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Visiting Costa Rica: Our Holiday Guide

by Travelbag on 11 June 2019, 17:06PM

Costa Rica

Visiting Costa Rica is something everybody should do at least once in their lifetime. One of the world’s most biodiverse countries – and consistently ranked among the happiest – it’s an environmental treasure-trove that makes for an incredible tropical adventure. A pioneer in ecotourism and sustainable travel, Costa Rica has designated a quarter of its land protected territory. With a volcanic spine cloaked in misty rainforest, an extensive coastline dotted with world-class beaches, and a diverse array of flora and fauna, it’s hardly surprising that it’s becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination.

If you’re also thinking about visiting Costa Rica, you should check out our helpful holiday guide below which answers some of the most common questions about this vibrant country. Pura vida!

 

Where is Costa Rica?

Situated near the narrowest point of the Central American isthmus, Costa Rica is bordered by Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south. Despite being a tiny country that covers just 51,100 square kilometres (that’s less than half the size of England!), it boasts two beautiful coastlines – the Pacific coast on the west side and the Caribbean coast on the east. The capital of Costa Rica is San Jose, located in the mid-west of the Central Valley. Flights from the UK to Juan Santamaria International Airport take around 10 and a half hours and usually require one stop – although British Airways does fly direct from London Gatwick.

Sloth

 

When’s the best time to visit Costa Rica?

There isn’t really a right or wrong time to visit Costa Rica. The dry season is from December to April and, unsurprisingly, this is when most people choose to visit. Temperatures are warm and visitors can enjoy 10-12 hours of sunshine a day – except on the Caribbean coast, where there is a different weather pattern to the rest of the country.

The rainy season – or green season as it’s often called – falls between May and November, with rain heaviest in September and October. However, even in these months it’s rare that it will rain all day – showers typically occur for just a few hours in the afternoon. While this can wash out roads in rural areas, making travel more difficult, there are benefits to visiting Costa Rica at this time of year. Foliage is particularly lush, waterfalls are at their most intense, and tourist numbers have tapered off so you won’t have to contend with crowds. Plus, accommodation and flights are often cheaper, so you might be able to save a bob or two.

Just keep in mind that Costa Rica is a mountainous country, with varying altitudes, where microclimates predominate – so, whatever time of year you go, weather can be unpredictable and temperatures will fluctuate between locations.

Costa Rica Beach

 

Is Costa Rica safe to visit?

Most dangers posed in Costa Rica come not from people, but from nature. Many of the country’s idyllic beaches are prone to riptides, so swimmers should exercise caution before jumping in the water. Additionally, given that it is home to more than 500,000 animal and plant species, predatory and venomous wildlife can also present a threat – so, if you’re going on a wilderness hike through the jungle it’s a good idea to go with a guide, particularly if you’re going at night.

While serious crime is relatively rare in Costa Rica, petty theft is unfortunately not uncommon. It’s important to be vigilant and always safeguard your belongings, particularly on the beach and when travelling on public transport. If you hire a car, don’t leave expensive or important items locked inside. It’s advisable to leave any valuables you don’t absolutely need for your trip at home (like jewellery), and don’t leave anything lying around at your accommodation when you’re not there.

Hopefully your trip to Costa Rica will go without a hitch, but, when travelling anywhere abroad, it’s always sensible to take out travel insurance – you’ll be glad of it if you do happen to have something stolen or you suffer a medical emergency.  

Monteverde Cloud Forest

 

What is traditional Costa Rican food?

Costa Ricans excel at simple, home-style cooking, and there is something decidedly comforting about their cuisine. The national dish is gallo pinto – a mix of rice and beans (a standard pairing in this part of the world) served with eggs, cheese, plantains and natilla (that’s Costa Rican sour cream). You’ll probably have this high-energy dish at least once when visiting Costa Rica, usually at breakfast.

A popular lunch option is casado. Literally meaning ‘married’ in Spanish, this is almost like an individual sharing platter, with a variety of foods served together on one plate. Popular components include some kind of meat or fish, salad, plantains, local vegetables and – you guessed it – more rice and beans. Another classic is the tamale – corn dough, or masa, packaged inside a banana leaf and filled with anything from rice and potatoes to cheese, meat, vegetables, and even fruit. This is traditionally a Christmas dish, prepared and eaten by nearly all Costa Rican families, but nowadays it’s available all year round.

Costa Rica is also famed for its high-quality coffee – in fact it’s the only country in the world where it’s illegal to grow anything other than Arabica! Besides drinking copious amount of the stuff, you can learn more about how it’s produced by visiting one of the country’s fair trade and environmentally-conscious coffee plantations, most of which are located in the Central Valley.

Coffee

What are the best things to do in Costa Rica?

Whether you’re a nature lover, adrenaline junkie or aspiring beach bum, you’ll find no shortage of things to do when visiting Costa Rica. Located on the edge of the Pacific Rim's tectonic Ring of Fire, the country is home to more than 60 volcanoes – six of which are active – so a volcano hike should be on everyone’s to-do list. Towering over the fertile northern lowlands, perfectly symmetrical Arenal is one of the most popular. Accessed from the nearby town of La Fortuna, this was Costa Rica’s most active volcano up until 2010. While it hasn’t erupted for almost nine years, it’s still not possible to hike up the volcano itself – but a trek through Arenal Volcano National Park will take you across old lava fields and showcase Costa Rica’s diverse ecosystems. Other popular activities in the area include soaking in the natural hot springs, relaxing with a volcanic mud massage, abseiling down waterfalls, and zip-lining. A fantastic way to explore Costa Rica’s jungle canopy, the latter is a popular activity all over the country. Another great place to give it a go is at the ethereal Monteverde cloud forest, which covers some 4,500 hectares and is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna.

The whole country offers incredible wildlife-spotting opportunities – probably amongst the best on the planet. Its menagerie includes crocodiles, toucans, capuchins, howler monkeys, the elusive Baird’s tapir, more than 50 types of hummingbird and, of course, the languid sloth. For a truly unique experience, head to Tortuguero National Park in Limón Province. Take a guided night tour between the months of March and October and you’ll witness turtles emerging from the water and laying their eggs on the secluded black-sand beach. Thrill seekers visiting this region might also enjoy white water rafting on the coursing Pacuare River, where you’ll pass through lush rainforest, cascading waterfalls and class three and four rapids.

Those looking for a more relaxing break should check out Costa Rica’s beaches – with nearly 800 miles of coastline, there are many spectacular spots to choose from. The lively province of Guanacaste, in the far northwest of the country, is particularly good for swimming, snorkelling and surfing – or simply lying on the sand and sunbathing.

Turtle

 

Ready to start planning your Costa Rican adventure? Check out our amazing tours – or, alternatively, learn where else you should consider visiting for an amazing wildlife encounter.


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