Lonely Planet Costa Rica by Lonely Planet, Anna Kaminski, and Mara Vorhees - Read Online
Lonely Planet Costa Rica
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Summary

#1 best-selling guide to Costa Rica *

Lonely Planet Costa Rica is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Snorkel the teeming reefs off Manzanillo, explore some of the globe's best wildlife-watching destinations, or dig into Costa Rican culture and cuisine in San Jose; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Costa Rica and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet Costa Rica:

Full-color maps and images throughout Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - cuisine, customs, history, landscapes & ecology, wildlife, surfing, cloud forests, politics Over 50 color maps Covers San Jose, Central Valley, Highlands, Northwestern Costa Rica, Peninsula de Nicoya, Central Pacific Coast, Southern Costa Rica, Peninsula de Osa, Golfo Duce, Carribean Coast, Northern Lowlands and more

eBook Features: (Best viewed on tablet devices and smartphones)

Downloadable PDF and offline maps prevent roaming and data charges Effortlessly navigate and jump between maps and reviews Add notes to personalise your guidebook experience Seamlessly flip between pages Bookmarks and speedy search capabilities get you to key pages in a flash Embedded links to recommendations' websites Zoom-in maps and images Inbuilt dictionary for quick referencing

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet Costa Rica, our most comprehensive guide to Costa Rica, is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less traveled.

Looking for a guide focused on Costa Rica's highlights? Check out Lonely Planet Discover Costa Rica, a photo-rich guide to the country's most popular attractions Looking for more extensive coverage? Check out Lonely Planet Central America on a Shoestring guide for a comprehensive look at all the region has to offer.

Authors: Written and researched by Lonely Planet

About Lonely Planet: Since 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel media company with guidebooks to every destination, an award-winning website, mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveler community. Lonely Planet covers must-see spots but also enables curious travelers to get off beaten paths to understand more of the culture of the places in which they find themselves.

*Best-selling guide to Costa Rica. Source: Nielsen BookScan. Australia, UK and USA

Important Notice: The digital edition of this book may not contain all of the images found in the physical edition.

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ISBN: 9781786576798
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Costa Rica

Contents

Plan Your Trip

Welcome to Costa Rica

Costa Rica's Top 20

Need to Know

First Time Costa Rica

What's New

If You Like

Month by Month

Itineraries

Activities Guide

Travel with Children

Eat & Drink Like a Local

Regions at a Glance

On The Road

San Jose

Sights

Activities

Courses

Tours

Festivals & Events

Sleeping

Eating

Drinking & Nightlife

Entertainment

Shopping

Central Valley & Highlands

Central Valley & Highlands Highlights

Alajuela & the Northern Valley

Alajuela

Parque Nacional Volcan Poas

Atenas

Grecia

Sarchi

Zarcero

Bajos del Toro

San Ramon

Heredia Area

Heredia

Barva

San Isidro de Heredia

Cartago Area

Cartago

Parque Nacional Volcan Irazu

Valle de Orosi

Turrialba Area

Turrialba

Monumento Nacional Arqueologico Guayabo

Parque Nacional Volcan Turrialba

Caribbean Coast

Caribbean Coast Highlights

The Atlantic Slope

Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo

Guapiles & Around

Siquirres

Puerto Limon

Moin

Northern Caribbean

Parismina

Parque Nacional Tortuguero

Tortuguero Village

Barra del Colorado

Southern Caribbean

Reserva Biologica Hitoy-Cerere

Cahuita

Parque Nacional Cahuita

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

Playa Cocles, Playa Chiquita and Punta Uva

Manzanillo

Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Gandoca-Manzanillo

Bribri

Sixaola

Northwestern Costa Rica

Northwestern Costa Rica Highlights

Monteverde & Around

Monteverde & Santa Elena

Bosque Nuboso Monteverde

InterAmericana Norte

Montes de Oro

Canas

Volcan Tenorio & Around

Volcan Miravalles & Around

Parque Nacional Palo Verde

Liberia

Parque Nacional Rincon de la Vieja

Sector Santa Rosa

Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Bahia Junquillal

La Cruz

Bahia Salinas

Arenal & Northern Lowlands

La Fortuna

Parque Nacional Volcan Arenal

El Castillo

Laguna de Arenal

Tilaran

Upala

Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestra Cano Negro

Los Chiles

San Rafael de Guatuso

Muelle de San Carlos

Ciudad Quesada (San Carlos)

Boca Tapada

San Miguel

La Virgen

Chilamate & Around

Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui

Estacion Biologica La Selva

Horquetas & Around

Peninsula de Nicoya

Peninsula de Nicoya Highlights

Northern Peninsula

Playa del Coco

Playa Hermosa

Playa Ocotal

Bahia Potrero

Playa Grande

Playa Tamarindo

Playas Avellanas & Negra

Playa Junquillal

Santa Cruz

Central Peninsula

Nicoya

Parque Nacional Barra Honda

Nosara & Around

Refugio Nacional de Fauna Silvestre Ostional

Playa Samara

Playa Carrillo

Islita & Around

Playas San Miguel & Coyote

Southern Peninsula

Mal Pais & Santa Teresa

Reserva Natural Absoluta Cabo Blanco

Cabuya

Montezuma

Playas Pochote & Tambor

Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Curu

Paquera

Islands Near Bahia Gigante

Playa Naranjo

Central Pacific Coast

Central Pacific Coast Highlights

Puntarenas to Parrita

Puntarenas

Around Puntarenas

Parque Nacional Carara

Tarcoles & Around

Playa Herradura

Jaco

Playa Hermosa

Playa Esterillos

Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio & Around

Quepos

Quepos to Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio Village

Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio

La Costa Ballena

Matapalo

Hacienda Baru National Wildlife Refuge

Dominical

Escaleras

Uvita

Parque Nacional Marino Ballena

Ojochal

Parque Nacional Isla del Coco

Southern Costa Rica & Peninsula de Osa

Southern Costa Rica & Peninsula de Osa Highlights

The Road to Chirripo

San Gerardo de Dota

Parque Nacional Los Quetzales

Cerro de la Muerte

San Isidro de El General

San Gerardo de Rivas

Parque Nacional Chirripo

The Road to La Amistad

Reserva Biologica Durika

Reserva Indigena Boruca

Palmar

Neily

Paso Canoas

San Vito

Parque Internacional La Amistad

Peninsula de Osa

Sierpe

Humedal Nacional Terraba-Sierpe

Bahia Drake

Rancho Quemado

Bahia Drake to Corcovado

Parque Nacional Corcovado

Carate

Cabo Matapalo

Puerto Jimenez

Dos Brazos

Reserva Forestal Golfo Dulce

Golfo Dulce

Golfito

Parque Nacional Piedras Blancas

Zancudo

Pavones

Understand

Understand Costa Rica

Costa Rica Today

History

The Tico Way of Life

Landscapes & Ecology

Survive

Directory AZ

Accommodations

Climate

Customs Regulations

Discount Cards

Electricity

Embassies & Consulates

GLBT Travelers

Health

Insurance

Internet Access

Language Courses

Legal Matters

Maps

Money

Opening Hours

Photography

Post

Public Holidays

Safe Travel

Telephone

Time

Toilets

Tourist Information

Travelers with Disabilities

Visas

Volunteering

Women Travelers

Work

Transportation

Getting There & Away

Getting Around

Language

Behind the Scenes

Our Writers

Special Features

Turtles of the Caribbean

Life in the Cloud Forest

Undiscovered Nicoya

Surfing the Peninsula

Reserves of the Central Pacific Coast

Costa Rica Wildlife Guide

Welcome to Costa Rica

All trails lead to waterfalls, misty crater lakes or jungle-fringed, deserted beaches. Explored by horseback, foot or kayak, Costa Rica is a tropical choose-your-own-adventure land.

