Last updated on February 25th, 2023 at 12:54 pm
Heaven is a place on earth in Costa Rica. It has an abundance of adventure & activity for the thrill seekers, tranquil hot springs and yoga retreats to feed the soul, thousands of animal and insect species to keep all ages entertained (or scared), and beach sunsets that songs are written about. Rainforests, volcanoes, jungles, beaches… I could continue listing everything that makes this country beautiful, but trust me when I say, you need to see it for yourself! Use this Costa Rica travel guide to plan your trip to Costa Rica!
This Costa Rica travel guide will help you organize and plan your adventure in Costa Rica. Make sure to also check out my related blog posts on Costa Rica for some inspiration and itineraries in Costa Rica!
Some links in this post are affiliate, if you click them I may get a small commission at no extra cost to you.
My Costa Rica Ratings
- Relaxation: 7/10
- Activity/adventure: 10/10
- Entertainment: N/A/10 – I did not partake in any “entertainment” type experiences (the adventure took all my energy haha).
- Food/drink: 9/10
Entering Costa Rica
- On April 1st 2022, Costa Rica announced that tourists from all countries are able to enter without any restrictions. Please check for any changes at the Visit Costa Rica website here.
- Costa Rica requires tourists from some countries to have a travel visa before entering. You can check if you need one here. *You do NOT need one from Canada if on a short trip.*
Costa Rica Weather
Costa Rica has two seasons, dry season and rainy season.
1. Dry Season: January – April (17-35°C)
Dry Season is Costa Rica’s busiest season. Tourists are drawn to Costa Rica with promise of blue skies and sunshine. Although, named the dry season, rain is not impossible and being there in April myself, I experienced rain for a couple of afternoons/evenings. The dry season is the longest on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast. If venturing to other areas the rainy season may start earlier than May. Keep in mind that it can also be colder in the mountainous regions ie. Monteverde.
2. Rainy Season: May – December (20-30°C)
Rainy Season can be considered Costa Rica’s most beautiful, the vegetation is truly LUSH. Costa Rica’s rainy season sees less tourists, however, depending on the time you visit, rain may only happen for a few minutes to an hour per day. My family was in Costa Rica in May and experienced at maximum 1-2 hours of rain per day. The months with the most rain are September and October, I would avoid these months if you plan to have a beach vacation. Don’t forget your rain jackets!
Do not let either season dissuade you from visiting, they will both give you an amazing vacation.
Costa Rica Packing List
Click here for my detailed Costa Rica packing list.
Getting to Costa Rica
Flying is the number one way to get to Costa Rica (unless you plan to drive for days from North America, patiently and safely, which I do not have any advice for… Please make sure you know how to do this before embarking..).
Costa Rica has two major international airports that have regular flights from most airlines. Deciding which airport to fly into will be a time saving decision of your trip.
1. Juan Santamaría International Airport also known as SJO is just outside of the capital city; San José, Alajuela province. This airport sees the most traffic and usually has cheaper flight options. If you are planning to spend time on the Caribbean coast, Manuel Antonio National Park, the Osa Peninsula and South Pacific region, you will want to fly into SJO.
2. Liberia / LIR is the international airport located in Guanacaste Province. If your trip will consist mostly of the Guanacaste region ie. Tamarindo, Playa Flamingo (North Pacific coast), Nicoya Peninsula, Arenal this will be your go to airport. Flights can be more expensive in and out of this airport. If money is not an issue and you would prefer to save on time instead, consider picking and choosing which airport to book in and out of depending on your desired itinerary!
3. Limón International Airport does not fly internationally despite its name.
Avianca Airline: Our Experience
Where we flew into & why
We flew in and out of SJO. Our trip started in Arenal and La Fortuna, which was a 3 hour drive from SJO. The drive is about the same length of time from LIR. We ended up spending more time on driving, as majority of the activities we did were closer to LIR, however, we saved money on our flights, as we found a deal for $420.00 CAD round trip with Avianca.
