If you have a love of nature, spectacular landscapes and outdoor adventure, then Costa Rica is the place for you. The country has deservedly earned its reputation as one of the world’s best destinations for a wildlife holiday, with an impressive 25% of the country now protected national reserves. Clad with dense rainforests and rolling cloud forests, lush mangroves and both Pacific & Caribbean coastlines, Costa Rica boasts some impressive wildlife statistics, despite its diminutive size. It is home to 5% of the world’s biodiversity, which includes over 800 species of bird, 250 species of mammal and even a quarter of the world’s recorded butterfly species. A genuine commitment to preserving the environment means you can enjoy an intense wildlife experience whilst still leaving minimal impact (even the country’s main domestic airline is proudly carbon-neutral). This is not somewhere you go to discover ancient ruins or colonial cities – towns and ‘people-made’ things are simply not what Costa Rica is about. You go to completely immerse yourself in the country’s wildlife, volcanic scenery, get a dose of adventure, and then unwind after it all on a jungle-fringed beach.
Costa Rica appeals to all ages; it is an incredibly family-friendly destination, but some truly unique lodges also make it consistently popular with honeymooners. This peace-loving nation is also the safest in Central America – the army was abolished here in 1948 – and its friendly people will welcome you with open arms. You will hear them saying “pura vida” often – and though it is used as just a general acknowledgement, the expression literally means ‘pure life’. This seems to perfectly sum up such a green and exhilarating country, politically stable and enjoying the highest standards of education, healthcare and social responsibility in the entire region. Life here can indeed seem very pure.
Such obvious attractions, combined with an excellent tourism infrastructure and ever increasing flight connections from the USA and Europe does mean that much of Costa Rica does now feel well and truly ‘discovered’. That said, there are still ways to escape the crowds. We know Costa Rica intimately, and can design a bespoke itinerary that gets you beyond the more well-trodden tourist trails wherever possible, staying in some more unusual and remote places. Those prepared to travel out of season and spend a little more money to get private tours of the national parks will also experience a quieter side of Costa Rica.
However if time and budget constraints do still limit you to visiting the main tourist centres at peak times, remember that you can still forge your own entirely unique experience of Costa Rica with a little imagination. Your first glimpse of a pre-historic looking sloth in the trees, for example, will be a lasting memory, even if other people happen to be enjoying the spectacle at the same time as you. Base yourself in a jungle lodge that lets you delve into the rainforest at dawn when birds and monkeys are waking, and you will certainly get to experience your own little slice of paradise.
Food & Drink
Though not as renowned as other countries in the region for the creativity of its cuisine, you will still eat well in Costa Rica. Typical local dishes, whilst not particularly imaginative, are always hearty and use the freshest ingredients usually from proudly organic and sustainable sources. A portion of chicken or fish served with rice, pinto beans and salad is a classic meal in Costa Rica, which can be brightened by the ubiquitous ‘salsa lizano’ – a sweet and smoky sauce with a gentle kick, that is something of a national obsession.
Italian restaurants are popular across the country, as are American-style grills, but influences also come from closer to home. From South America a fondness for ceviche fits well in a country that is blessed with such bountiful coastlines. And from Costa Rica’s Caribbean neighbours, creole dishes influences can be seen, making the region around Puerto Viejo de Talamanca in particular a great place to sample some more colourful fusion food. It is also worth noting that in a country so well set-up for international visitors, vegetarians and those with food intolerances will not struggle to find places to cater for them in Costa Rica.
Eating out in Costa Rica is not cheap compared to many of its Central American neighbours – you should expect to pay similar prices to the UK to eat in well-established restaurants in the main tourist centres. More affordable meals can be found in towns that have ‘sodas’ – informal local diners where many Costa Ricans eat, which often serve a set daily menu and do not usually charge the 13% sales tax found in established restaurants.
Coffee is, somewhat inevitably, Costa Rica’s national drink. Export quality is the best, but nothing inferior to Arabica is permitted to be produced anywhere in the country. Beyond coffee, Costa Rica’s proliferation of jungle fruits means you will find plenty of refreshing juices and smoothies to choose from. Wine can be expensive here, and is generally imported from South America or the US, but reasonable local lagers can be found almost everywhere. Costa Rica’s local cane spirit is not one to write home about but can be infinitely more palatable when blended in a fruity cocktail!