Red-eyed tree frog peeking through a hole in a leaf | Mlorenzphotography / Getty Images ©

Peaceful Soul

As the eco- and adventure-tourism capital of Central America, Costa Rica has a worthy place in the cubicle daydreams of travelers around the world. With world-class infrastructure, visionary sustainability initiatives and no standing army since 1948 (when the country redirected its defense funds toward education, healthcare and the environment), Costa Rica is a peaceful green jewel of the region. Taking into account that more than a fourth of the land enjoys some form of environmental protection and there’s greater biodiversity here than in the USA and Europe combined, it’s a place that earns the superlatives.

Outdoor Adventures

Rainforest hikes and brisk high-altitude trails, rushing white-water rapids and world-class surfing: Costa Rica offers a dizzying suite of outdoor adventures in every shape and size – from the squeal-inducing rush of a canopy zip line to a sun-dazed afternoon at the beach. National parks allow visitors to glimpse life in the tropical rainforest and cloud forest, simmering volcanoes offer otherworldly vistas, and reliable surf breaks are suited to beginners and experts alike. Can’t decide? Don’t worry, you won’t have to. Given the country’s diminutive size, it’s possible to plan a relatively short trip that includes it all.

Wild Life

Such wildlife abounds in Costa Rica as to seem almost cartoonish: keel-billed toucans ogle you from treetops and scarlet macaws raucously announce their flight paths. A keen eye will discern a sloth on a branch or the eyes and snout of a caiman breaking the surface of a mangrove swamp, while alert ears will catch rustling leaves signaling a troop of white-faced capuchins or the haunting call of a howler monkey. Blue morpho butterflies flit amid orchid-festooned trees, while colorful tropical fish, sharks, rays, dolphins and whales thrive offshore – all as if in a conservationist’s dream.

Pure Life

And then there are the people. Costa Ricans, or Ticos as they prefer to call themselves, are proud of their little slice of paradise, welcoming guests to sink into the easygoing rhythms of the pura vida (pure life). The greeting, farewell, catchy motto and enduring mantra gets to the heart of Costa Rica’s appeal – its simple yet profound ability to let people relax and enjoy their time. With the highest quality of life in Central America, all the perfect waves, perfect sunsets and perfect beaches seem like the pura vida indeed.

Why I Love Costa Rica

By Ashley Harrell, Writer

The night I moved to Costa an expat in a bar congratulated me. ‘The best part,’ she said, ‘is you can do anything here.’ She wasn’t talking about traveling the entire country, undertaking extreme adventures or attending a Christmas party in a bikini (but yeah, done all that). She meant that people here have the time, freedom and permission to truly live. Want to sleep in a shack and surf constantly? Do it. Want to rescue baby sloths? Somebody has to. I wanted to travel, study wildlife, write and feel alive. Now I do. Pura vida.

Costa Rica's Top 20

White-Water Rafting

So many rivers, so little time. But the dedicated adrenaline junkie could easily cover some heart-pounding river miles in the span of a few days in this compact little country. For those without the drive to do them all, pick a river, any river: Pacuare, Reventazón, Sarapiquí. Any of the three are fun runs (though we’re partial to the Pacuare), with rapids ranging from Class II to Class V, and all have stretches of smooth water that allow rafters to take in the luscious jungle scenery surrounding these river gorges.

Río Pacuare | Kevin Schafer / Getty Images ©

Top Experiences

Volcán Arenal & Hot Springs

While the molten night views are gone, this mighty, perfectly conical giant is still considered active and worthy of a pilgrimage. There are several beautiful trails to explore, especially the magnificent climb to Cerro Chato. At its base, you are just a short drive away from her many hot springs. Some of these springs are free, and any local can point the way. Others are, shall we say, embellished, dressed up, luxuriated – dip your toes into the romantic Eco Termales, for starters.

Nick Ledger / Getty Images ©

Top Experiences

Southern Caribbean Coast

By day, lounge in a hammock, cruise by bike to snorkel off uncrowded beaches, hike to waterfall-fed pools and visit the remote indigenous territories of the Bribrí and Kéköldi. By night, dip into zesty Caribbean cooking and sway to reggaetón at open-air bars cooled by ocean breezes. The villages of Cahuita, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and Manzanillo, all outposts of this unique mix of Afro-Caribbean, Tico and indigenous culture, are the perfect, laid-back home bases for such adventures on the Caribbean’s southern coast.

Simon Dannhauer / Getty Images ©

Top Experiences

Wildlife-Watching

Monkeys and crocs, toucans and iguanas: Costa Rica’s menagerie is a thrill for wildlife enthusiasts. World-class parks, long-standing dedication to environmental protection and mind-boggling biodiversity enable the country to harbor scores of rare and endangered species. Simply put, it’s one of the best wildlife-watching destinations on the globe. In fact, visitors hardly have to make an effort; no matter where you travel, the branches overhead are alive with critters, from lazy sloths and mischievous monkeys to a brilliant spectrum of tropical birds. And in case there’s some animal you happen to miss, the country is replete with rescue centers like the Jaguar Centro de Rescate.

Keel-billed toucan | Stuart Westmorland / Getty Images ©

Top Experiences

Poás Region

An hour northwest of the capital, Poás is a fairy-tale land of verdant mountains, hydrangea-lined roadsides and the largest and most accessible volcanic crater on the isthmus. Although a 6.2 earthquake rocked the region in 2009, the area’s most intriguing attractions endured. The windy drive past strawberry farms and coffee plantations still culminates with the smoking volcano and emerald-green crater lake. And over at La Paz Waterfall Gardens, visitors hike to storybook waterfalls and encounter rescued monkeys, tropical birds and wild cats, including three jaguars.

Volcán Poás | Simon Dannhauer / Getty Images ©

Top Experiences

Mal País & Santa Teresa

In the rugged little surf towns of Mal País & Santa Teresa, the sea is alive with marine wildlife and the waves are near-ideal in shape, color and temperature. The hills are lush and the coastline long, providing an ideal backdrop for the pink and orange sunsets. The road may be rutted, but it is also dotted with stylish boutique sleeps and ends in an authentic Tico fishing hamlet. Here you can feel sort of like a castaway but still score a dinner worthy of royalty.

