Your Guide to Costa Rica
Where to stay and what to do in Costa Rica.
With affordable accommodation, exceptional scenery, a beautiful coastline, and limitless adventure activities to choose from, Costa Rica is a traveler’s paradise! Though relatively small in size compared to many other countries, Costa Rica is jam-packed with things to do and see. Here’s the ultimate guide for what to see and do on your trip to this amazing country!
When to Go:
This depends on what you’re looking for. Dry season runs from late November to late April. This period sees the best weather, however, prices are higher and places more packed as it’s peak tourist season. The beginning of May is the start of rainy season and is my personal favorite time to go as prices have gone down and everything is greener. The rain is usually only a small afternoon shower if it even does rain.
Where to Go:
Being the country’s capital as well as its biggest city, it’s likely that your journey in Costa Rica will begin here. Though at first glance this city can appear busy and even rough, there are beautiful hidden gems throughout the city. Check out the impressive Teatro Nacional located right in the heart ofSan José or take a day trip to the Poás Volcano National Park, one of the country’s most visited national parks.
Where to Stay: Pension de la Cuesta, a cute and very quiet hostel located within walking distance of all the major attractions. You’ll appreciate the calm atmosphere after a long day of exploring this bustling city!
What to Eat: Alma de Café located in Teatro Nacional. This cafe not only serves delicious sandwiches, crêpes, and coffee, but is as beautiful as the theater itself.
*Tip: Most of the major sights of San José can be seen in a day or two, so don’t schedule too much time here as there’s a lot more to discover outside of the capital.
Three hours away from San José (and only a $5 bus ride!) lies one of the country’s most scenic cities located at the base of the breathtaking Arenal Volcano. Due to its great hiking opportunities, stunning views, hidden waterfalls, and fun hostels, La Fortuna was one of my favorite cities in all of Costa Rica!
Where to Stay: My favorite hostel in the entire world, Mayol Lodge. For only $10 a night you can have a private room and bathroom, a pool, free welcome drink, a weekly BBQ with the friendliest staff you could ask for, and a private jungle in the back where we spotted four iguanas, multiple tropical birds, and two otters within five minutes of arriving.
What to Eat: Rainforest Café. Located just one block from Mayol Lodge, this little cafe offers some especially delicious breakfast options. Try their banana pancakes along with their specialty drink the Mono Loco (Crazy Monkey) made with chocolate, banana, coffee, and cinnamon.
A quaint, hilly city filled with friendly locals, a multitude of ziplining options, an expansive cloud forest, as well as informative coffee plantation tours that explain the huge impact this product has had on the country’s development. If you came here to experience Costa Rica’s famous ziplining through the jungle this is without a doubt the best place to do it!
Where to Stay: Sleepers Sleep Cheaper Hostel. A very clean hostel run by an incredibly helpful family and located directly in the city center.
What to Eat: Tree House Restaurant and Cafe. Literally built around a giant tree, this place has excellent Latin American favorites along with favorites from home.
*Tip: If you’re heading here from La Fortuna, make sure to take the quickest and most scenic mode of transportation: the “Jeep-Boat-Jeep Tour” which takes you through winding mountain roads and across Lake Arenal with views that are guaranteed to take your breath away!
As you head south, palm trees, hammocks, warmer weather, and pipa fria stands (fresh coconut drinks) abound. After traveling what feels like endless, windy roads from the north you may start to wonder if the journey was even worth it. However, one glimpse at Manuel Antonio will immediately put any fears to rest. Some of the country’s best beaches and wildlife reside here, as well as a world-class national park. Ask any traveler to Costa Rica (and even the locals) and they’ll tell you Manuel Antonio is a must-see on any trip. In addition, nearby Jacó makes for a great day trip from here.
• Where to Stay: Hostel Vista Serena has some of the best views I’ve ever seen.
• What to Eat: El Gran Escape offers fresh seafood daily along with the best atmosphere.
-Uvita and Dominical:
Only twenty minutes apart, both towns are tiny but are some of Costa Rica’s best. Uvita being the gateway to Marino Ballena National Park where you can walk along the famous “whale’s tail” at low tide as well as sleep in one of a kind treehouses and jungle hostels. While in Dominical you’ll feel simultaneously in the quintessential Costa Rica as well as right at home due to its large population of American beach bums that have fallen so in love with this sleepy surfer town that they’ve never left. After seeing its misty, jungle beach I promise you won’t want to either!
• Where to Stay: Cascada Verde Hostel. Built like a tree house, this is one of the coolest hostels around. It also has a nice open deck up top, perfect for viewing sunsets and doing yoga!
• What to Eat: Tortilla Flats, located right on the beautiful beaches of Dominical is a favorite local hangout. I highly recommend their coconut encrusted mahi for dinner.
What to Do:
-Hike around Arenal Volcano. Head to the Arenal Observatory Lodge for the best views of this iconic volcano, as well as hikes to the famous La Fortuna waterfall and other smaller but just as stunning waterfalls.
-Zipline through a rainforest. This is one activity you definitely can’t miss in Costa Rica as it’s one of the best places in the world to do it! There are a plethora of options, between one of the fastest to the longest, it’s all a matter of preference. We went with Selvatura as it’s the only zipline to go through the actual cloud forest. Definitely go “superman style” to literally fly through the jungle like Superman. Though it looks terrifying at first, this was one of my best travel experiences!
–Nauyaca Waterfalls Horseback Riding Tours (Near Uvita). This was the highlight of our entire trip! Though it may seem a little pricey at $70, you not only get an exciting horseback tour through the beautiful countryside, a traditional Costa Rican breakfast at a local’s house as well as lunch on the way back, and access to two of the best waterfalls in the country!
-Try Batidos! Refreshing all-natural smoothies found everywhere in Costa Rica. Mixed with your choices of fresh fruit and either water or milk, these drinks are highly addicting! I drank one every chance I got and sometimes contemplate going on another trip to Costa Rica just so I can have one again!
–Surf (or learn to surf) some of the best waves in the world on the beaches of Playa Hermosa, Jacó, or Dominical.
Costa Rica is the true embodiment of “Pura Vida.” You’ll return from your trip here feeling refreshed and ready for anything after all of your adventures here. So if you’re looking for a fun getaway to try new experiences, and that also won’t break the bank, Costa Rica is ready for you! Check out Jenna Rice’s article, “Weekend Warrior: Costa Rica” for tips on what to pack and do on a weekend trip to this phenomenal country.
For more try: 16 Ways to Immerse Yourself in the Culture of Costa Rica