Costa Rica is a natural marvel—a relatively small country boasting four UNESCO Biosphere Reserves and 28 national parks. Travelers heading to this biodiverse wonderland can read on to have all your questions answered—including how to get around, what to eat, how much to tip, and more.

How do I get to Costa Rica?

Aerial view of Costa Rica
Aerial view of Costa Rica

Air travel is the quickest and easiest way to arrive in Costa Rica, as you can find direct flights from many cities in the world. These include New York, Newark, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Minn./St. Paul, Chicago, Charlotte N.C., Los Angeles, Denver, Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, London, Madrid, Zürich, and Toronto. Major airlines that offer direct flights include American, Alaska Airlines, JetBlue, Delta, United, British Airways, Lufthansa, Air France, Air Canada, Iberia, and SWISS.

There are two international airports in Costa Rica—Liberia and San José—with most non-stop flights arriving in the capital of San José. This is the major travel hub in the country and it makes for a good base of operations if you want to visit other regions during your stay. For example, you can take local flights from San José to either coast and all four corners of the country.

Do I need a visa?

Citizens of the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and most Latin American and European countries are entitled to stay in the country for up to 90 days with a valid passport. They must enter the country with at least US $300 and a departure ticket. Know that there is a departure tax of $29 upon leaving the airport.

Is Costa Rica a safe place for travelers?

Costa Rica is the safest country in Latin America and the World Health Organization has ranked its healthcare system as one of the top 40 in the world. Nevertheless, we recommend taking out travel insurance and following basic safety precautions such as storing your valuables in hotel safes. 

The biggest thing to watch out for is pickpockets in busy tourist hotspots like San José, so keep an eye on your personal belongings and don't carry excessive amounts of cash. In the unlikely event that you need to call for help, the international emergency number is 911.

If you're renting a car in Costa Rica, make sure you have a GPS system and brush up on the local traffic rules. Some roads can be poorly maintained, unpaved, and windy, so drive with care and only during daylight, as many roads aren't lit after dark. Park in secure lots and never leave valuables on display in your vehicle. Get more advice about driving in Costa Rica here

Rip tides are one of the biggest dangers in Costa Rica when it comes to water safety. Look for safety flags on beaches before swimming or surfing; yellow flags mean swim with caution, while red flags signal that swimming is prohibited. When hiking, stay on marked trails and don't approach wild animals; in fact, it's illegal to feed or take selfies with wild animals in Costa Rica. 

Can I bring my children?

La Paz Waterfall Gardens is perfect for kids (and adults)

You can and you should. Not only are Costa Ricans family-oriented as a people, but your kids will also love the nature activities and excursions available in the country. Some activities tailor-made for children and adolescents include surf lessons, river rafting, nature hikes, and more. The Sky Adventures theme park in Monteverde is a great example of fun for the entire family. The activities on hand at this cloud-forest theme park include suspension bridge walks, riding in a "sky tram," and zip-lining.

Then there are all those beautiful waterfalls and wildlife-spotting experiences you can enjoy when in Costa Rica. If you want to take the kids to one ideal spot that encompasses all of it, then head to La Paz Waterfall Gardens, located just outside San José. In this private ecological attraction, you'll find five waterfalls, hiking trails, and wildlife exhibits featuring reptiles, wildcats, and even a butterfly observatory. It's both educational and fun. 

Read more about Costa Rica for families here

I don't speak Spanish. Can I get around on my own?

Of course. Costa Rica's official language is Spanish, but because the country's main industry is tourism, you can expect English to be spoken at hotels and restaurants throughout the country, especially in the big cities. English is also common in many popular surf villages and coastal towns.

Having said that, we recommend brushing up on your Spanish a few weeks before arriving. Even learning some basic words and phrases will go a long way to helping you not only ingratiate yourself with the locals but also make it easier for you to get around. You may want to bring a Spanish / English phrasebook or download an app like Google Translate on your phone. 

