Top Costa Rica Travel Tips to Make the Most of your Trip

A popular destination for bird-watching, surfing and adventure sports, from white-water rafting to zip-liningCosta Rica is undeniably touristy, so unless you stay in the middle of nowhere, don’t expect to escape other visitors completely.

However, if you choose your time (don’t go over the Christmas holidays) and destination carefully, you can escape the crowds.

If you’re going to be heading to Costa Rica anytime soon, we’ve got the top Costa Rica travel tips to make the most of your trip to this adventurous country.

Related Read: Costa Rica 7 Day Itinerary

Costa Rica travel tips
Costa Rica travel tips

Top Costa Rica Travel Tips

Follow these top tips for Costa Rica travel to make sure that you have the most enjoyable and memorable trip to Costa Rica.

1. Make Manuel Antonio your home

The small southern Pacific Coast community of Manuel Antonio and the adjoining town of Quepos have an interesting population mix of expats, tourists and locals, making it a fascinating place to spend some time. It’s also very attractive, set amongst lush jungle and boasting alluring beaches.

2. Book a beach/tree house

We did both. We spent one week in a jaw-dropping villa without walls overlooking the jungle and another week at a house just steps from the sand. They were both wonderful, and aside from the luxuries of space and privacy, and the opportunity to cook our own food (we made local dish gallo pinto!), what we loved most were the friendly visits by locals who dropped in unannounced each day. Yes, I’m talking about the monkeys!

We love this Tree House Lodge in Puerto Viejo.

3. Use public transport

There’s no need to hire a 4WD, which is what many guidebooks tell you to do. After heavy rains some of the roads are impassable, so trust me, you don’t want to be behind the wheel – it’s best to be in the back seat of a vehicle driven by an experienced local.

Organize a transfer to your holiday rental, and then use the affordable local buses that frequently run between Quepos and Manuel Antonio National Park.

4. Shop the local markets

An excellent farmers market is held in Quepos, running parallel to the waterfront, where you’ll find plenty of fresh local produce for about the same price you’ll pay in the supermarket, only the quality is better. You’ll also find free-range eggs and baked breads and cakes.

5. Do as the locals do

There are all sorts of regular local events happening in Manuel Antonio and Quepos, from yoga classes and football matches to chess tournaments and movie nights, and the friendly locals are more than happy to welcome newcomers.

How much more authentic can travel get?

6. Hit the national parks

Costa Rica has 32 national parks and Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the most popular, with plenty of wildlife to see. On the morning we visited, we spotted sloths, agouti, tent-making bats, blue morpho butterflies, purple and orange tropical land crabs, red and black scarlet tanagers, a laughing falcon, vibrant toucans, glorious iguanas, cute raccoons, and a boa constrictor.

The locals love the wildlife as much as the tourists do, so go with a local, such as the excellent licensed guide we used.

Check out these tours to Manuel Antonio National Park.

Costa Rica travel tips
Visit the sloths in the Costa Rica National Parks

7. Spend time on the sand

The locals seem to live on the beach. It doesn’t matter where they come from but they all have deep dark tans. When we were here we would bump into people we met everyday at the beach – taking their daily walks, collecting seashells, reading a book, riding a horse, throwing a Frisbee, just watching the sunset, or enjoying a surf.

8. Learn to surf

Costa Rica is a popular surfing destination, for locals and visitors alike, so if you don’t surf and you want to do as the locals do, then you need to learn how. There are a couple of surfing schools, but individual instructors came more highly recommended to us by locals, such as long-time surfing teacher Ivan Castillo (batiquepos@hotmail.com) who can be found renting his boards out under a shady tree not far from the lifesavers’ stand.

9. Volunteer

The locals and expats are an active and altruistic bunch, devoting time to all sorts of causes, so why not volunteer a day or at the very least a few hours of your time while you’re there? We participated in a tree-planting event with local schools organized by the Titi Conservation Alliance, aimed at re-establishing a biological corridor for the endangered red backed squirrel monkeys.

When we visited they’d already planted 35,000 trees and planted 650 the day we joined them.

Related Read: Cultural greetings while volunteering in South America

10. Do very little

There’s no denying that it’s hot and humid here, so how do the locals always look as cool as cucumbers? By doing very little, that’s how. The locals have ‘the art of doing nothing’ down to a very fine art. How many destinations can you go to where you can live like locals and take a good old-fashioned lie-on-the-beach holiday at the same time? Manual Antonio, for one, Costa Rica for another.

