For those that are planning to travel to Costa Rica, it is important to know the basics of the country before you arrive. Costa Rica is rich in history, diversity and adventure, so you don’t want the little things you don’t know to bog down your trip. Read our Costa Rica wrap-up, and then start planning your trip – your adventure awaits!

Amazing Playa Bejuco
Amazing Playa Bejuco

1. An Introduction to Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a diverse country that is part Central America. It is situated to the south of Nicaragua and to the north of Panama. Costa Rica is surrounded by the Caribbean Sea on the eastern coast, and the Pacific Ocean on the western coast. The entirety of the country is about the size of the US state of West Virginia; about 50,660 km sq. The total population is about 5 million. San Jose is the country’s capital, whose metro area popular is around 1.6 million. The principal industries in the country include coffee, textiles, and a booming tourism business.

Puerto Viejo Sign
Puerto Viejo Sign

2. A Diverse Country

Costa Rica is made up of many ethnic groups, with the majority made up of whites and mestizo. Those of African, Indian and Chinese descent add to the diversity and unique culture of Costa Rica. The country recognizes Roman Catholicism as the official religion. Spanish is the official, primary language, though many locals can also speak English.

Palm Trees aligned on beach in Corcovado Nat. Park
Palm Trees aligned on beach in Corcovado Nat. Park

3. Geography and Climate

Costa Rica has a tropical and subtropical climate. It doesn’t have seasons, but the country experiences rainfall between the months of May and November. The country is divided into seven provinces: Alajuela (Northern Central Region), Cartago (Central Valley Region), Guanacaste (North Pacific Region), Heredia (Northern Mountain Region), Limon (Caribbean Coast Region), Puntarenas (Central Pacific & Nicoya Peninsula Region in the north; South Pacific & Osa Peninsula Region in the south), and San Jose. Each province has its own capital. The major airports are in San Jose and Liberia (the capital of Guanacaste).

Concert at Fiesta de Palmares 2012 (courtesy of
Concert at Fiesta de Palmares 2012 (courtesy of

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4. Holidays and Festivals

The locals in Costa Rica love a good celebration. If you are looking to be completely immersed into the country’s culture, you can plan your trip to coincide with a holiday or festival. If you are instead looking for a quieter trip, maybe you should avoid travel around these times.

The beginning of the year has many celebrations. In January, Costa Rica has a pretty wild celebration to welcome the new year. They also celebrate with the gigantic Palmares Festival, and a religious festival in Santa Cruz. In February, the Catholics in Costa Rica reserve the sacred day of Ash Wednesday, and also celebrate with two festivals, in San Isidro, and the Puntarenas and Quepos areas. Early March includes a beautiful parade in Escazú, and mid-March sees the national holiday honoring Saint Joseph that closes banks and businesses.

April, May and June are bustling with celebrations. From holy week and Easter to street fairs and Labor day, there is a mix of religious and national holidays and festivals. This is a very busy time in Costa Rica, and sees an influx in tourism.

July and August slow down some, though there are some festivals and large celebrations. August 2nd is one of the biggest holidays in Costa Rica: Patron Saint, Virgen de los Angeles Day. This includes a pilgrimage and over one million people visiting Cartago. August also includes Mother’s Day, which is a national holiday.

In September, Costa Rica celebrates its Independence Day nationwide, with parades, dancing and parties in the streets. This is definitely one of the largest celebrations that happen in Costa Rica.

October and November see a few street fairs and festivals, including All Soul’s Day, a religious day where Costa Ricans pilgrimage to visit their deceased loved ones. December picks up again with the Festival of Lights, street fairs, bullfights, and, though not an official holiday, Christmas.

Eastern Side of Arenal Volcano
Eastern Side of Arenal Volcano

5. Top Destinations and Famous Places

Costa Rica is basically a country of extreme beauty and awaiting adventure, so wherever you travel is sure to be breathtaking. There are, however, a few spots that stand out. The cloud forests in Costa Rica are an almost magical experience, and even possess a hint of mystery. Add the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve to your itinerary and see if you can solve the mystery.

Arenal Volcano is one of Costa Rica’s most popular, and active, natural features. The area around the volcano has beautiful natural hot springs that are sure to exceed the menu at the local spa.

Drake Bay is paradise for those seeking adventure. It’s a great place to get in touch with nature and even learn about the history of Costa Rica.

6. Costa Rica in Pop Culture

Just for fun, here are a few movies that were filmed in whole or in part in Costa Rica: all the Jurassic Park movies, Fast & Furious 6, Club Dread, 1492, Congo, After Earth and Endless Summer II.

Costa Rican Ten Thousand Colones - Back of Bill with Sloth in the Rain ForestCosta Rican Ten Thousand Colones - Back of Bill with Sloth in the Rain Forest

7. Currency

The Colon is the official Costa Rican currency, though many places will accept American dollars. It’s a good idea to have some colones on hand, as you’ll get better rates. Travelers check can end up being a hassle, so it’s best to plan on using another form of currency. The best place to get colones is just use any of the millions of ATM's with your bank debit card to pull Colones, you will get the best exchange rates and it is very convenient. Just be sure to let your bank konw that you will be traveling to Costa Rica prior to your trip so they don't put a fraud stop on your debit card.

American Airlines plane at San Jose International Airport
American Airlines plane at San Jose International Airport

8. Traveling

When traveling to Costa Rica for vacation, it’s important to know what you need to get in. As long as you are staying for under 90 days, you can receive a free tourist Visa. You must have acceptable identification also, with a passport being the best option. Make sure your passport will remain valid for the entirety of your trip, with an expiration date exceeding 6 months from the date of your entry into Costa Rica. Along with your identification, you need to have proof of your departure (bring a copy of your ticket and itinerary) and a sum of money, totaling $300. You should also be prepared to pay a tax when departing, around $29.