Ultimate Guide For Planning your Costa Rica Trip!

Costa Rica is one of Central America’s greatest escapes and it was the first country I set foot on my first very solo backpacking adventure! Wondering why… whether you’re an adventurer or planning a family trip; there are plenty of activities to do and places to visit! Offering never-ending everything from black-volcanic-sand coastlines. to white stunning beaches, to its amazing biodiversity wildlife, to delicious food, to rugged coves.

You’re also probably going to fall in love with Costa Ricans (known as Ticos for men and Ticas for women) because of their easygoing and “Pura Vida” (pure life) lifestyle. Costa Ricans are friendly and generous and making friends in Costa Rica could be one of the most rewarding experiences in your life! Speaking of, do not miss my disadventures with Jose’!

Despite all of this, planning a trip to Costa Rica can seem a little daunting and if you’ve done your research you’ll know it’s quite a touristy country. Deciding what to do and how much money to spend can be stressful, that’s why in this article I’ll give you a guide on how to have the trip of a lifetime – saving money in the process!

Goofball, strap yourself in because Giorgy aka G-Extreme is about to show off an easy completed Guide for your Costa Rica adventure ~ Pura Vida!

NOTICE: The information here is updated as best we can in light of COVID-19. Please check before you go anywhere what modifications have taken place to avoid any inconvenience!

#1. WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT?

First things first you should decide when you’d like to travel because that will most probably determine where you go and what kind of activities you will be able to do. Of course, the best time to travel depends on your preferences, so what I can do is give you some information to help you make a decision.

There are two tropical seasons in Costa Rica: dry season and green season.

DRY SEASON
Mid-December to April is the high season as it is the ideal time to lounge on the beach or explore the rainforests. Therefore, this period is usually more crowded and more expensive (all the tourists on their way to Costa Rica).

GREEN SEASON
The green season is May through November; that time often experiences sunny mornings and afternoon showers, and it will be a little less expensive than the high season. If you don’t mind light showers and colorful forest, June and July are the months to go!

With that being said, keep in mind that the weather varies by region, for instance, the Caribbean coast is generally very hot and humid. It’s always a good idea to consult a weather app before your trip so you can have an idea of what to expect!

#2. TIPS FOR BUDGETING YOUR COSTA RICA TRIP

As I already mentioned, Costa Rica is a popular tourist destination, and that, unfortunately, makes it a very expensive country, if not the most expensive in Central America.

However, it’s still quite possible to visit without breaking the bank! On average you should expect to pay about 68 USD per day including food, accommodation, and transportation. Of course, you can spend less or more according to your budget so I’ll give you a couple of suggested budgets for different travelers! 

You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Prices are in CRC.

Hey Goofball! There are plenty of ways to save money during trips, and here Giorgy aka G-Extreme is about to add another list of her top tips to keep your budget even slower than the one mentioned above. Ready to know the trick to break down Costa Rica in low-budget style?

  1. Low/shoulder-season – As mentioned before, not only does traveling outside high season allow you to save you a lot of money but it also won’t be packed with people too!
  2. Eat al local restaurants – Known as “Sodas” are small family local run restaurants way less cheap and more delicious of the touristic restaurants. These hole-in-the-wall restaurants signed with SODA offer the best value in the country.
  3. Type of transportation – Slower but cheaper, the local buses offer you the best option to travel around.
  4. Avoid tour activities– Most cities offer a free walking tour around the city for instance San Jose’. You can have an inside of the city’s history and culture, also get to know new travelers. Try to avoid other tour activities which are overrated and way too expensive. Instead do also hiking, swimming, and relaxing around which cost you nothing at all!
  5. The secret of the Nights Out – Who said you have to necessarily drink alcohol every time you go out? You can still have fun without alcohol and drinking, no alcohol each night can also significantly reduce travel costs.
  6. Camping – A lot of resorts and hostels allow you to put your tent on their property for around 6’000 CRC per night.
  7. Own your Water bottle – Since it’s safe drinking water in Costa Rica, I suggest you all have this amazing filtered water bottle.
  8. Cash vs Digital banking – Digital banking is getting more available in most of South America; keep in mind this is going to save you unwanted fees.
  9. Slow travel – If you have the luxury of traveling long-term instead of a few weeks, it is going to allow you to incorporate more free days around the city and explore what you like around you without being in a hurry – which means saving a lot of money as well.
  10. Caribbean Side – Less touristic and cheaper, the Caribbean side lets your purse take a breath!

