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Best Costa Rica Guided Tours All Costa Rica Trips
Top Trip Memories
  • Exploring miles of off-the-beaten-track beaches on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, and perhaps chancing upon nesting sea turtles.
  • Glimpsing rare tropical birds and butterflies on a tramp through the rainforests.
  • Viewing both coasts from atop 11,200-foot Irazu volcano while gazing into massive craters that look like they were scooped out for some gargantuan ice cream cone.
  • Cooling off in the mountainous cloud forests while in search of monkeys, sloths, and other wildlife.
  • Reveling in the colors of wildflowers and trees: orchids, bougainvillea, jacaranda, and flame and poro trees, which paint the landscape with purples, oranges and scarlets.
  • Coming upon a forest waterfall and taking a dip in the waters below; or relaxing in a secluded hot springs at Arenal Volcano National Park.
  • Riding a zipline high over a forest canopy, rappelling down a waterfall canyon, kayaking on a clear mountain lake -- or all three in one day.
  • Reeling in a big catch on a sport fishing cruise in a quest for tuna, wahoo and marlin.
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Tour Tips
  • Allow at least seven to ten days for a tour that will hit many of the highlights.
  • Costa Rica caters to a wide variety of travelers, including couples, singles, and families. Whether you’re looking for hard or soft adventure, Stride can help you find the best Costa Rica tours.
  • If you have a special interest -- birding or fishing, for instance -- look for tours that emphasize those activities; you’ll be able to find them.
  • Don’t be put off by reports of civil strife elsewhere in Central America; Costa Rica has been safe and peaceful for decades.
  • The dry season runs from December to April or May in San Jose (the capital) and the Pacific Coast and from January to April along the Caribbean.
  • Some parts of the country can get rain year-round, and temperature is swayed more by altitude than season, so pack an umbrella and visit any time of year.
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Costa Rica Travel Reviews & Ratings
4.7 out of 5

100%

recommend

3,414 Reviews

Excellent 2,469 Great 787 Average 7 Disappointing 0 Terrible 3

Rating Details

Value
4.7 Guide
4.7 Activities
4.7 Lodging
4.7 Transportation
4.7 Meals
4.7
Tour Reviews

A truly fantastic experience in Costa Rica

Discover Costa Rica

5.0 August 2017 Exodus Travels Recommend: Yes Discover Costa Rica is a fantastic holiday that is suitable for all ages. The
itinerary is expertly put together, meaning you really get a sense of the
whole country and the various different ecosystems. 6 lots of 2 night stays
with the bookends in San Jose and a comfortable mini-bus for the entire trip
(with wifi) take you from the Caribbean ocean and sea turtles in Tortugero,
to the volcano and hot springs of Arenal, to the cloud forrests of Monteverde
and Savegres, and the nature reserves of Manuel Antonio and Esquinas. Each of
these locations present their own individual highlights and the travel in
between is well planned and not overly long (4 hours on average on a travel
day).
Seeing a three toed sloth on the edge of the road at extremely close quarters
as she tried to cross the road has to be the highlight of the trip. Such
amazing creatures!


Antonio was our group leader and great from the beginning to the end.
Knowledgeable, always willing to go the extra mile, he really made our trip
special.


No real need to bring much cash. Good to change a couple of hundred pounds
into Colons in San Jose to get the best FX but otherwise you can pay with
mastercard throughout the entire trip.
Bring suncream and plenty of insect repellent.
Waterproofs are essential too - good walking shoes and comfy sandals
important too - flip flops for the beach.


Small group of 16 maximum means you meet some fantastic people who become
real friends over the two weeks.


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Tropical Delights

Discover Costa Rica

5.0 August 2017 Exodus Travels Recommend: Yes This was a fantastic trip and a great way to discover the delights of Costa
Rica. From the lush tropical rainforests of the Caribbean coast to the misty
cloud forests to the fascinating pacific coast. A truly memorable trip
Probably our zip lining experience in the cloud forest, which was just
fantastic and something I will never forget, but we also loved the volcanic
hot springs, and of course seeing sloths, monkeys, toucans, crocodiles,
scarlet macaws, etc, etc...


