Gorgeous Costa Rica is known for its spectacularnatural beauty and biodiversity, and contains 15 differentecosystems. All enjoy dramatic changes in landscapes, climate, andnature, with magnificent beaches stretching for miles alongunspoilt coastline. Pristine cloud forests high on the mountainsare alive with mysterious sounds while below splendid rainforestsare packed with life.
The country is famous for its progressive approach toconservation. Indeed, it is the prime eco-tourism destination inCentral America due to its wealth of protected areas. Over 25percent of the country consists of these regions, spread between 75different national parks, wildlife refuges, and biologicalreserves.
In such a small geographical area, it is surprisinghow much there is to see and do. A holiday in Costa Rica offersactivities to suit all travellers and any mood, from action torelaxation. These include surfing, snorkelling, sunbathing, horseriding, hiking, wildlife-spotting, deep sea fishing, and rivercruises. Alternatively, one can also simply enjoy a soak in the hotsprings.
Although a small country, there are a wealth ofattractions in Costa Rica and only the most jaded of travellerscould fail to be excited by all the exciting things to see and do.A whopping 25 percent of Costa Rica is taken up by 75 differentnational parks, wildlife refuges, and biological reserves, makingit a paradise for eco-tourism.
Adventurous visitors are spoiled for choice withactivities like surfing, kayaking, hiking, fishing, white waterrafting, canyoning, climbing, and zip-line tours available all overthis diverse country. For those inclined to relax, Costa Ricaboasts truly beautiful beaches and these alone could fill a holidaywith sun-tanning, swimming, and snorkelling.
The northwest region of Costa Rica is famous for twoparticularly spectacular national parks: the Arenal VolcanoNational Park, with the seemingly perpetually active Volcan Arenalat its heart; and the world renowned Monteverde Cloud ForestBiological Reserve, a unique and awe-inspiring wilderness area thatenchants visitors with its mystical atmosphere. Fortuna is a goodbase from which to explore the region and a visit to the Monteverdecommunity, spread in the hills of the cloud forest, is afascinating excursion.
The Pacific coast is well developed for tourism andis scattered with picturesque villages and great beaches. Jacó is abeach resort town perfect for surfing, sunning, and partying in themidst of this wonderful coastline.
Puntarenas, the largest town in the region, a popularstop for cruises, is also a good base for exploring the area. TheManuel Antonio National Park is the most celebrated reserve of theregion and here you will find a captivating variety of wildlife, aswell as the chance to enjoy numerous adventure activities.
The Caribbean coast of Costa Rica is becomingincreasingly popular, with its more relaxed atmosphere andless-developed infrastructure for tourism. It exists as a beachhaven, with local communities generally friendly towards tourists.Puerto Limon is a bit rundown, but receives regular cruisepassengers and acts as a doorway into the stunning coastal areasand pristine rainforests of Caribbean Costa Rica.
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is a popular touristdestination nestled on the coast. The best parks in this area arethe Cahuita National Park, which protects a wondrous coral reef andis a treat for divers and snorkellers, and the Tortuguero NationalPark, in the north, a famous breeding ground for sea turtles.
And in the middle of this natural wonderland of acountry sits the capital, San Jose, which is a lively and moderncity with good shopping, restaurants and nightlife. It has somearchitecturally beautiful colonial areas and a few great museums.From this urban centre you can find no end of things to see and doin Costa Rica.
The Arenal Volcano National Park is situated in whatis known as the 'Energetic Heart of Costa Rica'. At its centre isthe 5,356 foot (1,633m) Volcán Arenal, a typically cone-shapedvolcano despite being highly active, with some huge eruptions andlarva flows that killed thousands of people in 1968. Althoughperpetually active, the degree of activity is unpredictable,ranging from rumbling and ground shaking to a smouldering red glowbest visible at night. Sometimes visitors are treated to a fierydisplay of red-hot rocks being thrown into the air. The park hassome good trails that go through forests, passing through the areathat was flattened in the 1968 eruption, or across lava fields, butfences are in place to stop people from venturing too far up thedangerous slopes. There is also a good chance of seeing some of thewildlife in the forest. The Visitor Centre has video displays ofthe volcano's more exciting activity. It is not possible to stayovernight in the park or visit it after dark unless on one of thenight tours from Fortuna.
