Costa Rica Travel Guide
There are few places on the planet which will leave a mark on you in the same way as Costa Rica.
Idyllic, serene, natural, beautiful, cultural, the list goes on.
Most people visit Costa Rica expecting a vacation, but they leave with far more than they bargained for. Amazing experiences are around every corner, stunning beaches leave you jaw-dropped, lush rainforests beg you to explore, simmering volcanoes pique your curiosity, and cultural, colonial cities give you a completely different viewpoint of the country itself. Put simply, Costa Rica is a travel destination which will grip your attention to the point where you never want to leave!
Translated from Spanish, Costa Rica means “rich coast”, and once you visit, you’ll instantly see why. Nature lovers will be in their element, as the country is one of the most biodiverse on the planet. Around one-third of the country is declared national park land, ranging from rainforest to volcano, undulating valleys, before traversing down to beaches with aquamarine waters. Nature is respected here and most of the energy across the country is generated via sustainable hydro or wind methods.
Aside from its biodiversity and stunning beach opportunities, Costa Rica is making a name as an adventure sports destination. If you love hiking, you’ll get to cross some the diverse and beautiful land you’ve ever set your eyes on, including hiking up a volcano or mountains with high altitude.
You can zip-wire over the rainforest, or trek through and check out the abundant wildlife which calls this part of the world home. If you’re into white water rafting, you’ll love the fast, gushing rivers in Costa Rica. Of course, if you prefer surfing, you’ll be in good company, as surfers across the globe love to visit Costa Rica with it’s warm waters and big waves.
Once you begrudgingly leave Costa Rica, you’ll no doubt have embraced the simple way of life, known locally as “pura vida”, or “pure life”. Locals are positive, happy and keen to speak to visitors about their country and the nature they’re surrounded by. This is one of the friendliest countries on the planet, and you’ll no doubt spend your time with a smile on your face.
This guide is going to tell you everything you need to know about visiting Costa Rica, but one thing’s for sure, you’re going to have the time of your life!
It is important to check your specific visa requirements prior to travelling, as these often change and vary from country to country. Overall, Indian citizens are able to travel to Costa Rica provided they have a valid USA, Schengen, UK or Canada visa and that they have used the visa at least once.
This visa needs to be valid for three months from the date of arrival and you will receive an entry stamp when you arrive at the airport, which is valid in itself for 30 days. After these 30 days, you must leave the country or apply for an extension. Visas can be obtained from the Embassy of Delhi, application and processing can take up to 12-15 working days. You will also need to pay for this visa, with a current cost of 2500 RS.
Click here for the list of countries that do not require a visa to travel to Costa Rica.
The official language of Costa Rica is Spanish, and is spoken by the majority of people. Despite that, Costa Rica has a large ex-pat population and in some regions, such as Lima Province, you will hear English spoken widely. The touristic regions are also spots where you will be able to find an English speaker, however outside of these areas you will struggle to find any other languages except for Spanish.
Whilst Costa Rica is a varied country in terms of the people who live there, Christianity is the largest religion in the country. The Roman Catholic religion has the most followers within the country, however, you will find other minority religious groups around Costa Rica too.
The currency of Costa Rica is the Colon, with an estimated exchange rate of around 586 colones for every $1. Whilst touristic regions will usually accept dollars for payment, it is best to change some money into the local currency, and this is best done when you arrive at your destination. ATMs are widely available.
If you are using dollars to pay for items, make sure that you use the lowest denomination of notes possible, as you may find locals give you change in colones.
For the best prices on calls and mobile Internet, it is best to purchase a sim card in Costa Rica when you arrive. ICE Kolbi is the state-owned country which possesses the best network coverage and connectivity. You will be able to purchase a 1GB data bundle for around $2.5, with a cost-effective 5GB plan for around $23.
It is worth mentioning that high-speed Internet is not available everywhere you travel to, however, you will be able to connect to some degree. You simply need to be patient in certain areas where connectivity may not be of the highest quality.
Most dishes in Costa Rica are made of locally grown vegetables, giving everything a fresh and truly delicious flavor. You won’t struggle to find mouthwatering and exotic fruits all over the country and it’s a must do to make sure you try as many as possible. If you’re a vegetarian, you will have no issue finding a dish to suit your needs.
Make sure you try a few of these local dishes:
- Gallo Pinto – Often eaten as a breakfast dish, Gallo Pinto is a simple but delicious dish made from rice, beans, cilantro, local spices and salsa.
- Casado – Casado is a dish made of different elements. The word itself means “marriage”, indicating a marriage of many dishes. Generally, a Casado is a plate with rice, beans, salad, tortillas, fried platano, maduro and meat. If you’re vegetarian, mention this to the server and the meat will be replaced with veggies.
- Sopa Negra – The traditional soup of the country and a great option for vegetarians. Some of the main ingredients include black beans, onion, bell peppers, cilantro, tomatoes, hard or soft boiled egg and spices.
