It was only natural that we had to travel to Costa Rica, the first country to run 100% on renewable energy and home to 5% of the world’s species. Following our blog, you know we’re passionate about wildlife and nature. As we grow older and become more educated, we value environmental sustainability and conservation more and more.
Our trip through Costa Rica came with some highs and lows. We loved it so much but also got frustrated with several things. After almost a month in the country, we covered some serious ground by visiting several different biomes, beaches, towns, and regions.
We have plenty of information to share and posts planned, so be prepared to plan a trip to Costa Rica. It’s easily accessible from the United States and seriously beautiful. Here’s what it’s like to travel in Costa Rica.
What’s it Like to Travel to Costa Rica?
Costa Rica Pioneered Ecotourism
In the ’80s, the first ecotourism boom began in Costa Rica. Travelers began to learn of the country’s wealth of natural flora and fauna and acted fast to preserve it. As tourism dollars continued to come in, the Costa Ricans quickly fell in step and preserved their country’s beauty.
It’s now trickled down to almost every level. We even found small soda shops (local restaurants) using biodegradable straws and ditching styrofoam takeaway. What’s amazing is over twenty-seven percent of the country is protected as a national park, wildlife refuge, or reserve.
To make matters better, the Costa Rican government has taken active measures to protect the country’s biodiversity. For instance, they impose a five percent tax on gasoline that is allocated to landowners for tree plantations and not clear-cutting land for use as farming.
This is what drew us to Costa Rica. We wanted to see incredible forests, waterfalls, and wildlife and reinvigorate ourselves with yoga and activities. With that in mind, we tried to stick to smaller properties, lodges, and Airbnbs – no major resorts. The country has hundreds of eco-lodges, dozens of national parks, a plethora of private reserves, and a wide range of activities to enjoy the natural sights.
Oh, I forgot to add Costa Rica generates 99% of its power on renewables and went for 300 days in a row solely on renewables in 2017! That’s the world record until they set the next one.
There is Spectacular Wildlife in Costa Rica
We didn’t just come to Costa Rica for its amazing beaches but for the abundant wildlife. There are a lot of amazing animals and birds to be found here, most notably sloths, monkeys, coati, ocelots, toucans, macaws, and the quetzal. They even have jaguars, but good luck finding one of the most elusive animals in the world!
During our time in the country, we saw countless monkeys, toucans, macaws, birds, anteaters, and frogs. The highlights for us would have to be the scarlet macaw, fiery acari, coati, green and black poison dart frog, and squirrel monkeys.
If you have better luck than us, you may even spot the famous Resplendent Quetzal in the cloud forests. If you’re looking to find the best place for wildlife in Costa Rica, you have to check out the Osa Peninsula. It’s been named the most biodiverse region on earth.
The Best Places to Go in Costa Rica
We traveled all over Costa Rica, and these are some of our favorite places during our time there. We left off a few places that you might expect, such as Manuel Antonio and Guanacaste. We did visit but found them overdeveloped and becoming ugly from mass tourism. We love travelers, but perhaps it’s best we all spread out a bit.
Costa Rica is home to a unique biome called the cloud forest. It is a cool rainforest with unique flora and fauna, and visiting is one of the best things to do in Costa Rica. The most popular area to experience a cloud forest is Monteverde, but it’s also one of the most popular places to travel to in Costa Rica.
If you can afford it, we opted for a more secluded and intimate experience at El Silencio Eco Lodge, which had its own private section of the cloud forests for guests. It’s also a haven for waterfalls. We went to five while here – including the mighty catarata del toro.
Tenorio National Park
This park is a stunning example of the Costa Rican jungle and is home to one of the most beautiful rivers in the world. The Rio Celeste is unique in its color as it is a deep turquoise blue. It looks unreal and is caused by the convergence of two rivers.
One river is acidic, and the other carries a volcanic mineral so that when they meet, the mineral enlarges, reflecting the light, the effect is called Mie Scattering.
Arenal or La Fortuna
Close your eyes and picture a volcano in your head…what you likely envisioned is Arenal Volcano. The volcano is a perfectly formed cone volcano surrounded by a biodiverse national park home to toucans, sloths, and even pumas.
There are plenty of adventure activities in the area, such as horseback riding, ATV tours, and zip-lining. After the end of the action-packed day, you can head to any number of the hot springs in the area (located within resorts that charge an admission). If you want to find out where we took this photo, check it out here.
Guanacaste is the most popular destination for tourists to Costa Rica, but it’s also the aridest region in the country. The primary reason for this is the large amount of sunshine with good surf and beaches.
Santa Teresa is located in Guanacaste but in the far southwest of the peninsula, where rain is abundant. Here you’ll find a buffer of rainforest along the coast where the ocean dumps large amounts of rain.
It’s hip, eclectic, and full of yoga studios and eco-lodges. Everything here still operates off one dirt road and isn’t completely easy to get to. This means that Santa Teresa is the place to head if you want something more off the beaten path.
