Traveling to Costa Rica

Travelers to Costa Rica will discover a great get-a-way of entertainment and hospitality for a variety of interests and budgets. Costa Ricans are a welcoming people with most of their economy driven by tourism and particularly eco-tourism. Whether you dream of hiking through jungles, life in the water, shopping, or sipping coffee in tranquil and scenic surroundings, Costa Rica is a most memorable destination.

Costa Rica is considered the most expensive country in Central America. Don't expect to enjoy luxury for pennies a day. With that said, if you're on a limited budget, Costa Rica can be a good place to stretch your money if you're willing to forego some of the offered extravagance. Travelers from North America or Europe will find Costa Rica a good value.

While Costa Ricans are generally known to treat their guests well, it is wise to be alert for pickpockets and other petty thieves with an eye for tourists. Always be discerning about your surroundings.



Ecotourism is the main attraction in Costa Rica. Because Costa Rica offers such a wide-range of possibilities, we can only present some of the highlights here


If it's the beach you want, here a few considerations. But with 800 miles of coast line and islands this is just a taste.

The Nicoya Peninsula on Costa Rica's Northern Pacific side is where you'll find spirited beach cities like Montezuma, Tamarindo, and Mal Pais. In the same region you can also find some of Costa Rica's most stunning resorts that are more secluded and tranquil. If this is what you're looking for, check out Playas Hermosa, Samara, Flamingo, Papagayo, Conchal, and Playa Grande.

Further south along the central Pacific coast you'll find the long established but still developing and popular destination of Jaco Beach. South from there you'll reach the natural beauty of Manuel Antonio national park where lush forest hillsides inhabited by monkeys meet iguana accompanied lagoons.

If you want the laid back flavor of the Caribbean, head to the east coast. A 3-4 hour drive from San José will put you in the popular port of Límon. Close by you will find great surfing at Playa Bonita, white sandy beaches at Cahuita and the coconut dotted white beaches of Cocles to name a few.


Costa Rica is renowned among big game sport fishermen. Deep sea fishing out of Costa Rican locations such as Quepos, Tamarindo / Flamingo, Los Suenos / Herradura, often brings Tuna, Blue and Black Marlin, Sailfish, Grouper, Snapper and Roosterfish. River fishing in Costa Rica is also very popular with Snook and Tarpin being reeled in.


A giant in bio-diversity, Costa Rica is home of some 10,000 species of plants and trees and pristine jungles. Find a canopy tour and a zipline for added fun. Consider checking out Tortuguero National Park, Manuel Antonio National park, Corcovado National Park and an amazing hiking experience at Monteverde Cloud Forest.

Volcanoes and Waterfalls

Try to visit at least one of the 300 volcanoes in Costa Rica while you are here. We recommend these 3 active volcanoes for starters:

  • Arenal: Here you can enjoy the view of the volcano from inside its soothing lava-heated hot springs.
  • Poás: If you visit Poás, La Paz Waterfall Gardens is also "must see" attraction very nearby.
  • Irazú: If you're in the Central Valley area you can walk right up to the edge of Irazú's steaming craters - if you dare.

More Eco-Attractions

  • Other great areas for waterfall lovers include: Corcovado National park and Montezuma Falls.
  • For more inland scenery, try horseback riding, mountain hiking and bird and butterfly watching.
  • For more water life, investigate the snorkeling and diving, kayaking, surfing, white water rafting and island trips available in Costa Rica.


Golf in Costa Rica really began to take off in the 1990s. Since then it has attracted designers such as Robert Trent Jones II, George Fazio, Ted Robinson, Ron Garl, Mike Young, Arnold Palmer and Tracy May. Many of these spectacular courses can be found set among posh resorts in various parts of the country.

Coffee Plantations

Coffee lovers can take a tour of the cash crop that put Costa Rica on the map and learn about their favorite bean. Tours include visiting a working plantation, sampling, history and production.


Costa Rica offers great experiences in local markets with regional artists, foods, textiles, souvenirs and handcrafts. If you're in the San José area, check out the Mercado Central or for some fresh fruit enjoy the Saturday Farmers market in Pavas. Some vendors expect you will try and negotiate the price but non-Spanish speaking gringos may have a tough time getting the best deal. Be sure to bring your own bags to bring back your findings!

For more extravagant shopping, visit the very modern and upscale Multiplaza in Escazú. This mall features over 365 shops, restaurants, cafes, cinemas and a supermarket.

If you're looking for traditional Costa Rican artisans, check out the town Guaitíl where Chorotega pottery is made by hand while you watch. Also consider Sarchí where you can find beautiful wood carvings, leather products, drums, baskets, textiles, and pre-Columbian reproductions. On even years in March, San Jose holds the Festival de Arte which there is a celebration of film, music, theatre and other art forms.

San José

If you prefer the city scene over rustic encounters, there's plenty to see and do in the nation's mountain surrounded capital where old and new world come together. Some considerations include:

Avenida Central: Beginning a block beyond the Mercado Central, Central Avenue is a pedestrian-friendly epicenter of shops and restaurants.

Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica: Founded in 1897, San Jose's National Theater is one of Costa Rica's grandest architectural attractions.

Also check out San José's Jade, Gold and historical museums.

