Costa Rica – a real paradise for those who are looking for interesting and exotic areas. This country is known for its incredible diversity of nature, and its unusual geography, because its beaches are washed by two oceans: the Atlantic and the Pacific. All this, as well as a developed tourist infrastructure attracts a lot of visitors from all over the world to Costa Rica. In this country you can find everything: there are also dense moist jungles, active volcanoes, and mountain peaks swept by all the winds. Costa Rica is proud of its conservation program, the most developed in Latin America: one-fourth of the land in this country is under state protection, and in general, 12% of the total territory of Costa Rica is reserved for 25 national parks, biosphere reserves and nature protection complexes.
The protected areas, however, are open to the public, so tourists who decide to spend their holidays in Costa Rica always have a wonderful opportunity to see a lot of exotic animals in their natural environment: they are sluggish sloths, fantastic caimans and majestic sea turtles, exotic butterflies and birds, snakes and monkeys. But Costa Rica is not only an acquaintance with the world of wild nature. In this country, the tourist is waiting for a beach holiday, and a lot of various entertainment, whether rafting on mountain rivers, sports fishing or surfing.
Costa Rica, one of the safest countries in Central America, also attracts visitors to the stability of the political situation. Residents of Costa Rica abandoned the armed forces in 1948. Nevertheless, this country has avoided the upheavals and upheavals that are constantly shaking the neighboring countries, and its peace-loving and friendly people welcome in their beautiful country numerous guests who come here from all over the world.
Add to all the mild, pleasant climate all year round, and you can rest assured that traveling to Costa Rica will be a fascinating and unforgettable adventure.
Recently, this small Central American country has become one of the world’s surf centers, where fans of this sport from all over the world gather. And this is not surprising: apart from a diverse wave and warm waters, tourists are also attracted by excellent cuisine, affordable prices and the friendliness of Costa Ricans.
Costa Rica is one of the smallest republics of Central America. From the east it’s washed by the Caribbean Sea, and from the west by the Pacific Ocean, and in total has a coastline of 1,290 km, of which 212 km falls on the Atlantic coast, and 1016 km in the Pacific. The Pacific coast is dug by bays and bays, which alternate with peninsulas. This geographical feature came at the right time for fans of surfing, contributing in turn and the rapid development of tourism infrastructure.
Costa Rica borders with Nicaragua in the north and Panama in the southeast. The total area of this Central American country is 51,100 km., territorial waters – 589 square km.
Costa Rica is a mountainous country with many majestic volcanoes and mountain ranges. Chirippo, or Cherro Chirippo – the highest point of the country, which rises to 3819 meters above sea level. Chirripo is the fifth largest mountain in Central America. The volcano of Yazra is the highest volcano of Costa Rica, whose altitude is 3430 meters above sea level.
Costa Rica also includes several islands, one of which, Isla de la Coco, a true maritime miracle, is located about 400 kilometers from the port of Puntarenas, located on the mainland. The island of Coco is not significant; its total area is only 24 square km. The largest island of Costa Rica is Isla Calero, with an area of 151.6 sq km.
Both coasts of Costa Rica – both Pacific and Caribbean – abound in beaches. The interior of the country is divided into four mountain chains, or “cordilleras”, which run from north to south. The capital of the country San Jose is located approximately in the center of the island in the high mountain valley. From the central mountains to the Caribbean coast cascades fall the Costa Rica, including the deepest of them – the Reventazon. On the Pacific coast, there are two largest peninsulas: Nicoya and Osa. As a kind of geographical curiosity, one can note the fact that their forms are almost identical: the Osa Peninsula is a small copy of the Nicoya Peninsula.
Geographically, Costa Rica is located on the isthmus between North and South America. As a consequence, on this, a kind of natural bridge between the two continents, the most diverse representatives of flora and fauna coexist. Due to this biodiversity, in Costa Rica, you can find a variety of life zones – biomes. Here you can see both coastal landscapes, ocean coasts, and desert landscapes, in a mountainous area at an altitude of 3 thousand meters.
This geographical uniqueness of the area literally “squeezed” on a fairly moderate territory – the size comparable to, for example, Denmark – just a fantastic number of animals and plant species. Miniature in size, however, possesses an astonishing 5% of the planet’s biodiversity, including 360 different species of reptiles and amphibians, about 850 bird species, more than 205 mammal species, 800 species of ferns, 1000 species of orchids and 2000 tree species.
Is it any wonder that many Europeans and Americans, once arriving here as tourists, decided to buy real estate here, or stay forever in this country – now their number is about 1% of the total population of Costa Rica.
The country’s currency is a column named after Columbus (Colon in Spanish). The rate is approximately 499 for 1 USD, or 648 for 1 euro. At the airport, it is not recommended to change, because the course will not be in your favor at all.
Climate and weather in Costa Rica
There is no spring or autumn in Costa Rica. In these parts, the seasons are called Verano (summer) or Invierno (winter), although the dry season (from December to April) and rainy (from May to November) would rather come up to them. The fluctuations in daily temperatures are approximately 8 ° C to 10 ° C. From November to January, cold winds blow from the mountains of North America, and this slightly reduces the temperature. Costa Rica is one of the few countries in the world where the cold Arctic air comes so close to the equator. The warmest months in Costa Rica are March, April and May, and the wettest months are September and October. Precipitation can come in the form of complicated showers with impressive lightning and thunder (aguacero) and, which is much less frequent, prolonged light rains that last for several days.