Playa El Carmen, Santa Teresa | Krysia Campos / Getty Images ©

Top Experiences

Parque Nacional Tortuguero

Canoeing the canals of Parque Nacional Tortuguero is a boat-borne safari, where thick jungle meets the water and you can get up close with shy caimans, river turtles, crowned night herons, monkeys and sloths. In the right season, under the cover of darkness, watch the awesome, millennia-old ritual of turtles building nests and laying their eggs on the black-sand beaches. Sandwiched between extravagantly green wetlands and the wild Caribbean Sea, this is among the premier places in Costa Rica to watch wildlife.

Christer Fredriksson / Getty Images ©

Top Experiences

Parque Nacional Corcovado

Muddy, muggy and intense, the vast, largely untouched rainforest of Parque Nacional Corcovado is anything but a walk in the park. Here travelers with a flexible agenda and a sturdy pair of rubber boots thrust themselves into the unknown and come out the other side with the story of a lifetime. And the further into the jungle you go, the better it gets: the country’s best wildlife-watching, most desolate beaches and most vivid adventures lie down Corcovado’s seldom-trodden trails.

Marco Simoni / Robertharding / Getty Images ©

Top Experiences

Montezuma

If you dig artsy-rootsy beach culture, enjoy rubbing shoulders with neo-Rastas and yoga fiends, or have always wanted to spin fire, study Spanish or lounge on sugar-white coves, find your way to Montezuma. Strolling this intoxicating town and rugged coastline, you’re never far from the rhythm of the sea. From here you’ll also have easy access to the famed Cabo Blanco reserve, and can take the tremendous hike to a triple-tiered waterfall. Oh, and when your stomach growls, the town has some of the best restaurants in the country.

Jens Karlsson / Getty Images ©

Top Experiences

Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio

Although droves of visitors pack Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio – the country’s most popular (and smallest) national park – it remains an absolute gem. Capuchin monkeys scurry across its idyllic beaches, brown pelicans dive-bomb its clear waters and sloths watch over its accessible trails. It’s a perfect place to introduce youngsters to the wonders of the rainforest, and splashing around in the waves you’re likely to feel like a kid yourself. There’s not much by way of privacy, but it’s so lovely that you won’t mind sharing.

Matteo Colombo / Getty Images ©

Top Experiences

Bosque Nuboso Monteverde

A pristine expanse of virginal forest totaling 105 sq km, Monteverde Cloud Forest owes much of its impressive natural beauty to Quaker settlers, who left the US in the 1950s to protest the Korean War and helped foster conservationist principles with Ticos of the region. But as fascinating as the history is, the real romance of Monteverde is in nature itself: a mysterious Neverland shrouded in mist, dangling with mossy vines, sprouting with ferns and bromeliads, gushing with creeks, blooming with life and nurturing rivulets of evolution.

Darrell Gulin / Getty Images ©

Top Experiences

Surfing

Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast may move to the terminally laid-back reggae groove, but the country’s best year-round surfing is on the Pacific side. It’s home to a number of seaside villages where the day’s agenda rarely gets more complicated than a scrupulous study of the surf report, a healthy application of sunblock and a few cold Imperials. With plenty of good breaks for beginners, and the country’s most reliable rides – including what may be the world’s second-longest left-hand break, in Pavones – Costa Rica has inexhaustible potential for surfers.

Pavones | Bobtema / Getty Images ©

Top Experiences

Sarapiquí Valley

Sarapiquí rose to fame as a principal port in the nefarious old days of United Fruit dominance, before it meandered into agricultural anonymity, only to be reborn as a paddler’s mecca thanks to the frothing serpentine mocha magic of its namesake river. These days it’s still a paddling paradise, and it’s also dotted with fantastic ecolodges and private forest preserves that will educate you about pre-Columbian life, get you into that steaming, looming, muddy jungle, and bring you up close to local wildlife.

Poison-dart frog | Nikpal / Getty Images ©

Top Experiences

Nosara

Nosara is a cocktail of international surf culture, jungled microclimes and yoga bliss, where three stunning beaches are stitched together by a network of swerving, rutted earth roads that meander over coastal hills. Visitors can stay in the alluring surf enclave of Playa Guiones – where there are some fabulous restaurants and a drop-dead-gorgeous beach – or in Playa Pelada, which is as romantic as it is rugged and removed. One resident described the area as ‘sophisticated jungle living,’ and who wouldn’t want more of that in their life?

Playa ­Guiones | Rob Francis / Robertharding / Getty Images ©

Top Experiences

Quetzal-Spotting

Once considered divine by pre-Columbian cultures of Central America, the strikingly beautiful, resplendent quetzal was sought after for its long, iridescent-green tail feathers, which adorned the headdresses of royalty. This unusual, jewel-toned bird remains a coveted find in modern times, but now as a bucket-list sighting for birdwatchers. Fortunately, though the quetzal’s conservation status is listed as near-threatened, it is commonly sighted in San Gerardo de Dota and at lodges like Mirador de Quetzales, especially during its breeding season in April and May.

Michael Fischer / Getty Images ©

Top Experiences

Playa Sámara

Some expat residents call Playa Sámara the black hole of happiness, which has something to do with that crescent of sand spanning two rocky headlands, the opportunity to learn to surf, stand-up paddle board, surf cast or fly above migrating whales in an ultra-light, and the plethora of nearby all-natural beaches and coves. All of it is easy to access on foot or via public transportation, which is why it’s becoming so popular with families, who enjoy Sámara’s palpable ease and tranquillity.

Rob Francis / Robertharding / Getty Images ©

Top Experiences

Cerro Chirripó

The view from the rugged peak of Cerro Chirripó, Costa Rica’s highest summit – of windswept rocks and icy lakes – may not resemble the Costa Rica of the postcards, but the two-day hike above the clouds is one of the country’s most satisfying excursions. A pre-dawn expedition rewards hardy hikers with the real prize: a chance to catch the fiery sunrise and see both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean in a full and glorious panoramic view from 3820m high.

Jarib / Getty Images ©

Top Experiences

San José

The heart of Tico culture lives in San José, as do university students, intellectuals, artists and politicians. While not the most attractive capital in Central America, it does have some graceful neoclassical and Spanish-colonial architecture, leafy neighborhoods, museums housing pre-Columbian jade and gold, nightlife that goes on until dawn, and some of the most sophisticated restaurants in the country. Street art – of both officially sanctioned and guerrilla varieties – add unexpected pops of color and public discourse to the cityscape. For the seasoned traveler, Chepe, as it is affectionately known, has its charms.

Francisco Sosa / Getty Images ©

Top Experiences

Zip-Lining through the Rainforest Canopy

The wild-eyed, whoop-de-whoop happiness of a canopy tour is self-evident. Few things are more purely joyful than clipping into a high-speed cable that’s laced above and through the teeming jungle. This is where kids become little daredevils and adults become kids. Invented in Monteverde, zip-line outfits quickly multiplied, cropping up in all corners of Costa Rica. The best place to sample the lines is still Monteverde, where the forest is alive, the mist fine and swirling, and the afterglow worth savoring.

