Costa Rica - a destination highlight
Updated: Nov 23, 2021
Costa Rica Overview
Located between Nicaragua and Panama in Central America, Costa Rica is a democratic and peaceful nation, without a military since 1948. Focused on tourism, Ticos (a nickname for locals) are happily welcoming visitors to experience this country’s incredible natural beauty, indulge in adventure and make time for wellness and relaxation.
There are two international airports in Costa Rica. Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) is located in Alajuela, and less than a half hour to drive into San Jose. Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIR) is located in Liberia and perfect for tourists visiting Guanacaste, Monteverde and La Fortuna. Costa Rica has four domestic airlines: Aerobell, Sansa, Skyway and Air Caribe.
Spanish is the official language of Costa Rica, but English is widely spoken throughout the country. Costa Rica boasts a literacy rate of 96 per cent one of the highest in the world, and since 1896 has made education free and obligatory for all its citizens.
Costa Rica may be small in size, covering only 0.03 of the world’s surface, but is mighty in attracting visitors. This Central American country has four UNESCO World Heritage sites: Area de Conservacion Guanacaste, Cocos Island National Park, Talamanca Range-La Amistad Reserves and PreColombian Chiefdom Settlements with Stone Spheres of the Diquis.
With 1,228 km of coastline, 1,016 km on the Pacific coast and 212 km on the Caribbean Sea Costa Rica also offers the ability to access beaches at Puntarenas only 90 minutes from San Jose. Coastlines are separated three hours by car or 45 minutes by air from Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose.
With five per cent of the world’s biodiversity and 26 per cent of its territory protected for conservation, Costa Rica is divided in 11 conservation areas comprising National Parks, preserves, and biological corridors, etc. There are 29 national parks, 58 wildlife refuges, 32 protected zones, 15 wetland areas, 11 forest reserves and eight biological reserves.
Costa Rica is an industry leader in sustainability, with its distinctive combination of unique geographical features, and this concept weaved in Costa Ricans’ DNA. With the goal to become a carbon-free country by 2050, every region in Costa Rica is committed to sustainable practices across all industries, adopted by all citizens and embraced by visitors. From local Costa Rican cuisine to artisan crafts to traditional customs and celebrations, sustainability is embedded deeply in the culture and traditions of Costa Rica.
The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo (ICT) / Costa Rica Tourism Board developed a Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST) program for local tourism companies in 1997. First adopted within the hotel industry, tourism companies who focus on environmental preservation and local community can apply for the CST designation. There are currently almost 350 CST designated tourism businesses. Costa Rica also has the Bandera Azul Ecologica, an ecological blue flag award given annually to reward communities to improve environmental conditions and adapt to climate change.
During its first stage, CST applied only to the hotel and lodge sector. However, the Program now accepts other tourism-related companies, such as car rentals, local tour operators, transportation companies and theme parks that can opt for Elite Level or Basic Level, according to the new CST 2.0 regulations, depending on the different qualifications they get.
Participation in this program is voluntary, the Certification for Sustainable Tourism Program teaches best management practices, conducting certification assessments, offering training sessions and promoting the certification within the environmental markets.
CST motivates tourism companies to have a positive impact on the natural environment, society and economy leading to a demand for recycling, energy saving, proper waste disposal, conservation of the natural environment and a better system management.
Costa Rica Climate
Blessed with a tropical climate, Costa Rica’s landscape is constantly in a state of renewal, making this country a year-round destination with annual average temperature of 21C-30C (70F-82F) and with a year-round sea temperature that makes it welcoming for swimming and watersports.
A diverse combination of mountains, plains and plateaus and the influence of ocean currents and sea breezes gives Costa Rica a temperate climate with two beautiful coastlines on the Pacific and Caribbean which travellers could enjoy in the same day.
The Pacific region is characterized by well-defined dry and green seasons. The dry season lasts from December to March, with March the driest and hottest month of the year. The green season is from May to October. During the months of July and August, locally-called veranillo, or “little summer” winds start to increase, leading to the rainy season’s main months in September and October.
The Caribbean region doesn’t have distinctive dry and green seasons – but November to January and May to August are two time periods where visitors can expect constant rain showers but there are endless sunny days in October. The rainiest month is January, because of cold fronts from the Northern Hemisphere, with the majority of rainfall happening at night and in the early morning, which allows for exploration from mid-morning until the late afternoon. Unlike other countries, in Costa Rica, the green season still means attractions are open and many events happen during this season such as bird and whale migration and sea turtle nesting.