But even in the wet season, rainfall rarely occurs all day, day after day. Rain usually starts early in the morning in the Central Valley and other highlands and reaches the Pacific lowlands only in the afternoon. So even if you come to Costa Rica in the so-called “green season”, rains do not interfere with excursions and walks around the country. During this period, as a rule, rain is allowed only in the second half of the day, and in the first half, precipitation is insignificant – so count on an early rise. The whole day rain can only go in October-November.
Each time of the year has its unique beauty. For the humid season characterized by riotous flora. At this time of year, various trees start to bloom. A dry season is a better time for orchids, bougainvilleas, large-flowered cacti, among which the most famous, of course, is Reina de la Noche (queen of the night).
Cities and regions
Costa Rica is divided into seven provinces: Alajuela, Cartago, Guanacaste, Heredia, Limon, Puntarenas and the state capital San Jose.
According to the latest population census, which was conducted in 2000, the population of Costa Rica is approaching 4 million, half of which live in the central part of the country.
Regions of Costa Rica
The central valley is a spacious and fertile land surrounded by mountains. Almost half of the country’s population lives here. Those who visit the Costa Rican highlands, cannot help noticing the constant change of different microclimate. In this region are several volcanoes, which annually visit thousands of tourists.
The northern lowland is known for its picturesque villages and villages, which annually host many tourists. The most visited of local towns – La Fortuna, is popular with tourists not least due to its proximity (about 6 km) to the Arenal volcano. There are also hotels, restaurants and bars, as well as travel agencies that offer excursions to the volcano, cycling and hiking, and much more.
Another local landmark, which can not be missed – surrounded by several natural lakes is the La Fortuna waterfall, whose waters are overthrown from a height of 70 meters. Those who like a more relaxing holiday can have a great time at the local hot springs.
The Central Pacific region covers the entire Pacific coast, from the province of Guanacaste to the border with Panama. Depending on the locality, the climate of this area can be both dry and wet.
The North-Pacific region is the place of the most beautiful and unique beaches in the country.
Attractions of this region are Flamingo Beach, Playa Conchal, Playa Matapalo, Playa Tamarindo, Black Beach and Playa Avellanas. On the south side of the peninsula, the most visited is the beach of Flamingo Beach and the beaches near the town of Montezuma.
There are good hotels, although the atmosphere here for most of the year remains calm and quiet, and local beaches are visited mainly by fans of surfing and sports fishing.
The Caribbean coast of Costa Rica is noteworthy because tropical rainforest descends to the very shore of the Caribbean Sea. It also has its beaches, with white sand and crystal clear water. About a quarter of the Caribbean coast belongs to the nature conservation zone.
Tourists do not so often visit the Caribbean coast because of its volatile climate (as well as inaccessibility and mosquitoes). In this part of the country, a significant percentage of the population is in the Afro-Caribbean community, as well as Indians of local tribes.
The South Pacific part of the country is the most characteristic part of Costa Rican geography, due to its biodiversity due to seaside topography.
The two most significant peninsulas in this region are the Osa and Nicoya. The Osa Peninsula is located in the southern province of Puntarenas. Despite the fact that the size of the peninsula is insignificant, the tropical habitat here is very diverse: there is also a tropical rainforest, and coastal marshes, as well as a mountain forest.
This region belongs to the famous Corcovado National Park, which covers a significant portion of the Costa Rican conservation areas. By the magazine “National Geographic” it is recognized as “the region with the most intensive biological activity in the World”.
Major cities of Costa Rica
- San Jose is the capital of Costa Rica.
- Cartago is the first capital of the country.
- Alajuela – in this city is located the international airport “Juan Santamaria”.
- Heredia – is famous for its coffee plantations.
- Liberia – the location of the international airport “Daniel Oduber”, a kind of “gateway” to the famous beaches of the province of Guanacaste, such as Samara,
- Nosara, Carillo.
- Puerto Limon, or simply Limon – the central city of the Caribbean coast.
- Puntarenas – from this city goes ferry to the peninsula of Nicoya.
- Quesada is the largest city in the north of the country, surrounded by hot springs, popular with Costa Rican guests.
The city of San Jose is not only magnificent landscapes and exciting architecture, but it is also a good excursion program, which, perhaps, is better to begin with the volcano of Yazra and the waterfalls that are located near the city. Enrich you with new impressions “The Golden Museum”, where the collections of gold items from 500 AD are presented and the Jade Museum with a unique collection of ancient jewelry. Further – the National Museum, the Museum of Insects, the Children’s Museum. Unforgettable can be a trip to a butterfly farm and a coffee farm, and extreme lovers can go rafting on the tropical rivers.
In the city of Alajuela, tourists always visit the Poas volcano, located at an altitude of 2,705 meters and are one of the most beautiful in the world, and a butterfly breeding farm.
The city of Cartago every August is a place of pilgrimage of many believers to the basilica “Our Lady of the Angels”. Not far from the city at an altitude of 3432 meters is the active volcano Irazu.
In the city of Limon, the Ethnohistory Museum and local markets deserve particular attention.