Roberto A Sanchez / Getty Images ©

Top Experiences

Coffee Plantations

Take a little country drive on the scenic, curvy back roads of the Central Valley, where the hillsides are a patchwork of varied agriculture and coffee shrubbery. If you’re curious about the magical brew that for many makes life worth living, tour one of the coffee plantations and learn all about how Costa Rica’s golden bean goes from plant to cup. A couple of the best places for a tour are Finca Cristina in the Orosi Valley and Café Britt Finca near Barva.

Coffee plantation in the Valle de Orosi | Megapress / Alamy Stock Photo ©

Need to Know

Currency

Costa Rican colón (₡)

Language

Spanish, English

Visas

Generally not required for stays of up to 90 days.

Money

Both US dollars and Costa Rican colones are accepted everywhere and dispensed from ATMs across the country. With the exception of the smallest towns and shops in rural areas, credit cards are accepted.

Cell Phones

3G and 4G systems available, but those compatible with US plans require expensive international roaming.

Prepaid SIM cards are cheap and widely available.

Of the four cellular providers (Claro, Kolbi, Movistar, TuYo), Kolbi has the best coverage in remote areas (such as the Península de Osa) and Movistar has the worst.

Time

Central Standard Time (GMT/UTC minus six hours)

When to Go

High Season (Dec–Apr)

A ‘Dry’ season still sees some rain; beach towns fill with domestic tourists.

A Accommodations should be booked well in advance; some places enforce two- or three-day minimum stays.

Shoulder (May–Jul & Nov)

A Rain picks up and the stream of tourists starts to taper off.

A Roads are muddy and rivers begin to rise, making off-the-beaten-track travel more challenging.

Low Season (Aug–Oct)

A Rainfall is highest, but storms bring swells to the Pacific, and the best surfing conditions.

A Rural roads can be impassable due to river crossings.

A Accommodations prices lower significantly.

Useful Websites

Anywhere Costa Rica (www.anywherecostarica.com) Excellent overviews of local destinations; run by a tour agency that gets good reviews.

Essential Costa Rica (www.visitcostarica.com) The Costa Rica Tourism Board (ICT) website has general travel information, as well as planning tips and destination details.

The Tico Times (www.ticotimes.net) Costa Rica’s English-language newspaper’s website; its searchable archives can be helpful for trip planning around specific destinations.

Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com/costa-rica) Destination information, hotel bookings, traveler forum and more.

Important Numbers

Exchange Rates

For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.

Daily Costs

Budget: Less than US$40

A Dorm bed: US$8–15

A Meal at a soda (inexpensive eatery): US$3–7

A DIY hikes without a guide: free

A Travel via local bus: US$1 or less

Midrange: US$40–100

A Basic room with private bathroom: US$20–50 per day

A Meal at a restaurant geared toward travelers: US$5–12

A Travel on an efficient 1st-class bus company such as Interbus: US$50–60

Top End: More than US$100

A Luxurious beachside lodges and boutique hotels: from US$80

A Meal at an international fusion restaurant: from US$15

A Guided wildlife-watching excursion: from US$30

A Short domestic flight: US$50–100

A 4WD rental for local travel: from US$60 per day

Opening Hours

Opening hours vary throughout the year. The following are high-season opening hours; hours will generally decrease in the shoulder and low seasons. Unless otherwise stated, count on sights, activities and restaurants to be open daily.

Banks 9am to 4pm Monday to Friday, sometimes 9am to noon Saturday.

Bars & clubs 8pm to 2am.

Government offices 8am and 5pm Monday to Friday. Often closed between 11:30am and 1:30pm.

Restaurants 7am to 9pm. Upscale places may open only for dinner. In remote areas, even the small sodas (inexpensive eateries) might open only at specific meal times.

Shops 8am to 6pm Monday to Saturday.

Arriving in Costa Rica

Aeropuerto Internacional Juan Santamaría (San José) Alajuela–San José buses (US$1.10) from the airport to central San José run between 5am and 10pm. Taxis charge from US$25 to US$30 (depending on your destination in San José) and depart from the official stand; the trip takes 20 minutes to an hour. Interbus runs between the airport and San José accommodations (US$15 per adult, US$7 per child under 12). Many rental-car agencies have desks at the airport.

Aeropuerto Internacional Daniel Oduber Quirós (Liberia) Buses run to the Mercado Municipal (30 minutes, hourly) between 6am and 7pm, Monday through Friday only. Taxis from Liberia to the airport are about US$20. There are no car-rental desks at the airport; make reservations in advance and your company will meet you at the airport with a car.

Getting Around

Air Inexpensive domestic flights between San José and popular destinations such as Puerto Jiménez, Quepos and Tortuguero will save you the driving time.

Bus Very reasonably priced, with extensive coverage of the country, though travel can be slow and some destinations have infrequent service.

Private shuttle For door-to-door service between popular destinations, private and shared shuttles like Interbus or Gray Line can save time by allowing you to schedule to your needs.

Car Renting a car allows you to access more remote destinations that are not served by buses, and frees you to cover as much ground as you like, within a limited time frame. Cars can be rented in most towns. Renting a 4WD vehicle is advantageous (and essential in some parts of the country); avoid driving at night.

First Time Costa Rica

Checklist

A Check the validity of your passport

A Check the visa situation and government travel advisories

A Organize travel insurance

A Check flight restrictions on luggage and camping or outdoors equipment

A Check your immunization history

A Contact car-insurance provider about foreign coverage

A If you plan to rent a car, bring your driver’s license and a copy of your current insurance policy

What to Pack

A Bathing suit

A Camera

A Flip-flops and hiking boots

A Sunglasses

A Sunscreen – it’s expensive in Costa Rica

A Refillable water bottle

A Bug repellent with DEET

A MP3 player

A Flashlight or headlamp

A Poncho

A Binoculars

A First-aid kit

A A small day pack

Top Tips for Your Trip

A In Costa Rica, things have a way of taking longer than expected – Tico time is in effect. Make space for leisurely meals, learn to relax into delays and take these as opportunities to get to know the locals.

A Avoid driving at night – pedestrians, animals and huge potholes are difficult to see on Costa Rica’s largely unlit roads. Also keep an eye out for impatient drivers passing slower traffic on two-lane roads.

A If you need directions, ask a few different people before setting out. Ticos like to seem helpful even when they can’t be.

A Although credit cards are widely accepted, it’s often cash only in more remote areas. It’s a good idea to have a stash of colones or dollars.

A Ticos use quite a lot of local slang, so even experienced Spanish speakers might need to adjust to the regional vocabulary.

What to Wear

Although the coastal areas are hot and humid, calling for shorts and short sleeves, you’ll want to pack a sweater and lightweight jacket for popular high-elevation destinations such as Volcán Irazú and Monteverde. If you plan to hike up Chirripó, bring lots of layers and a hat and gloves. Additionally, while hiking through the rainforest is often a hot and sweaty exercise, long sleeves and lightweight, quick-drying pants help keep the bugs away.

