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Costa Rica is a nature lover’s dream. Adventure blends seamlessly into nature's harmony and the array of wonders in Costa Rica leaves its visitors breathless and spellbound. A bubbling volcano illuminates the star filled night sky and enchanting forests that appear as though they are made entirely of clouds thrive with diverse wildlife. From the Pacific Coast to the Caribbean Sea and the expanse of lush jungles in between, Costa Rica is a place where time slows down and where you can lose yourself in the very essence of life.
Costa Rica means “Rich Coast,” the meaning of which is immediately evident during any visit to the Pacific or Caribbean shores that border the Central American country. Costa Rica is much more than just its beaches and enchants its visitors with a style and a relaxed way of living summed up in the motto Pura Vida, meaning “Pure Life.”
The scenic landscape offers surprise and adventure, luxury and wonder across less than 19,800 square miles, and the country also supports nearly four percent of the world’s total species. Whether backpacking through the volcanic ridges north of the Central Valley or reveling in luxury on a secluded resort nestled between the Pacific Ocean and a protected rainforest, taking the time to tour Costa Rica will bring unparalleled experiences for both active adventurers and enthusiastic idlers. The country hosts more than 500,000 plant and animal species across 11 Conservation Areas. Local communities help to protect the wild lands and ensure the safeguard of natural resources and natural beauty based on grassroots, sustainable efforts.
More than 25 percent of the country’s territory is considered protected land through a mix of private reserves and national parks, preserving resources for future generations of Costa Ricans and visitors from around the world. Panama creates the southern border and Nicaragua runs along the border to the north. The undulating landscape reaches its peak at Cerro Chirripo, the highest point in the country, which reaches 12,500 feet above sea level. The tropical climate brings year-round rains. However, the variety of mountains and volcanoes create unique microclimates in which the weather can shift dramatically.
The government helps to regulate industry and development to keep the biodiversity intact and rewards eco-friendly hotels, tour providers, and those that implement green business practices to help sustain the awe-inspiring beauty of the celebrated biodiversity. This allows Costa Rica to stay on track to become the first carbon-neutral country in the world, meeting its energy needs through a combination of hydroelectric, wind, and geothermal power.
Trails and roads lead to deserted beaches, hidden waterfalls, and volcanic craters shrouded in transcendent mist. Toucans and resplendent quetzals call to birders as zip lines crisscross the forest canopy. Ticos, native Costa Ricans, greet one another in the relaxed rhythm of the day, waving and saying “pura vida” as they pass to celebrate living life their preferred ways. Perfect waves lead to perfect sunsets while cozy fireplaces in the highlands bring views of the peaceful emerald leaves of the cloud forest.
It is easy to fall in love with the beauty, and the relaxed pace of Costa Rica captures a wealth of cultural and natural histories that spread from Guanacaste to San Jose, Tortuguero to the Osa Peninsula. Your introduction to Costa Rica will provide easy to access, practical information that will better acquaint you with everything from the must-do activities and sites to visa questions, pre-trip healthcare worries, and the hidden wonders of Central America’s most exciting destination. Put your mind at ease over the Zicasso planning process and embrace the excitement of your dream Costa Rica tour.
San Jose bursts with liveliness and excitement that blends into the daily life of Ticos, Costa Rica natives. The capital of Costa Rica contains an ineffable charm that is strewn beneath the potholed streets and mishmash of corrugated metal and plaster homes. The chaos of rumbling cars, buses, and people reveal a connection to the capitals of Central America but give way to the mixture of traditional and historical buildings. The city was founded in 1737 but remained a forgotten settlement of the Spanish empire until the late 19th century due to the emerging coffee trade.
The mountains surrounding the Central Valley offer a perfect altitude of nearly 3,700 feet above sea level that grows to over 5,575 feet above sea level for an ideal environment in which to cultivate coffee. The valley also keeps an average spring-like temperature year-round. The Talamanca Mountains border the south and the Poas, Barva, and Irazu volcanoes frame the northern edges of the bustling city. Contemporary art galleries bring insight into the seductive art scene while the Central Market provides visitors with a glimpse of the Tico lifestyle as locals traverse the aisles in the 19th century donut-like structure in search of fresh produce, fish, and meat.
When speaking to Ticos from around San Jose, you will quickly learn the connection people have to the Gold Museum, finding it much more informative and elegant than any other exhibit in San Jose, including the National Museum. If you choose one gallery to visit during your time in the capital, the Gold Museum, the Museo de Oro, offers displays priceless artifacts that are connected to pre-Columbian peoples, including historical currency and regional art.
Arenal and La Fortuna
While viewing pictures of Costa Rica, you will undoubtedly come across the iconic cone of Arenal Volcano with couples lovingly gazing into each other’s eyes and lounging in refreshing thermal springs. These natural wonders decorate the landscape outside of the towns of La Fortuna and Nuevo Arenal while inside the town, horses graze on the overgrown grasses of empty lots and spiny iguanas ramble in the bushes to enjoy the sunlight that pierces through the canopy.
Sloths rest in the branches above the river as the road leads towards Arenal Lake for a spectacular view of the precious cone of Arenal Volcano, the storybook picture of what a volcanic peak should look like. The mountain spewed lava over the top of the summit for over 40 years, beginning in 1968 and suddenly stopped the daily discharge of slowly flowing magma in 2010. The volcanic activity offers mineral rich soil to the agricultural community, along with plenty of lush rainforests to explore. Visitors from around the world travel to La Fortuna and Arenal to view the fabulous peak and to hike the trails of Arenal Volcano National Park, home to the eponymous volcano and extinct Chato Volcano, in which an aqua-blue lake resides in the crater.