Fantastic. Knowledgeable on the flora and fauna and on Costa Rica generally
and managed the tour to perfection.


The optional activities (zip lining and volcanic hot springs) are really
worth doing and I would highly recommend them.

Make sure you buy your souvenirs before you get to the airport, as the prices
at the airport are more than double the price outside.


My only criticism of Costa Rica is that the airport needs serious investment
to cope with the number of passengers. There was only one stand that could
take an aircraft of our size, and we had to circle for ages waiting for the
berth to become free. When we got in the terminal the queues were horrendous
and then the air conditioning failed. We queued for over an hour in stifling
conditions, which wasn't fun.


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Discover Costa Rica

Discover Costa Rica

5.0 August 2017 Exodus Travels Recommend: Yes This was our first Exodus trip and it won't be our last! It was a well paced
holiday, moving on after two days in one place, but we managed to see a range
of different environments in this amazing country. There was such a number
and variety of animals and birds wherever we went! It must have one of the
richest natural habitats in the world. The scenery was stunning too - from
beautiful river systems to volcanoes and cloud forests and tropical rain
forests. What an experience!
It's difficult to pinpoint any single moment, but waking up to the sound of
howler monkeys in the trees above our chalet on the first morning was
something that will live with us for a long time!


We chose this trip as the guide was a bird expert. Giullamo did not
disappoint. He was professional throughout, making sure we all got the most
out of the holiday. His knowledge of birds and animals was encyclopedic and
he had an instinct for spotting the wildlife before any of us were aware of
it. He took the trouble to explain about the different environments we
visited and his pride in his country shone through. The research he had done
before the trip paid dividends, down to booking good restaurants; in one case
reserving seats to watch a sunset before we sat down to eat. We all agreed we
could not have had a better guide.


We went to Costa Rica in the "dry" season, but the rain forests lived up to
their name on a couple of occassions. Our waterproof ponchos proved
invaluable to cover ourselves & our backpacks until the rain eased off.
Having a pair of binoculars each was a good thing too.


I could not fault the holiday itself - hence the 5 stars. However, we went
for the flight inclusive option, assuming Exodus had found the best way to
reach Costa Rica. The journey turned out to be a nightmare in both directions
- flying from Heathrow to Toronto, Canada, then connecting to another Air
Canada flight to San Jose - the latter being a 5 hour flight with no
entertainment or food provided. Similarly, the return journey was with Delta
via Houston and again the first leg was without food or entertainment. We
discovered afterwards there was a direct flight from Gatwick with BA. I feel
Exodus should have informed us before we made the final booking/payment.


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Absolutely Brilliant trip

Discover Costa Rica

5.0 August 2017 Exodus Travels Recommend: Yes The title of this holiday is Discover Costa Rica, and that is exactly what it
delivers. During the break, you get to experience the beauty and the wide
diversity of the country from Mangroves on the Caribbean coast, to volcanic
regions to rain forests, cloud forests and beach resorts on the Pacific
coast.
For me, the best part of the trip was Tortuguero on the north east, Caribbean
coast. We stayed in La Laguna lodge which, although fairly rustic was
nevertheless very comfortable and crammed with opportunities to see various
forms of the beautiful wildlife to be found in Costa Rica from wading birds
to sloths, to raptors, frogs and howler monkeys and many many more.
Other areas such as Monte Verde cloud forest, and Esquinas Lodge were also
extremely beautiful and interesting places.


Our leader was Guillermo Arrieta who was absolutely outstanding. His
knowledge of and passion for his country, it's wildlife, industry and beauty
was palpable. His attention to detail to ensure that every member of our
group got everything they wanted from this holiday was superb.
I can honestly say that having experienced many other group leaders with
other high quality travel companies, Guillermo is by far the best.


Take plenty of memory cards for your camera (my wife and I took in excess of
10,000 pictures!), good quality waterproofs (it is a rain frost after all and
it certainly doesn't disappoint!), good quality binoculars and stout but
comfortable walking shoes.


