Literally “Rich Coast”), officially the Republic of Costa Rica (Spanish: República de Costa Rica), is a sovereign state in Central America, bordered by Nicaragua to the north, the Caribbean Sea to the northeast, Panama to the southeast, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, and Ecuador to the south of Cocos Island. It has a population of around 5 million in a land area of 51,060 square kilometers (19,714 square miles). An estimated 333,980 people live in the capital and largest city, San José with around 2 million people in the surrounding metropolitan area.
The climate periods
Costa Rica has two climate periods: one dry period and one rainy period.
You still have to expect high temperatures and the possibility of rain all year round. The average temperature is between 21 and 27 degrees all year round, but the climate varies with the season and the height above sea level. Many people believe that the best time to visit Costa Rica is during the dry season, which of course also means that this period is the peak season for travelers to the country.
Costa Rica’s dry period
The dry period is from December to April. Locally, this period is called verano – summer in Spanish. During these months there are usually high temperatures and little or no rainfall. The warmest months of the dry season are often March-April, while the wind can make January-February cooler. The Caribbean coast is an exception. Although there is generally little or no rainfall during the dry period, it rains much of the year on the east coast. Costa Rica’s dry season is high season and therefore the time when the country has the most tourists.
Benefits of visiting Costa Rica during the dry period
- Fine weather with little or no rainfall.
- It may be easier to spot animals as they gather around the water sources.
- You get a well-deserved break from the cold weather in Norway.
Costa Rica’s rainy period
The rainy period is from May to November, and September and October are the wettest months. This period is also called the green season and is low season for visitors, although the number of visitors increases slightly in June and July, when it is summer vacation in Europe. There are major differences in the amount of rain that falls during a year. But despite the heavy rainfall in some areas, it almost always rains at the same time every day, making it easy to plan activities based on weather conditions.
Benefits of visiting Costa Rica during the rainy period
- Lush nature (the green season) and you can see large flocks of mud turtles coming to the beaches, ex. in the Tortuguero National Park.
- Less expensive prices, especially if you book well in advance.
Generally fewer visitors.
Best Time to Visit Costa Rica is late November or early December. At this time of year, the rainy season is typically over, and there are lots of sunshine to enjoy. The landscape is super green, and lush from the rainy season. Restaurants, accommodation, and attractions are all open, but the prices are reasonable because the crowds have not arrived yet.
We recommend starting on the Northern Guanacaste, as these areas are the driest in the country at this time of year, before heading south to the Southern Peninsula where the rain sometimes lingers a little longer.
IS COSTA RICA SAFE?
Yes – Costa Rica is a safe country when using common sense and basic safety precautions. The most dangerous part of the country is the capital, San Jose, especially at night. Don’t linger in the city for too long, but if you must spend a few days in the capital, opt to stay in Escazu, the safest and nicest neighborhood in San Jose, and explore the city during the day.
Other Costa Rica Safety Tips & Considerations
The biggest safety risk in other parts of the country is petty theft, like pick pocketing or bag snatching, so keep your valuables in a safe place and don’t flaunt your expensive possessions. The beaches at night are a popular place for petty theft!
When traveling around the country, don’t carry your passport with you at all times. Instead, take a photo of your passport picture page and your entry stamp page on your phone and be able to present it in the case of random inspection.
Don’t venture off the beaten path at night in busy touristic areas. Opportunistic crime and drug-related scams are more likely to occur. Be careful to always cover keep an eye on your drinks when enjoying a night out. Solo women travelers should be especially careful.
TAP WATER IN COSTA RICA IS SAFE TO DRINK
Water in most parts of the country is perfectly safe to drink out of a tap, so save the environment and don’t drink bottled water.
HydroFlask, will keep your water cold for up to 12 hours even in the hot sun on the beach. Their double wall, vacuum insulated technology makes HydroFlask so effective. Cold drinks stay icy for up to 24 hours, and hot drinks will stay steaming for up to 6 hours. There is a good variety of colors and designs to choose from too, and it protects against flavor transfer. So, your water won’t end up tasting like yesterday’s juice.
For parts of Costa Rica where potable water is not available, use SteriPen. This powerful tool kills up to 99.9% of bacteria and viruses in water, using a UV light. Simply, hold the pen in water for 90 seconds. No need to buy anymore single-use plastic bottles.
BUY A LOCAL SIM CARD TO STAY CONNECTED IN COSTA RICA
Staying connected while in Costa Rica is really easy without paying $30-50 for a roaming plan. WiFi is fairly easy to find in touristy areas in Costa Rica. Most hotels and restaurants that cater to foreigners will have free WiFi for you to use during your stay. You can top up your local SIM in any supermarket in Costa Rica
You can also save on roaming fees by unlocking your phone before you leave home and buying a local sim card upon arrival in Costa Rica. When in doubt, go with Kolbi. There is a Kolbi Shop upon arrival at the Liberia Airport. A tourist SIM Card will set you back less than a dollar USD. And they offer a number of prepaid plans, depending on what you will be using your phone for most often.
For 2,500 Colones (5 USD), you can opt for 300 SMS and 300 MB of Data. Alternatively, for the same price, you can get 200 SMS, 3.4 minutes of talk, and 150 MB of text or 64 minutes of talk, and 100 MB of text.
If unlocking your phone is not an option, we recommend investing in a Wifi Hotspot device, like SkyRoam that gives you unlimited WiFi for just $8/day. And the best part is that you can use it across multiple devices, so the whole family can stay connected at once.
Things to consider
1| Get Ready To Spend Money
Let’s face the truth: Costa Rica is not cheap. Actually, Costa Rica is one of the most expensive countries to visit in Central America.