How do I get around Costa Rica?

A zip-line is one travel option in Costa Rica

By shuttle service/private transfer

One popular and efficient alternative to renting a car is to travel around via shuttle service and private transfers. Shuttles are smaller than typical buses and will pick you up from your hotel and take you to your chosen destination. You'll spend much less on a shuttle than you will with a vehicle rental, and, overall, this is the preferred method of travel for visitors to Costa Rica.

If you don't want to share a vehicle, then you can always opt for a private transfer. A driver will meet you at your location and transfer you wherever you'd like to go. Depending on distance, this can cost anywhere from $40 to over $200. Expensive, yes, but it's still less than you would pay to rent a car for a week straight. 

By plane

If you have limited time and you want to see as much of Costa Rica as possible, then you'll want to travel by plane. Costa Rica once had two main domestic air carriers, Sansa and Nature Air. However, Nature Air services have been suspended and it's unclear when they might resume. Therefore you'll need to book domestic tickets with Sansa. This airline serves most major destinations in Costa Rica, including Tamarindo, Tortuguero National Park, Bahía Drake, Puerto Jiménez, Limón, Manuel Antonio, and more. Depending on the location, you can expect to pay around $80-$100 for a one-way ticket.

By car

A great way to see Costa Rica is by driving from one corner of the country to the other—just rent a car in San José and hit the road. It's relatively easy to drive around the country (roads and highways are generally well-maintained), and the flexibility inherent to road tripping is priceless. 

A mid-sized SUV here will likely run you around $50 per day. You may also be charged an "airport" or "concourse" tax of about 13%—avoid this by skipping the airport shuttle to the car rental office and not providing your flight number to the rental rep. Some areas of the country may require 4x4 capabilities (check with your specialist), and these vehicles will cost a bit more—but the peace of mind and ease of getting around will be worth every penny.

Keep in mind that some rental agencies in Costa Rica still use manual card imprinters (those handheld contraptions that make physical paper copies of credit card numbers). Because the numbers on new chip cards aren't raised, those old imprinters can't read them—check the agency's payment system in advance and plan accordingly.

On a final note, know that if you do rent a car in this country that it's crucial to be a confident driver. While the main highways are well-maintained, there are backroads and side routes of dubious accessibility. Many roads here are still unpaved, hence the recommendation to book a 4x4. Ensure you have a working GPS system in your vehicle, and consult your travel specialist for up-to-date road conditions.

Traveling with children

For those traveling with children, it's important to note that while child seats are usually provided, they may not always meet the safety standards you're comfortable with. Costa Rican laws don't require child seats for shuttles and private transfers considered as taxis, so many companies don't include them by default. We recommend bringing your own child seat, especially for long transfers, as it can be uncomfortable and unsafe for parents to hold their child on their lap for extended periods.

How big is Costa Rica?

In a word: tiny. At least when compared to other Latin American countries like Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, and Brazil. The country itself is less than 20,000 square miles, yet within this space, you'll find one of the most ecologically diverse nations in the world. Over 25% of this nation's total area is protected in the form of national parks and conservation regions. This allows the country's rainforests, cloud forests, tropical dry forests, and wetlands to thrive even despite the 1.7 million tourists that arrive here each year. 

Are there restrictions on where I can travel?

Because Arenal is an active volcano, you'll have to admire it from afar

The only restrictions on where you can travel within Costa Rica have to do with public safety. For example, it is prohibited for you to hike further than the base of the famous landmark Volcán Arenal, as it is still classified as an active volcano (the same hiking prohibitions apply in other active volcanoes throughout the country). Also, although the Osa Peninsula is open to the public, those planning on hiking into Corcovado National Park will need to go with a guide. Pre-booking a guided excursion into Corcovado has its benefits, including the arrangement of all required permits before embarking. 

How many days should I spend in Costa Rica?

