Best Things to do in Costa Rica (Backpacking Costa Rica Guide)
Costa Rica feels different and familiar at the same time. The beautiful places are jam-packed with adventure and the locals are easy to communicate with. Because of its progress, there are lots of activities and things to do in Costa Rica.
Because of the rain all year round, the country is very biodiverse. Indeed, the government had done an impressive job of maintaining and preserving its forestry and wonders. It is also one of the most touristic countries in Central America and the most expensive for backpacking. Read here best Costa Rica Dirt Bike Tours
We will tell you in this post the best time to visit Costa Rica, best places to visit in Costa Rica, the places to stay in Costa Rica, tours in Costa Rica and our own travel itinerary in backpacking Costa Rica in our full backpacking Costa Rica guide! We recommend you 3-4 weeks visiting Costa Rica.
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WHERE TO STAY IN SAN JOSE
There are dormitory rooms that you can rent the bed for as low as $8 USD a night if you want the cheapest option. AirBnb is also available, mostly for about $20-25 USD a night. Double-room hostels can cost up to $30-40 USD a night while mid-range hotels cost more or less $80 USD a night.
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Before Backpacking Costa Rica
The currency of Costa Rica is called Colòn and as of now, 1 USD is worth 567 Colòn. It is wiser to exchange your currency after arriving at your hotel, avoiding to exchange so much money in the airport. But if you have larger amount of cash to exchange, you should go to a local bank if possible.
Do not exchange your currency at the airport because you’ll get less than what you’ll get with the city’s exchange. Estimate your budget for your list of things to do in Costa Rica often so that you won’t fall short.
The Center for Disease and Control Prevention suggest that most travelers should get a shot for Hepatitis A and Typhoid because of a chance of food contamination in Costa Rica. Consistent rains may be the cause of some food contamination and water contamination in Costa Rica. Other than that, there are no more general concerns. Know more about this here
Costa Rica prides itself for being one of the safest country in South and Central America. This is why this beautiful place is oftentimes is travelers’ first choice. Just don’t flaunt your belongings to attract criminals; it’s a safe place after all.
Petty Theft is still common just like at any other countries. Also, do not go out by yourself deep in the night because there are few illegal activities that are carried out in non-tourists areas. The statistics show that in general Costa Rica is a safe place for tourists.
How to get to Costa Rica
If you’re coming from New York, you’ll be enjoying a direct flight to San Jose, Costa Rica for 1 000 USD on a 5-hour trip. It’s pretty quick compared to other destinations.
If you’re coming from London, you’ll have to take a 1 stop flight to go to San Jose, Costa Rica for the same price but on a 16-hour trip.
All European Union Citizens, American and most Asian countries are not required of a Visa when traveling to Costa Rica. The visa exemption is maxed at 90 days. You could know more about Costa Rica’s Visa Policy here
Weather/ Best Time to visit Costa Rica
In Costa Rica, it almost always rains. For some, it ruins their trip and for some it makes their trip more exciting. So, base your visit to the season which you think will suit your travelling style. In their summer (December to April), there are fewer rains than normal. In their winter (May to November), rains are almost non-stop.
It is harder to move on vehicles when it rains constantly but the scenery of greens is amazing. It still depends on what you want. Most tourists prefer to go from December to April because of easier transport.
Hostels are pretty cheap here and also best for solo travelers. If you want better accommodation for a reasonable price. The range varies a lot depending on the service they offer and the accommodation’s proximity to a tourist spot. For example, Dorms in Costa Rica costs about 8-10 USD while budget hotels cost 20-40 USD. If you have a few more bucks to spare then it’s worth trying luxury hotels that costs about 100 USD.
Plan your destinations first before planning what to ride because some are accessible by bike only, walking, cars, and buses. It all depends on where you are going to. But, the general rule is that it is cheaper for backpackers to go on public buses and taxis for their transportation.
Actually, from San Jose, you could go directly from all the major destinations around Costa Rica by Public Bus for 8 USD or more depending on the destination. The only downside is you’ll wait for the bus to arrived. For a tip, It would be easier for you to get a ticket in advance.
If you like not to wait and be picked up to your hotel, you should ride Shuttle Buses. These are luxury mini-buses that has route to most major destinations but with a higher price, mostly 50 USD per person.
Daily budget for backpacking Costa Rica
If you’re already informed, it is true that Costa Rica is one of the most expensive countries to travel into. But, it’s possible to travel on Costa Rica with a low budget of 40 USD a day. You could check a lot of your “things to do in Costa Rica” bucket list even with that budget. Some hostels only cost about 5-6 USD and the food is 3 USD per meal. Public buses costs only about 3 USD – 15 USD depending on the destination.
The cheapest food for breakfast and the most popular is Costa Ricans Gallo Pinto. If you want some fresh tropical fruit juice, it would only cost you 3 USD. Seafood costs for about 10-15 USD and chicken costs 8-12 USD. If you’re craving for a pizza, 11 USD will help you get that craving off.
