Costa Rica is my home away from home! Thanks in part to spending time there from my days as a study abroad student until today, I have nearly 20 years of experience in the best country in Central America. In this section of All World Travel, I share all my first-hand experiences, reviews, and adventures with you.
Costa Rica Facts
Official country name: Republic of Costa Rica
Location: Costa Rica sits between latitudes 8° and 12°N and longitudes 82° and 86°W
Capital city: San Jose
Population: 4.8 million
Landmass area: 19,730 square miles (51,100 square km)
Languages: Spanish (official language) and English
Monetary currency: Costa Rican colón
Dialing code: +506
Major religion(s): Christianity (Catholicism 52% and Protestantism 25%)
Leadership: President Carlos Alvarado as of March 2018
Literacy: Costa Rica boasts a literacy rate that’s the highest in Latin America. In fact, for youth between 15 to 24, the literacy rate is 98% in Costa Rica.
Electric current: In Costa Rica, the currency is 110 volts and 60 cycle electricity, which is the same currency as in the U.S. Plugs in Costa Rica are 2-pronged flat as well, as U.S. tourists or visitors do not need an adapter. However, a surge protector is recommended.
Life expectancy: The average Costa Rican lives to 79.8 years, which is higher than life expectancy for U.S. citizens (78.6 years). The typical male in Costa Rica lives to 77 years, while the typical woman lives to 82 years.
Biodiversity: Costa Rica takes up only 0.03% of the world’s landmass but holds more than 5% of all biodiversity on the globe.
Climate: tropical, with varied microclimates with subtropical, rainforest, mountain savannah, and cloud forest climates. Read a full detailed breakdown on our dedicate page about weather and climate.
Seasons: Verano, or summer – dry season; and Invierno, or rainy season/green season
Average high temperature: 81 degrees F (27 C)
Average low temperature: 64 degrees F (18 C)
Average precipitation: 77.61 inches (1,971 mm)
Percent possible sunshine: 28 percent
Highest point: The Cerro Chirripó mountain peak is the highest point in Costa Rica, at 12,530 feet above sea level (3,819 meters)
The Economy in Costa Rica
Costa Rica benefits from a stable economy, with an estimated GDP per capita is $12,382 USD and a total GDP north of $61.5 billion USD.
Tourism: Costa Rica welcomed more than 3 million foreign tourists and visitors last year, with a steady increase in tourism every year. Tourism accounts for about 5.8% of Costa Rica’s GDP every year.
Democracy: uninterrupted since 1948, the longest and most stable in Central American
Military: Costa Rica has no army or armed forces!
Provinces: Costa Rica is divided into seven provinces; San Jose, Alajuela, Heredia, Guanacaste, Puntarenas, Cartago, and Limon.
Neighbors: Costa Rica is bordered by Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south. However, it has no neighbors to the west and east because it’s lined by the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea, respectively.
The History of Costa Rica
The history of Costa Rica starts long before it was officially a nation, and even well before Spanish conquest influenced the region.
In fact, there are indications that Costa Rica was inhabited by indigenous groups as far back as 5000 years BC. There were many smaller tribes in Costa Rica, mixing with migrations to and from the Aztec Empire in Mexico and the Inca Empire in Peru.
History books call this period, culture, and period, Pre-Columbian, and Costa Rica wasn’t distinguishable from other areas of Central America at this time. But, still to this day, there are some artifacts and remnants of ancient indigenous cultures in Costa Rica like with handcrafted ceramics, jewelry, ornaments, tools and utensils.
Many of Costa Rica’s indigenous tribes are still in existence as well, including the Bribris, Borucas, Cabecares, Chorotegas, Huetares, and Malekus. However, their numbers are dwindling (indigenous people now make up about 1% of Costa Rica’s population). They are also struggling to keep their languages, traditions, and roots in modern Costa Rica, although a new movement of historical and cultural tourism is helping.
The history books quickly turn to 1502 when Christopher Columbus landed in Costa Rica on a small island in present-day Limon, thereby “discovering” it. However, Ticos are quick to point out that it was Costa Ricans “discovering” Europeans for the first time in 1502!
Columbus and his party moved inland to the Central Valley, where they found the conditions cooler and less humid. Some were left to settle when his ships departed, and in 1522, the colony was named “Costa Rica” (which means “Rich Coast”) because they hoped to find gold in the hills, although they never did.
When dreams of fortunes through gold gave way to the stark reality that they had to eat, colonists shifted their attention to setting up banana plantations and other farms, establishing Costa Rica’s agrarian society which would thrive for hundreds of years.