It depends on your overall goals and how you like to travel. If you're considering a two-week holiday, rest assured that you'll be able to travel the length and breadth of the country and see its most iconic sites while visiting its most beautiful national parks. With one week, you can still enjoy many of Costa Rica's most popular destinations, especially if you fly from place to place. If you only have a few days or are on a short honeymoon, then you'll want to pick one or two places and enjoy them for as much time as you have. National parks such as Manuel Antonio, Corcovado, and Monteverde are great examples of single destinations to visit within the country.

Here's more on how many days to spend in Costa Rica

Plan your trip to Costa Rica
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Is Costa Rica expensive?

Costa Rica is the most expensive Central American country to visit, partly due to the country's 13% sales tax and additional 10% service charge in restaurants. For hotel rooms at mid-range accommodations, you can expect to pay over $100 per night. Eating out in a mid-range eatery can cost $10-$20 per person, while dining at sodas (local roadside diners) is much cheaper. You can pick up a platos del dia (daily special) at a soda for around $6. Here are some more examples of typical prices in Costa Rica: 

  • Taxi: $1.30 per mile on average
  • Local beer: $2.50
  • Average national park entry fee: $15
  • 50 oz (1.5 l) bottled water: $1.50

Another tip to save money on accommodations is to travel during Costa Rica's "green" season. This less-crowded season lasts from May through November, and during that time, you'll find discounts of 10%, 20%, and occasionally even 50% on hotel rooms.

What currency is used?

Costa Rican colónes

The currency in Costa Rica is the colón (CRC) but USD is also widely accepted throughout the country. At the time of writing, the exchange rate is 508 colónes to the dollar. Colónes can be tricky to get outside of Costa Rica, so exchange money at a bank when you arrive. It's always useful to carry some local currency, especially if you're traveling to remote areas. 

Are credit cards widely accepted?

Most of Costa Rica's towns and cities accept major credit cards. An exception to this rule is in the more remote national parks, such as Tortuguero, Corcovado, and the Osa Peninsula. Many parts of Osa only recently got electricity, so be aware that the infrastructure here is still developing. 

How much cash should I bring with me?

You can pay by card in most places in Costa Rica, but carrying a small amount of cash can be useful for shopping at local markets and tipping drivers and guides. ATMs are readily available in most places, including the airport when you arrive, in malls, and outside banks. The exception is in very remote destinations where there are fewer ATMs.

Is there a tipping culture in Costa Rica?

Feel free to tip in USD or CRC if you feel you've received good service in Costa Rica. Generally speaking, taxi fares can be rounded up to the nearest dollar, and you can tip $2-$5 for any tour, shuttle, or bus driver and $5-$10 per person for a private transfer.

When it comes to tour guides, it's customary to leave a tip based on the size of your tour. For example, on a group tour, you'll want to tip about $5 per person, while $15-$20 total is more appropriate for a private tour.

Be aware that restaurants are the exception to the general tipping culture in Costa Rica. They automatically add a 10% service charge and 13% sales tax to your bill. So, there's no need to tip further unless you had an exceptional experience.  

What will the weather be like? 

Costa Rica enjoys an average year-round temperature of around 80°F (26°C) and is generally hot on the coast, humid in the lowlands, and cool in the mountains. Even during the dry season, you can expect showers in the rainforests. Sea water temperatures fluctuate between 77-86°F (25-30°C), making Costa Rica perfect for swimming and watersports. Here's what to expect weather-wise, depending on when you're traveling to Costa Rica:

  • Mid-November to April: This is the dry season, with clear blue skies, plenty of sunshine, and the lowest rainfall levels. Expect great wildlife sightings and ideal beach weather, although it can be hot for hikes, and attractions will be more crowded.
  • May to August: The green season begins, bringing life to the landscape with afternoon rain and morning sunshine.
  • September to mid-November: This is the height of the rainy season, with moderate daily outbursts. Trails can be muddy, and some remote roads can become inaccessible. This season brings great surf on the Pacific Coast, lush scenery, and fewer tourists.