Jaco’s town and main beach are ugly and overdeveloped compared to the rest of Costa Rica. However, Jaco does have some massive upsides. It’s close to San Jose, affordable, well developed with good roads, restaurants, bars, and shops, and provides access to some beautiful beaches.
Due to this, we left Jaco wishing we had spent more of our time in Costa Rica here. If you’re a digital nomad like us, Jaco would be a good call.
Mountains, beaches, and rainforests surround this small town on the Central Pacific Coast. It’s twenty minutes down the road from the more famous Uvitas or the “Whales Tail.”
It’s a gorgeous little piece of Costa Rica, and we’re happy we made a stop along the coastline. The beaches here are quiet and empty.
Anyone in search of nature and seclusion should head to the Osa Peninsula. It’s considered the most biodiverse region, with nearly 2.5% of the planet’s species packed into a tiny area.
As big conservationists and wildlife enthusiasts, we knew we had to make it to the Osa Peninsula. We were by no means disappointed. We found a tree full of 13 scarlet macaws within our first hour. On the Osa Peninsula, we would go on to find anteaters, armadillos, fer-de-lance snakes, and tapirs. This is also where Corcovado National Park is, a true gem of Costa Rica.
Where We Stayed in Costa Rica
There is a wide range of price points for hotels, lodges, Airbnb, and hostels throughout Costa Rica. Overall, we found the accommodation to be the best value in Costa Rica. We stayed in just about every price point level other than hostels.
Price points vary a lot by location. For example, a nice hotel in Guanacaste may cost double what it does on the central Pacific Coast. Here are a few of the notable places we stayed. You can also read more in-depth about the best places to stay in Costa Rica.
This eco-lodge features a private cloud forest reserve with several hiking trails and activities. The rooms are a series of villas nestled along a hillside, each featuring a private deck, morning coffee delivery, and a hot tub. Rates start at $500 a night. If you want to learn more, we wrote a post about our time at El Silencio Eco Lodge.
Three Sixty Boutique Hotel
For the best views in all of Costa Rica, or perhaps the best in the world, you must stop by Hotel Three Sixty. Set on top of a hill in the middle of the rainforest, the ultra-modern hotel features exposed beams, a massive pool with 360-degree views of the ocean and jungle, and luxurious rooms with fine linen and high def Bluetooth speakers. Rates start at $350 a night. (Website)
One of the pioneers of ecotourism in Costa Rica and likely one of the most famous lodges in the country. It’s located in the Osa Peninsula, considered one of the most biodiverse locations in the world.
Rooms here have outdoor showers, private decks, and screen walls allowing for the sounds of nature to enter the room. Food and activities are all-inclusive. Rates start at $800 a night. (Website)
This eco-community is set in the middle of the Costa Rican jungle along the Pacific Coast. It’s a stunning track of secondary and primary forests with a network of hiking trails to explore on your own.
Rooms here come in the form of treehouses spread throughout the forest, some an hour-plus hike. The whole community is off the grid and runs on solar power. With a down-to-earth vibe, it attracts a clientele searching for a digital detox and good conversation. Rooms start at $100 a night. (Website)
A collection of casitas spread among a hamlet of primary rainforest. The bed and breakfast is family-run and very active in the rural community. We loved the rooms, murals, and the location of Casitas Tenorio.
The beautiful little property is home to a few sloths and many birds, which the owner Donald was kind enough to show us on a short tour. Rates start at $120 a night. (Website)
Latitude 10 Resort
This little beach lodge in Santa Teresa may have the most beautiful spot on the entire beach. It’s a collection of open-air casitas scattered throughout the lush seaside forest.
We loved the morning yoga class on the beach and breakfast overlooking the ocean. Rates here start at $225 a night. (Website)
Villa Beuna Onda
An all-inclusive adult-only villa that sits high above Playa Hermosa in Guanacaste. The pool and swim-up pool bar provide stunning sunsets over the coastline. It’s all-inclusive, with attentive staff helping those looking to unwind on the Costa Rican coast. Rates start at $225 per person a night. (Website)
How to Get Around Costa Rica
There is not much in the form of public transport in Costa Rica. However, the bus system is extensive enough to get between most major destinations, towns, and cities. It can save a lot as car rentals can be expensive, though it will take some serious patience. Bus routes often do not link destinations, resulting in multiple transfers and wasted time in uncomfortable spaces. That’s why we opted for a car rental to get from destination to destination.
You should know some things about renting a car for travel in Costa Rica. Remember the destinations you plan to visit in Costa Rica, as many roads are notoriously bad. Due to the poor roads, we rented a small 4×4 and would advise the same. While many of the main roads may be fine with a small car, it’s once you turn off that the need for a 4×4 is necessary.