Have a look at this interesting list of activities that you can do for free in Costa Rica, useful for any kind of traveler!

#3. HOW TO GET AROUND COSTA RICA

BUS
As mentioned above, traveling by bus is so far the most efficient and low-cost option, even though when people say “All the roads take you back to San Jose”, well they do not lie! Trips are around 3’000 – 7’000 CRC depending on the length of the ride, have a look at the following schedule in order to plan your trip!

PRIVATE BUS
In order to avoid going back every time San Jose’, private mini-buses provide a cost-effective way to get around the country. Keep in mind they are going to be more expensive than local buses!

RENT A CAR
If you want whole independence from any other public transportation, rent your own vehicle car rentals are surprisingly affordable in Costa Rica – around 13’500 CRC per day! Ta-taaa-taaaa the roads are not always great, so think twice and check where you are heading before renting a vehicle. Also to have insurance as a back plan!

HITCHHIKING
Why not give it a try? I did it a few times even though is not common for long-distance rides. Check this website for deep hitchhiking info in the country.

AIR
I put it as the last option because is not eco-friendly at all. It is also not efficient at all ~ you won’t save money or time.

#4. ACCOMMODATIONS IN COSTA RICA

Surprisingly, as long as camping is the cheaper option; you can find other accommodation that fits into your budget and your style better! From HotelshostelsAirbnbsCouchsurfing and work away (where you can work for bed and boars) so on… all sorts!

Most accommodations have Wi-fi connections, it might not work properly but it’s better than nothing and any kind of accommodation has its own.

Hey Goofball! Remember that staying in hostels is not always easy; I wanna share with you all my disadventures when overnight does not go as expected!

#5. WHERE TO GO AND WHAT TO DO

Deciding where to go and what to do in Costa Rica can be a difficult task because it’s full to the brim with wonderful and awe-inspiring places and exciting activities to do! As said before, all the roads take you to San Jose’, the capital of Costa Rica, you will find yourself there several times.

Still, struggling on finding the right place to visit? Here, Giorgy aka G-Extreme compiled a list of some of top Costa Rica recommendations: 

The Arenal Volcano National Park

What is it?
This is probably Costa Rica’s most popular tourist attraction. The Arenal is one of the world’s most active volcanoes and it stands at more than 5000 feet tall in the shape of a perfectly symmetrical cone.

Why go?
However, it hasn’t erupted since 2010. The lands surrounding the volcano are rich in natural beauty and full of fun activities to do! Some of these activities include options are zip lining, rappelling, white water rafting, and other water activities like kayaking, fishing, and swimming.

While hiking or walking around the national park you’ll also spot a lot of wildlife such as deer, tapir, howler monkeys, white-faced monkeys, and snakes, or birds like parrots and brown magpies. It also hosts a wide variety of plant species like orchids, palms, and fungi.

Hey Goofball! Entrance to the national park costs $15 for adult foreigners and $5 for children and tour prices usually start around $60 and go up.

Manuel Antonio National Park

What is it?
Manuel Antonio National Park is one of Costa Rica’s most popular parks despite its small size!
Everyone who visits Costa Rica must go to Manuel Antonio and enjoy the lush greenery and beautiful beaches.

Why go?
Once you venture into the park, you’ll come across a diverse array of wildlife such as capuchins, howlers, squirrel Monkeys, sloths, iguanas, and hundreds of species of birds!

The beaches in Manuel Antonio are exceptionally beautiful with white sand and warm blue waters; they’re ideal for relaxing, surfing, and swimming. There are also many other activities you can do in the park, like white-water rafting, diving, hiking, and sailing.

Hey Goofball! The park’s entrance fee is $18 for adults and children 12 and up and if you have a car you can go all the way down to the park entrance and park there for $4-$6. If you opt for a guided tour it might cost you around $60-$80. 

Monteverde and the Cloud Forest

What is it?
Monteverde is a Costa Rican district in Cordillera de Tilarán mountain range. The town is known for ecotourism and for being home to marvelous natural attractions, the most popular of which is Monteverde Cloud Forest Natural Reserve.

Why go?
This reserve is a paradise for any nature enthusiast with many unique birds such as quetzal birds and various mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. Monteverde also boasts a Butterfly Garden and a Frog Pond. I recommend getting a guided hike to be able to spot as many animals as possible.

The entrance to Monteverde is $20 and guided tours are extra. 

National Theater in San Jose

What is it?
The National Theater is considered the most impressive building in San Jose and it’s definitely worth a visit!