This was the first time my wife and I have been with Exodus, but it certainly
will not be the last. The group size was 16 which was about right, enabling
everyone to get to know everyone else so that by the end of the trip, we were
all good friends. Having been with other quality organisations who have much
bigger groups we found we didn't get to know people as well and of course
getting on and off coaches and other transport became frustrating. No such
problems here!
This holiday is described as leisurely. However there was a fair bit of
walking, often uphill, and sometimes quite steep and at higher altitudes than
we're normally used to but we never found it to be unattainable and it was
always done at a sensible, leisurely pace. But be prepared!
The journeys between destinations can be long and sometimes on bumpy roads
but there are plenty of stops for comfort breaks and to stretch legs etc so
they do not become arduous.


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Contrasting regions of Costa Rica

Discover Costa Rica

5.0 August 2017 Exodus Travels Recommend: Yes This was a really good and varied introduction to the country, taking in both
the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, and a number of types of forest in between.
We saw a wide variety of birdlife, flora and fauna and enjoyed the different
types of accommodation, all of which were very good or excellent in different
ways. The food was generally first class and served with a smile by friendly
and helpful staff. The visits to a village school and a local cheesemaker on
the final day were both interesting and enjoyable, in spite of our misgivings
beforehand about this sort of activity when we saw it in the notes.
Even though we aren't avid bird watchers, the sight of six scarlet macaws
circling, playing and landing in the trees as we watched them from the
roadside (spotted by our driver en route), and the early morning trip from
the excellent hotel at Savegre during which we saw beautiful quetzals were
two of the best moments of the trip. Seeing a crab-eating racoon crunching
its way through a large dead crab outside our cabin at Tortuguero was also a
highlight.


Katia was an enthusiastic, informative and helpful guide. She was happy to
tackle any topic thrown at her. She and the driver, Juan Jose, formed an
excellent team and it was nice that they joined us for meals etc. She also
organised and led, with Juan Jose when the bus was needed, a number of extra
walks and trips over and above the activities contained in the trip notes.
Nothing was too much trouble for her, to the extent that, after the tour was
over and we stayed longer on our own in San Jose, she contacted us to tell us
that our plans for a visit needed amendment because of a change in the timing
of a local festival.


We couldn't understand why dollars are recommended. Everything is priced in
colones, apart from the trips in Exodus' trip notes, and if you use dollars
in shops and restaurants, you not only get your change in colones but you
also tend to get a poor exchange rate. We had no trouble at all in using
colones.
We travelled with BA direct to San Jose, so had an extra day before and a
couple afterwards on our own in the capital to fit in with flight times. It
was good to have time to acclimatise before the trip proper started and to
wind down and do some exploring at both ends of the trip. We felt we saw a
bit more of Costan Rican life as a result than we otherwise would have. Our
criticism of the trip would have been that you see very little of the towns
and villages of the country. The Presidente Hotel in San Jose is excellently
situated, well appointed and with a good breakfast and staff and there is a
great little bar in the street just to the left of the hotel where you can
unwind with a beer among the locals.


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See all reviews for Costa Rica Top Operators & Trips
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Classic Itineraries

Natural Costa Rica in 1 Week

Day 1-2, San Jose: Braulio Carrillo National Park, Atlantic Forest Zipline

Day 3-4, La Fortuna: Tour fruit plantations, bird watching, Arenal Volcano National Park, Monteverde Cloud Forest, La Fortuna Waterfall

Day 5-6, Tortuguero National Park: observe incredible wildlife, in particular the Green Sea Turtles in their natural egg laying habitat.

