COUNTRY VISITED #32
COSTA RICA IS INCREDIBLE. It really was everything I had imagined it to be and more. The ways and the land of where 'Jurassic Park' was based upon is as exotic and tropical as what I had envisioned in my head. Thick, gorgeous rain-forests and national parks spread out across the whole country, cold 'Pura Vida' beers to end perfect days, excellent beaches and beach towns, amazing wildlife, active volcanoes, plus thrilling and fun things to do. The simple and soothing way of life here makes me want to return every year! Costa Rica was the last destination of my Central American trip and I feel one of the best was saved 'til last! It is known to be more expensive than other places in the region but I didn't find it as bad as people made out. I don't regret a single dollar I spent there because I loved every minute of it and ticked some cool stuff off my bucket list along the way.
CAPITAL CITY: SAN JOSE
POPULATION: AROUND 5 MILLION
CURRENCY: COSTA RICAN COLON (CRC) (US DOLLARS ARE ALSO USED) FOR EXCHANGE RATE CLICK HERE
LANGUAGE(S): SPANISH (MORE ENGLISH IS SPOKEN HERE THAN OTHER COUNTRIES IN CENTRAL AMERICA)
BORDER COUNTRIES: NICARAGUA - PANAMA
WHERE TO GO
PLACES TO VISIT: MONTEVERDE(SANTA ELENA) - MANUEL ANTONIO - LA FORTUNA - SAN JOSE - PUERTO VIEJO - SANTA TERESA - TORTUGUERO - GUANACASTE COAST
THINGS TO DO:
FALL IN LOVE WITH MONTEVERDE:
High in the hills, home to the incredible Cloud Forest, this beautiful and relaxing tourist town is where most of my time in Costa Rica was spent. I initially came here to do the famous zip-line but fell in love with the character and incredible beauty of this lush, green space and ended up staying for several days to explore more. There is plenty to see and do here to experience some of the best things the country has to offer (rainforest, wildlife, hiking trails, exciting activities) as well as great shops, delicious restaurants and the freshest of air.
Make sure to find a 'Ficus Tree' while there, also known the 'Sunlight Stranglers'. A ficus tree is formed by bats eating their seeds and once they poop all over a different tree, the ficus tree begins to grow around it eventually killing the original tree as they both fight for the sunlight. Because the original tree dies inside of the ficus tree then eventually wastes away, this leaves the ficus tree to be hollow inside. I got to see some at a nature reserve but also visited the famous one walking distance from town which you can climb to the top from the inside by the natural spiralled staircase that has been formed! Really fun and completely free!
OTHER FUN THINGS TO SEE & DO IN MONTEVERDE
THE CLOUD FOREST RESERVE
SKY WALKS & HANGING BRIDGES
SANTA ELENA RESERVE
ZIP-LINING @ 100% ADVENTURE PARK
RAINFOREST NIGHT TOUR
BIRD WATCH @ CURI CANCHA NATURE RESERVE
VISIT SLOTHS, TOUCANS & OTHER RESCUED WILDLIFE AT 'TOUCAN RESCUE RANCH':
This incredible non-profit organisation located just outside of San Jose city rescues a vast variety of birds and mammals such as parrots, sloths, monkeys, toucans and owls. Their aim is to return the animals to the wild once their rehabilitation is complete and if they think they will survive. This wonderfully homely place offers lots of different kinds of tours and experiences -- you can even spend the night there! We learned so much about the national wildlife while on the group tour plus seeing cute, sleepy sloths up close is a dream within itself. Tour the grounds, learn about the unique animals there and their (sometimes very sad) stories. Follow the Toucan Rescue Ranch on Instagram to keep up to date with the animals you have fell in love with.
FLY THROUGH THE AIR ON LATIN AMERICA'S LONGEST ZIP-LINE:
Sail through the clouds, high above the trees in a superman position with Monteverde's 100% Adventure Park's Zip-line. For US$50, you can travel through the forest by 10 different Zip-Lines including Latin America's longest and then end the day with the equally terrifying and amazing Tarzan Swing (sort of like a bungee jump but you're upright swinging from a platform through the air). This experience was one of the best days I had on my travels and it's worth every dollar! It's an extremely fun, safe and exciting day out. Also, if you have a Go-Pro, they provide helmets where you can attach your own camera. Plus, they take photos throughout the day you can purchase later on if you wish.
HEAD TO MANUEL ANTONIO NATIONAL PARK:
This popular national park on the Pacific Coast consists of beaches, rainforests, an abundance of wildlife and coral reefs. This incredibly beautiful and diverse place offers such a great range of things to do such as scuba diving, snorkelling, hiking trails, surfing, sailing, wildlife spotting especially monkeys plus many impressive viewpoints. You can see for yourself why so many people come to visit the area every year, you have a place where you can experience the envisions of Costa Rica all in one.
