Known for its “pura vida,” Costa Rica is a favorite destination of surfers and travelers in search for a laid back lifestyle. Spend the afternoon relaxing on the beach, zip lining through the jungle or spotting unique wildlife. It’s also more budget friendly than a trip to Europe, so you can travel there without breaking the bank.
For the lucky ones who get to visit this lush, beautiful country, our Costa Rica travel guide below can help you prep, pack and plan for the adventure well in advance!
Costa Rica Travel Expenses Tips
In comparison with other destinations like Hawaii and parts of South America, Costa Rica is downright cheap, but a bit more expensive than other Central American countries. It’s entirely possible to travel for less than $50 USD per day with accommodation, food, transportation and activities by embracing these few tips and traveling during the low season.
- Costa Rica Travel Budget, Expert Vagabond
Do As the Locals Do
When it comes to saving money, do as the locals do. Take the regional buses rather than private transfers, which can cost over twice as much. Local buses also allow you to mingle with the people who really know Costa Rica. And you never know what you might see!
Eat at “sodas,” local restaurants, and street food vendors rather than at chain and resort restaurants. Meals shouldn’t cost you more than $20 USD and usually consist of some sort of protein with rice and beans. Snack on fresh fruits like coconuts sold on street corners all over. You can also buy groceries to make your own meals.
- Costa Rica on a Shoestring, Globetrotter Girls
This is our advice with nearly every destination, but if you’re hopping around on small planes between parts of the country, your personal weight and baggage is important to the stability of the plane. Bring as many items that can be worn in many ways as possible. Sarongs can be scarves and cover ups and solid colors can be dressed up with jewelry. Limit yourself to two pairs of shorts and three to four tops with a skirt and dress that you can mix and match.
- Packing for Costa Rica: What to Bring, My Tan Feet
Take Your Time
In the land of “pura vida,” don’t be in a hurry. Buses run late, restaurants close early and flights can be canceled. Be prepared to go at Costa Rica pace, not what you’re used to at home. And don’t try to see the entire country in one week. You want to have flexibility, so two weeks to a month will give you more time to commit to each place. You can also take the slower methods of getting around to save money.
- Eat, Drink, Sleep, Do: Costa Rica Style, Over Yonderlust
Driving is Not for the Faint of Heart
In some parts of the country, the roads are bumpy and unpaved. Don’t drive unless you can read Spanish for the signs and can drive a stick shift. If you do decide to drive, fully read your rental agreement and have travel insurance! Alternative options are buses and flights. You will, however, need to choose which is more important: time or money. A bus can cost $10 and take 10 hours while a flight might be $50 and take 50 minutes.
- How to Travel Within Costa Rica, Seattle’s Travels
If you’re not into camping, you don’t have to, but others will love camping in the rainforest, sleeping in hammocks and embracing their inner nature girl. Camping will cost you less than $10 per night in national parks, but you can also stay in open air lodges and treehouses. For travelers not into rustic accommodation, it’s easy to make a day trip to look for wildlife before returning to your comfortable bed with air conditioning.
Essential Gear to Bring
Packing light is easy when you’re traveling to Costa Rica, as you’ll probably be in a swimsuit most of the time. You might go out for a nice dinner once or twice during your trip, but you can bring versatile travel items that can dress up an ensemble like statement jewelry and the Chrysalis Cardi.
Swimsuits– If you’re spending time on the Caribbean side or partaking in activities like scuba diving and surfing, bring at least two swimsuits. I sometimes bring a third that is a one piece for active adventures like scuba diving, para-sailing or stand up paddle-boarding.
Rain Jackets– If you’re visiting during rainy season, you’ll definitely want a rain jacket as storms can come out of nowhere. A disposable poncho works, as does a rain jacket that folds up.
Hat, bug spray and sunscreen– Protect yourself from the elements and from potential diseases and cancers.
- Ultimate Female Packing List to Costa Rica, Her Packing List
Books to Read Before Visiting
There aren’t many books specifically about Costa Rica, but a few novels and memoirs about the country.