Why go?
This elegant theatre opened to the public in 1897 and it has been a source of pride for Costa Ricans ever since then. This exquisite building is known for its breathtaking interior which is adorned with murals, statues, and monuments including Frederic Chopin.

If it’s possible, try to attend a live performance during your visit, it will be unforgettable! The entrance fee for the theatre is $10 USD for adult foreigners and free for children under 12.

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

What is it?
Located on the Caribbean coast near Panama, Puerto Viejo perfectly exemplifies Costa Rica’s Pura Vida lifestyle. This laid-back town offers a unique culture that you can’t find anywhere else.

Why go?
In this town, you’ll experience a mixture of Reggaeton beats, colorful homes, and a relaxed attitude. 
Leave your worries behind and chill on the beautiful beaches or venture into the lush rainforests for an adventure! You can also experience the town’s vibrant nightlife as it comes alive with reggae music and funky beats.

Despite being popular among tourists, Puerto Viejo also has many quiet beach hotels if you’re looking for a quiet retreat!

Corcovado National Park

What is it?
Corcovado National Park is located on the Osa Peninsula in southwestern Costa Rica. This park is the largest in Costa Rica, covering an area of 424 square kilometers.

Why go?
It’s among Costa Rica’s less popular beaches because it’s not so easy to get there, which makes it an ideal place for anyone looking to stay away from crowds! Once you make it there, you’ll be rewarded with many sightings of wildlife, great hiking and camping experiences, and lots of marine life.

The entrance fee is $15 per person and a permit is also required which you can obtain through a tour operator or by yourself if you have some time and patience!

Lankester Botanical Gardens

What is it?
If you’re a plant or flower lover, then Lankester Botanical Gardens are a must-visit destination!

Why go?
Located in Central Valley four miles from Cartago, the Lankester Botanical Gardens are a set of gardens that are home to over 3000 species of plants, including orchids and bromeliads.

Because of this abundance of plant species, the Garden is also home to a vast collection of birds and butterflies. Entrance to the garden costs $10 and children below 5 years old don’t pay.

OTHER THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN COSTA RICA

6# HOW TO PREPARE FOR YOUR TRIP

Because of the diversity of terrain and varying weather conditions, packing for your backpacking trip in Costa Rica can be a tough challenge.

As a backpacker, it’s important not to overpack and your luggage needs to be as light and practical as possible, so to help you achieve that, I’ve created a list of some of the essential items you need to pack.

Backpack

This is the most important item for your adventure because it will be your companion on the road.

Your backpack should carry everything you need and still be comfortable to wear. Generally, it’s a good idea to pick a backpack that is sturdy, offers some back support, and doesn’t attract too much attention. Otherwise, you can go to your nearest outdoors specialist shop to check out their range and get a backpack that fits you as there are specific fits and sizes.

As for the backpack size, it’s measured in liters, for a short trip (a few weeks to a couple of months) I recommend getting a backpack that ranges from 45 to 60 liters.

Clothes

When packing clothes for your trip, it’s smart to pack for a week or less and then wash your clothes when needed (most hostels offer to wash your clothes for a few boxes).

This list is adjustable according to your needs and preferences, but these are some things that I think are essential to pack – Well, expect to find out useful and also unusual stuff in here, I am the Goofball, remember?

  • 7x underwear;
  • 2x sports bras;
  • 1x regular bra (or none depending on whether you use it);
  • 1x long sleeve top;
  • 2x short sleeve cotton t-shirts;
  • 1x hiking trousers;
  • 1x jeans;
  • 2x leggings;
  • 1x light dress;
  • 1x scarf (that you can easily transform into a pillow wherever you are traveling to);
  • 4x socks;
  • 2x hiking socks;
  • 1x fleece jacket;
  • 1x light waterproof jacket;
  • 1x jumper/hoodie;
  • 1x hiking boots;
  • 1x everyday shoes (trainers or converse – your favorite and comfortable walking shoes);
  • 1x flipflops/sandals;
  • 1x beanie/warm hat;
  • 2x swimsuits.