Costa Rica beaches
The perfect spot to do nothing in Costa Rica

Here’s a few more Costa Rica travel tips


Hacienda Guachipelin Adventure Tours in the Rincon de La Vieja National Park, Costa Rica

While visiting Costa Rica, we decided to go for a “canopy tour“, or zip-lining as we refer to it at home.

It was recommended that we go on the Hacienda Guachipelin Adventure Tours in Rincon de La Vieja National Park rather than going on one of the tour packages offered at our resort.

It’s a full day adventure tour that includes a canopy tour, rock climbing, tubbing, horse back riding, hot spring and mud bath.

We’re going to share our full experience of this day of adventure in Hacienda Guachipelin – it was well worth it!

Book the tour here.

Rincon de La Vieja National Park in Costa Rica
Rincon de La Vieja National Park in Costa Rica

Getting to Hacienda Guachipelin Adventure Tours

As we’d rented a car with another couple from our resort for a couple of days, we got GPS directions for the National Park and set out on our own. If you’re going to drive to Hacienda Guachipelin Adventure Tours, make sure you have a 4×4 vehicle.

Once you get off of the Pan American Highway (Hwy 1) you’re on a very long unpaved road (in fact that’s all our GPS called it, ‘unpaved road’), full of potholes, hills, and the occasional cow wandering down the road.

Insider travel tip: When you arrive at the entrance to Rincon de La Vieja National Park, you come to a gate where they ask you to pay a toll to enter the park. Tell them you’re heading to Adventure Tours and you don’t need to pay!

The tour includes lunch at the Hacienda Guachipelín Hotel. I had a local drink to begin with, followed by Mahi Mahi on a bed of rice with some vegetables, and rice pudding for dessert. I enjoyed the meal, probably more than the food at our resort!

If you book this tour online, it includes a hotel pick-up so you don’t have to worry about getting to the park on your own.

Canopy Tour

After lunch, we headed out to the canopy. The first thing they do is to get all your equipment fitted. This includes your harness, helmet and gloves. My wife and I were both quite impressed with the harnesses they provide. Having done a fair amount of work in the entertainment industry where harnesses are a job requirement, we felt they paid very good attention to the safety of their guests.

Next up was a brief introduction to zip-lining. While still on the ground they showed you how to position your body while on the line, how to keep your balance, slow yourself down, what to do if you stopped in the middle of the line, etc.

After the briefing, it’s time to go flying through Rincon de La Vieja. We started off with a fairly long line for our first run, which just went through the forest. A good introductory run.  The second run, probably the longest of them all, goes over a canyon, with an incredible view if you were looking down as you flew overhead!

Next, you arrive at the rappelling line. Here your harness is attached to a rope and you’re lowered, head first, straight down along a waterfall.  You then swing across the water to another platform, and climb up at 40m ladder to the next platform. This part of the canopy tour is optional, as it requires a bit more physical strength than the rest. If you choose to rappel down, there is no way out other than the ladder climb back up. Only one of our party of 4 partook in this activity.

After another two zip lines, you arrive at the most challenging part of the tour, rock climbing. You have to climb across one rock wall and then down to another platform, with the river running underneath you. You then do a “tarzan swing’” to a platform on the other side of the canyon.

Finally, you have to climb another rock wall straight up to the next zip-line platform. After another short rock climb, there’s a small walk to the final zip-line location.  The staff are very good at guiding you through this section of the tour.  Although I must admit I was a little unsure about my ability to complete it, it felt like a great accomplishment to reach the end!

After all of that, there’s one final zip-line to the end, which you have the option of doing upside down! We took group photos on the last platform, and then had a short walk back to the Adventure Tours offices where we took off our equipment.

One of the joys of being there at the end of September is that is was pouring rain during many portions of the canopy tour. In some ways, this added to the experience. It felt like a bigger accomplishment doing the ziplines and rock climbing in that weather.

Hacienda Guachipelin Adventure Tours, Costa Rica
Hacienda Guachipelin Adventure Tours canopy tour

Hot Springs

The next part of the day would normally include horseback riding, but given that it was getting a later in the day (we didn’t arrive until almost 1pm) and that it was pouring rain outside, we skipped this and went straight to the hot springs.

The hot springs are located about another 10-15 minute drive up the road from the main Hacienda Guachipelin Adventure Tours office. They’re not marked very well – but there is a sign about 100m before you get to them. The entrance is located right at the bottom of a steep hill on the road. There’s a bridge over the water here, you can park your car on either side of it.

