A beautiful and relatively small country in Central America between Nicaragua, Panama, the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean sea. In Costa Rica they have a saying “Pura Vida!”, a translation of that phrase is “simple life” or “pure life”. The Ticos (inhabitants of Costa Rica) use this term to say hello, goodbye or just to say that everything is great! But to be honest, you will only grasp the meaning of the phrase until you have visited this wonderful and peaceful country. Only then will you truly understand that Pura Vida is the way the Ticos live.
At first we had to get used to Costa Rica, as northern Europeans everything in our lives is structured, well organized and beautiful. But Costa Rica isn’t, at least not in the same sense. San Jose, the capital is not a particularly spectacular city. And definitely not what you might have expected when arriving in this popular nature holiday destination. It has a lot of not so charming concrete buildings and a mad traffic. But it might be worth just visiting for one day. We are sorry we didn’t.
When you leave San Jose to head out to the wild life of Costa Rica you will again be unpleasantly surprised by the disastrous condition of the roads. Only two-way roads, with an enormous amount of large potholes. Our GPS said it would take us 1,5 hours to drive 45km… At first we laughed and thought the navigation system did not function well… But nope, it was absolutely 100% accurate! It takes very very long to drive from one town to another in Costa Rica.
But once out there you will completely forget all that unimportant stuff and just slip into the “Pura Vida” way of life. The countryside is breathtaking, the wildlife incredible and the jungle ends right on the endless beaches with no one, but really no one around.
Costa Rica is a perfect destination for families. It’s very safe and there is plenty to do for families. The country is adventurous, relaxing, and offers the opportunity to explore the abundant wildlife or learn how to surf, it offers a whole wide spectrum of things.
We only visited the Pacific Coast, as it was rain season on the Caribbean side. But we will for sure return to Costa Rica and explore this beautiful country further. The Ticos and their Pura Vida way of life sure stole our hearts. Please enjoy reading what we would recommend for a 2,5-3 week stay in Costa Rica.
What to do
- Visit the capital San José (we stayed only for 1 day at the end and the beginning of our Costa Rica trip. The Intercontinental San Jose, is a good place to stay);
- Climb the Arenal Volcano;
- Go on a night safari and see the many frogs that come out when darkness falls;
- Go Canopy walking and zip lining in the Monteverde Cloud Forest;
- Visit the butterfly Garden of Monteverde;
- Relax for a couple of days at Playa Papagayo in Guanacaste;
- Learn to surf in one of the most relaxing villages of Costa Rica – Santa Teresa/Playa Hermosa;
- Rent a quad and drive around town like locals do in Santa Teresa;
- Enjoy the wild life in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica’s smallest but most popular National Park.
- The most important things to take with you to Costa Rica are jungle pants, good hiking shoes, good slippers, your swimsuit, lots of mosquito repellent and suntan lotion.
- Take your time when travelling from one spot to another, roads are in bad condition and travelling takes much longer than you are used to.
- Do not drive at night; roads are not well lit and thus dangerous, as you cannot spot the holes in the road without good lights.
- Bring (hamman) towels with you when traveling to Costa Rica. Costa Rica has beautiful deserted beaches and is perfect for relaxing on the beach but there are few facilities located on the beach such as sun bed rentals etc.
- Be very careful with the Pacific rip current!!! Our children almost drowned! Especially the little ones will not be able to get out. On all of the beaches there’s a sign telling you how to get of the current. Study this carefully.
- Do take guides at the National Parks to guide you. We first thought it was a waste of money but we soon had to revise our opinion after we concluded that it was very difficult, if not impossible, to spot the wildlife yourself.
- Go zip lining! It’s so much fun and Costa Rica is one of the safest places to do it!
- Take cash when travelling to Santa Teresa/Playa Hermosa, this is a no credit card area. There are ATM’s but sometimes they are out of cash and it may take a long time to refill the machines.
When to go
Costa Rica is a year round destination. Do check out which side of Costa Rica is best to visit in which season. Both sides have different rain seasons.
Driving around in Costa Rica is easy, it just take a little more time than you’re used to. The infrastructure is not good; roads are mostly 2 way roads and have many potholes and bad road lights. So don’t drive at night. Renting a 4×4 is a must, especially if you’re planning on going to places like Santa Teresa where you’ll have to cross creeks in order to get there. Below you will find a sample itinerary. Costa Rica is such an amazingly beautiful country with so many things to see, you can easily add or adapt the route to see more of what Costa Rica has to offer.
San Jose to La Fortuna is about 3,5 hours. (150 km)
La Fortuna to Monteverde 3 hours. (162 km)
Monteverde to Playa Papagayo will take you 5 hours. (180 km)
Playa Papagayo to Santa Teresa is about 4,5 hours. (226 km)
From Santa Teresa to Manuel Antonio National Park 5 hours (excluding ferry time). (240 km)
Manuel Antonio National Park to San Jose is about a 2,5 hours drive. (160 km)