Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica

corcovado-bolita-jungle
The awesome, prehestoric looking jungle walking from Bolita Rainforest Hostel.

With incredible jungles, beautiful beaches and spectacular biodiversity Costa Rica has an astonishing diversity of unreal places to visit. You can see everything from wild jungles to active volcanoes in what National Geographic describe as ‘the most biologically intense place on the planet’ while exploring this amazing country. We will try to make planning a bit easier by showing you the awesome places we explored during our one month trip on the coast of Costa Rica.

Monteverde Costa Rica

  • National Georgraphic voted Monteverde as one of the ‘7 Wonders of Costa Rica‘.
  • Famous for its acclaimed cloud forests
  •  The best place to see the rare bird the quetzal.

Monteverde Cloud Forest

The cloud forests of Costa Rica is an ecological niche found high on mountain tops enveloped in clouds and mist. There are a variety of cloud forests in Costa Rica, with those of Monteverde being the most famous.

The two famous parks to explore the cloud forests are The Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve ($17) and Reserva Santa Elena ($14). A cloud forest is a special kind of rain forest immersed in clouds with year-round relative humidity of almost 100%. Friends that went to both parks while we were there did not see much fauna, only the beautiful cloud forest and the odd monkey and one koati.

We decided since nobody seemed to see animals inside the park and the forest looked pretty similar outside the park, we were going to explore for forest where we could walk around for free. We walked to the Monteverde Park Forest entrance, there are many hummingbird feeders and there were more than twenty hummingbirds zooming around here, a spectacular sight.

Close to the park we found some trails with an animal crossing sign that enter the forest from the road, we started following this route and had a great free hike in dense forest for 2 or 3 hours. We found a massive hollow Ficus tree, that we climbed inside and afterwards saw companies in town offer climbing the same tree with some climbing gear.

monteverde-forest
Exploring the cloud forest around Monteverde.

The Ficus Trees

What are these strange trees? The forests around Monteverde is well known for the enormous Ficus trees that you can climb very high inside the trees. These trees are also known as Strangler Figs the seeds are often dispersed somewhere in the canopy by birds, they are epiphytes surviving high up due to the high moisture content. An original support tree can sometimes die and decompose, leaving only the massive ficus tree with a hollow core, very nice for climbing inside!

climbing-ficus-tree-monteverde
Alya climbing high inside a Ficus tree while walking around in the Monteverde cloud forest.

Closer to town there are more big Ficus trees that you can walk to and climb for free, your hostel should have a map or be able to explain how to find a big tree, we just asked around for a well-known tree until we found it. The forest around here was nice for walking around in, the tree was enormous and you can climb out a bit to have an amazing view from the top.

We did another nice hike with no fee at Cerro Amigos starting near a gas station; it is a steep climb up a road for ATVs with a nice view from 1842m on a clear day. Since you hike up an open road, don’t expect many animals on the way.

Night walks

Nightwalks are very popular in Monteverde. Most of the animals in the cloud forest are nocturnal and are only active at night. Tarantulas, silver fox, frogs, coatimundi, a variety of insects, and some sleeping birds are commonly seen. The tours generally go for about $23. We found a last minute space on a tour for $12. Our guide was very good. We saw many insects and some sleeping birds, including sleeping emerald tucans. Unfortunately none of the cool stuff, no mammals, spiders, snakes or frogs.

Monteverde Costa Rica Hotels

We stayed in 3 different places in Monteverde, the town is very touristy and only one or two nights were available in each.

  • For Backpackers – Casa Traquilo hostel  a nice hostel with friendly owners and a central location for $10 a night for a dorm bed
  • Medium Budget – Hotel Claro de Luna, beatiful rooms, friendly staff, awesome breakfast, good deal for about $45. Luxury rooms for $80 are fantastic
  • Luxury – Monteverde Lodge & Gardens beautiful place, an extensive garden with a heated outdoor pool, indoor butterfly garden. Nice breakfast $236 per night

Transport Penas Blancas to Monteverde we caught a passing bus half way through the winding mountains towards Monteverde CRC900 ($2). Public transport is cheap.

Arenal volcano – La Fortuna

When you imagine a volcano you picture Arenal. The perfect cone shape volcano, beautiful hiking trails and all the awesome activities to do around here makes Arenal one of the most popular tourist destinations in Costa Rica. The small town La Fortuna is located at the base of Arenal.

Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica
Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica

Getting to La Fortuna

From San Jose to La Fortuna/Arenal by local busses, shuttles or rental car. You can find local flights starting at about $50.  An awesome way to get here from Monteverde with beautiful views is by boat!