There are change facilities located a short walk into the forest towards the hot springs.  A staff member from Adventure Tours was at the change facilities keeping an eye on everyone’s belongings.  The pools are located just past the change facilities.  There are 3 pools: one hot, one medium, and one cool.  If I had to guess that their temperatures, I would say they were about 107F, 103F and maybe 90F.  The hot pools are fed with water from a nearby volcano. You can see where the hot water is feeding into the pool.

There’s a bridge over the water leading to another cooler pool, but this one was closed on the day we visited because the water levels were too high.

The pools were very relaxing, and felt great on the “new muscles” that we discovered while zip-lining!  The pools were very quite, with only a few other guests showing up while we were there.

Hacienda Guachipelin Adventure Tours, Costa Rica
Hacienda Guachipelin Adventure Tours hot springs.

Driving Back

It was still light out when we started driving back, although it quickly got dark. As we’d discovered on the rest of our trip, the roads in Costa Rica (even the highways and more urban areas) have very poor street lighting, and no shoulders. You have to be very attentive to the pedestrians and cyclists in the dark.

Our return trip was also slowed down because we were stuck behind a line of school buses, with no room to pass. It appears students in Costa Rica go to school for a few hours in the morning, and then again later in the afternoon, with a break in the middle when the heat is at its worst.

Hacienda Guachipelin Adventure Tours: 5/5 

Would recommend this tour to anyone who wants an exciting, adrenaline pumped way to explore the Costa Rican landscape!

Exploring more of Costa Rica? Here’s a few tips:


Costa Rica 7 Day Itinerary: Visit the Nicoya Peninsula

Looking to book your next adventure? Or simply want to escape reality?

Look no further than the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica – a standout Central American country.

It thrives on passion for life; perhaps its most appealing attribute, and boasts a vibrant display of jungle and coastline which is home to some of the world’s most diverse wildlife.

And the best part is that you can see it all in one week. 

Limited to seven days ourselves, and on a very tight budget, my sister and I flew into San Jose where we stayed for one night before catching the bus and ferry across to the west coast to Montezuma (on the east side of the peninsula).

This was our first stop on our Costa Rica itinerary.

Costa Rica itinerary

Montezuma

Our week in Costa Rica itinerary started off spending four days in Montezuma.

Where to stay in Montezuma 

Luz en el Cielo-Eco B&B/Hostel. This place is unreal. It costs between $16 – $20USD per night for a shared room, with cooked breakfast included. Not a bad price to pay for a clean hostel in a spectacular location-nestled in the colourful jungle and an arms throw from the beach and town. They also have private dorm rooms and cabanas.

The staff are great- extremely friendly and helpful, the showers are warm, and the hammocks are perfect for monkey and bird spotting.

Book your stay here.

What to see in Montezuma

Montezuma is the epitome of hippie. Just stroll 50 meters down to the main street from your hostel and you’ll see for yourself. It draws a multi-ethnic crowd of an artistic and beach-loving nature. Stalls decorated with hand-made crafts and jewelry line the street, sarongs and artwork are on display, and alfresco-beach style cafes bars and restaurants provide the perfect setting for you to partake in the continuous mellow party.

Costa Rica itinerary, Montezuma
Montezuma in Costa Rica

Montezuma itinerary

Day One: Hiking to waterfalls

You can’t visit Montezuma without hiking through the overgrown jungle to an opening where waterfalls tumble into large natural pools of cool, emerald water. There are two large waterfalls – the highest standing at around 14 meters tall, often seen with Tico’s diving from it head first into the water below.

For the sane and safe, though not lacking an adventurous side – a rope swing and smaller jumping rock provide an afternoon’s worth of fun. The easiest way to reach the waterfall is by following the dirt road bypassing town heading south. I do however suggest you take the other path off the beaten track and use the vines to hoist yourself up the steep parts of the jungle. It’s beautiful seeing it this way and the views are spectacular.

Leave yourself a full day for this as you may find yourself wanting to explore beyond the falls. 

Day Two: Day trip to Tortuga Island

Every day a trip to Tortuga Island leaves from Montezuma in the morning, taking you on a 40 minute boat ride across pristine waters to your destination. The boat stops at two large rocks just off the beach.

Here you will discover an incredible underwater world as you snorkel in the warm water before heading onto the main island for a feast of fresh fish, a game or two of volleyball and perhaps a jet-ski or banana boat ride. 

Tortuga Island in Costa Rica
Tortuga Island in Costa Rica

Day Three: Secluded beach day

You may need a helping hand to find this one but its worth seeing if you can. A 15 minute walk north along the rocky beach will take you away from the populated main beach to a stunning, secluded spot enclosed by jungle and rocks.