When to Travel
Costa Rica is a destination that can be enjoyed almost year-round. Climate conditions in most of the country are loosely determined by two seasons – a dry season running from December to around April, and then a rainy (or ‘green’) season, which officially begins in May and ends in November.
The reality is that the weather can be unpredictable in Costa Rica throughout the year. In a country with so much rainforest, heavy tropical showers can be frequent even in the driest months of January and February – this is what makes the country so beautiful. Nor should you be completely put off by travelling during much of the wet season. In the first part of the season you may notice very little difference, with heavy rain often limited to later in the afternoons, and national parks benefitting from fewer crowds. The only months we would recommend you avoid completely are September & October. Although Costa Rica is not usually affected by hurricanes, the rains can become so heavy at this time that road travel can be disrupted, and some hotels and lodges will close to carry out annual maintenance at this time.
The only part of the country that does not follow this two-season pattern is the Caribbean Coast. Here, the weather is at its most unpredictable, with heavy rain to be expected at any time. Conversely, its driest months are usually September and October, where everywhere else is at its wettest.
Costa Rica is served by direct flights from London Gatwick to San Jose with British Airways, operating three times per week between November and March, and twice a week from April to October.
Many indirect flight connections to Costa Rica are surprisingly good. You can fly from the UK to San Jose via Madrid, Paris, or Bogota for example, with just one change of plane and a relatively hassle-free connection.
There are also many US carriers with good connections from the UK. Though this will involve purchasing an ESTA visa and clearing US immigration, these flights are often considerably cheaper than other options so are still worth considering. Some also offer the advantage of flying home from Liberia, avoiding the need for a lengthy road transfer back to San Jose if you are finishing your holiday on a Northern Pacific beach.
UK passport holders do not require a visa to enter Costa Rica, providing they depart the country again within 90 days.
If you are flying to Costa Rica via the USA, you need to apply online for an ‘ESTA’ electronic travel authorisation, even if you are only in transit. This currently costs $14 per person, is valid for two years and should be applied for on the official Department of Homeland Security website:
You should contact your GP before travelling to any tropical destination such as Costa Rica. We can provide some general guidelines, however we are not medically trained so it is essential to speak to a medical professional well in advance of your trip:
Zika Virus: though instances of the Zika Virus in Costa Rica have been few and isolated, the latest advice from the World Health Organisation recommends pregnant women or those planning to start a family to postpone travel to the country, and to practice safe sex up to six months after their return.
Yellow fever certificate: if you are arriving in Costa Rica from countries with yellow fever, you may be asked to produce a certificate of vaccination against the disease (for a list of countries affected visit www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk)
Malaria: there is a generally low risk of malaria throughout Costa Rica. The only exception is a small area of the southern Caribbean where some cases have been recorded. If travelling here, you should consult your doctor to discuss options for malaria prevention.
The best way to prevent transmission of all mosquito-borne diseases is to cover up. You should wear long trousers and sleeves while walking in the forests, at sunset, after rain showers and near standing water, and wear an insect repellent that contains a good percentage of DEET.
General: it is recommended that your general boosters for Diptheria, Polio, Tetanus and Hepatitis A are up-to-date before travel.
We recommend purchasing comprehensive travel insurance as soon as you have booked your holiday, and declare any pre-existing medical conditions to your insurer – some may be able to provide cover for these conditions for an additional premium.
Costa enjoys low levels of crime. You should exercise caution in San Jose after dark as you would in any capital city and take a taxi back to your hotel after dark. You can also check the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office website for the latest advice before you travel.
MONEY & TIPPING
The local currency in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican Colón (CRC), and at time of writing £1 was worth 678 CRC. US dollars, however, are widely accepted in Costa Rica – it is the second currency here and you will see prices in dollars almost everywhere. Costa Rican Colones are difficult to obtain or exchange outside of Costa Rica so while you may receive them in change, it is handy to use them up for small purchases such as bottles of water before you leave the country. We recommend bringing US dollars with you, and you will find major credit and debit cards are accepted in the majority of hotels and restaurants.