Ticos enjoy long weekends or a day trips from San Jose to relax in the variety of hot springs and thermal baths that rush along the verdant landscape. The natural volcanic activity heats the waterways that course through the tropical trees and underbrush to populate the foothills beneath the smoking volcano. Luxury travelers, honeymooners, and backpackers alike will enjoy the variety of activities the region offers while taking advantage of the rejuvenating waters. Local activities include cave tours, horseback riding, zip lining, fishing, hanging bridges, chocolate tours, cultural experiences, river rafting and whitewater rafting, rappelling, canyoning and day and night treks.
The Central Highlands offer a different and distinctive experience in Costa Rica away from the tropical heat and familiar images of the rainforest. Monteverde remains one of the most popular destinations in Costa Rica due to its thick green foliage, eco-friendly accommodations, and volcanic peaks, and cool, misty weather unique to the Cost Rican climate.
Monteverde was established in the 1950s by Quaker families eager to leave the United States and the political climate of the time behind them. The families formed dairy farms that eventually grew into the Monteverde Cheese Factory. The small town sits atop the mountainous terrain surrounded by dirt roads and trails that lead into the Cloud Forest Reserve. The protected landscape encompasses more than 40 square miles and offers refuge to the stunning wildlife and embodying Costa Rica’s incredible biodiversity. Bird watchers and enthusiastic lovers of wildlife enjoy guided treks through the untouched forest terrain populated with strangler fig trees as dense forest canopy washes over the Continental Divide with views to both the Caribbean and Pacific shores on a clear day.
The cooler climate and moss-strewn trees provide perfect nesting grounds for the rare and endangered resplendent quetzal. The smaller, yet equally majestic neighbor to Monteverde Cloud Forest is Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, which overtakes 765 acres. The less-visited terrain contains trails that lead through the hanging vines as vegetation drips with moisture from the passing clouds. Guided tours in the region include suspension bridges, zip lines, butterfly gardens, nature walks and horseback riding.
Many visitors to the gorgeous, forested mountain tops choose to partake in guided hikes during day and night. Experiencing both brings better views of the immensity of the wildlife that ranges from Baird’s tapir, collared peccary, jaguar, jaguarundi, agouti, three-toed sloth, vampire bats and more. The opportunity to see the variety of wildlife abound while touring the trails of Monteverde or Santa Elena Cloud Forests year-round.
Manuel Antonio National Park
The Pacific region of Costa Rice enchants visitors from around the world, along with Ticos taking a break from the bustling streets of San Jose. White sand beaches sparkle against the indigo waters of the Pacific Ocean, and the breeze accentuates the relaxing coastal ambiance. The pristine beaches border Costa Rica’s smallest national park, which encompasses three square miles of protected land that harbor unparalleled biodiversity.
109 different mammals and 184 different bird species populate the combination of evergreen, primary, and secondary, along with the mangrove studded lagoons and canals. Dolphins swim in the calm Pacific often performing for passing boats while humpback, pseudo-orca, and pilot whales travel near the edges of the park between August to October, and again between December and April. Night hikes in the rainforest reveal red-eyed tree frogs and night owl monkeys. Other celebrated activities around the national park include sunset cruising, scuba diving, a visit to Damas Island, zip lining and sea kayaking.
Guided tours lead visitors along the countless trails around the only landscape in Costa Rica containing all four species of monkeys: the spider, howler, white-faced capuchin, and endangered squirrel monkey.
If tiring of the exhilarating activities or in need of a quiet cultural excursion, the Quopes Farmers Market reveals an enjoyable image of daily life on Fridays and Saturdays offering an assortment of local delicacies. Local farmers display handcrafted cheeses, bread, pies, and ice cream, along with handmade souvenirs that represent a multitude of artistic aesthetics.
Tortuguero National Park
The promise of pristine nature and secluded beaches protected by dense jungle terrain captures the attention of even seasoned travelers, and there is no greater place to blend rugged beauty and untamed nature than at Tortuguero, located on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast. Small charter flights travel between Tortuguero and San Jose, but the majority of travelers must take a boat through the winding canals to reach the banks of Tortuguero Village. The Caribbean Sea laps against the bordering golden beach as palm trees offer an idyllic image of a hidden paradise while the rainforest grows wild against the western backdrop. The Afro-Caribbean culture permeates the tropical atmosphere with the music and flavors in the restaurants.
The town and national park are named for the hordes of sea turtles that return to the shores between July and August to nest. What once brought visitors eager to view the nature’s life cycle in the summer now attracts travelers year-round that are keen to enjoy jungle hikes and unique cruises on the remote canals.
Tortuguero National Park protects more than 46,800 acres of pristine habitat, including 20 miles of coastline on which Olive Ridley, leatherback, loggerhead, and hawksbill turtles hatch. A surprising addition to the diversity of the protected waters’ is the West Indian manatee, which populates shallow estuaries near open water. Traveling in Tortuguero feels more akin to the raw wonders of the Amazon as the park is home to over 300 species of birds, along with jaguars, spotted caiman, boa constrictors, and common tink frogs.
The park also offers a great habitat in which to view the endangered great green macaw and Fin whales that are found swimming off of the coast. The average rainfall reaches 200 inches annually, making it the wettest in the country, and the humidity is palpable throughout the year, allowing the plant life to flourish in the thick, tropical heat along the marshlands, swamps, lagoons, and slow-moving rivers.
Costa Rica contains more than 800 miles of coastline, not to mention the rivers, lakes, and estuaries and provides endless kayaking opportunities for the active traveler. Each tour opens up the unique worlds created by Costa Rica’s biodiversity to make your time in the canals of a mangrove forest completely different than when on the open Pacific Ocean. Any and every kayak tour can be combined with other activities popular across Costa Rica, such as birding, snorkeling, or hiking the trails of a secluded island to make your time in a kayak a true adventure.
White, gold, tan, and gray sand decorate the hundreds of beaches found along the Pacific and Caribbean coasts of Costa Rica for incredible surfing. Surfers have flocked to Costa Rica for decades in search of the perfect waves and to soak up the laid-back lifestyle of Pura Vida. Whether an experienced surfer or one eager to learn while under the guidance of a supportive instructor, Costa Rica offers an abundance of celebrated spots, including Matapalo and Jaco Beach on the Central Pacific, Nosara on the Nicoya Peninsula and Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean Coast.
