Costa Rica Travel Guide: Top Things to Do

Saturday, April 25, 2020

If you’re looking for a relatively affordable tropical getaway, Costa Rica is a destination I would highly recommend! Food, places to stay and excursions within the country are relatively inexpensive. I was fortunate to travel to Costa Rica in high school with Spanish students and teachers for a two week study abroad trip. We traveled around the country for the first week and stayed with a host family for the second week. Even though the country is small, there are so many different things to do!


Shop at Central Market (Mercado Central) in San Jose

This was one of the first places I visited in Costa Rica. It is one of the oldest landmarks in San Jose. The market is full of cheap and local foods, especially fruit! We sipped on coconut water from real coconuts. You can also pick up some souvenirs at the Central Market if you need to but there will be plenty of places to purchase keepsakes during your visit.


Visit the Arenal Volcano

The Arenal Volcano should be at the top of your must-see list and will be hard to miss. It entered a dormant stage in 2010 so now is the perfect time to see and even hike up the volcano without the risk of an eruption. The volcano itself is symmetrical, which makes for great photos. There are tons of outdoor activities to enjoy in the Arenal area, including hiking, Lake Arenal and the nearby La Fortuna waterfall.

Relax at Hot Springs

There are a ton of natural hot springs destinations around the volcano. We visited Eco Termales, which is home to four pools and owned by a local family. They also limit the number of guests to maximise relaxation and privacy. Treat yourself to a little luxury and soak in the naturally headed springs. This is the perfect way to unwind after a day of adventure.


Trek down to La Fortuna Waterfall

The hike to La Fortuna is no joke but it’s worth every step… literally 480 steps to the pool. Swimming at the base of the waterfall was so fun and refreshing. The town of La Fortuna is small but home to lots of activities, like horseback riding, rafting and canopy tours. There’s also plenty of places to shop and eat as the town is at the base of the Arenal Volcano and a popular destination.

Hike at Monteverde Reserve

The Monteverde region is home to an incredibly diverse wildlife population. The cloud forests were once threatened by farmers expanding but the nature reserve was created to protect the area. There are a few different trails to check out and try to spot the famously elusive quetzal. Be sure to use a bathroom at the entrance to the nature reserve because there are none on the trails. You’ll see impressive tropical plants and waterfalls on your trip.

Zip line through Monteverde

I like to think I have a healthy fear of heights but zip-lining was the highlight of my trip. We got our adrenaline going with Sky Trek Monteverde. After a quick safety demonstration and trial run of the zip-line, you take a tram up the mountain. There are seven different cables to ride to make your way back down. Some of them seem to disappear into the clouds as you start your zip-line and the views are unmatched. Pro-tip: wear your hair up so you can tuck it all inside your helmet.

Swim at Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio is a coastal town home to beautiful beaches. It’s one of the most popular destinations to visit in Costa Rica and you’ll see why. There are places to surf, snorkel or just relax in the sand. Don’t forget your sunscreen! I got a pretty nasty sunburn here. You’re closer to the equator and the sun is that much more powerful.


Visit Manuel Antonio National Park

The national park includes two popular beaches and several trails to hike. You’ll probably run into some wildlife inside the park, too. Just don’t feed them! We saw a sloth (perezoso) up in the trees and a couple monkeys. You can also find an adventure like zip-lining, a boat tour, scuba diving and jet ski around Manuel Antonio.

Costa Rica Travel Guide: Frequently Asked Questions

When is the best time to travel to Costa Rica?

Unlike the typical seasons of fall/winter/spring/summer, Costa Rica has just two: dry and rainy. You’ll most likely want to visit during the dry season (mid-November to April) but there are plenty of ways to enjoy the rainforest during the rainy season.

What kind of food do Costa Ricans eat?

I hope you like beans and rice! These are major Costa Rican staples and Gallo Pinto is served with almost every meal. You’ll also find plenty of fresh fruit grown in this tropical country.

Do I need to speak Spanish to travel to Costa Rica?

I would recommend learning some basic Spanish before you go to Costa Rica. Their economy is very tourism-driven so you’ll find most things in English but the locals always appreciate the extra effort.
Here's a few key phrases you may want to memorize:
  • Do you speak English? | ¿Hablas inglés?
  • Where's the bathroom? | ¿Dónde está el baño?
  • How much does it cost? | ¿Cuánto vale? 
  • Can you help me? | ¿Me podría ayudar?
  • Good Morning | Buenos días
  • Good Afternoon | Buenos tardes
  • Thank you | Gracias
  • No worries/great/awesome | ¡Pura Vida! (this is a common saying specific to Costa Rica!)

Do I need to exchange money?

It is actually incredibly common to find places in Costa Rica that accept U.S. dollars. If you are staying in a popular tourist area, then you may not need to take out any Costa Rican colónes. I would recommend getting some local money just in case. You may also want local money to leave tips. The exchange rate fluctuates between 500 to 550 colónes to 1 U.S. dollar.

If you have travelled to Costa Rica, I'd love to hear about your experience in the comments! 


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