Toiletries

  • 1x toothpaste –toothbrush
  • 1x deodorant
  • 1x shower gel
  • 1x nail clipper
  • 1x sunscreentreat yourself with care instead of making your poor skin cry!
  • Insect repellentif you don’t want to be eaten alive, I truly recommend taking a good insect repellent;
  • 1x comb/hairbrush
  • 1x shampoo/conditioner
  • 1x moisturizer
  • 1x soap
  • 1x razor and spare blades
  • 1x mosquito repellent
  • Cotton buds
  • Sanitary products: if you’re a tampon user, it might be a good idea to stock up on tampons as they are less available and more expensive. Pads are widely available in South America or switched on the menstrual cup’s use!
  • First aid-kit

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Documents, Money & safety

  • Passport/visa
  • Waterproof bag: a dry bag is coming in handy to keep your electronics or any important belongings dry.
  • Plane/bus/train tickets
  • Booking confirmation (hotel/tour)
  • Travel insurance
  • Emergency cash
  • Credit card/ Debit card
  • Padlocks for hostel lockers

Electronics

  • 1x tablet/laptop
  • 1x smartphone
  • 1x portable charger
  • 1x camera with a spare batterie
  • 1x adapter
  • 1x earphones/headphones

Miscellaneous items

  • Packing cubes: They make it so easy to organize and save a lot of space in your luggage (A LOT, they saved me in a few situations).
  • Swiss army knife
  • Sunglasses: If you would like to copy my Goofball style, this is the only pair of sunglasses I use.
  • Water bottleWater is important, bring a reusable bottle with you which you can fill from wherever you are.
  • Sleep Mask & Earplugs

#7 STAYING SAFE AS YOU TRAVEL

Is Costa Rica Safe? I say out loud YES and it is one of the safest countries for traveling and backpacking in Central America! In the end, everywhere you go could happen something to you. It’s just important to be precautionary and stay safe while traveling around places, here are some tips I would like to remember for you all!

  • Know where you are heading – There are certain areas people should avoid, and Central America is no different. Make your research in order to be safe in the areas you plan to visit. Be also aware that taking an overnight bus (which is always a good reason if you can sleep everywhere and want to save money on accommodation) is a little bit riskier, more if you get to the destination very early or late at night. Especially if you go for a hike, check the weather in order to avoid complications while the hike; also never stray from the trail, in doubt hire a guide.
  • Taxi scam – Never believe when someone says the meter is broken once the drive has begun; stick on metered taxis or negotiate a price in advance.
  • Drink in moderation – Not only does not drink alcohol is allowing you to spare money but saving you from unwanted situations since it makes you more vulnerable. Keep in mind that alcohol makes it harder for your body to acclimate especially in high-altitude places. Also bring just the money you need for the night, the rest locked in your accommodation’s locker.
  • Not be outstanding – Try also to avoid outstanding with rare gadgets or jewelry that may attract the wrong kind of attention as theft. Neither leaves valuables in the car (if you rent a car) overnight.
  • Reassure the beloved ones – Let others know where you are by sharing your itinerary.
  • Have a copy of your essential documents – You never know what could happen, make sure to have a copy (paper and digital) of all your essential documents. There could be fake police around the area you are in, so show them always a copy. And the inner gut never does wrong, feel and leave if you feel something is about to happen!
  • Travel Insurance – You never know what could happen while traveling, Travel Insurance will protect you against anything!
  • Become a local – As mentioned above, knowing at least a bit of Spanish, it’s going to be helpful while traveling in any part of Central America. Again, I would recommend downloading an app for learning it or getting an instant translator to have with you a long way.
  • Follow the rules – If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it in Costa Rica!

#8. WHAT ELSE TO EXPECT

Language: Spanish is the native language of Costa Rica. This country might surprise you, bus most Costa Rican could speak English. As mentioned before, if you find yourself in difficulty, this translator might help you out while your visit.

Currency: Costa Rican generally accept US dollars, but it’s good to have their official currency which is: the Colón. 1 USD is equivalent to 625.60 CRC.

Credit Cards and ATMs: Both Credit cards and USD are widely accepted in Costa Rica, maybe not in small towns where they accept just cash. ATMs are mostly available in the whole country, you might be surprised too.

Plugs: Costa Rica has plugs type A, the same as the USA. If you’re traveling from other countries, a universal adapter is suggested.

Safety: Like most destinations in the rest of the world, Costa Rica is generally a safe country to visit. As mentioned before Ticos are friendly and generous but using common sense and taking extra safety never hurts, especially as a solo traveler during nighttime!

My simple guide to planning your Costa Rica trip, now all you need to do is brace yourself for an adventure of a lifetime and enjoy all the wonders this beautiful country has to offer! 

Have fun because Costa Rica is awaiting you Goofball! Be ready to go on an adventure and don’t forget to be safe out there Gextremers!

 

Read More: Exciting Things to Do in Costa Rica