Planning a trip for a first time in Costa Rica can be exciting and a bit daunting, but with the right information and guidance, it can be a memorable experience. In this post, we’ll cover some essential tips and recommendations for first-time visitors to Costa Rica.
- How to get there
- Is Costa Rica expensive?
- How much time do I need if I am first time in Costa Rica?
- When is it best time to visit for the first time in Costa Rica?
- Will I need a car?
- Where to stay
- First time in Costa Rica: Let’s Explore the islands
- Hotels in Costa Rica, 5-star, romantic, family friendly and if you are on a budget
- Beaches to visit for the first time in Costa Rica
- Where to go, for the first time in Costa Rica?
- Eat and drink
- Try some delicious street food
- Restaurant tips for the first time in Costa Rica
- Fun things to do and see
- Useful Links for planning your trip, first time in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a small Central American country known for its stunning natural beauty, biodiversity, and eco-tourism opportunities. The country is located between Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south, with the Caribbean Sea to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Despite its small size, Costa Rica is home to a diverse range of ecosystems, including rainforests, cloud forests, beaches, mountains, and volcanoes.
The history of Costa Rica dates back to the pre-Columbian era when several indigenous tribes lived on the land. In 1502, Christopher Columbus arrived in the country and named it “Costa Rica,” which means “rich coast.” However, the Spanish did not colonize the country until the 16th century, and it gained independence from Spain in 1821. Since then, Costa Rica has remained a peaceful and stable democracy, with a strong commitment to conservation and environmental protection. Today, it is one of the most popular destinations in Central America, attracting millions of visitors each year with its natural beauty, adventure activities, and friendly locals.
How to get there
Costa Rica has two international airports, the Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) in San Jose and the Daniel Oduber International Airport (LIR) in Liberia. Many major airlines offer flights to both airports, and there are also direct flights available from some US and Canadian cities.
Is Costa Rica expensive?
Costa Rica can be relatively expensive compared to other Central American countries, but it’s still affordable for travellers on a budget. The cost of accommodation, food, and activities varies depending on the location and season. To save money, consider staying in hostels or budget-friendly accommodations and eating at local “sodas” or small restaurants.
The official currency of Costa Rica is the colón (CRC). However, US dollars are widely accepted in most tourist areas, and many businesses also accept credit cards. Euros are not commonly accepted, so it’s best to exchange them for colones or US dollars.
How much time do I need if I am first time in Costa Rica?
he amount of time you should spend in Costa Rica depends on your interests and travel style. While two weeks may seem like a long time, it’s possible to fill your days with adventure, relaxation, and exploration. However, if you have limited time, we recommend spending at least seven days to get a taste of the country’s diverse offerings.
When is it best time to visit for the first time in Costa Rica?
Costa Rica is a year-round destination, but the best time to visit depends on your interests and priorities. The dry season from December to April is the most popular time to visit, with sunny weather and clear skies. However, the rainy season from May to November is also a great time to visit for lush greenery, fewer crowds, and lower prices.
Will I need a car?
Renting a car is a great option for exploring Costa Rica at your own pace, but it’s not always necessary. Many popular destinations are accessible by public transportation or private shuttles. If you plan to visit more remote areas or explore off-the-beaten-path destinations, a car rental may be a good idea.
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Where to stay
There are several areas in Costa Rica that are popular among first-time visitors, each with its own unique attractions and characteristics. Here are some of the best areas to consider for your stay:
- San Jose: As the capital city, San Jose is a great place to start your trip and get a feel for the country’s culture and history. It’s also a convenient hub for day trips to nearby attractions like Poas Volcano, coffee plantations, and colonial towns.
- Manuel Antonio: This area is known for its beautiful beaches and national park, which is home to monkeys, sloths, and other wildlife. It’s a popular destination for outdoor activities like hiking, surfing, and kayaking.
- Arenal: Located in the northern part of the country, the Arenal region is known for its volcano and hot springs. It’s a great place for adventure activities like ziplining, rafting, and canyoning.
- Guanacaste: This province in the northwest of the country has some of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica, including Tamarindo, Playa Flamingo, and Playa Conchal. It’s also home to several national parks and wildlife reserves.
- Monteverde: This cloud forest reserve is a great place for nature lovers and birdwatchers, with over 400 species of birds and many other animals. It’s also known for its canopy tours and hanging bridges.
Ultimately, the best area to stay in Costa Rica depends on your interests and preferences. Whether you’re looking for adventure, relaxation, or a mix of both, there’s a destination in Costa Rica that’s sure to meet your needs.