Costa Rica Highlights
The capital of the country, San José is the centre of culture and entertainment in Costa Rica. The National Theater offers inspiring performances, while the Gold Museum features Pre-Columbian and Costa Rican art. A visit to the National Museum will detail the history of this Central American country, while the Children’s Museum is a fun interactive learning adventure for all ages. The Central Market is a place to discover Costa Rican-grown food like fresh produce and coffee, while visitors can enjoy walking tours to see highlights like the San Jose Cathedral, Parque Central and the new Museo del Jade, an archaeological museum.
Numerous wellness features in Costa Rica have made it one of the five blue zones or longevity areas on the planet, where locals have low rates of chronic disease and live longer than anywhere else on earth. A 2004 study by the University of Costa Rica found mortality among Costa Ricans of 90 years of age is 10% lower in the Nicoya Peninsula, south of Guanacaste. The “pura vida” lifestyle of this region along with calcium-rich water, healthy eating and family living are the reasons why this area is known for its healthy and happy residents who are focused on a slow pace of life.
Outside the capital, there are several tours to learn more about Costa Rica’s history, handicrafts and locally-grown products. There is a lot to explore: indigenous tours in Quitirrisí and Puriscal, and indigenous experiences like the Boruca Indigenous Community Museum and the Terraba Indigenous Community Museum, El Guarco for its sculpture park and Santa Ana for ceramics, gastronomy adventures in Los Santos for coffee, Turrialba for cheese and sugar cane and Orotina for fresh fruit and local cuisine. Historic highlights include museums in Ujarras and Orosi and churches in Ciudad Colón, Moravia, Coronado and the Basilica of Our Lady of Angels in Cartago. Costa Rica also has world-renowned cultural wonders, including: the oxherd and oxcart , the Diquis spheres and the Guayabo National Archaeological Monument. Other nationally prized offerings and cultural traditions to be discovered by visitors include creole swing dance, Limón calypso, traditional Chorotega ceramics, the Boruca Little Devils Festival and many more.
There are few natural spectacles more impressive than the arrival of the majestic sea turtles and Costa Rica is home to some of the most important sea turtle nesting beaches in the world. Leatherback turtles can be seen from March to July on the Caribbean coast, while Green turtles nest from June to October on the north Caribbean coast and Olive Ridley turtles can be spotted July to November along the Pacific coast.
Costa Rica protects coral reefs and beds of seagrass in an oceanic trench more than 4,000 meters deep. This underwater mountain range shelters more than 6,700 marine species, 90 of which are unique on the planet.
Among the aquatic wonders is the thermal dome of Costa Rica, an oceanic phenomenon caused by the strong winds and ocean currents which creates an upwelling of plankton and an oasis frequented by large concentrations of fish and marine mammals including blue whales, humpback whales, dolphins and whale sharks. One of the country’s UNESCO World Heritage sites is Cocos Island National Park, a Pacific coast island which limits access to visitors and recommended for expert divers to see its diverse land and marine environment that is unlike any islands in this region of the Pacific Ocean.
Costa Rica Activities
Birdwatching Costa Rica has almost 900 species of birds – the density per square kilometer and the diversity of habitats in a relatively small territory, make possible more bird sightings than in any other county in the world in less travel time. Costa Rica’s National Parks, Protected Areas and Private Reserves provide ample stomping grounds to spot colourful avian varieties like the Blue-grey Tanager, Great kiskadee or Crimson-fronted Parakeet and Quetzal, but it is also possible to spot numerous birds in hotel and resort gardens in a wild environment.
Costa Rica is one of the favorite international destinations for surfing due to easy ocean access and variety of surf conditions throughout the year in Guanacaste, Puntarenas and Limon. Both Pacific and Caribbean coastlines offer a myriad of surfing spots, with plenty of options from the north Pacific’s Potrero Grande to the Caribbean’s Puerto Viejo and the world-renowned Salsa Brava.
Horseback Riding Since the days of the Spanish conquest, Costa Rican history has been indelibly linked to the life of the cowboy or ‘Sabanero’ as we ‘Ticos’ call them. Costa Ricans are proud of their horses and love to show them off at the impressive horse parades or ‘Topes’ which are found all over the country. From the strong and sturdy working Criollo, to the elegant Costa Rican Paso Fino, there is a horse for every riding preference. Whether you choose to ride through mountain trails near Carara National Park, on the slopes of Arenal Volcano or along the coastline (avoiding the beach area), the varied terrain, diversity of landscapes and wildlife habitats make Costa Rica a premier destination for the Wildlife and Nature enthusiast rider.