TOP-10 most visited attractions of Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a surprisingly diverse country. Stunning beaches and lush tropical forests, a unique charm of ancient cities – travelers from all over the world Costa Rica opens its truly fascinating places. Here is a list of the most popular and invariably exciting places in Costa Rica, both individual attractions and entire cities, interesting as a whole.
San Jose: city and surroundings
San Jose is the capital and the largest city of Costa Rica. Located in the Central Valley, it combines both ancient and modern features without losing its unique Costa Rican traditions. Due to its location in the center of the country, San Jose is an ideal “base camp” for further detailed research of other corners of the country. But those who have already settled in San Jose are waiting for a lot of beautiful places in the vicinity of the capital; just a few minutes drive from the city itself.
The famous natural attractions of Costa Rica include, in the first place, the Arenal Volcano. Despite the fact that the volcano itself entered the inactive phase in 2010 (meaning that its eruptions ceased), it still represents an impressive sight. The Arenal Volcano is an ideal place for those who enjoy traveling among unspoiled nature. The cone of the volcano, which is an almost perfect symmetry, is surrounded by a rainforest that is part of the Arenal National Park, which covers more than 29 hectares. Visitors to the National Park are waiting for a lot of exciting activities: rafting down the mountain rivers, descent on the ropes over the waterfall, walking. Neighborhoods of the volcano are impressive not less: hot springs, forests and lakes, waterfalls and caves, as well as beautiful small towns, breathing old times, such as La Fortuna.
Monteverde – in this small, fog-clouded city in the province of Puntarenas, tourists flock to visit the numerous nature reserves here and enjoy the richness of the local nature. The main sign of these places is the rain and foggy rainforests. Monteverde is rightfully considered one of the “Seven Wonders of Costa Rica”, along with Isla del Coco, Tortuguero, Arenal Volcano, Cerro Chiripo, Rio Celeste and Poas volcano. The cool and damp foggy forest, the dense thickets of tropical trees – that’s what made Monteverde bait for ecotourists, who flock to these places from around the world. This area is also marked by a series of volcanoes, both active and asleep, with rich reserves and varied weather.
Manuel Antonio Beach
Manuel Antonio is a real natural paradise on the Pacific coast of the country. This is a charming combination of tropical rainforests, coral reefs and an ocean beach. By all accounts, Manuel Antonio is one of the most beautiful corners of the country. And while the Manuel Antonio National Park located here on the territory is the smallest of all the national parks of Costa Rica, it remains one of the richest regarding biodiversity. Well, the natural beauty of these places makes it one of the leading attractions of Costa Rica.
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Once a sleepy provincial town, now Tamarindo is the largest coastal “surfing point” of the province of Guanacaste, where many surfers from all over the world are flocking. Tamarindo successfully combines what the surfers on the ocean coast are looking for: wave, sand, sun, and vibrant nightlife. This amazing city, which has become a place of real pilgrimage of surfers, is also not less popular with eco-tourists. From the north and south Tamarindo is surrounded by national parks, the distinctive feature of which is the mountains, with rich nature.
Jaco is the most popular beach in Costa Rica, where both surfers are eager to visit and backpackers, and, of course, lovers of wildlife. Those who love surfing, horseback riding, hiking, kayaking and sports fishing – all will find on the beach Jaco lesson. There are a lot of tour operators who can organize holidays and excursions at the most competitive prices. Recently, it has become quite easy to get to Hako Beach, as the government of Costa Rica built a modern highway from the capital San Jose to Jaco. The road was opened in 2010, quickly turning Jaco into the center of this tourist boom.
Puerto Viejo and Cahuita
Puerto Viejo, known for its relaxed atmosphere, can be considered a visiting card of the exotic, “Caribbean” Costa Rica. This beautiful beach town is a unique combination of Latin American, Afro-Caribbean, and also the culture of the local Indians “brie-brie”. The nearby (just 11 miles) Cahuita National Park and Gandoka Manzanillo Biosphere Reserve will introduce tourists to the stunning wildlife of these places.
Like the rest of the Caribbean coast of the country, Puerto Viejo knows no shortage of rain. Despite the fact that the local climate is very volatile and unpredictable, it has long been noticed – when it rains in the rest of Costa Rica, on the southern coast of the Caribbean is sunny and dry. The best time to visit Puerto Viejo is from February to April, and from August to October.
Drake’s Bay (Corcovado National Park) is one of Costa Rica’s most peaceful and beautiful places. This small town, preferably even a quiet, leisurely village, which the locals call simply Drake, can be considered the vestibule of the Corcovado National Park, famous for its unique ecology, beauty and diversity of wildlife.
Drake Bay – or Bahia Drake, as it is called by the locals (Bahia Drake) – located on the northern edge of the peninsula of the Wasp, can rightly be called a paradise for adventurers amid unspoiled nature. His name was due to the local belief that the famous pirate Sir Francis Drake swam into this bay. Currently, the Drake Bay, thanks to the hotels and guest houses scattered along the coast – is an ideal place for a relaxing holiday away from civilization. Well, when solitude seems excessive, you can always find an occupation in this region: horseback riding or kayaking in the Corcovado Park, bird watching or sports fishing – or just leisurely walks through the endless miles that stretch for miles, the deserted beaches of these fantastically beautiful places.