Things to do in La Fortuna Costa Rica

Arenal Volcano Hike

Hiking Arenal volcano is the reason for this being a highlight of Costa Rica. It is the youngest and most active of all the volcanoes in Costa Rica. The volcano erupted for the first time in hundreds of years in 1968 followed by intermittent lava flows for years. It has been dormant since 2010, so currently you are not going to see lava.

There are many guided services, but you can pay the $15 entrance fee at the gate and hike the volcano on your own. Trails are easy to follow.

White Water Rafting at Arenal

Arenal Volcano is located close to a couple of Grade 3-4 rivers making this region  a very popular spot for white water rafting. There are a couple of rivers, each ensuring a very different rafting experience. You can look through these and decide what kind of adventure and what price suits you best!

La Fortuna Waterfall

Beautiful waterfall tumbling into awesome pools. Beautiful walk down long set of stairs to the pool, great for swimming. Guide not necessary entrance $15

Arenal Hot Springs resort – Tabacon Hot Springs

Costa Rica´s largest network of naturally flowing thermal mineral springs is found in the Arenal rainforest reserve. Tobacon  is the nr 1 Hot Spring resort, definitely the place to go if you want to treat someone special! full day is $105, half day $85

Accommodation in Arenal

  • For BackpackersChill out Arenal is a good deal, nice location good vibe dormitories, double room for $20.
  • Medium budget – Tifakara Boutique Hotel, awesome boutique hotel, out of the center, near the waterfall, beautiful grounds, double room about $55
  • Luxury – Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa Treat yourself – hot spring baths, sauna, massages services, luxury spa treatments and 5 swimming pools – I don’t have to say more, fantastic suites world class service, stay at the most famous resort in Arenal

Playa Montezuma

This beach town is located on the pacific side of the Peninsula De Nacoya close to the well-known surf town Malpais. The water was a toasty 31C, making for awesome swimming on the beautiful beaches. See here for a Guide to all our Favorite Beaches in Costa Rica.

montezuma crab
There are thousands of these land crabs running all over the jungle in Montezuma

THE JUNGLE bordered on the beach and was brimming with life. Walking to go for a swim we saw thousands of purple and red land crabs running everywhere, howler monkeys sitting in the trees roaring like big gorillas, white faced capuchin monkeys running around, pelicans diving for fish and a snake crossing our path. It was at night when it felt like the whole place became alive, so many hermit crabs crawling all over the beach it was hard to walk without thinking you were committing crab genocide.

Turtles

Some people staying with us in the hostel saw a turtle nesting on the beach laying eggs. We did the 10km walk through the forest and all the way down the long Playa Grande beach and back more than once, some nights in the rain, but were never lucky enough to see the nesting process. We did however see many fire flies, crabs, an anteater and other creatures. There is a nice waterfall close to town that you can walk to.

Surfing

We saw board rentals and lessons in shops around town.

  • surf lessons $40
  • surfboard rentals $20

Surf spots

  • Playa Grande small waves that close out quickly, there are many surf instructors pushing their students in the white water.
  • Playa Cedros Swell was small, some awesome little clean waves about 3km walk from town.
montezuma hammock
Alya chilling outside Lucy’s Hotel in Montezuma, we loved drinking the coconuts we picked up!

Accommodation in Montezuma

Montezuma Hostel – Proyecto Montezuma Hostel, awesome social hostel right on the beach, amazing location, super friendly staff $15 for a dormitory bed, $42 for a triple room.

We stayed at Lucy’s Hotel in a private double room for about $20 per night. It is a superbudget, backpackers place. We had such a great time that we ended up staying here for a week.

Medium Budget – Hotel El Jardin, excellent location, beautiful pool, friendly helpful staff, big rooms. $62 for a big room with 2  double beds is a good deal!

Luxury – The beautiful Ylang Ylang resort is located on an isolated part of the  beach outside of town. The most luxurious resort in Montezuma is perfect for a romantic getaway. Yoga, spa, fantastic service and unreal nature. $180-420

Kalapiti Luxury Jungle Suites– beautiful 5 star retreat in the jungle. private villas. Hot tubs, spacious terraces, on site yoga lessons, beautiful location. $180 per night

Transport from Monteverde to Montezuma

Bus Monteverde to Puntarenas $3, Ferry Puntarenas to Paquera $1.50, Bus Paquera to Motezuma $3

Jacó Costa Rica

Good place to stay if you want to go to Manuel Antonio National Park, one of Costa Rica’s most famous parks. For some reason we expected a small surfing town, we were however greeted by a very touristy big town/small city. The beach was really nice, a long white sand beach and running up and down the beach made for about a 10km run. There were not many people surfing when we were there, but apparently Playa Hermosa has good waves and is not a very long drive from Jaco. Big draw card for Jaco is all the activities, you can book just about anything here; from ATV and zip-line tours to catamaran cruises, surf lessons, and sport fishing.

