Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a small Central American nation that shelters nearly six percent of the world’s biodiversity. Expect to see gorgeous orchids, colorful birds and butterflies, howler monkeys, and maybe even the elusive margay, a spotted nocturnal cat that lives in the rain forest. In addition to natural beauty, there’s a lot to love about a place that hasn’t had an army since 1949. Costa Rica’s Ticos (as locals are called) have managed to avoid the conflicts that have devastated neighboring nations.


Photo by Katie Orlinsky


Can’t miss things to do in Costa Rica

Most visitors come to Costa Rica for nature. Twenty-five percent of the country is protected, and most natural areas are easily accessible, though some require going off the beaten path. There are 186 areas protected by the National Conservation Areas System, including 32 national parks and 51 wildlife refuges. More than 10 conservation areas are within reach of San José, the country’s capital, alone, and each offers a different nature experience. From the last remaining tropical wet forests in the Mesoamerican Pacific, located in Corcovado National Park, to the stalagmite- and stalactite-filled caves of Tempisque Conservation Area, travelers can see a variety of habitats in one trip. As for accommodations, there are plenty of options for roughing it, but Costa Rica also features upscale resorts where you can retreat and recharge after a day outside.

Food and drink to try in Costa Rica

Local food is a way of life in Costa Rica. Corn, beans, and root vegetables are grown here and find their place on most Tico tables. Start the day with locally produced coffee, served alongside such Costa Rican fruits as pineapple, cashew fruit, and sapote. Don’t be surprised by the heaping portions of gallo pinto, a rice and bean dish served any time of day. At breakfast, it’s usually accompanied by an egg, tortilla, and thick slice of farmers’ cheese. Plantains and meat often join gallo pinto at lunch and dinner. Costa Rican food is not spicy; if you need an extra pop of flavor, splash a dash of the local favorite Lizano Sauce (akin to HP Sauce) on your meal.

Culture in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is an anomaly in Central America. Like its neighbors, the country traces its cultural heritage back to indigenous groups that occupied the land before the Spanish colonial period, but its modern history is quite distinct. Political choices to embrace democracy, abolish the national army, and protect rather than develop its natural assets have put the country in an economic and social position in which the quality of life here generally exceeds that of most Central American countries. Costa Rica has repeatedly been designated among the happiest countries in the world by international development researchers. Visitors come from around the world to discover the secret of pura vida, or pure life.


Unlike most of its Central American neighbors—most notably Guatemala, which offers one of the region’s largest markets, Chichicastenango—Costa Rica does not have a thriving handicraft culture. However, there are a few Costa Rican goods worth taking home—such as hammocks, jewelry made of fruit and tree seeds, and non-perishable food products like homegrown coffee and the popular Lizano Sauce. In Costa Rica, your money is best spent on epic experiences, from hiking and zip-lining to exploring caves and active volcanoes. Those memories will last longer than any souvenir.

Practical Information

  • Costa Rica has several international airports. Most visitors fly into San José, the capital, or Liberia.
  • Costa Rica’s official language is Spanish, and the currency is the colón. Credit cards are widely accepted.
  • When you leave the country, you will be required to pay a U.S. $29 departure or exit tax; many airlines include the fee in their ticket prices.
  • Voltage and plugs are the same as in the United States.

Guide Editor

Julie Schwietert Collazo has been a bilingual freelance writer, editor, and translator for the past 10 years and loves (almost) every minute of it, but tells people if she could have any other job, it would be a gig as a Mexico City evangelist. The Mexican capital is her former home and the first place she always wants to go when she gets on a plane. Read more at and Cuaderno Inedito.

Read Before You Go
These natural healing waters also happen to be in some of the most beautiful places on earth.
Resources to help plan your trip
Located an ‘exciting’ 45 minute drive west of San Jose is the hidden town of Atenas. Touted as having one of the best climates on the globe, it’s the perfect spot to really get away from it all and bask in the wonder of Costa Rica. Here’s a quick hit list of things we did over a five day period. You could spend a lifetime in this country, but if your time is limited, here’s a pretty good start for ya.
Costa Rica’s capital is far more than just a place to fly into on your way to other parts of the country. A vibrant city with fascinating shops, top-notch restaurants, museums, and easy access to some of Costa Rica’s most fascinating natural wonders, you might be tempted to just set up camp in town for your entire stay. But, if not, make sure you spend at least a day in town.
The variety of hotel options in Costa Rica rivals the country’s famous biological diversity. Whether you go high or low, breezy hammock or bazillion thread-count sheets, these one-of-a-kind accommodations help nature lovers embrace the pura vida lifestyle.
From beers at open air bars in beach towns to craft beers and cocktails on dance floors in San Jose, Costa Rica’s bars serve up good times. There’s plenty of live music to pair with whatever you’re drinking (and plenty of new friends to make among locals and tourists at dance clubs) so go, have fun and enjoy Costa Rica’s spirit of pura vida.
Costa Rica isn’t known as a shopping destination but there are some excellent gift shops and galleries around the country. Don’t miss the Central Market in San Jose or farmers markets in smaller towns. You can think of the fresh fruit you buy as your souvenir of the day.
The beaches and inland regions of Costa Rica’s Guanacaste province are known not only for their jaw-dropping natural beauty and wildlife, but also for their delicious eats, laid-back nightlife, myriad outdoor adventures, and surprisingly good shopping. Here are some of the many reasons this stretch along the Pacific Ocean is known as the Gold Coast.
Spend your days in Costa Rica going from national parks to open air restaurants. Along with some of the best rice and beans in Latin America—they show up at breakfast, lunch, and dinner—there’s plenty of seafood and other proteins. Local ingredients include seafood, corn, beans, and root vegetables so you’ll see a lot of them on Tico tables. And the culinary scene is expanding quickly so expect flavors from Asia and Europe in the mix too.
Outdoor adventures abound in the area around Costa Rica’s Arenal Volcano. In the evenings, the nearby town of La Fortuna provides perfect places to eat, drink, and rest up for the next day’s adventures.
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