Hiking, Hanging bridges and Ziplines There are several ways to experience Costa Rica’s tree canopy. With different areas suited to both beginners and experienced trekkers, there’s a hiking experience for any age, to explore through towns, beaches, dense forests, or national parks all over the country. Hanging bridges conveniently link popular hiking trails, providing visitors with safe and easy access to memorable views and breath-taking vistas. Zip lines can be found throughout Costa Rica, but two highlights are through the cloud forest of Monteverde, an unforgettable experience with the opportunity to see more than 400 bird species while Drake Bay on the Osa Peninsula offer zip lines with views of the rivers among the lush rainforests.
Whitewater rafting, Tubing and Diving Navigating an inflatable raft with a guide and team provides an adrenaline kick to exploring the country’s fast-moving rivers like Reventazón, Sarapiquí, Pacuare and Corobicí Rivers. But there’s also tubing, which provides a slower way to be close to the water and experience nature. Professional diving tour companies offer services, equipment and accessories to discover life below the waves, while open water diving courses are also available for all skill levels in accordance with PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors and NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors). On the Pacific coast, Guanacaste’s Gulf of Papagayo, Caño Island, Murciélagos Island and Las Catalinas Islands are developing into memorable diving areas, while on the Caribbean coast, Cahuita and Puerto Vargas, have unforgettable coral reefs and Gandoca – Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge considered by many one of the best spots for snorkeling and diving on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica.
Stand Up Paddleboarding and Kayaking There are slower options to discover Costa Rica’s waterways. Practiced at many Pacific beaches, stand up paddle boarding at Samara and Carrillo also make it possible to catch a wave or two. Several kayaking services are offered in various locations to paddle in Manuel Antonio, Punta Uva, Puerto Viejo, Tambor Beach, Jacó, Caño Island, Tortuguero and Arenal Lake.
Windsports East-west trade winds blow strongest and steadiest from December through May, making Costa Rica an ideal place for windsurfing and kitesurfing on the Pacific coast and at Lago Arenal.
Climbing and Biking Master the country’s higher altitudes with numerous tours for climbing and rappelling Costa Rica’s mountain ranges, like Chirripó National Park with the second highest peak in Central America at 12,500 feet above sea level. There are an estimated 80 cycling paths on offer to explore the countryside, with the possibility of challenging terrains paired with fascinating archaeological sites. La Ruta de los Conquistadores and the Vuelta Ciclística a Costa Rica are two annual cycling competitions that draw elite athletes and passionate fans.
Fishing and Golf Costa Rica’s terrain is ideal for four wheeling in rainforest areas like La Fortuna, Arenal and Monteverde. There are five Grand Slam sportfishing events per year on the Pacific coast, two at Marina Pez Vela in Quepos and three at Marina Los Sueños at Playa Herradura. From the capital city of San Jose to ocean views of Guanacaste, there are several championship golf courses to enjoy in Costa Rica.
Yoga and Relaxation Wellness tourism includes a wide range of activities from yoga classes and retreats to nature experiences like Forest baths (breathing in the fresh air of the forest), Earthing (barefoot walks on the earth) and innovative spa treatments with locally-sourced volcanic mud, coffee, tropical fruits, and chocolate. Costa Rica is blessed with over 200 hot springs throughout the country and visitors have discovered areas like Arenal and Nosara for its commitment to wellness.
Culture Costa Rica has been declared as a multicultural, multilingual and multiethnic nation, with museums, private ecological reserves, farms and local markets encouraging visitors to discover the history, tradition and cuisine. Immigration in the 19th century resulted in several ethnicities from Europe, the Caribbean and Asia becoming part of the distinctive fabric of Costa Rica. There are annual festivals, like the carnivals held in Puntarenas and Limon, Festival of the Little Devils and the country’s Independence Day in September. Regional activities to include in an itinerary include seeing a tope (horse parade), masquerades, ox cart paintings in Sarchí, oxen parades, pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Angels in Cartago.
Costa Rica National Parks and Wildlife Reserves
Costa Rica’s National System of Conservation Areas include majestic volcanoes, Pacific and Caribbean beaches, tropical dry, wet, and rain forests, as well as jungle landscapes, all without the need for traveling long distances. There are 29 national parks in Costa Rica, each protecting numerous species of flora and fauna.
