Your Top Guide on Where to Stay in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a small country located in Central America with coastlines to both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean. Despite being so small Cost Rica is one of the countries with the most diverse ecosystems in the world. More than 5% of the world’s flora and fauna are inhabiting in Costa Rica, which means that 500,000 species of diverse flora and fauna are to be found here. And you can really tell. Wherever you turn, or even don´t turn your head there´s a new plant or animal in sight. I always say that Costa Rica is the country with the most beautiful nature I ever saw, and I still stand by this statement. The characteristic lush green landscapes greets you as you fly into San José. When seen from above, even the capital looks like it´s situated smack down in the middle of the jungle.
Beautiful long sandy beaches like Tamarindo, Santa Teresa and Puerto Viejo border the jungle all along the coastline. The ocean surrounding Costa Rica provides great surf and magical scuba diving opportunities. The Costa Rica locals are super friendly and welcoming, the jungle waterfalls are jaw-dropping, the volcanos are impressive and the sunsets are each one of a kind and nowhere else to be found. …what more could you hope for in one single destination. Even during the wet season you won´t get bored here. There is always an adventure to be had. …Even if said adventure is just sitting on your porch watching the giant ants carry food to their anthill while listening to the howler monkeys howling in the jungle and the roaring waves as they crash against the shoreline.
Where to Stay in Costa Rica
When to visit | How to get there | Top things to do in Costa Rica and where to stay | Going surfing – Stay in Santa Teresa| Volcano hiking – Stay in La Fortuna | Beach hopping – Stay in Puerto Viejo |Discovering the Nature – Stay in Manuel Antonio | Exploring the Rainforest – Stay in Monteverde | Top Travel Tips for Costa Rica |
When to visit
When planning your trip to Costa Rica, it is important to know that the weather differs vastly by region. In the North Pacific, prepare for high temperatures and low humidity. On the other hand, the Northern Plains and the Caribbean coast with its dense forests is very humid and with lower temperatures.
Dry season: mid-November to April
Rainy season: May to mid-November
Peak season for tourists is mid-December to April during the dry season. It is the ideal time to visit the beaches and explore the rainforests. During wet season it is still amazing, just, well, wet. Prepare for a lot of rain. But on the other hand, less tourists, and lower prices.
How to get there
If you´re coming from one of the neighboring countries, you can easily walk across the border. If not the only way in is through San José airport. It´s a fairly small airport and the domestic one is literally a 2-min walk away. If you´re catching a domestic flight immediately upon arrival, there is no need to plan for excessive amount of time between your international and your domestic flight. It is easy to reach San José city and other destinations by bus from here as well.
Top things to do in Costa Rica and where to stay
Going surfing – stay in Santa Teresa
I don´t think anyone can think of Costa Rica without also thinking about surfing. This is especially the case with Santa Teresa on the Pacific Ocean side of the country. The Pura Vida in Santa Teresa attracts surfers from all over the world, beginners as well as more advanced surfers. Of course, I met people in Costa Rica that doesn’t surf but rest assured, you´ll meet more surfers than non-surfers.
Santa Teresa is located on the pacific coast on the Nicoya peninsula, and it is a place hard to describe with words. It is the place you planned to stay in for a few days but then somehow ended up spending few weeks in, or even months. Some people just never leave. You easily fly to Santa Teresa from San José Domestic airport. The flight itself is an adventure that makes you not want to take the bus. It is one of the most scenic flights I´ve ever been on and regardless of how many times I go there, it never gets old.
Once in Santa Teresa it truly is a surfer’s paradise, the long white sandy beaches, the waves, the vibes. On top of that the restaurants all keep a high standard and so does the hotels and hostels.
Accommodation Santa Teresa
For luxury there´s only one place in my opinion – Playa Cielo. Playa Cielo is a family-owned luxury villa resort where all villas are unique, beautiful and ecologically built. The resort is located right on the beach in a prime location in Santa Teresa. The family owning the place are the most loving and generous people I´ve ever met and it permeates every aspect of their business. The service is top notch, and they manage to make you feel right at home within seconds of arrival. It is perfect for friends, couples, honeymooners and families. This place really is one of a kind, if not even magical. Don’t be surprised if you want to extend your stay, but do it fast, chances are they´re already fully booked. This place truly has it all, and not to forget, the food in their amazing beachfront restaurant Uma serving Middle Eastern/Mediterranean food to die for.
I have stayed in many hostels, sorry countless hostels in my days, but nothing like Somos. Somos feels unique and luxurious, like a boutique hotel but with the vibes of a hostel still. The architecture is designed to make the hostel seem one with its surroundings and they really succeeded. At night the bar and restaurant is buzzing and there isn´t a better place for those traveling on a budget than Somos.
Volcano hiking – Stay in La Fortuna
Arenal Volcano National Park is known for its 1,633 metres (5,358 ft) tall volcano with the same name. The national park has a lot of trails for hiking to see the volcano. Most of them are flat trails but in the heat it can be exhausting still, but well worth it. In the park, you’ll see plenty of lava rock formations and you’ll get glimpses of the great Arenal Volcano. Or why not fly over it with a zip-line? Since 2010 there´s no volcanic activity. What it lacks in volcanic activity, it greatly makes up for in scenic views and hot springs.
