Colorful keel billed toucan high in the jungle trees of Costa Rica

Costa Rica - Best Tours & Trips 2019

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.
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Trip Type Trip Type Classic Tour Groups are between 25-60 people, typically ~30-40. Usually there will be many opportunities to split off and enjoy meals and excursions in smaller groups. This is the most economical way to travel, saving up to 40% versus booking the same itinerary yourself.
Small Group Guided Experiences Small groups are usually defined as between 10 and 24 travelers, often less. If you're the kind of person who enjoys more intimate experiences and personal service this is a good choice. All else being equal you will pay a premium for this style vs a larger group tour.
River Cruise These vessels are smaller than most ocean cruisers, limiting which amenties are available. Passenger counts can vary. One of the biggest advantages of a river cruise is the ability to dock at smaller ports and local villages.
Small Ocean Cruise Small ship cruises usually have a max passenger count of 500. The primary purpose of these trips is to spend time off the vessel in local ports (e.g. Mediterranean) or experiencing nature (e.g Galapagos or Antarctica). Cabins can vary from budget to luxury.
Private Tour Private tours give you the undivided attention of a guide, and often involve special access to sites and unique experiences not available to larger groups. This is a great option for families, couples, and small friend groups. Expect to pay a bit more for the extra service.
Independent Package A travel company plans your itinerary and arranges all the logistics including lodging, local activities, and transportantion. You have the flexibility of a solo trip while still getting the convience and time savings of expert planning. Get 90% of the benefits of a tour, without a guide.
Vacation / Holiday Package Similar to a self guided tour, this usually involves a home base, such as a hotel or resort, with packaged activities and day tours as a part of the stay.
Large Ocean Cruise This is the "floating city" experience, with multiple ways to enjoy your vacation aboard the ship as much as on land. Ships are multiple floors, provide several activities, culinary, and shopping options. They often make fewer stops and have less time available for shore excursions.

Tour Styles

Lodging Level Lodging Level Camping Typically involves most nights sleeping in tents (sometimes permanent tented sites) or in rustic cabins and lodges.
Basic - 2 star You'll stay in no-frills, but clean and comfortable, hotels or guesthouses. A 'Basic' trip might also involve a few nights of camping.
Value - 3 star Mid-range budget with accommodations ranging from comfortable lodges, guesthouses, and homestays to three star hotels.
Premium - 4 star 3 to 4 star western hotel equivalents. While not all lodging will be 'luxury' they will be quite comfortable by western standards.
Luxury - 5 star The highest level of comfort and service. All accomodations are in four or five star hotels, boutique lodges or high-end homestays.

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$ 0 $ 8,232

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Physical Level Physical Level Very Easy Minimal walking - motor vehicles available for all major parts of trip.
Easy Normal generally flat walking in urban or suburban environments.
Moderate Walking or physical activity half to most of day - no carrying equipment.
Strenuous All or most of day hiking or biking, hills included.
Extreme Very challenging all day hiking and backpacking carrying significant equipment.

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Solo Friendly Solo Friendly Good for Singles Trips that specifically cater to travelers looking to meet other singles.
No Single Supplement Trips where single supplement is usually not required for solo travelers.

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Top Costa Rica Experiences and Attractions

Top Costa Rica Experiences

Exploring miles of off-the-beaten-track beaches on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts

Glimpsing rare tropical birds and butterflies on a rainforest hike

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 Monteverde Cloud Forest while in search of monkeys, sloths, and other wildlife.

Reveling in the colors of wildflowers and trees on a nature hike: 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

Relaxing in a secluded hot springs at Arenal Volcano National Park

Partaking in Costa Rica's famous adventure activities: 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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Costa Rica Trip Reviews

541 Costa Rica Tour Reviews - Summary 98% Recommend

4.7 out of 5
Excellent 417
Great 102
Average 14
Disappointing 2
Terrible 6
Value
4.7
Guide
4.7
Activities
4.7
Lodging
4.7
Transportation
4.7
Meals
4.7

Tour Reviews Write a Review

Tortuguero was amazing and worth

5.0
  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 5.0

Tortuguero was amazing and worth the long trip to get there.. We enjoyed the atmosphere at Mawamba Lodge.. The trips by small boat into the national park allowed us to see three kinds of monkeys and lots of reptiles and birds in their natural habitat. Dennis was a knowledgeable guide. Si Como No at Manuel Antonio was a wonderful hotel with excellent rooms, staff and food

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Operator Alexander + Roberts

TAKE THIS TRIP!!! Unbelievable!

5.0
Zegrahms Expeditions Company Reviews
  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 5.0

Sunday, 22 July... SVALBARD, Norway. Halfway between the top of continental Norway & the North Pole!

We disembarked & are now back to civilization! WOW!
What a FANTASTIC adventure on the ship Ocean Adventurer!

Once again, Zegrahm delivered! Cruise Director & Expedition Leader executed an unforgettable adventure! SUPERB lectures on ship & field trips from the guest experts in their fields... history of polar explorations... geology... birds... polar bears & other animals!

We saw several polar bears, groups of walrus, one very photogenic seal, reindeer, Arctic fox, a BLUE WHALE (largest of ALL whales!)... & a gazillion birds!

Our small ship was indeed able to circumnavigate the Svalbard (Spitsbergen) archipelago... 3 cheers to our Russian captain! The staff on board were FANTASTIC! And the best food I've had on any ship!

Mostly great weather... quite fortunate! Out on the Zodiacs (rubber rafts), I wore almost everything in my suitcase, in layers all at once, hoping to stay warm & dry... followed by VERY LONG hot showers once back on the ship, while I thawed out!