Getting Around Costa Rica
Renting a car & driving
Your choice of transportation in Costa Rica is dependent on how much of the country you are planning to visit during your trip. I enjoy the flexibility that comes with renting a car, however, it can be pricey and well outside of your budget. Furthermore, to rent a car you need to be 23 years of age and need to have a valid driver’s license from your home province/state/country.
When searching for rental cars, it is very important to note that a lot of the companies do not include the required insurance within the quote. This can be frustrating to find out once you get to Costa Rica and have to pay even more for a car that you thought was ready to go. The company we went through was fully transparent and actually provided us with this warning.
Another tip to be mindful of, is third party websites (ie. Expedia/Kayak), will charge a small fee for whatever rental you take, go directly to the rental company’s website and avoid paying extra.
We rented a Toyota RAV4 with CR-Save Car Rental and had a wonderful experience. They brought the car to our hotel on day 1 and picked it up from us on our last day. We needed a 4-wheel drive as we were headed to some remote areas, which slightly increased our price. Our car rental cost around $750.00 USD for 10 days, which included tax, basic insurance and free mileage, averaging about $75.00 USD per day. Additionally, we had the option to pay an extra $10.00 USD per day to have GPS, however, we opted out and just used our data plans.
You may need to rent a 4-wheel drive depending on where you are planning to visit (please plan this in advance). We needed one as we were staying on a farm outside of Monteverde. You also need to download Waze, my Apple maps did not work in Costa Rica.
Although driving is my favourite option, it is very dangerous to drive in Costa Rica once it becomes dark. The roads are poorly lit and there are potholes/poor road conditions in some areas of Costa Rica. We also stumbled upon a few cows in the middle of the road… Always drive in the daylight and you should be fine!
Walking is a great choice if you are planning to stay within a town or city. This is one of my favourite ways to explore places that are not tourist heavy and/or are off the beaten path.
If you are planning to spend all of your time in a town like Tamarindo, with beach and relaxation on your itinerary, walking will be just fine! However, if you are going to visit different regions, do day trips, and/or experience Costa Rica’s large national parks you will need a form of transportation.
This does not mean you need to rent a car, you can check out Costa Rica’s bus system/transit or purchase group tour transportation.
If you are not comfortable with driving yourself, shuttle buses are a great way to get around Costa Rica. You can book shuttles privately or as a group. My family rented a private shuttle for most of their stay in Costa Rica and were able to have the luxury of stopping at grocery stores along their routes. If you are on a group shuttle this may not be allowed. Prices vary depending on private/group and destination.
Costa Rica has red and orange taxis. Orange taxis are only found at the airport. They drop people off and pick them up for airport travel. The red taxi is the official taxi of Costa Rica, they are regulated and found all over the country. If needing a taxi you should only get into a red one. We took a taxi to and from the SJO airport and spent about $10.00 USD for 5 km of driving.
Beware of non-regulated taxis, just stick to the red taxi with the yellow triangle on the door and you should be good to go. Make sure that they turn the meter on once you get in to avoid being overcharged.
Costa Rica Accommodation
Alajuela, Arenal, Monteverde & Guanacaste Region
There are pros and cons to both booking methods. I enjoy the “pay later” aspect of booking.com (when you pay at check in, instead of when booking). Also, I love the privacy of your own place with Airbnb, helping you to feel at home in a different country.
Costa Rica has a large number of affordable accommodation. You can stay in luxury hotels for decent Canadian prices or can conversely opt into eco-lodges or fun treehouse Airbnbs that can be booked for ~$50.00 CAD per night. Do a mix of both or focus on luxury or budget. I have listed a few examples below!
Where to stay in Alajuela
We stayed in Alajuela for a night after landing in SJO and before taking off in SJO. You can opt to stay in, San José, Costa Rica’s capital city, however, we did not do any tourist attractions or sight seeing in San José. We wanted the quickest exit out of the city and into the nature, therefore, staying closer to the airport.
Hotels in Alajuela can range from $30.00 USD per night to over $200.00 USD per night. We paid $50.00 USD per night and were very happy with our stay.