- Patacones – The perfect appetizer. Patacones consist of flattened and deep-fried plantains served with pico de gallo, salsa, beans and guacamole.
Whilst most visits to Costa Rica is completely uneventful and safe, it’s worth bearing in mind that the country suffers from the same problem as the rest of Latin America. Gang-related violence, drug trafficking and poverty are all present in the country, however, Costa Rica is the safest to travel of the Central American countries.
However, you should remain vigilant all the times, especially in the capital city, where petty crime, such as theft is common. Also bear in mind that gang-related violence is on the rise. It is best to stay in a higher quality hotel or hostel, and certainly do not walk alone at night.
Places to Visit in Costa Rica
Manuel San Antonio
Manuel San Antonio is a stunningly beautiful national park, rated as one of the most beautiful in the world. Once you visit, you will instantly see why. It’s hard to imagine that a place with thick vegetation and lush forest, teaming with life, actually slopes down onto stunning beaches with azure waters. It is a sight you simply need to see for yourself.
You can enjoy walks in the rainforest while trying to spot the gracious sloths and exotic birds. If that’s not for you, take a dip in the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
- Entry – The entrance fee is $16. The park is open from 7am to 4 pm, and is closed on Mondays. Guided tours are $35 for children and $71 for adults, and are recommended for those who want to see wildlife and understand how the park and the animals function. The tour includes pick up and drop off at your hotel.
- Where to Stay – The closest accommodation to the national park is Millennium Hostel. Very clean and spacious, this is the ideal option for backpackers on a budget. A bed in an 8 bed dorm room costs around $24 per night.
- How to Get There – Two buses depart from San Jose to the park, one lasting for 3.5 hours with a $7 price, and another which is a little cheaper at $6, lasting for 5.5 hours.
Arenal & La Fortuna
It is impossible to travel to Costa Rica and not venture to this stunning natural sight. Costa Rica has many volcanoes but none are as beautiful as Arenal. The towering peak of Arenal is surrounded by dense forest, through which River Arenal flows. Visitors often get to see the steam spewing from Arenal, and sometimes at night, you can see ballistic lava streams travelling from the western side.
The last time Arenal erupted was in 1968 and it was catastrophic. Thankfully there have been no eruptions since that time and scientists closely monitor the volcano, so there are no worries about visiting, provided you listen to advise beforehand.
Along with the majestic beauty of Arenal and its surroundings, visitors are drawn to the many outdoor activities which include scuba, hiking, biking and canyoning. The influx of tourism has also swayed many hip cafes and hostels to open up in the area.
- Where to Stay – There are a lot of options in terms of places to stay in La Fortuna, from luxurious hotels offering stunning views of Arenal, to budget hostels and guesthouses. The best hostel in La Fortuna is Arenal Container. Rooms are clean and cosy, and the atmosphere is vibrant. A night in a 6 bed dormitory costs $10 without breakfast, which costs an additional $5. If you are willing to splurge then a great option is Tabacon Hot Springs. A night in a double room costs around $400.
Sights & Activities Around La Fortuna:
- La Fortuna Waterfall – The Tenerio River plummets down a huge 80 m into a deep blue hue, making La Fortuna one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the country. The proximity of the waterfall to the town makes this attraction a must-see.
- Hot Springs – There are many hot springs around La Fortuna and depending on your budget you can choose accordingly. The most popular ones are Tabacon and Ecotermales.
- Canyoning – Canyoning is one of the most exhilarating adventure sports out there! Imagine hiking through the dense forest, rappelling down waterfalls and jumping into a river; with canyoning, you will do all of them. This is an activity certainly not to be missed when you are in La Fortuna. Desafio offers canyoning adventures for $100. You can see a list of other activities they offer here.
How to Get to La Fortuna – You can take an inter bus shuttle, which picks you up and drops you at your hotel. For timings and prices click here.
Monteverde & Santa Elena
Monteverde is one of the most popular spots in Costa Rica, mostly due to its mysterious cloud forest, which has to be seen to be believed. Here you can explore the country’s unique biodiversity, with vibrant greens, colourful flowers and wildlife indigenous to the area.
Monteverde is located at an elevation of more than 4500 feet, at the top of what is known as the Continental Divide. You can explore the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, as well as the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve together, as they are in close proximity, whilst also visiting the Children’s Eternal Rainforest, which is teeming with life. All of these parks offer guided tours as well as night hikes. If you prefer to head off on your own steam, you can take a self-guided walk.
Surrounded by the impossible blue of the Pacific Ocean, Cocos Island is a must-visit. Extremely green and lush in vegetation, the island has its own unique ecosystems with stunning beaches. Visitors flock to this natural beauty time and time again, but many are drawn to the top quality dive sites. The surrounding waters are packed with dolphins, rays, hammerhead sharks, and all manner of other colourful marine life.
Cocos Island National Park is found 550 km off the southwestern coast of Costa Rica, and the only way to get there is by boat. Due to the distance from the mainland, tours usually last between 8 to 10 days and cost $3,000 on average.