The rivers and rains have shaped Costa Rica’s landscape over millennia and rush through canyons and down mountains until reaching the sea for amazing whitewater rafting. The unique contours of the canals, forests, and waterfalls bring ample opportunities to explore the scenery and wildlife on rafting tours. Whether in the mood for a thrilling whitewater ride or a relaxing trip in search for lizards, birds, and monkeys, your professional guides will ensure a safe and memorable expedition. Popular destinations for rafting around Costa Rica include the Pacuare River (Lower Section) with class III/IV rapids, the Reventazon River (El Carmen Section) with class II/III rapids, the Toro River with class III/IV rapids, the Sarapiqui River (San Miguel Section) with class III/IV rapids, and the Savegre River with class II/III rapids.
One of the best ways to experience the canopies of the variety of forests across Costa Rica is on a zip line tour. The adventurous and scenic excursion began in the 1970s and has become one of the most popular and widespread activities in the country, blending the beauty of the treetops with its remoteness. Guides help educate participants on the ecology, botany, and reforestation efforts encouraging the wildlife to return to the secondary forest and supporting the wildlife in primary forests.
The active traveler to Costa Rica will have no shortage of trails and hikes from which to choose. 30 percent of the land is protected as national parks, preserves, and wildlife refuges, and each speckled with well-marked trails that lead to pristine beaches, primary rainforest, or bubbling volcanic foothills. An abundance of flora, fauna, and avifauna rewards travelers eager to discover the footpaths winding along the forest floor or sweeping through the treetops. The suspension bridges offer another form of active exploration and decorate the canopies around the diverse biospheres.
Guides offer great direction on the nature trails and point out nesting birds, fresh jaguar tracks, or grazing monkeys that are often hidden to the unaccustomed hiker. The best hikes and trails around Costa Rica offer a blend of distinctive scenery, active wildlife, and magnificent views.
- Arenal Volcano National Park spans more than 7,100 acres and offers views to Arenal Volcano with the old cooled lava flow and the crater lake in extinct El Chato Volcano
- The waters of Rio Celeste shine an iridescent indigo between the emerald trees as you hike to the waterfall in the Guanacaste region. The hike also leads to hot springs heated by active Tenorio Volcano
- Santa Rosa is regarded for its fabulous wildlife within the protected dry forest and is also the oldest national park in Costa Rica. Visitors can travel the 12 miles of hiking trails that lead to the white sand beaches and nest Olive Ridley sea turtles between August and November
- An avid hiker and nature lover cannot miss a night hike in the tropical rainforest on the Osa Peninsula. A guide ensures that you stay on the path as you search for the nocturnal creatures that fill the dark, dense trees with vibrant life and range from snakes to frogs, sleeping birds to hunting jaguars
For those more interested in history and culture, Costa Rica combines the jungle terrain with important archaeological sites like Guayabo National Monument, home to an ancient pre-Columbian city dating back more than 3,000 years ago. The park encompasses 540 acres of ancient stonework supporting intricate mounds. Archeologists have deduced that the size of the mounds correlate to the importance of the person in the society, with the higher and the larger mounds displaying a higher societal rank. Preserved petroglyphs in the park highlight the connection to the wildlife with images of jaguars and lizards while the surrounding forest also provides a lush trail known for its spectacular bird and butterfly sightings.
Costa Rica has developed around coffee, shaping its social and political structures along with the culture. Oxen and the colorful ox carts are celebrated as art across the country that once hauled coffee exports from the Central Valley over the mountains to the Pacific Coast over a 15-day period. Coffee remains one of the major exports of the country and dates back to the 18th century. Marks of the prestigious coffee trade continue to decorate the country, most notably in the San Jose neighborhoods of Amon and Aranjuez, where colonial, Victorian, and art deco mansions recall the prestige of the coffee barons from the late 19th to early 20th centuries.
Coffee in Costa Rica comprises the same devotion and passion as wine in Italy and France, with aficionados and enthusiasts traveling from around the world to sample the distinctive flavors garnered from the soil and surrounding elements within the favored regions of:
- Tres Rios
- Alajuela Poas Volcano
Micro mills and microclimates within these regions can also affect the way the coffee tastes due to the different minerals in the soil and how the coffee is cultivated. Much of the coffee cherries are harvested by hand and treated in a wet-process, setting the standard for Central and South American nations eager to participate in the coffee trade. Visiting coffee plantations across Costa Rica has become a popular activity eager to learn more about the cultivation process, along with the proper flavors they should find in a delicious cup of coffee. A number of places around Costa Rica celebrate the pleasures of local coffee by highlighting the flavors particular to the different regions, along with producing quality drinks, including cocktails, representing the micro-mills.
- Café del Barista in San Jose offers insight into the different coffee that is grown in regions around the country with baristas known for their love and passion for the drink. Some of the baristas compete professionally while others enjoy simply introducing newcomers and veteran coffee drinkers alike to flavorful, coffee-forward concoctions
- Matute is a small cafeteria, or coffee shop, that can be found in the celebrated coffee-growing region of Tarrazu. The baristas here are known for their infectious excitement about coffee and produce unique combinations of flavors enhanced by the noticeable quality of the local beans cultivated on the local micro-mills. The baristas also use their talents to produce delightful coffee and rum cocktails.
Chocolate in Costa Rica has a long history and dates back to before the cultivation of coffee. The original beans grew in the Brazilian Amazon and traveled north by bird migration, human trade, or both. Chocolate was even used as currency between neighboring civilizations due to its coveted qualities until the arrival of the Spanish in the 15th century. Costa Rican chocolate remains a delicacy as the country produces organic, fair-trade chocolate made with all natural ingredients and competes with other Central and South American countries, along with many African nations, in the production of quality cacao cultivation.