First time in Costa Rica: Let’s Explore the islands
San Juan is the historic and cultural capital of Puerto Rico. Founded in 1521, the city is home to a number of historic landmarks and attractions, including the imposing El Morro fortress, the colorful buildings of La Perla neighbourhood, and the vibrant Plaza de Armas. Visitors to San Juan can explore the city’s rich history and culture, sample delicious local cuisine, and relax on some of the Caribbean’s most beautiful beaches.
San Juan is divided into two main areas: Old San Juan and New San Juan. Old San Juan is the historic center of the city and is characterized by its narrow, cobblestone streets, colorful colonial-style buildings, and stunning views of the ocean. This area is home to some of San Juan’s most famous landmarks, including the El Morro fortress, the San Juan Cathedral, and the Paseo de la Princesa promenade. Visitors can also stroll along the city walls or explore the numerous art galleries and museums.
New San Juan, on the other hand, is the modern part of the city and is characterized by its high-rise hotels, luxury boutiques, and trendy restaurants and bars. This area is also home to some of San Juan’s best beaches, including Condado Beach and Isla Verde Beach. Visitors can take a stroll along the lively Avenida Ashford or explore the hip Santurce neighborhood, which is home to a number of galleries, restaurants, and music venues.
Overall, San Juan offers a perfect mix of history, culture, and beach vibes, making it a must-visit destination for any traveler to Puerto Rico.
Manuel Antonio is a popular beach town located on the central Pacific coast of Costa Rica. The town is known for its stunning beaches, lush tropical rainforests, and abundant wildlife, including monkeys, sloths, and iguanas. Visitors to Manuel Antonio can enjoy a wide range of activities, including surfing, hiking, and wildlife watching, and can stay in a variety of accommodations, from luxury hotels to rustic jungle lodges.
Manuel Antonio National Park is the main attraction in the area, and is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. Playa Manuel Antonio, with its clear turquoise waters and white sand, is particularly popular with visitors. The park is also home to a wide variety of wildlife, including howler monkeys, sloths, and colorful tropical birds.
In addition to the national park, Manuel Antonio is also home to a number of other attractions, including the Nahomi Park Wildlife Rescue Center, which provides a safe haven for injured and orphaned animals, and the Manuel Antonio Beach, which is popular with both locals and visitors alike. Visitors can also take a day trip to the nearby Damas Island, where they can explore the mangrove forests and spot wildlife along the river. With its stunning natural beauty and abundance of activities, Manuel Antonio is a top destination for anyone looking to experience the best of Costa Rica’s Pacific coast.
Arenal is a region located in northern Costa Rica, known for its active Arenal Volcano and its beautiful natural surroundings. Visitors to Arenal can enjoy hiking, mountain biking, zip lining, and other outdoor activities, as well as relax in the area’s natural hot springs. The region is also home to a number of wildlife reserves and conservation areas, where visitors can observe exotic animals such as toucans, jaguars, and howler monkeys.
The Arenal Volcano is the most prominent feature of the region and is an active volcano, which adds to the appeal of the area. Despite the danger of the volcano, the region is a popular tourist destination, thanks to the many activities available, such as hiking to the top of the volcano, taking a dip in the natural hot springs, and going on a canopy tour to see the area’s lush vegetation and wildlife.
Other popular attractions in the Arenal region include the La Fortuna Waterfall, which cascades down 200 feet into a pristine swimming hole, and the Venado Caves, where visitors can explore underground chambers and tunnels. Arenal is also home to some of the most luxurious hotels and resorts in Costa Rica, with world-class amenities such as spas, restaurants, and private hot springs. Whether you’re looking for adventure or relaxation, Arenal is a must-see destination in Costa Rica.
Guanacaste is a province located in northwestern Costa Rica, known for its beautiful beaches, national parks, and wildlife reserves. Visitors to Guanacaste can explore the vibrant culture and history of the region, sample delicious local cuisine, and enjoy a wide range of outdoor activities, from surfing and snorkeling to hiking and horseback riding.
The province is home to some of the most stunning beaches in the country, including Playa Flamingo, Playa Tamarindo, and Playa Hermosa, which offer crystal-clear waters, soft sands, and breathtaking sunsets. Guanacaste is also home to a number of national parks, such as Rincon de la Vieja National Park and Santa Rosa National Park, where visitors can explore the region’s diverse ecosystems and observe rare wildlife, including jaguars, monkeys, and toucans.