Manuel Antonio National Park is 1.950 hectares of land of lush tropical forest and home to approximately 352 species of birds, 109 species of mammals, varied marine fauna and 346 species of vegetables. Among the most outstanding species of fauna you can see the titi monkey (emblem species), the white-faced monkey, the howler monkey, the 2 and 3-toed sloth, the raccoon, coatis, birds such as the toucan and many other species. The squirrel monkey stands out, which is endemic to the national park with only 1,500 in the world. The park also includes 12 islands that provide refuge for various species of seabirds, an 18-hectare lagoon and mangroves, and excellent beaches such as Espadilla Sur, Manuel Antonio, Gemelas, and Puerto Escondido
The Arenal Volcano National Park has an area of 33 square kilometers, and has experienced constant volcanic activity since July 29, 1968 when it last erupted. Its landscape has two distinct areas: one side is covered with lush vegetation and a variety of wildlife where visitors can see a wide array of orchids, ferns and palms as well as the country’s most active volcano and the other, a rugged zone with lava tracts and sand. This park offers daytime and nighttime viewing opportunities of its perfect conical shape, unliked any other volcano in Costa Rica. Those who visit this protected area should not miss, in addition, the lava flows that fell in 1992, the impressive ceiba tree with more than 400 years old and the trails along an extensive and authentic rain forest, where you can appreciate the wildlife and resources that the Park protects.
With one of Central America’s most unique ecosystems, Corcovado National Park protects 41,788 hectares of shallow lagoons, marsh, mangrove swamps, rivers, wet forest and low-altitude cloud forest, as well as 46 kilometers of sandy beach. Within its extensive territory, visitors can observe some 6,000 insects, 500 trees, 367 birds, 140 mammals, 117 amphibians and reptiles, and 40 freshwater fish species. With numerous hiking trails and rustic camping sites, visitors must enter with an authorized guide, while less adventurous can also enjoy the park by boat. Bumping into a tapir on the beach, seeing a herd of peccary pass by seem like scenes taken from an adventure movie, but they could become part of your reality if you visit Corcovado National Park, where 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity is found. This park has been recognized by National Geographic as one of the most biologically intense places on earth given the density of wildlife and plant species per squared hectare.
Declared a national park on Sept. 24, 1970, Tortuguero National Park has had its boundaries extended three times and with its 76,937 hectares, 50,284 hectares is marine territory, and 26,653 are on land. In the case of the land area, 99% is used for the absolute protection of resources and 1% as a visitation site. The marine area is 100% dedicated to absolute conservation. Since this is an extensive network of rivers and streams, access is only possible on small boats. The Tortuguero National Park is internationally recognized for its protection of the largest green turtle nesting area in the Western Hemisphere. Small communities like Barra del Tortuguero and San Francisco retain their tradition Caribbean lifestyle. With complex and diverse ecosystems, the park is a paradise for research and ecotourism.
Rincón de la Vieja National Park has two 31,000 acre areas: Las Pilas and Santa Maria. There are nine cones, six of which are active volcanoes and Los Jilgueros lagoon. There are many hiking trails, like the Pailas Area, which leads four miles to the Von Seebach craters or La Cangreja Waterfalls, a three mile trail, or a mile and a high to the hot springs. There is a camping area, historic house and a mill, as well as the ability to see the Blanco River, fumaroles and mud pits.
At Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge, migratory birds such as storks, ibis and cormorant are on display; at Marino Ballena National Park, from December through April the area transforms to the winter home of migrating humpback whales, and visitors can also see whales from July until the end of October.
Costa Rica’s other national parks and wildlife refuges are Barbilla, Barra Honda, Braulio Carrillo, Cahuita, Carara, Chirripó, Cocos Island, Guanacaste, Diriá, Gandoca-Manzanillo, Irazú Volcano, Juan Castro Blanco, La Cangreja, Las Baulas National Marine Park, Los Quetzales, Miravalles Jorge Manuel Dengo, Palo Verde, Piedras Blancas, Poas Volcano, Santa Rosa, San Lucas Island, Tapanti, Tenorio Volcano, La Amistad International Park and Biosphere Reserve (the biggest one in the country) and Turrialba Volcano.
Costa Rica - Central Valley
As the doorway to adventure, the Central Valley is renowned for its dynamic culture both in gastronomy and the arts, but also provides easy access to volcanoes, rainforest, rivers and both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. At the heart of this region is the capital city of San José, with the National Theatre as one of the most popular tourist attractions. Visitors can experience San Jose’s lures of art galleries, shopping, fine dining and nightlife. March and April are the hottest months of the year in this area. With a peak travel time of December to April, the average temperature is more moderate than other areas from 19C (66F) to 26C (79F) but it can lower in other regions within the valley.