If you have an interest in polar adventure, TAKE THIS TRIP!!! Unbelievable!

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Operator Zegrahms Expeditions

Guide couldn’t have been better

5.0
  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 5.0

Tour well organised and gave opportunities to experience as much as possible within a limited time.

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Operator On The Go Tours

Fabulous countryside & well organised trip

5.0
  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 3.0

We had a great trip with 2by2 Holidays to Cost Rica and still enjoy looking at all the photos. It's such a beautiful country and the walks were exactly the right level of challenge for us. The guides were very knowledgeable and added a whole extra dimension of enjoyment for us. Everyone we met was so relaxed and friendly and the accommodation was pretty good. We especially enjoyed the hot springs at Arenal after a long day of exploring. You wouldn't go to Costa Rica for the food as its a bit bland but there was always a lot of it so we never went hungry! We are planning our next one trip with 2by2... possibly Peru. Highly recommend them as their service and knowledge is excellent.

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Operator 2 by 2 Holidays

Traveling to Costa Rica with TVP was unlike any travel experience I have had before

5.0
  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 5.0

Traveling to Costa Rica with TVP was unlike any travel experience I have had before. Prior to the TVP trip in September, I had never been to Costa Rica or been part of a tour. I admittedly did not know what to expect giving up control of planning my trip, but could not have asked for a better experience. Every detail was expertly chosen, from the intimate welcome dinner giving the group time to meet one another, to the downtime built into volunteer days and ending with a relaxing day at the beach. Being part of this tour gave me the opportunity to see a side to Costa Rica I had no idea existed based on friends previous travel accounts. Participating in a beach clean up of an uninhabited beach and realizing how much trash washes up from ocean pollution was eye opening. Rescuing baby sea turtles the next day reinforced how important it is to keep our oceans and beaches clean. I cannot wait to be a part of future TVP trips!!

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Operator The Vacation Project

The Pura Vida trip was an outstanding family vacation

5.0
  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 5.0

With teenage children, we wanted to do something that would satisfy all of us. There was enough fun activities to keep us active and enough down time for us to relax. We were pushed outside our comfort zone, but the outstanding staff was there to encourage us and cheer us on.

Read more
Operator MT Sobek (Mountain Travel Sobek)

Costa Rica Tours and Travel Guide

Costa Rica Attractions & Landmarks Guide

costa rica video

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:

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

2. La Selva Biological Station (300 species near Puerto Viejo)

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

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

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

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

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

8. 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. 

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. 

Some top foods to try in Costa Rica include:

1. Casadothe 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.

2. 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). 

3. Sopa de Mariscos - 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.)

4. 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!

Top Costa Rica Travel Companies

Things to Know Before You Go

Tours to Costa Rica usually focus on a combination of eco travel, wildlife, and adventure. You will usually find a tour that weighs one or two of these themes above the other.

If it’s your first visit to Costa Rica, try to find a tour that hits upon what Costa Rica is most known for. These includes Arenal Volcano and Monteverde Cloud Forest. Both attractions are extremely popular and are normally included on Costa Rica tour itineraries.

Outdoors and Active Costa Rica Tours

Most Costa Rica tours don’t have a heavy emphasis on cultural or historical sight seeing. Simply because the wildlife and outdoor tour activities are enough to occupy the days!

Wildlife lovers will want for nothing in Costa Rica, and most itineraries do focus heavily on the diverse wildlife found in Costa Rica’s rainforests and cloud forests. Some may not include Tortuguero National Park - and if you don’t want to miss observing sea turtles nesting or hatching be sure to find a tour that includes this park!

Some of the most famous animals you can see relatively easily in Costa Rica include the red-eyed tree frog, crocodiles, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, tapirs, basilisk lizards, coatimundis (the Costa Rican version of a raccoon!), and two kinds of sloth. A night safari might allow you to see some of the rarer or more elusive animals in the country, such as jaguars, kinkajous, tarantulas, and ocelots. Don't forget to look up - night is the best time to see snakes as they stalk for sleeping birds in the trees above. 

If you decide to go snorkeling or scuba diving, you may run into bottlenose dolphins (or go see them on a dolphin swim!), green sea turtles and leatherbacks, sharks, and all kinds of tropical fish. Whale watching is  also a great way to see orcas and humpback, blue, beaked, and pilot whales. 

If you are interested in going on a birdwatching trip, there are also tons of beautiful and exotic birds. There are green and scarlet macaws,  toucans, dozens of species of hummingbirds, and all kinds of birds of paradise -- including the rare national bird of Costa Rica, the Resplendent Quetzal. 

Weather in Costa Rica

It gets quite wet and humid in Costa Rica, and the country is prone to hurricane conditions. Tour activities may change depending on the time of year, but generally you can expect to be walking through the rainforest in every sense of the word.

Most tours in Costa Rica will provide wet weather gear, though it is a good idea to pack light weight waterproof clothing for the majority of your tour. Long sleeves and pants can go a long way toward insect protection as well.

Eco Lodge Accommodation on Costa Rica Tours

Costa Rica has a long history as a leader in eco travel, and a majority of trips to Costa Rica have an eco, sustainable, and green travel theme. These will often feature a stay at an eco lodge, or even a treehouse! These can vary from luxury accommodations to comfortable-but-basic.

Don’t expect terribly reliable internet and electricity - particularly in keeping with the eco lodge approach! These establishments are designed to be as eco conscious as possible, and your tour will reveal new ways you can help contribute and be a responsible traveler.

All Costa Rica tours, river cruises, expedition cruises, and adventure trips. Find the best guided trips and expert planned vacation and holiday packages. Average rating of 4.7 for all Costa Rica trips.

308 trips from 102 tour companies with 541 reviews

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