Visiting chocolate plantations is a fun and informative experience and offers new views to the tediousness of drying the beans and the seductive aromas produced as the beans roast. The country produced nearly 700 tons of dry grain in 2013, but it was not enough to cover the domestic demand. Many chocolate tours will allow you to grind the beans yourself for a better insight into the process of crafting smooth, velvety chocolate mixed with a small amount of sugar to make 70 percent dark chocolate.
Costa Rica is a birdwatcher’s paradise and beckons both to amateur and professional birders from around the world eager to view the variety of avifauna in the remarkable biodiversity that spans rainforest, dry forest, wetlands, mangrove swamps, cloud forest, and more. An estimated 850 bird species reside in the country across the 12 ecological regions and climatic zones. 630 of the bird species are resident, with 19 species found on the endangered list. A birding hotspot route protects nearly 120,000 acres of bird ecosystems across Costa Rica through a network of reserves that are connected to private lodges. These properties help to protect the birdlife and wildlife in congruence with the government’s initiative to protect the distinctive ecosystems for which Costa Rica is known.
The birding hotspots account for one tenth of a percent of Costa Rica’s surface area along with nearly .35 percent of the protected landscape to provide a paradise for nature lovers of all kinds. The preeminent bird watching lodges across the country account for the variety of species that habituate and nest in the different biospheres offers visitors a chance to view rare birds such as Resplendent quetzals, Scarlet macaws, Keel-billed toucans, Snowcaps, Traveler hummingbirds, and Motmots.
With such a vast amount of avifauna, it is important to know what types of birds you would like to find during your time in Costa Rica. For the tropical rainforest species, you can explore La Selva Biological Station and Reserve. Carara National Park hosts the largest population of remaining scarlet macaw while Tapanti National Park and Cerro Silencio host tanagers, barbets, ornate hawk-eagles and a plethora of hummingbirds. With stunning colors, interesting calls, and fascinating characteristics, it is no wonder that more than 30 percent of all travelers to Costa Rica visit to see the birds.
The marvelous biodiversity is amplified with a wealth of agriculture as the warm, fertile soils and abundant minerals are present amidst an average rainfall of more than 13 inches a year. Guanacaste, a large producer of Brahman cattle, sugar cane, cotton, and rice, receives irrigated water from Lake Arenal during the dry season. The use of irrigation has allowed farms in the more arid regions across Costa Rica to farm crops that are usually found in wetter, tropical areas, such as pineapple, mangos, bananas, and sugar cane. An abundance of wild fruits grows along the roadside, such as cashew fruits, mangoes, papaya, and guava. However, plantations fill the markets both large and small, from tiny villages near the Caribbean to the megastores of San Jose.
The tropical landscape provides stunning fruits most often associated with South America or Southeast Asia due to their introduction to Central America by historical trade. Dragon fruit, star fruit, and rambutan are examples of the delicious and distinctive produce once uncommon to the landscape and markets of Costa Rica, but can now be found growing on the plantations around pineapple or mango. Achiote is an example of a native fruit Costa Rican’s have harvested for millennia, often turning the scarlet seeds into a paste to use as food coloring.
The traditional flavors of Costa Rica are typical of Central America and utilize rice and beans for the most common dish known as gallo pinto. A customary breakfast consists of fried eggs or meat paired with the rice and beans while gallo pinto is often used as a side dish at lunch or dinner as well, accompanied by a small salad, meat or fish, and possibly fried plantains. The latter combination of dishes is known as casado, referring to the marriage of ingredients. Casados and gallo pinto are known in Costa Rica as “typical food,” comida tipica.
Corn is a popular ingredient often used in Costa Rica both in tortillas or pancakes. Plantains and yucca often take the place of potatoes as an accompanying side dish and are fried, dressed with salt, and favored for their starchy qualities. Near the coastal waters, you can find an abundance of delectable ceviche dishes with locals squeezing sour lemon over fishes such as tuna, swordfish, red snapper, or shellfish like shrimp, lobster, or conch.
No Costa Rican meal is complete without a sweet treat. The ample desserts range from tres leches cake to queque seco, which is similar to a pound cake due to its crumbly, dry texture. Ice cream, cookies, and fudge are also common across the country, often made with raw sugar and condensed milk for a richer, sweeter flavor.
Natural fruit drinks offer a range of natural sweetness and refreshing flavor amidst the tropical heat and cool temperatures of the cloud forests. Roadside vendors and small restaurants provide delicious homemade natural fruit drinks known as “bebidas naturales.” Most vendors offer the common fruits such as pineapple, watermelon, papaya, mango and sour guava. In the tropical lowlands, it is common to find vendors selling cold coconut. The merchant drills a hole in the top of a chilled coconut and sticks a straw directly into the center for a cold, energizing refreshment referred to as pipas. There are also eight different beers brewed in Costa Rica, the most popular of which is Imperial., followed by Pilsen, and then Bavaria.
Costa Rica’s inarguable mantra is “Pura Vida,” which stands can mean “full of life.” It commonly refers to the way Ticos greet each other, reflecting on their day, week, or life as “going great.” A first-time visit to Costa Rica can be a test in patience for newcomers as locals refer to their timeliness as “la hora tica,” or Tico Time, referring to the slow, relaxed pace of life. Ticos take their time and do not view tardiness or steadiness as rude, unless in adhering to the rigid timetables of movie showings or health clinic appointments. Whether on a public street or in the privacy of their homes, Costa Ricans will say hello and goodbye to friends with a light kiss on the cheek. Women kiss women; men kiss women; men do not kiss men. However, friendly men will often give one-armed hugs or firm handshakes.
