From the jungle to the coast, Costa Rica is a laid-back traveler’s tropical paradise. This tiny country is located on the Central American isthmus, bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Caribbean Sea to the east, Nicaragua to the north, and Panama to the south. Its tropical topography and diverse landscapes make Costa Rica one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. Divided into 29 national parks, 19 wildlife refuges, and 8 biological reserves, the country thrives on ecotourism and travelers will find everything they are looking for: exhilarating adventures, sun drenched beaches, lush jungle, active volcanos, exotic wildlife and much more, including sublime resorts and wellness facilities.
Get the most out of your (luxury) trip to Costa Rica with my travel guide. Find out more about:
- Best time to visit
- How to get there
- Travel requirements
- Getting around
- Inspiration, highlights, & travel tips
- Suggested itineraries
- Recommended luxury hotels (+ reviews)
TRAVEL GUIDE TO COSTA RICA: BEST TIME TO VISIT
Costa Rica is a tropical country, so you should be prepared for rain at any time of year. And that’s not a bad thing since it’s this rainfall that makes Costa Rica so lush and also a heaven for wildlife. The country’s climate is defined by two primary seasons: the rainy season and the dry season. The dry season (or high season) is from December to April and it is considered the best time to visit as there’s a smaller chance of being drenched in the rain. The rainy season (or “green” season) is generally from May to November: it may rain for several days in a row and torrential rains are frequent, but on a positive note, hotel rates and tour prices are significantly lower and the country turns a wonderful deep green with waterfalls gushing.
The best time to visit Costa Rica depends on where you want to go as the country’s climate and seasons vary by region:
- The Osa Peninsula – home to the world-famous Corcovado National Park – is the most southern zone of Costa Rica and also the wettest area of the country. The dry season on the Osa Peninsula is relatively short and runs from January to March. Also, the dry season here is not dry at all as the area’s humidity is extremely high, usually resulting in an afternoon shower or thunderstorm.
- Guanacaste on the Northwest Pacific Coast experiences much less rain than the rest of Costa Rica. Even during the rainy season, it can be sunny here for several days in a row.
- Contrary to the rest of Costa Rica, the Caribbean Coast has its own climate. This area experiences the best weather from April to September, with often sunny skies and calm blue waters while the rest of Costa Rica is drenched in rain.
- During the summer months of July and August, the rainy season is in full swing in most of the country (except for the Caribbean Coast). Wildlife enthusiasts might prefer this time for a visit though since summer is the best time to observe green sea turtles on the coastline of the Tortuguero National Park and the whales in the Pacific Ocean around the town of Dominical.
- The months of September and October are the height of Costa Rica’s wet season. Travel during these months is not recommended as torrential heavy rainfall makes wildlife spotting difficult and roads may become impassable due to higher river crossings or landslides.
TRAVEL GUIDE TO COSTA RICA: HOW TO GET THERE
Most travelers arrive in Costa Rica via one of the country’s two major airports:
- Juan Santamaría International Airport is Costa Rica’s primary airport, serving it capital San José. The airport is named after Costa Rica’s national hero, Juan Santamaría, a drummer boy who died in 1856 defending his country against forces led by American filibuster William Walker. Click here for a list of airlines that offer direct flights to San Jose.
- Guanacaste Airport, known before as Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport is located close to the city of Liberia in the Guanacaste Province, and it serves as a tourism hub for those who visit the Pacific coast and western Costa Rica. Click here for a list of airlines that offer direct flight to Liberia.
If you are touring the entire country, I suggest you fly in via Juan Santamaria Airport and – after ending your holiday on the beach in northwestern Costa Rica – depart via Liberia.
Before you buy a plane ticket, consider reading my tips & tricks for buying the cheapest plane ticket.
TRAVEL GUIDE TO COSTA RICA: ENTRY REQUIREMENTS
Requirements for entry in Costa Rica differ from country to country, and are subject to change. Prior to departure, always check with your government and your nearest Costa Rican embassy or consulate what documents you need for travel to Costa Rica. Some important points:
- Visitors to Costa Rica must have a valid passport as well as proof of their intent to exit the country before their visa or entry stamp expires, usually within 90 days.
- All non-resident travelers must possess a return ticket or a ticket as proof of when they intend to exit the country, commonly referred to as an outbound exit or onward ticket.