Another important thing to note is that you must have third-party liability insurance in Costa Rica. This is not covered with your credit card or home insurance provider but check just in case you feel it may be covered. Even our primary insurance covered by our Chase Sapphire Reserve (one of the top travel credit cards on the market) does not work in Costa Rica as a third-party liability plan.
Due to the insurance, the online price is much more expensive than you think. We suggest adding the insurance to your booking to ensure you aren’t met with a surprise cost addition when you land in Costa Rica. For 25 days, we got a small 4×4 for $436 from Alamo and had a great experience.
We Found the Food to Be Mediocre
This was the most mixed bag for us regarding travel to Costa Rica. The country produces many products with plenty of sunshine and rich soil; however, much of its valuable tropical fruits are for export.
This resulted in Costa Rica importing much of its produce; to curtail, the government implemented tariffs on imported produce. To top it off, all restaurants have a mandatory 13% tax and 10% tip on the bill, so another 23% from the prices you already see.
High food prices are reflected in grocery stores, cafes, roadside stands, and restaurants. For the most part, we found the food to be a really poor value. Even a small local soda shop meal costs us $25-$30. While on the high end, the quality of a $100 meal for two still left a lot to be desired. This is Central America, after all!
The local staple is gallo pinta, a mixture of rice, beans, and spices. It’s a decent staple and can often be found in the national dish of casado. Casado is the typical lunch with meat, salad, cheese, gallo pinta, tomato, salsa, and plantains. You need to try it with a “batido,” which is a fruit smoothie made with ice “aqua” or milk “leche.”
The Value When Traveling in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is located in Central America, and we assumed it would be a cheap destination, but this assumption could not be further from the truth. It left us with mixed feelings about Costa Rica as the country is stunning, the people friendly, the wildlife amazing, and the activities are great.
However, the cost of accommodation, food, and those activities are high, and sometimes the price tag doesn’t match the experience. There aren’t many free things in Costa Rica. Even going for a hike or visiting a waterfall will run you $10-$15 a person for the experience. The average meal with fish at a soda shop with drinks cost us around $30, and it was even more expensive at spots geared for tourists.
When is the Best Season to Travel to Costa Rica?
Dry Season (Late November to Late April)
Contradictory of high season in North America, Costa Rica celebrates its best weather during the North American winter. The high season in Costa Rica is the dry season. You’ll get little rainfall from late November to April to spoil your holiday.
This is good and bad. No one likes rain on their holiday, but it also means that everything won’t be as lush as in the wet season. During this time you’ll find higher prices, and accommodation options booking up fast. Advanced bookings are recommended.
Rainy Season (May to November)
Often referred to as the green season, this is when the rain falls in Costa Rica. May is the beginning of the rainy season, with peak rainfall happening in September and dying back to mid-November. The rainy season means lower prices and fewer tourists.
However, you should travel with a rain jacket as chances are high you’ll get rained on. The plus side is everything is green and gorgeous. We traveled to Costa Rica in the middle of May, and it rained at least once a day, but we still saw plenty of sunshine and had a fantastic time! Rain in the jungles of Costa Rica is so picturesque! See the month-by-month breakdown here!
Quick Costa Rica Travel Tips
- Currency: Costa Rica Colón
- Visa: Many nationalities can enter Costa Rica for 90 days visa-free
- What to Pack: Good hiking shoes, a bathing suit, rain jacket, and rain boots. See our full Costa Rica packing list here.
- Stay Connected: We recommend Sim Cards from Kolbi, Movistar, or Claro. Sim cards can be purchased in town centers.
What to Pack for Costa Rica
Shop For Travel Insurance
We don’t travel without travel insurance, and neither should you. You never know what can happen in a foreign country, and it’s best to be prepared. HeyMondo offers excellent short and long-term travel insurance policies.
Book a Tour
Sometimes it’s nice to let someone else do the travel planning.
Travel Water Bottle
Plastic pollution is a problem, so it’s best not to contribute to it by buying plastic water bottles everywhere – plus, the water from the taps here is perfectly safe to drink. We’ve shifted to using an insulated aluminum water bottle as it handles the hot sun well.
However, we also love filtered water bottles in areas uncertain of the water supply. Read more about our favorite water bottles for travel in our post.
You may not have the internet to research in all of Costa Rica. For wireless nights we typically turn to Lonely Planet.
These were great to have! Costa Rica has many hiking trails and waterfalls, so we appreciated a pair of hiking sandals. They offer underfoot protection but can take an impromptu dip in the ocean or waterfall.
Skin cancer is for real! Don’t forget your SPF when traveling around Costa Rica. We recommend ordering some online before leaving the house, as you will need them underneath the sun in the summer.
We highly recommend getting an eco-friendly sun cream that does not contain harmful chemicals. It’s one of our favorite eco-friendly products for everyday use!
Most hotels will provide you with a towel, but they often aren’t suitable or allowed on the beaches. I like to travel with a microfiber towel because they are light, fold up small, and don’t cling to sand or dirt. Here are a few of our favorite travel towels.