Imagine monkeys chattering in a tropical rainforest, toucans and scarlet macaws swooping in a colourful whirl around you. Holidays in Costa Rica are all about its bountiful natural wonders and biodiversity. We love getting a birds-eye view of the verdant rainforest canopy from an aerial tram or a zipline, soaring above the trees as we watch the scenery below. From up high you will see why enchanting Costa Rica is the eco-tourism capital of the world.
One of the most active volcanoes in the world, a hike or horseback ride to Arenal Volcano is highly rewarding. Larger eruptions happen every three to four years but you will be able to see small eruptions every 30 minutes, delivering an incredible show of spewing lava and rock. Make sure to visit the nearby Tabacón Hot Springs. This natural hot springs has mineral-rich waters and flowing waterfalls set amid lush tropical foliage and colourful orchids. Next door the Grand Spa offers volcanic mud wraps, meditation trails, and coconut and coffee exfoliations.
Costa Rica is filled with a diverse array of picturesque cities and towns. Visit San Jose, Central America's most cosmopolitan city and the country's capital, and experience the 'real' Costa Rica. Here you will see all the makings of a modern city: soaring offices, apartment building blocks, fantastic nightlife, and museums. Or head to Sarchi to shop for beautiful handicrafts made by the locals. If you are looking for a laid-back vibe close to the sea, head to the Caribbean atmosphere of Puerto Viejo de Limon.
National Geographic was not exaggerating when it called Corcovado National Park the 'most biologically intense place on Earth.' You will see all four monkey species (howler, squirrel, spider, and white-faced capuchin), two crocodile species, jaguars, baird's tapir, sloths, giant anteaters, scarlet macaws, and toucans. And that is only the start of the list. Explore the natural rock formations, waterfalls, beaches, and rivers in the rainforest and experience what Costa Rica is all about.
The mountains, rivers, and copious rainfall of Costa Rica combine to make for a thrilling and entertaining white water rafting experience. From the turbulent waters of the lower Reventazon to the meandering curves of the Corobici, you can take your pick of the thrill level you want to experience on Costa Rica's rivers.
The sounds of reggae fill the streets in this dynamic village. Located on Costa Rica's Caribbean coastline, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca offers something for everyone amid a laid-back, fun-loving atmosphere. Coconut tree-lined Cocles Beach has great surfing, venture inland to explore the biodiversity amid the rainforest, or sample the delights of Caribbean cooking at the array of restaurants. For a truly unique experience head to the north-western end of the village for the black sand beach of Playa Negra.
There are a number of carriers to offering flights to Costa Rica from the UK.
Direct Carriers: Thomson Airways offer flights to Liberia Costa Rica from the UK (starts on the 2nd of November 2015). British Airways are to also offer a direct service into San Jose as of the 4th of May 2016.
Indirect Carriers: United Airlines, Delta Airlines, Air Canada and Iberia all offer flights to Costa Rica from the UK via the USA, Canada and Spain.
Departure Tax: An international departure tax of USD28 must be paid at Liberia and San Jose? Airports.
None for British citizens
The official currency in Costa Rica is the Colón (plural Colones). Costa Rica has an open currency, so you can exchange your UK Pounds before departing for your holiday in Costa Rica.
There are two good options for exchanging money for your Costa Rican holiday. The first is to use your debit or credit card to withdraw money from a cash machine after you arrive. The other option is to change your UK Pounds to US Dollars or Costa Rican Colones before you leave (check for the best exchange rate). Almost all businesses in Costa Rica accept US Dollars and give colones as change. Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted throughout Costa Rica.
Costa Rica does not have a tipping culture, although giving a bit extra for good service is always welcomed. Bars, restaurants, and coffee shops include a 10 percent service charge, which is not the same as a tip. Taxi drivers do not expect a tip but leave 200 to 300 Costa Rican Colones if they helped you with directions. Tip about 200 Costa Rican Colones per drink for bartenders and about 5,000 Costa Rican Colones for your waiter.