- Travelers coming from the following countries must possess a yellow fever vaccination certificate before entry into Costa Rica will be allowed: Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Bolivia, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and the Republic of Guyana.
Make sure you read my 10 tips to plan a worry-free trip.
TRAVEL GUIDE TO COSTA RICA: GETTING AROUND
Getting around Costa Rica is comfortable but it can be time-consuming (roads in the mountains are narrow and winding, and there’s a lot of traffic). Significant improvements to the national highway network in the past few years have made traveling around the country much easier than it once was, and a new multi-lane highway is currently being built between San José and Liberia.
- If you’re short on time, the best way to travel within Costa Rica is by plane. The national carrier Sansa offers turbo-prop flights between the capital San José and the country’s many beach destinations and provincial towns. These flights can be particularly handy for traveling to the more remote corners of the country. For example, the flight from San José to Puerto Jiménez (the main town on the Osa Peninsula) takes just 50 minutes compared to six hours by car.
- Renting a car is the easiest and often cheapest way of getting around the country. The conditions of the roads in Costa Rica are quite good, plus with your own vehicle you can see the country at your own pace without having to adhere to plane or public transfer schedules. The majority of the car-rental companies are located nearby the international airports of San José and Liberia. Buying basic insurance is mandatory.
- If you are on a budget, you may consider public transport. Privately run buses and vans by Interbus are well maintained and tickets can be booked online on the official website.
- If a bus or plane sounds too public for you or you don’t find a time schedule that fits your itinerary, it also possible to book private transfers with a chauffeur-driven car via most hotels at often reasonable prices.
TRAVEL GUIDE TO COSTA RICA: INSPIRATION, HIGHLIGHTS & TRAVEL TIPS
There are many reasons why Costa Rica should be on your bucket list:
- Multi-day trekking in the rainforest of Corcovado National Park
- Adventure tours in the area around the Arenal Volcano (white water rafting, ziplining, canyoning)
- Relaxing on the beaches of the Guanacaste Province
- Staying at a luxury hotel or rainforest lodge
- Observing tropical wildlife in Manuel Antonio National Park (e.g. sloths, pumas, monkeys, etc …)
- Get a bird’s-eye view of the forest from a suspended bridge at Monteverde cloud forest
- Witness turtle hatching on the beaches of Tortuguero National Park
The following, comprehensive articles may also inspire you and help you plan your holiday to Costa Rica:
- Top 10 best things to see & do in Costa Rica
- Top 10 best luxury hotels & lodges in Costa Rica
- Tips & tricks for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel
- Tips & tricks for buying the cheapest plane ticket
TRAVEL GUIDE TO COSTA RICA: SUGGESTED ITINERARIES
It’s impossible to suggest one itinerary for Costa Rica in this travel guide, but I hereby share with you a schedule based on my own holidays in Costa Rica, which is great if you want to see the country in a time frame of two weeks:
- Day 1, 2, 3 & 4: arrive in San Jose, transfer to La Fortuna and explore the Arenal area
- Recommended hotel: Nayara Tented Camp
- Day 5 & 6: transfer to Manual Antonio & tour of Manual Antonio National Park
- Recommended hotel: Los Altos Resort
- Day 7, 8, 9 & 10: transfer to the Osa Peninsula & tour of Corcovado National Park
- Recommended hotel: Lapa Rios
- Day 11, 12, 13 & 14: flight to Guanacaste & relaxation on the Peninsula Papagayo
- Day 15: flight back home (with departure from Guanacaste Airport)
If you have more time, I suggest to add the Caribbean Coast and Tortuguero National Park to your itinerary (at the start of your trip).
TRAVEL GUIDE TO COSTA RICA: RECOMMENDED HOTELS (+ REVIEWS)
I recommend to read my top 10 list of the most fabulous hotels in Costa Rica if you are eager to know how I rank Costa Rica’s top hotels, based my own experience.
Below, you find my detailed reviews of the best hotels and lodges in Costa Rica (with pros, cons, & tips to save money per hotel).
- Review: Los Altos Resort (Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica)
- Review: Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo
- Review: Andaz Costa Rica Resort at Peninsula Papagayo
- Review: Lapa Rios Lodge (Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica)
- Review: Nayara Gardens & Nayara Springs Resorts (Arenal, Costa Rica)
- Review: Nayara Tented Camp (Costa Rica)