Outside the capital, lie Costa Rica’s famous coffee highlands, where much of the highly desirable “grano de oro” or golden coffee beans are produced. The Braulio Carrillo National Park is one of the largest protected areas in Costa Rica, featuring seven diverse habitats with mountain forests and river canyons. Irazú Volcano National Park includes the tallest volcano in the country, while Tapantí-Macizo de La Muerte National Park has 45 species of mammals, 260 bird species and 30 reptile species, as well as ancient oak and alder forests and horseback riding trails. The Barva Volcano National Park, which is the highest point in the Braulio Carrillo National Park, has one of the most beautiful cloud forests in Costa Rica and sits on the continental divide. On a clear day, one can see both the Caribbean and the Pacific from the lookouts above the crater. The Poás Volcano, just over an hour from San José and the Turrialba Volcano, two hours from San José, are both must-see national parks.
Costa Rica - South Caribbean
The South Caribbean is probably one of the most authentic and culturally diverse, biologically rich areas of Costa Rica. Here, you can be in close contact with the Afro-Caribbean culture, including its cuisine, where you can taste famous creole and Caribbean seafood and learn from their vision to enjoy life at a different pace.
Close to Limon city, the gateway to this region, about 5 km to the north you will see the first white sanded beach in our Caribbean, Playa Bonita Beach, much visited by locals. Also, just a few minutes boat ride away from Limon, is the Island of Uvita, where on his last trip Christopher Columbus named us Costa Rica, the “Rich Coast”.
This region has a tropical humid climate with about half of the precipitation compared to that of the North Caribbean and two noticeable distinct dryer periods of the year: Mid February through mid May and September through October. It is cooler in the mountainous areas like the Selva Bananito Nature Reserve, the Yorkin and Telire Indigenous Reserves (20 C to 29 C) due to special microclimates and uninterrupted forest coverage. It is important to always consider that the more trees and shade there is, the cooler it gets.
On the way to Cahuita National Park, about 20 minutes south and about 30 minutes inland from Limon, (last 3,5 km 4×4 access only), an incredible forest, which represents the most important water conservation area for the city of Limon and the South Caribbean, attracts many visitors that look for a unique and authentic experience in the upper part of the Bananito River: these forests are home to a high population of jaguars, pumas and ocelots!
Cahuita National Park and Puerto Vargas are prime snorkeling areas. Here you can see numerous varieties of coral, mollusks, sea fans, crustaceans, fish and sea turtles.
In Playa Cahuita, you can do horseback riding along the coastline (avoiding the beach area), mountain biking and hike along the trail made of recycled materials that connects Cahuita Point and the Puerto Vargas sector.
A bit to the south of Puerto Viejo, a famous breakpoint “Salsa Brava” attracts many surfers from around the globe. You can stroll down the beaches all the way to Manzanillo Town, and find many secluded beaches, including Cocles Beach, Playa Chiquita, Punta Uva and Manzanillo Beach.
Further South, at the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, visitors may have the opportunity to also see and experience the sea turtles during nesting season. The Gandoca Lagoon, within this protected area, offers an opportunity to observe caiman, crocodiles, and even dolphins and occasionally manatees which live there.
La Amistad Biosphere Reserve, shared by Costa Rica & Panama is the first binational world heritage site established by UNESCO in 1983 is also located in this region.
Additional activities include exploring Limon City, visiting a sloth or jaguar sanctuary, taking a chocolate tour and learning about indigenous cultures at the Bri Bri, Kekoldi, Yorkin and Telire Indigenous Reserves.
Costa Rica - North Caribbean
Situated in the country’s east and northeast, this region includes the Caribbean coast from Barra del Colorado to Limón City. The annual precipitation decreases from north to south with two rainy seasons: the first, between September and October and the second from February to March. The average temperature year-round is from 25C (77F) to 34C (93F), and the Caribbean summer is at its height in July.
The Green sea turtle, green macaw, and black river turtle are commonly-seen inhabitants of the area as well as caimans, snakebirds, sloths and monkeys are well-known residents of this wet tropical forest due to its lush vegetation.
After a steady stream of immigration in the 19th century there is a strong Afro-Caribbean community in Tortuguero, with distinctive cuisine, culture and music. Tortuguero National Park is a network of canals, jungle and rainforest and is only accessible by boat or air.
