Known world-wide for its eco-tourism efforts, stunning natural beauty from the rain forest to the beaches, and an extensive amount of wildlife species that live in the varying habitats, Costa Rica is a top-notch destination. Many visitors favor Costa Rica for its seemingly laid-back culture and to enjoy the lifestyle known as “pura vida” that most locals adopt, which means pure life. This motto not only represents a way of life, but is also a popular greeting, farewell phrase and is used in many situations in daily life in Costa Rica. The pura vida philosophy not only refers to the locals, visitors and growing ex-pat community, but also extends to the abundance of pure nature to be seen and enjoyed throughout Costa Rica.
Although the country may be somewhat small in size, it offers a great variety of places to explore, animals to discover, and clean beaches to enjoy the sun and surf. Located in the Central Plateau region of Costa Rica is its capital city San José. Many visitors either start or end their journey throughout Costa Rica in this city, which boasts local cultural attractions such as historic landmarks, museums and hotels. Many day trips also originate from San José. Located in the central northern region of the country is the famed Arenal Volcano. One of the many volcanoes throughout Costa Rica, this is perhaps one of the most visited. The volcano is located near the small town of La Fortuna de San Carlos and is surrounded by many boutique hotels offering therapeutic thermal hot springs and spas. The relaxation, views and spa treatments offered here all contribute to this area being a huge draw for tourists. Beyond the thermal pools, visitors can embark on nature tours, hiking trails to waterfalls, and horseback adventures with outstanding views of the volcano all along the way. On the Pacific Ocean side of the country is a long peninsula known as Guanacaste, which boasts some of the country’s best beaches and is brimming with all-inclusive resorts and surfing spots. Environmental enthusiasts and adventurous travelers alike can tour the country by car discovering the biodiversity found at the numerous established national parks and reserves found in each pocket of the country beyond the well-trotted tourist trail.
- U.S. travelers: Valid passport needed for entry
- Official language: Spanish (English is widely spoken)
- Official currency: Costa Rican colón (American dollars are widely accepted)
San Jose, Costa Rica is often used as a stepping stone to other cities in Costa Rica. But the capital city is actually a very worthwhile destination, not just one to pass through
San Jose’s location in the Central Valley allows for a climate that is never too hot or too cold, averaging 75 degrees year-round. This comfortable temperature makes San Jose an ideal location for outdoor activities like rainforest expeditions, a round of golf or taking a walking tour of the city to admire the Spanish colonial architecture.
As Costa Rica’s political, social and commercial center, San Jose has excellent art galleries, museums and markets. Mercado Central is the largest market, as it occupies an entire block on Avenida Central. It has over 200 shops, stalls and restaurants that sell a wide range of items, like meats, fruits, fish, vegetables and coffee. Thousands of people come to the market every day, so it’s always buzzing with activity.
Travelers with families will find many things to do in San Jose. The Museo de los Ninos is part children’s museum and part art gallery, and is housed in an old penitentiary. The children’s museum area has many hands-on exhibits dedicated to science, history and geography. The art gallery area is great for adults. The pieces of contemporary art contrast with the old prison’s architecture and abandoned cells. Another fun place for families to go is the Simón Bolivar Zoo, San Jose’s only zoo. It has many native Costa Rican animal and plant species.
There is no shortage of restaurant choices in San Jose. For travelers seeking authentic Costa Rican food, many restaurants serve gallo pinto, Costa Rica’s national dish made up of fried rice and black beans. It’s usually served for breakfast with tortillas and natilla, which is best described as a thin sour cream. For other food options, travelers can enjoy Italian, Peruvian, Mediterranean and Costa Rican fusion food, just to name a few. Coffee shops and bakeries are also abundant in the city.
Puntarenas is a small city on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, located about 50 miles west of San Jose. It’s on a long and narrow peninsula in the Gulf of Nicoya. It’s a very important tourism region in Costa Rica, as it’s home to Caldera, one of Costa Rica’s main ports. Because it has a busy port, travelers often use Puntarenas as a stopping point for another destination like Monteverde to the north or the Nicoya Peninsula just west across the Gulf of Nicoya. But Puntarenas has features of its own that make it worthy of a visit.
The peninsula has 264 miles of coastline full of islands, inlets and beaches that attract tourists and surfers. Playa Puntarenas, a large, long beach on the southern coast, used to be quite polluted and not easy on the eyes, but the city has put in large efforts to clean it up and refurbish it with new sand. Playa Hermosa is considered one of Costa Rica’s best surfing havens for professional surfers both national and international. Hundreds of surfers travel to Playa Hermosa in Puntarenas every year for the Quicksilver Surf Championships.
The Paseo de los Turistas is a long walking path that follows the southern coast and has shops, street vendors and bars to visit. On the weekends, vacationing Costa Ricans from San Jose will mingle with travelers while visiting the shops as well.
The Parque Marino del Pacifico is an aquarium where visitors can see 50 species of marine and coastal animals like sea turtles, tortoises, pelicans and sharks. It also has a marine animal rehabilitation center that helps rescue and rehabilitate injured marine animals. The beach around the park boasts a Blue Flag award, which recognizes the organization’s efforts to reduce environmental impacts.
Guanacaste, a province in northwestern Costa Rica, is a tropical paradise bursting with outdoor activities. It has more than 400 miles of coastline on the Pacific Ocean, creating many opportunities for water sports like surfing, snorkeling, fishing or simply relaxing on a beach. Guanacaste has many black volcanic sand beaches, which contrast beautifully with the bright blue water.
Liberia, the capital city of Guanacaste, is home to the recently opened Daniel Oduber International Airport and is an ideal stopover for travelers, as it’s close to many activities and attractions. The population is only 40,000 but the city has a great atmosphere and an assortment of great food, bars and entertainment.
Just over an hour drive from Liberia is the city of Nicoya, located on the Nicoya Peninsula and considered the center of arts and crafts for the Guanacaste Province. It was Costa Rica’s first colonial city and is home to the oldest church in Costa Rica. People from all surrounding areas come to Nicoya to shop and take care of legal or banking needs, making the city an important, yet still pleasant, part of Guanacaste.
Travelers to Guanacaste are sometimes confused about which province the Nicoya Peninsula is in. Technically, Guanacaste includes the entire Nicoya Peninsula, but because traveling between the northern and southern areas of the peninsula is sometimes difficult, the administration of the three southern counties has been assigned to the Puntarenas Province. So sometimes the Nicoya Peninsula is considered in Guanacaste and sometimes in Puntarenas.
Guanacaste’s most developed and accessible tourist town is Tamarindo. It’s located on the west coast of the Nicoya Peninsula and is very accommodating to travelers of all types. The modern developments of Tamarindo, such as paved roads and modern restaurants, have not changed the laidback atmosphere or authenticity of the city, making it extra appealing to travelers.
Guanacaste is also home to some sprawling national parks. Rincon de la Vieja National Park, a 34,800-acre park in the middle of the province, has intriguing features such as boiling mud pots, active volcanoes, nine craters, cloud forests and many hiking trails. Santa Rosa National Park, in the northwestern corner of Guanacaste, encompasses ten unique habitats, ranging from dry tropical forest to moist mangrove swamp and is a popular park for camping.
“One of my favorite vacations, a multi-destination trip in Costa Rica from one shore to the next including a city tour of San Jose. My favorite keep sake, a local cookbook to recapture all of the flavorful dishes created by local restaurant owners.” NyShawn Jenkins DeTour Travel Agent. Book your next multi-destination vacation to the Coast Rica with DeTour Travel