Tortuguero also called “Costa Rican Amazon”, is also known as a nature reserve of world importance: every year, many thousands of tortoises lay eggs on these spacious beaches. Another local attraction is the canals of Tortuguero, an extensive system of natural and human-made canals and waterways designed for both water travel and jungle research. The local cultural atmosphere is significantly different from the rest of Costa Rica, thanks to the significant Afro-Caribbean influence that affects everything, and not least the unique uniqueness of the local cuisine.
The town of Montezuma was once a remote fishing village, but since the early 1980s, it has become increasingly favorite among nature lovers, as well as tourists seeking budget rest. Currently, the city’s population is a “mixture” of residents, foreign backpackers and eco-tourists arriving for the amazing beaches, rivers and majestic waterfalls that surround the village from all sides. The nature reserve of Cabo Blanco also attracts many visitors to these lands.
National Parks of Costa Rica
- Barra Honda National Park;
- National Park on the island of Coco;
- Guanacaste National Park;
- Juan Castro Blanco National Park;
- National Marine Park Nas Baoulas;
- Palo Verde National Park;
- Rincon de La Vieja National Park.
Beaches of Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a country offering a variety of activities. But, no matter what your interests are, and where you want to go, you will undoubtedly want to relax on the wonderful local beaches. The lion’s share of beach tourism is concentrated on the Pacific coast: in the central region near San Jose, on the Nicoya peninsula, and near the dry tropical forests of Guanacaste. Less crowded by tourists, but no less beautiful beaches in the wet tropical forests of the southern Pacific coast, near the Corcovado National Park, as well as the exotic paradise of eco-tourists on the Caribbean coast.
The beaches of Costa Rica are sand, not only white and yellow but silver and black.
A lot of love from tourists and residents enjoy the beaches of the province of Guanacaste. Here each beach has its own peculiarity:
- Playa del Coco – for diving enthusiasts;
- Playa – Flamingo – for lovers of sport fishing;
- Tamarindo – for surfers;
- On the Playa Grande you can see how the sea turtles lay eggs;
- On the south coast of the Pacific Ocean, the beaches of Jaco (for lovers of night entertainment) and Punta Leon are popular (for surfers).
The Atlantic coast is famous for the beaches of Portete and Bonita.
Costa Rica can safely be called the country with the largest number of rivers per square kilometer. And almost everywhere you can meet the proposals of travel agencies, inviting you to excursions along the rivers of the country, from pleasure to extreme, which will help you to get acquainted with unspoiled nature. For many years, the center of rafting in Costa Rica was the town of Turrialba on the Caribbean slope of the mountainous part of Costa Rica, sandwiched between the mountains near the rivers of Reventazion and Pacuare,
However, more recently, popularity is also gaining a rafting over the seething waters in the area of the Arenal volcano, along with the rivers Sarapikvi and Toro. As for the Pacific coast, the El Grande river, much calmer and full of water, is famous for its many-day excursions, as well as exceptional opportunities for kayak lovers. A little to the north, closer to the central part of the Pacific coast, the rivers Sawegre and Naranjo flow – you can order here as a half-day walk along the Naranjo River, and a journey of 1 to 2 days along the Savage River. Longer river excursions are offered on the River Pacuare, from 2 to 3 days.
For those who want to get the adrenaline rush, it’s worth stopping the choice on the Naranjo River section near Manuel Antonio. For lovers, however, to spend time in the wild, the possibility of rafting along the Penas Blancas River, next to the Arenal volcano, will also provide an opportunity to get acquainted with the amazing diversity of the wildlife of these places.
It is important to note that Costa Rica is one of the first countries in the world where this type of sports fishing began to be practiced as “caught-released”. As for the trophies, Costa Rica is not accidentally considered one of the best places for ocean fishing. Costa Rican “catch” pulled on 64 world records. The Pacific coast is an excellent place for catching marlin, dorado, tuna, mackerel, prickly pelamid-wahoo, long-legged horse-mackerel (peacock fish), reef snapper, snapper, and others. The Caribbean coast and the northern regions of Costa Rica are known for large specimens of tarpon, Snuka and barracuda. Local boats offer a half-day trip to the sea, for the whole day, as well as many-day fishing excursions.
Surfing in Costa Rica
It’s no accident that surf fans, who have tried many coasts of the planet, Costa Rica enjoys well-deserved popularity. And this is not surprising: excellent weather all year round, warm water, friendly people, two coasts with a lot of beach breaks, and, of course, a variety of waves.
Surf-spots in Costa Rica – for every taste: and those who need the company and the audience, and deserted beach-breaks. Even fans on the board, all alone among the exotic nature, will be able to find many suitable places with an ideal wave, which can be reached only by boat, or after a long hike.
When is the best period of surfing in Costa Rica? Any time is beautiful in its way.
In Costa Rica, there are two seasons, wet and dry. During the dry season (December to April), surfing is not as active on the Pacific coast, and much more active in the Caribbean. And in the wet season, which is also called the “green season” (May-November), conditions change, and the wave in the Pacific is much higher.
The dry season coincides with the height of the tourist season in Costa Rica. And this means that a trip at such a time of year will inevitably cost more, as most tourists prefer dry weather. Accordingly, less freedom to stay in the desired place, it is more difficult to choose accommodation at your discretion, etc.
The most budget time for trips to Costa Rica is September-October.
As for the time for surfing, the most optimal period is from November to August.