Despite its isolation on the northern part of theCaribbean coast, Tortuguero National Park is an extremely populardestination and one of the most important nesting sites of thegreen sea turtle, which lays its eggs here between July and Octobereach year. Three other turtle species also use the beach as anesting ground, namely the giant leatherback, hawksbill, andloggerhead turtles. The park covers an area of over 120 squaremiles (189 sq km), protecting not only the turtle beach, but alsowetlands, swamps, forests, and one of the most developed reefs inthe country. Nature trails in the park offer opportunities forwildlife viewing and birding and a network of waterways serves asan alternative method of transportation and exploration.Approximately 50 percent of Costa Rica's bird and reptile speciesare found in the park along with a diversity of flora and fauna,including endangered mammals like the jaguar, sloth, tapir, andmanatee. Most visitors come to watch the spectacular sight ofthousands of marine turtles laying their eggs or to observe thehatching. Guided tours are recommended to control the amount ofdisturbance caused by the increasing numbers of tourists, andguides provide a wealth of information about the area. Beaches arebeautiful but not suitable for swimming as the surf is rough andsharks are present. The area also receives a large amount of rainand insect repellent is necessary to keep the mosquitoes atbay.
The only coral reef on the Costa Rican Caribbeancoastline is found within this national park, and with 500 speciesof fish it affords excellent opportunities for snorkelling. Apartfrom the vibrant underwater colours and fish, there are two sunkenships to explore as well. The park was established in 1970 toprotect the coral reef, but unfortunately it is still seriouslythreatened. While the land area of Cahuita National Park is small,it has stunning beaches and is good for both land and wateractivities, making it one of the most visited parks on theCaribbean coast. A well-defined trail runs through the coastalrainforest and howler monkeys and sloths are among the wildlifeattractions. The area is also great for bird watching and if youare lucky you may see striking blue butterflies found in thejungle. The hike to the beach is flat and the path is easy tofollow and winds through wonderful jungle scenery. Be sure to takesome water and snacks for the walk and try to set out fairly earlybecause it becomes more difficult to see animals later in the day.There have been some reports of robbery in the park so be aware andtry to stay in groups.
Manuel Antonio is the smallest national park in CostaRica but also one of the more popular because of its beautifulwhite beaches, rocky headlands, and tropical rainforest. Among thisvaried landscape are typical Costa Rican animals like sloths,agoutis, monkeys, and iguanas. It has a well-developed trail systemsolo explorers, but knowledgeable local guides are also availableat the park entrance. Picnic areas are situated along the coastaltrails, and can admire the views from clifftop lookouts. FriendlyQuepos is the nearest town to the park and is also thesport-fishing centre in the region. Sailfish and marlin are thesought after deep-sea prizes. Apart from fishing, there are zipline tours of the jungle canopy which are thrilling and fun andthere is even a surf school located in the park. There are also afew spas located on the outskirts for those who want some pamperingafter an active day in the jungle.
Fortuna is the nearest village to the spectacularVolcán Arenal. It has uninterrupted views of the volcano andprovides a comfortable base for visiting the national park andother attractions. There are many tour operators in town offeringnight trips to see the red-hot volcanic activity from up close.Other tours combine luxurious soak in the hot springs while takingin the astounding show of bright red larva coursing down theslopes. You don't need a guide to enter the park and hike in thearea but you must have a guide to visit at night. Trips to the CañoNegro Wildlife Refuge, and the Arenal Butterfly Conservatory, arealso popular excursions, as is horse riding to the nearbywaterfalls and their pools. Close to Fortuna is Lake Arenal, apicturesque lake offering watersports, fishing, and stunningscenery. There are also some rivers close by: the Pena BlancasRiver is great for relaxing cruises, and, for the more adventurous,the Rio Toro River boasts some impressive white water raftingthrough deep gorges and big rapids (class 3 - 4).
Monteverde is a small community scattered alongseveral kilometres of road that leads to the Monteverde CloudForest Biological Reserve. Originally bought for dairy farming, thereserve today is an integral part of Costa Rican society, knownespecially for their distinctive cheese that is sold throughout thecountry. After more hectares were added, it became the famous cloudforest reserve now so popular with tourists today. The village ofSanta Elena is the closest settlement to the reserve and has acloud forest reserve of its own, although much less visited.Monteverde has a number of other attractions, such as the ButterflyGarden, the Serpentarium, a cheese factory, and art galleries.CASEM Handicrafts Cooperative, made up of 140 local artisans, sellshandmade goods and the profits go towards supporting the localcommunity. There is also the Hummingbird Gallery near the entranceto the reserve that has feeders attracting several species ofhummingbird. Several nature and hiking trails allow visitors toamble through coffee and banana plantations or up onto the hilltopsfor views of the cloud forest. On a clear day, you might get achance to spy Arenal Volcano, and lots of birds and wildlife.