See All Costa Rica in One Week Trips

Highlights of Costa Rica in 2 Weeks

Day 1-2, San Jose: Puerto Viejo de Talamanca village, zipline in Atlantic forest, Braulio Carrillo National Park

Day 3-5, La Fortuna: Arenal Volcano, La Fortuna Waterfall, whitewater rafting, Baldi Hot Springs, Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge

Day 6-7, Monteverde Cloud Forest: stunning views of the Gulf of Nicoya, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve & National Park, catch a glimpse of a Quetzel, zip line through the canopy

Day 8-10, Tortuguero National Park: Sea Turtle Museum, observe the famous Green Sea Turtles who live here, wildlife walks

Day 11-13, Manuel Antonio: Pan-Am Coastal Highway, see multiple species of monkeys through the trees, horseback riding on the beach

See All Costa Rica in Two Weeks Trips 

Adventure Tour in Costa Rica

Day 1, San Jose: Braulio Carrillo National Park, Atlantic Forest Zipline, birdwatching cruise

Day 2-4, Pacuare River: whitewater rafting, wildlife viewing, hiking in Pacuare Nature Reserve among dense forest and to waterfalls. Zip line among the canopy

Day 5-6, Tortuguero National Park: Kayak through the many canals and lagoons in the park. Observe the famous Green Sea Turtles who live here, take a guided wildlife walk

Day 7-8, Manuel Antonio: Sky tram, hike to Cathedral Point for spectacular views of the ocean

See All Costa Rica Adventure Trips

Costa Rica Trips & Tour Advice

Few adventure travel destinations are as hot as Costa Rica, one of the most stable countries in Central America and home to mountains, cloud forests, beaches (on two coasts -- the Pacific and Caribbean), wildlife, and some great eco-lodges as well. While small, Costa Rica packs a punch for travelers, and is family friendly with plenty of “soft adventure” opportunities. 

Costa Rica is a leading contender for the title of eco-tourism capital of the Americas, and for good reason: not only does it have mountains, forests, rivers, coastlines, wildlife, and more, but it has adopted sustainable development as its ruling principle. Costa Rica is set to become the world’s first carbon neutral country, with virtually all of its energy derived from geothermal, hydroelectric, and wind power.

Costa Rica is a natural wonderland that in its own way is as unusual as the Galapagos or Madagascar. Though smaller than the U.S. state of West Virginia, Costa Rica harbors enormous biological diversity. The country contains nearly four percent of all the species on the planet -- more than 500,000 different plants and animals -- well over 100 times what its land mass would normally be expected to hold.

Switzerland of Central America

A full quarter of Costa Rica’s land is devoted to national parks, and it’s long been known as the Switzerland of Central America because of its peaceful, democratic, politically neutral government (not to mention its often dramatic scenery). Compared to much of the Americas, it has a high literacy rate, a high standard of living, and a high life expectancy for its people (health care is free). The country doesn’t even have a military.

That doesn’t mean everything is Swiss-neat and efficient: the roads are often in disrepair and government and private corruption are periodic threats. Nor are things as neat or on-time here as they are in Switzerland; ticos and ticas (Costa Rican men and women) can be quite casual about tidiness and punctuality.

Friendly, Eco-Minded People

But the people are incredibly friendly, so much so that saying “no” to anything is considered the height of rudeness (though they have developed dozens of ways of couching their “no’s” in various shades of “si.”)

Meanwhile, the prevailing eco-mindedness of the government and people has resulted in significant reforestation projects on once depleted lands, and the benefits of a thriving eco-tourism business to the economy have largely trumped the old practices of illegal logging, burning, and poaching.

From Coast to Coast

Costa Rica features two separate coastlines -- the Caribbean and the Pacific -- that are just 185 miles away at its widest point, making it possible to swim on both coasts in the same day.The regional terrain and climate can differ dramatically, and throughout the country you’ll find a remarkable mix of lush jungle rainforests; cool, verdant cloud forests; volcanic mountains and deep valleys; wild rivers; and arid, flat desert-like sections as well. All have their own separate kind of beauty and appeal, making it a one-country atlas. A good tour guide can help you turn the pages efficiently.

Attractions include visiting coastal beaches, surfing, whitewater rafting, hiking through rain- and cloud forests, birding trips and other wildlife viewing, driving up volcanoes and coastal cliffs for memorable scenic views, gazing at wildflowers, touring towns and cities (such as the capital, San Jose), and staying in eco-lodges or taking a break from all the action at posh resorts.