By the 19th century, the cultivation and export of bananas had made land owners quite wealthy, and coffee plantations began to spring up, too.
When Mexico rebelled against Spanish rule in 1821, Costa Rica and the rest of Central America was not far behind. In 1823, the young country actually chose to become annexed by the greater Mexican nation, but this sparked a civil war and resulted in Costa Rica establishing its own sovereignty.
The first head of state for Costa Rica was Juan Mora Fernandez, elected in 1824 and starting a longstanding tradition of strong democracy.
Another unlikely threat emerged in 1855 when U.S. citizen William Walker, who had collected a small army and invaded several Central American nations, trying to install himself as a King or Emperor in the region. He invaded the northwestern area of Guanacaste in Costa Rica, too, but was pushed back into Nicaragua and holed up in a fort, where a young Tico soldier named Juan Santamaria volunteered to set it ablaze, ending the threat. To this day, Juan Santamaria is a national hero in Costa Rica and his name is on many streets, parks, and the national airport.
Costa Rica’s young democracy was shaken in 1870 when General Tomas Guardia forcibly gained control of the government, although he did institute some progressive measures and reforms and didn’t turn out to be a despot.
But in 1917, a military dictator named General José Federico Alberto de Jesús Tinoco Granados took power, ruling through two dark years before being ousted.
After a long period of relative peace and prosperity with only a few exceptions, civil war erupted in 1948 when Jose Figueres refused to concede power. The war lasted 44 days and at least 2,000 people died, making it the bloodiest time in Costa Rican history.
However, once the civil war subsided, it did lead to some amazing changes as the Costa Rican people wanted to ensure peace and democracy going forward. They signed the national constitution that still is in effect today and disbanded their army, instead focusing on worker’s rights, protecting huge areas of land as nature reserves, and investing in education for young Ticos and Ticas.
That progressive doctrine took a big leap forward when Laura Chinchilla took office as the first female President of Costa Rica in 2010, serving until 2014.
Today, Costa Rica has found a balance between a thriving economy, political stability, entrenched democracy, their environmental vision, and modern, progressive social policies. The future looks bright for Costa Rica!
Costa Rica’s Government
Costa Rica may be a relatively small Central American nation, but the country is actually remarkable when it comes to politics and their governance. Here are some facts on Costa Rica’s government:
President: Carlos Alvarao Quesada was elected president in 2018
The first woman president! In 2010, Laura Chinchilla was elected President of Costa Rica and served ably until 2014.
Official Name: Republic of Costa Rica
Government type: Democratic Republic
That means the political leaders of the nation are voted in by citizens of the country.
There are several political parties operating within the Costa Rican system of governance.
Constitution: Costa Rica’s constitution was adopted in 1949. It protected the rights of land owners and for intellectual property alike. It also divided power between the three branches of government and checked the powers of the country’s president.
Military: Costa Rica disbanded their military back in 1949 after signing their new constitution. They continue to market themselves for tourism as a nation that’s so peaceful, they don’t even have an army!
Best known for: Costa Rica markets itself as the most stable country in Central America, which is definitely true, as they’ve had no coups, revolutions, or major political turmoil turned violent since 1949.
Branches of government: Similar to the United States, there are three branches to the Costa Rican government that hold power: The Executive, Judicial, and Legislative branches.
Progressive nature: Costa Rica is known as a progressive nature, with many more social services and programs than its Central American neighbors. These include a big push for clean energy in the country.
Independence from the Spanish: Costa Rica first won their independence from Spanish colonization in 1821 but were quickly absorbed into the Mexican empire. They officially became a republic and earned their independence in 1848 and drafted their progressive constitution 100 years later.
Corruption and human rights: While it’s by no means perfect, Costa Rica scores way better with international agencies when it comes to corruption and human rights, two indexes that usually define Third World Countries and many of their Central American and even South American neighbors.
The Best Beaches in Costa Rica
Beaches! We’ve got beaches! In fact, Costa Rica is a beach lover’s dream, with countless sandy spots speckled across the country, up and down both coasts. So, whether you’re into surfing, diving, observing marine love or just soaking up some rays while you drink beer and unwind, Costa Rica has it all!
In no particular order, here’s our list of can’t-miss beaches in Costa Rica:
Located in Manuel Antonio National Park there actually are four dazzlingly beautiful beaches:
Manuel Antonio, Escondito, Espadilla Sur, and Playita.
Two of these beaches are open to the public (and free), so they get crowded during weekends and holidays seasons, but you’ll never want for a nice stretch of white sand – and some great surf waves – at Manuel Antonio.