There is no shortage of beautiful surf spots in Costa Rica. On the Pacific coast of the country – in the Central Pacific, and in Guanacaste – the best bays of Central America are located.
For example, in Guanacaste, you should especially highlight several beaches for surfing. Playa Negra and Playa Grande are famous for their excellent wave break. The beach of Playa Negra is formed by a frozen volcanic lava flowing into the ocean, and it creates a fast low wave, which is suitable only for advanced surfers. There is a tight permanent break on the Playa Grande, so the conditions for surfing here remain good all year round. The break on this beach goes over the sandy bottom so that the beach will appeal to both beginners and experienced surfers.
For beginners, Tamarindo beach will also be right, but for here Playa del Coco offers experienced surfers the opportunity to test their strength on the “Witch’s Rock” or in “Ollie’s Place”.
The Caribbean coast also has beautiful beaches, but the possibilities for surfing there are limited.
The southern part of Costa Rica is known for its surf spots on the beaches of Dominical and Pavones. On Pavones there is a dense, heavy wave-shaft – “barrel”, which can reach a decent height. This beach is little known, but from this, he only wins.
Fine beach-breaks can be found in Montezuma on the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, in particular, Playa Grande. This beach is suitable for all surfers.
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There is no shortage of scenic routes for mountain biking in Costa Rica, especially in the vicinity of the volcanoes of Ira, Turrialba and Arenal. One of such places is a dirt road that connects the volcano of Irak and the foot of Turrialba volcano. For mountain bike fans, this is the ideal route, as it crosses the mountainous terrain, from where an excellent view of the Cartago valley (of course, if weather permits) opens.
Also in the vicinity of Cartago – in Paraiso – there is a wonderful waterfall, where bikers are offered in the valley.
You can go around the lake Arenal, devoting such an excursion entirely one day, or break the route into two exits, spending the night in the villages of Tilaran or Nuevo Arenal. There are good sites for biking and on the Nicoya Peninsula, especially on the stretch between the towns of Samara, Puerto Coyote and Malpais. It is a dirt track that runs along the oceanfront itself and connects three beach towns.
Golf in Costa Rica
Costa Rica – a real “Mecca” golf fans in tropical places. Golf courses in this country by themselves leave an unforgettable impression, a fantastic combination of exotic jungles, mountain valleys, and the indescribable blue of the ocean.
The leading golf centers are located in three regions of Costa Rica: in the very capital of San Jose, in the province of Guanacaste, and in the central part of the Pacific coast. Considering the condition of the roads, you need to calculate in advance the time of arrival on this or that site. Throughout the year in Costa Rica, competitions are held on golf, in which any tourist can take part. Most golf centers provide leasing of clubs and shoes.
Also throughout Costa Rica, the so-called “canopy tours”, or descents on the “zip-line”, are becoming very popular. You can meet them almost throughout Costa Rica. The average price of such a walk is $30- $50, depending on the terrain, and the travel agency that offers such entertainment. The descent looks like this: a special zip-fastening of a person is fastened to an iron wire, and then – a descent along this cable from one wooden platform to another, which is fixed between trees. A person literally flies over a dense forest crown or a river bed from platform to platform. In some places, the distance to the ground is quite significant, so, first of all, it is necessary to go through thorough instruction and to ensure the reliability of the zip-fastenings.
Another kind of “canopy tour” is a trip on a forest lift, a kind of ski lift, which is redone for the conditions of a tropical forest. Here, the platform-trailers move slower to allow the tourist to view the wild nature of the rainforest. Each trailer has its guide, which tells in detail about the local flora and fauna. Such lifts, in particular, can be found in an amusement park next to the Jaco beach, and also near the National Park Braulio Carillo. A walk on the forest lift, in contrast to the extreme “zip-line”, is suitable for all ages. Such excursions are both informative, to get acquainted with the nature of Costa Rica, and in special places, for example, over the serpentaria, or the centers of cultivation of medicinal plants.
A bit about prices: admission in most national parks from $10, for students a discount is made. Canopy tours and day excursions: approximately $45. Scuba diving: a dive (two tank dive) $60 – 100. Surfing – $20. More information about the various ways to save in Costa Rica can be found here.
Getting around Costa Rica
Going on a trip to Costa Rica, first of all, it should be remembered that in the vast majority of Costa Rican cities there is no accepted system for designating streets. Yes, in San Jose, many important streets have names known to residents, but outside the capital (and in some areas of the capital itself) it is customary to indicate a road for “landmarks”, such as famous buildings, popular shops and cafes, palm trees, etc. And, therefore, traveling in Costa Rica, a good stock up cards, or use GPS-navigation from various providers. In particular, a full navigation map of Costa Rica can be obtained on GPSeTravelguides or Trackit GPS. On iOS and Android can be used Kaart Data. Cenrut maps can be downloaded to Garmin, iPhones and Android phones.
If you are not in a hurry and do not have anything against the local color, you can travel around the country by public transport. A short flight will cost $3, longer – up to $10. There are a lot of private transportation companies in the country, which are delivered by direct flights (buses or shuttles) to cities or major tourist centers. But the price of a ticket in these buses is sometimes three times higher than the price on public transport.