Much of the historical machismo of the Central American culture has changed over the past 30 years. Where women once stayed in the home tending to the children and housework, they now pursue careers and occupations with salaries equal to men. It is still common for men to stare, whistle, or tout pickup lines at passing women, but is often considered complimentary by both the men and women involved. Confrontations are rare and considered ill-mannered in a society that prides itself on serene ambiance and politeness. Ticos say please and thank you whether speaking to servers at a restaurant, staff at a shop, or friends inside the home, formality remains integral to the culture.
It is important to remember when in conversation with locals that the official religion of the country is Roman Catholic, accounting for approximately 70 percent of the population. Maintain direct eye contact when speaking, for it is a sign of respect and considered polite. A point of pride for many Ticos is the absence of an army. Costa Rica gained the nickname “Switzerland of the Americas,” after the abolition of the army in 1948, choosing instead to fund conservation, teacher training, and higher education, which the latter two have bared fruit in a literacy rate of 96 percent.
The festivals around Costa Rica maintain a semblance of connection to historical, cultural practices often blending pre-Columbian traditions with Roman Catholic customs. Some of the best times to experience the preserved culture of Costa Rica are during the distinct festivals around the country:
- Early January sees the Fiesta de Palmares around Costa Rica. It is considered the national festival of the country
- Playa Cocalito holds a Full Moon Festival in January, which is renowned for its food, art, and cultural activities
- The last week of February brings the Sun Festival, representing the Maya New Year, along with promoting solar power
- Oxcarts Drivers Day is the second Sunday in March and celebrates the cultural symbol with Local priests blessings livestock and crops.
- The Freedom Torch travels from Guatemala to Costa Rica during Independence Day on September 15th, celebrating the liberation of Central American countries from Imperial Spain
Traveling to Costa Rica between December and April is considered the dry season, with May bringing the beginnings of the wet season. The weather’s predictability wanes along the Caribbean coast, with rain falling throughout the year for an endlessly lush landscape. The series of volcanoes and mountains dividing the country from north to south creates a series of microclimates, accounting for the distinctive biodiversity. It is advisable to bring a light rain jacket at any time of the year and warmer clothing when visiting the highlands, including the cloud forests.
The diversity of Costa Rica is not limited to the ecosystems and the microclimates but is also embodied in the range of accommodations that allow visitors to experience the jungle terrain, the stunning cloud forests, the vibrant rainforests, and the secluded beaches as they desire. With a range of four and five-star resorts, along with boutique eco-friendly lodges, the remote countryside could be as luxurious and opulent as the bustling heart of the capital city. Travelers in search of relaxation can find comfort in the form of resplendent soulful retreats hidden in the mountains or listening to crashing waves on the Pacific while thrill-seekers discover gorgeous eco-luxury resorts reachable only by traversing whitewater.
Costa Rica caters to visitors of all types with a range of availability that includes boutique accommodations with individualized attention that enhances the opulence and comforts of the surrounding scenery without compromising the standards set by global trademark hotels. Hotels in San Jose incorporate the chic and fashionable décor associated with the capital city while resorts in Manuel Antonio National Park highlight the open walls for exceptional views with materials taken from the surrounding areas to not disrupt the biosphere. Lodges in Monteverde blend into the background of the cloud forest and accommodations in Tortuguero offer respite from the tropical humidity and heat that are accompanied by the marvelous vistas.
The best hotels offer a blend of soothing atmosphere and cultural heritage through a connection with the surrounding wildlife and preserved scenery. Boutique hotels contain hidden coffee plantations and working biological field studies. Whether in the mood for a jungle-themed room in the vicinity of waterfalls or settling into a room with a view of the Arenal’s volcanic peak, Costa Rica emphasizes wonder and adventure, scenery and ambiance.
For those looking for remote accommodations in search of romance or just for the excitement of reaching somewhere secluded and new, Costa Rica also features tree house lodges and glamorous camping retreats hidden in the rainforest canopy. There are few places more private than hanging out in a luxury camp in the trees with only the passing avifauna and active monkey troops as company. They are also perfect destinations for yoga getaways that connect each breath to the sounds of the surrounding rainforest terrain.
Zicasso's network of Costa Rica travel agents and specialists are considered to be among the industry's top 10%, and have been personally vetted through a detailed screening process for their level of knowledge, expertise and reputation. Based on the positive feedback of Zicasso's clients and the endorsements of our top travel specialists, a highly selective group of accommodations have been recognized with Zicasso's Top Travel Specialist's Choice Award, which can often be found on the hotels' websites.
Hotel Belmar is located in Monteverde's cloud forest where guest will experience the best of nature, luxury, and sustainable practices. This world-renowned hotel offers a wide range of amenities including handmade organic soaps with biodegradable shampoos, locally made snacks, and fresh Costa Rican brewed coffee delivered to the exquisite rooms. Guests will experience only the best at this peaceful accommodation.
The boutique Tambor Tropical Beach Resort offers guests the opportunity to relax and explore during their tropical beach getaway. You may enjoy the golden beaches and deep blue waters just a few steps away from your luxurious suite. Your room is complete with a private balcony granting spectacular views of Whale Bay. Keep an eye out for the charismatic marine life on the horizon. Recenter yourself with a relaxing massage or an outdoor yoga class, certified instructors are even available to teach yoga on stand up paddle boards in the bay. Embark on an exciting adventure sea kayaking, horseback riding, or sport fishing. This dazzling beach resort beautifully showcases the best of the Nicoya Peninsula.
The Nicoya Peninsula
Cristal Azul Ocean-View Villas
Leave the crowds and enjoy the splendor of the tropical jungle at Cristal Azul Ocean-View Villas. The remote location allows guests to experience true Costa Rica as it once was before the crowds arrived. Guests will enjoy sea kayaking, zip lining, yoga or even visit a Macaw Sanctuary. Take in the pure simplicity and stunning surroundings of the Nicoya Peninsula. Those who prefer to stay off the beaten path will fall in love with Cristal Azul Resort.
