Costa Ricans are awfully proud of their country, and they have every right to be! Costa Rica’s natural environment is a wonder to behold—with more biodiversity here than in Europe and the USA combined, and large amounts of land protected by government laws, the abundance of fauna and flora is truly spectacular. This, added with the country’s lush and rugged natural beauty, stunning coastlines and fascinating history makes Costa Rica a pleasure to explore. Costa Ricans advise that a visit to their country allows people to indulge in ‘pura vida’ or the pure life, and with so much to offer, this life motto is hardly surprising.
Costa Rica Facts & Tips
Did you know?
- Costa Rica has coastlines on both the Pacific and Caribbean Sea. It borders Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south.
- More than 25% of land in Costa Rica is protected national parks and wildlife refuges.
- Costa Ricans refer to themselves as Ticos (males) and Ticas (females).
- There are approximately 120 volcanoes in Costa Rica and about 7 of those are active. • The dietary staples are rice and black beans.
- Chirripo Mountain is the tallest point at 12,500 feet, and the lowest point is 790 feet below sea level in the caves of Barra Honda National Park.
- The average wage for a labourer is approximately $10 (USD) per day—one of the highest rates in Central America.
- Many Costa Ricans are bilingual, speaking their native language of Spanish and also English.
Visas & Passports
Australian passport holders travelling to Costa Rica do not need a visa at this time.
We require that your passport is valid for travel for at least six months from the date you are planning to return to Australia. Your passport must be valid to travel internationally and must be machine-readable. You also need to carry a valid return ticket on you.
Whether travelling on an Australian passport or the passport of another country, all travellers require visas for a number of countries, and it is your responsibility to secure what may be required before departing Australia. You can consult with your travel agent, but it is also recommended that you check the foreign embassy website for your respective destination as it can also provide you with useful information.
The Australian Embassy in Mexico is responsible for Costa Rica:
Ruben Dario 55, Polanco
Colonia Bosque de Chapultepec, CP
11580 Mexico City
Ph: +52 55 1101 2200
Fax: +52 55 1101 2201
Australian Honorary Consulate in Costa Rica:
Third Floor, Oficentro Torre La Sabana
La Sabana, San José
Ph: +506 8995 9900
The official currency of Costa Rica is the Costa Rica Colon (CRC; symbol ₡.) Notes come in denominations of ₡50,000, 20,000, 10,000, 5,000, 2,000 and 1,000. Ensure you change a small amount into small denominations.
The recommended currency to take to Central America is the USD. Advise your bank of your travel plans so that they can make a note of it, otherwise they may cancel your credit card as a safety measure due to the overseas transactions. Also make a note of the 24-hour emergency contact number of the bank or building society which issued your credit card in the unlikely event that your card is lost or stolen.
Whenever possible use ATMs when the banks are open (Mon – Fri) so that if a machine ‘eats’ your card you can then deal with it straight away. It is always advisable to carry a supply of cash in addition to your credit card.
If you don’t have Costa Rica Colon with you on arrival, we advise you to exchange some money into the local currency at the airport even if the exchange rate is not the best, this way you’ll have money to get a drink, snack or give a tip during those first few hours of arrival. Your guide will be able to advise you on the best places to exchange money.
Small change is also useful for paying for toilets while on tour which is customary in many places outside of Australia.
- The price of a cappuccino in Costa Rica is approximately USD2.50
- The price of an inexpensive lunch is approximately USD7.50
- The price dinner in a moderate restaurant is approximately USD20
- The price of a beer in a local pub is approximately USD3
Along with most Central American countries, rice and beans are a staple food in Costa Rica. Many dishes include a variation of meat with rice. Due to its location on both the Pacific coast and Caribbean coast, it’s no surprise that seafood features heavily on the menu. Local dishes worth trying are ceviche (raw fish marinated in lime juice, coriander and capsicum); pargo (red snapper) and corvina (sea bass). Casado is the name given to a plate of rice, meat or fish and a coleslaw type salad. Salsa Lizano is a delicious sauce made of vegetables and is slightly sweet, known as Costa Rican ketchup! Costa Rica has a wonderful array of fresh fruit—papaya, mango, banana, pineapple, strawberries—and some new fruit to try, such as guanabana, anona (custard fruit) and pejibaye fruit. Unlike other Central American countries, Costa Rica offers quite a variety for vegetarians, too.
Coffee is one of the most popular drinks in Costa Rica due to its top quality, as is beer, wine and refrescos (refreshing drinks usually made with water or milk and fruit). There are 8 national beers, although the most widely sold are Imperial and Pilsen.
Important: When dining at buffets (i.e. breakfast) please refrain from taking food away with you to ‘save’ for later! If you feel that you’ll need snacks between meals, pack some dried fruit, nuts, muesli bars etc.
If you have specific food allergies and/or preferences, we highly recommend you take every precaution before your tour, including carrying a small card with your food allergy listed in each language of every country you are travelling to show to table staff when ordering. Whilst we take all dietary requirements seriously, due to the serious nature of potential allergic reactions, it is your responsibility to be as prepared as possible.
Like many other Central American countries, Costa Rica has two pronounced seasons—a wet season and a dry season. The dry season is the ideal time to visit Costa Rica, which runs roughly from November/December through to the end of April. The wet season runs from May through to November and is characterised by almost daily rain showers in the afternoons. The scenery is generally prettier during this time, as the rain brings the countryside to a lush green. Temperatures are tropical all year round, although the higher in altitude you go, the cooler and less steamy it gets.
Want to get out and explore on your own?
