Costa Rica Vacation Planning: 12 Steps to the Ideal Trip
Welcome to Costa Rica Vibes. We are Thomas from Germany and Sarah from the United States. We have been fortunate enough to call Costa Rica our home since 2016.
It is our goal to always provide you the best info on Costa Rica travel. If it is your first visit to the Costa Rica Vibes website here is everything you need in order to get started planning your dream vacation.
Background Info On Costa Rica
The main language is Spanish. Most people in tourism speak some English, but some basic Spanish is always helpful.
The main currency is Costa Rican colones. US dollars are also widely accepted.
110 volt (same as the US)
There are two international airports in the country. These are Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) in San Jose and Liberia International Airport (LIR) in Liberia.
Popular Places to Visit
Manuel Antonio | Tamarindo | Monteverde | La Fortuna
Must Do Activities
zip lining | exploring national parks | surfing | wildlife tours
Sun Rise/ Sun Set
Sunrise: between 5:15am and 5:45am
Sunset: between 5:30pm and 6pm
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Costa Rica Must Know Info
Step 1: Decide When and For How Long You Will Visit Costa Rica
Costa Rica has a distinct rainy season and dry season.
The dry season typically runs from mid-December until the end of April.
The mid-rainy season is from early May until end of July.
And August through December can bring some very rainy weather.
Most people like to visit during the dry season, but every season has its pros and cons.
We created a guide to the weather in Costa Rica to help you get a better idea of when is a good time for you to visit.
Step 2: Establish Your Budget
The second step to planning your Costa Rica vacation is to come up with a rough budget.
I’m not saying you need to come up with a strict budget, but we like to decide which things we are willing to splurge on and what we will be a bit more budget-friendly about.
It really helps to sit down with your travel partners and discuss their expectations so you can be on the same page ahead of time.
Some things to think about are:
- Accommodations (do you want to save money by staying in budget-friendly places or are you planning to book more high-end accommodations?)
- Food (will you stay in a place where you can cook most of your food or do you plan to eat at restaurants every day)
- Activities (would you like to do things like zip lining and rafting or will you keep it more budget-friendly with visiting beaches and hiking
- Transportation (do you have the budget to rent a car or mostly take public buses?).
I get more into all these details further on in this article, but to start, just discuss your general expectations.
Step 3: Choose Your Places to Visit
There are just so many amazing places in Costa Rica that it can be overwhelming to narrow down which spots to visit during your trip.
To help you out we created an entire collection of Destination Guides.
These detailed guides will tell you everything you need to know about all areas of the country including weather, transportation tips, hotel suggestions, and great activities for all budgets.
We suggest just getting an idea of some places that appeal to you first. In the next step we will book your flight and which airport you fly into will help determine your itinerary and destinations.
Clickable Destination Map
COSTA RICA VIBES
Step 4: Create Your Costa Rica Vacation Itinerary
Time to make a trip plan!
We suggest doing this in combination with the next section (booking your flight) so you can simultaneously decide which Costa Rica international airport is best for you to fly into.
We created a whole section of itinerary ideas for one, two, and three-week Costa Rica trips. These will make a good foundation for your vacation.
Travel Tip– It is best to pick about two destinations for a one-week trip plan. We suggest one beach location and one jungle spot for a great intro to the country.
Grab a Free Copy of the Costa Rica Planning Guide
Step 5: Book Your Flights to Costa Rica
There are two international airports to consider for your vacation to Costa Rica.
The most popular airport is located in San Jose. From here it is easy to get almost anywhere in the country because it is so centrally located.
This airport is called Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO).
The other international airport is located in the northwest corner of the country near the city of Liberia. This airport is called Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIR).
We almost always book flights on Skyscanner. They typically have the best deals and are easy to navigate.
Travel Tip– Make sure you book your flight to airport code SJO if flying in to San Jose. The full name is Juan Santamaria International Airport. There is also a San Jose International Airport in California and, yes, we have heard about people flying to the wrong location. 😉
Find Your Flight
Step 6: Book Costa Rica Hotels
There are so many accommodation options in Costa Rica it can be difficult to even know how to begin finding a spot.
It is possible to find everything here from hostels to all-inclusive luxury resorts.
To help you out, we first suggest checking out our Costa Rica hotel page. It covers all topics from planning your honeymoon to great places to stay near the airports.
