Your first Costa Rican lesson will be “Pura Vida!” which aside from it’s literal English translation, “pure/simple life”, it’s a familiar phrase amongst locals, being exchanged for hello’s, goodbye’s and everything in between! So, Pura Vida and welcome to my Costa Rica recap!
Costa Rica is one of the most visited countries in Central America, known for its rugged rainforests, diverse terrain, beaches and volcanoes. It’s located in between Panama and Nicaragua, with coasts on both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. It’s a perfect destination whether you’re a solo traveler, venturing with friends or exploring with a loved one!
The country is massive, so you’ll have to plan ahead and decide 1) how much total time you’ll have and 2) what exact adventures are you looking for? Do you want to go hiking, relax at the hot springs, surf, lounge at the beach? Each area offer of the country will offer something different!
Knowing that we had 5 days total in Costa Rica and wanting rainforest, hot springs, volcano and outdoor exploration, we decided to head to the Arenal/ Fortuna. Wanting to stay at the Tabacon Resort and Spa also helped to make our decision a little easier. If I had to do it all again, I would have planned to spend at least 2 weeks in Costa Rica, but instead, I’m planning a few return visits!
Note: For future visits to Costa Rica, I plan to visit the Caribbean and Pacific Coast areas. See below for quick tips on this area:
📍 The Caribbean coast located nearest to Panama to Puerto Viejo. Go here for the beaches, great surfing and to find the party!!
📍 The Pacific coast, for more beaches-specifically the Manuel Antonio beach where the white Sandy beaches and warm, blue water is always welcoming. There’s also a national park nearby if you want to do a bit of hiking or see some wildlife.
I absolutely recommend that you rent a car, no matter what area of Costa Rica you decide to explore. San Jose is the main city and capital of Costa Rica, so you will likely fly into the Juan Santamaría International Airport located in San Jose. Aside from a few lovely museums and other cultural sites, most tourists tend to leave the San Jose area to head to the coast or the rainforest, which are all approximately 2-4 hours from San Jose. While there are a few public shuttles and you can likely organize a ride with your hotel resort, renting a car provides flexibility and is often cheaper! Tabacon offered a shuttle from San Jose to Fortuna for $197USD PP, we instead rented a car with Payless Car Rental via Expedia for $260 USD for 5 days, which included mandatory insurance through Costa Rica (my Chase insurance did not satisfy their needs). I requested an automatic car and did not need anything outside of my US driver’s license and a credit card for a temporary hold. Driving and navigating through Costa Rica was quite seamless as they drive on the same side of the road that I am used to in the US and I was able to use Google Maps for navigation!
Costa Rica has a tropical climate with 2 primary seasons: Dry Season or Summer from December to April and Rainy Season or Winter from May to November. We went in January 2021, and despite being dry season, it rained on and off all day, but alas, we were in the rainforest, so pack accordingly! Bring a raincoat and appropriate footwear!
The local currency is the Costa Rican colon (1 Colon=.0016 USD), I did exchange $20 USD for tip money, but every place we visited accepted Visa or US cash. While I found Costa Rica to be relatively affordable, it’s noted that its becoming increasingly more expensive as it becomes a more popular destination, but there are ways to cut down costs on your trip from lodging, choosing to dine locally, and patronizing local businesses for excursions as examples. it’s estimated that on average a week of vacation in Costa Rica is $1,000 USD.
The official language is Spanish, though you’ll be able to make due with English, I highly encourage you learning a few phrases in Spanish and downloading an app like Google Translate. Other languages spoken are Creole, Jamaican Patois, and some French, Portuguese and German.
US citizens do not need a VISA to enter Costa Rica, but you’ll need a passport!
COVID‑19 Specific Information as of February 2021.
As of 10/26/2020 tourists visiting Costa Rica do not need to show proof of a negative covid‑19 test and will not need to quarantine. However, I personally encourage everyone to get tested before and after traveling.
Despite not needing a negative Covid-19 test to enter, there are a few steps you’ll have to complete, the first being filling out the Costa Rica digital Health Pass form found HERE. You must show proof of this via a QR code when boarding your flight and once again upon arrival at immigration.
You’ll also need to purchase health insurance that meets any covid‑19 requirements such as any medical expenses or quarantine related expenses due to Covid‑19. I have travel insurance with my travel credit card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve, but it does not cover Covid-19 incidentals, so I was still required to supplement my insurance. This was the best/cheapest option that I found via the Costa Rican Tourism Board website HERE.
There is currently a curfew in place for all vehicles on the road, Mon‑Fri 10pm‑5am, Sat & Sun to 9pm‑5am.
US Citizens: As of 1/26 the CDC added new restrictions for Air Travel stating that anyone flying to the U.S. will need to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test, read HERE for more info. This new order applies to both U.S. Citizens and to foreign travelers who wish to enter the United States. Within 3 days (72 hours) of your flight, you must provide written proof (electronic or paper) of a negative Covid-19 test OR you can provide documentation that you’ve had and recovered from Covid-19 in the past 3 months! Proof of vaccination currently does not count!
I leveraged the Visa Concierge service via my Chase Sapphire Reserve card to help locate and coordinate my Covid-19 test while in Costa Rica for entry back into the US. The concierge service collaborated with the resort that I was staying in and helped to set up an appointment with Unimed clinic to coordinate testing in my hotel room. The test cost $160 USD and was conducted in our hotel room, we we notified of our negative results within 24 hours!
Pura Vida! And see you for Part II of my Costa Rica recap, reviewing my stay at the Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa HERE.