Known as the “whale tail” because if its unique shape, Play Uvita is an almost-hidden treasure to Ticos and foreigners alike. However, you can only see that remarkable sandbar “tail” at low tide, so don’t be dismayed or think you’re in the wrong place if you show up at high tide and don’t see it! In that case, Uvita still offers a gorgeous grove of palm trees lining the beach and picturesque waterfalls close by.
Cano Island, Corcovado Bay
If you’re in Uvita, take a boat across the ten miles or so to Cano Island, which is idyllic white sand beaches lined with palm trees. It also has some of the best coral reefs in Costa Rica and the lucky diver or snorkeler can pot dolphins or whales!
Tamarindo, or “Tama” as its affectionately known, is one of the most popular spots in Costa Rica for surfers, vacationers, partiers, and expats alike. Originally known as an iconic surf destination, there’s now something for everyone. “Tama-gringo” is also a relatively long strip of sandy coastline, so it never really gets too crowded.
But if you do want to get off the beaten path a little within Tamarindo, there’s rugged Playa Langosta and wild Playa Grange close by, and it’s also located within Las Baulas National Park so, you can go view the endangered leatherback sea turtle.
Just a short drive away from Tamarindo, you’ll find Papagayo with its gorgeous beach, easily accessible if you stay at the swanky Four Seasons Hotel & Resort.
Also in Guanacaste (the northwestern province where Tamarindo is located) is Potrero, a wild and more remote beach that’s perfect to get away from the crowds and swim, snorkel, scuba dive or kayak. You can also stay overnight nearby and hit the Palo Verde Natural Reserve and Santa Rosa National Park the next day.
There’s great surfing at Avellanas, but the biggest draw is Lola’s Beach Bar, named after the portly potbelly pig who is the official mascot and interacts with patrons, even bathing in the ocean! Lolas is a super chill place to hang out and enjoy the beach for the afternoon.
Playa Santa Teresa
Near the town of Malpais at the southwestern edge of the Nicoya Peninsula sits Playa Santa Teresa, which is one of our personal favorite beaches in all of Costa Rica. The town offers plenty of great amenities, restaurants, and things to do, but you can escape civilization daily to surf, paddle board, snorkel, or just lounge on one of scores of beaches in the area.
Cahuita, Cahuita National Park
On the Caribbean coast of the country sits Cahuita, offering white sand beaches and a fantastic coral reef perfect for divers and snorkelers.
Playa Cocles, Puerto Viejo
Speaking of the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, we love Playa Cocles located near the quaint throwback surf town of Puerto Viejo, with its Afro-Caribbean culture and influence. But Cocles also has some of the best surfing in the country, even though it’s not as popular with sun worshippers since it has black sand.
Now we’re talking! Montezuma is a funky and lively beach town at the southern point of the Nicoya Peninsula, just across from Malpais. You’ll find a long stretch of coast with plenty of mangrove, lush jungle, and estuaries leading to a three-tiered waterfall, Montezuma Falls.
Playa Gandoca in Manzanillo
Inside of the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge is a fantastic expanse of soft sand with perfect conditions for visitors January through April (the dry season). It’s not only great for catching some rays and snorkeling, but you can spot dolphins and manatees!
Playa Guiones, Nosara
If you want a really remote beach for surfing, appreciating seashells (but please leave them be!) and appreciating the natural artwork, pack up your food, drinks and anything else you need for the day and head out to Playa Guinoes when in Nosara.
Do you have a favorite beach in Costa Rica? Email us!
10 Money-Saving Tips for Your Trip to Costa Rica
- Consider Visiting During the “Green” Season
There are two distinct seasons in Costa Rica – the dry season, which is most popular for tourism, and the rainy season, which runs approximately from June through November. While you will encounter lots of rain in Costa Rica during that period, it’s also known as the “Green Season” because everything is lush, blooming, and vibrant. There are also WAY less people in tourist destinations, and prices come down accordingly. In fact, you may be able to book a rental, hotel or Airbnb for 50% off during the Green Season – and still fully enjoy Costa Rica!
- Book Way Ahead of Time for Holiday Seasons
That being said, if you do come during the dry season – and especially super crowded Christmas, New Years, Spring Break, and Easter holidays, make sure to book way ahead of time to get the best prices. In fact, you should look at booking your hotel or resort up to a year ahead of time or at least nine months if possible, and your airfare is next up on that list. Starting way early will give you plenty of time to shop around and find a killer deal.