You can spend the day soaking up the sun, rolling on the sleepy waves in the sea, and trekking a short way up the fresh water stream to a small opening for natural mud-masks and a massage under a waterfall.

This is the perfect spot to unwind, relax, read your book or just zone out and forget about your worries.

Day Four: Zip-lining through the treetops 

Spend your last day in Montezuma zip-lining through treetops of jungles alongside incredible wildlife on a canopy tour. This is awesome. Zip lining is like going on a flying fox, but you go faster, longer and you’re harnessed up. A perfect way to finish up your Montezuma experience.

Montezuma in Costa Rica
Montezuma in Costa Rica

Santa Teresa

Our next stop on our Costa Rica itinerary was Santa Teresa which sits on the west side of the peninsula. 

Where to stay in Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa is a long stretch of coastline, lined with restaurants, bars, small stores and jungle. It’s a surf-lover’s, yoga fanatic’s, photography guru’s utopia. There are so many hostels to choose from, though we chose to stay up the Northern end away from the main part of town which was perfect for us as we wanted our last couple of days to be peaceful.

Search for accommodation in Santa Teresa here.

What to see in Santa Teresa

It’s impossible to describe Santa Teresa in one word. It truly is an absolute paradise. Spend your morning and evenings walking 40 minutes to and from the other end of ‘town’ either along the beach or dirt road and you will stumble across some hidden treasures.

The beauty of Santa Teresa is that although it is defined by a long stretch of coastline, it is broken up into separate beaches by rocks and vibrant green trees, perfect if you want to steer clear of the main crowds.

Costa Rica Itinerary, Santa Teresa
Santa Teresa in Costa Rica

Santa Teresa itinerary

Day Five: Walk through the town & beach

I would highly recommend you walk along the stretch of dirt road to town ducking into the many small stores they have full of sarongs, swimwear, jewelry, crafts and surf gear.

Stop for lunch at one of the many “soda’s” along the way which will set you back around $4USD depending on your café of choice.

There’s not much to see in the main part of town, so you may not want to spend your time looking around there. Instead I suggest you walk back along the beach and pick a beach front bar to settle on a hammock in and sip the afternoon away with a mojito in hand as you watch the sun set over the surfers.

Day Six: Hit the waves

Grab a surfboard from your closest hire shop and take to the waves. Though if you haven’t surfed before or if you are a beginner, make sure you don’t go alone as the currents are strong and rips are common in parts.

If you are experienced, this is an absolute haven for you as Santa Teresa is home to world-class waves, and many who have simply visited on a surfing holiday in the past have ended up staying. 

Book a surfing lesson in Santa Teresa here.

Day Seven: Relax on the beach

Spend your last day in paradise letting it unwind you, relax you and mellow out somewhere on the beach. Don’t forget your camera as the setting is perfect to get the perfect photo.

Pick a restaurant at night (Rocamar restaurant has a laidback vibe with beanbags and hammocks to laze about on), and let the music transform you into a state of bliss.

Exploring more of Costa Rica? Here’s a few tips:


Cost Rica 7 Day Itinerary: Visit the Nicoya Peninsula

Looking to book your next adventure? Or simply want to escape reality?

Look no further than the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica – a standout Central American country.

It thrives on passion for life; perhaps its most appealing attribute, and boasts a vibrant display of jungle and coastline which is home to some of the world’s most diverse wildlife.

And the best part is that you can see it all in one week. 

Limited to seven days ourselves, and on a very tight budget, my sister and I flew into San Jose where we stayed for one night before catching the bus and ferry across to the west coast to Montezuma (on the east side of the peninsula).

This was our first stop on our Costa Rica itinerary.

Costa Rica itinerary

Montezuma

Our week in Costa Rica itinerary started off spending four days in Montezuma.

Where to stay in Montezuma 

Luz en el Cielo-Eco B&B/Hostel. This place is unreal. It costs between $16 – $20USD per night for a shared room, with cooked breakfast included. Not a bad price to pay for a clean hostel in a spectacular location-nestled in the colourful jungle and an arms throw from the beach and town. They also have private dorm rooms and cabanas.

The staff are great- extremely friendly and helpful, the showers are warm, and the hammocks are perfect for monkey and bird spotting.

Book your stay here.

What to see in Montezuma

Montezuma is the epitome of hippie. Just stroll 50 meters down to the main street from your hostel and you’ll see for yourself. It draws a multi-ethnic crowd of an artistic and beach-loving nature. Stalls decorated with hand-made crafts and jewelry line the street, sarongs and artwork are on display, and alfresco-beach style cafes bars and restaurants provide the perfect setting for you to partake in the continuous mellow party.

