Inspired by pictures of Costa Rica’s rainforests brimming with exotic flora and fauna, steaming volcanoes and world-class beaches? Us too. If you're dreaming of a trip to this Central American nation, here are nine indispensable Costa Rica travel tips to help you plan your holiday.
1. Plan for the high season
With so many North Americans flying south for the winter – not to mention locals travelling home – it’s pivotal to book in advance if you want to travel during the Christmas and New Year period.
Both rooms and buses can sell out weeks ahead, but by being savvy and using several transport links (such as a private shuttle to one hub, paired with a public bus from there), it’s still possible to make things work.
The week leading up to Easter is another pressure point, though the parades and processions that take place during this time can prove well worth the extra effort.
Arenal Volcano © Esdelval/Shutterstock
2. Consider an organised tour
Veteran independent travellers might sniff at the idea of taking an escorted tour, especially in a country where hostels and hotels seemingly line every corner and English is quite widely spoken.
But many activities have both high demand and surprisingly high prices, and there are few regular public bus services around the country. A group tour is a top Costa Rica travel tip as it means you can pack a lot of experiences into one 10-day visit without fretting about availability or logistics. Rough Guides' own Tailor-Made Trips offers a full trip-planning service, where you'll work with a local expert on the ground to design a personalised itinerary that works for you.
3. Be prepared to spend
Costa Rica is among the most expensive countries to visit in Latin America – and it’s not just pricey when compared to its neighbours. For certain supermarket items, such as bottled water and sunscreen, the country can even rival the UK and USA.
To save money eat plates of gallo pinto at small family-run sodas, pay for groceries and other small purchases with local currency colónes instead of dollars and travel during the low season (aka the rainy season) for reduced room rates.
Plantain, rice and beans is a common Costa Rican dish © EQRoy / Shutterstock
4. Choose between the adventure gateways
Monteverde and La Fortuna are two of northern Costa Rica’s backpacker favourites, and great jumping off points for outdoor activities. But getting between them can prove a lengthy process and much of the adventure offering is similar.
If you don’t have time for both, our top travel tip is to pick Monteverde, as it boasts the trump card thanks to its drier climate and bohemian hilltop charm.
5. Heed the caution when it comes to the weather
Even in the dry season (between December and April) visitors to the central highlands and the Atlantic coastal plain should prepare for frequent downpours.
No matter how clear the skies look at daybreak, make sure you pack waterproof clothing and dry bags for valuables on any trips into the rainforest. And if the showers are dampening your spirits you can always head west to the sun-scorched plains of the Pacific slope.
The rope bridge through Monteverde's Cloud Forest Reserve © Simon Dannhauer / Shutterstock
6. Learn the language
You won’t struggle to find locals with good English in Costa Rica, but picking up some Spanish can not only earn you kudos and a warm welcome – it can really boost your bargaining power.
Those with a good chunk of time on their hands can go one step further and enrol in one of the many local language schools that are scattered across the country, putting their tico accent straight to the test.
7. Swap the Pacific coast for the Caribbean
One quick fix for escaping Costa Rica’s crowds is to head east instead of west. With the international airport of Liberia so close to the Pacific coastline, it’s an easily accessible beach destination.
The sands of the Caribbean coast, however, are much harder to reach, meaning the region is also much less developed.
Costa Rica's Caribbean coastline is less well known © Simon Dannhauer / Shutterstock
8. Respect the country’s sustainability credentials
Costa Rica has set its sights on becoming the world’s first carbon-neutral country by 2021. To help support its green goals, opt for locally owned ecolodges and operators that practise sustainable tourism wherever possible.
To help distinguish between the good, the bad and the ugly, the Costa Rica Tourism Institute has developed the CST (Certificate of Sustainable Tourism). Businesses are ranked from levels one to five based on their commitment to the cause.
9. Tie in a neighbour
Although they’re tightly packed into the waist of the Americas, each Central American nation boasts its own character, attractions and heritage. Next-door neighbours Nicaragua and Panama make the easiest and most obvious add-ons to a sojourn in Costa Rica.
Nicaragua is a more raw destination that’s best suited to intrepid, budget-conscious travellers, while Panama offers a cosmopolitan capital as well as lashings of more rural adventure activities.
Header image: Rio Celeste waterfall © William Berry / Shutterstock