Costa Rica - Northern Plains
Located in the north of Costa Rica, bordering Nicaragua in the north and the Central Volcanic Range in the south, this area is known by tropical rainforest regions in the lowlands with a transition to a dry forest, close to the borders with Guanacaste in the region of Upala. Influenced by the Caribbean weather, its green season usually begins in June-July and ends in January, making it the third wettest region of the country, with over 3,200mm of rain per year. Average temperatures range from 19C (66F) to 27C (81F).
The highlight of this area and one of the most visited sites in Costa Rica is the Arenal Volcano. With its nearly perfectly conical shape, this volcano is distinctive from the rest of the country’s volcanoes. Explore the nearby Arenal Lake by stand up paddleboard or kayak and soak away any stresses at one of the many hot springs at La Fortuna.
Birdwatchers should consider the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge to see the endless numbers of migratory birds, while there’s also the Bajos del Toro Amarillo Waterfalls, the Parque Nacional Tenorio for the Río Celeste Waterfall, Lago Cote, the country’s largest freshwater lake and a tour of the Maleku Indigenous Reserve to learn about their culture and history.
Sarapiquí is one of the destinations to visit, the cradle of ecotourism and adventure tourism. The Sarapiquí River is the perfect setting to practice many adventure activities, such as rafting, kayaking, paddle boarding and fly fishing. This beautiful river has been an important navigation route to communicate Sarapiquí to the San Juan River and the entire northern Caribbean area such as Barra del Colorado and Tortuguero National Park and had an enormous historical importance during the Colonial time.
Sarapiquí has more than 50% forest coverage, including Braulio Carrillo National Park and other private properties that are dedicated to conservation. This area is well known for bird and wildlife observation, where you can see a great variety of herons, red and green macaws, osprey, monkeys, crocodiles, turtles, sloths, and more.
Costa Rica - Puntarenas and the Gulf Islands
The Gulf of Nicoya and Islands, include 264 miles of coastline, from Punta Conejo in the south to Puerto Caldera to the mouth of the Bongo River. Puntarenas includes many islands, inlets, and beaches, and a port with a variety of hotels, cabins, and all-inclusive lodging facilities. Average temperature is 23 ° C (73 ° F) to 34 ° C (93 ° F).
The mangroves offer tourists a great variety of flora and fauna, diversity of exotic birds such as the roseate spoonbill and the only place where one can observe them in our country, different species of hawks, mangrove trees to do shore fishing and enjoy vivid sunsets in front of the Gulf.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve is a must-see attraction of the region. At 5,000 feet above sea level, this protected area offers many ziplining tours, including one of the longest ziplines in the country at a little under half a mile. There’s also hanging suspension bridges, extending through canyons to connect to eight kilometres of hiking trails as well as the ability to see an endless array of flora and fauna within the 10,500 hectares of protected rainforest.
Tortuga Island is charming due to its nature, an aquamarine beach with white sand and exotic scenery due to the shade offered by its palm trees. This island is one hour from Puntarenas on its maritime route, you can see dolphins, turtles, and whales in its season, you can dive or walk along trails.
The recently inaugurated Isla San Lucas National Park reopened on August 22, 2020, an island rich for its history and nature Wildlife Refuge, it ceased to be the Costa Rican penitentiary in 1991, while it was the place to take the country’s most dangerous inmates, on this tour the tourist receives an enriching story of how the inmates were received and cared for while serving their sentences.
Other Gulf treasures are Isla Cedros, Isla Negritos, Pan de Azúcar, Isla Chira, Isla Venado and Isla Caballo, they contain an innate nature difficult to find in other islands, very rich in mangroves, flora and fauna, with their own history where they were inhabited by our Chorotega indigenous tribe, you can experience in a trip the culture of the islanders, their coastal gastronomy and their way of living, mostly based on artisanal fishing.
Tambor, Santa Teresa, and Montezuma are beautiful beach areas, and additional places to experience include hiking to the Montezuma Waterfalls, surfing the mouth of the Barranca River and birdwatching the Absolute Nature Reserve of Cabo Blanco.
Costa Rica - Guanacaste and the Nicoya Peninsula
Located in the northwest of the country, Guanacaste has more than 400 miles of coastline and includes the Pacific Coast from the border of Nicaragua in the north to the Bongo River estuary in the Nicoya Peninsula in the south. June is the peak month of rainy season and the average temperature is from 31C (87F) to 21C (70F). The region includes tropical forests, dry forests and wetlands and is made up of the Cordillera Volcánica de Guanacaste and Cordillera de Tilarán mountain ranges, the peninsulas of Nicoya and Santa Elena and the Tempisque River.
The Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport in Liberia is the main entry for travellers to access Papagayo, El Coco, Flamingo, Conchal, and Tamarindo, with Nicoya and Samara in the southern region of Guanacaste, among other beaches and towns.
There is a wide array of volcanic sand beaches in Guanacaste including Tamarindo, Samara, Nosara (a great place to surf, practice yoga and eat healthy) and Guiones. There are a significant number of protected areas with mountain and coastal ecosystems as well as tropical dry forests and lowland mountain forests, making this area very popular for visitors to see places such as Rincón de la Vieja National Park, Llanos del Cortés Waterfalls, Hornillas and Miravalles Volcano National Park. The El Farallón Archaeological Monument is a rare opportunity to see petroglyphs dated to 800 CE (Common Era).
The Ostional Wildlife Refuge is a 200 meter beach strip located in this region as well. This refuge also extends three miles out to sea and includes the tiny village of Ostional. The place protects myriads of turtles that nest there every year, but it also looks after and safeguards the marine wildlife and birds in the area.
The Gulf of Nicoya is a popular spot for diving and snorkeling – it is home to more shipwrecks here than any other place in Central America, with three shipwrecks located off the shores of Tortuga Island, where visitors can spot manta ray, dolphin, octopus and sharks from below the waves or on glass-bottom boat tour. Visitors can stand at the bridge over the Tarcoles River, to see the most densely-populated river for crocodiles in the country, with some as large as 10 feet.
Costa Rica - The Central Pacific
The central region of the Pacific coast extends from Playa Herradura to Dominical, following the ridge formed by the lower coastal mountains, with several wildlife protection areas. It’s about a 20 minute domestic flight from San Jose to this region or approximately three hours driving. Precipitation is higher in the valleys and in the south of the region, with average temperature range from 31°C (89°F) to 22C (73°F) and a rainy season from May to August.
The focus of many visitors is Manuel Antonio National Park, which includes 12 islands providing refuge for sea birds, and tropical rainforests where it’s easy to see capuchin monkeys and three toed sloths. Extensive hiking trails connect mountain areas to the coast, with many white sand beaches. North of Manuel Antonio National Park is Carara National Park which means “lizard river,” in the indigenous Huetar language. It’s the refuge of the endangered Scarlet macaw. Manuel Antonio can be perfectly combined with the Arenal region and South Pacific in one tour.
Additional visitor hot spots include several beaches: Jacó, a great surf spot and Costa Rica’s first accessible beach with ramps; Playa Hermosa, best suited to experienced surfers; Playa Baru, for its beach and wildlife refuge; Playa Herradura, a fun beach town and home to the country’s largest marina for sportfishing; and Playa Esterillos, known for luxurious rental properties.
Costa Rica - The South Pacific region
This southeast region from the Panama border region extends to Punta Burica, and is a peninsula with tropical rainforest and high biodiversity. With an average temperature range of 27C (82°F) to 20C (69F) year-round, the rainy season occurs here from May to August.
Marino Ballena National Park is found here, part of the Osa Conservation Area, named after the humpback whales who migrate here every winter from August-September to April to mate and give birth. Other water-related exploring includes the Térraba-Sierpe National Wetlands to kayak its mangroves, visiting the Nauyaca Waterfalls, surfing Dominical and Dominicalito beaches and snorkeling at Isla de Caño, where visitors should also see Diquis spheres, ancient stone sculptures from the Diquis culture, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Another popular park of the region is the Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve, for its pristine beach and eco-wilderness lodges, while many visitors make tracks to the Corcovado National Park, named by National Geographic Magazine as one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet. Tapir, jaguar, squirrel monkey and scarlet macaw thrive here, and there’s a range of habitats to discover from Pacific beaches to mangrove swamps.
Golfo Dulce is one of the four tropical fjords of the world (a long, narrow, deep inlet of the sea into the land) making this place ideal for whales to have their calves, because of the depth of the gulf.
Pavones is a beach located in this region, very famous for being the second longest left wave in the world, making it very popular among surfers while Punta Banco is a great destination for yoga practice.
Costa Rica - The Essentials
A valid passport is mandatory to enter Costa Rica and all visitors must have a return ticket in order to enter the country. The passport validity is at least six months from the date of entry to the destination. Canadians do not require a visa to enter. Many Costa Ricans speak English quite well (and a few speak French), but remember the native language is Spanish. When planning a trip, we suggest brushing up on your Español.
The colón is the currency of Costa Rica;
US dollars and major credit cards are widely accepted
sales tax is 13%.
Electrical outlets are 110V and 911 is the number for emergency assistance.
