Mini Travel Guide: Costa Rica

Looking for a travel guide to Costa Rica? Click through for Costa Rica travel tips from a local on what to do, what to eat, where to go, and how to do it all cheaply!
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.
Must see while in Costa Rica

Must Go in Costa Rica

Monteverde Cloud Forests 

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?

To an active Costa Rican volcano

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.
Must do in Costa Rica

Must do in Costa Rica

See wild monkeys

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.

Find a waterfall

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?

Must eat in Costa Rica

Must eat in Costa Rica

Gallo Pinto

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!

Traditional Casado lunch

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!
Cultural Tips for Traveling in Costa Rica

Cultural Tips for Traveling in Costa Rica

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.
Looking for a travel guide to Costa Rica? Click through for Costa Rica travel tips from a local on what to do, what to eat, where to go, and how to do it all cheaply!

Cheap travel tips for Costa Rica

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?

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  1. Malizindie

    I'm a long time follower of your blog and am leaving for Costa Rica tomorrow. I just did a little "ooooh!" when seeing your top story today! The mini-travel guides are one of my favorites (ok, this whole blog is my favorite, let's me honest).


  2. Jenny

    Great tips! I second Monteverde/Santa Elena. In places like Manuel Antonio the monkeys are really used to tourists and can be aggressive enough to steal your purse or camera if you set it down (which is entertaining!) I highly recommend the Nicoya peninsula, which you can take a ferry from Puntarenas.

  3. Sarah M

    That food dish made my mouth water! We make plantains like you mentioned (smashed and fried in oil, with salt) for a snack every once in awhile–so good. We first had them from our friends who lived in Ecuador for 17 years.
    Looks like a really fun place to visit. I will take a fruity drink on a beach any day!
    Sarah M

  4. Anonymous

    I too dropped everything and moved to Costa Rica for a little while. Love living here and would recommend it for sure!

  5. Allysh223

    Costa Rica is probably tied with Sarajevo as my favorite place in the world I've traveled to so far. The weather, the activities, the food, the people, the ocean and beaches and sunsets and animals and hot springs…I loved it so much.

    One thing I appreciated as far as the men that was different from cat-calling was that they just appreciated WOMEN in a way that seemed so different from the US. It seems to me that most men in the US categorize all women as either "hot" or "not", whereas in Costa Rica they seemed to naturally seek out attributes to appreciate and find attractive in every woman. My friends and I got complimented on individualized, specific traits that while sometimes surprising to us always seemed genuine and legitimately complimentary rather than sleazy.

  6. Ashley Brown

    I stayed for a while in Costa Rica and I must say its breathtakingly beautiful. The beach towns in Costa Rica and the cuisine is which I would always cherish.

  7. Thirs Mendleson

    I'm so excited to leave for Costa Rica in September! I am doing Study Abroad for two months and the trip is funded! We are staying in really nice Costa Rica Condominiums and I can't wait! Costa Rica looking amazing and I've wanted to go there for as long as I can remember!

  8. Nicole

    Great mini-guide! I have friends that just went and are considering a move to Costa Rica they loved it so much. Will definitely have to add it to the must visit list. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Natalia Gray

    This mini guide sure is a long and full one, thanks for giving us a great view of Costa Rica! My husband and I would like to try celebrating Christmas in a foreign country and perhaps we can add Costa Rica on our list. Saw a lot of reviews about the country, including this:

    which actually highlighted the adrenaline rush experience in zip lines and volcano hiking (never heard of this!). I'm more excited with the zip line, if you just want to know. I'm not with hubby's idea of volcano hiking.

  10. Raghav

    The forest in Costa Rica is miraculous.

  11. Ashima Scripp

    Love your mini-guide! Spot on. We loved visiting the San Luis waterfall just outside Monteverde. And driving up to the rim of the Poas volcano first thing in the morning was awesome – if you get there early you can beat the crowds and the clouds!

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