Caribbean Travelweb

Guide To Costa Rica



For years, Costa Rica was the well-kept secret of a few biologists, backpackers, and beachcombers, but that's all changed. Today, the country is a major international vacation destination. Despite this newfound popularity, Costa Rica remains a place rich in natural wonders and biodiversity but relatively young in infrastructure and luxurious beach resorts and hotels. Costa Rica is a great gateway to Central America and a good choice, when the Caribbean and Mexico have become old hat. Here, you can still find uncrowded and unpoiled beaches that stretch on for miles, small lodgings that haven't attracted hordes of tourists, jungle rivers for rafting and kayaking, spectacular scuba diving , and cloud and rain forests with ample opportunities for bird watching and hiking.

Costa Rica extends majestically from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea, and its distance is barely 200 miles. Its land portion ocuppies only 20 thousand square miles.

Costa Rica’s territorial division includes 7 provinces which are: San José, Alajuela, Cartago, Heredia, Guanacaste, Puntarenas and Limón. Together they offer an many exciting tourist destinations, with nearly unlimited possibilities, including extense rainforests, volcanoes, rivers travelling through the mountains, beaches and natural resources safeguarded by an important organization of national parks and forest reserves.

If you travel throughout these provinces of Costa Rica, it’s easy to notice that in no other place will you find fields with so many variations in their landscape and climate as here.

The Caribbean Province is Limón. This a region where you will find vast differences from the rest of the country. Just 212 km long, its caribbean coastline offers a wide variety of attractions, and consists of two very different regions. The first stretches from north of Moín to the mouth of the Río San Juan, with a regular and open coastline, extensive beaches, dark sand and strong surf. Extending southward from Moín to the mouth of the Río Sixaola, the second region has a much more irregular coastline characterized by inlets and coral reefs in several areas. Along this stretch of coast are the region’s most popular beaches.

This province’s geographic and climatic characteristics provide extraordinary scenic and ecological wealth. In addition to its coastal riches, the region offers alluvial plains, marshlands, rivers, waterfalls, lagoons, canals, lush, always green forests, hills, mountains, valleys and more, all sheltering thousands of plants and animals belonging to various life zones distinctive and unique to the Caribbean.

Costa Rica´s year round climate is pleasant with naturally occurring breezes cooling down most of the coastal areas. Temperatures in the highlands and the mountains are warm by day and brisk at night giving an "eternal spring" feeling. The average annual temperatures range from 31.7°C (89°F) on the coast to 16.7°C (62°F) inland. The rainy, or green, season lasts from May to December with noticeably drier days during the rest of the year.

Getting There

By Air

Located in the middle of Central America, Costa Rica is easy to reach. Most major international carriers conveniently serve San Jose, the capital city. You can also fly directly to the Guanacaste Region.

From the US
The largest gateways for flights to Costa Rica are Miami and Houston, with other flights originating from Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, L.A., New York, Newark, and Washington, D.C. Basic round-trip fares to San José, Costa Rica range from US$500-1200. Standard commercial carriers like American, Continental, and United offer the most convenient flights, but might not be the cheapest, unless you grab a special promotion or airfare war ticket. Charter flights sometimes run from Canada, but scheduled flights are routed through the US. You might find cheaper fares by flying on a Latin American airline like Lacsa, Taca, Copa, or MartinAir. Otherwise, check online or consult a travel agent about discount airfares.

From Canada
Air Canada has a direct flight once per week from Toronto.

From Europe
British Airways flies from London to San José. Iberia flies from Spain with direct connections to San José. Alitalia flies from Italy to Miami, Caracas, and Santo Domingo, and Taca provides passengers with a connecting flight. LTU provides services from Germany.

Domestic Airlines

SANSA at (506)221-9414
Nature Air at (506) 220-3054

Ocean Travel

Numerous cruise lines call at Costa Rican ports, including Holland America, Costa, Royal Caribbean, Princess, Celebrity, Carnival, Radisson and more.

Entry Requirements

Citizens holding valid passports from the following countries are permitted to stay in Costa Rica for 90 days without a visa:
Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France and Germany dependencies, Greece, Holland and dependencies, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Romania, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Trinidad & Tobago, United Kingdom, United States of America, Czech Republic and Uruguay.