BEACH HOP & LEARN TO SURF:
With lots of busy beach spots dotted down both the Pacific and Southern Caribbean Coast, there are loads of places to head to for a surf lesson. Some beach towns are quiet and chilled while others are where the party's are at! The ways of the coast give an excellent view of how simple and laid back the country is. Learn the way of 'taking it easy'.
Guanacaste (TAMARINDO) (NICOYA PENINSULA)
THE OSA PENINSULA
EXPLORE TORTUGUERO NATIONAL PARK:
On the Caribbean Coast, this stunningly dense national park can be experienced by jungle river tours where you will be on the look-out for wildlife along the edge of the thick mangrove forests. A variety of species can be seen during these boat trips including huge lizards, freshwater turtles, crocodiles, sloths, spider monkeys, howler monkeys and many kinds of birds. Also famous in the area are the turtles that come to nest on the pretty beaches. Night tours are available for you to view for yourself giant turtles dragging themselves from the sea to lay eggs or adorable babies scrambling to the water for the first time.
OVERALL COSTS: SLIGHTLY EXPENSIVE (MORE EXPENSIVE THAN OTHER COUNTRIES IN THE REGION BUT STILL CHEAPER THAN EXPECTED)
DAILY BUDGET: US$53 (£40)
ACCOMMODATION COST: HOSTEL DORMITORY (START FROM $6-8 £4.50-6 PER PERSON) HOSTEL PRIVATE ROOM (START FROM $22 £17 PER ROOM) BUDGET HOTEL (START FROM $35 £27) AIRBNB (STARTS FROM AROUND $45 £35 FOR ENTIRE HOME) (STARTS FROM AROUND $25 £19 FOR SHARED)
I feel hostels are the most convenient and cost-effective way to sleep during your trip to Costa Rica on a budget.
Most of them include free breakfast and have excellent on site kitchens, common areas and are extremely helpful for booking transport, activities and finding good/cheap places to eat.
TRANSPORT COST: RENTAL CAR (START FROM AROUND $10 £7.50 PER DAY BEFORE EXTRA CHARGES & HIDDEN COSTS) BUS (AROUND $2-12 £1.50-£9) BOAT (START FROM AROUND $3-5 £2-3.50) SHUTTLE BUS (START FROM $25 £19)
The cheapest way to get around the country is by bus. They are actually really comfortable and modern compared to 'chicken buses' used in other parts of Central America.
San Jose is the main transfer hub where direct buses leave from. When moving around the country, you may find yourself having to return to San Jose to catch a bus to the next destination as it's an easier way than changing multiple times.
FOOD & ALCOHOL COST: WEEKLY SHOP (AROUND $35 £26) LOCAL RESTAURANT (START FROM AROUND $3-6 £2-4.50 PER MEAL) POPULAR TOURIST RESTAURANT (START FROM AROUND $10-20 £7-15 PER MEAL) BEER ($2 £1.50)
A night stay in a hostel or budget accommodation usually comes with free breakfast which may consist of eggs any style, fresh fruit and bread/toast. We would eat out for lunch at a cheap to mid-range restaurant then cook our own dinners at night in the hostel kitchen. This worked for me and saved me money during my trip!
VISA REQUIREMENTS: MANY COUNTRIES RECEIVE A 90 DAY VISA EXEMPTION WHEN THEY ARRIVE CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS
ONWARD TRAVEL: PROOF OF ONWARD TRAVEL MUST BE SHOWN BEFORE ENTRY (I HAD AN ONWARD FLIGHT BOOKED BUT GOT BLOCKED FROM MY EMAIL ACCOUNT SO COULDN'T SHOW MY FLIGHT TICKET AT THE BORDER, I THEN HAD TO BUY A BUS TICKET THEN & THERE (FROM SAN JOSE TO PANAMA) IN ORDER TO ENTER COSTA RICA
If you're planning multiple destinations in Costa Rica, have reliable maps you can use without internet (MAPS.ME) and speak a reasonable amount of Spansh, I would recommend renting a car for the duration of your trip as this is the easiest way to travel around the country. Although buses may be cheaper, a lot of locations require you to change buses, sometimes multiple times. For example, when travelling to Monteverde, you must get dropped off at the side of the road at La Irma then catch another bus to Monteverde. The bus times from La Irma are only at 10am and 3pm which can be really inconvenient. We ended up having to stay the night in Camas in a expensive hotel because we missed the last bus by 30 minutes.
Don't get me wrong though, the buses are very comfortable and reliable and in my experience, always arrived to their final destination quicker than expected.
If you are planning to rent a car in High Season, I would recommend reserving it in advance as they are know to sell out.
The easiest mode of transport for some locations on the coast are by boat. Make sure to do the research and plan ahead for all desired destinations.
