No matter how many beaches I walk down, how many mountains I climb, how many oceans I bathe in, how many sunsets I watch, nowhere seems to stir my soul like Costa Rica.
Lush jungle spills onto golden sand beaches. Crashing waves kiss the shore. Divers plunge deep into the ocean. Surfers hide in the tubes. Monkey shout from the treetops above gushing waterfalls. Volcanoes bubble and erupt over valleys. Butterflies flutter across flower covered mountains. Sunrises and sunsets demand standing ovations. Nights are lit up by the moon and the stars.
Costa Rica is undoubtedly one of the most magical places in the entire world. It’s a natural playground for hikers, surfers, paddle boarders, animal lovers, snorkelers, divers, and anyone who feels happiest in nature. Costa Rica reminds us how it feels to be truly alive.
Over three years ago I flew to Costa Rica, planning to stay for just a month before returning to the United States to get my Master’s degree. On the deserted beaches and in the abundant jungle, something opened within me that I didn’t even know existed. I connected with the true spirit of myself. That changed the entire course of my life completely.
Despite living nomadically and traveling in five different continents all over the world, Costa Rica is the one place on earth that feels like home. Today I’m sharing with you my most precious advice for how to ensure that your trip to Costa Rica is completely magical, just like mine have been.
Expect the Unexpected
There are plenty of places in the world where the bus will always come on time. Where business will open when they say they will. Where rainstorms and volcano eruptions will not halt your plans. Costa Rica is not one of those countries. In fact if there’s one thing I’ve really learned from traveling to Costa Rica over the years, it’s that the best way to feel the magic is by surrendering to it. Yes, do your research. Yes, plan an itinerary. Yes, have ideas about where you want to go. But also be open to throwing it all out the window. Be open to the unexpected twists and turns the road can take. That’s what makes it an adventure.
Take Your Time
People often contact me looking for guidance in how to plan their one week vacation in Costa Rica. Many talk about including volcano hikes, cloud forest zipling, surf camps, and beach bumming in several locations across the country. Costa Rica may be a small country, but with its rugged terrain it can take an entire day of travel just to get from one coast to the other. When you rush from one destination to the other, you often miss out on the magic that comes when you just sit still and relax. For that reason, unless you’ve got a month to spare, I typically recommend choosing one beach destination and taking mini side trips to waterfalls, volcanoes, and national parks from there.
Keep it Simple
In a country like Costa Rica you learn quickly just how little you need to be happy. Comfort is valued over fashion, you’ll rarely feel the need to wear makeup, and the ocean and jungle have no respect for material possessions. You will get dirty. Your clothes will get stains. Everything metal may rust. And at some point you will have to carry your luggage across potholed dirt roads. Bring a durable travel pack and fill it with multi functional items that you wouldn’t be heartbroken over if they got ruined. Learn to travel with and need less and you’ll discover an incredible freedom.
…But Bring What You Need
That said, it’s not easy to shop in Costa Rica. Electronics are hard to come by and extremely expensive, clothes are hit or miss and also expensive, and you’ll be hard pressed to find your favorite snacks and toiletries here. It’s safe to assume that you won’t be able to find the things you need in Costa Rica. I recommend packing an assortment of comfortable beach wear, hiking clothes, loose linen and long dresses for the evening, your favorite toiletries in travel size, an inexpensive digital camera, and a smartphone or iPad.
You can find my full, comprehensive packing list in my ebook The Ultimate Guide to Costa Rica.
Rarely do I feel unsafe traveling in Costa Rica, but crime here is certainly higher than in countries in Southeast Asia or Europe. When in doubt ask for advice at your hotel about safety precautions for your particular destination. Generally I advise avoiding deserted areas after dark, locking your valuables in a safe, keeping a watch on your possessions at the beach, and keeping your valuable items with you on bus journeys.
Protect Your Tummy
Few things will ruin a trip like a bout of food poisoning. You will be exposed to different bacteria in Costa Rica that poses the threat of getting you ill. In many towns in Costa Rica the water is completely safe to drink, but always ask at your hotel first. Puerto Viejo in the South Caribbean is one area where I never advise drinking the tap water. We tend to blame the water when we get sick, but more often than not it’s actually the food we’re eating. It may be contaminated or it may just be your body’s response to something foreign. Drinking fresh young coconuts daily and eating papaya seeds can help kill bacteria and prevent parasites. The best way to protect yourself is to regularly ingest high quality probiotics at least a month before departing, and to continue to take them while you’re in Costa Rica.
For more health and safety advice, check out my ebook The Ultimate Guide to Costa Rica.