Costa Rica itinerary, Montezuma
Montezuma in Costa Rica

Montezuma itinerary

Day One: Hiking to waterfalls

You can’t visit Montezuma without hiking through the overgrown jungle to an opening where waterfalls tumble into large natural pools of cool, emerald water. There are two large waterfalls – the highest standing at around 14 meters tall, often seen with Tico’s diving from it head first into the water below.

For the sane and safe, though not lacking an adventurous side – a rope swing and smaller jumping rock provide an afternoon’s worth of fun. The easiest way to reach the waterfall is by following the dirt road bypassing town heading south. I do however suggest you take the other path off the beaten track and use the vines to hoist yourself up the steep parts of the jungle. It’s beautiful seeing it this way and the views are spectacular.

Leave yourself a full day for this as you may find yourself wanting to explore beyond the falls. 

Day Two: Day trip to Tortuga Island

Every day a trip to Tortuga Island leaves from Montezuma in the morning, taking you on a 40 minute boat ride across pristine waters to your destination. The boat stops at two large rocks just off the beach.

Here you will discover an incredible underwater world as you snorkel in the warm water before heading onto the main island for a feast of fresh fish, a game or two of volleyball and perhaps a jet-ski or banana boat ride. 

Tortuga Island in Costa Rica
Tortuga Island in Costa Rica

Day Three: Secluded beach day

You may need a helping hand to find this one but its worth seeing if you can. A 15 minute walk north along the rocky beach will take you away from the populated main beach to a stunning, secluded spot enclosed by jungle and rocks.

You can spend the day soaking up the sun, rolling on the sleepy waves in the sea, and trekking a short way up the fresh water stream to a small opening for natural mud-masks and a massage under a waterfall.

This is the perfect spot to unwind, relax, read your book or just zone out and forget about your worries.

Day Four: Zip-lining through the treetops 

Spend your last day in Montezuma zip-lining through treetops of jungles alongside incredible wildlife on a canopy tour. This is awesome. Zip lining is like going on a flying fox, but you go faster, longer and you’re harnessed up. A perfect way to finish up your Montezuma experience.

Montezuma in Costa Rica
Montezuma in Costa Rica

Santa Teresa

Our next stop on our Costa Rica itinerary was Santa Teresa which sits on the west side of the peninsula. 

Where to stay in Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa is a long stretch of coastline, lined with restaurants, bars, small stores and jungle. It’s a surf-lover’s, yoga fanatic’s, photography guru’s utopia. There are so many hostels to choose from, though we chose to stay up the Northern end away from the main part of town which was perfect for us as we wanted our last couple of days to be peaceful.

Search for accommodation in Santa Teresa here.

What to see in Santa Teresa

It’s impossible to describe Santa Teresa in one word. It truly is an absolute paradise. Spend your morning and evenings walking 40 minutes to and from the other end of ‘town’ either along the beach or dirt road and you will stumble across some hidden treasures.

The beauty of Santa Teresa is that although it is defined by a long stretch of coastline, it is broken up into separate beaches by rocks and vibrant green trees, perfect if you want to steer clear of the main crowds.

Costa Rica Itinerary, Santa Teresa
Santa Teresa in Costa Rica

Santa Teresa itinerary

Day Five: Walk through the town & beach

I would highly recommend you walk along the stretch of dirt road to town ducking into the many small stores they have full of sarongs, swimwear, jewelry, crafts and surf gear.

Stop for lunch at one of the many “soda’s” along the way which will set you back around $4USD depending on your café of choice.

There’s not much to see in the main part of town, so you may not want to spend your time looking around there. Instead I suggest you walk back along the beach and pick a beach front bar to settle on a hammock in and sip the afternoon away with a mojito in hand as you watch the sun set over the surfers.

Day Six: Hit the waves

Grab a surfboard from your closest hire shop and take to the waves. Though if you haven’t surfed before or if you are a beginner, make sure you don’t go alone as the currents are strong and rips are common in parts.

If you are experienced, this is an absolute haven for you as Santa Teresa is home to world-class waves, and many who have simply visited on a surfing holiday in the past have ended up staying. 

Book a surfing lesson in Santa Teresa here.

Day Seven: Relax on the beach

Spend your last day in paradise letting it unwind you, relax you and mellow out somewhere on the beach. Don’t forget your camera as the setting is perfect to get the perfect photo.

Pick a restaurant at night (Rocamar restaurant has a laidback vibe with beanbags and hammocks to laze about on), and let the music transform you into a state of bliss.

Exploring more of Costa Rica? Here’s a few tips: