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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 tour operators cater 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 right 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

3,390 Reviews

  • Excellent 2,564
  • Great 809
  • Average 13
  • Disappointing 1
  • Terrible 3

Rating Details

  • Value
    4.8
  • Guide
    4.7
  • Activities
    4.8
  • Lodging
    4.8
  • Transportation
    4.8
  • Meals
    4.8

Tour Reviews

This trip was everything I hoped it would be and more

Costa Rica Quest

5.0
April 2017
G Adventures
Recommend: Yes
This trip was everything I hoped it would be and more. Costa Rica is a gorgeous country and I'm so grateful that I got to experience the pura vida lifestyle, even if it was only for 9 too short days. Ronny, our CEO, got to know each of us individually and made recommendations based on our interests. He was a pleasure to have as part of our group and added so much value to our experience. Ronny was fun and truly ensured that we had the best experience imaginable. He was helpful and accommodating whenever we needed him and was always looking out for our safety. The optional activities that were recommended were all well worth the money and the customer service was excellent. Our drivers and transportation were excellent as well and all of the accommodations were clean and comfortable. I have been home for less than 48 hours and have already recommended this trip to family and friends.
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First Visit to Costa Rica

Discover Costa Rica

5.0
April 2017
Exodus Travels
Recommend: Yes
An excellent introduction to the wildlife around Costa Rica. The focus was on birds but there were plenty of flowers, mammals and invertebrates to add interest. A little more strenuous than suggested by the rating but the guide did give the option not to go on some of the walks. The country is safe and reasonably clean (water in hotels was all potable) and the accommodation was of a good standard throughout.
Seeing rare birds in a tropical forest setting which is being safeguarded by the government of Costa Rica.

Very helpful. Excellent personal skills and good knowledge of birds and mammals. Willing to offer a few extra walks at some locations

You need to be reasonably fit. Although walks are not very long, the humidity and heat is potentially an issue for some travellers. Take US dollars with you and use as little of local currency as possible. When booking try to get a direct flight (Gatwick - San Jose) and if possible avoid transfers through USA. The transfers between locations were long (but very scenic) and many roads were not tarmac so may not suit anyone with back pain.

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Discover Costa Rica Tour was Wondeful

Discover Costa Rica

5.0
April 2017
Exodus Travels
Recommend: Yes
We chose this tour because it visits areas of Costa Rica that a lot of tours don't reach. Having returned home and reflected on the experience we could not have made a better choice. Every lodge or hotel we stayed in was perfectly placed, comfortable and relaxing. Where food was included it was always good to excellent. The gardens surrounding all the accommodations were wonderful, with birds, mammals, frogs and reptiles as well as beautiful flowers providing fantastic photo opportunities.
Coming home with such a great feeling about the trip would not have been possible without the company of such a lovely group of people. All 14 of our fellow travellers were great company and got along without any problems. However, without a great tour guide, holidays can fail to achieve the magical tour that we had. Johnny Villalobos was tremendous and went out of his way make sure we saw everything we possibly could in the time available. I have said more about him below.
We loved every part of this tour and we are so glad that we chose this tour over all the others that were available.
Seeing at least three quetzal birds when we knew the chances of seeing any might only be 50:50. I was not prepared for just how beautiful they are.

Johnny Villalobos was probably the best tour leader I have experienced. His knowledge of wildlife and all elements of Costa Rican history was phenomenal; to top it off he arranged a 50th anniversary surprise for one of the couples which included a cake and presents which was an emotional moment for everyone. He went above and beyond the normal expectations for a tour guide and should be considered for tour guide of the year.

We were able to pay for almost everything on credit cards, even tiny amounts. Using credit cards that charge no fees meant we could buy anything in the most effective way. The rest of the time $US were accepted everywhere. Sterling is not always accepted even just for converting to Colones.
Be prepared for high humidity, especially at Esquinas Lodge. The humidity everywhere makes drying washing difficult despite the high temperatures.

Consider staying a bit longer to see other parts of the country around the San Jose hinterland. We went on a day trip that included Irazu volcano and wished we could have done more, such as visiting the Poas volcano

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Incredible destination

Discover Costa Rica

5.0
April 2017
Exodus Travels
Recommend: Yes
We have just returned from the most amazing trip of our lives, Costa Rica is a stunning destination.
From start to finish our party was enthralled not only with new discovery's at every turn but also by the knowledge & obvious love of nature shown throughout by our guide Johnny, he was amazing.
Costa Rica has so much to offer with every destination offering new & exiting discovery's everyday.
The lodges are all top class with good food comfortable rooms surrounded by nature.
The rain forests visited are stunning with an incredible diversity in plant & tree life, add the wildlife & you are in heaven.
I would recommend this trip to anyone of any age or ability as all paths are manageable for anyone with reasonable mobility.
But it is the wildlife that makes this trip, be it birds, reptiles, mammals, they are all there in abundance.
You will need a poncho, you can guarantee rain & these slip on easily to keep you dry & protect your Camera & binoculars, raincoats are to cumbersome & the humidity will drain you
Costa Rica is a paradise waiting to be discovered for anyone that has a love of nature, enjoy
The 5.30 am call to see the Resplendent Quetzals, we were not disappointed.