Citizens holding valid passports from the following countries are exempt from all visa requirements for stays of 30 days in Costa Rica, though once inside the country, they can apply for extension from the Immigration office, for an authorized period of stay of 90 days:
Antigua & Barbuda, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Chile, Dominica, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Iceland, Ireland, Jamaica, Kenya, Mexico, New Zealand, Philippines, Russia, Saint Kitts/Nevis, San Marino, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, Suriname, Taiwan, Turkey, The Vatican, Venezuela, Estonia and Monaco.

Citizens of all countries not listed above are required a visa from a Costa Rican embassy or consulate before traveling.

Helpful Visitor Information

No customs duties are charged on personal luggage, which includes a series of items for personal, professional, non-commercial use. Costa Rican laws require checked luggage to be screened and travelers to fill out customs declarations declaring the value of any item in their possession, including fruits, vegetables, meat and by- products, biological products such as vaccinations, serums, etc. The head of a family may make a joint declaration for all members residing in the same household and traveling together to Costa Rica.

Getting Around
The majority of Costa Ricans do not own cars, so public transportation is quite well developed, although transport to towns other than San José is limited. Most multi-destination trips will require backtracking into San José and then catching another bus outward again.

The buses are not that comfortable and to the uninitiated and faint-of-heart the system can seem incredibly chaotic, but ask any Costa Rican for advice and they'll point you in the right direction. The good news is that the fares are generally cheap - no destination is more than 9.00 away. There are three major bus terminals in San José: the Coca-Cola terminal is about a 20-minute walk east from the city centre, down Avenida 1; there's the understated Atlántico Norte terminal; and the Caribe, terminal north of Avenida 13 on Calle Central.

Taxis are considered a viable form of public transportation for long journeys, and can be hired by the day, half-day or hour. Cars and motorcycles can also be rented in San José.

Rental Cars
Daily rates range from US$25 to around US$100, depending on class of vehicle. Most agencies have weekly rates, as well.
Agencies in Costa Rica generally do not recognize credit card insurance and will require you to buy theirs at a cost of US$12 to US$20 per day.

Your regular license, along with your passport or Tourist Card, are all that you need to drive in the country.

The water is potable in most of the country. We recommend using bottled water, specially in areas around the coast.

Credit Cards
Almost all hotels and tourist establishments take at least one type of credit card. The most widely accepted are Visa and Mastercard. American Express is nearly as widely accepted. Most tourist oriented businesses will also cash travelers checks. You will also find ATM machines distributed throughout the country.

Outlets are 110 V, with standard US two prong plugs. Electricity is available in all but the most remote areas. Many remote places not serviced by the utility company have local generators.

No immunizations are required for visitors. Costa Rica is well known for providing world-class healthcare and beauty services.

Costa Rica has satellite connections with all the Central American countries, the United States, Europe, Canada, Mexico, South America, Asia and Africa. Apart from direct dialing, fax and telex communications to most of the countries in the world, it has an efficient mailing system and offers several courier services.

Activities and Attractions

The country's natural attractions, wildlife and reputation for enlightened conservation draw tourists from all over the world, and the ticos know it. Successive governments have made a real effort to preserve the country's image as an ecotourism heaven, making Costa Rica one of the best places to experience the tropics naturally and with minimal impact.

Copious rainfall has endowed Costa Rica with an abundance of rivers, but surprisingly, there are very few lakes. Nearly all the country’s rivers begin in the mountains, where many are frothy white water routes perfect for rafting and kayaking.

Once those rivers flow into the lowlands, however, they become languid waterways, many of which are lined with verdant walls of vegetation. Those lowland rivers are excellent routes for small boat trips, which allow passengers to observe some of the local flora and fauna.

Costa Rica has long been famous among serious bird watchers, but many people who would never consider the activity at home quickly have become interested in the country's spectacular avian diversity.

With almost 850 species of birds -more than total of what North America has- packed into an area half the size of Kentucky, it’s hard not to become enthused about the variety of feathered creatures one encounters in Costa Rica. And the country’s travel agencies can provide experienced nature guides who make any bird watching expedition an educational experience.

Because of its topography, fauna, flora and weather Costa Rica is a golf paradise. There are 3.000 people who practice this sport and 8 international first class fields in the country. These are:

Cariari Country Club
Costa Rica Country Club
Valle del Sol
Centro Campero Los Reyes
Meliá Conchal
Marriott Los Sueños
Los Defines
Royal Pacific

Horseback Riding
Opportunities abound to go horseback riding almost everywhere in Costa Rica, and climbing onto the horse’s back, can be a wonderful way to spice up your vacation.

The choice of horseback excursions ranges from morning trail rides taking you into the mountains above San Jose, which brings you back to your hotel in after lunch, up to all-day expeditions through the rain forest.

Cultural Touring
Costa Rican culture is in many ways a reflection of its racial diversity. The predominant influence has long been European, which is reflected in everything from the official language -- Spanish -- to the architecture of the country's churches and other historic buildings. The indigenous influence is less visible, but can be found in everything from the tortillas that make part of a typical Costa Rican meal, to the handmade ceramics sold at roadside stands.

Costa Rica's underwater wonders range from coastal coral reefs to offshore islands. Diving can be great any month of the year. Visibility can vary from 40 to 80 feet the same day on different dives. This is primarily due to the abundance of plankton that thrive in the tropical waters, and is the principal reason for the varied pelagic marine life that can be seen on each dive. Swarms of schooling fish, sharks, eagle, manta, and golden rays along with sightings of turtles is synonymous with Costa Rica diving.

Costa Rica already has quite a reputation among surfers, who are drawn there from near and far by the quality and consistency of its waves. Though the country gets plenty of the big waves that true surf fanatics live for, there are also days and spots that are perfect for people who have little experience with the sport, or who have been away from the ocean for a long time, and would like to try it again. This means that whether you're a veteran wave ripper or a belly-boarding beginner, you can usually find the conditions you need to have a great time.

With 755 miles of coastline on two oceans, Costa Rica has more breaks than you can shake a stick at. The country's selection of surf spots range from idyllic beach breaks to coral platforms where the water leaps up and tubes like a miniature Pipeline.

Costa Rica is an angler's dream come true. The country's Pacific ports and beach resorts provide access to some of the best deep sea fishing in the world, while the canals and rivers of the northern Atlantic coast feature world-class snook and tarpon fishing. Billfish are the country’s major attraction, with abundant sailfish and marlin off the Pacific coast, but the fishermen also hook plenty of other feisty fighters, such as wahoo and roosterfish. Though deep sea fishing is the country's forte, chances are also good of fishing in Arenal Lake and the larger rivers of the Northern Zone, where anglers can fight with small but ornery guapotes, hump-backed fishes known in English as rainbow basses.

Costa Rica's mountainous topography and copious rainfall are both responsible for one of the best white water river choices in the world. Experienced rafting outfitters regularly run about half a dozen of rambunctious rivers, and those river trips not only provide plenty of excitement, but also allow enjoying gorgeous scenery. Not only do white water enthusiasts flock Costa Rica, including several Olympic kayaking teams, but every year tens of thousands of visitors experience here the thrill of rafting for the first time.

The Trade winds blow across Costa Rica with incredible force and consistency during the dry months, creating windsurfing conditions in the country’s northwest corner.
The western end of Arenal Lake is one of the world’s premier windsurfing spots, having been compared to Italy’s Garda Lake and the Columbia River Gorge.
During the dry season, the wind speed averages 33 miles an hour, a speed that only experienced windsurfers can handle. As the gale increases, the lake’s surface becomes choppy, and expert surfers use the waves to jump high into the air.

Sea Kayaking
Paddling a kayak on the open ocean can be an exciting way to experience Costa Rica's marine and coastal wonders, and several companies offer sea kayaking tours along different parts of the Pacific coast. Sea kayaking is much easier than river kayaking, and people who have never tried this sport before, can make most of the trips.

Costa Rica Attractions

Alajuela Province

Cathedral, Alajuela
This chuch's ornate red dome is the centerpiece of its town square.

Museo Historico Cultural Juan Santamaria, Alajuela
An interesting colonial building houses this museum dedicated to the heroic deeds of Juan Santamaria.

Parque Juan Santamaria, Alajuela
A park dedicated to the national hero who lost his life during the 1856 invasion of Costa Rica by William Walker.

Zoo Ave, Alajuela
While educating the public about local wildlife, this zoo also breeds endangered animals for eventual release to the wild.