What should I pack?

Plan on beach weather

A good rule of thumb is to pack breathable clothing, sandals, and swimwear, as Costa Rica never really gets cold. In this tropical country, temperatures typically fluctuate from 79-84°F (26-29°C) throughout the year, depending on location. It often reaches 90°F (32°C) in the high season, so be sure to bring sunscreen and a hat. 

If you're visiting the cool, misty highland cloud forests around Monteverde, bring rain gear, layers for warmth, and a windbreaker. Mosquito repellent and rain gear are also essential if you're traveling during the green season—more on that here. Other useful items include a camera and binoculars for wildlife viewing. Find a complete guide on what to bring with our ultimate Costa Rica packing list.

Do I need to bring an electrical adapter/converter? 

Costa Rica uses the same voltage as North America—110 volts, 60 hz—and the plugs have two flat prongs. Take a look at your electronics and other plug-in devices to check for voltage compatibility.

What's the Internet like? 

Most hotels and some cafés and restaurants in Costa Rica have decent, free WiFi. However, it's not always very reliable, so we recommend buying a SIM card with data to maintain a reliable WiFi connection.

How do I buy a SIM card? 

If you don't already have a roaming package, the easiest way to use your phone in Costa Rica is to buy an eSIM before you arrive. First, you'll need to check whether your phone has the capability for an eSIM. You can find a comprehensive list of devices that support e-SIMS here, but generally speaking, XR/XS iPhone models, Google Pixel phones released since 2017, and some newer Samsung Galaxy phones have built-in eSIMs. You can buy your eSIM online; some of the top options include: 

If you can't get an eSIM, when you arrive in Costa Rica, ask your driver to stop at an official store so you can buy one. You'll need your passport and unlocked phone for this. For the best coverage, buy a SIM card from one of the country's three biggest providers: Kolbi ICE, Liberty, or Claro

What's the time zone for Costa Rica?

Costa Rica's time zone is the same as North America Central Standard Time, with no daylight savings.  

Is the water drinkable in Costa Rica?

The water is potable in most of the country. However, we recommend bottled water, especially in areas around the coast.

What is the food like?

Gallo pinto, Costa Rica's national dish

Traditional Costa Rican food is humble, with much of it originating from Afro-Caribbean culture. This is seen in the national dish of gallo pinto, a hearty mixture of black beans, rice, and eggs often served for breakfast. Seafood is popular, especially on the coast, from ceviche to red snapper and sea bass. For dessert, expect plenty of fresh fruit and sample locally-made chocolate.  

Locals typically eat in small, family-run sodas, which usually offer a set meal called a casado, with your choice of protein and a side of rice, beans, and salad. As a key tourist destination, you'll also find plenty of international cuisine in Costa Rica, from pizzerias and burger joints to Mexican and Asian cuisine, as well as a growing number of vegetarian and vegan options.  

Drinks in Costa Rica include batidos, also referred to as naturales or refrescos, which are the nation's equivalent of a smoothie, and local lagers like Imperial and Bavaria Gold. Coffee is a staple in Costa Rica, although most of its premium product is exported, so you'll likely be served lower-grade coffee in cafés.

How easy is it to travel in Costa Rica with dietary restrictions?

In resorts, tourist destinations, and cities like San José, you can find restaurants catering to most diets, from vegan to paleo and gluten-free. While meat and fish are extremely popular in Costa Rica, the country's staple diet of rice, beans, tortillas, tropical fruit, and fresh vegetables is suitable for vegetarians and vegans, as long as you make it clear that you want to omit meat or animal products. Learn some useful phrases such as:

  • Soy vegetariano (male) vegetariana (female): I’m vegetarian
  • Soy vegano/a: I'm vegan
  • Sin carne: without meat
  • Sin queso: without cheese
  • Sin huevo: without egg
  • Sin leche: without milk
  • Sin mantequilla: without butter

Top dishes for vegetarians and vegans include gallo pinto, casado (ordered without meat), sopa negra (black bean soup), tortillas, fried plantain, and chips with guacamole and mango salsa. Visit local markets to pick up fresh fruit, from passion fruit to mango, bananas, and pineapples. If you're gluten-free, use the phrases sin gluten (without gluten) and sin trigo (without wheat). 