Arenal Kioro Suites & Spa
For a place to unwind and enjoy Costa Rica’s natural wonders, visit Arenal Kioro. The property sits perched on a hilltop resulting in extravagant views of Arenal Volcano’s summit and the valley below. Two natural streams wind around the grounds providing a tranquil atmosphere. There are 7 hot springs present complete with hydro massage features for guests to enjoy. The on site spa treatments will rejuvenate your mind, body and spirit with a day filled with pampering. Arenal Kioro Suites & Spa provides first class service to those visiting La Fortuna.
Poas Volcano Lodge
This charming mountain lodge is located in Vara Blanca skirting Poas Volcano National Park. Wake up to striking views of the volcano or picture perfect pastures with sweet smells of the garden just outside the room. Step outside and walk along the farm trails to take in the brisk mountain air. In the evenings, relax by the fire with a glass of wine as you think back on the day's incredible experiences. At Poas Volcano Lodge, guests will experience a truly authentic and sustainable Costa Rica travel destination.
Asclepios Wellness & Healing Retreat
The expert team at Asclepios Wellness & Healing Retreat take pride in caring for guests’ physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. The serene environment provides the perfect space for self growth. Enjoy the ionized swimming pool, fully organic cuisine, meditation pavilion and much more all conveniently located on site. Several wellness approaches are considered from massage to regenerative medicine. A complete team of holistic practitioners and therapists will guide guests through their wellness journey. The holistic approach to health at Asclepios Wellness will leave guests feeling refreshed upon their return home.
La Paloma Lodge
La Paloma Lodge is situated on a dramatic clifftop providing outstanding views of the Pacific and emerald jungle below. Drake Bay’s natural wonders provide opportunities for endless exploration. Snorkel through the crystal waters at Caño Island and discover the verdant rainforest and wildlife of Corcovado National Park. This boutique ecolodge is the perfect destination for any nature lover.
Ojochal de Osa
Hotel El Mono Feliz
Welcome to Hotel El Mono Feliz a birders haven. More than one hundred thirty species of birds have been spotted on the grounds. This small slice of paradise boasts a warm and friendly staff dedicated to creating the perfect getaway. Explore tasty local flavors in Ojochal, which is known to be Costa Rica’s foodie capital. Walk along pristine untouched beaches or explore the exotic jungle. The natural scenery in the South Pacific Region will amaze visitors from around the globe.
The Mango Trees Villa and Spa
This idyllic location is situated just above the rushing Coronado River with outstanding views of the tropics. Take a swim in the Pacific Ocean at one of the pristine beaches nearby. Wander along the seaside and converse with the friendly Ticos. Return to your grand villa after a long day of exploration. Sit on your lovely terrace and watch the sky turn to a painted pink and orange sunset. Enjoy a natural environment like no other at The Mango Trees Villa and Spa.
Bosque de Paz Lodge
Bosque de Paz or the “Forest of Peace” is a hidden gem in the lush jungles of Costa Rica. Surrounded by some of the most pristine nature on Earth with crystal clear water, magnificent clouds, purest air, and diverse wildlife, guests will easily come to understand why this lodge is often referred to as the heart of Costa Rica.
The lodge’s tranquil location offerers guests a true oasis from their busy lives, while the owner’s of the lodge, Federico and Vanessa, personally emphasize ecotourism and have participated in important local ecological projects such as creating a bridge for wildlife to roam freely. To depart from stress and to experience serenity, harmony and peace, come and experience why Bosque de Paz continues to be one of Zicasso’s favorite Costa Rican lodges.
Ojo del Mar
Visit the emerald forest and glittering sea in Costa Rica’s wild Osa Peninsula. Ojo del Mar provides a one of a kind eco-friendly base for your exploration. The lodge features airy cabanas with breathtaking views of the surrounding tropics. The building is artfully crafted using tall bamboo shoots, a sustainable alternative to traditional building materials. Practice morning yoga before a packed day of adventure. Connect with nature by repelling down dramatic waterfalls. With some luck, guests may even experience majestic sea turtles nesting. Outdoor enthusiasts will fall in love with the enchanted Osa Peninsula.
Tucked away in the lush Escaleras Mountains lies the spectacular Villas Alturas. Each villa has a fantastic covered balcony which overlooks 40 miles of extended coastline. For dinner look no further than their tasty restaurant, Tierra Verde. The cuisine offered is mainly vegan based with a select few seafood dishes sourced locally. Enjoy the view of the famous “Whale’s Tail” reef formation that can be spotted at low tide. Stop by the pool for some well deserved time relaxing.
Visit The Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary located next to Villas Alturas. This non-profit organization rehabilitates wildlife to bring them back to health. Guests can schedule a tour where they will learn about the various animals housed at the sanctuary. All donations support costs for food, veterinary care, construction of habitats and any other expenses to care for the animals. Take the time to learn about the diverse species home to Costa Rica.
Venture deep into the jungle to visit some of the last untouched land in Costa Rica. Casa Corcovado is located on one hundred seventy acres of private reserve bordering Corcovado National Park. The region is famously known for its extensive biodiversity, look out for squirrel monkeys, scarlet macaws and jaguars. When you return from an excursion into the jungle teeming with wildlife, you can relax in your large plush bed while gazing at the wood beam ceiling and stained glass handcrafted by local artisans. Although the lodge is tucked away in the jungle there is no shortage of amenities on site. Enjoy delicious meals at their Spanish style restaurant and a swim in a clear blue pool fed by natural spring water. Casa Corcovado seamlessly blends the beauty of nature with upscale luxurious accommodations.
Villa Buena Onda
Overlooking the picturesque Papagayo Bay sits the distinguished Villa Buena Onda, an elegant mansion turned meal-inclusive resort. The property was designed by a renowned interior decorator who combined leather, silk, iron and traditional woods to create a five element oasis. The earth-toned exteriors complement the greens and blues of the natural environment. During sunset, guests can watch from the garden as the sky’s orange and pink hues contrast with the deep blues of the two tiered swimming pool. Guests will never forget the service oriented staff who are willing to go the distance to make your stay a once in a lifetime experience. Villa Buena Onda is ideal for couples desiring romance and relaxation in beautiful Costa Rica.