Where we stayed: Sunrise by A-1
Sunrise by A-1 is run by Nathanael. Nathanael and his family own a few houses in Costa Rica. They have turned their Alajuela home into a bed and breakfast. He is very kind and hospitable, he made us feel at ease and at home as soon as we came in. Our flight arrived in SJO after midnight. Nathanael waited for us to arrive and met us at the front door. He provided breakfast and friendly conversation for us the following morning. We shared our travel plans with him for the rest of the week and were happy to accept his expert tips. We were so happy with our stay, we changed our plans for the last night of our trip and stayed with him again. If I am flying into SJO again, I will not hesitate to book at Sunrise by A-1.
For other hotels in Alajuela, click here.
If you would rather stay in San José, you can check out hotels here. I do not have any expertise on San José or hotels there!
Where to stay in Arenal / La Fortuna
La Fortuna and the region of Arenal have many gorgeous resorts and hotels. This is mostly attributed to their abundance of hot springs. When we went to La Fortuna, we stayed at a Treehouse Airbnb close to town. You can check out Airbnb in La Fortuna here.
The luxury hotels listed here are outside/ to the west of the city centre of La Fortuna.
1. Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa: Avg Cost $350.00 – $600.00 CAD per night.
I was able to spend some time at The Tabacón Hot Springs, I detail this in my blog here. My family stayed at this resort, (without me, how rude), and they still have not shut up about how amazing it was. It is pure luxury.
2. The Springs Resort & Spa at Arenal: Avg Cost $400.00 – $1000.00 + CAD per night (in high season)
3. The Royal Corin Thermal Water Spa & Resort – Adults Only: Avg Cost $300.00 – $500.00 CAD per night
1. Hotel Los Lagos Spa & Resort: Avg Cost $100.00 – $200.00 CAD per night
2. Arenal Oasis Eco Lodge & Wildlife Refuge: Avg Cost $90.00 – $130.00 CAD per night
3. Casona Rústica & Bungalow: Avg Cost $50.00 – $100.00 CAD per night
1. Arenal Backpackers Resort: Avg Cost $40.00 – $80.00 CAD per night
2. Selina La Fortuna: Avg Cost $40.00 – $80.00 CAD per night
Where to stay in Monteverde & Santa Elena
Monteverde is stunning. Full of cloud forests, wildlife, and adventure. We stayed in an Airbnb finca (farm). It is a fun way to be immersed into Costa Rican culture and I highly recommend this type of experience (you will definitely need a 4×4 for this).
Click here for Monteverde Airbnbs. If that’s not for you, below are some hotels in Monteverde and Santa Elena.
1. Koora Hotel: Avg Cost $300.00 – $600.00 CAD per night
2. Monteverde Lodge & Gardens: Avg Cost $350.00 CAD per night
3. Hotel Belmar: Avg Cost $300.00 – $350.00 CAD per night
1. Tityra Lodge: Avg Cost $70.00 – $100.00 CAD per night – for an entire bungalow!!
2. La Guayaba Monteverde: Avg Cost $60.00 – $100.00 CAD per night
1. Hakuna Matata Guest House: Avg Cost $30.00 – $40.00 CAD per night
2. Camino Verde B&B Monteverde: Avg Cost $50.00 – $100.00 CAD per night
Where to stay in Guanacaste Region
Before you jump into these accommodations, make sure you know which area you plan to visit or stay in. We were between Playa Flamingo, Playa Conchal and Tamarindo. We ended up choosing an Airbnb in Playa Conchal and using this as our medium ground to spend a day in Playa Flamingo and a day in Tamarindo.
Tamarindo is one of the most tourist heavy places in Costa Rica and we wanted more of a quiet/relaxing scene, therefore opting out of staying there. A lot of people love Tamarindo and enjoy staying there as well, it is all up to your preference!
For Airbnb stays click here.
Tamarindo: Capitán Suizo Beachfront Boutique Hotel: Avg Cost $400.00 – $1000.00 CAD per night
Playa Flamingo: The Palms Luxury Villas on the Beach: Avg Cost (For at least 4 nights) $800.00 – $1000.00 CAD per night
Playa Conchal: The Westin Reserva Conchal, All-Inclusive Golf Resort & Spa: Avg Cost $600.00 – $1500.00 CAD per night
Tamarindo: Ten North Tamarindo Beach Hotel: Avg Cost $150.00 – $200.00 CAD per night
Playa Flamingo: Margaritaville Beach Resort Playa Flamingo: Avg Cost $200.00 – $400.00 CAD per night.