Vaccines are recommended for entry to Costa Rica including Hepatitis A and B, rabies and tetanus. If you are a Canadian having travelled in South America before arriving in Costa Rica, a yellow fever vaccine certificate is mandatory. In addition, reliable and quality health facilities are found throughout Costa Rica, even in rural areas.
Internet is available in most parts of Costa Rica, and there are three companies (Kolbi, Claro, Movistar) offering sim cards for mobile phones.
It is very important that visitors not feed the wild animals, always keep a reasonable distance and avoid selfies with wildlife. This is imperative to help preserve the natural habitat for the animals and is taken very seriously by the Costa Rican people.
Costa Rica - COVID19
The Costa Rican health authorities have taken information regarding the advance of the COVID19 pandemic worldwide and have implemented necessary protocols to control the spread of the virus within the country.
Costa Rica’s air border reopened to international tourism on August 1, 2020.
The list of regions or countries authorized to enter Costa Rica are periodically reviewed. Following is the most up-to-date list:
EUROPEAN UNION, SCHENGEN ZONE AND THE UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN: for flights arriving from the European Union, Schengen Zone and the United Kingdom, for citizens and residents of the European Union, Schengen Zone and the United Kingdom.
CANADA: for flights arriving from Canada, for citizens and residents of Canada and for citizens and residents of the European Union, Schengen Zone and United Kingdom in transit.
SOUTH AMERICA: for flights arriving from Uruguay, for citizens and residents of Uruguay.
ASIA: for flights arriving from Japan, Korea, Thailand, Singapore and People’s Republic of China, for citizens and residents of Japan, Korea, Thailand, Singapore and People’s Republic of China.
OCEANIA: for flights arriving from Australia and New Zealand, for citizens and residents of Australia and New Zealand.
As of Sept. 1, 2020: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (Residents of nine states): Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.
As of Sept. 15, 2020: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (Residents of ten states): Arizona, Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington State, Wyoming and Pennsylvania.
As of Oct. 1, 2020: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: California
Completed epidemiological digital form called PASE DE SALUD (Health Pass) available at https://salud.go.cr.
Travel medical insurance – bought with an International or Costa Rican supplier.
Upon landing in Costa Rican territory, travelers must wear face protection and comply with the strict protocols of the air terminal with regard to physical distancing, disinfection of carpets, and taking temperature readings, and must follow any other sanitary instructions.
Tourists from authorized states may enter the country even if their route includes a stop at a destination that is not authorized, as long as they do not leave the transit airport.
The Costa Rica Tourism Board in partnership with the private sector has designed 16 protocols for hotels, restaurants, tourist transportation, aquatic activities, tourist guides and wellness tourism to prevent the spread of COVID19.
To find the most up to date information on Covid-19 click here.
Costa Rica Travel Tips
To ensure travellers get the most out of their trip to Costa Rica, these suggestions for travelling around will ensure safety, and most of all, fun. When planning an itinerary, consider these tips:
Book tours offered by authorized travel agencies
Always check local weather conditions and forecasts before a tour
Be informed of safety instructions and regulations before beginning an activity
Confirm a tour company has an operating permit of the Ministry of Health, insurance policies and certified tour guides.
Visit a Costa Rica Tourist Information Centre for information about accommodations, tours, national parks and restaurants
Even though crime rate in Costa Rica is lower than other destinations in Latin America, never leave belongings unattended, lock the car doors and use authorized parking lots.
Food & Water
Traditionally, lunch is the main meal of the day so follow the locals and save your money for more adventures. Head to a soda (a small, locally owned cafe) or the local market for the freshest and most authentic cuisine.
It is easy to find restaurants, sodas, cafes, bistros, and bakeries. The cuisine is quite extensive and includes both national and international options. Tap water is drinkable by visitors in Costa Rica throughout the country.
A few examples of Costa Rican cuisine include -gallo pinto, a typical mix of rice and beans usually eaten for breakfast, hand-made tortillas, ceviche (made of fresh fish and lime juice), Caribbean rice and beans (rice and beans with spices and coconut milk), and plantain tart. Locally-grown food products include fresh fruit such as papaya, mango, pineapple and watermelon.
Costa Rican coffee is world renowned! It is an important part of the agricultural industry, exports and of course tourism, where visitors can sip on a fresh coffee while overlooking the beach or rainforest, plus visit many of the coffee plantation dotted throughout the country. Visitors can enjoy the experience from bean to cup!
In depth look into Costa Rica with one of our preferred travel partners, Travel Excellence.
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