Las Nubes Natural Energy Resort
Enjoy wondrous views high above the clouds at this secluded mountain top oasis. Las Nubes Natural Energy Resort specializes in sustainable indulgence, sourcing energy from solar panels and water from mountain springs. The gourmet cuisine is prepared with fresh vegetables and meat from the small on site farm. In the mornings, the unique open air bungalows let in beams of golden sunlight and fresh mountain air. Spend your days basking in the sun where you can wholly appreciate the natural scenery. After fully embracing barefoot luxury, you will return home feeling newly recharged.
The Pachira Lodge is conveniently located just minutes from the world famous Tortuguero National Park. One of the highlights of the property is a stunning turtle shaped pool where you can relax, slice open a fresh coconut and enjoy the crisp air. Guests who visit between July and September can join an organized turtle nesting tour where you will witness thousands of green turtles lay their eggs on the beaches of Tortuguero National Park. Since it is difficult for sea turtles to navigate across sand, they become easy targets for predators during the egg laying process. The national park aims to protect the endangered turtles from predators during this highly susceptible time. For guests looking to experience the wonders of the green sea turtle and other Costa Rican wildlife, Pachira Lodge is an ideal place to stay.
Vacation in the rainforest canopy at the acclaimed Aninga Lodge. Your stay begins with an epic boat ride through Tortuguero’s canals, home to wild crocodiles, monkeys and iguanas. Once you arrive at the lodge, you’ll be amazed by the sky-high property, which was intentionally built on 5 foot stilts to preserve the surrounding natural habitat. Enjoy the views of the lush jungle and dazzling ocean from your private bungalow, and be sure to take a stroll through the enchanting wilderness. With over 500 species of birds and 6,000 species of plants you’ll never forget the rich biodiversity that Tortuguero has to offer.
Evergreen, meaning siempre verde in Spanish, reflects the Evergreen Lodge’s efforts to maintain and preserve their integral relationship with nature. The property is committed to protecting its natural environment through sustainable tourism. The lodge’s rustic cabins were strategically built to co-exist with the ecosystem of Tortuguero National Park. The rooms’ earth toned color palette make you feel a part of the jungle. The lush vegetation and exotic sounds of the wildlife will create an unforgettable rainforest lodge experience.
Go off the grid, without sacrificing modern comforts, at the Macaw Lodge. The family owned property is named for the Scarlet Macaw, a formerly threatened species, which now thrives in the region thanks to the research and conservation efforts of the eco-lodge. During your stay, dine on fresh farm to table meals while you enjoy the view of the botanical gardens. Attend an early morning guided bird walk to spot the vibrant species home to the Carara area. Practice yoga and meditation in a bamboo forest. The lodge’s cocoa plantation is an absolute must. You’ll discover the ancient purposes of the bean and witness chocolate making process from bean to bar. Be sure to buy a couple bars of Macaw Kakau chocolate to take home as souvenirs. Macaw Lodge demonstrates that anyone can enjoy sustainable getaways.
Ojochal de Osa
Along the pristine South Pacific Coast of Costa Rica lies an oasis that remains relatively untouched. El Castillo's preserved location offers guests a sanctuary where they can explore the diverse nature surrounding the property, experience many of the activities on site or simply relax in a slow-paced lifestyle. This boutique resort offers guests panoramic ocean views, lush jungle surroundings and is near some of Costa Rica's finest restaurants. With fewer than 10 rooms and suites, guests can expect a more intimate level of service for a truly memorable experience.
Tico Tico Villas
These adult only studio apartments are an excellent option for short or long term stays to Manuel Antonio. Embrace the true Pura Vida lifestyle as you spend your day sipping on an Imperial in the shade of the rainforest canopy or swimming in the crystal clear water. While relaxing in the garden, many visiting sloths and monkeys will stop by to greet you. The exquisite apartments house charming kitchenettes equipped with everything you need to prepare a delicious meal, a great excuse for you to visit one of the local fruit stands. You will stay in one of their vibrant newly upgraded studios decorated with modern furnishings. Tico Tico Villas is a fantastic option for travelers looking for a secluded getaway in the increasingly popular destination of Manuel Antonio.
The Goddess Garden
For those seeking a rejuvenating experience within a breathtaking natural setting, The Goddess Garden Yoga Retreat Center sets a tranquil space to begin your journey. This is a great option for travelers choosing to support eco-tourism, the property uses sustainable practices and is responsible for conserving 20 acres of local rainforest. The retreat is located with views of the enchanting rainforest and the dancing Caribbean Sea. Guests may enjoy ten miles of white sandy beaches and greenery that extends into the horizon providing a serene venue to practice yoga and meditation. Stay at The Goddess Garden to unearth your own harmony.
Tenorio Volcano National Park
Hotel Rio Celeste Hideaway
Surrounded by the famous Volcan Tenorio National Park, the Rio Celeste Hideaway is a gateway to Costa Rica’s pristine nature and wildlife. Guests can explore the lush jungles teeming with wildlife through many of the activities offered on premise or simply take in the natural beauty in the comforts of one of the 26 luxurious bungalows in an ecologically friendly setting. If you are feeling adventurous, get lost on the trails the indigenous animals call home. For a relaxing day, swim in the bright blue river while listening to the musical sounds of the rainforest.
Ylang Ylang Beach Resort
Situated at the end of a scenic beach, Ylang Ylang Beach Resort's property offers 22 well-appointed rooms for today’s leisure travelers in Montezuma, offering a wide range of activities offered on the premise. The resort spans across an abundant rainforest nature reserve teeming with wildlife, so be sure to carry a camera at all times. While in Montezuma, explore the vibrant local flavors by venturing to the acclaimed El Sano Banano Restaurant, a natural foods restaurant, which seamlessly blends classic Costa Rican cuisine with an international twist. Whether you want to simply relax by the beach or pamper yourself at the spa, consider the Ylang Ylang Beach Resort.
