most recommended search engines for discounted airfare and can help you to at least start giving you an idea on the cost of your flights to Costa Rica. Keep in mind that rates vary widely depending on when you go and which airport you decide to fly into. If you are planning on visiting Costa Rica during a holiday period such as say Christmas… I highly suggest you book as early as possible as those flights fill up the quickest and almost never go down in price.
Decide which areas of Costa Rica you would like to visit.
These are the most popular tourism areas in Costa Rica and the ones that most first time travelers to Costa Rica go to. Its also a list of places that the frequent traveler will go back to time and time again and there is always something new to see or experience. I have been going to Costa Rica for over 25 years and I still go these places and I am always surprised to discover something new.
Tip: I suggest that if you are staying one week or less you don’t try to visit more than two areas outside the central valley. This to make sure that you are not on a constant march around Costa Rica and to give you the opportunity to experience each area and the activities.
Monteverde – Famous for the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, there are several other nature reserves in the area. This is a very popular destination for birdwatchers and nature lovers. By road is the only way to get to Monteverde. The roads into Monteverde are very bumpy but most people condsider the rewards worth the drive.
Arenal Area – The active volcano puts on regular displays and is most impressive at night. It is not unusual for the there to be cloud cover and the odds are about 50-50 on seeing an eruption. On a clear night the sight is incredible and much of the area is beautiful rainforest.
Northen Pacific Coast (Guanacaste & Nicoya Peninsula) – This area has many beautiful and isolated beaches.
Central Pacific Coast – This is the easiest beach area to reach from San José.
Southern Pacific Coast & Osa Peninsula – This is one of the most remote, biologically intense and beautiful areas of Costa Rica. The two main attractions in this region are Corcovado National Park, the crown jewel of Costa Rica’s world-renowned national park system and Caño Island.
Northern Caribbean Coast (Tortuguero) – A unique series of natural inland waterways. Since this area cannot be reached by car, I recommend the two or three day tour as the best way to visit this area.
Southern Atlantic Coast – This area is known for beautiful beaches and a laid back lifestyle with a definite Jamaican influence. Cahuita National Park is one of the attractions.
Travel within Costa Rica
If you are traveling independently instead of opting for a package your next step is to decide how you want to get around our beautiful country.
Buses: There are regularly scheduled buses to most parts of the country. They are cheap and fairly punctual, but can be difficult to use if you don’t speak Spanish and I do not recommend them for most tourists.
Rental Cars: Renting a car allows you to stop where you want and explore the country on your own schedule. A large percentage of our clients choose the rental car option and now that GPS is available finding your way around is even easier. For more information see our Driving in Costa Rica page. If you decide that driving is for you, select a vehicle that fits your needs.
Private Transfer: Private van transfers have become increasing popular. While the drivers are not tourist guides they still answer a lot of questions during a trip and provide a safe and convenient transportation option.
Local Airlines: There are two local carriers: Sansa and Nature Air. They both have regularly scheduled flights to most destinations. Air travel is relatively inexpensive because of the short distances involved. If scheduled flights don’t fit you plans, you can arrange a charter flight or a charter helicopter.
Activities in Costa Rica:
White Water Rafting – Costa Rica offers some of the world’s finest whitewater rafting and kayaking rivers. These rivers plunge through spectacularly beautiful, largely unexplored tropical wilderness. Whether an expert or beginner, nature lover or thrill seeker, rafting enthusiast or active kayaker, there is an unforgettable experience awaiting you. If you would like more information on White Water Rafting, you can check out my recent post.
Canopy Tours – A Canopy Tour consists of suspension cables on which the person will travel from platform to platform while enjoying the beauty of the forest canopy. These cables are specially designed by expert engineers, who have made it one of the safest and most thrilling adventures available for tourists in Costa Rica. Clients are equipped with high-tech harnesses to ensure their safety.
Scuba Diving – The northern Flamingo-Coco area and the Osa peninsula. Divers find an astounding variety and number of fish.
Sport Fishing – The fish come big in Costa Rica and hooking trophy contenders comes easy; the fish almost seem to line up to get a bite on the hook, well.. maybe not that easy!. Costa Rica is the undisputed sailfish capital of the world on the Pacific, the tarpon and snook capital on the Caribbean. Fishing varies from season to season, but hardly a month goes by without some International Game Fish Association record broken; the IGFA’s World Record edition lists 18 all-tackle records for Costa Rica, 41 line test records, and 18 fly-fishing records. For more information on Fishing in Costa Rica check out my post on the best way to book a charter boat.
Surfing – For many in search of the perfect wave, the search has ended in Costa Rica. Long stretches of beaches provide thousands of beach breaks. Numerous rivers offer quality sandbar river mouth breaks, particularly on the Pacific coast. And coral reefs on the Caribbean coast, says Costa Rican surf expert Peter Brennan, “take the speed limit to the max.” And there are plenty of surf camps so take a look at my post on Surfing in Costa Rica for more information.
Day Tours By Area:
San Jose – San Jose has the most day tours and some that only operate from the capital. One of the most popular is white-water rafting on the Pacuare River or Reventazon Rivers. If you would like more information on Rafting in Costa Rica, check out my post!
Arenal Volcano Area – Arenal is beautiful area and there is lots to do besides waiting for the volcano to erupt. The hanging bridges are a popular tour as well as many others. You can check out my post on Hotels in Arenal if you need any recommendations.
Monteverde Cloud Forest – There are several reserves in this cloud forest and a diverse selection of tours. I would recommend a morning cloud forest tour, which you can reserve at your hotel or on your own when you get there. Believe me! You will see a lot more with a guide.
North Pacific Coast –This covers in part Tamarindo and Flamingo Beach area. Canopy tours and National Park tours are popular here. If you go this direction look into flying into Liberia instead of San Jose.
Southern Guanacaste Area – This includes Tambor, Mal Pais, Santa Teresa, which are the main destinations and have days tours such as surfing and sailing and relaxing by the beach (not sure this would count as a day tour!)
Jaco – In the Jacó Beach area there is a good selection of day tours available from sea kayaking to canopy tours. One of the most popular is the Isla Tortuga Tour.
Manuel Antonio – There are a lot of water related activities in this area. Sea kayaking, white-water rafting and world class sport fishing in addition to the nature tours. All of which can be booked on your own or at your hotel
Southern Pacific Coast – Most of the hotels on the Osa Peninsula include hiking and snorkeling in their packages
Southern Caribbean Coast – Hotels in Tortuguero on the Northern Caribbean have tours included. These tours are for people staying at hotels in Cahuita and Puerto Viejo.