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, known to locals as PuertoViejo (not to be confused with Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí in thenorthern lowlands), is a dusty little village lying between theforested mountains of Talamanca and the sea. The little town offersexcellent surfing, an interesting mix of Afro-Caribbean and Bribriindigenous cultures, and delicious local food. The seven miles(12km) of coastline between Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo furthereast is one of the most stunning stretches in Costa Rica, featuringpopular beaches such as Playa Cocles, Playa Chiquita and Punta Uva.There are many other activities in the area including fishing andhorse riding, cultural tours and home stays, as well as excursionsto the nearby Cahuita National Park. Puerto Viejo has a vibrantnightlife and great local music, meaning it's a good base for thosewho enjoy a party. Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is becomingincreasingly touristy due to its popularity so if you prefer toavoid tourist hotspots, Puerto Viejo may not be the right place foryour holiday. But if you are a sociable, sun-worshipping,music-loving adventurer, you will be in heaven, since all willagree that the beaches are sublime. In fact, there are so manyexciting excursions out into the surrounding areas that thereshould be something for everybody.
Puerto Limon is known not so much for its sightsbut for its proximity to some of Costa Rica's top naturalattractions. Many cruise liners lay over in the port to allowpassengers the chance to take excursions, and independenttravellers come here from San Jose, along the scenic GuapilesHighway, to use Puerto Limon as a base for exploring the coast.Just south of the city is the popular and beautiful beach of PlayaBonita, easily accessible by taxi or bus, and inland there aremyriad scenic excursions to appreciate the volcanoes, lush valleys,tropical rainforests, and national parks. Travellers and cruiseship passengers can organise trips from Puerto Limon on an aerialtram which traverses across the rainforest canopy in the BraulioCarrillo National Park. They can also travel to Costa Rica'scapital, San Jose, passing through exotic scenery en route. Themore active can opt for white water rafting on the ReventazonRiver, or a horseback trek from a nearby ranch through the jungle.One of the most popular outings is a boat trip up the TortugueroCanal, which runs parallel to the coastline from Puerto Limon tothe Nicaraguan border, affording the chance to enjoy somespectacular scenery and get close to wildlife.
Located 135 miles (220km) northwest of San Jose,Liberia is not so much a tourist destination as a convenient travelhub and gateway to the stunning beaches of Northwest Costa Rica.Liberia is often called 'La Ciudad Blanca' (the White City) becauseof the pale gravel used to make its roads and the prevalence ofwhite colonial buildings. One of its main attractions is the nearbyRio Negro Hot Spring. In fact, most of its prime attractions arelocated just outside of Liberia. It's ideally situated to exploresome of the stunning national parks in Costa Rica, including Rincónde la Vieja Volcano and Santa Rosa National Park. Home to CostaRica's second largest international airport, many tourists travelthrough Liberia on their Costa Rica holiday. As it receives so manytourists in transit, Liberia is home to many great tour companieswho offer a variety of trips and activities for travellers. Youcould easily spend a whole holiday in Liberia if you use it as abase for day trips out into the surrounding areas.
Costa Rica has a typically tropical climate which means that theseasons are not distinct: little difference occurs in temperaturethroughout the year. There is a lot of rainfall, particularly fromMay to November, and it can rain at any time of the year. However,December to April gets significantly less rain.
Temperatures along the coast are hotter, averaging 89ºF (32ºC),although they are tempered down by welcome sea breezes. Thehighland areas are warm during the day and can be quite cool atnight. The sun shines year round in Costa Rica and there is no realwinter which makes it a year-round holiday destination. The coolestmonths of the year are November, December and January and thehottest months of the year are March, April and May, but there isnot a big difference ultimately. Peak tourist season in Costa Ricais from November to April, but the weather is good all year round,so for those looking to avoid the crowds, it is better to visit outof season.
The Costa Rican Colón (CRC) is divided into 100 céntimos and isthe official currency, although US Dollars are also widelyaccepted. US Dollars can be exchanged in banks and many hotels, butcurrency other than US Dollars is difficult to exchange. Usingblack market exchange options is risky as these unofficial outletshave been known to pass on counterfeit bills printed in Colombia.Banks close anywhere from 3pm to 4pm. Major credit cards are widelyaccepted, although American Express and Diners Club might be morelimited. ATMs are available in major towns throughout the country,but it is advisable to always have some local cash handy.
Spanish is the official language, but English is widelyspoken.
Electrical current is 120 volts, 60Hz. Flat two-pinplugs and three-pin (two flat blades with round grounding pin)plugs are in use.
US citizens must have a passport that is valid upon theirarrival in Costa Rica. No visa is required for stays of up to 90days.
British citizens must have a passport that is valid upon theirarrival in Costa Rica. A visa is not required for stays of up to 90days, provided the passport is for an endorsed British Citizen orBritish Overseas Territories Citizen. A British National (Overseas)does not require a visa for a stay of up to 30 days.
Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid upon theirarrival in Costa Rica. No visa is required for stays of up to 90days.
Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid upontheir arrival in Costa Rica. No visa is required for stays of up to90 days.
South African citizens must have a passport that is valid upontheir arrival in Costa Rica. No visa is required for stays of up to90 days.
Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid upon theirarrival in Costa Rica. No visa is required for stays of up to 90days.
US citizens must have a passport that is valid upon theirarrival in Costa Rica. No visa is required for stays of up to 90days.
New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid upontheir arrival in Costa Rica. No visa is required for stays of up to90 days.
All foreign passengers to Costa Rica must have return/onwardtickets and the necessary travel documentation for their nextdestination, and proof of sufficient funds to cover their stay inthe country. Extensions of stay for those who are visa-exempt canbe arranged on arrival. Note that a yellow fever vaccinationcertificate is required, if arriving in Costa Rica within six daysof leaving or transiting through any yellow fever risk areas. It ishighly recommended that your passport has at least six monthsvalidity remaining after your intended date of departure from yourtravel destination. Immigration officials often apply differentrules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
There are no vaccination requirements for Costa Rica. As aprecaution, vaccinations for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and typhoidare recommended for travel to Costa Rica. There is a year-roundrisk of malaria in some regions of Costa Rica and advice should betaken on which areas are currently risky places to visit. Youshould also check out what precautions and medication you must taketo protect against the disease. Water in cities is generally safebut it is advisable to buy bottled water, especially outside themain towns where there is a risk of contamination. Dengue fever isone of a number of diseases carried by insects that also occur inthis region, especially during the rainy season; protection againstinsect bites is the best prevention. Medical services are reliablein cities and the standard of hygiene and treatment is veryhigh.
Hotels add a 10 percent service charge plus a three percenttourist tax to their bills by law. In tourist and upmarketrestaurants, a tip of 10 percent is usual. However, someestablishments already include a 17 percent sales and service taxin the bill. Taxi drivers are not normally tipped but you can usediscretion if it's been a long trip or there was intense traffic.People will often round off the fare to the nearest Costa Ricancolón or US Dollar. Tour guides, on the other hand, are normallytipped. In general, if service has been particularly good, staffappreciate a five to 10 percent tip.
There is no history of terrorism in Costa Rica, however thereare incidents of violent crime, occasionally targeting tourists.There has been an increase in attacks on tourists leaving theairport in hired cars in San Jose. Belongings should be watchedcarefully at all times and in all places, particularly in busstations and on public transport. Theft of, and from, cars iscommon. Do not wear jewellery or carry large amounts of cash andavoid moneychangers on the street. Strikes, protests and blockadeshave recently taken place without warning and furtherdemonstrations could disrupt travel on main roads, particularlythose connecting San Jose with the coast.
Costa Ricans are conservative when it comes to family values,and roles between male and female are expected to be traditional.Machismo is a key characteristic of Costa Rica culture, althoughwomen are quickly becoming more empowered in Tico society. Thepopulation is largely middle-class, Catholic, and ethnicallyhomogenous.
Costa Rica has a formal business environment, where men andwomen wear conservative suits, appointments are made and meetingsbegin on time. Business projects can be slow, however, as CostaRicans are conservative in their approach to new ideas and keen toavoid risk. Spanish is the main language, but most business peoplespeak English.
However, it is polite to have business cards as well as otherpromotional material printed in both English and Spanish. A lot ofwomen have high profile jobs, although the business world, like thesociety in general, is still male dominated. Visiting businesswomenwill be treated with respect once their ability and authority isclearly established. Hours of business are generally 8am to 4pmMonday to Friday with a two-hour lunch break from 12pm.
The international access code for Costa Rica is +506. Costa Ricahas one of the most advanced telecommunications systems in LatinAmerica. Internet cafes are available in the main towns while wifiis available in most hotels, restaurants, and cafes.
Travellers to Costa Rica over 18 years do not have to pay dutyon 3 litres of alcohol; 500g of tobacco or 400 cigarettes or 50cigars. Perfume for personal use is allowed provided it is areasonable quantity.
Costa Rica Tourism Board, San Jose: +506 2299-5800 orwww.visitcostarica.com
Embassy of Costa Rica, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 4992991.
Embassy of Costa Rica, London, United Kingdom (also responsiblefor Ireland): +44 (0)20 7706 8844.
Embassy of Costa Rica, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 562 2855.
Honorary Consulate of Costa Rica, Johannesburg, South Africa:+27 (0)11 486 4716.
Costa Rica Consulate-General, Sydney, Australia (alsoresponsible for New Zealand): +61 2 9262 3883
United States Embassy, San Jose: +506 2519 2000.
British Embassy, San Jose: +506 2258 2025.
Canadian Embassy, San Jose (also responsible for Australia):+506 2242 4400.