Overestimate Your Budget
When you land in Costa Rica, you may experience some sticker shock. It’s less expensive than traveling in Europe or other very developed parts of the world, but for a developing country it’s downright expensive. Expect to budget about double what you would in Nicaragua or Guatemala. Depending on how you travel, you can get by on anywhere from $40-$150 per person per day. Expect to spend about the same as you would in the USA for meals ($5-10 for breakfast, $10 for lunch, $20 for dinner, $5-10 for one alcoholic drink) and $15-20 for hostel dorms up to $200 for hotels or vacation rentals. If you budget more than you think you will need, it will be much easier to enjoy yourself when you get there.
Don’t Itch the Bites
Yes there are mosquitoes in Costa Rica, especially when it’s rainy. A lot of mosquitoes. If you’re sensitive to the bites, you may get massacred. I strongly advise against using chemical repellent, which is horrible for the environment and your own health. Locally you can pick up all natural repelling oil. I also recommend Please Don’t Bite Me skin patches which put lots of vitamin B and aloe into your blood stream, two things that mosquitoes hate. Drinking lots of local fresh coconut water can also help. If you do get bitten, please please please do not scratch. I’ve noticed that if you leave the bites alone they will eventually disappear, whereas if you scratch them they will continue to bother you. Open wounds is the last thing you want in Costa Rica because infection can happen very rapidly. So please, do yourself a favor and resist the urge to itch.
Most of us go about our lives in boxes. The homes we live in, the cars we drive in, the cubicles we work in. Costa Rica is a country without walls. Where the boundaries between the built world and the natural world blur. Costa Rica is a country that is still wild, rugged, and dirty, and there is something inexplicably healing about that. When we press our hands into the soft earth and walk across the sand with our bare feet, we remember that any separation we feel from nature is one we’ve created ourselves. Faced with mosquitoes and scorpions and snakes you could look for the nearest concrete resort and spray yourself in a bottle of Deet, or you could rip off your shoes, run into the wild, and get your feet dirty. I highly recommend the latter.
Embrace Pura Vida
Why I love Costa Rica so much, can be summed up in two words: “Pura Vida”. This national mantra embodies the most beautiful philosophy I have ever known. Pura vida is all about accepting the beauty in the world no matter what may be happening around you. Pura vida is all about seeing every experience in life as a gift. It’s the essence of Costa Rica and if you can learn to embrace it, Costa Rica will surely embrace you. So if you find yourself on a rainy beach, on a broken down bus, or waiting an hour for your plate of rice and beans, smile, relax, and remember: Pura Vida.
Want to plan a life changing trip to Costa Rica? Get my 150 page eBook, The Ultimate Guide to Costa Rica!
I have lived in Costa Rica for two yrs and this is far most best and accurate blog written up about this wonderful place! You need to return because I follow you and it is obvious that Costa Rica is your true love!
Awesome! I’m so happy to hear it! Please share and spread the love with your family and friends 🙂
This is so true. I only went for the first time earlier this year and to be honest wasn’t super stoked about it. My fiancee has been several times and tried convincing me it was awesome. I just saw myself chasing our toddler son around on the beach all day and being exhausted. He even showed me your blog post on Puerto Viejo (where we stayed) to try to convince me it was the best. The part about ‘mosquitoes and house robbers with machetes’ is what stood out the most in my mind ha! But wow, once I got there I was changed. Changed forever. And I can’t wait to return soon!
I am so happy to hear that Ryan! Hope to see you there, and I totally know what you mean, it changed me forever too!
Please,can you let me know about the type of electricity there?
What the voltage they using?
Thank you kindly,
I love what you are writing…keep doing…
Thanks sweetie. It’s the same as the USA xo.
Hey Camille. In your opinion, do you think it is worth it to bring a small backpacking tent to countries like costa rica? What about south east asia? Do you see many other travellers bringing camping gear? I thought maybe it would offer me more options and cheaper accomodations but these things definitely add on weight to my backpack. Thanks!
Hey Jeff, I’m not sure as I haven’t done it myself. I do know that a lot of hostels offer cheap rates to camp onsite, but you could also just bring a hammock which is also an option. I see more people go the hammock route than the tent route, unless they’re couples. You can also rent tents at certain hostels too. I wouldn’t camp on my own in nature in Costa Rica, personally, because of the crime.
I’ve just run across your writings the last two days. Your writing is wonderful. I don’t know what your name is or how old you are, but your writing is so inciteful and clear…you have a wonderful talent to be able to have clarity of thoughts and feelings, and then have the talent to clearly express those thoughts onto a blog. I can truly feel your feelings in your writings. Please share with me who you are…I would most enjoy communicating with you…so much so that I’m sending your blogs to one of my sons, probably around your age, for him to read. I think you will be a great inspiration to him. Thank you for reading this.
Jim Smith, firstname.lastname@example.org, from Lakeland Florida.
