Get 10% off Working Holidays to Sydney > 
Traveller walking across bridge above rainforest canopy, Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica

Costa Rica Travel Guide

A haven of biodiversity and adventure, Costa Rica entices travellers with its stunning landscapes and rich natural wonders. Explore the lush rainforests teeming with diverse flora and fauna. Experience the enchantment of Monteverde's cloud forests or immerse yourself in the wildlife-rich Tortuguero National Park. Witness the awe-inspiring Arenal Volcano and rejuvenate in its soothing hot springs. Costa Rica's pristine beaches, such as Manuel Antonio and Tamarindo, offer opportunities for surfing, sunbathing, and encountering marine life. With a strong focus on sustainability and eco-tourism, Costa Rica provides a unique travel experience that fosters a deep connection with nature.

One of the highlights of visiting Costa Rica is the abundance of thrilling outdoor activities. Soar through the treetops on exhilarating zip lines, navigate exciting white-water rafting routes, or hike to hidden waterfalls. Embark on a wildlife safari and marvel at the sloths, monkeys, and vibrant bird species that call Costa Rica home. Engage in the local culture by taking part in traditional cooking classes or immersing yourself in indigenous communities. The warm hospitality of the Costa Rican people, known as Ticos, will make you feel welcomed and cherished. Whether you seek heart-pounding adventures or tranquil moments in nature, Costa Rica promises an unforgettable travel experience that celebrates its natural treasures.

Flight deals of the week
  • San Jose
    Return from £374

Key Facts

Time Zone

GMT-6 (Central Standard Time)

Money

Costa Rican Colón (CRC)

Dialing Code

+506

  • Costa Rica is very eco-friendly and has several important National Parks with interesting wildlife, cloud forests, an active volcano, and other attractions.
  • There are many beautiful beaches and the weather is great year-round.
  • Costa Rica is Spanish speaking and is an excellent place to learn Spanish. We offer introductory Spanish courses as part of your gap year package which will give you a good basic introduction to the language and help you travel around South America. 
  • Costa Rica is a very peaceful nation (they have no army) and you’re very unlikely to run into trouble.
  • There are lots of adventure activities including river rafting, canyon exploration, hiking, surfing, and mountain biking.
  • Costa Rica is ranked 3rd in the world in terms of environmental performance, 1st in the Happy Planet Index and is consistently in the top three countries with the best green credentials.
  • It is pretty easy and cheap to get around, although you will find their laidback attitude to timekeeping and scheduling (or perhaps lack of it) something to get used to!

The capital city, San José, is located in the central valley and is the only large city in the country. Bustling and cosmopolitan, it is the real face of Costa Rica. If you want to bypass reality and head straight to paradise then you may not want to linger in the urban capital, but if you want a flavour of real life in Central America, then explore the vibrant markets and nightlife of this city before you head for the beaches! 

  • To quote The Sound of Music ‘Climb Every Mountain’ - or at least visit one volcano! Volcano Arenal has been active since 1968 spouting glowing molten lava and occasionally spitting rocks meaning that by night this is a stunning, dramatic vision. Try a hike up the volcano if you are feeling fit!  From here head to La Fortuna - a nearby rural town with a real local feel despite the influx of outsiders. Also nearby are hot springs and glorious waterfalls if you fancy a swim to calm yourself down after the excitement of seeing Arenal.
  • Learn to surf in Playa Tamarindo and then party at the hottest beachside nightspots.
  • Learn Spanish so you can converse with the locals!
  • Chill out on the remote beaches at Montezuma.
  • Monteverde is the place to combine social and cultural history.  Lying between two forests, Monteverde is a little bit of civilisation in the middle of overwhelming natural beauty.  The home of Quaker settlers from the 1940s, different cultures live harmoniously together in this small community in the middle of Costa Rica. Spot wildlife in the Monteverde cloud forest or fly above the canopy hanging onto a zip line!
  • Manuel Antonio National Park has got it all – gorgeous beaches, beautiful ocean, nice restaurants and bars, not to mention all the wildlife in the National Park including the lazy and enigmatic sloth. It is also one of the best places to see monkeys from the black-and-white face Capuchin to the rare (and tiny) Squirrel Monkey – you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of these curious little fellows if you are willing to be patient.   You can also visit the Rainmaker Aerial Walkway and take a tour through the treetops of the rainforest in style!
  • Party Caribbean-style at Puerto Viejo.
  • There are so many adrenaline sports you’d be hard-pushed not to find something to test your nerves – hiking, kayaking, white water rafting through lush rainforests, whale watching, dolphin watching, fishing, surfing… the list goes on! 
  • Check out the beautiful Tortuguero National Park.  The turtle’s time may be running out as this majestic, ancient animal becomes more endangered, so seeing one of these rare creatures is a real honour.  Spend the night at Tortuguero park and witness turtles hatching at this well-known nesting ground. 