Playa Conchal: Conchal Hotel & Papaya Restaurant: Avg Cost $120.00 – $150.00 CAD per night
Tamarindo: La Botella de Leche: Avg Cost $50.00 – $100.00 CAD per night
Playa Conchal: Hotel Brasilito – Playa Conchal: Avg Cost ~$100.00 CAD per night
Spending Money in Costa Rica
Costa Rica accepts both Costa Rica Colón (CRC) and United States Dollar (USD). We were unable to get CRC in Toronto before leaving so we brought USD with us, used it for the beginning of the trip (one taxi ride), and then found an ATM and used mostly CRC or credit card. Although they accept USD, they will give you change back in CRC so you might not always get back the correct amount (based on the exchange and/or if they have the right amount on them). It is definitely better to use CRC.
As I currently write this, 1 CRC = 0.0019 CAD or 0.0015 USD. $1.00 CAD is about 530 CRC. Things in Costa Rica are very affordable and you will most likely need about 520,000 CRC or $1000.00 CAD per week as a mid-range traveler (a little more if travelling in a pair).
Access to an ATM is good in the tourist areas, cities and towns. Banco Nacional, Banco de Costa Rica (Banco BCR) and Banco Popular are some of the common banks you will find. Scotiabank (Canada), Citibank and Bank of America (America) are present in Costa Rica but do not have ATM’s.
Food & Drink
Food and drinks in Costa Rica are quite affordable. A large meal costs around 6000-8000 CRC, which is about $12.00 – $15.00 CAD or $8.00 – $12.00 USD. Below are some menu examples!
On your restaurant/bar bills there will be a service charge already built in, this is a 10% charge or called a “service tax”. You can always go ahead and add a little extra if you’d like. Most locals do not add more of a tip.
If you are renting a car be ready to pay for gas! One thing I found amazing was that you pull up at the gas station and the gas attendants fill up your car for you, clean your windshields and check your tires. I have never seen this done before, I was so excited. We also tipped them for this, although it is not expected!
Average gas prices currently are $1000 CRC per litre. ($1.91 CAD per litre / $1.49 USD per litre).
Costa Rica Travel Packages
The only package we purchased in Costa Rica was the Sky Adventures: Sky Trek package. We purchased it in the town of Monteverde at their office 1 day before our activity. If you are able, I suggest booking in advance online here, or at their office in town.
Sky Adventures has three parks; Monteverde, Arenal and Vandará. Each park has a number of activities to offer and can be purchased individually or bundled together in a package.
We chose the Monteverde Sky Adventures Park: Sky Trek package. This included the Sky Tram and ziplining, which was ~$90.00 CAD per adult. You can also add the Sky walk to your bundle, which includes the previously mentioned activities with a gorgeous walk through their forests, atop hanging bridges. I detail more of this package in my ,ziplining blog.
My family was in Costa Rica in May 2022 and joined a tour from Arenal Tours. Arenal Tours offers hiking, adventure and wildlife tours. They chose to do the Hiking Lovers Tour, found here. This tour includes; transportation, lunch/snacks, water and entry to Arenal Volcano National Park, Arenal Hanging Bridges and La Fortuna Waterfall. The full day tour costs ~$160.00 CAD per adult.
I chose to do these activities on their own and at my own pace which I preferred. However, this tour is a great option if you are short on time and would like your transportation taken care of!
Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever experienced. The country is not only full of phenomenal sights and amazing food, but also wonderful people who are ready to help you any chance they can. I felt safe and well taken care of in Costa Rica and I cannot wait to go back next year!
Joanna Neander is the author and creator of Plan Before Land. She is dedicated to creating detailed travel itineraries from around the world. Joanna’s most visited continents include, North America, Central America & Europe. Asia coming soon! Join along on Joanna’s travels!