Practical Information

Exchanging Money

The currency of Costa Rica is the Colón. Buying Colónes can be done at your departing airport or at one of Costa Rica's two major international airports. Paper bills in poor condition may be rejected. Some businesses will accept payment in U.S. dollars but do not assume. You can also exchange at Costa Rican banks but be prepared to wait in line. Euros or British pounds or will be difficult to exchange, but some banks will. Some businesses may also offer to exchange your money, but their is typically not as favorable as the banks or exchange businesses. ATMs are fairly prevalent in larger cities. Some dispense both dollars and Colónes. Major credit cards are widely accepted but expect a fee. Traveler's checks can be exchanged at banks, exchange bureaus and select hotels and a 1-3% fee will be charged. Anything other than U.S. travelers checks will most likely be denied.

Passports/Entry and Exit

All foreign citizens, including U.S. citizens, must have a valid passport. Your passport must be valid the date that you enter Costa Rica and contain a blank stamping area. Be sure to check your passport expiration against your travel dates well in advance.

In addition to a valid passport, U.S Citizens must have a prepaid outbound plane ticket, to any other country. If you do not have an outbound ticket, you may be denied entry into Costa Rica, unless you have arranged a visa to stay for longer than 90 days. Note that you must re-enter the United States before your passport expires.

Non residents will have to pay an Airport Embarkation Tax of $28 USD or the CRC equivalent in hard dollars or colones.


Costa Rica has two main airports for international flights, the San Juantamaria Airport (SJO) in Alajuela near San José and the Daniel Oduber Airport (LIR) in Liberia. Both of these are considered modern airports with up-to-date accommodations. There are two other international airports in Costa Rica, one in Pavas near San José and one in Limón. These have a very limited number of international destinations and flights. There are many other smaller airports around the country to service domestic flights.

Airfare to Costa Rica is generally more expensive in December and January when gringos trade their cold season for Costa Rica's dry season.

Drinking the water

Hidden Treasures recommends that you drink bottled water during your visit. If you do drink the water, you run the risk of stomach problems - but don't worry you'll live. With bottled water readily available, it is a good preventative option. Note that "Agua mineral," is sparkling water and "aqua mineral sin gas" is water without bubbles.

Hotels and Accommodations

Costa Rica offers a full spectrum of accommodations from luxurious to frugal. 5 star resorts, multinational brands, boutiques, bed and breakfasts and some places you might be leery of, can all be found. Because road travel can be challenging, you will probably want to stay as central to your activities and interests as possible. Be sure to inquire about all of the hotel benefits and amenities. Some hotels include meals in their rate. With many choices available, we recommended you thoroughly research the accommodation to fit your needs.

Mid level hotels will run $25 USD - $85 USD. Most hotels will charge a 3% tourist surcharge. Top end hotel prices can rival those in the U.S. or Europe with a 13.39% sales tax.

It is good to tip those who serve you at a hotel. Tipping the bellhop/porter $1 USD - $3 USD/service and the housekeeper $1 USD - $2 USD/day is quite acceptable. Tipping in U.S. dollars or Colónes is welcomed.

For those traveling specifically to visit Hidden Treasures, we recommend staying at Hotel Villa Zurquí. Visit for more information.

Driving/getting around

Getting to the republic is easy via plane, difficult over the road. The Interamericana (Panamerican highway) runs through Costa Rica and is the main entry point into Costa Rica by car. Although it is possible to make the journey to Costa Rica from North or South America, Hidden Treasures would not recommend attempting this without significantly researching all of the challenges and requirements and consulting with someone who is experienced.

It is recommended that you plan the major points of your trip in advance since Costa Rica's interior can be logistically challenging, especially if you will be your own driver and are not fluent in Spanish. Do not expect to get anywhere quickly, what looks like a 2-3 hour journey on the map can turn into 5 or more hours easily. Remember, you're on "Tico time" now.

Visitors from the U.S. will find Costa Rican driving a great deal more stressful. While driving is done on the right side of the road as in the United States, citizens of San José have much more of an "every man for himself" approach than the average gringo. Here the car horn is a part of driving, like a turn signal but maybe more so. If you plan to travel much outside of the city center, you'd probably be happier in a 4-wheel drive truck or SUV. Outside San José is generally a lot less congested but can be tense nevertheless, with road conditions that may be narrow, mountainous, without side rails, washed out, one way bridges, etc. Much of the road system, however, is improving with better highways being built.

Renting a vehicle is pretty easy with most major rental agencies represented; however, availability can be limited. Rental drivers will need to have a valid driver's license and passport from their originating country as well as a major credit card. It is wise to make a copy of the profile page of your passport and your entry stamp and carry that with you along with your car rental papers. Should you be stopped by police you will need to show this to them.

Traveling via taxi might feel adventuresome for a U.S. citizen but works well in Costa Rica. Taxis are prevalent and cheap and known for being red. Taxi drivers are not normally tipped but it is of course welcomed.

There is an extensive network of public bus routes within the country with reasonable fares and usually comfortable seating. If using the bus routes within the country, some ability to speak and understand Spanish is useful. You are advised to keep bags on your lap or directly overhead within eyesight. Interbus and Grayline operate a door to door shuttle bus service between all major tourist towns in Costa Rica. Many hotels can help you arrange bus travel to popular destinations.