April, May, June, September, and October
No specific vaccinations required
Although Costa Rica may be a small country, there are an awful lot of weather patterns here. The highlands are cold, San Jose and Central Valley have an 'eternal spring', the cloud forest is cool and misty, and the Caribbean and Pacific costs are hot throughout the year. What you pack for your holiday to Costa Rica will depend on when and where you are going.
Lightweight cotton clothes;
Trousers to cover your legs in the rainforests;
Umbrella or rain poncho in the rainy season;
Converter and adapter (Costa Rica has the same power circuits as the USA
120 volts at 60 hertz);
Jacket if you are going to the mountains or the open ocean;
Sunscreen and hat to protect you from the sun;
Binoculars for viewing wildlife;
Beach sandals and trainers;
Swimming suits and sarong or breach cover-up;
On your holiday in Costa Rica you will find the cuisine simple but wholesome, a savoury blend of garlic and herbs lacking in the spiciness often associated with Latin American countries. The main dish is rice and beans and it is served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Along the Caribbean coastline the cuisine has been heavily influenced by Jamaica and other Caribbean nations. These regions use coconut milk and coconut cream in their dishes, including rice and beans.
This is Costa Rica’s national dish and you will find it (and eat it) just about everywhere on your holiday in Costa Rica. Black beans are simmered with onions, sweet peppers, and cilantro and mixed with rice. For breakfast it is served with eggs, tortillas, and natilla (a type of Costa Rican sour cream) and for lunch or dinner it is served with meat or fish, fried plantains, and a salad of carrot, tomatoes and cabbage.
You will often be served flavourful stews for dinner on your Costa Rican holiday. A popular stew is olla de carne, a rich stew made with chunks of beef, potatoes, carrots, plantains, yucca, and chayote (vegetable pear). Sample hearty sopa de mondogo, a fish stew made with tripe and vegetables; a delicious corn stew called guiso de maíz; or the traditional Costa Rican stew, sopa negra, which is made with black beans.
This popular boca (appetiser) is served in most restaurants and bars. The fish is marinated in citrus juices with herbs and diced vegetables and served raw. The most popular type of fish used for ceviche is corvine (white sea bass). It is marinated with garlic, hot pepper, garlic, onion, and celery. If you do not fancy fish, try the green mango ceviche.
Costa Ricans love their street food and you will find it on street corners, in markets, and at outdoor festivals. This is the best way to sample some of the steaming delights of Costa Rican cuisine. Be careful to order street food from vendors whose food is clean, fresh, and cooked right in front of you.
Mouth watering tamales are boiled plantain leaves stuffed with a mix of corn meal, rice, meat, beans, and vegetables. Follow your nose to the nearest farmer’s market or street vendor to sample these delicious treats.
Empanadas fit into the class of ‘fried stuff with cheese’. And we love it. These fried dough balls are stuffed with cheese, beans, potatoes, or chicken and doused with hot sauce.
Cool off from the hot sun with a pipa (young coconut). Street vendors are available just about everywhere with a machete to chop the top off these green coconuts, pop a straw through the flesh, and hand it to you to drink the sweet, clear liquid.
Nothing is more refreshing during a sunny day than the fresh, tropical fruit of Costa Rica. Street vendors sell fresh fruit from street carts just about everywhere here. The fruit is served plain or as a refresco, a blended drink. Try tropical favourites including fresh mangos, papayas, watermelon, passion fruit, and pineapples, but also be sure to sample some of the local fruits like marañon (a curious fruit whose seed is the cashew) or the manzana de agua (a deep red, pear-shaped fruit).
While generally less expensive than the USA or Europe, Costa Rican holidays are quite a lot higher than other Central American countries. Many prices are listed in US Dollars and are inflated for tourists. The average cost of a moderate meal is between 15 and 25 US Dollars, although you can pay much less than 10 US Dollars if you buy street food or eat at sodas (small, family-run restaurants). A cup of coffee costs one to 1.50 US Dollars and a bottle of beer costs about the same. You can expect to pay 45 to 90 US Dollars for a double room on your holiday in Costa Rica.