Wildlife in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is best known for birding (see below), but don’t overlook the country’s other wildlife.

Rainforest walks will yield views – or certainly the chattering and howling sounds – of monkeys. Howler monkeys – which you’ll almost certainly hear before seeing – are at the top of the “wow” list. Spider and capuchin monkeys also swing through the rainforest canopy, and you may sight coatis – furry, ring-tailed, raccoon-like creatures.

Sloths are slow moving but hard to spot while sleeping up in the trees, and they only come down to the ground once a week. The Aviarios Sloth Sanctuary on the Caribbean coast is a good place to try.

If you take to Costa Rica’s rivers, you may spot crocodiles and caimans, along with plenty of waterfowl.  

Birding in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is renowned as one of the richest birding destinations on the planet.

Spotting the rare and brilliantly colored resplendent quetzal is the top prize, but the many hundreds of species found in the forests and wetlands here include scarlet macaws, toucans, trogons, motmots, grey-necked wood rails, snowy-bellied hummingbirds, brown-billed scythebills, golden hooded tanagers, roseate spoonbills, kingfishers, jabiru storks,grebes and herons.

Among the top birding spots are:

The Cerro de la Muerte (your best chance for spotting a resplendent quetzal)

La Selva Biological Station (300 species near Puerto Viejo)

Monteverde Cloud Forest (another chance to spot a quetzal as well as hearing the “chimes” of bellbirds)

Arenal National Park (more than 400 species, including umbrella birds and tiger herons)

Tortuguero National Park (water birds and other species along the northern Caribbean coast)

The Sarapiqui Eco Observatory (hundreds of species in the town of La Virgen)

Wilson Botanical Gardens (hummingbirds and tanagers are among the many species attracted to the tropical plants and flowers here, near the town of Golfito)

Carara Biological Reserve (along the Pacific Coast, this is the best place for spotting scarlet macaws)

Even if you aren’t a dedicated birder, a walk in the rainforests will produce close-up sightings of iridescent butterflies and the sounds of bird calls so clear and harmonious that you’ll want to record them for your ringtones – or at least to play for relaxation when you return home.  

Food in Costa Rica

As in much of Latin America, Costa Rican cuisine relies heavily on rice and beans, but there’s much more to Tico food than that traditional combo. You’ll find Caribbean, Spanish, and other influences, as well as plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Casado, the most common everyday dish, supplements the rice and beans with grilled or sautéed steak, chicken, pork or fish, as well as a cabbage salad, fried plantains, and sautéed onions. You might even find French fries, an egg, or picadillos (chopped vegetables) on the same plate.

Gallo pinto, the most typical breakfast plate, is similar in some ways to casado – rice and beans mixed together and served with chopped beef, eggs, salsa, and tortillas.  (Note: There’s also a Caribbean version of mixed rice and beans that incorporates red beans, coconut milk, and chilies).

Many meals start with ceviche, raw diced fish (such as sea bass) marinated in lime juice with diced celery, onions, peppers, cilantro and other vegetables and herbs.  

Sopa de Mariscos is a popular seafood soup – often combining shrimp, mussels, clams or squid with fish and chopped vegetables – simmered in a tomato broth. (A Caribbean version substitutes coconut milk for the tomato broth.)

Empanadas – fried dough stuffed with fillings such as cheese or potatoes -- are a popular snack.

You can wash any of these down with the ever-present local coffee, beer, horchata (a sweet milk drink), fruit juices (refrescos or naturales), granizados (a version of shave ice), or coconut water.

Eco Tours in Costa Rica

Costa Rica helped pioneer the concept of Eco Tourism as we know it back in the 1980s.

It started with a modest rainforest birding lodge near San Jose, and has developed over the past three decades into a key part of the country‘s tourist industry.

With an enlightened government, sizable national parklands, and an unrivaled number of animal and plant species for its size, Costa Rica has proved ideal ground for promoting sustainable tourism.

This eco-mindedness has resulted in significant reforestation projects on once depleted lands, while the benefits of a thriving eco-tourism business to the economy have largely trumped the old practices of illegal logging, burning, and poaching.

