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Your Costa Rica Cheat Sheet


Modified: September 26, 2023

by Elspeth Pedigo



Welcome to the enchanting land of Costa Rica! Nestled in Central America, this lush tropical paradise offers a unique blend of natural beauty, vibrant culture, and thrilling adventures. From stunning beaches to verdant rainforests and majestic volcanoes, Costa Rica is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers.


Costa Rica is renowned for its commitment to preserving its pristine ecosystems, making it a hotspot for eco-tourism. Its biodiversity is unparalleled, with over 25% of the country protected as national parks, wildlife reserves, and biological corridors. Wildlife enthusiasts will be enthralled by the chance to spot exotic creatures such as howler monkeys, toucans, and sloths roaming freely.


But Costa Rica isn’t only about its remarkable natural wonders. The country is also home to warm and friendly locals known as Ticos, who are known for their pura vida lifestyle. Pura vida, meaning “pure life” in Spanish, encapsulates the laid-back, optimistic spirit of the Costa Rican people. It’s a philosophy that celebrates the simple joys in life and encourages visitors to embrace a slower pace, connect with nature, and savor every moment.


Whether you’re seeking adventure, relaxation, or cultural exploration, Costa Rica has something to offer. Lounge on pristine beaches, hike through dense jungles, zip-line above the treetops, or immerse yourself in local customs and traditions. This country is a playground for those seeking an authentic, enriching experience.


In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the basics of Costa Rica, including the best time to visit, must-see destinations, adventure activities, essential travel tips, traditional cuisine, and common Spanish phrases. So grab your sunblock, get ready to savor the taste of fresh tropical fruits, and prepare yourself for an unforgettable journey through the spectacular landscapes of Costa Rica.


The Basics of Costa Rica

Costa Rica, located in Central America, is a small yet diverse country that borders both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. With a population of approximately 5 million people, Costa Rica is known for its political stability, high literacy rate, and commitment to environmental conservation.


The official language of Costa Rica is Spanish, although English is widely spoken in tourist areas. The currency is the Costa Rican colón, but many places also accept US dollars. The country follows Central Standard Time (CST) and does not observe daylight saving time.


The climate in Costa Rica is tropical year-round, with two main seasons: the dry season (December to April) and the green season (May to November). The dry season is characterized by sunny days and lower humidity, making it the peak tourist season. The green season brings refreshing rain showers, which help maintain the country’s lush vegetation.


Costa Rica is a peaceful and politically stable country, with a long-standing history of abolishing its military in 1948. The nation is proud of its commitment to eco-tourism and sustainability, earning a reputation as a global leader in environmental protection. With over 25% of its territory dedicated to protected areas, Costa Rica is home to an incredible variety of flora and fauna.


Transportation in Costa Rica is relatively convenient, with a well-developed road network connecting major cities and attractions. Public buses are the most affordable option for traveling between towns, while rental cars provide flexibility to explore the country at your own pace. Domestic flights are also available for traveling longer distances quickly.


Healthcare in Costa Rica is highly regarded, with both public and private medical facilities available. It’s recommended that visitors have travel insurance, including coverage for medical emergencies. Additionally, it’s advisable to check with your healthcare provider regarding any necessary vaccinations before traveling to Costa Rica.


Costa Rica is known for its strong cultural and environmental conservation efforts. The country takes pride in its commitment to sustainable tourism practices and minimizing the impact on its natural resources. Visitors are encouraged to respect and appreciate the local traditions, customs, and protected areas of Costa Rica.


Now that you have a basic understanding of Costa Rica, let’s explore the best time to visit and discover the breathtaking destinations that await you in this tropical paradise.


Best Time to Visit Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s tropical climate offers favorable conditions for travel throughout the year, but the best time to visit depends on your preferences and the activities you plan to engage in. Understanding the country’s distinct seasons can help you determine when to plan your trip.


The dry season, known as the “summer” or “high season,” extends from December to April. During these months, you can expect abundant sunshine, minimal rainfall, and lower humidity levels. The dry season is the most popular time for tourists to visit Costa Rica, especially for beach and outdoor activities. It’s important to note that accommodation prices tend to be higher during this period, and popular attractions may be more crowded.


If you prefer to avoid the crowds and are more flexible with rain showers, the green season, also known as the “winter” or “low season,” from May to November, might be a great option. Despite the occasional afternoon rains, the green season offers lush landscapes, fewer tourists, and more budget-friendly prices. Wildlife enthusiasts will particularly enjoy the green season, as it’s the prime time to witness the country’s flora and fauna in full swing. It’s worth mentioning that the Caribbean side of Costa Rica tends to be rainier all year round, so keep that in mind when planning your itinerary.


When planning your visit, consider the specific activities you wish to partake in. For instance, if you’re interested in surfing or lounging on the beach, the dry season offers ideal conditions with calmer waves and sunny weather. On the other hand, if you’re passionate about birdwatching, wildlife spotting, or exploring lush rainforests, the green season is the perfect time, as the increased rainfall brings vibrant vegetation and a higher chance of spotting animals.


It’s also essential to research specific regions within Costa Rica, as weather patterns can vary. For example, the Central Valley and Caribbean coast tend to have more rain throughout the year, while the northwestern Guanacaste region experiences a drier climate, even during the green season.


Regardless of the time you choose to visit, Costa Rica offers a range of activities and experiences to suit every traveler’s preferences. From thrilling adventures to serene relaxation, this captivating country awaits you with its natural beauty and warm hospitality.


Must-See Destinations in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is home to a myriad of breathtaking destinations that showcase the country’s natural wonders and cultural heritage. Whether you’re seeking pristine beaches, lush rainforests, or vibrant cities, here are some must-see destinations to add to your Costa Rican itinerary:

  1. Manuel Antonio National Park: Located on the Pacific Coast, Manuel Antonio National Park is renowned for its stunning beaches, lush rainforest, and abundant wildlife. Explore the park’s trails to discover monkeys, sloths, and a variety of bird species. Don’t forget to relax on the park’s pristine beaches as well.
  2. Arenal Volcano: This iconic volcano is a must-visit attraction. Hike through the Arenal Volcano National Park and witness lush landscapes, hot springs, and the occasional eruption. The nearby town of La Fortuna offers cozy accommodations and stunning views of the volcano.
  3. Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve: Nature lovers and adventure enthusiasts will be captivated by the ethereal beauty of the Monteverde Cloud Forest. Explore the trails on foot or glide through the treetops on a thrilling zip-line adventure. Keep your eye out for the elusive quetzal bird and other unique species.
  4. Tortuguero National Park: Known as the “Amazon of Costa Rica,” Tortuguero is a haven for wildlife. Take a boat tour through the park’s winding canals, where you can spot monkeys, crocodiles, and diverse bird species. If you visit between July and October, you’ll have the chance to witness the nesting and hatching of sea turtles.
  5. Corcovado National Park: Located on the Osa Peninsula, Corcovado is a true biodiversity hotspot. As one of the most biologically intense places on Earth, the park is home to an incredible range of wildlife, including jaguars, tapirs, and scarlet macaws. Hike the park’s trails to experience its untouched beauty.
  6. San José: Costa Rica’s capital city is the cultural and political hub of the country. Explore historic landmarks like the National Theater, visit the bustling Central Market to sample local cuisine and pick up unique souvenirs, or immerse yourself in the city’s vibrant art and music scene.

This is just a glimpse of the many amazing destinations Costa Rica has to offer. Whether you’re seeking adventure, relaxation, or cultural immersion, each of these destinations will leave you in awe of Costa Rica’s natural and cultural treasures.


Beaches and Coastal Areas

One of the major draws for visitors to Costa Rica is its stunning coastline and pristine beaches. With both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean bordering the country, Costa Rica offers a wide array of beach destinations that cater to various interests and preferences. From tranquil stretches of sand to vibrant surf towns, here are some of the top beach and coastal areas to explore:

  1. Tamarindo: Located on the Pacific Coast in the Guanacaste province, Tamarindo is a popular beach town known for its vibrant surf scene. With consistent waves and warm waters, it’s a paradise for surfers of all levels. After catching some waves, unwind on the town’s beautiful beach and enjoy the bustling nightlife and beachfront restaurants.
  2. Manuel Antonio: Situated on the Pacific Coast, Manuel Antonio offers a unique combination of pristine beaches and lush rainforest. The main attraction is Manuel Antonio National Park, where you can relax on white sandy beaches, hike through the jungle, and spot monkeys and sloths in their natural habitat.
  3. Puerto Viejo de Talamanca: Located on the Southern Caribbean coast, Puerto Viejo is a laid-back beach town known for its stunning beaches and vibrant Caribbean culture. The area offers a unique blend of turquoise waters, palm-fringed beaches, and reggae vibes. Explore nearby Cahuita National Park, known for its beautiful coral reefs and diverse marine life.
  4. Samara: Nestled on the Nicoya Peninsula on the Pacific Coast, Samara is a tranquil beach town renowned for its relaxed atmosphere and family-friendly beaches. The shallow waters and gentle waves make it an ideal spot for swimming, kayaking, and paddleboarding. Explore the surrounding area for scenic viewpoints and hidden coves.
  5. Montezuma: Located on the Southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, Montezuma is a bohemian beach town with a laid-back vibe. It offers pristine beaches, lush jungles, and majestic waterfalls. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit nearby Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve, Costa Rica’s first protected area.
  6. Papagayo Peninsula: Situated in Guanacaste, the Papagayo Peninsula is known for its luxury resorts and stunning coastline. The area boasts pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and excellent snorkeling and diving spots. Enjoy the tranquility and privacy of secluded beaches or indulge in upscale amenities at the luxurious resorts.

These are just a few highlights among the many breathtaking beaches and coastal areas in Costa Rica. Whether you’re seeking relaxation, water sports, or simply want to bask in the sun, Costa Rica’s coastline offers endless opportunities for memorable beach experiences.


National Parks and Wildlife Reserves

Costa Rica’s commitment to environmental conservation is evident in its vast network of national parks and wildlife reserves. These protected areas showcase the country’s astonishing biodiversity and offer opportunities to observe a wide variety of flora and fauna in their natural habitats. Here are some must-visit national parks and wildlife reserves in Costa Rica:

  1. Corcovado National Park: Located on the Osa Peninsula, Corcovado is a true gem for nature enthusiasts. It is one of the most biologically intense places on Earth, home to diverse ecosystems, including rainforests, mangroves, and pristine beaches. Look out for its inhabitants, including monkeys, sloths, jaguars, and over 400 species of birds.
  2. Tortuguero National Park: Known as the “Amazon of Costa Rica,” Tortuguero National Park is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts and sea turtle lovers. This protected area on the Caribbean coast is a nesting site for several sea turtle species. Take a boat tour through its dense network of canals to spot monkeys, crocodiles, and a rich birdlife.
  3. Manuel Antonio National Park: Offering a combination of pristine beaches and lush rainforest, Manuel Antonio is a popular destination for both wildlife and beach lovers. Walk along its trails and be on the lookout for howler monkeys, sloths, and colorful tropical birds. The park also has beautiful sandy beaches where you can relax and swim.
  4. Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve: Monteverde is famous for its ethereal cloud forests, shrouded in mist and home to an incredible array of plant and animal species. Explore the reserve’s extensive trail network and marvel at the beauty of hummingbirds, quetzals, and orchids. Thrill-seekers can also enjoy adventure activities like zip-lining and canopy walks.
  5. La Amistad International Park: As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, La Amistad International Park covers vast areas of Costa Rica and neighboring Panama. Its expansive tropical rainforests are home to countless species, making it a key conservation area. Adventurous travelers can embark on challenging hikes to experience the park’s remote and untouched beauty.
  6. Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge: Located in the Northern Zone of Costa Rica, Caño Negro is a wetland sanctuary teeming with wildlife, including caimans, monkeys, and a plethora of bird species. Explore the marshes by boat or kayak for a chance to witness the incredible diversity of this unique habitat.

These are just a few examples of the exquisite national parks and wildlife reserves in Costa Rica. Each offers a unique experience, allowing visitors to connect with the country’s natural heritage and immerse themselves in its awe-inspiring biodiversity.


Adventure Activities in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a playground for adventure seekers, offering a wide range of thrilling activities that allow visitors to immerse themselves in the country’s breathtaking landscapes. From soaring above the treetops to exploring captivating underwater worlds, here are some adventure activities not to be missed in Costa Rica:

  1. Ziplining: Costa Rica is famous for its exhilarating zipline tours. Strap into a harness and glide through the treetops, enjoying panoramic views of lush rainforests and cascading waterfalls below.
  2. White Water Rafting: The country’s pristine rivers provide the perfect backdrop for thrilling white water rafting adventures. Navigate through rapids, maneuver around boulders, and take in the stunning surroundings as you conquer the rushing waters.
  3. Surfing: With two coastlines and consistent waves year-round, Costa Rica is a surfer’s paradise. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced surfer, you’ll find a variety of breaks to suit your skill level along both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts.
  4. Snorkeling and Scuba Diving: Explore the vibrant underwater world of Costa Rica by snorkeling or scuba diving. Encounter colorful coral reefs, an abundance of marine life, and even the opportunity to swim alongside sea turtles and dolphins.
  5. Hiking and Trekking: Lace up your hiking boots and explore the country’s diverse landscapes on foot. From challenging trails in national parks to serene nature reserves, you’ll have the opportunity to witness stunning vistas, lush rainforests, and cascading waterfalls.
  6. Volcano Exploration: Costa Rica is home to several active and dormant volcanoes, offering unique opportunities for exploration. Hike up the slopes of Arenal Volcano, soak in hot springs, or visit the otherworldly landscapes of Rincon de la Vieja National Park.
  7. ATV Tours: Embark on thrilling ATV (all-terrain vehicle) tours that allow you to explore off-the-beaten-path areas of the country. Ride through rugged jungles, rivers, and mountain trails for an adrenaline-fueled adventure.

These are just a few examples of the exciting adventure activities available in Costa Rica. Whether you’re a thrill-seeker or simply looking to embrace nature’s wonders, the country’s diverse landscapes and thrilling experiences will leave you with memories that last a lifetime.


Essential Tips for Traveling in Costa Rica

Traveling to Costa Rica is an exciting and fulfilling experience, and being prepared can enhance your trip even further. Here are some essential tips to keep in mind when traveling in Costa Rica:

  1. Pack appropriately: Costa Rica’s climate varies throughout the year and across different regions, so pack a variety of clothing options. Lightweight, breathable clothing, comfortable walking shoes, a waterproof jacket, and swimwear are essentials. Don’t forget insect repellent, sunscreen, and a hat to protect yourself from the sun.
  2. Learn some basic Spanish: While many Costa Ricans speak English, knowing some basic Spanish phrases can go a long way in enhancing your interactions. Locals appreciate when visitors make an effort to communicate in their language, so learn a few key phrases like greetings, thank you, and asking for directions.
  3. Stay hydrated: Costa Rica’s tropical climate can be hot and humid, so it’s crucial to stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water throughout the day and carry a water bottle with you. Avoid tap water and opt for bottled or filtered water.
  4. Stay safe: Costa Rica is generally a safe country for travelers, but it’s always wise to take precautions. Keep an eye on your belongings, particularly in crowded tourist areas. Use reputable transportation services and avoid walking alone at night in unfamiliar areas.
  5. Try local cuisine: Costa Rican cuisine is delicious and diverse, so be sure to sample traditional dishes during your trip. Don’t miss out on gallo pinto (a popular rice and beans dish), ceviche (marinated seafood), plantains, and the refreshing tropical fruits that the country is known for.
  6. Respect the environment: Costa Rica prides itself on its commitment to sustainable tourism and environmental conservation. Respect the natural beauty of the country by disposing of waste properly, staying on designated trails in national parks, and refraining from removing any plants or wildlife.
  7. Be flexible with your plans: Embrace the pura vida lifestyle and be prepared to go with the flow. Sometimes, unexpected changes may occur, such as weather-related alterations or delays. Embrace these moments as opportunities for new experiences and enjoy the journey.

By keeping these essential tips in mind, you’ll be well-prepared for your Costa Rican adventure. Embrace the country’s beauty, warmth, and laid-back spirit, and let the pura vida lifestyle captivate you as you explore the remarkable landscapes of this tropical paradise.


Traditional Costa Rican Cuisine

Costa Rican cuisine is vibrant, flavorful, and deeply rooted in the country’s cultural heritage. Traditional Costa Rican dishes showcase a fusion of Indigenous, Spanish, and Afro-Caribbean influences, resulting in a diverse culinary experience. Here are some mouthwatering dishes that you must try during your visit:

  1. Gallo Pinto: Considered the national dish of Costa Rica, Gallo Pinto is a breakfast favorite. This hearty dish consists of rice and black beans cooked together and seasoned with onions, bell peppers, and cilantro. It is typically served with eggs, tortillas, and sour cream.
  2. Casado: Casado refers to a traditional Costa Rican lunch or dinner plate. It typically includes rice, black beans, meat (such as chicken, beef, or fish), fried plantains, salad, and a side of picadillo (a mixture of finely chopped vegetables).
  3. Ceviche: Costa Rica’s coastal location makes it an ideal place to indulge in fresh seafood, particularly ceviche. This refreshing dish consists of raw fish or shrimp marinated in lime juice, mixed with finely chopped onions, bell peppers, and cilantro. The citrusy flavors make it a popular choice as an appetizer or light meal.
  4. Sopa Negra: Sopa Negra, meaning “black soup,” is a traditional Costa Rican black bean soup. It is made with black beans, garlic, onions, and spices, served with a hard-boiled egg, rice, and sour cream. This comforting soup is often enjoyed on rainy days or as a starter to a larger meal.
  5. Tamales: Tamales are a staple during festive occasions in Costa Rica. They consist of masa (corn dough) filled with a variety of ingredients such as meats, vegetables, and spices, wrapped in banana leaves, and steamed. This labor-intensive dish is often enjoyed during Christmas and other special celebrations.
  6. Olla de Carne: Olla de Carne is a traditional beef and vegetable soup that showcases the hearty flavors of Costa Rican cuisine. It typically includes chunks of beef, yucca, potatoes, corn, plantains, and other vegetables, resulting in a flavorful and comforting bowl of goodness.
  7. Desserts: To satisfy your sweet tooth, try traditional Costa Rican desserts like Tres Leches Cake (a moist sponge cake soaked in three types of milk), Arroz con Leche (rice pudding), or Cajeta (a thick caramel sauce made from sweetened condensed milk).

No culinary journey through Costa Rica is complete without experiencing these traditional dishes. Don’t forget to pair your meals with a cup of rich Costa Rican coffee, considered some of the best in the world. So, indulge in the flavors, savor the richness of the cuisine, and immerse yourself in the gastronomic delights that Costa Rica has to offer.


Common Phrases in Spanish

While many Costa Ricans speak English, learning a few basic Spanish phrases can go a long way in enhancing your travel experience and connecting with the local culture. Here are some common Spanish phrases that will come in handy during your time in Costa Rica:

  1. Hola: Hello
  2. Gracias: Thank you
  3. Por favor: Please
  4. ¿Cómo estás?: How are you?
  5. ¿Cuánto cuesta?: How much does it cost?
  6. ¿Dónde está…?: Where is…?
  7. Me llamo…: My name is…
  8. ¿Hablas inglés?: Do you speak English?
  9. Perdón: Excuse me
  10. Sí: Yes
  11. No: No
  12. Buenos días: Good morning
  13. Buenas tardes: Good afternoon
  14. Buenas noches: Good evening/night
  15. Lo siento: I’m sorry
  16. Adiós: Goodbye
  17. Salud: Cheers
  18. ¿Puede ayudarme?: Can you help me?
  19. ¿Entiendes?: Do you understand?
  20. No entiendo: I don’t understand
  21. Adonde vamos?: Where are we going?

Learning a few basic Spanish phrases will not only help you navigate through everyday situations but also show respect for the local culture. Costa Ricans appreciate the effort made by visitors to communicate in their language, so don’t be afraid to practice these phrases during your time in this beautiful country.



Costa Rica is a remarkable destination that offers a wealth of natural beauty, vibrant culture, and immersive experiences. From its stunning beaches and lush rainforests to its rich biodiversity and warm-hearted locals, Costa Rica captures the hearts of all who visit.


In this comprehensive guide, we have explored the basics of Costa Rica, including its geography, climate, and transportation options. We have discussed the best time to visit, highlighting the unique charms of both the dry and green seasons. We have also delved into must-see destinations, from national parks and wildlife reserves to coastal areas and bustling cities.


For adventure enthusiasts, we have unveiled a range of thrilling activities, such as ziplining, white water rafting, and surfing, that allow you to fully immerse yourself in Costa Rica’s breathtaking landscapes. We have provided essential tips to ensure a smooth and enjoyable trip, emphasizing the importance of cultural sensitivity and environmental conservation.


Furthermore, we have given you a tantalizing glimpse into the flavors of Costa Rican cuisine, encouraging you to savor traditional dishes like Gallo Pinto and Ceviche. And to help you navigate the country with ease, we have shared common Spanish phrases that will enrich your interactions with the friendly locals.


As you embark on your journey to Costa Rica, embrace the pura vida philosophy. Immerse yourself in the country’s natural wonders, connect with the culture, and create memories that will last a lifetime. Whether you’re seeking adventure, relaxation, or cultural exploration, Costa Rica offers a truly captivating experience that will leave you yearning to return to its enchanting shores.