Costa Rican food is a hybrid of tropical foods and Latin-American foods. Fresh fruit, such as mangoes, are popular but so are beans, rice, sweet corn and many more types of food. Most dishes will be served with rice and beans and meat and seafood are widely available. Other often-used ingredients include cheese and tortillas. And don’t forget to try some of the famous local coffee!

Costa Rica lies just 10° north of the Equator and thus has a tropical climate, meaning that it’s warm year-round. The temperature is usually between 21 and 27°C, except at night up on the mountains where it is cooler. 

There are lots of influences on the weather here, notably the two coastal winds and the high mountains that rise up from the sea. This means that there are regional “micro” climates, where the weather can be quite different from that of an area relatively nearby.

Costa Rica’s seasons are defined by rainfall, rather than temperature or just simply by being called summer or winter. Basically, there are two seasons: the dry season from December to April, which is seen as summer by the locals, and the wet season, or ‘green season’ as the Tourism Ministry calls it, which is essentially Costa Rica’s winter, running from May to November. The ‘green season’ could be the perfect opportunity to travel to Costa Rica if you want to keep your budget low and beat the rush, although muddy tracks can hinder transportation at times.  June and July can get very busy.

Costa Rica is also sometimes affected by the Atlantic hurricane season from August to November, becoming windy and rainy. 

Although the weather is varied, any time of year can provide you with the perfect opportunity to up your levels of adventure in this fascinating country.

Visa

Visas may be required in order to enter or transit through certain countries depending on your passport nationality, your reason for travel and how long you intend to stay.

Visa, passport and entry rules are subject to change and you should check the most up-to-date information from the relevant embassy or visa specialist.

To make things easier we have teamed up with The Travel Visa Company who are one of the UK’s leading travel visa specialists. You can use their website, alongside embassy websites,  to find out the specific entry requirements for the countries you intend to travel to.

For a fee, their dedicated team of experts can also apply for visas on your behalf, taking away the hassle and streamlining the process for you if you wish. For more details on the services they provide please click here – The Travel Visa Company

Passport

Passports must be kept in good condition. Travellers with damaged passports may be refused entry at immigration. It is the responsibility of the traveller to ensure that all travel documents are in good condition before they travel. Most countries will also require at least 6 months of validity on your passport from the time you finish your trip.

Further Entry Requirements

Some countries will require proof of certain vaccines, such as yellow fever or covid, in order to gain entry. Please check with the relevant embassy or a visa specialist before travelling.

The official language is Spanish. We sell language schools as part of our programmes so don’t worry if your Spanish isn’t quite up to scratch there is always an opportunity to learn. 

120 V

Costa Rica follows the American system with the same plug type as the USA’s 2 or 3-pin flat head type. You will therefore need a universal plug adapter to use UK appliances.

The minimum sentence for drug trafficking in Costa Rica is 8 years imprisonment, so do not get involved in drugs of any kind during your stay.

We have selected what we believe to be the key points that you should be aware of when travelling in Costa Rica.

Gap 360 follows advice from the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and we recommend that you frequently check the FCDO for updated travel advice. You can find the website here: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/foreign-commonwealth-development-office

Crime

Crime in Costa Rica has been on the rise, with petty theft of passports and personal items the main problem. There have also been reported incidents of armed robberies or gang-related muggings. Do not carry or wear cash or valuables and if possible lock valuables in a hotel safe. Be vigilant, especially on beaches and buses.

Only exchange money in reputable or commercial outlets, don’t use street money-changers. Be vigilant around ATMs.

Avoid poorly lit or remote areas and only use official taxis, which are red with a triangular sticker and a plastic box on the roof which displays the name and number of the taxi company, or radio-dispatched taxis. Make sure you can see the driver’s ID clearly displayed and that your driver uses the meter. Unofficial taxis, known as ‘taxi piratas’ have been involved in violent incidents and theft so do not use them.

When travelling on buses, keep watch on your bags, particularly if using overhead compartments. Do not leave valuables in hire cares and only park in secure, well-lit busy areas. Some thieves have been known to slash tyres, offer to help change them and then steal from the car.