The sleepy town of La Fortuna, Costa Rica serves as the gateway to Arenal and plays host to numerous hotels, restaurants, and activities in the area.
Accommodation in La Fortuna
Arenal Springs Resort and Spa, this place is everything you need, it´s secluded, its quiet, beautiful, and filled with natural hot springs to sink into after a long day of hiking. The restaurants are great and the service leaves nothing else to wish for. You really can´t find a better place to spend your days around Arenal.
Arenal Backpackers offers everything from safari tents to dorms and privates. It is centrally located and close to bars, restaurants, and shops. The hostel is equipped with great facilities including a huge pool. The staff is super helpful and always have time for a chat. They offer shuttles and other services at reasonable prices. If you really like your comfort, I suggest a private room or at least a dorm. If you´re in for the full national park experience though, go for the safari tent. It does have an actual bed and you really feel like you´re one with nature. Just in case nature gets a bit much, bring earplugs. But if you´re not sensitive to noise, this is a once in a lifetime experience.
Beach hopping – Stay in Puerto Viejo
Costa Rica is the country where each beach is more beautiful than the next one and even if the country is small, the stream of beautiful beaches feels endless. If you love beaches, you’ll surely love Puerto Viejo on the southern Caribbean Cost. This place has so many beaches to explore. Some of the best ones here are Playa Punta Uva, Playa Grande, Playa Chiquita, Playa Negra, and Playa Puerto Viejo. Puerto Viejo itself is everything you dream of when you think the Caribbean, beautiful, colorful houses, reggae music, laidback vibes, and a slow-paced lifestyle. Even though there´s plenty here to explore, snorkeling, waterfall jumping, and paddle boarding or you can even trek through the Gandoca Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge or Cahuita National Park, most likely you´ll find yourself relaxing, smiling, having a beer and hanging out with the locals on the beach.
Accommodation in Puerto Viejo
Boutique Hotel Aguas Claras Puerto Viejo, this resort really is something. The design is beautiful, the service immaculate and the proximity to the beach is unbeatable. It is modern, yet bohemian, with a homey yet luxurious feeling. Upon arrival you receive a warm welcome and everything from the delicious breakfast to any special requests run smoothly here. This place really leaves nothing else to wish for.
Selina might be a hostel, but they have a resort mentality, and it really is a great hostel. Close to the beach, clean, hot and cold water in the showers, helpful staff and a nice pool. The vibe is festive (if you´re sensitive to noise this might not be the place for you) and it is a great place to meet fellow travelers. It is located a bit outside of town, but still in a great location.
Discovering the Nature – Stay in Manuel Antonio
Even if the scenery in Costa Rica is breathtakingly beautiful wherever you go, I really recommend visiting one of the many national parks. The most beautiful and diverse ecological park in Costa Rica, and the place that is most often mentioned by tourists and locals equally, is Manuel Antonio National Park. Although it is the smallest national park in Costa Rica, when it comes to diverse flora, there is no place that matches this national park. There´s activities available such as river rafting, waterfalls, visiting mangrove forests, horse back riding and some of the most amazing scuba diving and snorkeling available in the country.
Accommodation in Manuel Antonio
Los Altos Resort is really something, you´re treated like royalty and the suites feels like palaces. They really pay attention to detail here, like they know what you like before you even have the chance to tell them. The views of the suites are breathtakingly beautiful, the grounds are perfect, the infinity pool dreamy and the food is absolutely divine, and a midst all the luxury of this resort it still feels like you become a part of the family within a day.
Teva Eco Retreat, teva means nature and this is really what they offer. It is a great place to disconnect from a hectic daily life. Teva accommodation is a community space on 20 hectares of pristine forest land with hiking trails, animals, permaculture food gardens, botanical treasures, and a jungle-view swimming pool. They have lots of social spaces and is a great place for meeting other travelers.
Exploring the Rainforest – Stay in Monteverde
Monteverde is one of the most beautiful rainforests in the country. Maybe even one of the most beautiful I´ve seen in the world. The name Monteverde Cloud Forest (Green mountain Cloud Forest) describes it perfectly. All year around the forest is covered in a mystical fog, creating the perfect climate for the flora and the forest to thrive. Monteverde is known as the first eco-tourism destination in the world with extremely rare plants. What specially caught my eye was the endless numbers of orchids growing everywhere, just adding more fairy to the fairytale forest it already is.
The best way to explore the rainforest is by foot. Around 90% of the animals and creatures live in the ecosystem rich canopy. To enable visitors to enjoy this magnificent place without disturbing the wildlife the Costa Rican government built a suspension bridge more than 10 km long over the canopy itself.
Monteverde is called one of the Costa Rican seven wonders and it truly should be on your list of go to places on your Costa Rican vacation!