A genuine eco tour doesn’t just give a wink and a nod to nature and the environment, but takes all possible steps to ensure that its guests leave the wildlife and surroundings at least as well off as when they arrived.

This means, of course, taking only photos and leaving only footprints, but also may mean giving back to the local communities in some fashion. For example, a good eco tour agency might donate a portion of proceeds from every tour to community schools, hospitals, or conservation projects.

Eco tours often feature stays in eco lodges, which are used as bases for taking guided rainforest walks, nature hikes, and small boat trips along inland waterways. Meals are usually hearty and based on sustainable foods; recycled water is used for showering; and group camaraderie tends to be high even when it rains.

The accommodations in Costa Rica’s eco lodges may range from rustic to luxurious, but the one thing they share is a deep commitment to sustaining the local environment.

Things Not to Miss

Among must-see’s and do’s are the Monteverde cloud forests, situated in the central part of the country amidst a number of volcanoes; it’s said to contain nearly as many animal and plant species as the United States and Canada combined. Besides waterfalls, panoramic views of both coasts and little mountain towns, you’ll have the opportunity (albeit chancy) of spotting the elusive red-and-green resplendent Quetzal, which tops many a birder’s life list.

The Arenal Volcano is the dramatic centerpiece of a national park where you can go hiking or kayaking on a lake, visit hot springs and waterfalls, or go ziplining over the forest canopy (keeping in mind that the volcano is active). Whitewater rafting on one of several rivers is another priority for adventurous travelers -- try the class III-IV Pacuare River in the central part of the country.

All these and much more are best seen on guided tours, so let Stride be your guide through the maze of activities in the Switzerland of Central America.

Travel to Costa Rica: Practicalities & Logistics

Capital city‎: San José

Dialing code‎: ‎+506

Language‎: ‎Spanish

Currency‎: CRC

Before you Go

Costa Rica is one of the world’s foremost destinations for adventure travel. Given this, extra safety precautions should be taken, and definitely make sure you’re healthy and alert before your trip.

If you suffer from a fear of heights or vertigo and plan on participating in the many Costa Rica activities that take place high in the rainforest canopy, definitely consult a professional first.

Visa

For US Travelers, a visa is not required for travel to Costa Rica. Your passport must be valid at least one day after your travel in Costa Rica, and you must have a ticket for exiting the country, whether home or to another country.

Travelers from the UK do not require a visa, but must stay in the country no longer than 90 days and be able to provide evidence of your departure date and country traveling to. This is the same for Australian and Canadian travelers.

Safety

Costa Rica is perhaps one of the more westernized Central American countries - a factor of it’s appeal to tourists and adventure travelers.

When it comes to adventure travel, always be careful and follow instructions closely. Because Costa Rica is so popular for adventure activities, you don’t really need to worry about a lack of Westernized safety measures, but there is always risk involved.

For traveling to Costa Rica, it’s important to add a few things to your travel insurance policy. Ensure that your travel insurance covers adventure sports as well as natural disasters. Costa Rica’s weather can be extreme and unpredictable!

Related Guides

Continent:

Central America & the Caribbean

Local Attraction:

Arenal Volcano, Manuel Antonio National Park, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Rincon de la Vieja, Santa Teresa and Many More

Top Activities:   

Nature Sightseeing, Wildlife Viewing, Birding & Wilderness walk 

Similar Destinations:                       

Ecuador, Belize

 

Additional Resources

Useful Links

Visa Information

  Visa Needed? Link
US  N (< 90 days, need return ticket) Visas to Costa Rica for United States Citizens
UK  N (< 90 days, need return ticket) Visas to Costa Rica for United Kingdom Citizens
CA  N (< 90 days, need return ticket) Visas to Costa Rica for Canadian Citizens
AU  N (< 90 days, need return ticket) Visas to Costa Rica for Australian Citizens
NZ  N (< 90 days, need return ticket) Visas to Costa Rica for New Zealand Citizens
IN  Y Visas to Costa Rica for Indian Citizens

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