Buses in Costa Rica
Most of the popular tourist centers of Costa Rica can be visited using the bus service. At least twice a day, buses from all regions of the country are sent to San Jose and vice versa. The advantage of traveling by bus is mainly in low cost (tickets rarely cost more than $7 US per person). Besides, flights cover almost the entire territory of the country (on average, from coast to coast you can drive for 3-4 hours). However, almost the entire bus network (public transport) is “tied up” in San Jose, and there are almost no direct long-distance routes in Costa Rica, which substantially increases the time it takes to get to one city from another, bypassing the capital. In Costa Rica, there is also no booking system for bus tickets, so there might not be enough seats for a bus following a popular route. Therefore, choosing a route, does not prevent early arriving at the bus station, in time to buy a ticket.
There is no central bus station in San Jose. Buses are sent from several bus stations in the city, which – with a few exceptions – in approximate terms serve a certain region of the country. In order not to get lost, it does not hurt to find out beforehand what kind of flight you need. The easiest way is to call or contact the hotel you are going to and clarify with them which trip will suit you, where to get on the bus, and how often it goes. The schedule of buses can be found online.
Car hire in Costa Rica
One of the great advantages of traveling by car is that you can choose to travel around the country, including visiting remote mountain regions or crowded beaches, to make a stopover if you want, to have a snack or take a picture in the place you like. You can rent a car in Costa Rica in advance, using the Internet, and the car will already be waiting for you, by your arrival. Rent an “SUV” of the middle class will cost an average of $350-700 per week (the price must include the cost of insurance). The SUV is all the more suitable for trips outside the Central Valley, especially during the wet season. It is also realistic to arrange a car rental by inviting a local driver if you do not risk traveling in an unfamiliar area yourself.
Renting a car, you should be careful – the condition of roads in Costa Rica is such, already right outside the capital’s neighborhoods, that it is difficult to avoid scratches and dents, not to mention the condition of the wheels. As a consequence, the companies-distributors will not fail to collect from the client-foreigner “damage” allegedly caused to the rented car. Perhaps the most convenient approach in the case of car rental is to do this through the intermediation of a travel agent. Try to find in San Jose an agent accredited by the International Tourism Council ICT, and ask him to help in renting a car. Rent with the service of the agent will not be much more expensive than the independent, but protects from annoying proceedings in the damage caused. In most cases, companies that lease cars are not configured to quarrel with an agent who constantly sends customers to them.
It will not hurt to formalize the minimum insurance (approximately $15-20 per day) given the high level of accidents on local roads.
Taxi in Costa Rica
Another convenient way to travel around Costa Rica is to use local shuttle buses and minibusses. As a rule, at the reception in most hotels, you can book a place in a minibus that goes to the city you want. The prices are quite acceptable (for example, $29 per person to get from San Jose to Tamarindo). Drivers know the road well, the shuttle buses are clean and comfortable and will take you from door to door.
In most large cities, you can also use the services of local taxis. As a rule, they are inexpensive, and a trip around the city will cost only a few dollars. But before you go, make sure that the meter was turned on before you sat down. Or, on the contrary – that the taxi driver turned on the meter immediately after you got into the car. Otherwise, the taxi driver himself will call you a price that will be more accepted. Most taxi drivers are aware of popular tourist routes, so you will immediately be told the approximate cost of the trip.
Official taxi – red with a yellow triangle on its side, on which the license number is indicated. Use only registered taxi services, trying to avoid “pirate” taxis.
The main set of dishes of Costa Rican cuisine. So, if you are not visiting Latin America for the first time, you should not expect special gastronomic surprises from Costa Rica. On the other hand, if you are not yet familiar with the Latin American cuisine, then Costa Rica will provide an excellent opportunity to make a general impression of it.
Costa Rican cuisine, like the national cuisine of other Latin American countries, is a mixture of Spanish and Indian culinary traditions, based on beans, rice, meat, fish, as well as a variety of local spices and aromatic herbs.
Another local exotic – side dishes from baked bananas of dessert varieties, for example, “plane tree”, or fried stems of a local variety of plantain. Also, rice, boiled in coconut milk, is worthy of attention, having nothing like taste.
In Costa Rica, traditionally very fond of corn – it cooks porridge, bakes bread, and also prepare a great variety of dishes from corn flour. Among them are the traditional Latin tortillas, tortoise pancakes stuffed with meat, cheese or beans, tortillas, and tortas with vegetables and meat. From corn flour baked puff pastry, as well as fry corn cobs in kind. From it makes a variety of cereals, which are served as a side dish or as an independent dish.
And, of course, do not forget to order a sauce “salsa lizano” (Salsa Lizano) in the local restaurant to the main dishes, which you can certainly find in any institution. This is a soft vegetable sauce that tastes a little like curry, but sweet to taste. It is also called Costa Rican ketchup. This sauce will suit absolutely every dish! It can be bought as a local souvenir – small bottles with this sauce are sold in each market.
A snack in local eateries can be for about $3. A traditional dish, like a Touchado, will cost $3-5. The food is delicious and quality and will save you a lot of money. The restaurant of the middle class will be released at $7 or more, and in tourist centers – from $17-20. The cheapest cost is food from street vendors – snacks or light meals can cost only 50 cents.
The bill in the restaurant includes 10 percent of the mandatory tips – they are usually indicated at the end of the bill. But it is customary to tip and separately, for good service (however, this also applies not only to the waiters but also to taxi drivers, maid and corridor).
