For quite some time now, Costa Rica has been a major destination for tourists from all over the world, and in particular the United States. Most people know someone who recently took a vacation to the tiny Central American country or just got back from their honeymoon in Costa Rica. With lush, tropical forests, miles upon miles of pristine beaches, volcanoes, waterfalls, and other natural wonders, it’s no surprise that Costa Rica is one of the hottest destinations in Latin American. For those who are considering a vacation to Costa Rica, here is a getaway guide to help plan your trip.
U.S. citizens receive a 90 tourist visa upon arrival at either of Costa Rica’s international airports. All visitors muse have a valid U.S. passport that will remain valid during the entire length of stay and at least one blank page. For more information please visit the U.S. Passports and Travel website.
While the U.S. dollar is widely accepted in Costa Rica, especially in places with a high volume of tourists, converting dollars into the local currency is a good idea for traveling throughout the country and making certain transactions easier. The local currency of Costa Rica is the colón. The exchange rate usually hovers around $1 (USD) converting to 534 colónes (CRC). Major credit cards are accepted at most popular tourist locations, but in smaller communities, cash is still the primary source of many transactions.
Spanish is the official language of Costa Rica and knowing a few phrases will help you get around. Many Costa Ricans are bilingual and speak both Spanish and English but if you plan on visiting more remote parts of the country, you’ll find knowing a bit of Spanish to be very helpful.
- Rental Car Getting around Costa Rica by rental car can be fun and exciting. Rental cars can be arranged at either of the countries two international airports and throughout the country at rental car offices, but it is advised to make a reservation well in advance of your trip. Some areas of the country require 4 wheel drive so be aware of what the road conditions are like in the regions you are planning to visit. While improvements have been made on the roads in recent years, so roads are in poor condition and driving can be challenging, but if you’re up for adventure you’ll be fine!
- Local Bus By far the cheapest way to travel Costa Rica, public buses run throughout the country and riding the public buses can be a fun and affordable way to see a wide array of top attractions. For schedules and fare information visit CostaRica or VisitCostaRica, .
- Plane For transportation to more remote corners of Costa Rica, domestic airline carriers Sansa and NatureAir provide frequent flights.
- Tour Operators Local tour operators are prevalent throughout this country which relies heavily on tourism to support the local economies. Tour packages can be booked in advance or once in the country and information on local tour operators and guides can be found online and through review website such as TripAdvisor. Hiring a local guide can be a great way to get to know an area and view the country.
Lodging options in Costa Rica range from basic hostels to luxury resorts and the prices can range from $20 to over $300 per night for a room. In San Jose, visitors will find many U.S.-based chain hotels such as Courtyard by Marriot, Wyndham Garden, and Hilton Garden Inn. In addition to these known hotels, San Jose has several high end hotels such as Apartotel La Sabana, Real Intercontinental Hotel, and Hotel Grano del Oro San Jose.
The Pacific coast of Costa Rica has many luxury hotels such as The Hotel Diria Tamarindo, The Four Seasons Papagayo, and Barceló. In addition there are literally hundreds of other accommodations, from backpackers’ hostels, to bed and breakfasts, to mid range hotels, and everything in between. The Caribbean coast offers high end accommodations such as Hotel Le Cameleon and Hotel Banana Azul.
Costa Rica is home to people from all over the world and as such, there are a variety of dining options throughout the country. Try the local fare, casados, a plate of the day featuring rice, beans, a side of veggies, and your choice of chicken, beef, pork, or fish. Sample gallo pinto, beans and rice cooked together, sometimes with a coconut sauce. Along either coast, fresh seafood is available and the national dish ceviche is worth tasting.
In addition to local fare, Costa Rica has Italian, Argentinean, Japanese, Middle Eastern, and Fusion restaurants serving up delicious dishes. Prices can range from street vendors selling pinchos, kebabs, for just $2 to high end, fine dining, and five-star restaurants.
- Costa Rican Beaches Costa Rica is famous for its beaches and no visit to the country would be complete without visiting at least one beach. With over 800 miles of coastline, the hardest part is deciding which beach to visit. The closet to San Jose is the beach Jaco, home to some of the best surfing in Costa Rica. Just 60 miles from the capital, many people visit this beach as a day trip, but further exploration of the Pacific coast will reveal such beautiful beaches as Tamarindo, Playa Grande, Playa del Coco, and Playa Flamingo. Further south on the Pacific lay the beaches of Manuel Antonio, Domincal, Nosara, and Santa Teresa. On the opposite coast the Caribbean beaches of Puerto Viejo, Playa Chaquita, Punta Uva, and Manzanillo provide visitors with a different feel with calm waters of the Caribbean coming up to the jungles of this less developed coastline.
- Arenal Volcano and La Fortuna Arenal Volcano, located within the Arenal National Park, is one of the most active volcanoes in Costa Rica. Standing over 5,000 feet tall this volcano is surrounded by a tropical forest and natural hot springs. One of the biggest draws to this region is exploring the hot springs, La Fortuna waters, and Lake Arenal. Other activities in the area include hiking, river rafting, kayaking, nature tours and biking. Visitors to Arenal and the surrounding will most likely stay in the town of La Fortuna, just 4 miles from the national park.
- Monteverde Located 4,662 feet above sea level, Monteverde is one of Costa Rica’s most stunning forests. Known as a cloud forest, one of only a few throughout the world, this is one of the most biodiverse regions of the country. Here, visitors can trek through the cloud forest, take a canopy tour, see birds, monkeys, butterflies and other wildlife and experience one of the most important cloud forest reserves.
- Poas Volcano National Park Only about 30 miles from the capital, San Jose, Poas Volcano National Park is a convienent alternative for those who don’t have time or can’t make the trek to visit Arenal. The park is home to the Poas Volcano, one of the most active in the country, plus two crater lakes, both among the world’s most acidic lakes. The park covers 16,000 acres of cloud and tropical forests and visiting the park can be a day trip from San Jose.
- San Jose Most visitors will enter and exit the country through the Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose, the nation’s capital and while many visitors will head straight on to their next destination, spending a few days in San Jose is highly recommending. With top notch dining and accommodations San Jose can be an enjoyable city. Day trips to close by attractions are plentiful and the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, the Museo Nacional, and the National Theater of Costa Rica are all worth checking out. Not to mention the lively El Pueble Entertainment District the sprawling Mercado Central.
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