10% service charge is automatically added to bills in all restaurants in Costa Rica (except in the informal ‘sodas’), and additional tips are not expected on top of this. Nor is it expected to tip taxi drivers. Tipping porters who assist with your luggage is appreciated though – a couple of US dollars will usually suffice
For guides, tipping is entirely discretionary but is a nice gesture if you have enjoyed your tour. US $5 – $10 per person would be around average for a regular tour, and you may also wish to tip drivers who have been with you for longer periods (though not as much as the guide).
More independent travellers will find self-driving a pleasant way to travel around Costa Rica, though a sense of adventure is required. Once you are outside the main towns and cities, the condition of the roads can vary drastically – bumpy unsealed roads with pot holes can be commonplace, making a 4 X 4 vehicle generally advisable. Distances may appear short on the map but the condition of the roads (particularly in rainy season when landslides can close routes) means travel times should not be underestimated.
GPS will assist you get to the main destinations in Costa Rica, but a common frustration is a lack of street signs making the final stretch of your journey to your hotel often the most bewildering. Other drivers can also pose a problem – though usually very laid-back people, some Costa Ricans seem to undergo a complete change of character behind the wheel. You will see frequent speeding, drivers on their phones and some feats of extraordinary impatience whilst they try to overtake in some hair-raising situations!
Swimming in Costa Rica’s many pristine beaches is always an attraction, though due to the presence of rip tides and strong currents in some regions we always recommend asking at your hotel for the safest spots to swim. Children should be supervised on beaches and at hotel pools at all times.
Horse riding can be a wonderful way to enjoy Costa Rica’s landscapes, but there are inherent risks involved with riding, anywhere in the world. Wearing a helmet is highly recommended for your own safety – ask your guide if they are not automatically offered.
Travellers Code of Conduct
– We provide all of our clients with a “Travel Facts” document upon confirmation of your booking. This details useful facts and travel advice for your chosen destination, including restaurant recommendations, reading tips, basic language, cultural traditions, climate information and brief historical overviews. We feel that this offers a useful insight into the country you are visiting, and can help you interact with local residents in a more sensitive, well informed manner. Please try to take the time to read this information before your visit, if at all possible.
– A number of the countries in which we operate holidays are religious societies with a widely observed set of customs. Always respect these norms, particularly when visiting religious buildings.
– To the best of our knowledge, all of the hotels, lodges and camps within our portfolio operate stringent measures to minimise water usage. All of our destinations have issues with water supplies to a certain extent so feel free to raise any possible wastage should you encounter it during your stays, either with the accommodation or with us upon your return.
– Please ask before taking photographs of people, and respect their wishes should an individual not be happy to be photographed. We find that friendly requests and a smile are usually met with assent.
– Strive where possible to make your own contribution to environmental practices within the destination you are travelling. This might include minimising your electricity usage, avoiding smoking in protected areas, avoiding coral while snorkelling and safely disposing of all litter (recycling where possible).
– Where possible, try to purchase from local suppliers. This includes shopping for souvenirs, eating out in restaurants and booking further excursions during your free time. In areas where haggling is an accepted part of daily life, don’t become angry or offended if you are unable to obtain what you perceive as a fair price for an item. We emphasise to local suppliers that our clients should never be taken on unsolicited shopping trips, but if this does happen, try to retain your sense of humour, provide a firm refusal to participate and tell us about this on your return. We pass on all feedback from every trip undertaken with Holiday Architects to the relevant local suppliers, who share our commitment to travelling with sensitivity.
– Please don’t remove any indigenous items from their natural habitat and attempt to bring them back as a souvenir. This particularly applies to coral, shells, plants and food in the natural world, and to cultural artefacts and antiques.
– If you are unsure about anything relating to the above, please feel free to ask our local suppliers or your Holiday Architects specialist. All of these people either live or have travelled extensively in the country you are visiting and will be more than happy to offer their considered advice.