For more information on diving at Cocos, click here.
At first glance, the capital city might seem chaotic and rather dull, but the more time you spend here, the more it grows on you. From there you realize that San Jose is actually quite charming!
The proximity of San Jose to all the top attractions makes it an ideal base to explore Costa Rica. However, a stay of two days is more than enough to get a feel of the city. The top attractions to add to your list are the Museum of Contemporary Art & Design, the beautiful Teatro Nacional and the History Museum.
Where to Stay – There are many hostels to choose from in San Jose but the top-rated one is Capital Hotel de Ciudad. This is a clean, modern and spacious hostel, offering a ton of activates and tours. A night in a 8-bed dorm costs $18, with breakfast included.
Day Trips From San Jose:
The Paos Volcano last erupted in 2017! Following the eruption, the park was closed for 16 months, but has recently reopened. Paos is only 30 miles from San Jose and is a worthy stop. The dense cloud forest that surrounds the two craters makes it an oasis close to the city, boasting one of the largest and the most beautiful crater lakes. The lagoon color drifts from aquamarine to green, depending on the sunlight making it a must have photo to add to your Costa Rica travel collection.
- How to Get There – The best way to visit Paos is with a guided tour. Find more information here.
- Where to Stay – If you decide to stay overnight then the best option is the Paos Volcano Lodge.
Tortuguero in a small village, tucked away in a steamy tangle of freshwater canals and tropical forest, on the Caribbean Coast. This remote region is completely different from mainland Costa Rica and can only be visited with a boat or plane.
Tortuguero’s volcanic beaches are a major nesting site for the endangered green turtles. The park’s wetlands, forests and canals are also home to many species, such as caiman, jaguars and manatees.
- How to Get There – The remoteness of Tortuguero makes it difficult to reach by public transport, and the best option is to take a tour from San Jose. You can check here for rates and more information.
In Tortuguero you can also enjoy canoeing, hiking in the forest, and explore the canals. Click here for more information and prices.
Corcovado National Park
National Geographic words to describe this 420 square-kilometer park were: “the most biologically intense place on Earth in terms of biodiversity”. This is exactly what you can expect in the Osa Peninsula. From bull sharks to jaguars, severely endangered tapir, pumas, and over four different monkey species are just some of the new friends waiting for you here. This is definitely a must-see on your Costa Rica travel.
The cost of entry is of $15 for non-Costa Ricans and you can´t go on your own for a visit. Campers are welcome for up to four days max and you can also stay at lodges inside the national park. It is reachable through sea, air and land.
Puerto Viejo is a great spot to enjoy the best of the Caribbean Sea at the South East of Costa Rica. Getting your toes to the black sands of Playa Negra and getting to Salsa Brava to practice your surf skills are just some of the many attractions of this hidden pearl. The Gandonca-Manzanillo is home to the National Wildlife Refugee where you can see jaguars and other big mammals receiving help.
Head north and you will find a beautiful and long coral reef inside Cahuita National Park as well as the amazing shipwreck where you can dive and see the vessel underwater.
Tabacon Hot Springs
Tabacon Hot Springs is the only hot spring in the entire region with natural hot springs pools. A hot spring river flows freely throughout the entire complex where you can just sit and dive inside natural and slippery small stone pools with hot water coming straight from the Arenal volcano.
This is a natural oasis with a raw feel in which you can be one with nature. The entry ticket is free for children from 0-5 years old, $42 for children 6-11 and adults pay $85. This fee includes an all-day pass with one meal (lunch or dinner)
Chirripó National Park
Five ecosystems co-exist inside the same park which gets its name from Costa Rica´s highest mountain: Cerro Chirripó (3,820 meters high). It was established in 1975 and its biodiversity is one of a kind including a tropical forest and a wet desert in the same park. The Las Nubes Center for Neotropical Conservation run by the York University of Toronto is also present in the park because of its uncanny climate, flora and fauna. It is possible to hike the quite demanding trail and the views at the summit are completely worth the effort.
The entry ticket for the National Park is $18 and although it is forbidden to camp inside the park, there is accommodation available for hikers with previous reservation.
How to get to Costa Rica?
Costa Rica´s international airport receives most international airlines. There are no direct flights covering the distance from India. However, you can find a flight from Cathay Pacific, United Airlines, Jet Airways, British Airways, American Airlines, Lufthansa, Air France and more with one, two or three stops in the way.
Budget for Costa Rica
Depending on the type of tourism you are thinking of, the minimum budget for Costa Rica travel for a month is of $1200 which roughly gives you an average of $40 a day. If you are not planning on backpacking and staying away from hostels and dorm rooms, you can consider something closer to $60 to $100 a day including day trips and local cuisine.
Costa Rica is certainly a dream destination for many, and with so many sights to see and activities to enjoy, you’ll certainly never be bored.
It’s important to check ahead of time regarding where to stay and what to do on your Costa Rica travel, so you can plan your time accordingly. Doing this will ensure you don’t waste a second in this beautiful country.