It is also worth remembering that in most bars and restaurants the price on the menu does not include tax (13%). Sometimes it happens that the menu in Spanish and in English indicate different prices. Well, in that case – even if you do not know Spanish – maybe you should take a chance and try to order something from the menu in Spanish. It is possible that this will also save a little money.
Many tourists note that Costa Rican cuisine is good for health due to a lot of fresh vegetables and fruits, including exotic for the inhabitants of the northern hemisphere: tamarind, mammon, guayava. Also, well-known fruits such as mango, pineapple, coconut and passion fruit are also growing in Costa Rica. Be sure to take the opportunity to try them fresh, just ripped off, and not from the supermarket shelves, where they hit, having done a long journey through the ocean. In abundance, fresh mango, papaya, banana and passion fruit are sold on the streets.
Fruits are served on the table, as well as prepared from them all kinds of soft drinks, mixing juice with ice, milk and alcoholic beverages. As for drinks, Costa Ricans love natural juices and refreshing drinks based on them – “refresco”, or simply “fresco”. Depending on the composition, some of them are quite familiar to Europeans, while others may seem overly exotic for those who adhere to more conservative tastes. For example, in Costa Rica, soft drinks are distributed, which are a mixture of milk with cereal flour, called “pinolilio” and “sebada”.
Alcoholic drinks are represented mainly by rum, a variety of liqueurs and beer. Quality wine, for the most part, is imported to Costa Rica from other countries. However, the country produces a lot of local light beers, the most famous of which are “Bavaria” and “Imperial”. Beer, as a rule, is inexpensive, and almost the main dish of local eateries is a beer (an average price of $3 per serving).
There are no restrictions on the sale of alcohol in Costa Rica. Gin, whiskey, vodka and beer can be purchased at almost any grocery store. But the most popular of the local spirits – of course, Costa Rican rum. Its best and most expensive brand Abuelo is known outside the country, although it can not compete with Cuban, Jamaican or Nicaraguan brands.
Fans of local alcoholic exotics should try “guaro”, or “kachika” – a kind of moonshine from sugar cane. It is often drunk diluted, with water and lemon.
Shopping in Costa Rica
Shops and shops that sell souvenirs and various crafts by local artisans in Costa Rica are many. Literally from the very first minutes, the abundance of counters with carved masks and statuettes, variegated handmade textiles and bright shirts and sarafans with ethnic patterns are striking. Buying souvenirs, however, it should be remembered that Costa Rica is experiencing a tourist boom, as a result – many souvenirs are in fact not authenticated, but consumer goods brought specifically for sale to unscientific tourists: textiles from Indonesia or China, and carved articles from neighboring Nicaragua or El Salvador. Therefore, you should not rush to part with money in souvenir shops – it is better to choose souvenirs in memory of the country, or in small towns, where the masters themselves are selling their works, on layouts near workshops, or on art markets where one can sometimes buy a real masterpiece without overpaying for it (for example, as souvenir salons in popular tourist centers). For example, the easiest way to stock up on souvenirs in the capital city of San Jose is to visit the specialized art market of Mercado de Artesania, which is near the National Historical Museum of Costa Rica, between Avenida 2 and Avenida Central. Masters from all over Costa Rica, as well as from other regions of Central America, are selling their works here.
Souvenirs from Costa Rica
One of the most popular Costa Rican souvenirs is carved masks. Traditionally, they were made by the Borok Indians for their rituals, but now, thanks to the unique exotic stylistics, the “masks of Boruk” have become perhaps the most popular Costa Rican souvenir, an inalienable sign of the country. Depending on the size and complexity of the work, the price of these masks ranges on average from/to $25- $150, because for tourists they are also cut from balsa, cedar, or other valuable woods growing in the country. Bormuk’s craftsmen also sell carved kalebas that can be bought in almost all souvenir shops across the country. Local weavers also sell handmade textiles, with bright ethnic patterns, for which I use only natural dyes.
Of the valuable species, for example, rosewood or rosewood, not only traditional masks are made, but also other carvings, which are represented in a variety of local markets. Recently, thanks to the state program of nature conservation, products from restored wood are growing in popularity, which is grown on local eco-farms. The choice of carved items is very diverse, ranging from beer mugs and salad bowls to decorative figurines, carved images of people and animals, etc. In most cases, the price fluctuates between $5-$50, but if the product is large, or made of valuable wood, it can cost more.
Another popular souvenir is pottery from the village of Chorotega, located in the vicinity of Tamarindo. As a rule, they are made by whole families, and small shops are located right outside the open workshops. Watching how potters work – and pottery technology refers to the pre-Columbian era – is already an entertaining process in itself. Potters use local clay and natural additives. Decorative pots, dishes, vases and bowls, as well as sculptural figurines will cost the tourist from $15 to $150, depending on the size and shape.
Security of tourists
Costa Ricans are known for their friendly attitude towards tourists, however, in this country, it is necessary to observe basic safety rules. First of all, in urban areas try to restrict movement mainly to central areas. Carry a small amount of cash. Most often tourists become “objects of close attention” to local pickpockets, so it’s better not to carry documents in bags, but to leave them in hotel safes or, at least, to wear in the inner pocket or the belts and handbags. Pocket thieves operate mainly in crowded places (public transport, markets, tourist centers, etc.). Local authorities, caring about the safety of tourists, strongly recommend using a photocopy of the passport (not certified), which the traveler should better stock up before the trip.