Barra Honda National Park, Nicoya
This park is best known for its well-preserved limestone caves.

Nicoya Peninsula, Nicoya

Curu National Wildlife Refuge, Nicoya
Privately owned, this refuge has excellent birding and wildlife watching.

Church of La Ermita La Agonia, Liberia
This church was completed in 1865 and is now a museum.

Arenal Volcano, Arenal Volcano National Park
This 1,633 meter volcano has been rumbling and spewing since 1969.

Catarata La Fortuna, La Fortuna
This 700-meter waterfall has natural pools for swimming at its base.

Venado Caves, Arenal Volcano National Park
These limestone caves were formed 15-20 million years ago.

La Fortuna Canopy Tour, La Fortuna
A 40-minute horseback ride leads to 4 platforms over the jungle.

Garra de Leon Golf Course, Playa Conchal

Las Baulas National Marine Park, Playa Grande
This park supports the Pacific Ocean's largest nesting colony of leatherback turtles.

Rancho Las Colinas Golf Club, Playa Grande


Cahuita National Park, Cahuita
This coastal park contains white sandy beaches and coral reefs.

Puerto Viejo Beach, Puerto Viejo
This public beach is popular with surfers.


Our Lady of the Angels Basilica (Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles), Cartago
This church is best known for the 1635 appearance of the country's patron saint, the Black Virgin. An annual pilgimage takes place in August.

Tapanti National Park, Orosi
Only an hour's drive from San Jose, this dense rainforest remains largely obscure.


Sirena Ranger Station, Corcovado National Park
Tourist/visitor center


Cafe Britt Coffee Tour, Heredia
The most popular local brand of coffee is produced at this farm, where you can learn the whole history of coffee.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Heredia
Trails wind through a rainforest filled with birds, butterflies and flowers.

La Fortuna

Catarata La Fortuna, La Fortuna
This 700-meter waterfall has natural pools for swimming at its base.

La Fortuna Canopy Tour, La Fortuna
A 40-minute horseback ride leads to 4 platforms over the jungle.


Ranario, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Twenty-six species of frogs and toads are collected in terrariums.

Isla Tortuga, Puntarenas
This state-owned island is leased to a Costa Rican family that leads tours.

Reserva Biologica Carara, Puntarenas
A coastal rain forest park.

Canopy Safari, Quepos
A series of platforms 200 feet above the ground provide a good appreciation of the jungle.

San Jose

Parque Zoologico Nacional Simon Bolivar, San Jose
This modest zoo provides an introduction to some of the amazing diversity of the country.

National Theater (Teatro Nacional), San Jose
Since 1897, this elegant theater has been a source of pride.

National Museum (Museo Nacional), San Jose
This 19th-century building contains a well-organized exhibits on Costa Rica's history and culture.

Jade Museum (Museo Nacional del Jade), San Jose
This famous museum houses the world's largest collection of American jade.

Gold Museum (Museo del Oro), San Jose
A large collection of indigenous gold art.

Plaza de la Cultura, San Jose
Downtown's main plaza often hosts celebrations, demonstrations, performances, etc.

Spirogyra Butterfly Garden, San Jose
30 species of butterflies flutter around this magical garden.

Central Market (Mercado Central), San Jose
This collection of stalls and restaurants contains the country's first ice cream vendor.

Serpentarium, San Jose
A collection of snakes and lizards.

Central Bank (Banco Central), San Jose
This modern bank building is bordered by a popular plaza.

Metropolitan Church (Catedral Metropolitana), San Jose
The interior of this 1871 church is far more interesting than the neoclassic exterior.

Correos de Costa Rica, San Jose
This 1917 building stands out from its bland surroundings.

Central Park (Parque Central), San Jose
A simple square with a gazebo donated by former Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza.

Parque Espana, San Jose
This park is one of the capital's most pleasant spots.

National Park (Parque Nacional), San Jose
This tropical park is popular during the day but best avoided at night.

El Pueblo, San Jose
San Jose's nightlife is concentrated in this complex made to look like an old Spanish village.

Melia Cariari Golf Course, San Jose
This designer championship golf course on the grounds of the Melia Cariari Hotel was Central America’s first. Pro and amateur events are held here regularly.

Parque La Sabana, San Jose
The city's largest park.

Museo de Arte Costarricense, San Jose
This museum displays works by local artists.


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