Looking for a travel guide to Costa Rica – that land of beaches, monkeys, and amazing surfing? I brought in ex-pat Kaitlin, to share all her best Costa Rica travel tips with us!
Hi, everybody! I’m Kaitlin. In 2011, I decided to drop everything and move abroad on a whim. I spent a year living and working as a freelance travel writer in San Jose, Costa Rica. I also spent a month living in Manuel Antonio, a beach town on the Pacific coast, in 2010 while taking a TEFL certification class. While I didn’t get the chance to go EVERYWHERE, I definitely got to do some traveling and enjoy a lot of Costa Rica, which is a country as rich as its name suggests.
Costa Rica boasts a truly massive number of rain forest preserves and national parks, but the absolute must-see is the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve near the town of Santa Elena.
High in the mountains, this protected rain forest is shrouded in visible clouds and mists, creating a unique atmosphere where several kinds of orchids grow naturally. I mean, how often do you get to walk through rain forests AND clouds?
Costa Rica has 6 active volcanoes spread throughout the country, 3 of which are located fairly close to San Jose. The Arenal volcano is the most famously active in Costa Rica, and has been known to erupt ash and spew lava on a frequent basis, although it has quieted in the last few years.
The others are Poás, Irazú, Turrialba (buy some homemade cheese if you’re in this area—it’s amazing!), Rincón de la Vieja, and Tenorio.
It’s one thing to see monkeys behind glass at the zoo, but it’s another thing entirely to see them out and about in public, causing mischief and swinging from tree limbs. I was lucky enough to get the chance to feed plantains to some wild monkeys, which is fun but can be a bit alarming when they snatch the food from your hands.
There’s an abundance of waterfalls in Costa Rica, and many are free to see if you can find them. There’s nothing better than a hike through the wilderness, followed by a dip beneath the cascade.
It’s always a good idea to ask a local if they know of any waterfalls within hiking distance. Costa Ricans are usually friendly and helpful if you ask nicely. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, try asking someone who works in your hotel or hostel.
There’s a reason Costa Rica’s local motto is “Pura Vida” or Pure Life. Slow down, put your technology away, and commune with nature. Lie on the beach with a fruity drink in your hand. The pace of life in this country is significantly slower than in the States, so embrace it! Experience the Pura Vida. That’s why you went to Costa Rica in the first place, right?
The national dish of Costa Rica, Gallo Pinto is a delicious breakfast concoction of fried rice and beans and served with eggs. Of all the foods I tried in Costa Rica, this is the dish I miss the most. It’s savory and totally filling! Order it with a plantano maduro, a sweet plantain fried in corn oil, on the side!
The most typical lunch fare for Costa Ricans is called a Casado, meaning “marriage”, for the perfect combination of rice, beans, meat, and vegetables. (Yes, Costa Ricans love their rice and beans!) Casados usually come with your choice of chicken, steak, or pork chop.
On the side, you’ll get picadillos (chopped veggies) or a small salad, and most casados also include a juice drink, such as pineapple, carrot, guanabana (sour sop), or black berry juice!
Cat calling—If you’re a young woman traveling in Costa Rica, it’s pretty much a given that you will be cat-called at some point during your stay. Costa Rican men are very vocal in their appreciation of your beauty, and they may whistle, shout, honk their car horn, or make “pssst” noises to get your attention. Just do your best to ignore them, and they will usually leave you alone.
The best, most authentic Costa Rican cuisine is usually found in tiny restaurants called Sodas. There, you’ll find some really delicious meals for the lowest prices. Don’t be wary if they don’t have a menu on display—just ask! And if worse comes to worse, just be adventurous and point at what you want to try!
Costa Rica is a small country (seriously! It’s the size of West Virginia), and they have an AMAZING public bus system that can take you all over the country for as little as $10. If you do travel by bus, keep a watchful eye on your belongings (just like in the States).
Airbnb is cheaper and more authentic than most hotels. Here’s a beautiful cottage in the mountains for $32 and here’s a three-bedroom apartment for $40. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, here’s $40 towards your first booking!
Thanks so much for sharing, Kaitlin! Do you guys have any Costa Rica travel tips?