We had Johnny Villalobos, if you are lucky enough to get him you are in for a treat, he is amazing with his knowledge of everything & his obvious love of nature will keep you captivated throughout.
He is by far the best guide we have ever had

Eating & drinking in Costa Rica is not cheap as taxes add a huge amount to the bill as we discovered
eg, basic bill as shown on menu 24,050 colones(around 43 Dollars) at till 29,582 colones (around 54 Dollars)so beware.

My tip, I would take all local currency (Colones) I took Dollars as is suggested but every time you pay in Dollars you always get the change in Colones so you are juggling two currencies all the time

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Discover Costa Rica WUC - fabulous trip!

Discover Costa Rica

5.0
April 2017
Exodus Travels
Recommend: Yes
Clearly a well thought out itinerary to explore the many different regions and ecosystems of Costa Rica. Timings worked very well but all you ever wished for was more time in each location but this would then make it a 3 week trip! No matter how much literature you read before the trip the diversity is amazing and just how much is packed into this small country is incredible; the wildlife, the insects, reptiles and plants exceed all expectations. Each location is so different you just never tire of what you will see next. We went on a bird watching departure, this suited both nature lovers and more serious 'birders' alike. I believe we saw and appreciated so much more due to this type of departure - would recommend it highly.
So many!
Tortuguero - was our favourite place. The waterway networks, beautiful gardens, the sea and the mix of wildlife on hand. Visiting the local village and understanding how they have changed their ways to conserve the turtle populations and see the value in tourism. The people are laid back, welcoming and friendly.
Monteverde - the hummingbird garden. Standing and watching these wonderful birds at close quarters was magical. Hearing the wings beating as they flew past you, going off to the next flower or feeder was not what we expected as our previous encounters were very fleeting and short lived!
Scarlet Macaws - on the way to Manuel Antonio. Our driver spotted a single bird perched in a tree. It wasnt the best view as the bird was deep in the branches, resting from the sun. However, as we pulled away to leave 2 pairs flew overhead and landed in a tree in clear view only a few meters away. To see these rare, endangered birds was a privilege and a pleasure. This was our only siting and makes you feel incredibly lucky.
Manuel Antonio National Park - 8 month old three toed sloth in a tree approximately 7ft off the ground and only 15ft in to the the rainforest. Enough said!
Esquinas Lodge - view from the restaurant nothing short of fantastic. Night walk here very good and full of potential as felt by the hairs on the back of my neck! Also the video detailing how the lodge and area came about as it is today, one person can make such a difference - this was very inspirational.
Finally seeing quetzal birds at Savegre Valley. There was one female and then up to 4 males flying up and down a 50 metre stretch of trees trying to impress her. Was quite amazed how much they stood out against the green of the leaves. Very much worth an early start!

Jorge was the best! Extremely knowledgable, passionate and helpful. Clearly very proud of his country and gave us so much information on the bus journey's about the country's history and culture too. Jorge became a good friend to our group, we all said how emotional we felt when the time came to say goodbye! Zero complaints.
Our driver, Chico, was excellent too and they made for a brilliant double act! He was also very friendly helpful and considerate. A very good driver.

Travelling through Houston, USA on the group flight proved to be just as easy as anywhere else.
Don't feel you need to take loads of camera batteries as can charge up at every lodge.
All the rooms are well protected from mosquitos and we didn't feel the need for a mosquito net at anytime. Do take repellent with you though.
Towels are always available including for use by pools or on beaches etc so no need to take any.
There are several bendy and bumpy roads, l suffer travel sickness but was able to sit in the front of the bus, air-con good and had plenty of stops so didn't pose a problem for me.
Found could pay with plastic in most areas surprisingly. Took mainly dollars which were easy to use but may have been easier with colons as a fair percentage of goods quoted in local currency.
We had a rabies course of injections but were the only ones to in our group. Our doctor said the antidote is rare in the world in the present day and gives 5 days to get treatment instead of 24 hours. Doesn't hurt to have but cost just shy of £240 each person, not an absolute requirement though as Exodus do say.

Optional excursions not pushed upon you or 'sold' - we planned to do most but in end only felt the need to do activities at Monteverde and 2 night walk tours.
Meals not included but ate out as a group really good fun and enabled us to see more of the local culture - nice to do.
Make the most of your holiday but remember to take opportunity to enjoy the downtime between activities. Early starts, hot conditions, travelling and humidity levels do take their toll!
Book it!

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Top Tour Operators and Travel Companies


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.

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

 

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Brian Gillis
 
 

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