Crocodile Bridge

From the bridge you can see many big crocodiles basking on the sand bank below, they are close enough to take photos. We also saw many Macaws from the bridge and on the bus ride back. There are tours available from Jaco that takes you to the crocodiles by boat. The bridge is about 30 min by bus in the direction of Puntarenas CRC1050 ($2) one way and comes by about every 2 hours.

Crocodile Bridge outside Jaco.
Taken from the Crocodile Bridge outside Jaco.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio is one of Costa Rica’s most famous parks. The forest is great and the variety of animals that you can easily spot spectacular. The beach in the park really beautiful and is about a 30 minute walk from the gate. Great park but very touristy with many big tourist buses and guides with groups all over the place.

  • Entrance Fee $16
  • Bus ticket from Jaco to Manuel Antonio town was $2.50.
  • We went to the park on a day trip from Jaco. The park was very touristy, but we still had a great time and saw many animals; howler monkeys, capuchin monkeys, sloths, a koati, raccoons, deer, iguanas, macaws and a variety of tropical birds. Many people come to the park only to visit the beach. Once past the beach the amount of people on the trails decrease exponentially.
Sloth in the cloud forest – credit pixabay

Jaco Beach Hotels

There are many hotels in Jaco, but finding budget hostels was difficult, the luxury villas is true 5 star luxury.

Backpacker budget Riva Jaco, a nice, new, small hostel close to the beach. We paid about $12 for a dorm bed. It was a nice place, but the dorm is small and can be very cramped if it is full.

Medium budget Hotel Budha House, 100m from the beach, good coffee, excellent buffet breakfast, nice garden, air condition, great owners awesome deal $50 for double room.

Luxury, Hotel Villa Caletas,  luxurious oceanfront boutique Hotel with private beach and stunning views. Excellent conceiarge staff, infinity pool, sunset amphitheater and more, real 5 star luxury. $200-400

Transport from Montezuma to Jaco

Bus from Montezuma to Paquera $4, ferry from Paquera to Puntarenas $2, bus Punarenas to Jaco $2.50.

Dominical Costa Rica

Dominical is known for surfing and chilling out. It has some of the most consistent waves in Costa Rica. The waves were about shoulder high and great for entry level to advanced surfers when we were here, but is known to get hollow and up to 10ft! The currents were quite strong making Dominical not ideal for swimming. Other activities include hiking to the nearby Nauyaca Waterfalls, canopy tours, horseback riding, deep sea fishing, sea kayaking, or going to Caño Island just off the coast for excellent scuba diving and snorkeling.

Other than beautiful jungle and waterfalls, excellent surf and great diving Dominical is close to two treasures of Costa Rica, Corcovado and Manuel Antonio National Park.

 

Dominical Hotels

  • Backpacking budget Cool Vibes Hostel $12 for a dorm bed. It is ‘a big fancy shack with some hammocks’. There are a couple of rooms, a nice kitchen and some surfboards to rent. The place was clean with a nice atmosphere, a good kitchen and good Wi-Fi.
  • Medium budget Om Suite Om Cabinas good location close to the shops, beach, market. Friendly, helpful staff. kitchen available $70 for double room.
  • Luxury – Casa del Toucan Beautiful location jungle and beach. Lovely little cabins, a great Infinity pool, nice terrace to watch the sunset. Amazing hosts, iguanas and toucans too. Delicious French cuisine for included breakfast. awesome bathroom, great facilities. $148

Corcovado National Park

This is another place made famous by National Geographic, being the last bastion for many endangered species including the largest population of Scarlet Macaws in Costa Rica; we ended our travels through Costa Rica with a highlight in Corcovado.

  • A guide is compulsory when walking in Corcovado, making this an expensive excursion
  • Cost $15 entrance and $75 per person for your guide, $65 per person if your group is bigger than five.

Poison arrow frog that lived in our shower at Bolita Eco Hostel.

Red Eye Tree Frog at Bolita Rainforest Lodge

How to go to Corcovado National Park on a Budget

  • Bolita Rainforest Hostel borders Corcovado National park, there is no fences seperating Bolita and Corcovado. Staying here doing the selfguided hikes is similar to the park, you can even wander into the park and no guide is needed.
  • We stayed in Bolita Eco Hostel  at $12 for a dorm bed or per person sharing a doubleroom
  • Getting to the hostel is quite a hike, but so worth it!
  • Book Bolita here through AirBnB and get our $44 discount coupon!

