Costa Rica travel tips
We have been visiting the northern volcanic area and the Pacific coast of Costa Rica as part of a road trip. Costa Rica is arguably the most developed country in Central America. The country primarily stands for hospitality, peaceful foreign policy and, above all, an amazing environment and its unconditional protection.
In our Costa Rica travel tips, we will introduce you to the general circumstances of this relatively easy to travel country. Nevertheless, there are a few things to consider. Maybe you can save yourself a detour or some Euros.
There are no general vaccinations required to enter Costa Rica unless you are arriving from a yellow fever area. Depending on the type of your trip, hepatitis A/B, cholera, rabies, typhoid and meningococci can be useful. Malaria, Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya are an issue in Costa Rica. Also make sure that your standard vaccinations are up to date. In any case, consult a travel doctor.
Entry, visa and exit
Some good ways to get to San Jose, Costa Rica from Germany is with Iberia via Madrid, with Avianca via Colombia, with Air France via Paris or with United via New York or Houston. There are even direct flights from Frankfurt – even they're not cheap. Alternatively, you fly to Liberia from the USA, Panama or Canada.
In addition to your valid passport, you will need a hotel booking and an onward flight ticket when you enter the country. The immigration officer asked us about our profession and the reason of our visit to Costa Rica. After that, he granted us entry for 90 days. So, you don't need a visa.
On the go – Costa Rica Travel Tips
Costa Rica is a perfect destination for a rental car tour. So, our Costa Rica travel tip is: Get a decent rental car and explore the beautiful country in Central America by road. And by decent we mean a powerful SUV with 4WD.
The important interurban roads are well developed and pleasant to drive. But as soon as you want to go to the mountainous regions inland, it gets steep and dirty. Even on the coasts, not all roads are paved and sometimes very steep. So, don't save in the wrong place and order a powerful model. We had a Korean SUV with little horsepower and we always got annoyed about it.
New good roads are currently being built on the Nicoya Peninsula. Even though, some hotels can only be reached by 4WD.
Petrol stations are rather rare in rural areas, but are always within reach. So fill up at every opportunity.Unfortunately, we cannot tell you anything about public transport.
ATMS, money and tip - Costa Rica travel tips
You will of course find some ATMs at San Jose International Airport. Otherwise there are ATMs in all larger towns.
The currency in Costa Rica is called Colones. In most shops and restaurants, you can pay in US dollars. Sometimes you get away a little better with dollars than with colones.
On the bills, especially in the restaurant, there is usually another 13% tax and 10% service fee. Costa Rica is a relatively expensive country by Central American standards. With the service fee added, you only have to tip, if you were really satisfied.
SIM card and Internet in Costa Rica - Costa Rica travel tips
SIM cards are not sold at either of the two international airports, San Jose and Liberia (as of November 2019). To get a SIM card, you have to either buy in a telecommunications store or in an electronics shop. We bought our SIM card in Costa Rica from Walmart's electronics department in San Jose. It was right next to our car rental company. MovieStar, Claro or Kölbi is recommended. We had 10 or 15 gigabytes (can't remember) from MovieStar and good reception everywhere. We paid around 25 €.
14 day Costa Rica itinerary
Our most important Costa Rica travel tip is: Take your time. Don't try to visit both coasts in two weeks. Choose one and enjoy the trip.
Our itinerary started in San Jose, where we picked up a rental car when we arrived and drove north towards Arenal region. Around Arenal Volcano, you will find dense jungles, thermal springs and of course lots of animals. The first accommodation on our 14 day Costa Rica itinerary was Lost Iguana Resort in La Fortuna.
After two days with a great view of the volcano, we went on to Bijagua in the region of Tenorio volcano, where we spent three wonderful days with Pip and Donald in Casitas Tenorio. Frog Tour, Rio Celeste, Tapir Valley and the breakfast area of Casitas Tenorio were our highlights.
From here, we went west to the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Three days in a lonely bay in the luxurious Kasiiya Papagayo. It were some of the most beautiful days of our entire trip. Fauna and flora in this bay are indescribable both above and below water. Anteaters, coatis, rays and turtles await you. This region is truly amazing.
After this lovely time out, we went to the southern part of the Nicoya Peninsula. The quality of the roads is improvable here, but the government is about to change that.
Arrived in Mal Pais at Casa Chameleon, we soaked up the surfer vibes for some days. The area is very secluded, but very calm and relaxed. The view from Casa Chameleon towards the Pacific and the sunset is second to none.
The next stop on our 14 day Costa Rica itinerary was Quepos. The city is the gateway to Costa Rica's most famous national park - Manuel Antonio National Park.
We enjoyed this part of our 14 day Costa Rica route the least. Quepos is really not a beautiful city and the national park is completely overcrowded even in off-season. People try to sell you some overpriced crap on every corner and the animals in the small Manuel Antonio National Park are rarely seen. No wonder with the mass of visitors.
Our Costa Rica travel tip at this point: Give Manuel Antonio National Park some space to breathe and choose Uvita further south and visit Corcovado National Park from there by boat.
Which brings us to our next and last stop on our 14 day Costa Rica itinerary. Uvita the city with the whale fin - fantastically beautiful and worth living. Here, we stayed in Vista Celestial. A dreamlike accommodation high up in the mountains with a great view of the famous whale fin. This is a good base to join some really unique trips in the area.
We would particularly like to recommend Corcovado National Park to you. After a 90-minute ride by speedboat, you will experience absolutely untouched nature without crowds. Look forward to monkeys, crocodiles, birds, coatis with a little luck even cougars as well as swimming in waterfalls. In the season, Uvita also impresses with a large number of whales around.
Costa Rica Travel Tips - Food
In Costa Rica, there is food on every corner. The best way to buy cheap fruit is at the small stands on the side of the roads. There are small shops everywhere, where you can always buy cold drinks and snacks. The prices in official restaurants are relatively high, especially in the tourist regions - comparable to those in Europe. You eat significantly cheaper in so-called sodas. These are small bistros that are run by local women. Typical dishes in these sodas are Pico de Gallo (tomato salsa), Gallo Pinto (rice and beans), Pollo Fritto (fried chicken) and various egg dishes with cheese or platanas.
In the following we would like to share our good experiences with restaurants and food:
Tenorio Region ♦ Restaurante La Terazza: Delicious Tico food with monkeys and toucans around.
Arenal Region ♦ La Ventanita: Delicious burritos and excellent cocktails.
Mal Pais on the southern Nicoya Peninsula ♦ Caracolas – Here, we had the best food during our 14 day Costa Roca itinerary. Be sure to try the tuna tartare.
Uvita ♦ Here we can recommend Mystic Sushi (Japanese) and Al Chile (Mexican).
People and culture
The people of Costa Rica are very hospitable. We have actually had no negative experiences. If you speak Spanish, this is of course an advantage, as English is not necessarily spoken outside hotels. But we already got along with our few chunks of Spanish.
Our 14 day Costa Rica itinerary took us through Costa Rica during low season in late November / early December. We experienced the climate to be very pleasant. The temperatures were perfectly warm. From time to time we had little rain, but that was not a problem and never lasted long. The advantage is that relatively few other tourists were traveling.
We can definitely recommend this travel time for the north and west of Costa Rica. If you want to see whales, you should either come a little earlier or a little later.
Conclusion on our trip throughout Costa Rica
Costa Rica was a great trip. The food was delicious, the people were friendly, but the big highlight of Costa Rica is its incredible nature.
If our Costa Rica travel tips made you want more, then have a look at the mentioned hotels. Maybe we could convince you.