- Businesses Off the Beach
In general, you’ll find that businesses right on the beach, whether they are hotels, resorts, restaurants, shops, or whatever, are priced the highest in any town or tourist destination. However, just cross the road 20 meters away and the prices may drop a little – for the same quality! So, if you really want to save money, think about heading a few blocks inland, where there will be far more options for a more reasonable price.
- Consider Renting a Car
Of all the costs during your stay in Costa Rica, your hotel will probably be the highest (unless your bar tab gets out of control!), but transportation costs can sneak up on you, too. Just getting to and from the airport in a taxi or car service can seriously add up, so price out renting a car. You’ll save money, be able to come and go as you please, and have an adventure!
- Hotels or Resorts with Transport
Another option is to look for hotels that offer free airport transport, as it will save you a big chunk of change. Also, many local hotels offer shuttle trips to local beaches and surf spots for free!
- Or Get a Bicycle!
Why not rent a bicycle when you’re settled in a town or area in Costa Rica, as you’ll be able to get around much better without having to pay for taxis or worry about transportation. Just remember to bring a pump in case you get a flat tire on the dirt roads, and a bike lock as well!
- Eat Local
Costa Rica can’t be considered cheap anymore, and tourists who visit there often come back scratching their heads how they paid an average of $15 or $20 per meal! The answer is that they’re eating at the wrong places – the “tourist traps.” Sure, it’s nice to have a feast at a classy and romantic resort right on the beach, but it’s also prudent to balance that out with affordable breakfasts or lunches. The good news is that there’s a simple solution – look for the local joints where Ticos eat, called sodas. They have wonderful, fresh, and healthy food include casados, the typical Costa Rican lunch. And the price will really be right!
- Or, Book a Place with a Kitchen
Even better, book a hotel suite, rent an apartment or Airbnb that includes a kitchen. There is SO much local food to be had that you can easily prepare and cook yourself. Just look for the local food vendors and farmers who come in by truck in the mornings and sell fruit and fish caught only hours earlier. Amazing – and saves you a ton of money!
- Look for an Airbnb or Local Rental
About three-quarters of vacationers and visitors to Costa Rica end up booking hotels or resorts on sites like Hotels.com, Booking.com, and more. While it’s convenient to get on those web portals and find a great place, realize that you’ll get beat up on all of their booking, admin, and “junk” fees – sometimes adding up to 20% per night!
Instead, take a look at booking an apartment, condo, or whole house through Airbnb, as you can end up with a more comfortable and “homie” place for less money – and less fees.
Likewise, there are plenty of Facebook groups and fan pages with tons of expats in Costa Rica, so you could easily ask them where the best place is to stay and ask them to send you offers or deals when they hear of them.
- Buy a Board
Since we’re talking about Costa Rica, I’m assuming that you may paddle out and pop up, trying your hand at riding the waves. If you’re an experienced surfer, you’ll want to bring your own board with you. But if you’re a newbie who plans on getting into surfing or you just don’t have your own board, think about buying one when you get to Costa Rica instead of renting one. You can find plenty of boards on the community groups on Facebook or the web and resell it when you leave! Boom! You just saved a few hundred dollars!
Then again, you may want to bring it home with you after all of the good surfing memories!
Of course, you can help yourself save a lot of hassle by making sure to come prepared with these travel accessories.
When is the Best Time to Visit Costa Rica?
You’re planning to head down to Costa Rica, maybe for a nice vacation, to get in some surfing, or even for a romantic destination wedding (or less-romantic bachelor party!). So, what time of year should you visit?
On face value, the answer may seem simple. The most popular time for vacationers and visitors is from December through April, which almost perfectly coincides with the dry season there. Usually, the dry seasons extends from mid to late November all the way to late May, when rainfall is minimal, temps are progressively hotter every week, and skies are blue.
This is also referred to as the “high season” because the fact that it’s the most popular time for tourism also means that it’s most crowded, from beaches to roads and definitely, hotels and resorts. Therefore, vacancies are few, service worse, and prices jump up in a big way, particularly around Christmas, New Years, and Easter week, as well as weekends, when Costa Ricans are flocking to the beaches to celebrate, too.
Yes, your photos will look great with sunny skies and clear conditions, but you’ll also have a tough time getting a shot without a bunch of other tourists photobombing.
Conversely, the other distinct season in Costa Rica is the rainy season, also called the “Green Season” because everything is lush, blooming, and green, or Invierno (winter) compared to Verano (summer). Of course, with the green season comes rain – and, sometimes, lots of it, as the prime rainy months of September and October could mean torrential rains all day, everyday!