Please note that the Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, we will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase.
The Honey Trap, Clive Egleton– In this Peter Ashton series novel, a British secret intelligence officer goes to Costa Rica to investigate the kidnapping, torture and murder of a fellow agent. Grab on Amazon.
It’s Every Monkey for Themselves: A True Story of Sex, Love and Lies in the Jungle, Vanessa Woods– A woman travels to Costa Rica to study Capuchin monkeys and encounters all manners of mishaps along the way. Grab on Amazon.
The Laughing Falcon, William Deverell– In this thriller, a romance writer heads to Costa Rica for vacation and inspiration. Instead, she is robbed, kidnapped and held for ransom with the wife of a US senator. A jaded tour guide seeks to rescue them. Grab on Amazon.
Happier Than a Billionaire: Quitting My Job, Moving to Costa Rica, and Living the Zero Hour Work Week, Nadine Hays Pisani– In this memoir, the author and her husband leave behind their jobs to live in Costa Rica. Her tales of dealing with red tape, crazy neighbors, and a new way of life will keep you laughing. Also check out Happier Than a Billionaire: The Sequel. Grab on Amazon.
Movies to Watch Before Visiting
As with the books, very few movies are filmed in or about Costa Rica. We’ve included both ones set there and a few Costa Rican films, mostly in Spanish.
Jurassic Park– We included it in our guide to Hawaii, as it was filmed there, but the park was set in Costa Rica. A group of scientists find a mosquito carrying dinosaur DNA in amber and bring the back at a theme park. Grab on Amazon.
El Regreso (The Return)– One of the finest works of Costa Rican cinema was funded by Kickstarter. A man returns home to Costa Rica after living in New York for decades. He is confronted with his family drama and issues going on in his country.
The Blue Butterfly– Based on a true story, a terminally ill young boy travels to Costa Rica to catch the rare Blue Morpho butterfly. Grab on Amazon.
Top Things to Do in Costa Rica
Most of the activities in Costa Rica aren’t your traditional attractions like museums and landmarks overrun with fellow tourists. Instead, they are eco-friendly and activity based. Apart from the ones listed below, be sure to check out the stunning beaches, volcanoes, surfing, zip-lining and yoga retreats.
Sloth Sanctuary– Far off the tourist circuit, the sloth sanctuary is the top place to learn about the slow creatures in the world. You can stay the night on site or volunteer with the furry creatures.
Monteverde Cloud Forest– The nature reserve is the most well-known park in Costa Rica. It’s chock full of wildlife, from the insects covering the trees to the monkeys swinging on the branches. You can even go on guided night hikes to spot creatures.
Tortuguero National Park– This remote park is accessible only by airplane or boat and includes incredible biodiversity. It has mangrove swamps, rainforest, swamps and beaches.
Coffee Tour– Some of the best coffee in the world is grown in Costa Rica, so coffee tours are a popular thing to do on your visit. El Toledo, Britt and Doka Estate are just a few of the plantations you can visit.
Food and Drink in Costa Rica
As with other Latin American countries, rice and beans are served for every meal. Serve with fresh fruit and veggies and wash it all down with a bottle of Imperial beer.
Gallo pinto– Its name means “spotted rooster,” but gallo pinto is a humble meal that incorporates beans, rice and spices. It’s served for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Ceviche– When the seafood is fresh, you can’t do better than ceviche, which can come in fish and shrimp varieties, marinated with lemon or lime juices.
Casados– Similar to a plate lunch, it comes with a protein, like fish, chicken, beef or pork, with sides and starches like veggies.
- Costa Rican Food: Typical & Traditional Cuisine, Go Backpacking
Do you have any Costa Rica travel tips? Please share them below!
Check out The Ultimate Guide to Costa Rica. Camille put together this 148 page ebook, full of travel tips, packing guides, brilliant imagery, unique itineraries, a first timer’s food guide, safety advice, a bucket list of must-have experiences, and more.