Take gas prices, for example. It costs approx. USD$1.07 a liter, which is 48% more expensive than in the USA and 22% more than in Canada! Tours average around USD$100 per person per day.
Why so expensive? It is probably because of the high prices of importing fuel and goods as well as the heavy import taxes. All these are transferred to the cost of traveling in Costa Rica. So make sure you adjust your travel budget accordingly!
2| Allow More Than One Week In Costa Rica
Costa Rica may look small on the map, but don’t let its small size fool you. There are so many places to see and adventures to be had – from its gorgeous beaches, misty cloud forests, extraordinary wildlife, lush rain forests to active volcanoes. It is impossible to see Costa Rica in merely a week.
Plan a minimum of 2 weeks in Costa Rica. It is a good amount of time to explore 3-4 places without feeling too rushed. You can add extra days if you want to cover more ground.
3| Visit During Rainy Season
Most people choose to travel to Costa Rica during the dry season (December-April) so that they can enjoy the nice sunny weather. But that comes with a price – it’s busy and expensive!
Note: the weather really depends on what part of Costa Rica you are visiting.
Luxury Hotel Near SJO Airport That Won’t Break The Bank
4| Forget Google Maps. Download WAZE.
In North America, we rely heavily on Google Maps for navigation. But in Costa Rica, everyone uses WAZE. This free app is similar to Google Maps in searching for the best route. On top of that, it also gives you of real-time traffic updates, including accidents and police warnings!
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5| Rent A Car
To maximize your sightseeing time and have the ultimate freedom to go wherever and whenever you like.
How’s Driving In Costa Rica?
Driving in Alajuela & San Jose: Traffic is terrible during the daytime. Pay attention to unpredictable and reckless drivers. Watch out for motorbikes.
From Alajuela to Arenal: Hilly at times, but roads are well paved with a few potholes here and there. Try not to drive at night as there is no street light.
From Arenal to Monteverde: Make sure you drive a 4×4 vehicle. The last 1/3 of the drive turns into pothole-ridden dirt and gravel roads. The roads in Santa Elena town are paved though.
From San Jose to Liberia/Guanacaste: The main Route 1 is generally well-paved. In between Canas and Liberia, there is a 4-to-6 lane highway. Other parts are 2 lanes.
6| Book Domestic Flights If Short On Time
Flying within Costa Rica is expensive, but if you’re short on time (or don’t want to drive), domestic flights may be a sensible option. Costa Rica has 2 local airlines: Sansa Airlines and Nature Air. They fly out to as many as 13 different destinations within the country, and it generally takes 30-45 minutes! Both airlines use small propeller planes that can hold between 12-19 passengers only.
One important thing to note is the small luggage allowance per person. At check-in, if your baggage exceeds their size and weight restriction for carry-on (and they are VERY strict about it), you will need to pay extra to have it checked.
7| No Need To Exchange Colones Beforehand
US dollars are widely accepted in Costa Rica, especially at hotels, restaurants, and tour agencies. Even at local supermarkets! So there is absolutely no need to exchange Costa Rican Colones in advance. If you need Colones, go to the banks for the best exchange rates. Or, pay in USD at restaurants or supermarkets and get the change back in Colones.
Keep some coins for the tolls if you plan to drive.
8| Tipping Is Not Required
It is not customary to leave a tip. At restaurants, a 10% service charge is included in your bill. Tour guides, drivers, housekeepers usually do not expect an additional tip for their service.
9| No Spanish? No Problem.
English is widely used in most tourist destinations. Having said that, it is always useful to know some Spanish, especially if you want to eat at a soda (local diner).
The Spanish phrase you will hear a lot in Costa Rica is: Pura Vida. It means “pure life,” but it is commonly used to mean hello, goodbye, and everything’s great. Remember that!
10| Follow The Experts: Join Guided Naturalist Tours
It is true that you can go on self-guided hikes and tours at many places. But you will see so much more than expected if you join the experts on guided tours. Although guided naturalist tours are a bit more expensive, they will leave you an unforgettable memory!
Note: many of these tours include hotel pick-up and drop-off so there’s no need to worry about transportation.
11| Order Seafood, But Know That Shrimps Are Expensive
Costa Rica has plenty of fresh seafood.
Fishing techniques such as trawling kill turtles and destroy coral. So, to protect the marine resources, the government has put a halt to the use of trawler nets to catch shrimp and other unselective and destructive fisheries. That is why shrimps are expensive in Costa Rica.
But not to worry, there are so many other delicious seafood available for us to enjoy at inexpensive prices!
12| Don’t Miss Out On Local Healthy Snacks
Make a trip to a local supermarket and you’ll realize Ticos (Costa Ricans) love cassava chips, yuca chips and plantain chips. You can find a variety of them on the shelves, sold under the brands PRO and Soldanza.
Toasted corn snacks by Jacks Picaronas are popular among the locals as well.
Coffee aficionados, check out Cafe Britt. This brand is known for their coffee and gourmet chocolates.
One of the fun things to do in Costa Rica is going beach-hopping. However, the beaches may seem close to each other on the map, but are actually far to drive to. This is because there is no actual “road” connecting the beaches so you can’t really drive along the coast. You will have to drive out of the beach town and go back to the main road first before you can head towards the next beach community.
You may find some people attempting to drive their car onto the sandy pathways leading up to the beaches. Don’t do that. Instead of driving, rent an ATV. That is the fastest way to beach hop!
If you going to Costa Rica, be aware of the situation regarding methanol poisoning. Read More About It Here.
Have you been in Costa Rica? Did you go in the dry, or rainy season? Leave a comment below.