When someone mentions Costa Rica, people think of nature, sunsets, relaxation, and paradise. No wonder millions of tourists looking for an unforgettable experience travel to Costa Rica every year. Costa Rica is located in a privileged site in Central America, providing the opportunity to visit two coasts which are full of incredibly beautiful beaches, bays and gulfs. If you’re travelling to Costa Rica it’s probably for the national parks, rainforests, volcanoes, beaches, among many other reasons which make it one of the most renowned travel destinations in the world. Top Travel offers everything you need to make your travel to Costa Rica a dream come true. Check out our descriptions and photos of some of the most remarkable and unique activities in Costa Rica, plus all of the information on which destinations to visit, what to do, how to get there, tours, hotels, transportation, etc. You can count on us to be your Costa Rica travel companion!
Where to go in Costa Rica?
The main reason people travel to Costa Rica are its various and amazing destinations. With varied ecosystems creating impressive landscapes, Costa Rica offers unique scenic areas to visit. Active volcanoes and natural hot spring waters surrounded by rainforest are one unique aspect that entices tourists to come visit Costa Rica. Others come for the incredible white sand, black sand, golden sand or pink sand beaches with warm tropical waters that allow a pleasant swim and excellent playground for water sports. Take a look at our descriptions and beautiful photos of some of Costa Rica’s most exciting destinations, and let us help you create your holiday in paradise!
What to do in Costa Rica?
Costa Rica is one of the most sought-out travel destinations in the world for its abundance of activities. Costa Rica’s exuberant biodiversity makes it a perfect destination for bird watching, nature hikes, jungle exploration and wildlife viewing. Think of it as a “rainforest safari.” Enjoy a multitude of activities in our rainforests, cloud forests, volcanoes, waterfalls, beaches, etc. For the active traveler, we’re action-packed with whitewater rafting, surfing, canopy zip lines, bungee jumping, waterfall rappelling, horseback riding, scuba diving/snorkeling, golf and more.
More About Costa Rica
Costa Rica abolished its army after a quick revolution in 1948, a decision that gave more of the nation’s budget to improve social areas like education, medical care, and distribution countrywide of electricity and potable water services.
By 1982, Costa Rica declared peace to the rest of the world, becoming neutral in any warlike confrontation. In international forums such as the United Nations, Organization of the American States, Inter-American Court of Human Rights and others, the voice of our country is always strong defending peace, human rights, and respect for international law and democracy. President Oscar Arias (1986-90) led Costa Rica in its role as peacemaker in the Contra-Sandinista conflict in Nicaragua, efforts that returned peace and democracy to the region and awarded Arias the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize.
Costa Rica protects its most outstanding natural and cultural heritage, with more than 25% of the country’s territory safeguarded in National Parks and private reserves and refuges.
Costa Rica is a democratic republic with three main powers of government: Executive, Legislative and Judicial. Its first elections were held in 1889, making Costa Rica the oldest democracy in Central America.
The Executive Branch is represented by the office of the President and its ministries. The President and Vice-Presidents are elected by the people for a period of 4 years, while the cabinet ministers are chosen solely by the elected president for the same period. The Legislative Branch is responsible for approving and making the laws which will be executed by the executive power. It consists of a chamber of 57 congressional leaders chosen by free elections for a period of 4 years.
The Judicial Branch is the Supreme Court. It is composed of 22 magistrates elected for a period of 8 years. The Supreme Court is the highest judicial body and is responsible for naming judges and tribunals. The Supreme Tribunal of Elections is considered Costa Rica’s fourth governmental branch, for it is the highest authority during elections to ensure everything goes according to law.
Top Travel Costa Rica recommends purchasing travel insurance. If transportation, tours or lodging for your Costa Rica vacation are suddenly cancelled, you may lose some or all of your vacation money based on the providing companies’ cancellation policies.
Top Travel CR does not have any control over these policies. They are set individually by every hotel, tour company, transport company, etc. You will not receive a monetary refund if you miss tours, transportation, lodging, etc. as a result of family problems, health issues, work, changing your mind, missed flights, etc., unless you buy travel insurance.
Top Travel is not an insurance company, but we are happy to refer you to some independent providers. We do not receive commissions or any other kind of payment from travel insurance companies. Some well-known travel insurance companies are Travel Guard and Allianz Global Assistance. You can also check with your own insurance company to see if they offer travel options. Costs and coverage vary according to company, age and other conditions.
Top Travel Costa Rica will refund your money when possible according to our payment policies. Refunds will depend mainly upon how many days prior to arrival that tours, transportation or lodging involved in your tour package are being canceled. We recommend purchasing at least basic cancellation travel insurance for your trip.