In addition, Guanacaste is known for its vibrant cowboy culture and traditional festivals, such as the Festival de la Guanacastequidad, which celebrates the region’s rich cultural heritage with music, dance, and traditional food. Visitors can also indulge in the local cuisine, which includes dishes such as ceviche, gallo pinto, and arroz con pollo, and sample the region’s famous Guanacaste-style coffee.
Monteverde is a cloud forest reserve located in central Costa Rica, known for its lush tropical vegetation and abundant wildlife. Visitors to Monteverde can explore the reserve’s hiking trails, suspension bridges, and ziplines, and observe exotic animals such as sloths, quetzals, and howler monkeys. The region is also home to a number of eco-lodges and sustainable tourism initiatives, making it a popular destination for nature lovers and eco-tourists.
In addition to the cloud forest reserve, Monteverde is also home to a number of small towns and communities, each with its own unique charm and character. Santa Elena, for example, is a bustling town with a variety of restaurants, shops, and accommodations, while the small village of Cerro Plano offers a quieter, more secluded experience. Visitors can also take part in coffee and chocolate tours, visit local farms and gardens, and learn about the region’s rich cultural heritage. Overall, Monteverde offers a unique and unforgettable experience for those seeking a deeper connection with nature and local communities in Costa Rica.
Hotels in Costa Rica, 5-star, romantic, family friendly and if you are on a budget
Costa Rica offers a wide range of accommodation options for travellers, from budget-friendly hostels to luxurious 5-star resorts. Here are some examples of the best hotels in Costa Rica for different types of travelers:
- 5-star hotels: Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo, Andaz Costa Rica Resort at Peninsula Papagayo, Nayara Springs
- Romantic hotels: Kura Design Villas, El Mangroove, The Harmony Hotel
- Family-friendly hotels: Dreams Las Mareas, Occidental Tamarindo, JW Marriott Guanacaste Resort & Spa
There are many budget-friendly hotels and hostels throughout Costa Rica that offer comfortable and affordable accommodations for travelers. Here are a few options to consider for the first time in Costa Rica:
- Hotel Costa Verde: This eco-friendly hotel in Manuel Antonio offers affordable rooms with ocean views, as well as a restaurant, swimming pool, and access to nearby beaches.
- Selina Hostels: With locations in San Jose, Manuel Antonio, and other destinations throughout the country, Selina Hostels offers comfortable and stylish accommodations at a reasonable price. They have a variety of room options, including private rooms and shared dormitories.
- Hostel Pangea: Located in San Jose, Hostel Pangea offers affordable dormitory-style accommodations, as well as private rooms and suites. The hostel also features a restaurant, bar, swimming pool, and free Wi-Fi.
- Cabinas el Pueblo: This budget hotel in La Fortuna offers clean and comfortable rooms at a great value, with a central location and easy access to the area’s hot springs and other attractions.
- Hotel Kokoro: This family-owned hotel in Arenal offers affordable accommodations in a beautiful natural setting, with comfortable rooms, a swimming pool, and access to nearby hot springs.
Beaches to visit for the first time in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is known for its beautiful beaches, and there are plenty of options for first-time visitors. Some of the best beaches in Costa Rica include:
- Manuel Antonio Beach: A beautiful white sand beach located in Manuel Antonio National Park.
- Tamarindo Beach: A popular surf town with a long stretch of beach and plenty of restaurants and bars.
- Playa Conchal: A unique beach made of tiny crushed seashells instead of sand.
- Playa Flamingo: A beautiful crescent-shaped beach with calm waters and white sand.
- Santa Teresa Beach: A remote beach on the Nicoya Peninsula known for its great surf and laid-back vibe.
Where to go, for the first time in Costa Rica?
Costa Rica offers a wide variety of destinations and experiences for first-time visitors. Here are some of the best places to visit in Costa Rica for an unforgettable trip:
- Manuel Antonio National Park: A beautiful park that features stunning beaches, hiking trails, and abundant wildlife.
- Arenal Volcano National Park: Arenal is known for its iconic volcano, hot springs, and adventure activities like zip-lining and white-water rafting.
- Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve: This is a great place to experience Costa Rica’s rich biodiversity, with hiking trails, zip-lines, and the famous hanging bridges.
- Tamarindo Beach: A popular beach town with a vibrant nightlife scene, great surfing, and plenty of restaurants and bars.
- Tortuguero National Park: A remote park accessible only by boat or plane, Tortuguero is famous for its sea turtle nesting sites and abundant wildlife.