Remember that the rainfall patterns in Costa Rica vary by region (for instance, Guanacaste in the pacific northwest is the driest province) and even elevation, as the mountain areas receive far more rainfall or moisture.
The clear advantage to visiting Costa Rica during the rainy season (ok, Green Season sounds so much better!) is the fact that you won’t run into flocks of tourists. There also won’t be countless Ticos heading to the beach every weekend or holiday. I can’t impress upon you how nice it is to feel like you have the beaches to yourself, not to mention the hotels, resorts, restaurants, and more.
It’s MUCH easier to find the right hotel or accommodation, and your prices may drop significantly. (Prices in December may be three times higher than during the middle of the rainy season!)
The great part of the green season in Costa Rica is that there are still plenty of outdoor activities to join in. For instance, real surfers don’t mind if it’s cloudy or even raining as long as the waves are right (and you’re less likely to get sunburnt!).
Likewise, the rivers are higher during the rainy season, which means white water rafting is WAY more fun, and a little rain won’t slow you down from horseback riding, paddle boarding, zip lining, touring the cloud forest, Arenal Volcano, or fishing.
So, if it was me, I wouldn’t plan my outdoor wedding during the rainy season, and definitely not in September or October! But for just about anything else, I love coming during the rainy season or at least try to avoid the most bonkers crowded tourist weeks around Christmas, New Year, and Easter.
But anytime is a good time to be in Costa Rica, so pura vida and enjoy!
Staying Safe in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a peaceful country with no army or military, a progressive, modern, and American-ized tourist paradise that’s totally safe.
Costa Rica is a relatively poor Developing Country similar to its Central American neighbors, with dangerous areas of cities and plenty of petty theft and minor crime.
Which one of these statements are true?
The reality is that there are elements of truth in both of them, as Costa Rica is both surprisingly safe and placid AND someplace where you need to exercise caution and always remember where you are (and who’s around you).
Of course, it’s critical to exercise common sense no matter where you go, but, too often, tourists completely throw that caution in the wind the moment they go on vacation or abroad, doing some seriously dumb stuff that they wouldn’t do in the wrong side of town in their own home city.
But the good news is that with some basic precautions and prudence, your stay in Costa Rica will be completely safe and enjoyable, without incident.
Here are a few basic tips about staying safe in Costa Rica:
Remember Where You Are
Don’t ever forget that you’re in a Central American country, no matter how nice Costa Rica looks. Likewise, keep your wits about you when it comes to avoiding areas that you have no business being in, like shady neighborhoods in downtown San Jose, or wandering around in dark secluded areas, etc.
I’ve been traveling and living abroad for decades now, and I truly believe that about 95% of bad things happen at night. Realize that the same area that may look totally serene and safe during the day can be a shady hangout for bad elements at night. If you want to stay safe, wake up early and go home on the early(ish) side, or at least exercise MORE caution at night.
NEVER walk around alone in Costa Rica, especially at night and NEVER for women and girls. Always have at least one friend with you and be in sight of others in case you need help.
Remember that You’re a Target
I’ve lived in Tamarindo, and it’s amazing what you see as a tourist compared to a resident. Therefore, you have to remember that as a tourist or visitor, you stand out like a sore thumb and are automatically a target for someone who’s looking to scam, hustle, steal, or worse.
The Set Up
With that in mind, realize that Ticos are masters of the scam, hustle, grift, and shakedown. From police who solicit a bribe to parking attendants who will look the other way if you don’t tip them to touts who bait-and-switch or upsell you, it’s important to be cautious. As an example, one scam I’ve seen at big fiestas is that a bunch of Costa Rican guys will send one little skinny teen over to bump into you aggressively. If you take exception, get in an argument, or even push back, all of a sudden, a dozen guys will be on you reigning down blows! Scary!
While there are some unfortunately violent crimes in Costa Rica, it’s hard to say that those are more prevalent or more heinous in nature than the crime rate back home in the U.S. (Canada not withstanding!) But the vast majority of crime and unsafe situations in Costa Rica come because someone wants what you have or your money, not to harm you personally. Lock up your stuff in the hotel safe and don’t leave iPhones out on tables and bars, turn your head with your laptop sitting around, leave anything in your rental car, or even leave expensive items sitting around your hotel room.
Likewise, you have no business wearing expensive jewelry, walking around with thousands of dollars, or basically showing off your wealth or nice things in Costa Rica, because you’re just advertising that you want to be robbed and inviting trouble!