Also, if you are planning a destination wedding in Costa Rica, we have a Destination Wedding Guide to help you organize that.
Step 7: Book Your Transportation in Costa Rica
You might find that you use a variety of ways to get around during your trip to Costa Rica.
Here are all the transportation options you have to consider.
The most convenient way to get around in Costa Rica.
A car will allow you to take many fun day trips without depending on tours with transportation.
However, be aware that some of the rental car companies here will charge you a much higher rate than you are originally quoted online.
We always suggest renting your car through our favorite local car company called Adobe. They are upfront with their costs, dependable, and just an all around excellent company.
- 10% discount for Costa Rica Vibes readers
- Free second driver
- 0% deductible on Liability Protection Insurance
- Excellent customer service
- New fleet of well-maintained vehicles
Private shuttles are perfect for those of you who are traveling with a family or group of friends.
We love this option for destination wedding groups, groups renting a villa, groups staying in resorts, and for those of you who don’t feel comfortable driving a long distance in Costa Rica.
One thing we suggest to those of you who want a rental car but don’t want to drive from the airport to your destination is to take a private shuttle to your destination and then rent a car once at your destination.
We suggest Adobe Transfer for all your private shuttle needs.
This company is run by the same great team that operates Adobe Rent a Car. They will take great care of you.
Costa Rica Taxi
If you need to get around in the town you are staying in or need a ride that is an hour or less from the airport, a taxi is generally the cheapest and most convenient option.
Just be aware that you need to make sure you are taking a legal registered taxi. You will know because the taxi will be red with a yellow triangle on the drivers and passengers side door.
This is super important because fake taxi drivers have been known to scam tourists.
If you are flying into the Liberia airport and need to get to your hotel in this area (Papagayo, Coco, Hermosa, Tamarindo, Flamingo) we suggest reserving your taxi with our favorite registered taxi drivers.
This family of four adult brothers and their father all operate as legal registered taxi drivers in Costa Rica. They will take such great care of you.
Because we like them so much and they like us, they have given us a $10 taxi discount to pass on to you.
Public Bus in Costa Rica
Public bus is by far the cheapest way to get around Costa Rica, but it is definitely not the most convenient.
Most busses pass through San Jose and Liberia so, if you are visiting multiple destinations it can be difficult to find good connections.
The one time we definitely suggest the public bus is if you are going from San Jose down to Panama.
The bus is not the most comfortable. Actually last time I took this bus the inside temperature gauge said it was 96° F …and I believe it!
But, it will bring you right to the border for an easy crossing experience.
The main domestic airline in Costa Rica is Sansa.
I’ve done some comparison and it seems that booking directly through their website will give you the best rate.
Travel Tip– We have a Guide to Transportation that goes into further detail on all the transportation options.
BOOK YOUR COSTA RICA RENTAL CAR AND SAVE 10%
The Adobe Rent-A-Car discount includes…..
– A 10% DISCOUNT
– FREE SECOND DRIVER
– FREE ROOF RACKS TO USE
– 0% DEDUCTIBLE ON LIABILITY PROTECTION
– DISCOUNTED SMARTPHONE USAGE WITH UNLIMITED DATA
Step 8: Plan Fun Things to Do
One of the many great things about Costa Rica is that there is literally something for everyone at every budget and interest.
If you like adventure, you’re in luck.
If you want to relax on the beach, the country has plenty of that as well.
As I mentioned above, we suggest one beach and one jungle destination for a week-long vacation. If you do that, you can then pick both fun jungle activities (such as zip lining and walking on hanging bridges) and fun beach activities (such as surfing and catamaran tour with snorkeling).
The best of both worlds!
We want to help you narrow down and plan your dream activities on your Costa Rica vacation. So, we created a guide to all the things to do in Costa Rica. This guide walks through activities in every destination and for all budgets.
We also provide a lot of tips on how to book activities with reputable companies and money-saving tips.
We also suggest checking out:
Book Your Costa Rica Vacation Through Our Partners
Step 9: Plan What You Want to Eat
Are you a foodie? I (Sarah) tend to organize all of the places I want to eat before I go anywhere. Thomas thinks I’m crazy.
One of the many things I love about Costa Rica is the sheer volume of food and drink opportunities.
I think that when you are here you should definitely try some traditional food. My personal favorite is a traditional Costa Rican breakfast of Gallo Pinto.
