Updated: Mar 23
Costa Rica is a place that I really want to visit someday. I want to preface this post with a note that I have collaborated with friends who have visited or live in Costa Rica + did my own extensive research + spoke to many of the businesses mentioned to help write this post. Thank you (you know who you are) for your time, suggestions + feedback!
Costa Rica is a breathtaking natural wonder. In addition to world-class beaches, it has some of the most bio-diverse ecosystems on earth. With 28 diverse protected areas (25% of the country), you can national park hop for weeks here + still not see them all. There is truly something here for everyone!
If slumbering sloths, majestic scarlet macaws, tree frogs as pretty as they are poisonous + thousands of nesting sea turtles are your thing, then you're in luck! If you're into volcanoes, well....Costa Rica has some of the world's most active ones in the world!
When To VISIT
September - The dry season + also the best time for clear Caribbean waters to snorkel in + visit volcanoes + cloud forests.
January - For the best cultural events, visit during the first 2 weeks of January for Palmares (basically Carnival meets rodeo meets music festival) or Easter week. As a Catholic country, many of Costa Rica's biggest holidays correspond with the Church's.
November - April (Summer) - Considered their dry season. It can be a bit rainy on occasion, but downpours don't last all day.
May - November (Winter) - Considered their wet/green season. However, things are slightly less predictable on the Caribbean coast which gets more rain. On the flipside, it does give you an opportunity to take advantage of the lower rates + avoid crowds during this time of the year.
Whatever month you do visit, you can always watch sea turtles either nest or hatch (both happen year-round), go zip-lining (they do it rain or shine) + learn how to surf (waves are always good)!
Things To KNOW
English is spoken + understood in most tourist areas. Costa Rican currency is called, colon (CRC) but the U.S. dollar is accepted virtually everywhere. Tipping isn't greatly encouraged; however, it's greatly appreciated. Before tipping, look to see if the establishment already included a tip or "service charge," usually 10%, on your receipt.
Buses are the best form of public transportation but if that's not your thing, cabs can be a budget-friendly way of getting around. Costa Rica's official taxis are red. You can tell they're authorized + licensed by the yellow triangle on the car's doors. Uber has been operating in Costa Rica for years; however, it's mostly limited to cities + tourist hotspots.
If you're taking a taxi from the airport, however, look for the orange cars. These taxis are the only cabs authorized + licensed for airport pickups.
Where To STAY
Si Como No Resort + Spa - This 40 room, very private hotel was opened by a former Hollywood producer. Built into a hillside in national parkland, Si Como No means, "Yes, Why Not?" There are views from every suite.
Hotel Parador - Located in Punta Quepos, near Manuel Antonio. Hotel Parador is built on a peninsula overlooking the sea. It is a hacienda style hotel with about 60 rooms with views + porches + has a great infinity pool!
Hotel Makanda By The Sea - An adults only resort where you can stay in a villa or studio.
Discovery Beach House - Owned by wildlife photographers, DBH is a beautifully decorated (with personal art + photos from around the world) 3 bedroom, 4 bathroom rental property with direct oceanfront access. It's within walking distance of Manuel Antonio National Park. Housekeepers + a private chef are available for a seperate fee.
Things To DO
Manuel Antonio National Park - Ask for Alberto "Berto" Zuniga as your guide! Alberto is a local who also speaks perfect English + is super funny + knowledgeable. A 3 hour tour will run you about $35 per person.
Where To STAY
Hacienda AltaGracia - An Auberge property + holistic well-being resort in the foothill mountains of Talamanca Mountains, home to The Well a holistic spa.
Hotel Alta Las Palomas - An exclusive 23 room boutique hotel where rooms have balconies with expansive views of the valley + mountains. Be sure to eat at the hotel's restaurant, La Luz. Do a half day tour of Irazu + check out volcanoes + rainforests! As for beaches, the weather is drier on the Pacific side.
Vida Mía Healing Center & Spa - One of the best places to indulge is at The Retreat just outside of San José. It sits atop a "high vibrational crystal mountain" + was named the "Best Spa in the Americas."
Costa Rica Marriott Hotel Hacienda Belen - A 16th century colonial hacienda style hotel built within a 30 acre working coffee plantation. There are about 250 rooms, most with balconies with valley + mountain views, 3 restaurants, several pools + nightly entertainment. Just minutes from Santa Maria Airport.
Tree House Lodge - From luxury tree houses to rainforest hideaways, spend the night in a stunning, elevated eco-lodge! This family-owned eco-lodge on the features unique accommodations ranging from suites on stilts to 2 bedroom houses with flame heated hot tubs + even an upcycled 1980s-era school bus! The property sits on 10 oceanfront acres + its botanical garden includes more than 50 different types of palm trees. Several restaurants are within walking distance. There's a bit of a catch however, for this slice of paradise... it's about 2 - 2.5 hours from the San Jose Airport or 4 hours from the Liberia Airport.