Costa Rica’s most outstanding natural and cultural heritage is without a doubt its spectacular wealth of nature. Although Costa Rica is a small country, it holds over 5% of the world’s biodiversity. Exquisite wilderness and strikingly varied eco-systems are home to close to 250 species of mammals, 870 kinds of birds, 225 types of reptiles and 175 kinds of amphibians that have been recorded in the country, as well as more than 9,000 species of vascular plants identified to date.
The nation’s system of National Parks and private reserves and refuges protects an area equivalent to more than 25% of its territory, making Costa Rica one of the largest National Park Systems, proportionally, on Earth. Normally only 3% of a nation’s territory is dedicated to national parks. This remarkable fact encourages international scientists, naturalists and eco-tourists to study and admire the exuberant tropical flora and fauna of Costa Rica.
Top Travel Costa Rica offers you the opportunity to visit part of this great National Park System, operating tours that allow you to enjoy the amazing diversity of ecosystems. We offer tours to active volcanoes, the cloud forest, transitional forest, and the humid and dense tropical forest, each containing a tremendous variety of flora and fauna.
Flights to Costa Rica
Costa Rica is conveniently located in the middle of North and South America, so it is easily accessible from anywhere in the world with air connections.
Costa Rica has two international airports:
- Juan Santamaria International Airport, San Jose.
- Daniel Oduber International Airport, Liberia (Guanacaste).
Numerous flights arrive daily into Costa Rica’s international airports. Although Valle Dorado Tours does not reserve or sell airline tickets, we are happy to direct you to some of the airlines serving Costa Rica.
During Europe’s colonial period of exploration and expansion, Costa Rica belonged to the Spanish Empire, which explains why our official and most spoken language in the country is Spanish. However, there are still many small indigenous tribes who maintain their own native languages, like Bribri, Brunca, Cabecar, Guaymie and Maleku. On Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast, in Puerto de Viejo, Cahuita and Limon, most inhabitants come from Jamaican origin and speak “patois,” a Creole-English dialect.
Communication for international travelers is relatively easy because many people in Costa Rica speak or at least understand English. Every hotel, car rental, tour company and souvenir shop will for sure have at least one employee who speaks English.
Top Travel offers professional, English-speaking travel agents, drivers and tour guides. We also can offer tour guides who speak other languages, such as German, French, Italian, Portuguese, etc.
Here are some useful Spanish words and Costa Rican sayings for you:
- Buenos días – Good morning
- Buenas tardes – Good afternoon/evening
- Buenas noches – Good night
- Gracias – Thank you
- Por favor – Please
- Pura Vida – A popular Costa Rican saying meaning literally “pure life,” and used to convey that “everything is all right”. Just relax and be Pura Vida!
Costa Rica has a very diverse local cuisine that complements its natural and cultural attractions. If you like to enjoy new and delicious dishes, Costa Rica will meet your expectations.
We promise you’ll love at least one of our typical dishes. Are you a breakfast person? We have “Gallo Pinto”. For lunch or dinner, we have “Casado” and “Tamale”. Do you love desserts? We have “Arroz con Leche”. Sea food in Costa Rica is plentiful and fresh due to its two coasts, and also delicious! And of course, there’s always our world famous Costa Rican coffee.
This typical breakfast consists of rice and black beans mixed with onions, sweet red pepper, garlic and cilantro. The dish is normally served with eggs, sour cream, fried ripe plantains and bread.
The word “casado” means “married” in Spanish, and the name refers to the eternal “marriage” of its components. The lunch/dinner dish consists of staples of rice and black beans, served with chicken, beef, pork or fish, along with fried ripe plantains, mashed potatoes, and a cabbage and tomato salad. This basic well-rounded meal strikes a good nutritional balance.
Traditionally made at Christmastime, Costa Rican tamales are made from seasoned corn meal mixed with cooked potatoes, rice, green beans and pork, with maybe some extras like chickpeas or olives. They are wrapped tight in green plantain leaves and boiled in water.
Arroz con leche
This delicious dessert is made from white rice cooked in milk with sugar, cloves, cinnamon, condensed milk and a little lime peel to give a distinctive touch.
Costa Rican Coffee
Coffee lovers everywhere know Costa Rican coffee to be one of the best quality coffees in the world. Enjoy a mug or two of “cafecito” with your meals!
Costa Rica’s currency is the “Colon,” so named after explorer Cristobal Colon (Christopher Columbus). The currency was introduced to the country in 1896. The “Colon” currently exchanges at more or less ¢500 per $1.00 U.S. dollar. Some example approximate average exchange rates are:
- ¢5.000 = $10.00
- ¢10.000 = $20.00
Exchange rates fluctuate and we recommend a quick check before your trip. We’d be more than happy to provide you with this information
What’s great about Costa Rica is that major credit and debit cards (MasterCard, Visa) and U.S. dollars are accepted almost everywhere in tourist areas. You don’t have to worry about changing a lot of money. A small amount of “Colones” will do just fine for any rare situation where you can’t pay with U.S. dollars or with credit or debit card. Make sure to let your home bank know before you leave that you will be traveling to Costa Rica and using your credit or debit card, or your bank may freeze your funds thinking that someone has stolen your card.