BOOKING ACTIVITIES: THE BEST WAY TO BOOK ACTIVITIES ARE THROUGH YOUR HOSTEL OR ONLINE BY YOURSELF. ACTIVITIES IN COSTA RICA CAN BE EXPENSIVE, THIS IS WHAT I SPENT MOST OF MY MONEY ON WHILE THERE. RESEARCH WHAT FREE ACTIVITIES ARE AVAILABLE WHEN PLANNING YOUR TRIP
BEST TIME TO GO:
DRY SEASON - HIGH SEASON: DECEMBER - APRIL (I TRAVELLED THERE IN MARCH, HOSTELS CAN BOOK UP FAST, RESERVE YOUR BED A LITTLE IN ADVANCE OR EXPECT TO PAY MORE)
WET SEASON - LOW SEASON: MAY - NOVEMBER (LESS BUSY WHICH MEANS CHEAPER PRICES)
DO'S & DON'TS:
DO: USE WHATEVER SPANISH YOU HAVE LEARNED (IT WILL GO A LONG WAY) - PRINT OFF EVIDENCE OF ONWARD TRAVEL BEFORE YOU TRY TO ENTER THE COUNTRY - SET THE PRICE WITH A TAXI DRIVER FIRST & ASK THEM TO TURN ON THEIR METER
DON'T: BE OVERLY AFFECTIONATE IN PUBLIC - FEED OR DISTRESS WILD ANIMALS IN ANY WAY - FLAUNT VALUABLES
POLITE PHRASES: Pura Vida (Pure Life/No Worries (National Greeting)) Hola (Hello) Cómo estás? (How Are You?) Cuánto? (How Much?) Perdona / Lo Siento Señor (Excuse Me/Sorry Sir) Perdona / Lo Siento Señorita (Excuse Me/Sorry Miss)
MEMORABLE TO ME
DON'T MISS: AT LEAST ONE NATIONAL PARK - A RESCUE CENTRE (TOUCAN RESCUE RANCH, SAN JOSE) - TRYING SOMETHING NEW THAT YOU HAVE NEVER DONE BEFORE (COSTA RICA IS A PLACE FOR BUCKET LISTS) - MONTEVERDE - THE SOUTHERN CARIBBEAN COAST OR GUANACASTE / MANUAL ANTONIO ON THE PACIFIC COAST
MY HIGHLIGHTS: 100% ADVENTURE PARK'S ZIPLINE & TARZAN SWING - TOUCAN RESCUE RANCH - CLIMBING THE FICUS TREE - JUST BEING WITHIN ANY OF THE NATURE RESERVES OR NATIONAL PARKS ON THE MOVE, WATCHING EXOTIC BIRDS OR OTHER WILDLIFE
BEST PHOTO OPPORTUNITIES: NIGHT RAINFOREST TOUR - SKYWALK & HANGING BRIDGES IN MONTEVERDE - ZIPLINING - ANY GUIDED TOUR THAT INCLUDES A TELESCOPE - ARENAL NATIONAL PARK - TORTUGUERO NATIONAL PARK - MANUEL ANTONIO NATIONAL PARK
MY POSTS ABOUT COSTA RICA
1 WEEK: FROM THE NICARAGUA BORDER: It can be tricky getting to La Fortuna or Monteverde from the border if you are leaving later in the day because you will have to do at least one change and then the following part of the journey can have limited times. In that case I would advise to take a bus straight to Liberia or San Jose (San Jose is the main transfer hub where direct buses depart from) and spend the night there then get a bus to either Tanque (for La Fortuna) or La Irma (for Monteverde - buses only leave La Irma for Monteverde at 10am and 3pm).
Once arrived in La Fortuna, spend a couple days exploring Arenal National Park, catching sights of the Arenal Volcano and finding the Fortuna Waterfall. For Monteverde, catch a bus to Tilaran then another bus to Santa Elena (Monteverde).
Spend two days exploring the Cloud Forest Reserve or Santa Elena Reserve, do Latin America's Longest Zipline at 100% Adventure Park and take a Night Rainforest Tour. Catch the bus to San Jose (book tickets early as possible or expect to stand for the duration of the journey).
Take a bus from San Jose to either Puerto Viejo or Manuel Antonio to enjoy either the Carribbean or Pacific Coast! Spend days surfing, diving or beach bumming. Make sure you leave time to explore either Manuel Antonio National Park, or Cahuita National Park or the Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge to catch a view of the exotic wildlife of Costa Rica for yourself.
Catch a bus to San Jose making sure to visit the Toucan Rescue Ranch before you continue your journey either home or to Panama.
2 WEEKS: FROM THE NICARAGUA BORDER: Follow the itinerary from above but add Guanacaste or Tortuguero into your journey. In Guanacaste you can explore some of the amazing beaches on the Pacific Coast. In Tortuguero you can explore the epic national park by boat and/or book a guide for a chance to see turtles nesting on the beach.