Nantipa (Nantipa Beach Resort) - A boutique luxury beachfront hotel that was named 2021 Travelers' Choice Best of the Best. Located in the heart of Santa Teresa on the Nicoya Peninsula the resort offers a barefoot, boho vibe + a yummy high-end restaurant.
Where To EAT
Sano Banano (translation: Healthy Banana) - Serving breakfast, lunch + dinner, this open air restaurant has both Costa Rican + American cuisine. Sit in the back patio or front porch overlooking Montezuma's lively main street. Be sure to save room for their homemade artisan chocolates!
El Tigre Vestido - Part of the Finca Rosa Blanca boutique hotel, this spot is open for breakfast, lunch + dinner (reservations recommended). Be sure to try their huevos a caballo, slow-braised tamarind short ribs + save room for their carrot macadamia cake!
Things To DO
Selvatura Park - Take an epic zipline canopy tour where you can see the rainforest as the birds do! Also located in the cloud forest in Monteverde, there are nearly 2 miles of treetop walkways people of all ages can explore. If extreme heights are not your thing, you can enjoy the Monteverde Nature Center, Hummingbird + Butterfly Gardens
Municipal Handicraft Market - Most of the handicrafts are made with Costa Rica's most sought-after raw materials. This market brings out the best craftsmen + artists in the country who come to sell everything from colorful masks, folk art + carved wood items to coffee makers, furniture, paintings + hammocks.
Britt Coffee La Casita Factory Store - You will notice that Britt coffee + chocolate is sold everywhere in Costa Rica; however, you'll find the biggest selection + best shipping options at this factory store. It's part of the Britt Coffee Tour just outside of San José, but you don't have to be on the tour to take advantage of the bargain prices here!
Sarchi - Shop 'til you drop as Sarchi boasts more than 200 furniture factories + stores. It's Costa Rica's woodworking capital + the ideal place to find everything from small hand-carved bowls to ornate beds.
Caribeans Coffee & Chocolate - Try the bean-to-bar sweets made onsite with organic locally grown cacao. Each purchase helps provide local farmers with living wages. Check out some of the inspired names of the chocolates below!
Be sure to also visit: Museum of Costa Rican Art, The Museum of Contemporary Art & Design (MADC) + the Children's Museum.
Where To STAY
Las Catalinas - An exclusive privately owned + managed resort developed in 2006 along the shores of the Pacific Ocean. The objective was to create a compact, car-free + fully walkable resort. The resort consists of houses, shops, restaurants, small hotels + inns, plazas, parks + recreational facilities. On one side, the town is embraced by 1,000+ acres of tropical dry forest, with spectacular hills + valleys that afford extensive hiking + biking. On the other, two of the finest beaches in Costa Rica offer great swimming, stand-up paddle-boarding, kayaking, boogie-boarding, + snorkeling!
Casa Chameleon at Las Catalinas (Adults only) - a secluded paradise where adventurous moments meet serene comfort. Choose from many handcrafted experiences or sit back + soak in the sun all day from your private pool villa… a long list of extraordinary memories awaits you here!
Santarena Hotel in Las Catalinas (Family friendly) - An homage to the old mansions of the great coastal cities of Havana + Cartagena, a traditional gem where sun-kissed days revolve around blossoming courtyards + lounging on terraces with marveling picturesque archways surrounded by lush greenery + constant views of the sky. The views from rooftop here are incomparable, especially when it is paired with a 35-square-meter pool!
Harmony Hotel - This hotel located in Nosara in Guanacaste has a restaurant, juice bar + healing center.
Tierra Magnifica - A luxury boutique hotel within an idyllic oceanside jungle with views of Nosara's world class beaches, hiking trails, spa, restaurant, open air yoga classes + pool.
W Costa Rica – Reserva Conchal - Rooms here run the gamut from traditional queens with balconies + ocean views to treehouse suites with private plunge pools. The property has a full-service spa, 18-hole golf course, beach club, adults' + kids' pools + 4 restaurants to choose from.
ORIGINS Lodge - Located in Costa Rica's northern cloud forest, this is where extravagance meets eco-lodge on this remote estate in the mountains. Each 1,000-square-foot villa features handcrafted canopy beds, terraces with fire-heated baths, + sweeping volcano views. Michelin-starred chef Jean-Luc L'Hourre is at the helm of ORIGINS Lodge on-site restaurant. It's a 2 hour drive from Liberia Airport.
Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica - Located on the Peninsula Papagayo (considered Costa Rica's "Gold Coast") Enjoy nature without borders in a playground full of transformational experiences! Stay in a luxury open concept hilltop villa with private pool. Enjoy pro-level tennis courts, kids club + nightly special events!
Las Ventanas (Ventanas de Playa Grande) - A 380-acre ocean view private community which homes for sale or to rent along the breathtaking Pacific Coast, straddling El Cerro Almendro between two of Costa Rica's most famous beaches: Playa Grande + Playa Conchal.
Where To EAT
Pots & Bowls at Las Catalinas - A restaurant with healthy, simple + delicious food to be enjoyed indoors or al fresco. Its balanced menu is thoughtfully adapted to many different dietary restrictions + with a big focus on homemade + using fresh produce from Costa Rican vendors.
Copper & Stone Gourmet Market (within Las Catalinas) - Grocery store, deli, coffee, wine.
Surf Box - A cozy little restaurant serving up all the best après-surf goodies! Order their hulking breakfast burrito + tropical tacos with grilled shrimp + mango for lunch!
Lola's (Playa Avellana) - Loved by locals, the secret is out on Lola's fantastic staff serving top-notch organic, fresh fare in a beautiful open-air beachfront setting.
Destiny Cafe + Restaurant - Located in La Negra Surf Hotel + offers a delicious, diverse + healthy brunch menu with vegetarian, vegan, keto + gluten-free options. An awesome all day brunch spot where you can find something for all dietary needs!
La Luna Nosara - Experience the beautiful beach scenes of Playa Pelada during your visit to La Luna Restaurant while sipping on your favorite beverage + great gourmet Costa Rican cuisine!
El Mercadito - An upscale outdoor food court where diners can find everything from gourmet pizza to traditional arepas + make-your-own poke bowls. If you can't decide what type of food you're in the mood for, this is the place! You will find Italian, Colombian + American cuisine. Fun fact: the bar at the center is made out of an old ship!
Things To DO
Nicoya Peninsula - Northwest coast. Hard-core surfing. The Nicoya Peninsula is on Costa Rica's Pacific coast. It comprises northern Guanacaste Province and southern Puntarenas Province. The area's surf beaches include Playa Santa Teresa and Playa Mal País in the south, and Playa Grande, in Las Baulas Marine National Park, in the north. Leatherback turtles nest and hatch at Playa Grande. Olive ridley turtles arrive farther south at Ostional National Wildlife Refuge.
Nosara + Samara - 1 1/2 south of Playa Avellanas. Visit the resort-like towns of Nosara + Samara which attracts a young, hip crowd. Nosara's main beach is called Playa Guiones.
Tamarindo - One of the best places to learn or practice is in Tamarindo, where there's always surf + it's clear Iguana Surf's English-speaking instructors are as passionate about teaching as they are pipelines. This resort-like town is a great base for surfers who want to explore all the local breaks. The coast starts to get trendier south of Tamarindo at Playa Avellanas, another beach with nice friendly surfing.
Centro de Rescate y Santuario Las Pumas - This is one of the best wildlife refuges + rehabilitation centers for learning about Costa Rica's most endangered animals. Visitors have a good chance of seeing at least 5 of Costa Rica's 6 wild cat species here!
Lydia Beech Art - For truly unique + one-of-a-kind souvenirs + custom art, look no further than this colorful little shop owned + operated by well-known local, Lydia Beech. Show her a picture of your pet + she'll turn it into a portrait, or painted t-shirt!
Rincon de la Vieja National Park - has a wealth of natural wonders including Rincon de la Vieja Volcano, boiling mud pots, hot springs + waterfalls! You can experience the difference of a dry forest, to a cloudy one + a humid to very humid one in the middle of a volcanic environment in a short tour.
“There are unique experiences that can only be had in this Park, such as a visit to the La Cangreja waterfall (known as the 'blue lagoon' due to the characteristic color of the water). The walks through the different environments with impressive views of the sea and the opportunity to witness 'in the front row' some of the training agents of the Costa Rican territory”, emphasized Alexander García in charge of tourism for this National Park.
Where To STAY + EAT
Restaurant Celajes at Hotel Belmar - This restaurant is so good that diners drive from as far away as San José just for dinner (reservations are required). Book a private lunch in the terraced garden or sit on the outside deck with views of the Pacific. This stunning farm to table restaurant has an organic garden, farm, coffee plantation, sugar cane fields + livestock.
Where To EAT
Café Rico - Even without a website, Café Rico is the #1 restaurant in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. Sip on their high quality coffee + memorable banana bread French toast!