Make Local Friends
If you’re going to the bars or doing anything social, the #1 way to stay safe is by making some local friends. Maybe hook them up a little by paying for their food, drinks, or activities and possibly kick them down a little tip as a thank you when you leave, but having a local look out for you will keep you super safe!
The beach is just about 100% safe during the day (except for leaving your things unattended when you go swimming, which you should never do), but it can also be treacherous and really unsafe at night. Never wander around on the beach at night, especially for girls and if you’ve been drinking. Don’t do it!
Tip: Buy board shorts or a swim suit that has a zippered pocket so you can bring some money and your keys. If you have a backpack with an iPhone, etc., your best bet is to eat or drink at a bar or restaurant right on the beach and have them look after it when you go swimming. Give the waiter or bartender a big top BEFORE you leave it and go into the water and they’ll look after it for you without issue. But keep a little luggage lock on your bags just to be sure!
Lock It Up
Lock your doors, your windows, your safe, your car, and even your luggage and bags. Petty theft is rampant in Costa Rica and the best way to deter attempts is by having all of your possessions, money, and important things on lockdown.
LOVE and RESPECT!
I’ve found that if you give love, you get love, and if you treat everyone you encounter with respect – no matter how humble their circumstance or how menial their job – then you get respect back. Treating everyone like gold and realizing that you’re a guest in their country will keep you as safe as possible!
The Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica
Are you headed to Costa Rica for a quick vacation or even a longer stay to surf while you wait out the winter back home? Here is our list of the 10 best places to visit while you’re there!
Jumping over across the country to the Caribbean coast, we find Puerto Viejo, which has a totally different, throwback Rasta vibe – and is far less crowded and touristy than the west coast. But Puerto Viejo still offers amazing beaches, surfing, snorkeling or diving, and natural beauty.
When you’re in Puerto Viejo, head north about an hour and you’ll come across Cahuito, which is a little pueblo right in the shadow of Cahuito National Park, which is one of the coolest places you can visit in all of Costa Rica!
This is one of Costa Rica’s many volcanos, but Arenal stands out because it’s majestic height (1,670 meters) and the natural beauty that surrounds it, with plenty of hiking, waterfalls, caving, lake swimming, rafting, and hot springs for visitors. No trip to Costa Rica is complete without a visit to Arenal!
If you want a break from touristy Tamarindo and the buzz of Jaco, head to Manual Antonio, with its laid back pacific white sand beaches and an adjacent national park that will keep even the most passionate nature lover occupied for days (or months!).
While it’s not a crazy party place and you won’t find high-rise condos or fancy resorts, Santa Teresa is more like the hippy capital of Costa Rica, with wellness centers, yoga retreats, and surf shops, and healthy eating right along the beach.
Costa Rica’s best sky forest is a place that definitely needs to be on your Bucket List, with sky bridges and zip lines leading you through eerily misty forests, accompanies by some of the rarest birds in the world like the quetzal.
Ahhhh, Tamarindo! You won’t find a better combination of fun and funky little surf town with big-city restaurants, resorts and amenities – and some of the best nightlife in the country! Tamarindo is one of the most popular places in Costa Rica for visitors and expats alike – and for good reason!
Jaco is one of the nation’s most popular weekend getaways, for Ticos and tourists alike. Only a couple hours easy drive from the capital of San Jose, Jaco offers surfing, sunbathing, laid-back days and irreverent party nights!
Corcovado National Park
The best of the best of Costa Rica’s amazing natural parks, Corcovado is truly paradise, with beaches, cloud forests, mangrove swamps, and incredible flora and fauna to witness.
Tortuga National Park
It may be more difficult to get to – you can only reach the park by boat or plane – but the adventure is well worth it, as Tortuga offers a chance to witness the incredible sea turtle sanctuary and their yearly hatching ritual.
10 Fun Facts About Costa Rica!
We’ve covered a whole lot of information about Costa Rica on this website, including the specifics of government, Costa Rica’s history, the best spots to visit (and surf!), tips on booking hotels, and just about everything else.
Whew that was a lot of work! But the work day is finally finished and everyone’s left the office here for the night. I’m headed out soon, too, but first, I wanted to have a little fun and jot down a few facts about Costa Rica that are strictly FUN!
Ok, I may have a small bottle of Cacique guaro hidden in the bottom drawer (local sugarcane liquor that’s 30% alcohol!) that will help provide inspiration as I write this list.
Are you ready? (Guzzle!) Let’s have some fun!
- Since Costa Rica is so near the equator, the sunrise and sunsets are almost the same time every day throughout the year.