Sleeping

If you’re visiting during high season, it’s best to book ahead; this is especially important during the Christmas, New Year and Easter (Semana Santa) holidays.

A Hotels Range from small, family-run affairs to boutique and larger establishments, catering to all budgets and needs.

A B&Bs There’s a great variety of B&Bs throughout the country, reflecting the diversity of the landscape as well as the individual proprietors.

A Hostels You’ll find a great bunch of hostels in the more popular locales, most providing dorms, wi-fi, communal kitchens and excellent travel information.

A Apartments & villas Those seeking better deals and more privacy are well served with all levels of short-term rental apartments and villas.

Money

Both US dollars and Costa Rican colones are accepted everywhere and dispensed from ATMs across the country. With the exception of the smallest towns and shops in rural areas, credit cards are accepted.

Bargaining

In markets and in arranging informal tours or transport, it’s common to haggle before settling on a price. Otherwise, expect to pay the stated price.

Tipping

A Restaurants Your bill at many restaurants will usually include a 10% service charge. If not, you might leave a small tip to show your appreciation, but it is not required.

A Hotels It is customary to tip the bellhop/porter (US$1 to US$5 per service) and the housekeeper (US$1 to US$2 per day) in top-end hotels, less in budget places.

A Taxis Taxi drivers are not usually tipped unless some special service is provided.

A Guides On guided tours, tip the guide US$5 to US$15 per person per day. Tip the tour driver about half of what you tip the guide. Naturally, tips depend upon quality of service.

Etiquette

While Ticos are very laid-back as a people, they are also very conscientious about being bien educado (polite). A greeting when you make eye contact with someone, or more generally maintaining a respectful demeanor and a smile, will go a long way.

A Asking for help Say disculpe to get someone’s attention, perdón to ask for an apology.

A Visiting indigenous communities Ask permission to take photos, particularly of children, and dress more modestly than beachwear.

A Surfing Novices should learn the etiquette of the lineup, not drop in on other surfers, and be aware of swimmers in their path.

A Hitchhiking Picking up hitchhikers in rural areas is common. If you get a ride from a local, offer a small tip.

A Topless sunbathing It isn’t appropriate for women to sunbathe topless in public; respect local customs by resisting the urge.

Language

Spanish is the national language of Costa Rica, and knowing some very basic phrases is not only courteous but also essential, particularly when navigating through rural areas. That said, a long history of North American tourists has made English the country’s unofficial second language. With the exception of basic sodas (inexpensive eateries), local buses, and shops catering exclusively to locals, travelers can expect bilingual menus, signs and brochures.

What's New

New San José Restaurants

A food and drink revolution is taking place in Costa Rica’s capital, with new restaurants and cafes emphasizing innovative, artisanal and farm-to-table fare. Leading the way are La Ventanita Meraki, Al Mercat and Café Miel.

Really Experience Community

A nonprofit started the country’s first slum tour of El Triángulo, a squatter development of 2000 people north of San José. The respectful tour introduces guests to community entrepreneurs.

Las Tablillas Border Crossing

The new border crossing at Las Tablillas, 6km north of Los Chiles, opened in May 2015. A new bridge over the Río San Juan means you don’t have to take a boat to Nicaragua anymore.

Improvements to the Interamericana

Between Cañas and Liberia, the Interamericana is now four lanes instead of two. By 2017, the road, overpasses and ramps should all be complete.

Diamante Eco Adventure Park

Near Playa Matapalo on the Península de Nicoya, this new oceanfront adventure park offers ATV tours, hiking, biking, horseback riding, kayaking, scuba diving, stand-up paddle boarding, surfing, zip lining and more.

Caminos de Osa

A new sustainable tourism initiative that takes visitors on multiday hikes through villages on Costa Rica’s wildest peninsula, introducing them to the locals and the history.

Parque Nacional Corcovado’s New Trail & Ranger Station

Sirena Ranger Station (per person US$6) has been rebuilt. There’s also a new seven-hour loop trail into the park that starts from the Dos Brasos ranger station.

Changes at Cerro Chirripó

Crestones Base Lodge, Chirripó’s base camp, has been upgraded by its new owners, a private consortium. Dorm bed prices have risen to US$39 but include bedding and three meals a day. Booking remains a challenge.

Alturas Animal Sanctuary

This wildife rescue in Dominical has opened to take in orphaned and injured animals and illegal pets. The animals are rehabilitated when possible, and the rest are looked after indefinitely.

Paddle 9

A new tour company is the first and only outfit to offer stand-up paddle boarding in Quepos. It does day tours of the Pacific coast, combining an intro to SUP with waterfall swims.

Finca 6

In 2014 the pre-Columbian stone spheres found around Sierpe and in its Finca 6 museum were granted Unesco World Heritage status. The spheres' attraction is expanding to bring attention to this overlooked part of Costa Rica.

If You Like…

Beaches

Playa Manuel Antonio With mischievous monkeys, perfect sand and turquoise water, this beach is worth the park fee.

Playa Grande This seemingly endless beach is good for strolling and frequented by leatherback turtles and surfers.

Playa Guiones Backed by lush vegetation, these gentle waves are ideal for swimming, surfing or just frolicking.

Playa Negra Cahuita’s wild black-sand beach doesn’t draw many surfers, making it ideal for swimming.

Parque Nacional Marino Ballena The long, rugged, coconut-strewn beaches of Ballena feel like an isolated desert island.

White-Water Rafting & Kayaking

With Costa Rica’s ample waterways and excellent operators, the opportunities for rushing down frothing white-water rapids and coasting through mangrove channels will satisfy even the greatest thirst for adventure.

Río Pacuare Take on runs of Class II to IV rapids on the country’s best white water.

Río Sarapiquí This less-frequented river is a great place to raft or learn how to kayak.

Golfo Dulce Lucky kayakers can paddle out with dolphins and explore sea caves.

Canales de Tortuguero Excellent for kayaking through canals to get close to birds and wildlife.

Río Savegre Gentle rapids that pick up in the rainy season serve as a great introduction to rafting; trips depart from Quepos.

White-water rafting on the Río Sarapiquí | Kevin Schafer0 / Getty Images ©

Surfing

Salsa Brava This Caribbean break has the country’s biggest surf – in December waves get up to 7m.

Pavones One of the longest left-hand breaks on Earth draws the goofy-footed from near and far.

Dominical Countless foreigners show up here to surf, and can’t bring themselves to leave.

Playa Guiones The best beach break in the Central Peninsula, especially when there’s an offshore wind.

Playa Grande Costa Rica’s most reliable break draws hordes – luckily it’s so big it never seems crowded.

Playa Hermosa Several beautiful beach breaks for pros, a stone’s throw from Jacó’s beginner breaks.

Wildlife-Watching

Even for those who don’t know their snowy-bellied emerald from their gray-breasted wood wren, Costa Rica’s birds are a thrill. Nearly 900 bird species fill Costa Rica’s skies – more than in the entire US and Canada combined.

Rancho Naturalista More than 250 species of bird have been seen from the balcony of this avian-crazy lodge.

Wilson Botanical Garden This private reserve attracts many specialty birds of southern Costa Rica, including rare high-altitude species.

Península de Osa Although they’re rare in the country, scarlet macaws frequent the skies around Parque Nacional Corcovado.

Parque Nacional Los Quetzales Named for its banner attraction, the flamboyantly colored ceremonial bird of the Maya.

Monteverde & Santa Elena Keep your eyes peeled for the keel-billed toucan, three-wattled bellbirds and motmots.

Parque Nacional Tortuguero Herons, kites, ospreys, kingfishers, macaws: the bird list is a mile long at this wildlife-rich park.

Hiking

Rainforest trails and endless strolls down the beach, high-altitude mountains and cloud forest: the only way to see it all in Costa Rica is to don some boots and hit the trail.

Parque Nacional Chirripó Up and up: the trail to the top of Costa Rica is a thrilling (chilly) adventure.

Parque Nacional Corcovado These challenging trails provide a supreme look at the wonders of the rainforest.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Utterly fantastic for day hikes, with walks through cloud-forest gorges among plant and animal life.

Parque Nacional Volcán Tenorio The trails circumnavigate volcanoes and misty waterfalls, with frequent blue morpho butterfly sightings.

Volcán Barva A little tough to get to, but the trip is worth the reward: crater lakes and quiet cloud forest.

Hiker in Bosque Nuboso Monteverde | Mint Images - Frans Lanting / Getty Images ©

Luxury Spas & Resorts

Long gone are Costa Rica’s rough-and-tumble days; nowadays travelers enjoy this country in the lap of luxury. These plush comforts are scattered throughout the country and many espouse standard-setting sustainability practices.

El Silencio Hanging at the edge of a canyon amid endless acres of rolling green, this place is a sumptuous slice of Zen in the cloud forest.

La Paloma Lodge A posh delight in Costa Rica’s wildest corner, this chic jungle lodge is far off the grid.

Hotel Villa Caletas Guests enjoy seclusion, personalized service and breathtaking sunsets atop a Pacific cliff just north of Playa Herradura.

Peace Lodge Surrounded by trails near the Volcán Poás, this storybook resort and rescue center enchants.

Ecolodges

Although Costa Rica’s amazing natural resources are at risk of being loved to death, the wealth of top ecolodges give visitors an opportunity to make a minimal impact without sacrificing creature comforts.

Casa Corcovado Jungle Lodge Osa’s first top-certified ecolodge is removed from civilization, near the wilds of Corcovado.

Villa Blanca Cloud Forest Hotel & Nature Reserve With the highest sustainability rating, Villa Blanca offers plush ecological digs.

Pacuare Lodge This posh, riverfront lodge transcends the need for electricity with high style and adventure.

Arenas del Mar The best ecolodge near Manuel Antonio, this architectural stunner has private Jacuzzis overlooking the coast.

Ecolodge San Luis One of the highest rated ecolodges of the region, with Monteverde just outside the door.

Diving & Snorkeling

Costa Rica’s many small islands, caves and coastal rock formations are excellent for underwater exploration, although visibility varies greatly with the season and climate.

Isla del Coco The only world-class dive spot in Costa Rica, the waters surrounding this island are filled with hammerheads.

Isla del Caño Reliable visibility, sea turtles, barracudas and, if you’re lucky, humpback whales.

Isla Murciélago Manta rays, bull sharks and even humpback whales migrate through these waters.

Playa Manzanillo In September and October this Caribbean beach has the best snorkeling in the country.

Fishing

A venture into the open sea can be a pricey proposition, but very possibly worth it: Costa Rica’s sportfishing is the stuff of legend.

Golfo Dulce Boats from little Puerto Jiménez and Golfito often return with fish that challenge world records.

Caño Negro An abundant population of tarpon and no-frills fishing ventures make this a low-key Northern Lowlands option.

Quepos Plenty of captains lead fishing ventures into the waters off Quepos, which offer a shot at marlin and sailfish.

San Gerardo de Dota Trout-fishing in the clear upper regions of the Río Savegre is excellent.

Playa Grande Epic surf casting brings in big fish from rocks that get thrashed with waves.

Month by Month

Top Events

Las Fiestas de Palmares, January

Día de los Muertos, November

Independence Day, September

Día de Juan Santamaría, April

Fiesta de los Diablitos, December

Locals don elaborately carved wooden masks during Fiesta de los Diablitos | dan kitwood / Getty Images ©

January

Every year opens with a rush, as North American and domestic tourists flood beach towns to celebrate. January sees dry days and occasional afternoon showers.

z Fiesta de la Santa Cruz

Held in Santa Cruz in the second week of January, this festival centers on a rodeo and bullfights. It also includes the requisite religious procession, music, dances and a beauty pageant.

3 Jungle Jam

The biggest musical event to hit Jacó, Jungle Jam stretches over several days and venues outside of the main event, which is set in the jungle just outside of town. Held in mid-January.

z Las Fiestas de Palmares

Ten days of beer drinking, horse shows and other carnival events take over the tiny town of Palmares in the second half of the month (www.fiestaspalmares.com). There’s also a running of the bulls.

February

February is the perfect month, with ideal weather and no holiday surcharges. The skies above Nicoya are particularly clear, and it’s peak season for turtle-nesting.

3 Envision Festival

Held in Uvita in late February, this is a festival with a consciousness-raising, transformational bent, bringing together fire dancers and performance artists of all stripes, yoga, music and spiritual workshops. Also takes place during the first week of March in Dominical.

z Fiesta Cívica de Liberia

A beauty pageant and a carnival atmosphere complete with games and typical food enliven Liberia at the end of February.

March

Excellent weather continues through the early part of March, though prices shoot up during Semana Santa, the week leading up to Easter (and North American spring break).

z Feria de la Mascarada

During the Feria de la Mascarada, people don massive colorful masks (some of which weigh up to 20kg) and gather to dance and parade around the town square of Barva. Usually held during the last week of March.

z Día del Boyero

A colorful parade, held in Escazú on the second Sunday in March, honors oxcart drivers and includes a blessing of the animals.

April

Easter and Semana Santa can fall early in April, which means beaches crowd and prices spike. Nicoya and Guanacaste are dry and hot, with little rain.

z Día de Juan Santamaría

Commemorating Costa Rica’s national hero, who died in battle against American colonist William Walker’s troops in 1856, this weeklong celebration includes parades, concerts and dances.

3 FIA (Festival de las Artes)

This multidisciplinary arts festival descends upon venues all across San José in alternating years during April (or March).

May

Attention budget travelers: wetter weather patterns begin to sweep across the country in May, which begins the country’s low season. So although the weather is decent, prices drop.

5 Día de San Isidro Labrador

Visitors can taste the bounty of San Isidro and other villages of Costa Rica during the nation’s largest agricultural fairs, on May 15.

June

The Pacific Coast gets fairly wet during June, though this makes for good surfing. The beginning of the so-called green season, this time of year has lots of discounted rates.

z Día de San Pedro & San Pablo

Celebrations with religious processions are held in villages of the same name on June 29.

July

July is mostly wet, particularly on the Caribbean coast, but the month also occasionally enjoys a brief dry period that Ticos call veranillo (summer). Expect rain, particularly late in the day.

z Fiesta de La Virgen del Mar

Held in Puntarenas and Playa del Coco on the Saturday closest to July 16, the Festival of the Virgin of the Sea involves colorful, brightly lit regattas and boat parades.

z Día de Guanacaste

Celebrates the annexation of Guanacaste from Nicaragua. There’s also a rodeo in Santa Cruz. It takes place on July 25.

August

The middle of the rainy season doesn’t mean that mornings aren’t bright and sunny. Travelers who don’t mind some rain will find great hotel and tour deals.

z La Virgen de los Ángeles

The patron saint of Costa Rica is celebrated with an important religious procession from San José to Cartago on August 2.

September

The Península de Osa gets utterly soaked during September, which is in the heart of the rainy season and what Ticos refer to as the temporales del Pacífico. It’s the cheapest time of year to visit the Pacific.

z Independence Day

The center of the Independence Day action is the relay race that passes a ‘Freedom Torch’ from Guatemala to Costa Rica. The torch arrives at Cartago on the evening of the 14th, when the nation breaks into the national anthem.

October

Many roads become impassable as rivers swell and rain continues to fall in one of the wettest months in Costa Rica. Lodges and tour operators are sometimes closed until November.

z Día de la Raza

Columbus’ historic landing on Isla Uvita has traditionally inspired a small carnival in Puerto Limón on October 12, with street parades, live music and dancing.

November

The weather can go either way in November. Access to Parque Nacional Corcovado is difficult after several months of rain, though by the month’s end the skies clear up.

z Día de los Muertos

Families visit graveyards and have religious parades in honor of the dead – a lovely and picturesque festival on November 2.

December

Although the beginning of the month is a great time to visit – with clearer skies and relatively uncrowded attractions – things ramp up toward Christmas and advance reservations become crucial.

z Las Fiestas de Zapote

In San José between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, this weeklong celebration of all things Costa Rican (rodeos, cowboys, carnival rides, fried food and booze) draws tens of thousands of Ticos to the bullring in the suburb of Zapote every day.

z Fiesta de los Diablitos

Men booze up and don wooden devil masks and burlap sacks, then re-enact the fight between the indigenous and the Spanish. (In this rendition, Spain loses.) Held in Boruca from December 30 to January 2 and in Curré from February 5 to February 8.

Costumed reveler in Boruca for Fiesta de los Diablitos | Dan Kitwood / Getty Images ©

Itineraries

Essential Costa Rica

2 Weeks

This is the trip you’ve been dreaming about: a romp through paradise with seething volcanoes, tropical parks and ghostly cloud forests.

From San José, beeline north to La Fortuna. After a refreshing forest hike on the flanks of Volcán Arenal, soak in the country’s best hot springs. Then catch a boat across Laguna de Arenal, and a bus to Monteverde, where you might encounter the elusive quetzal on a stroll through the Bosque Nuboso Monteverde.

Next: beach time. Head west to the biggest party town in Guanacaste, Playa Tamarindo, and enjoy the ideal surf, top-notch restaurants and rowdy nightlife.

Continuing south, visit waterfalls and linger a bit in chilled-out Montezuma, where you can connect via jet boat to Jacó, another town with equal affection for surfing and partying. Spend half a day busing to Quepos, the gateway to Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio. A full day in the park starts with some jungle hikes and wildlife-watching and ends with a picnic and a dip in the park’s perfect waters.

Itineraries

Northern Costa Rica

2 Weeks

After landing in San José, make for the hanging bridges and scenery of the Bosque Nuboso Monteverde. Watching the mist roll over the dense forests is a thrill, never mind the dizzying zip lines and aerial walkways.

Now, hop on a bus for Volcán Arenal, the country’s biggest active volcano. Though it’s not spitting lava, Arenal remains an incredible sight. Hikes can be finished with a soak in the local hot springs.

Leave the tourists behind and hit the ecolodges of the northern lowlands. After a couple days of connecting with easygoing Ticos, make for La Virgen to raft the white water of Río Sarapiquí.

Devote at least a few days to the beach. First stop: Playa Tamarindo, to party, sample some of the country’s best cuisine and learn to surf. During turtle season, Playa Grande will be hosting a horde of nesting leatherbacks, and the humans often offer equally illuminating displays.

Stay put or take a bus south to enjoy the sand and contemporary cuisine at Playa Sámara or swells at Mal País & Santa Teresa. Wind down your trip with yoga in Montezuma and head back by boat and bus to San José via Jacó, where you can catch some last rays of sunshine and a decadent meal.

Itineraries

Pacific Coast Explorer

2 Weeks

Kick things off with Parque Nacional Carara, home to enchanting scarlet macaws, and spend a few hours hiking up and down the coast. Then head south to Quepos, a convenient base for the country’s most popular national park, Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio. Here the rainforest sweeps down to meet the sea, providing refuge for rare animals, including the endangered squirrel monkey.

Continue south, stopping to sample the roadside ceviche stands, and visit Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge for some sloth-spotting, or keep heading south to Dominical in search of waves. For deserted beach wandering, continue on to Uvita, where you can look for whales spouting offshore at Parque Nacional Marino Ballena.

From Uvita, move further south to the far-flung Península de Osa, where you’ll set out on journeys through the country’s top national park for wildlife-viewing. Emerge at the northern end in lush and remote Bahía Drake, where you’ll swim in paradisiacal coves among the dripping rainforest. Return to civilization via ferry through Central America’s longest stretch of mangroves to Sierpe, home of the ancient stone spheres.

Itineraries

Southern Costa Rica & Osa

2 Weeks

Hands down the best itinerary for adventurers, this is the wilder side of Costa Rica.

Either head down the Pacific coast or fly into Puerto Jiménez, gateway to Península de Osa. Here you can spend a day or so kayaking the mangroves and soaking up the charm.

The undisputed highlight of the Osa is Parque Nacional Corcovado, the crown jewel of the country’s national parks. Spend a few days exploring jungle and beach trails with a local guide, whose expert eyes will spot tapirs and rare birds; trekkers willing to get down and dirty can tackle a through-hike of the park.

Return to Puerto Jiménez and travel up the Pacific Costanera Sur to Uvita, where you can wander empty beaches, surf and snorkel at Parque Nacional Marino Ballena.

Then it’s off to the mountains. Link together buses for San Gerardo de Rivas, where you can spend a day acclimating to the altitude and hiking through the Cloudbridge Nature Reserve. End the trip with an exhilarating two-day adventure to the top of Cerro Chirripó, Costa Rica’s highest peak.

Itineraries

Caribbean Coast

10 Days

Latin beats change to Caribbean rhythms as you explore the ‘other Costa Rica.’