Most people in Costa Rica wear modern-style clothing like the USA and Europe. However, special occasions see Costa Ricans don the bright traditional clothing of the past. Traditional costumes you might see on holiday in Costa Rica depend mostly on the region you are visiting. Typically, however, women's dresses have thick ruffles overflowing over the shoulders, are brightly coloured (red, blue, and yellow are popular) and extend to the ankles. A bright red cummerbund is worn around the waist. Men wear simple costumes of tan or blue trousers, a white button-down shirt, and a red cummerbund around the waist.
The Costa Rican culture is unique and stems from the indigenous people who have lived here for centuries. Locally, Costa Ricans are called ticos, and they are a warm, hospital people who are welcoming and helpful.
While people here are known for being laid back and friendly, there are a few things you should know before you go on holiday to Costa Rica:
• Ticos appreciate politeness above all else. You should say please and thank you at every opportunity.
• Greet people with a handshake.
• Shorts should be reserved for the beach.
• Grooming is a reflection of credibility in Costa Rica. Ticos take pride in their appearance and dress well.
• People in Costa Rica don’t like saying no. Instead they say maybe. This is their way of not hurting a person’s feelings. Keep this in mind in case ‘maybe’ turns out to be ‘no’.
• Costa Ricans avoid confrontation whenever possible and it is considered very impolite to raise your voice in anger.
• There is a totally different timeline in Costa Rica than what you might expect in the UK. La hora tica (Tico time) sees locals arriving at least 30 minutes late to almost everything.
• Putting your feet on furniture is considered extremely rude.
• You should avoid being excessively drunk in public.
Costa Rica's volcanoes, mountains, jungles, waterfalls, and pristine rain forests are home to a rich and varied array of wildlife. In fact, Costa Rica has the highest density of biodiversity in the world and the wealth of wildlife is the reason many want to go on holiday to Costa Rica. Crammed into the relatively small land mass are a mind-boggling 615 species that make Costa Rica their home. Your holiday to Costa Rica will almost undoubtedly have some form of eco-tourism; twenty-five percent of Costa Rica is dedicated to wildlife reserves and national parks.
There are four species of sea turtles in Costa Rica—leatherbacks, green turtles, hawksbills, and olive ridley turtles. You can see turtles nesting on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. They nest late at night between July and November and hatchlings also come out late at night. One of the best places to see sea turtles nesting is at Ostional Wildlife Refuge, just north of Nosara. On the Pacific coast, Finca Baru Wildlife Refuge is a nesting site for olive ridley turtles or you can see Atlantic green sea turtles nesting in famous Tortuguero National Park.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Imagine seeing the strikingly colourful quetzal (Costa Rica’s national bird), 30 different species of hummingbirds, jaguars, and Barid’s tapir. Wandering through the misty oasis of Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve you will come face to face with nature. The brilliant green forest canopy is home to a rich array of wildlife, as well as is home to 400 types of orchids. The reserve also has bat jungles, snake zoos, frog ponds, and butterfly gardens.
Bastimentos Marine Park
As the name indicates, this marine park is under water. The main parts of the park are centred around the Cayos Zapatillas, two small islands that have stunning snorkelling and scuba diving among coral gardens, deep canyons, and underwater caves. On the north coast the Laguna de Bastimentos is home to caimans, crocodiles, and freshwater turtles. Playa Larga is home to four species of endangered turtles.
Manuel Antonio National Park
This park was the first major eco-tourist destination and today is still one of Costa Rica’s most popular. Look to the skies and you will see a slow-moving sloth camouflaged in the trees; the beaches are filled with turtles and colourful fish; playful howler, white-faced, and squirrel monkeys swing from branch to branch.
This beautiful rainforest reserve protects 300 species of birds and is the ideal destination for the avid bird watcher. If you look to the skies you will see birds such as royal flycatchers, white-necked puffbirds, snowy contingas, and sunbitterns. Hike more than five miles of trails to see the wildlife, including 50 species of reptiles, 43 species of amphibians, and 95 species of mammals, and traverse the suspension bridge across the Sarapiqui River for a treetop view of the wildlife scuttling below.