Ojochal de Osa
Lookout at Playa Tortuga
With a name like Lookout at Playa Tortuga, this property boasts secluded beaches and lush jungles unlike any other. Home to over 250 species of birds around the property, guests should keep an eye out for some of the most exotic birds like the toucan. A stay at this truly secluded property means rising to the sounds of howler monkeys that wake you for early morning birding excursions. You may even spot a sloth from the window of your lovely room. This is the property of choice for those looking to experience Costa Rica’s immense biodiversity.
Visiting Costa Rica for the first time brings excitement and exhilaration for travelers eager to enjoy the adventurous activities, luxury accommodations, or thrilling interactions with the wildlife. Before arriving, it is important to have a passport valid for the entire length of your stay, along with at least one blank page to receive the customs stamp. At the time of writing, all visitors from the United States, Canada, and the majority of European countries receive a 90-day visa upon arrival. Those staying longer than the 90 days, whether for work, schooling purposes, or residential arrangements, must apply for a visa from their local consulate or embassy. Otherwise, a departure ticket must be purchased before entering Costa Rica, detailing your exit earlier than the expiration of the 90-day visa.
Ticos speak a number of indigenous languages, such as Bribri, Maléku, and Cabécar. However, the country’s official language is Spanish. Linguists enjoy traveling through the various topographies to see the variety of languages still in use, including the Limón Creole English created by Jamaican migrants who settled in Limón in the mid-19th century. Jewish travelers to Costa Rica enjoy finding Yiddish speakers brought from Indo-European and Germanic immigrants who constituted two major waves of migration, after the first initial wave dating back to the 16th century with the arrival of the Spanish. In areas populated by tourists or international schools, English is commonly spoken. It is easy to find someone who speaks English well, even if they only respond to your question of “Do you speak English?” by saying, “A little.”
Anyone traveling to Costa Rica from the United States will be pleased that they do not need a power plug adapter. Costa Rica uses power sockets of type A and B, which contains the standard voltage of 120 with the customary frequency of 60 hertz, also referred as Hz for Habitable zone. If the appliance is not intended for use in the United States or Costa Rica, you can check the label where it should state “Input: 100-240V, 50/60 Hz,” which would allow the appliance usage in countries around the world.
Costa Rican currency is called the Colones. Exchanging money at a hotel or a “Cambio de Change” often returns big bills of local currency. It is best to ask for small bills, as many local shops are unable to make change for the larger bills banks and cash-attendants often give for American dollars, Canadian dollars, British pounds, or euros.
For Americans, tipping is a part of daily life and therefore follows travelers to countries around the world. Tipping might not apply to all Costa Rica customs, but there are moments when a tip is considered appropriate. Restaurants already add a 10 percent tip to any bill. As a rule, Costa Ricans do not tip servers in restaurants unless they feel the service went above and beyond the percentage attached to the bill. Cab drivers do not receive tips, but hotel attendants who help carry luggage to the rooms should receive a tip between one and two dollars per bag. Naturalist, local, and river guides could receive ten percent of the service or between five to 10 dollars per person, depending on how you feel about the tour, guide, and the service provided.
Costa Rica is very safe and often touted as one of the most enjoyable, relaxed destinations to which visitors like to travel. Normal precautions should always be considered in any country, including paying attention to theft, including pickpockets, and petty crimes while in large crowds within big cities. You should also maintain safety standards on the beach to protect from riptides.
Those traveling immediately from Sub-Saharan Africa or South America must have proof of the yellow-fever vaccine on hand upon entering the country. Routine vaccines such as these below should be considered with your local practitioner: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid, Measles-mumps-rubella, and Polio. The above are recommended, along with rabies vaccines for those who plan on being in close contact with wild animals that often carry the disease, which includes bats.
No matter how well you intend to keep yourself covered with insect repellent, mosquitos are elusive and an inescapable part of the travel experience, whether visiting the lowlands, coastlines, and valleys across Costa Rica. It is important to wear long pants, long sleeves, a hat, shoes, and fresh repellent, most notably at dusk when the mosquitos are their most active.
At the time of writing, the Center for Disease Control offers a note of caution for Zika, recommending pregnant women, or women who plan on getting pregnant should be cautious during travel. For more information, you can click this link to the CDC website.
A common, and overlooked health risk to remember during your Costa Rica tour is the sun, especially when visiting the beaches, rainforest, or cloud forest. Protect your skin from the midday light with a wide-brimmed hat and ample sunblock of SPF 15 or higher. Use sunglasses to keep from bleaching your eyes and drink plenty of water, especially during long walks or hikes. The thinner atmosphere of the Central Highlands allows for cooler weather, making people think the sun is less harsh. However, the same precautions should apply traveling the trails through the summits in the higher altitudes.
Any good traveler knows they should question whether the water is potable when touring a new country. Costa Rica contains safe tap water around the more developed areas, but you should always take caution with the water as you travel through more rural or underdeveloped regions. If you are worried about the tap water around the area in which you are staying, you can always buy and drink only bottled water sold in the markets and small shops throughout the country. Otherwise, you can boil water for three minutes, use iodine droplets, or carry a SteriPen, which utilized UV light.
Zicasso recommends the following guidelines for customized Costa Rica tour packages, excluding international flights:
- 5-star: USD $450 - $1,000+ per person per day
- 4-star: Minimum USD $350 per person per day
- 3-star: Minimum USD $300 per person per day
The customized package will include hotels, airport transfers and other transportation within Costa Rica, guided tours or activities, unique experiences, trip planning, and 24x7 support during your trip.
Please inquire for a custom quote. The price is customized based on final hotel choices, travel dates, and other custom preferences.