Thank you Jim that is really nice to hear 🙂 If you want to know more about me check out my story: https://www.thisamericangirl.com/2012/11/02/the-way-this-story-begins/
Great blog,I like you break down your destinations and how it’s all presented.I also like your young and ,a bit Naive(but mostly very accurate!) outlook on things and places you have been
I just wanted to mention one thing about costa rica that shouldn’t be understated,especialy in some parts of the country during the bulk of the dry season,dry season being also the most touristic time of the year.
That thing is ‘ DUST”.It covers the foliage around the roads and will abolutly be part of your life during your stay ….The pura Vida side of costa rica flies right out the window,at least for me ,when I see young children riding on motorcycle with their parents and breathing that really fine dust that is steered up by buses,quads,rental cars amongst other vehicles….Some parts of Ganacaste and Puntarenas EX: Cobano,montezuma,malpais,santa teresa…NOsara….the list goes on and on have terrible issues of respiratory problems in young children and Astma is rempent…I have been coming to Costa rica for 20 years..Been travelling the world for 40….non stop..I do see your point and see the value and qualities of CR ..I just wanted to to let others know that ,you are right it is expensive,gorgeous ,divers……but it is Toxic in some parts and those parts are some of the most touristic….not the all inclusive but,US,the yoggies,surfers and nature lovers….Ciao…
Thanks! yes, you’re right especially in the northwest during dry season it really can be dusty. I tend to prefer the South Pacific Osa region and South Caribbean, where it’s always lush year round.
Good info but Costa Rica is the most expensive place. Please share also best ways to enjoy Costa Rica on a budget.
Stay in hostels or hammocks, bring your own tent, definitely cook your own food. Food is the biggest expense in my opinion. Also, if you stay a long time in one location you can save a lot of money doing a longer term rental and cooking for yourself, then just enjoying the nature for free.
Thank you for writing this!
A group of us give bloggers are heading over and run into an issue with transport. My husband has been before and warns of a terrible terrain. Just wanted to pick your brain on the best transport options for a group of 5 that would provide us daily transport to activities and also an english speaking driver?
Also a good beach base for a villa where we can go to the water falls, hot springs and do spa activities.
Thank you! Love your blog definitely linking to it when I write about my trip.
Thanks Dee. Attractions in Costa Rica are pretty spread out.. I recommend staying near to the places you want to visit and choosing a couple of locations. As far as transportation options and suggested places to stay, you can find all of that in my ebook The Ultimate Guide to Costa Rica. Enjoy 🙂
Beautiful article congratulations !! I really loved it, I’m already following your blog.
What location would you recommend for a single mom and teenage daughter for one week? We are looking into airbnb but not sure what area to stay in. We would like a beach close by as well as be able to go rainforest and waterfalls. I am thinking about renting a car to make it easier, but not sure where to begin on the area.
Hi love, check out my Ultimate Guide to Costa Rica it has all of my recommendations 🙂
Hi Camille. My husband and I are going to Costa Rico for our first time in Feb./March for 10-14 days. We have done a lot of travelling to islands but also Central and South America and speak Spanish.Looking to find a beautiful area on the Pacific side and rent a place with kitchen in a small town and or outside of a town with a view or in lush area close to a beach, if affordable. Did hostels in my day but not now. We like to be near a town with some low key nightlife if we want to go out, good restaurants, local types, and be able to shop for quality groceries to cook at home. Would rent a vehicle and bikes.
We then can do day trips to beaches, parks, waterfalls and or volcanoes. I am looking at Samara, Dominical, OSA and Uvita areas to explore. Dominical had some spectacular near town places, in forest but near the rugged beach and a long beach area.
I read some of your blog about Puerto Viejo which sounds amazing but not too safe at night.
Any suggestions of accommodation sites and towns to be near would be appreciated based on my comments. Also must do…..things. Not sure whether to fly to San Jose for a few days first or Liberia and do hot springs and volcano or too touristy? All info welcome. Thanks
Hi Bonnie all of my recommendations are in my ebook The Ultimate Guide to Costa Rica 🙂 Check it out xx
Hi Camille, great article! I am so stoked for Costa Rica.
Where would you suggest for a home base for maybe a month? I am a budget traveler, loves hostels, and with a wanderlust. I heard good things with both San Teresa and Jaco.
Hey Mao, check out my guidebook The Ultimate Guide to Costa Rica it has all of my tips in there 😉
Great article & informative indeed! Can’t wait for my trip to costa rica and the beauty of its attractions & national parks. I have heard a lot about flamingo and tamarindo beaches. I am also writing my small thoughts about costa rica traveling. Any advise would be much appreciated from your side!! Thank you 🙂
Great article! Can’t wait to travel to cotsa rica beauty and its attractions. I am writing small thoughts about traveling to costa rica. Any advise would be appreciated! Thank you 🙂
I’ve visited Costa Rica 3 times and got married there as well. It’s such a beautiful country. From the black sand beaches near Jaco to the Arenal Volcano and everywhere in between it’s a magical place. The Pura Vida life is definitely for me