But, when you get tired of rice and beans, you will have no problem finding tons of other great things such as fresh fish and dishes from almost any culture.
Another fun thing to do is go to an open-air restaurant at sunset on the Pacific coast to enjoy a dinner with a view.
I also think you should try some interesting fruits while on your Costa Rica vacation. There are so many fruits you’ve probably never even seen before.
Ok, now I’m just rambling about all the great food you should eat.
Check out the guide to food in Costa Rica for all the info on grocery stores, beach bars, restaurants, exotic fruit, and more!
Step 10: Purchase Travel Insurance
When traveling, it is always a good idea to have travel insurance. Travel insurance provides coverage for health care, delayed trips, lost luggage, and more.
When we first moved to Costa Rica, Thomas insisted I purchase travel insurance until we had our residency, and I’m so happy I did!
Within the first week of moving here, the left side of my face swelled up to the point that I couldn’t even open my eye. I went to a few doctors who had no idea what it was.
Finally, I did my own research and discovered mango trees have the same oil as poison ivy.
I’m originally a New Englander and learned at an early age that my body does not react well to poison ivy.
Well, here I was in Costa Rica and had picked mangos from a mango tree a few days before.
So, with my discovery, I went back to the doctor who confirmed my suspicions and was able to prescribe me steroids to heal the mango reaction.
I then submitted all my receipts and was completely reimbursed by my travel insurance. And, now I avoid mango trees. 🙂
We created a guide to safety in Costa Rica to tell you all about safety from wildlife, natural disasters, what to do if you get injured, crime etc.
Step 11: Pack for your Costa Rica Vacation
Yeay! It’s time to pack! That means you are almost done planning your trip to Costa Rica!
Keep in mind that what you need to pack for Costa Rica will vary based on what time of year you are traveling, which parts of the country you are visiting, and what time of trip you are planning.
Mountain destinations such as Monteverde can get rather cool while beach destinations are bound to be hot.
Packing for a trip of hiking will be very different that a trip to luxury resorts.
Check out our guide to Costa Rica packing for everything you need.
Step 12: Entry in to Costa Rica
Yeay!!! You have officially planned your entire Costa Rica vacation.
Just to make your travel day a bit easier we suggest you read our guide to entry requirements. It explains the whole border control process and what you can expect.
And feel free to leave any questions you have about planning a trip to Costa Rica in the comment section below. We are happy to help you out!
We hope you have an amazing vacation in Costa Rica filled with adventure, relaxation, beaches, and jungle vibes!
A Few Costa Rica Vacation Must Know Tips
- The main language in Costa Rica is Spanish, but most people in tourism speak some English
- There are no street addresses in Costa Rica. You will need to depend on putting the name of places into your GPS.
- The main currency is colones. We have a guide to currency to help you figure out the best way to pay here.
- Despite what some people seem to think, Costa Rica is not an island. It is sandwiched between Nicaragua and Panama plus, there is a beautiful Pacific and Caribbean coast.
- The name for Costa Rican people is ticos (for men) and tica (for women).
- Pura Vida is the motto for life here. Directly translated it means “pure life.” Here it is used as a greeting and to say “all is good.”
- The lifestyle here is extremely relaxed. Just note that most likely some of your Costa Rica vacation plans won’t go as planned. Try to roll with it and adapt this chilled out outlook on life for a bit. You can read our guide to Costa Rican culture for more info
Costa Rica Vacation FAQ
Is a Costa Rica vacation expensive?
Costa Rica is considered the most expensive country in Central America. That being said, it is possible to stick to a budget by traveling at off-peak times, staying at less fancy hotels, and by doing more budget-friendly activities such as exploring the beaches and national parks.
Where is the best place to go for a Costa Rica vacation?
In all honesty, all of Costa Rica is amazing for a vacation. Most people choose to visit one beach and one jungle destination for a one week trip. We suggest Manuel Antonio and La Fortuna if flying into San Jose Airport.
What is the best time of year to go on a Costa Rica vacation?
The dry season in Costa Rica runs from mid-December through mid-April. This is the most popular time to plan a Costa Rica vacation. However, this is also the busiest and most expensive time to visit.
Is it safe to go to Costa Rica right now?
Yes, Costa Rica is generally a safe destination. Your main concern for safety should be petty theft. Keep an eye on your belongings and don’t carry large amounts of cash.