Costa Rica is a relatively safe country, but one should follow the standard rules:
- Valuable things, large sums of money and documents are desirable to be stored in the hotel safe. If you leave the hotel with you, you will only have a copy of your passport;
- In places of large crowds people should beware of pocket thieves;
- It is recommended to use only bottled water for food;
- Do not walk around the streets of cities in the dark;
- It is recommended to take repellent with you on a trip;
- You should not travel without a guide – nature itself carries a lot of dangers;
- It is not recommended to exchange currency from street “money” – you can face fraud facts.
At night, tourists sometimes fall prey to robbery attacks, especially in beach areas where nightlife is boiling, for example in Porto Viejo and Cahuita, or on the outskirts of San Jose. Since recently, an uncompromising struggle has been waged in Costa Rica against illegal drug trafficking. Given that foreign tourists often acted as couriers in the smuggling of drugs, local law enforcement officers look at foreigners and sometimes resort to police provocation. Therefore, avoid contact with the local if they will offer drugs.
The Government of Costa Rica does its best to preserve the reputation of the “Latin American Switzerland” for the country, but in 2010 the US Office of Drug Control brought Costa Rica to the list of 20 countries – the largest producers and suppliers of narcotic drugs. Crime in the country is growing, and is not limited, as before, to petty theft. Try to avoid the city outskirts and trips at night.
But still most of the places actively visited by tourists are safe enough, and one can limit oneself to usual precautions – do not carry a passport, large sums of cash, refuse from bright clothes or valuable items that can attract the attention of thieves.
Costa Rica – the country is slightly liberal, so there are no particular social norms that would concern, for example, attire or rules of conduct in public places. However, as in other Latin American countries (and not only), foreign women often show signs of attention, sometimes not in the most polite way. It’s best just to ignore such annoying “fans”.
It should also be remembered that in Costa Rica, one of the highest in the world indicators of traffic accidents and road injuries. Therefore, it is not by chance that the movement along the Costa Rican streets is sometimes compared to the struggle for survival. Road signs outside the capital are a rarity, pedestrian crossings are not indicated everywhere, and even in large cities – in most of the settlements the roads have neither sidewalks nor a marked curb. In the past few years, the number of cars in Costa Rica has grown from 15,000 to almost a million. Therefore, in large cities, traffic is hampered by traffic jams.
Water in the local catering as a rule of good quality, so do not expect any problems with water or drinks with ice in bars or cafes. It should, however, be remembered about the “normal” reaction with which the body of most travelers perceives a change of water. Therefore, do not interfere with stocking up in any case with means of prime necessity (for example, loperamide).
Food and drinks are usually cooked in hygienic conditions. While they may in some ways not comply with European standards, food poisoning is a rarity in Costa Rica. Even the food that is sold on the street or in small eateries, you can safely buy and eat. As for the menu, sometimes it will not hurt to check the price of those dishes and drinks that you ordered, with the account that you brought. Sometimes in institutions serving foreign tourists, there are errors – usually not in favor of the client.
On the coasts, most often on the change of dry and rainy seasons, the incidence sharply increases. In 98% of these cases do not apply to tourists, but fall ill in Costa Rica – it is unlikely that it will make a pleasant difference in the long-awaited vacation in an exotic country. Therefore, going on a tour of the wild, first of all, stock up a good repellent. You can buy it on site, say, in the capital’s supermarkets. Continually apply it to uncovered areas of the body, and on the beach or in the evenings – on the whole body.
Going to Costa Rica, you should always remember that for tourists in the first place – a country of beaches and tropical forests. Therefore, for hiking in the forest, you should have appropriate shoes, and clothes that cover the body. Try to go only along the trail, if possible, not touching plants and insects, painted in intense colors – and, especially, reptiles. The intensive color of the animal is intended, in particular, for scaring off a predator. Therefore, the bright skin of frogs or the color of the plant can mean that they are covered with poison.
It seems that there is such a thing – to treat the monkey by throwing her a piece of banana? At first glance, this is quite common in an exotic southern country. But still it is not recommended to do this: monkeys, especially in the pack, starting to demand food, sometimes become aggressive. Or, say, a picnic on a Costa Rican beach can end with a visit of a hungry iguana – the animal is not aggressive, but rather bothersome, and will do its best to get close to the supplies.
Eco-tourists, especially those who travel around the country without a guide, and decide on a hot day to swim in the local river, it is worthwhile to ask first if it contains surprises – for example, crocodiles. Residents often simply do not pay attention to their presence – as a result, every year in the country many cases of attacks of these reptiles on careless bathers are fixed. One should also be cautious on the ocean coasts, especially on deserted or less frequented by tourists beaches. Sharks in these places are rare, but the attacks of the most dangerous species, bull sharks, were noted. Where the greatest danger can be bathing on an unfamiliar – even if very beautiful – ocean beach. In Costa Rica, there are coasts – for example, beaches in the area of the Tortuguero National Park – with a so-called discontinuous or counter-current that is not directed to the shore, but from the shore at a right angle, and carries the swimmer to the ocean. Discontinuous current – in general, not uncommon for ocean coasts around the world – can be a threat even for experienced swimmers.