We had an amazing time next to Corcovado walking many trails being surrounded by an unreal variety of plant and animal life. See our Corcovado park for backpackers. Eco hostel Bolita’ article.

Bolita eco hostel
The view from our bed sleeping in Bolita Eco Hostel in Costa Rica.

Passports, visas and other entry requirements for Costa Rica

  • Citizens of US, South Africa and most European countries do not need a visa to enter Costa Rica.
  • 90 days visa on arrival
  • Require a current valid passport and a return ticket to exit Costa Rica. (Either to return to your country or to go to another country).
  • Exit ticket out of Costa Rica is required, even if you enter overland, so book one before you cross the border! The ticket has to be out of Costa Rica, a bus ticket is acceptable. We were forced to buy a bus ticket out of Costa Rica. See our ‘Book flights without paying’ article to book an exit ticket.
  • Travel insurance is always a good idea when traveling outside your home country. Theft or an illness can cost you a fortune if you are not covered.

The Cost of Traveling in Costa rica

Is low cost travel in Costa Rica possible? We heard many rumors about Costa Rica being very expensive and this was a worry for us heading there.

The bad news is luxuries such as alcohol, tours, activities, taxis and eating in restaurants are very expensive. The good news is Costa Rica can be done on a budget and we still had an amazing time doing it! Having a tough time decideing if you want to travel to Costa Rica or Nicaragua? maybe this article can make the decision a bit easier!

Suggested budget for traveling in Costa Rica

  • $20 per day – Stay in hostels dormitories if available, cook all your own meals, public transport, avoid alcohol and tours.
  • $30 per day- Eat cheap local sodas and cook for yourself, drink the odd beer
  • $50 per day – Stay in hostel private rooms, take some taxis, eat in local restaurants, do organised activities and tours
  • $80-$100 per day – Stay in hotels, use taxis, eat in local restaurants, do organised  tours, add a bit more luxury
Ficus-tree-Monteverde
Alya inside a huge Ficus tree near Monteverde, exploring the forest and climbing these incredible trees is free.

Costa Rica Backpacking

Our first time in Costa Rica we backpacked for a month on the bare minimum. It is possible and still have a great time, we explored forests, jungles beaches and national parks including Manuel Antonio and Corcovado.

Our Backpacking Travel Budget was $512 (270 479 CRC) for 26 days, thus $19.69 (10 400 CRC) per day, including accommodation, food, transport and activities.

Our Budget

  • Transport: CRC 29 377 ($55)                  avg  CRC 1129 ($ 2.11) per day
  • Food (shopping): CRC  71 850 ($135)   avg CRC 2763 ($5.20) per day
  • Accomodation: CRC 146 886 ($276)      avg CRC 5321 ($10) per day

Food in Costa Rica

I think many people that have a budget shock in Costa Rica spend a lot of money on food, restaurants are expensive.

  • $15 to $20 for a meal in a restaurant, a pizza was about $15.
  • $5 for typical local meal called casado (rice, beans, plantain and cabbage) at ‘Sodas’ the local restaurants
  • $2 per meal cooking ourselves

Local markets are not common and supermarkets are not cheap, but we found porridge for breakfast, baguette with cheese, pasta with cheese tomato and tuna, potato with tuna, cut fruit and different variations of these to work out the cheapest.

Accommodation in Costa Rica

There is plenty of accommodation starting at about the prices listed here. Book your accommodation by searching from our links, we get a couple of cents, no extra cost to you, so please support us by booking here! Never underestimate airbnb, if you do not really want to mingle with the hosts just check where you book an ‘entire apartment’. Book a fancy place! Use our voucher in the sidebar and get $44 discount when you book a place of over $85!

  • Airbnb $25
  • Dormitory $8
  • Double Room Hostel $20
  • Mid Range Hotel $50
  • Guesthouse $40
  • Luxury Hotel $180 +

Stingy Nomads Central America Essentials Travel Shop

  • If you want to be a hero everywhere you stay, be able to make awesome coffee! In Central America coffee is cheap and we love comparing local coffee as we travel. The Aeropress is probably the best, rugged, light and portable device to have in your backpack for making top notch espresso style coffee! I never travel without mine.

  • Drinking water is very expensive in Central America you can save a lot of money with a Steri Pen UV water sterilizing device.

  • We always have a mask in our backpacks and love the Mares Star liquid skin. Doesn’t take much space and important to have one that fits without leaking when going for a dive or snorkel. Fits very comfortable for both of us.Diving Perhentian Stingy Nomads, Malaysia
  • Very important to pack a nice towel that doesn’t take to much space in your luggage. We suggest a quality microfiber towel.

Buy these devices here, no extra charge to you, small commission to us, THANK YOU!

 

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