- The Costa Rican province of Nicoya is one of the world’s notable Blue Zones, where residents commonly live to 90 or even 100 years old! Between the calcium and magnesium-rich water, fresh and delicious (pesticide-free) food, robust climate, physical activity, and connection to those around them, all of the elements for a long life are present in these Blue Zones.
- Have you noticed that we never refer to people as “Costa Ricans?” That’s because people are known as Ticos and Ticas, referring to male and female Costa Rican citizens, respectively.
- Ticas (now you know!) keep their maiden name for life, even when they get married! That speaks to the relatively strong track record of human rights and equal opportunities for women in Costa Rica, including already having a female president a few years ago!
- If you’re a fan of bananas, Costa Rica will be heaven, since it’s the second-largest exporter of the yellow fruit in the world (second only to Ecuador).
- Like many countries around the world, milk is sold in a plastic bag and NOT refrigerated – that’s right, keeping milk cold is just a U.S. or Canadian thing!
- Most radio stations and media outlets play the Costa Rican national anthem every morning at 7 am.
- Costa Rica has no standing army! In fact, the military was disbanded in 1949 after signing their constitution.
- You’ll hear people say “pura vida” a whole lot in Costa Rica, which is the informal national saying. Pura vida translates to “pure life” and serves as a de facto help, how are you, goodbye, and good vibes in every day conversation!
- Costa Rica is one of the richest countries in the world for biodiversity, with a jaw-dropping number of unique species, flora, and fauna. In fact, Costa Rica takes up less than 0.3% of the world’s landmass but is home to about 5% of its total biodiversity!
Ok, my guaro is done, I’m a little tipsy, and I have to get home so I can come back here to the office tomorrow morning. But I’m glad we could have some fun with these 10 facts about Costa Rica, and let’s do it again soon!
Our 10 Favorite Surf Spots in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is truly a nature lover’s paradise, with more than 5% of all the biodiversity in the world and plenty of spotless white sand beaches. But it’s even more of a mecca for surfers, who can pick and choose their break from the country’s 1,016 kilometers of coastline on the Pacific side and 212 kilometers on the Caribbean coastline.
So, today let’s wax up our boards, paddle out, and catch some waves with the best surf spots in Costa Rica!
- Witch’s Rock at Playa Naranjo
Made famous by Robert August’s Endless Summer, Witch’s Rock is a unique surf break in front a massive volcanic rock that, legend has it, is cursed by a witch. You’ll definitely need some voodoo to surf this world-class wave!
- Playa Grande
Just north of the fun and touristy town of Tamarindo on the Pacific northwest coast, you’ll find the secluded and uncrowded Playa Grande. The beach break is great but it’s also erratic, with sudden tide changes…and the occasional crocodile from the nearby estuary!
- Playa Tamarindo
Tamarindo may party by night, but it surfs by day, and that includes the best spot for beginners right by the river mouth.
- Playa Avellanas
Head south from Tamarindo and you’ll find the beautiful and chill Playa Avellanas about 7 miles away, famous for its restaurant/bar right on the beach with Lola the pig. But the surfing is killer, too, with five peak waves for beginners all the way through pro surfers.
- Playa Negra
Endless Summer II featured the right break at Playa Negra. The waves are consistent, fast, and barreling – perfect for surfistas but not for beginners!
- Salsa Brava
Head over to the Caribbean coast of the nation and expert surfers will find their honey hole near Puerto Viejo, with a lightning right-hand barrel that’s humbled even the best!
- Boca Barranca
If you like left-handed waves, the river mouth surfing at Boca Barranca offers a looooooong ride, perfect for long boarders and body boarders as well.
Speaking of left-handers, Pavones is the second longest left in the whole world, and you can stay up for about a minute! But it does get crowded, so you’ll be paddling a lot, too.
- Playa Hermosa
An easy drive south of Playa Jacó, Hermosa is a steady favorite for intermediate and expert surfers alike. You’ll see nonstop barrels and waves up to 13 feet high!
- Playa Jacó
One of the most popular surf breaks in Costa Rica (and the biggest party town!), Jaco, has both right and left-hand waves and large swells most of the year, perfect for beginners, pros, and even international competitions.
Visas in Costa Rica
The vast majority of people come to Costa Rica for a short vacation, staying for just a week or two before returning home with a nice tan and a big smile on their face. But some stay for a month or the whole winter, a handful come to volunteer or take classes, and some foreigners move down permanently as expats. No matter if you’re entering the land of pura vida for a long weekend or the rest of your days, the visa situation in Costa Rica is something that you need to figure out, first.