Costa Rica’s “Colones” bills are very colorful with designs depicting Costa Rica’s flora, fauna, national heroes and ecosystems. They make a very nice souvenir!
What to Bring
What to Bring? What should I bring? What can I leave home? Am I really going to need this? These are questions every traveler asks while packing. When we are going somewhere we don’t know it’s difficult to decide what to bring. Here are some recommendations Top Travel Costa Rica thinks you may find useful.
Prepare for a temperature between 55 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit (approx. 12 to 33 degrees Celsius). Costa Rica’s tropical weather has sudden temperature changes, especially at elevation, so you should consider bringing both cool and warm clothing. Keep in mind there are a lot of insects in the mountains as well as on the beach. Remember personal hygiene products. We hope our sample checklist can help you:
- Hiking shoes or sturdy athletic shoes.
- Sandals, croc’s or flip flops.
- Jacket and light sweater or fleece.
- Quick-dry clothing – pants, shirts, etc.
- Bathing suit.
- Rain jacket with hood.
- Sun hat or ball cap.
- Camera (don’t forget batteries!).
- Sun block – SPF 30 or higher recommended in the tropics.
- Insect repellent.
- Personal medications.
- Hygiene products.
- Small backpack to use during tours.
No visa is required for travelers from the United States, Canada and most Latin American and European countries. With just a valid and current passport (valid for at least 6 months or longer), they may stay in Costa Rica for a maximum of 90 days.
Citizens from some African, Asian, Eastern European and a few Latin American countries may require visas. They are given by Costa Rican Consulates or Embassies. Check www.costarica-embassy.org or your country’s authorities to see if you require a permission to enter Costa Rica.
As of the year 2007, the Costa Rican Health Ministry requires tourists from geographic risk areas to take the Yellow Fever Vaccine at least 10 days prior to arrival to Costa Rica. Please check with your country’s authorities to know if this requirement applies to you.
Festivities & Holidays
Festivities and official holidays are an important demonstration of local culture and traditions wherever you go. Holidays in Costa Rica celebrate and act out some of the country’s most characteristic features, traditions and history. Environmental days are a great opportunity to reflect on our impacts on nature and the Earth’s sustainability. As for social days, they are important cultural demonstrations and a chance to share with local people and get to know their way of life. These celebrations will enrich your vacation and give you unforgettable memories, while also contributing to the community. Here are some important environmental and social special dates to keep in mind:
- New Year: January 1
- World Wetlands Day: February 2
- Easter Week: March or April
- Juan Santamaria (National Hero) Day: April 11
- International Earth Day: April 22
- Workers Day: May 1
- World Environment Day: June 5
- Father’s Day: 2nd Sunday of June
- Tree Day: June 15
- Wildlife Day: 4th Monday of July
- Annexation of Nicoya (Guanacaste): July 25
- Our Lady of the Angels Day: August 2
- Mother’s Day: August 15
- National Ranger Day: August 23
- National Parks Day: August 24
- Childs Day: September 9
- Independence Day: September 15
- Ozone Layer Day: September 16
- Cultural Day: October 12
- Christmas Day: December 25
One of travelers’ most common questions is: “What’s the weather like down there in Costa Rica?” Well, unlike many other countries, Costa Rica has only two seasons: dry season and rainy season. The dry season extends from late November to the end of April, known as our “summer”, and the rainy season lasts from May to mid November, called our “winter”.
That said, because of its location in the tropics of Central America, and due to its highly mountainous topography, Costa Rica encompasses many microclimates. Temperatures vary more according to elevation, rather than according to season. Depending on where you are in the country, a little rain can even be common during the dry season, so don’t get your hopes up if you visit us during the dry season in order to avoid getting wet.
Last but not least, it never hurts to check with a weather channel or internet weather link of your preference before you travel. Top Travel recommends visiting our country no matter what season, rain or no rain, warm or cold, each season has its beauty and you will love our tropical weather. See our Traveler Information page for what to pack.
Costa Rica is located on the Central American isthmus, in the middle of North and South America. This geographical location makes it a country rich in nature, wildlife and culture. The border to the east is the Caribbean Sea, to the west is the Pacific Ocean, south is Panama and to the north lays Nicaragua.
Set in the tropics, just above the equator, allows Costa Rica to have nice warm water on both shores, which makes it perfect to enjoy its spectacular beaches. There are five main geographical areas in the country: Tropical Lowlands (Pacific and Caribbean Coasts), the North Central Plains, the Central Valley and the Northwest Peninsula. The mountain ridges and line of volcanoes that stretch across the country from north to south are part of the larger Andean Sierra Madre chain, which is present in the Western region of the Americas.