Hop on the first eastbound bus out of San José for Cahuita, capital of Afro-Caribbean culture and gateway to Parque Nacional Cahuita. Decompress in this mellow village before moving on to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, the Caribbean’s center for nightlife, cuisine and all-round positive vibes.

From Puerto Viejo, rent a bicycle and ride to Manzanillo, jumping-off point for snorkeling, kayaking and hiking in Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Gandoca-Manzanillo.

To fall further off the map, grab a boat from Moín to travel up the canal-ribboned coast to Tortuguero, where you can watch nesting green and leatherback turtles. But the real reason you’re here is to canoe the mangrove-lined canals of Parque Nacional Tortuguero, Costa Rica’s mini-Amazon.

After spotting your fill of wildlife, head back to San José via water taxi and bus through the tiny town of Cariari and then Guápiles, an ideal base for gazing at open farmland and exploring Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo.

Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Gandoca‑­Manzanillo | Kryssia Campos / Getty Images ©

Itineraries

Central Valley

10 Days

The Central Valley circuit is all about (lightly) sleeping volcanoes, strong cups of coffee and the spiritual core of the country – all sans the madding crowds. Begin the scenic route of volcanoes by hiking the volcanic lakes and trails surrounding Volcán Poás, one of Costa Rica’s most accessible glimpses into an active crater.

Move on to San Isidro de Heredia for a close encounter with rescued baby sloths and toucans and a taste of the region's chocolate history. With the geological and culinary wonders complete, raft the white water of the Río Pacuare, one of the country’s best white-water runs and providing some of Central America's most scenic rafting.

Move on to Monumento Nacional Arqueológico Guayabo, the country’s only significant archaeological site, protecting ancient petroglyphs and aqueducts. Finally, swing south into the heart of the Valle de Orosi, Costa Rican coffee country, and take the caffeinated 32km loop passing the country’s oldest church and endless green hills. End on a spiritual note at the country’s grandest colonial-era temple, the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles in Cartago.

Valle de Orosi | Sathish Jothikumar / Getty Images ©

Itineraries

Plan Your Trip

Activities Guide

Miles of shoreline, endless warm water and a diverse array of national parks and reserves provide an inviting playground for active travelers. Whether it’s the solitude of absolute wilderness, hiking and rafting adventures kids can enjoy, or surfing and jungle trekking you seek, Costa Rica offers fun to suit everyone.

Playa Guiones, Nosara | Matteo Colombo / Getty Images ©

Best Activities

Best Beginner Surf Beaches

Playas Tamarindo, Jacó and Sámara

Best Epic Hikes

Cerro Chirripó, Corcovado Through-Hike

Best Dive Sites

Isla del Coco, Isla del Caño

Best Wildlife-Watching

Parque Nacional Corcovado

Best Rainforest for Families

Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio

Best White Water

Río Pacuare

Hiking & Trekking

Hiking opportunities around Costa Rica are seemingly endless. With extensive mountains, canyons, dense jungles, cloud forests and two coastlines, this is one of Central America’s best and most varied hiking destinations.

Hikes come in an enormous spectrum of difficulty. At tourist-packed destinations such as Monteverde, trails are clearly marked and sometimes paved. This is fantastic if you’re traveling with kids or aren’t confident about route-finding. For long-distance trekking, there are many more options in the remote corners of the country.

Opportunities for moderate hiking are typically plentiful in most parks and reserves. For the most part, you can rely on signs and maps for orientation, though it helps to have some navigational experience. Good hiking shoes, plenty of water and confidence in your abilities will enable you to combine several shorter day hikes into a lengthier expedition. Tourist-information centers at park entrances are great resources for planning your intended route.

If you’re properly equipped with camping essentials, the country’s longer and more arduous multiday treks are at your disposal. Costa Rica’s top challenges are scaling Cerro Chirripó, traversing Corcovado and penetrating deep into the heart of La Amistad. While Chirripó can be undertaken independently, local guides are required for much of La Amistad and for all of Corcovado.

How to Make it Happen

If you’re planning your trip around long-distance trekking, it’s best to visit during the dry season (December to April). Outside this window, rivers become impassable and trails are prone to flooding. In the highlands, journeys become more taxing in the rain, and the bare landscape offers little protection.

Costa Rica is hot and humid: hiking in these tropical conditions, harassed by mosquitoes, can really take it out of you. Remember to wear light clothing that will dry quickly. Overheating and dehydration are the main sources of misery on the trails, so be sure to bring plenty of water and take rest stops. Make sure you have sturdy, comfortable footwear and a lightweight rain jacket.

Unfortunately there are occasional stories of people getting robbed while on some of the more remote hiking trails. Although this rarely happens, it is always advisable to hike in a group for added safety. Hiring a local guide is another excellent way to enhance your experience, avoid getting lost and learn an enormous amount about the flora and fauna around you.

Some of the local park offices have maps, but this is the exception rather than the rule. If you are planning to do independent hiking on long-distance trails, be sure to purchase your maps in San José in advance.

A number of companies offer trekking tours in Costa Rica:

A Osa Wild Offers a huge variety of hikes in the Osa, in partnership with a sustainability organization.

A Costa Rica Trekking Adventures Offers multiday treks in Chirripó, Corcovado and Tapanti.

A Osa Aventura Specializes in treks through Corcovado.

THESE BOOTS WERE MADE FOR WALKING

Some suggestions for sturdier tropical-hiking footwear, to supplement the flip-flops.

Rubber boots Pick these up at any hardware store (approximately US$6). They’re indestructible, protect you from creepy-crawlies and can be hosed off at day’s end. Downsides: not super-comfortable, and if they fill up with water or mud, your feet are wet for the rest of the day.

Sport sandals Chacos, Tevas or Crocs are great for rafting and river crossings, though they offer minimal foot protection.

Waterproof hiking boots If you are planning a serious trek in the mountains, it’s best to invest in a pair of solid, waterproof hiking boots.

Surfing

Point and beach breaks, lefts and rights, reefs and river mouths, warm water and year-round waves make Costa Rica a favorite surfing destination. For the most part, the Pacific coast has bigger swells and better waves during the latter part of the rainy season, but the Caribbean cooks from November to May. Basically, there is a wave waiting to be surfed at any time of year.

For the uninitiated, lessons are available at almost all of the major surfing destinations – especially popular towns include Jacó, Dominical and Tamarindo on the Pacific coast. Surfing definitely has a steep learning curve, and can be potentially dangerous if the currents are strong. With that said, the sport is accessible to children and novices, though it’s advisable to start with a lesson and always inquire locally about conditions before you paddle out.

Throughout Costa Rica, waves are big (though not massive), and many offer hollow and fast rides that are perfect for intermediates. As a bonus, Costa Rica is one of the few places on the planet where you can surf two different oceans in the same day. Advanced surfers with plenty of experience can contend with some of the world’s most famous waves. The top ones include Ollie’s Point and Witch’s Rock, off the coast of the Santa Rosa sector of the Área de Conservación Guanacaste; Mal País and