Costa Rica is a popular destination for bird watching, surfing, and adventure sports, from white water rafting to zip lining. It is undoubtedly touristy. So unless you’re staying in the middle of nowhere, don’t expect to completely surprise other visitors.
However, if you choose your time (don’t go over the Christmas holidays) and travel destination carefully, you can leave the crowds behind.
If you are headed to Costa Rica anytime soon, we have the best Costa Rica travel tips to help you make the most of your trip to this adventurous country.
Related reading: Costa Rica 7 days itinerary
Top Costa Rica travel tips
Follow these top tips for traveling to Costa Rica to ensure you have the most enjoyable and memorable trip to Costa Rica.
1. Make Manuel Antonio your home
The small South Pacific coastal community of Manuel Antonio and the adjacent city Quepos have an interesting mix of expats, tourists and locals, which makes it a fascinating place to spend some time. It is also very attractive in the middle of a lush jungle and with seductive beaches.
2. Book a beach / tree house
We did both. We spent a week in a stunning, walled villa overlooking the jungle and another week in a house just steps from the sand. They were both wonderful and aside from the luxury of space and privacy and the ability to cook our own food (we made local dishes spotted rooster!) What we liked best were the friendly visits from locals who came by unannounced every day. Yes, I’m talking about the monkeys!
We love that Treehouse Lodge in Puerto Viejo.
3. Use public transport
There is no need to rent a four-wheel drive as is required in many travel guides. Some roads become impassable after heavy rains. Trust me, you don’t want to be behind the wheel – preferably in the back seat of a vehicle that is driven by a seasoned local.
Organize a Transfer to your apartmentand then take advantage of the cheap local buses that run frequently between Quepos and Manuel Antonio National Park.
4. Shop in the local markets
In Quepos there is an excellent farmers market, parallel to the waterfront, where you can find lots of fresh products from the region for about the same price as you would pay in the supermarket. Only the quality is better. You can also find free-range eggs, as well as baked bread and cakes here.
5. Do like the locals do
All kinds of local events are regularly held in Manuel Antonio and Quepos, from yoga classes and soccer games to chess tournaments and movie nights. The friendly locals are more than hpy to welcome newcomers.
How much more authentic can travel be?
6. Hit the national parks
Costa Rica has 32 National parks and Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the most popular, with lots of wildlife to be seen. On the morning of our visit, we spotted sloths, agouti, tent bats, blue morpho butterflies, purple and orange tropical land crabs, red and black scarlet tanagers, a laughing hawk, lively toucans, gorgeous iguanas, cute raccoons and a boa constrictor.
The locals love the wildlife as much as the tourists. So go with a local like the excellent licensed guide we used.
7. Spend time in the sand
The locals seem to live on the beach. It doesn’t matter where they’re from, but they’re all deep dark tans. Whenever we were here, we met people we met on the beach every day – they took their daily walks, collecting seashells, reading a book, riding a horse, throwing a frisbee, just watching the sunset, or enjoying the surf.
8. Learn to surf
Costa Rica is a popular surfing destination for both locals and visitors. So if you don’t want to surf and do what the locals do, you have to learn how. There are a few Surf schoolsIndividual instructors were recommended to us by locals, however, such as longtime surf instructor Ivan Castillo (firstname.lastname@example.org), who rents his boards under a shady tree not far from the lifesaver stand.
The locals and expats are an active and altruistic bunch who use time for all kinds of purposes. So why not volunteer for a day or at least a few hours of your time while you are there? We attended a tree planting event with local schools run by the Titi Conservation Alliance, with the aim of restoring a biological corridor for the endangered red-backed squirrel monkeys.
They had already planted 35,000 trees when we visited, and 650 trees the day we joined them.
Related reading: Cultural greetings while volunteering in South America
10. Do very little
There’s no denying that it’s hot and humid here. So how do the locals always look as cool as cucumbers? If you do very little, that is it. The locals have „the art of doing nothing” except for a very Art. How many destinations can you achieve where you can live like a local? and Going on a good old-fashioned beach vacation at the same time? Manual Antonio on the one hand, Costa Rica on the other.