If you’ve already been to Costa Rica, then you’re already familiar with this phrase. If you’re planning to go, then get used to saying/hearing it, because pura vida is the hakuna matata of Costa Rica. I’ve been to Costa Rica a few times, and it is safe to say that this is one of my favorite places on Earth.
Why Costa Rica?
Why NOT Costa Rica?? It’s absolutely amazing! There’s nature, beaches, great food, and incredibly friendly people- what more could you ask for? Here are some of the top things to do in Costa Rica:
- Manuel Antonio National Park- Located in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, this national park is definitely worth the three hour drive from the Juan Santamaria International Airport. You can decide to walk the hour-long path alone or with a guide. I would highly recommend getting a tour guide, because you would miss most of the wildlife without them. They come with spotting scopes that give you a close up view of many animals and insects. These guys have amazing abilities to spot animals and have a wealth of knowledge, so they are definitely worth the extra money. The trek is a very easy one that ends on a beautiful beach, so pack beach gear and snacks. Adult tickets are $16; Children under 12 years old are free. Guided tours are $51 dollars for adults and $35 for children.
- Arenal Volcano National Park- Arenal is a beautiful volcano that allows for tons of fun a relaxation. While there you can walk through the national park, see the beautiful lake at the base of the volcano, or have a relaxing soak in the hot springs in the resorts that surround the volcano. (The higher up the volcano you go, the warmer the springs!)
- La Fortuna Waterfall- While you are visiting Arenal, take the time to go see La Fortuna waterfall. It is located four miles from the volcano and is a beautiful scenic trek. You can swim at the base of the waterfall, so pack accordingly!
- Carnaval de Caribe- Celebrate Costa Rica’s rich Afro-Caribbean culture on the Caribbean side of the country in Limon. During the month of October, the streets of Limon come alive with Afro-Caribbean rhythm and color. A perk of Limon being located on the caribbean side of the country are the beautiful beaches that you can relax on.
Planning your Costa Rican Vacation
So now that you’ve decided that you want to visit Costa Rican paradise, where do you start? Here are my recommendations based on my trips to C.R.:
Where do you fly into?
- Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO)- This is the largest airport in C.R. It is located in the capital, San Jose. San Jose is located somewhat in the middle of the country, so it will probably be at least a 2.5-3 hour drive to Arenal or the beach location that you have chosen.
- Daniel Oduber Quiros Airport (LIR)- I’ve never flown into this airport so I don’t know too much about it. I do know that it is located in the Northwest corner of the country, far from where I like to stay when I go.
Where should you stay?
- Quepos/Manuel Antonio- Quepos is the small coastal town that I go to when I visit C.R. It is three hours to the west of San Jose, but it is well worth the drive. It has just the right mixture of party town + romantic getaway + off-the-grid relaxation destination. The people are friendly, the food is amazing, and the beach is a short bus ride from town. The last time I was there I stayed at Backpackers, a lovely hostel located in between Quepos and Manuel Antonio, so it’s in close proximity to both town and the beach. It’s clean, complimentary breakfast is included and pricing is great! Dorm style rooms are $10-$16/night; Private rooms are around $35/night. Prices vary depending on the time of year. If you’re not about that hostel life, there are resort style hotels and 3 star hotels in the area, as well. I would recommend Quepos to anyone- couples, groups, and solo travelers. You would not regret making this your destination!
- Jaco- If you’re looking for a good place to party, Jaco is your town! It’s about 2.5 hours away from San Jose and about 30 minutes away from Quepos. The beach there is amazing, as it attracts surfers from all over the world. Jaco is a great place to meet other travelers and ensure a good time!
Important things to know:
- Language- Spanish is the native language of Costa Rica, so it would help to learn a few key phrases to help you get around. Some people speak a little English so you won’t be completely out of the loop, but it is polite to at least attempt to learn some of the language of the country you’re visiting. For help, download the “Spanish” language guide under the “Travel Tips” tab.
- Currency- In Costa Rica they use the Colon. 1 Colon= 0.0018 USD. This does not mean that everything is going to be dirt cheap, however. While things are not as expensive as they are here in the U.S, you can easily over spend there. Expect for things to cost a couple of dollars less than what you would pay here.
- Weather- So if you plan your trip and you look at your weather app and it shows torrential storms every day of your trip, DO NOT PANIC! This is rarely the case when you get there. The months of December- April are the driest months of the year, but the rainy season is not that rainy. Don’t get me wrong, when it does rain, IT POURS, but the good news is that it doesn’t rain for long, the sun still shines, and the temperature stays pleasant. If you are caught in the rain, just use it as an excuse to duck into a beachfront restaurant for a quick cocktail until the rain subsides!
- Transportation- In C.R. the official taxis are noticeable by their red color. People will try to pick you up in their own private cars, and while I doubt they are dangerous and I, myself, am guilty of doing this, I wouldn’t advise taking private cars. Taxis are really cheap and a good way of getting around. In Quepos, the bus is only about $0.50 and comes pretty frequently, so this is also a good mode of transportation. To get from the airport to the coast, I would recommend that you take a taxi to the bus station in San Jose and buy a bus ticket to the coast. The buses are air conditioned charter buses and the ticket will cost you about $30, if memory serves me correctly. Taking a taxi from the airport to your coastal destination will cost you at least $150, if not more.
- Food- Literally everything is good to eat in C.R.! In C.R. they eat a lot of fresh fruits, beef, chicken, fish, and rice and beans (called gallo pinto (guy-o peen-to)). The national dish is called a casado, which is plate with a little bit of everything on it. This is very friendly to the American palate and is found everywhere, so picky eaters are in luck.
If you’re looking for a tropical place to relax and unwind, meet other travelers, or get in touch with nature, Costa Rica is the place for you! It’s such a beautiful country with a relaxing ambiance. So what are you waiting for? Go ahead and grab some Costa Rican adventure! Pura Vida!