The good news is that citizens of most nations – including the United States, Canada, and most European nations – do not have to arrange a visa to enter Costa Rica. As tourists, they’re allowed to enter for up to 90 days with just a valid passport.
It’s that simple – just fly in and you’ll get in line at immigration to get your passport stamped by the Costa Rican authorities before you head to Customs.
But there are some caveats and warnings to take seriously.
For instance, you need to make sure that your passport is in good physical condition or else your entry can be denied. (It actually happened to a friend of mine whose passport was beat up from getting wet and he had to fly right back to the U.S.!)
It’s also important that your passport is valid at least as long as your stay in Costa Rica, but also an additional six months. This isn’t a Costa Rican law but a mandate from the airlines and an unwritten rule by most countries these days alike.
You’ll also need to show proof of your outbound flight or exit travel leaving Costa Rica as proof that you’ll be leaving within 90 days. Without this, you might be prohibited from boarding the plane or checking in at your departure airport.
Also, there is no guarantee that you’ll automatically receive a 90-day stay. For instance, if the immigration officer sees that your outbound flight is one week later, you may only get a 7-day visa stamp.
So, if you’re thinking about staying longer than your flight (or changing your flight) or living there longer as an expat, you’ll want to make sure to request the full 90 days.
If you overstay your Costa Rican visa, you’ll get hit with a fine of $100 per month, for every month you overstayed. That’s not a lot but it can also cause a big headache at the airport and even delays that cause you to miss your flight!
But if your Costa Rican visa is expiring and you want to stay longer – without flying all the way back to your home country and returning – you can simply do what a lot of expats do: head to the northern border with Nicaragua at Penas Blancas, scoot over the border for the day (or even a few minutes!) and then get right back in line to enter Costa Rica again, where you’ll get your passport stamped for another 90 days. It’s called “The Border Shuffle,” and has been a longtime trick for foreigners who stay in Costa Rica, although the authorities have been cracking down!
Enjoy your stay in Costa Rica and we hope that helps!
Tips on Hotels, Rentals and Lodging in Costa Rica
So, you just decided to visit Costa Rica for your next vacation, committed to the week right before Christmas or during spring break when the kids are free, and you even bought plane tickets!
But you also may be doing it wrong.
That’s because booking your hotel, rental house or accommodation may be the most important decision for your trip down to Costa Rica, and there’s a lot that goes into it to get it right. Here are some notes and tips to help you along the way.
First off, realize that EVERYTHING depends on the time of year – or the season – that you’re planning to visit. During the High Season (summer) when the weather is better and there’s little rain, it gets way busier as tourists flock to the beaches and surf towns. So, if you’re booking from December through April, you may run into a lot of No Vacancies signs at choice hotels.
And during the super popular weeks before and during Christmas, New Years, school break weeks in the US (usually March/April) and Easter, it can be nearly impossible to find any hotel, guest house, or home to rent.
Likewise, during the high season, prices jump up. During those aforementioned holiday weeks, it’s not unrealistic to expect double or even triple the price for the same hotel room!
For that reason, you really need to book way ahead of time when planning a trip to Costa Rica. I recommend you book at least nine months out but definitely six, and if you plan on going during those “high” weeks, book a full year ahead of time!
If you are going with the whole family, it may be way cheaper to rent a condo or a whole house instead, and there will be a kitchen. Airbnb is a great option for looking for individual rentals, and the review section is invaluable if you want to find out about location, amenities, noise, and other impressions from fellow travelers.
But if you are opting for a hotel, shop around on Booking.com, Hotels.com and all of the hotel aggregate websites to make a short list of possible properties. Then, go over to Google and check those one by one based on your dates, as you’ll be presented with the best (and least expensive) websites or options for booking.
Please note that the exact location is very important. For instance, if you search for a hotel in Tamarindo, Costa Rica, you may see listings pop up from nearby areas outside of town or in the Guanacaste province. While it may not seem like far, it could mean being totally isolated and not within walking distance of anything.
Make sure your hotel is at least within walking distance of the beach for the best convenience, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be right on the beach – those are way pricier and can actually be noisier at night, too, as the bars and hotspots are close.
My last advice is to check to see if your hotel offers free airport shuttle (or discounted) or free breakfast, because both of those could save you a lot of money and make your vacation easier.
If you have any questions or special requests, feel free to email the hotel directly to ask, or just reach out to us for more tips and recommendations!
Of course, if you have any questions or comments, this is one country where we are experts in giving advice. Please leave them below and we’ll help you out to the best of our ability.