Accommodation in Monteverde
Chira Glamping, Glamping is glamping and not camping. But how luxurious can it be? Let me tell you, very! At least at Chira Glamping. Chira Glamping is owned by a Monteverde family, and it really is a magical experience. They have only 5 tents on their property and they attend to every detail and every possible need of their guests. You´re surrounded by the most mystical forest and nature and yet the tents have everything you need to spend your time there in comfort and style. The outdoor showers in the middle of the jungle is definitely something I´ll never forget. The honeymoon suite even has a jacuzzi, in the middle of the jungle, just saying… Their restaurant San Carlos serves superb food, but the tents also offer the option to cook yourself. Just remember to bring the groceries and to keep them inside, as you´re staying in the wild.
Camino Verde Hostel and B&B was once the home of the family who is now running it and this is really the feeling you get when you enter through the doors – home. You´re treated like a guest in their actual home, the view is spectacular and don´t worry about times for check in and check out, here everything runs on “tico time”, basically the time of the locals, meaning it happens when it happens. Late night bus? No problem, stay until the bus arrives. Arriving on the early morning flight, don´t worry they´ll find a way to make you feel comfortable and get a few extra hours sleep in. There´s free coffee and tea all day and a bunch of daily activities arranged by the hostel. It has a supermarket right next door and is located in proximity to the town Santa Elena as well as in a nice rural setting – the best of two worlds!
Top Travel Tips For Costa Rica
- Costa Rica isn´t as cheap as people seem to think
Many people assume that because Costa Rica is in Central America it automatically equals cheap travel. Nope, this is not the case unfortunately. This is one of the most common misconceptions about Costa Rica. Costa Rica isn´t cheap, period. Especially not accommodation. And food is generally the same price as in Western Europe or the US. The standard is generally high, but not always high enough to justify the price. Not even hostels are that cheap. So be prepared that Costa Rica is not a budget destination. However, it is possible to keep the costs down, you just need to do some planning.
- Travelling takes longer than you expect
Even if Costa Rica is a fairly small country, similar to the size of Denmark, it does take time to travel. The infrastructure isn´t great and even if there actually isn´t a lot of traffic, the bad infrastructure cause a lot of congestions. Hence, plan for more time than you think you need or what google maps says. Or, of course, ask the locals. They will know.
- Is Costa Rica safe?
Costa Rica is the safest country in Central America and therefore, it’s a perfect travel destination for first-time visitors to this region and even families with kids. This, however, doesn´t mean that Costa Rica has zero crime. Drug trafficking and immigration crimes still exists and as a tourist you always stand out. My advice – use common sense and don´t put yourself in situations that are dubious. Don´t flash money or valuables.
- Tap water is drinkable – but not always tasty
Tap water is safe to drink in the cities and in the mountains. I wouldn´t drink it though, unless you bring your own filter. The water in Monteverde was delicious but part from that I am probably too sensitive.
There is a lot of mosquitos everywhere and during all seasons. Of course, it is worse during rainy season, but don´t be fooled to think they don´t exist during dry season. They are there all the time and they are aggressive. Dengue is common and using repellant I would say is a must. I got dengue while traveling once and it´s not anything I would recommend, trust me.
- Costa Rica can get cold
Some of the colder areas are Monteverde, Poas, Vara Blanca, San Isidro de Perez Zeledon, Chirripo and San Gerardo de Dota. Temperatures in those areas can get down to a chilly 50s Fahrenheit (10 C) at night if the winds are strong. The coasts stay nice and hot, mostly in the 80s and 90s (27 – 32 C) during the day. Make sure to pack accordingly. And don´t forget – when it rains it pours.
- US Dollars are as accepted as the national currency Colones
For many years the only tourism to Costa Rica came from the States so US Dollars became as widely used as Colones.
- The Police can stop you at any time to ask for your papers
The Police can, and in some places, will stop you to ask for your papers or something else random. It is usually and sadly a way to get money from tourists and there isn´t much to do but to pay up.
Well…. Wi-Fi is supposed to be everywhere, in the hotels, restaurants, even in the small propeller planes. However, the Wi-Fi usually doesn´t work, but for me it was honestly a blessing. Who needs Wi-Fi in paradise?
This is something important to know about Costa Rica. First of all, tipping is not absolutely mandatory in Costa Rica. Tip is already included so Costa Ricans don’t tip extra. However, with a lot of American tourists came the culture of tipping and now the custom is similar to the US. Minimum 10% and even then you´ll look cheap. Tipping goes for restaurants, your guide, driver, hotel maid, etc.
- English is widely spoken – but not by all and not everywhere
Because of the high rate of North American tourists most people assume that every Costa Rican speaks English. This is not the case. A lot of locals do, but be prepared to brush of your Spanish if you have any or use sign language.
- Depending on your routine the days can be very short
As Costa Rica is very close to the equator the sun rises around 6 am and sets around 6 pm. After that it is dark. And streetlights is not common place, so take this into consideration. Same when using the roads at night. In Costa Rica people drive defensively and for someone who isn’t used to this it can be very dangerous.
What will you do and where to stay in Costa Rica? Let us know in the comments below.
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