Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. It’s home to over 5% of the world’s diversity, making it a perfect destination to see wildlife. It’s got beautiful beaches for surf and yoga, some of the best zip-lining in the world, magical cloud forests, and epic diving opportunities. A vacation to Costa Rica is the perfect way to relax and recharge from the daily stress of western life.
Bucket List Costa Rica Experiences
The official language of Costa Rica is Spanish. However, many locals speak English and you will be able to get by without speaking Spanish. That said, it’s helpful to know some basic Spanish. The locals will appreciate you making an effort.
Visa requirements: Citizens of most Western countries including the USA, Canada, and EU, don’t need a visa in advance. You will be given a 90-day visa on arrival.
Staying Connected – SIM cards can be picked up easily in Costa Rica which is usually cheaper then roaming from your home plan. Claro and Movistar are the main carriers. Make sure your phone is unlocked and bring your passport with you when you go to pick up the SIM card.
Power Sockets – Costa Rica uses Type A and Type B power sockets, so you won’t need a converter if you’re traveling from North America.
Drone Laws – You don’t need a permit to fly a drone in Costa Rica for non-commercial use. It’s relatively relaxed, I flew my drone all over Costa Rica with no issues. Just avoid flying over crowds and always keep your drone within sight.
Flying: Costa Rica has two international airports, San Jose International Airport (SJO) just outside of San Jose, and Liberia International Airport (LIR) just outside of Liberia. There are 14 domestic airports/strips throughout the country.
By Boat: Costa Rica is connected to both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. There are eight ports in Costa Rica.
Flying: It is possible to fly between places in Costa Rica using the domestic airports but flights are limited and can be pricey. Instead, I advise renting a car or taking a bus between places.
Driving: Costa Rica is very friendly to car rentals. I have two roads trip here and think it is the best way to see the country. It can be affordable to rent a car, especially compared to the cost of shuttles if you are moving around a lot.
Busses: There are both public busses and private tourist shuttles in Costa Rica. Public busses are usually no more then $10-15, but routes are limited and take a long time. Tourist shuttles are everywhere, and cost around $50-70 depending on where you are going.
Taxis/Shared Ride Services: Taxies are available throughout Costa Rica. Services such as Uber are available in major cities.
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Costa Rica is not the most budget-friendly destination in Central America, but there are ways to make your dollar last here. They have their own currency, the Costa Rica Colones, but USD is widely accepted. Prices will generally be listed in both Colones and USD. Here are some average prices on what you can expect to pay in Costa Rica (all prices listed in USD).
Accommodation: A budget hostel in Costa Rica is going to cost you between $15-20/night for a dorm bed. You can get a mid-range private room in a guest house hotel for around $25-50, while hotels can cost anywhere from $100-1000. There are some luxurious resorts in Costa Rica.
FREE Accommodation: Couchsurfing is used in Costa Rica, which is a great way to save money and connect with locals. Another great way to save money on accommodation is by joining TrustedHousesitters. I have come across several housesits in Costa Rica.
Food: A typical plate consisting of rice, beans, chicken and salad will cost you around $5 at a ‘Soda’ which is just a local restaurant you can find throughout the country. These are the cheapest places to eat. Eating Western food is much more expensive, and will cost you around $10-20 USD for a meal. Groceries in Costa Rica are affordable, so cooking is a great way to save money.
Water: You can actually drink the water in Costa Rica! Bring a reusable water bottle with you so you can fill up on the move. This is one of the best ways to save money in Costa Rica as bottled water will cost you between $1-3 per bottle. Plus it’s a ton of plastic that doesn’t have to be used! If you aren’t sure about the water, you could always use a product like lifestraw.
Beer: A local beer is going to cost you around $2-3.
Tours: Day tours can be expensive in Costa Rica, expect to pay around $50-100 depending on what it is. There are many natural attractions and national parks you can visit on your own. Most will still have entrance fees, but these are usually only around $10-20.
Overall Daily Budget: The first time I visited Costa Rica I spent around $100 a day, but we rented a car, slept in private rooms, and did tours almost every day. The second time I visited Costa Rica I only spent an average of $50/a day. It was so much cheaper because I was staying in dorms, taking local transport (with a few shuttles), and only doing tours every couple of days.
Safety & Solo Travel
Costa Rica is one of the safest countries to go backpacking in Central America. I never felt in danger here, and the locals are extremely kind and welcoming. Petty theft, such as bag snatching and pickpocketing, is one of the most common forms of crime here and in all of Central America. I always recommend travel insurance, not just to protect yourself in case of medical injuries, but also to protect yourself in case your belongings get stolen.
I recommend buying insurance with World Nomads, as some of their packages include up to $3,000 worth of protection for valuables. Traveling with World Nomad’s always makes me feel better knowing even in the worst-case scenario, I have protection. Plus, they cover a wide range of adventure activities which is perfect for a country like Costa Rica.
The locals in Costa Rica are some of the friendliest and laid back people you will ever meet. The main greeting in Costa Rica is “Pura Vida”. This translates to pure life in English, but its meaning is more than just a phrase. Pura Vida represents the Costa Ricans culture and a way of life. Simply, it means that people need to be grateful for what they have in life and not dwell on the negative. Locals strive to live a stress-free, laid-back life and their motto exemplifies how they live.
Best Time to Go
Most people visit Costa Rica during the dry season, which runs from mid-December to April. The benefit of visiting during this time is that it’s generally non-stop sunshine which is perfect for enjoying the countries amazing beaches, but on the other hand, it’s the most expensive time to visit. In some parts of the country, such as Monteverde, you can always expect rain but it is much worse during the rainy season.
If you visit during May-November, prices will be cheaper and they’ll be fewer crowds. Even during the rainy season it isn’t always raining in many parts, and the temperatures are still warm.
Climate and Packing Suggestions
The dress code in Costa Rica is relaxed and you don’t need to worry about any strict requirements. Instead, dress according to the area you are going. Costa Rica has a warm climate overall, and in most places you’ll be most comfortable in shorts and a tank top/t-shirt. This is especially true if you are sticking to the beaches on the Pacific or Caribbean Coast during the dry season. If you plan to visit the areas at higher elevation, especially around Monteverde, it can become chilly especially in the night. You’ll want a sweater and pants. It’s a good idea to bring a rain jacket as it can rain in many parts of Costa Rica, even during the dry season
SkyScanner – Need to find a cheap flight within Costa Rica? SkyScanner is my favourite search engine for finding flight deals as it includes a lot of low-cost airlines that other booking engines miss.
Rome2Rio – Want to find the best way between point a to b? Rome2Rio will tell you every possible way to get between two places whether it’s by plane, train, bus, or ferry. They compare all the options by time and price, making it easy for you to choose the best one.