There have been a few reports of rape and other sexual offences. Never accept lifts from strangers and don’t leave drinks unattended in bars in case of ‘spiking’.

Transport/Travel

Conditions on main roads in Costa Rica are generally good, but heavy rains in the rainy season can cause landslides which block roads, especially between San José and Guapiles on the way to Limón and on the new San Jose/Caldera Highway. Road accidents are common and police strictly enforce speed limits. Criminals may cause deliberate collisions in order to steal or commit other crimes.

If visiting the jungle, go with an experienced local guide.

Water Sports and Swimming

White water rafting should only be done with an established company. Rip tides are common in Costa Rica, so take care when swimming from all beaches, especially as they are usually not protected by lifeguards.

Crocodiles have been regularly spotted along the Pacific Coast close to beaches which are popular with surfers (from Playa Azul down to Playa Esterillos) and there have been reports of attacks.

Entry and Departure Requirements

You may be refused entry into Costa Rica if you cannot produce evidence of return or onward travel. There is a departure tax of USD29 when leaving the country by air, payable by either cash or credit/debit card in dollars or local colones.

Natural Disasters

Costa Rica’s rainy season runs from May to November and heavy rains or hurricanes can cause landslides and flooding. Costa Rica is an earthquake zone and experiences regular tremors. The last major earthquake in the country was in September 2012 near the Pacific coastal area of Nicoya Peninsula and measured 7.6 on the Richter scale.

Costa Rica has 16 volcanoes, with some active (including Arenal and Turrialba), meaning there is always a possibility of volcanic eruptions. Volcanic areas have entry restrictions and when at risk of an eruption national parks will be closed to visitors.

Natural Disasters

Costa Rica’s rainy season runs from May to November and heavy rains or hurricanes can cause landslides and flooding. Costa Rica is an earthquake zone and experiences regular tremors. The last major earthquake in the country was in September 2012 near the Pacific coastal area of Nicoya Peninsula and measured 7.6 on the Richter scale.

Costa Rica has 16 volcanoes, with some active (including Arenal and Turrialba), meaning there is always a possibility of volcanic eruptions. Volcanic areas have entry restrictions and when at risk of an eruption national parks will be closed to visitors.

Health

You should be in touch with your GP around 8 weeks before you travel for vaccination or health advice.

Diarrhoea can be caused by contaminated food or water so we advise you drink bottled water.

Costa Rica has reported a sharp increase in cases of dengue since 2013.

A Yellow Fever vaccination is required for travellers who have passed through or visited countries with a yellow fever risk.

Related Articles

The Top 5 Things to Do in Costa Rica

Last updated: 12th Jul 2017

From the vibrancy of San Jose to the majesty of Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica is an epic country with loads to offer! But what can you actually DO over there? Check out our top recommendations for what to get up...

My First Week on the Costa Rica Adventure!

Last updated: 7th Sep 2015

A few days before I was set to jet off to Costa Rica, someone else on the trip, Ishah, emailed the group to say hi before we got to Central America. I emailed Ishah back and we soon figured we...

Getting Ready for my Costa Rica Adventure!

Last updated: 31st Jul 2015

First off, let me briefly introduce myself. My name is Lucy and I was fortunate enough to win a spot on the Costa Rica Adventure with Gap 360 this August. I figured that you only get one summer when you&rsquo...

Ten Reasons to Fall in Love with Costa Rica

Last updated: 16th Apr 2014

1. Small is beautiful Costa Rica is a compact country, but they say that the best things come in small packages and Costa Rica is proof in point. Bursting with stunning landscapes and natural beauty, Costa Rica is a sparkling Central...

Tom's Costa Rican Adventure

Last updated: 1st May 2013

Hi guys! Tom from Gap 360 here. Last month I made my way over to Costa Rica to check out our awesome projects, and guess what? I loved it! So what’s so great about Costa Rica?  Well...

The Caribbean Coast

Last updated: 24th Nov 2011

Palm trees, coconuts, reggae music, rice and beans and jerk chicken – yes indeed, I’ve been chilling on the Caribbean coast over the last week and I have to say it is absolutely beautiful. I’ve been...

Pura Vida en Costa Rica

Last updated: 17th Nov 2011

My last week in San Jose has been great fun and so diverse. After getting back to the city on Monday evening after my weekend away and settling back in with my host family, I head off super early Tuesday...