In San Jose, taxis are freely available on the streets. They should all have a meter and it is illegal for the taxi driver not to use the meter, so make sure it is on before you drive off. Walking is also a great way to explore local cities and towns.
When catching taxis, make sure you have small change on you and choose one with a meter, if it doesn’t have one then negotiate the price before getting in. We recommend you ask your guide or hotel staff the names of reputable taxi companies.
So, you’d love to bring home a special souvenir from Costa Rica…
Surprisingly, there is a lack of local handcrafted items for sale in Costa Rica and many of the locally made souvenirs are made from wood. It’s advisable to be very careful before deciding to purchase a wooden artefact, especially as these are usually tropical woods that may be confiscated by customs when you return to Australia. Also, any items made from coral or tortoise shell should be avoided. Sealed bags of roasted coffee are a lovely reminder of your trip. The markets also have replica pre-Colombian earrings and pendants for sale, which are usually gold plated. Indonesian style batiked fabric and clothing is available in the resort beach towns.
- Costa Ricans are generally polite people, they like to greet each other with eye contact, a smile and a hello.
- People can be uncomfortable about having their photo taken, especially in local villages, so always ask permission first
- On most restaurant bills a 10% tip is automatically added to the total, so leaving an extra tip is not necessary unless you choose.
- Public toilet facilities are not great, so it’s a good idea to keep some tissues or toilet paper with you for emergencies!
- Costa Ricans view boasting, public displays of anger or impatience or raising your voice in public as bad manners.
Celebrations & Public Holidays
Costa Rica may be a Catholic country, but its people absolutely know how to party. Oftentimes they even use religious holidays as an excuse to do so.
Small festivals take place throughout the country all year round, but the celebrations ramp up during the holiday season, and involve everything from bullfighting and carnival rides to fireworks, marimba music, feasts, and jubilant dancing. Zapote, which happens in the eponymous neighborhood in San José, is the biggest of these festivals and features elaborate rollercoasters and the largest bullfights of the year. Palmares—Costa Rica’s equivalent of Octoberfest—is the longest party of the year. And down on the Southern Pacific coast, the traditions of the area’s indigenous people are honored during the Fiestas de Los Diablitos.
Other national public holidays to be aware of include:
- New Year’s Day
- Saint Joseph’s Day (16 Mar)
- Good Friday
- Assumption Day
- Cultures National Day
- Independence Day
- Labor Day
- Christmas Day
Costa Rica Highlights
Arenal National Park
Arenal Volcano National Park, like all national parks in Costa Rica, has an amazing variety of fauna, flora and incredible scenery to offer visitors. What sets Arenal Volcano National Park apart is that it encompasses Arenal Volcano, one of the world’s most active volcanos. Its last big eruption was in 1968.
Named capital city of Costa Rica in 1823, today San Jose is also the largest city, and the central hub of business and culture. San Jose is a relatively picturesque city with many beautiful, historic old buildings, plazas and parks. A delightful way to explore this city is to walk through any of the old colonial neighbourhoods, this will give you areal feel for the city. Both Central Avenue and Cultural Plaza are well worth a wander. Alternatively, in the evening you may like to go out and soak up the atmosphere or dance the night away.
Tortugero National Park
Located on the north eastern shores of the Caribbean Sea, Tortugero National Park is one of Costa Rica’s primary ecotourism destinations and is famous for its nesting sea turtles between June and October. The abundance of wildlife in the lush rainforest is staggering and can be most easily explored by boat through the many canals and waterways inside the national park.
Home to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, the quaint township of Monteverde sits high up on the mountain top. The Reserve itself (and the smaller, but no less impressive Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve) are the main draw cards to the area. Inside Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve there is a viewpoint along the continental divide where, on a clear day, you can see both the Pacific and Caribbean coastlines. The reserve is also home to the endangered Quetzal. Manuel Antonio National Park One of Costa Rica’s smallest national parks, Manuel Antonio National Park sits like a jewel on the Pacific Coast just a short distance from San Jose. Famous for its white sandy beaches and the lush evergreen forests lined up against its shoreline, Manuel Antonio offers visitors a wide variety of tropical flora and fauna including the endangered white-faced capuchin monkeys, 184 species of birds and the three toed sloth, among 109 other mammal species.
South & Central America Destinations
From the sub-tropical jungles and steamy falls of Iguazu to the frozen Antarctic water of Tierra del Fuego, it is incredible to believe that one country can contain so much.
Landlocked and sharing borders with Peru, Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Paraguay, Bolivia is an intriguing country to visit with a diverse natural environment.
Containing some of the most diverse flora and fauna, Brazil is home to the largest rainforest, one of the world’s longest rivers, and the biggest and most exuberant festivals on the planet.
A land of extremes from the arid Atacama Desert in the north to the southern icebergs of Patagonia, there are few countries on earth that could claim such diversity and so many varied attractions than Chile.
Colombia is , a country of spectacular natural beauty, filled with warm, friendly locals, a fascinating history and an abundance of culture and nightlife.
Enjoy incredible scenery at Cienfuegos, discover the rich history at Habana Vieja and immerse yourself in the culture of Trinidad.
Ecuador, the smallest Andean country in South America, offers a wealth of vibrant indigenous cultures, colonial architecture, volcanic landscapes and dense rainforests.
As the birthplace of the ancient Maya civilisation, Guatemala is an intriguing mix of history and culture with an incredible array of natural scenery thrown into the equation.
Mexico is a country of many different identities and jungles, mountains, deserts and beaches all make up Mexico’s rich flora and fauna.
The rich history, archaeology, wildlife and enduring indigenous cultures of Peru all add up to make it one of South America’s most popular destinations.