Eat and drink
Costa Rican cuisine is delicious and varied, with influences from Spanish, African, and indigenous cultures. Some of the most popular dishes to try include:
- Gallo Pinto: A traditional breakfast dish made of rice and beans.
- Casado: A lunch or dinner plate that typically includes rice, beans, meat or fish, plantains, and salad.
- Ceviche: A popular seafood dish made with raw fish marinated in citrus juice.
- Tres Leches: A sweet dessert cake made with three types of milk.
In addition to the food, Costa Rica is also known for its excellent coffee and tropical fruit juices.
Try some delicious street food
Street food is a popular and affordable way to experience the flavors of Costa Rica, with a variety of tasty and traditional dishes served from food carts and stalls throughout the country. Here are a few examples of popular street food in Costa Rica:
- Empanadas: These fried or baked pastry pockets are filled with savory ingredients such as meat, cheese, or vegetables.
- Tamales: Made with masa (corn dough) and filled with meat or vegetables, tamales are a popular street food in Costa Rica, especially during the Christmas season.
- Chifrijo: A hearty and flavorful dish of rice, beans, pork, and pico de gallo (a fresh salsa), chifrijo is often served in small portions from street food stalls.
- Plantains: This versatile and delicious fruit is a staple in Costa Rican cuisine, and is often served as street food in various forms, such as fried plantain chips or maduros (ripe plantains).
- Ceviche: While also found in restaurants, ceviche is also often sold as street food in coastal regions, typically served in a plastic cup or bowl.
Be sure to try some of these traditional dishes and flavors for an authentic taste of the local cuisine.
Restaurant tips for the first time in Costa Rica
There are plenty of great restaurants in Costa Rica to suit every taste and budget. Here are some tips on where to eat:
- For great views: Try El Avión in Manuel Antonio, a restaurant located in a former US cargo plane with stunning ocean views.
- For a romantic dinner: Check out Restaurante Silvestre in Monteverde, which offers delicious food and an intimate atmosphere.
- For local cuisine: Head to a “soda,” which is a small, family-run restaurant that serves traditional Costa Rican dishes at affordable prices.
Fun things to do and see
Costa Rica is a land of adventure and natural beauty, with plenty of fun activities for visitors of all ages and interests. Whether you’re looking for land-based activities, aquatic adventures, or unique experiences you won’t find anywhere else, Costa Rica has something to offer. I’ll share some of the most fun things to do in Costa Rica, from hiking and surfing to zip-lining and wildlife watching.
Costa Rica is a paradise for hikers and nature lovers, with dozens of national parks and reserves to explore. One of the most popular is Manuel Antonio National Park, known for its stunning beaches and abundant wildlife. Visitors can hike through the rainforest, swim in the turquoise waters, and spot exotic animals like sloths and monkeys. Another must-visit destination for hikers is Arenal Volcano National Park, where you can climb to the summit of the active volcano for stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
For couples, there are plenty of romantic activities to enjoy, from sunset cruises to couples massages. One unique experience is visiting the Rio Celeste waterfall, known for its stunning blue color caused by a natural chemical reaction. Couples can hike through the lush rainforest and enjoy a picnic lunch before taking a dip in the cool, refreshing water.
For families, there are countless activities to keep everyone entertained. One of the most popular is zip-lining, where you can soar through the treetops and get a bird’s-eye view of the rainforest. Another fun activity for families is visiting a wildlife rescue center, where you can learn about and interact with animals like sloths, monkeys, and toucans.
Costa Rica is also a paradise for aquatic adventures, with miles of coastline and crystal-clear waters to explore. Surfing is one of the most popular activities, with world-class waves on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. You can take a lesson with a local instructor or head out on your own to catch some waves.
For a unique experience, try stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) through the mangroves of Tortuguero National Park, where you’ll spot exotic birds and other wildlife. You can also go snorkeling or scuba diving in the coral reefs of Cahuita National Park, home to colorful fish and other marine life.
If you’re looking for something a little off the beaten path, Costa Rica has plenty of quirky and unusual activities to try. For example, you can take a chocolate-making class, where you’ll learn about the history and process of making chocolate from scratch. Or, you can visit the Bat Jungle in Monteverde, where you’ll see dozens of species of bats up close and personal.
Another unusual experience is visiting the Tree House Lodge on the Caribbean coast, where you can stay in a tree house built around a 500-year-old Sangrillo tree. The lodge offers a range of activities, from kayaking and fishing to yoga and massage.
Useful Links for planning your trip, first time in Costa Rica
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