Is Costa Rica suitable for LGBTQI+ travelers?

Costa Rica is Central America's top destination for LGBTQI+ travelers. In 2020, it became the first country in the region to legalize same-sex marriage, and penalties were introduced for hate crimes and discrimination based on sexual orientation. Recent executive orders, such as those passed in 2018, allow people to change their gender according to self-identification on IDs and official documents.

Large cities have the best LGBTQI+ scenes with welcoming bars, hotels, restaurants, and public spaces. While San José and Manuel Antonio are leading the way, other destinations like Liberia, Puntarenas, and Cartago also have growing LGBTQI+ scenes. If you're visiting in June, San José hosts a huge Pride parade; the country's president even became the first to march in the event in 2019.

Are solo female travelers safe in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica ranks relatively well for women travelers, according to the Solo Female Travelers Safety Index, which is produced using data from sources such as the Global Peace Index and US travel advisory ratings. Generally speaking, locals are respectful and helpful; stares and catcalling are the most common issues reported by female travelers. Petty crimes, such as luggage theft and pickpocketing, are also an issue.

As with traveling anywhere in the world, follow basic safety precautions such as not accepting drinks from strangers or walking alone at night, especially on beaches or places like downtown San José which have poor street lighting. Use official red taxis, which have yellow triangles on the door, and share your travel itinerary with family and friends. As a sign of cultural respect, cover your knees and shoulders when visiting religious sites.

Is Costa Rica accessible for travelers with disabilities?

Costa Rica can be challenging for travelers with disabilities. Although equality laws exist, few public transport, buildings, and restrooms are accessible, and the lack of proper sidewalks in most places can be particularly challenging. However, the good news is that most tourist hotels and resorts are designed to fully accommodate travelers with various disabilities.

In addition, many national parks have created accessible trails, including Arenal Volcano, Manuel Antonio, Tortuguero, Carara, and Paos Volcano. Thanks to local organizations and campaigns like Donatapa, there's also a growing number of accessible beaches in Costa Rica. Jaco was the first to become fully accessible, with ramps made from recycled plastics, restrooms, and even tailored surf lessons.  

Some museums in Costa Rica, including San José's Jade Museum and the National Museum of Costa Rica, have also been adapted for accessibility. Most tour companies can arrange boat trips and activities on request to suit your needs. For accessible adrenaline-pumping activities like zip lines, visit Sky Adventure Park in Arenal.

Are there any etiquette rules for Costa Rica?

Costa Ricans live by the philosophy of pura vida (pure life), a phrase you'll hear often during your travels that loosely symbolizes a laid-back, simple, and joyful outlook on life. As such, you'll likely be greeted with warmth by locals throughout the country, an attitude we recommend embracing on your trip. Often, this means relaxing into the slow pace of life and accepting that in tico (local) time, punctuality isn't a priority.

The country is also known for its eco-friendly credentials, with over 95% of its energy derived from renewable sources and vast swathes of its biodiverse landscape protected by national parks and reserves. It's illegal to disturb wildlife or the environment, so be mindful while visiting natural sites; don't stray off official paths, remove sand or shells from the beach, or approach wild animals. Never buy souvenirs made from sea coral or animal shells, skins, or furs.

As a predominately Catholic country, we recommend dressing conservatively, covering shoulders and knees, when visiting religious monuments and buildings. While beach attire is fine in resorts and by the sea, cover up in restaurants and urban environments. Learning a few Spanish phrases and greeting locals with a smile will make all the difference to your travels.