Costa Rica travel guide, including map of Costa Rica, top Costa Rican travel experiences, tips for travel in Costa Rica, plus where to see wildlife and volcano
Costa Rica is so rich in wildlife that you’d think it had a monopoly on nature. Home to howling monkeys, toucans, butterflies, hummingbirds, colourful frogs and leatherback turtles, more than 25% of Costa Rica is protected in national parks and reserves.
In the far north-west of Costa Rica the dry forests of Guanacaste are a Unesco Natural World Heritage site. Further south, the beaches of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula are hidden in secluded coves, while on the central Pacific coast, the laid-back hangout of Jacó is a magnet for sun-worshippers.
In the mountain ranges dividing the Caribbean from the Pacific, the mighty Arenal volcano spews and splutters lava into the Costa Rican night sky.
Twitchers will love the coastal mangroves around Tortuguero, a huge national park comprising coast and jungle-fringed waterways teaming with bird and insect life. And for some of the best rainforest trekking in Latin America, head to Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica’s most remote and possibly most rewarding wilderness.
In restaurants, asking if the service charge and sales tax are included before you order. Likewise, check at hotels that tax is included in the price.
When travelling to remote areas, carry plenty of colones in small denominations. Your credit card won’t pass much muster out in the sticks.
Thomas Rees on the thing he wished he'd known before he arrived:
"Pack a pair of ear-plugs. The only downside to Costa Rica's mind-blowing biodiversity is the noise of the jungle at night. The sound of millions of chirping insects and amphibians can make getting to sleep a little difficult!"
Daisy Cropper on what she would have wanted to know before her trip:
"I wish I'd known a bit more Spanish. I was very young and ignorant when I visited and thought a lot more people would speak English. There's nothing like arriving in a country when you don't understand anything going on around you! Learn the basics – especially if you're hoping to get off-the-beaten-track."
"There are also some very interesting taxes in Costa Rica. Keep an eye on them as it's easy to get ripped off. There's a departure tax, which must be paid in cash on departing the airport. We didn't have any cash and there wasn't a cash machine which took our cards in the airport. Cue mass departure hysteria."
Costa Rica’s two coasts have different weather patterns: the Pacific coast is dry from December to April, while the Caribbean side is drier between August and October.
Juan Santamaria (SJO) is 17km from San José
Local buses are one of the best ways of getting around Costa Rica; they are basic but frequent and cheap. ‘Gringo’ minibuses are more expensive but considerably more comfortable and they’ll pick you up from your hotel.
Renting a car can be a hair-raising experience: accidents and car crime are real possibilities. Costa Rica’s terrain makes for easy cycling and there’s little traffic outside the Vale Central.
Costa Rica has a wide range of accommodation, from basic rooms in family homes to luxurious lodges. Prices are higher than in other Central American countries and you’ll need to reserve well ahead for high season.
Look for the Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CTS), a government accreditation system (based on a series of leaves like the hotel star system) that rewards eco-friendly operators and lodges.
Costa Rican food is simple fare and usually involves rice with meat, beans or fish. Try breakfast staple gallo pinto (painted rooster – a mixture of beans and rice with eggs or cheese), pargo (red snapper) or corvine (sea bass).
Fruit is really good in Costa Rica, where papayas, pineapples and bananas grow in abundance. Eating out can be expensive, so go for the plato del día (dish of the day) at lunchtime if you’re on a budget. Vegetarians are quite well catered for.
Visit your GP/travel clinic for advice on necessary vaccinations. Do not travel without adequate health insurance.
Street crime is a major problem in San José, particularly around the Coca-Cola bus terminal, so take extra care and get a licensed cab if you’re barhopping.
In budget accommodation, some ‘suicide showers’ have a button on the nozzle that turns on the element – do not touch when wet! Finally, riptides can be a problem on popular tourist beaches.
National parks house and protect many of the world’s natural wonders, from the peaks of Torres del Paine to the dragons of Komodo. We've put together 14 of the best... More
Picking one single country to visit can be a challenge – so why not cross a few borders while you’re away? These trips pack in a glut of different cultures, food and experiences... More
Cycling is a brilliant way to travel. Moving at a slower pace, you can engage more deeply with your destination. Whether you want a challenge or to mosey along the flat, here are our top cycling trips... More
We reveal the best destinations to travel to in May, for ideal weather, natural wonders, cultural highlights, primetime wildlife watching experiences and longer-term trips... More
Combining gourmet food, attentive guides, unique boutique stays and some of the most breathtaking scenery on the planet - these privately tailored tours are once in a lifetime luxury experiences... More
From meditation to mindfulness, spiritualism to spa treatments – these tour operator trips combine wellness with intrepid travel experiences... More
The destinations you love, the tour operators you trust, and the guidebooks you won’t leave home without: meet the Travel Awards winners, crowned by the best-journeyed bunch of all – Wanderlust readers... More
We sent last year's Photo of the Year winners to Costa Rica to capture this wild and wonderful country. These stunning snaps by Viv Leese and Alexander Metcalfe prove they were very worthy winners... More
Not all wildlife encounters need to get your pulse racing. Sometimes a warm and fuzzy experience can be just as unforgettable… More
From tiger-watching in India and wildlife adventures in South Africa, to meeting tribes in Papua New Guinea – these are the top destinations you searched for on Wanderlust's Tripfinder in 2018 More
Bounded on three sides by water, peninsulas offer all the benefits of an island, but with more accessibility. Expect remote beaches, abundant wildlife and culture just a little different from the mainland More
Get your caffeine kick in Colombia, trek full-circuit in Chile and wind down with vino in Argentina – explore Central and South America anew with these crowd-free and fun-guaranteed activities... More
Thinking of entering this year’s Wanderlust Photo of the Year competition? Get inspiration from last year’s winners and submit your best travel snaps for the chance to win a trip to Hong Kong and Macao... More
Sloths are slow-moving furry critters known for their cuteness. Here's a few things you didn't know about them, including their unique qualities, dating habits and yoga skills... More
From trekking in Nepal and safaris in Africa, to experiencing Japanese culture and chasing the northern lights in Sweden, these amazing family holidays are bound to give your kids a love of travel More
Seeing a creature in its natural habitat is one of the greatest moments in travel. Here's your guide to finding, tracking, and encountering some of the most magnificent species on Earth... More
From a beach in Western Australia made from shells 10 metres deep to tropical shell-strewn beaches in Cambodia and Costa Rica, beachcombers are sure to find something precious on these bountiful shorelines More
These incredible photos offer a rare up-close glimpse of some of the world's most incredible animals – from sleepy sloths and camouflaged rhinos, to quick-footed penguins and more... More
These pockets of arboreal wonder are guaranteed to take your breath away – and put you back in touch with the natural world More
Wanderlust subscribers now receive a free £50 voucher valid on trips from a great selection of top tour operators
And the best bit is, this isn't a one-off offer, you get one every time you renew as well!
The £50 discount can be redeemed against one trip booking with one of our tour operator partners, by the expiry date printed on the voucher. The £50 can even be redeemed on top of any discounts our partners are already offering, ensuring Wanderlust subscribers get the best deal possible.
Simply quote your unique voucher code when booking to claim the discount. This offer is only available to Wanderlust subscribers.
UK subscribers automatically receive the voucher each year. Overseas subscribers receive it upon request.
From: £2160.00More …
From: £4610.00More …
From: £2360.00More …
Sign up today for free and be the first to get notified of new articles, new competitions, new events and more!