Planning A Trip to Costa Rica? Do This First

Costa Rica planning

Are you thinking of planning a trip to Costa Rica? We absolutely love it here and are sure you will as well. Costa Rica is the perfect mix of adventure and relaxation with pristine beaches and lush jungles as your backdrop. It doesn’t get much better than that.

However, we understand it can be a bit overwhelming to plan a trip to a place you have never visited before. It is also a foreign country and the world is crazy at the moment which can make everything even more complicated.

We created this guide to walk you through the steps you should take from initial planning up until boarding your plane for paradise.

First thing is first….

Establish Your Budget for Costa Rica

airbnb la fortuna

The first step to planning your Costa Rica travel 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.

Decide Where You Want to Go in Costa Rica


I wish I could say it is easy to pick your perfect destination in Costa Rica, but it’s not. There are just so many freaking cool places here with totally different vibes.

It’s awesome that there is something for everyone in Costa Rica, but it makes it really hard to narrow it down to just a few places to visit.

I guess that means you’ll have to visit again 🙂

No, but seriously, check out our Destination page and click on the various destinations to get a better idea of cool places to visit. We keep it real in our description of each place.

If you are visiting Costa Rica for a week we suggest sticking to visiting only two destinations. Although Costa Rica is a relatively small country it can take foreverrrr to get between destinations.

We want you to make the most of your time in Costa Rica and spending tons of time driving just isn’t going to be enjoyable.

We suggest picking one beach town destination and one jungle destination for a little variety.

The reason we think it is best to pick your destinations first is that it impacts your flight decisions so, let’s move on to that point!

Book Your Flight to Costa Rica

airplane juan santamaria

There are two international airports in Costa Rica. One is located in Liberia in the north-west corner of the country and the other is located just outside of San Jose (but everyone just calls it the San Jose Airport).

Most people tend to fly into San Jose because it is more centrally located and tends to be cheaper but definitely consider Liberia as well, especially if you have travel plans to visit the Guanacaste region of the country.

There have been more and more airlines flying there in recent years and you can sometimes get great deals.

If you want some more tips, we have a guide to deciding between the two airports.

Book Accommodations

last minute costa rica hotels

Anyone else love booking accommodations but labor over it like you are choosing a house to buy? That’s me!

We have a full post about booking accommodations which you should check out, but first, let me let you in on a little secret.

Most hotels here offer free cancellation up to a few days before your stay if you book through

I like to book places early to ensure we have a place to stay, but I continue to check if something better or cheaper shows up. Just make sure you keep track of when you can cancel your hotel until.

Airbnb is another great option in Costa Rica. We have stayed at some really amazing places with amazing hosts. If you are new to Airbnb you can save $30 on your first stay.

If you would like to know more about booking an Airbnb in Costa Rica with a lot of tips for getting the best deals, check out our complete Costa Rica Airbnb guide.

Figure Out Your Transportation

costa rica car

Transportation is one of the trickiest things to figure out. There are so many options!

We have a complete post about all your transportation options here, but I’ll tell you we prefer to rent a car because we find it gives us the most flexibility in seeing cool sites and not having to depend on expensive day tours.

Plus, with the current world situation you will probably prefer to have a car rental rather than take a shared shuttle.

Each of our destination guides includes a complete guide to transportation.

We have partnered with our fave rental car company Adobe to bring you guys a 10% rental car discount! You can find more about that here!


Find Fun Activities

beach fishing costa rica

One of the many great things about Costa Rica is that there is literally something for everyone at every budget. If you like adventure, you’re in luck. If you want to relax on the beach, we’ve got 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 and fun beach activities. The best of both worlds!

All our destination guides include activity suggestions for all budgets.

Research Local Restaurants

food costa rica

Anyone else a serious foodie? The first thing I research when traveling anywhere is where I can get fab food. I then read every menu and pick out exactly what I’m going to eat.

Anyway, in each of our destination guides, we have some of our fave restaurant options if you need ideas. We even have these divided by price point to make things even more organized.

Figure out Current Entry Requirements

zip line Monteverde

With Coronavirus, entry requirements are constantly changing as far as needing a negative COVID-19 test before entry and travel insurance requirements.

To check out current requirements, refer to our frequently updated Coronavirus guide.

Finalize Your Costa Rica Budget

costa rica currency

Alright, now that you have basically everything else planned it is time to finalize your budget. This is the stage where you can write down your max to spend in each category of your trip.

If you need a good app to keep track of how much you are spending while traveling, we like the free app called Trail Wallet.

We have a complete guide to currency and costs to provide more guidance.

Pack for Costa Rica

packing list

Yeay! It’s time to pack! That means you are almost done planning your trip to Costa Rica! We have a complete packing list for women here and a complete packing list for men here. We also have a list of must-have gear for traveling in 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 hotels.

Board Your Flight to Paradise!

airplane costa rica

Yeay! It’s time to board your flight to the paradise that is Costa Rica! Get ready to have so much fun!

Also, because we like our readers we made this FREE downloadable packet for planning a trip to Costa Rica. This will help you plan out your itinerary, transportation, packing, and more! Enjoy!

If you have any comments or questions please leave them in the comment section below. We love to hear from you all!


Book Your Trip: Our Go-to Travel Companies

Flights: Skyscanner is always our go-to choice for finding flights. They seem to always have the best prices on the internet. 

Transportation: We suggest a local company called Adobe Rent a Car for your rental car needs. Book through us for a 10% discount plus other great perks. For private shuttles, we always use Adobe’s transfer company for dependable service and great prices. For taxis from the Liberia airport and Guanacaste area, contact our favorite family of local registered taxi drivers for a $10 discount.

Hotels: We always use because they almost always have the lowest rate and offer great cancellation policies. 

For home rentals, we are now using VRBO instead of Airbnb. They have much better customer service. 

Activities: It is always nice to book activities directly through local activity companies. However, lately, we have been booking most day trips through Viator due to their good cancellation policies. 

Travel Insurance: Trawick International is the best insurance we have found that will cover you for COVID related travel changes, illness, lost luggage, and more. 

About Us

We’re Thomas (the German) and Sarah (the US-er).

We met in Virginia, moved to Germany, and now live in sunny Costa Rica. It was a spontaneous decision to move here, but it was the best decision!

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One Response

  1. Hi Sarah,

    Really good stuff here.

    Agreed on picking spots; the place has so many brilliant towns to visit that it is incredibly difficult to whittle things down. During our first 2 month trip we spent a month in Quepos, then we spent the 2nd month visiting Montverde, Playa Potrero, Atenas and Nueva Arenal. On subsequent trips we stayed DEEP in the jungles around Bribri as well as jaw-droppingly beautiful San Gerardo de Rivas, living right beside Rio Chirripo for the month.


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