For backpackers, street restaurants are actually cheaper than branded restaurants. In my 2 Week Itinerary in Costa Rica, I came from Nicaragua by overland and I visited the Pacific Coast. From visiting the Pacific Coast, I found out that Montezuma is one of the most visited places for surfing in Costa Rica. Actually , you can spend a few days surfing or even a week if you have time because it is really fun.
I suggest that you visit San Jose the capital of Costa Rica and from there, you could transfer to the beautiful Corocovado National Park. Arguably, a must place to see for backpacking Costa Rica. Then, you can transfer to the Caribbean Coast where you can visit amazing beaches like Puerto Viejo or Manzanillo. This is a perfect place to spend for a few days or even a week. After satisfying your beach urges, you could still move around the area and stay because that’s ideally better if you are planning to visit Panama overland as your next destination.
Places to Visit in Costa Rica
Tortuguero National Park
Situated in one of the most culturally diverse places in Costa Rica, Tortuguero National Park also is biodiverse. Although it is a park, Tortugeuro is different than others. Aside from the observable richness of its flora and fauna, you could also enjoy boat trips into its canals and just enjoy the ride. All of its nature trails like Gavilan Trail, La Ceiba, La Bomba, Harold, Mora, and Chiquero are worth visiting. Choose your trail base on your interests.
From San jose, you could go here by Plane, Bus, Shuttle, or boat. The boat costs for about 3 USD to 8 USD and the Bus costs about 8 USD. The plane ride costs about 60 USD but it is the fastest route available. If you fancy a Shuttle then you’ll have to pay 50 USD per person.
Puerto Viejo Talamanca
A surfer’s haven as they call it but it is more than that. Puerto Viejo Talamanca shows you how to relax and enjoy doing nothing as time pass by. It doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything here but the laidback vibes really take over. Get a hammock, lie down, and relax. It is absolutely refreshing!
It is also a lively party place that leans to Reggae ton music a lot. Also, the party’s music has a really good harmony with the sounds that the animals make. Backpackers also often visit Puerto Viejo Talamanca because of the vibes. For 5 hours, you could go to San Jose from Puerto Viejo Talamanca,it is worth 10 USD. You should say “talamanca” because there is another Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica.
The capital of Costa Rica, San Jose is great because of the combination of old and modern hints to the city, blending traditions and innovation. The city also likes their museums and galleries like the most visited Museo de Jade, house of beautiful jade collections.
Also, they like serving their new ideas with food. The Paseo Gastronomico La Luz in Barrio Escalante gets you hungry and craving even after you’re full!.San Jose is the best place to start before engaging in more exciting experiences around Costa Rica
Monteverde Cloud Forest
I know that a lot of places in Costa Rica is bio diverse but this place is highly biodiverse. With 2500 flora and 620 fauna, it is really amazing to experience being up close to some of them. There are tours inside for Butterflies, Hummingbirds, Coffee, Chocolate and Sugarcane. You could also hike the Monteverde reserve or take exhilarating photos at their zip-lines and suspension bridges.
To go here, take a bus from San Jose to Santa Elena. The buses have services in 6:30 AM and 2:30 PM. If you’re taking a bus the trip would take 4 hrs but if you’re taking the shuttle the trip would take 2 hrs and a half only.
Are you looking for another surfer’s haven? Well, surfers of all levels could enjoy this place because of wave consistency. But if you don’t know how to surf, it’s a great place to know how because there are many surf shops around. It will be a little bit cheaper to get help from local surfers who you can trust. You could also relax on a cruise sunset sailing, great for couples and families.
Coming from San Jose,the bus will take 6 hrs to get from here. The cost would only be 10 USD per person. The shuttle could take 4 hrs to go here but would cost 45 USD to 55 USD per person and you’ll share the trip with other people.
Arenal Volcano (La Fortuna)
La Fortuna is the home of the country’s largest lake and beautiful volcano. The volcano is symmetrical cone shapes wonder standing tall above Arenal Lake, where you could kayak and enjoy the views of the towering Arenal Volcano. You could also enjoy hiking to La Fortuna Waterfall, a place to swim and enjoy the coldness of the water falling from the top while enjoying beautiful surrounding views.
If you’re going to Arenal Volcano with a car, the shortest route is through the Panamerican Highway towards Puntarenas. This route would only take you 3 hrs. But if you’re going with a shuttle that costs 50 USD, it would take you 4 hrs. And for the bus, it would take you 10 USD for 6 hrs.
Corcovado National Park
Corcovado is the largest national park in Costa Rica and arguably the most beautiful. The ecosystem will surely mesmerize its visitors. There are plenty of researchers and visitors in the area because here, you’ll always learn something new about the animals. The wildlife of this place will not disappoint you.
The travel time is fairly long from San Jose to Corcovado. It varies from 6-8 hrs depending on the stops that will be made. From San Jose, you could go here for 20 USD for a public bus.
Montezuma is the Perfect place to find a good beach to swim. One example is Playa Montezuma a beautiful beach perfect for sunbathing and swimming. The waves are not strong so it’s perfect for casual swimming. Also, there is a stunning waterfall that is easy to hike from the village. The Montezuma waterfall has three cascades that are perfect for everyone
The easiest way to go to Montezuma is through bus and ferry. First, from San Jose you need to go to Jaco by bus for only 4 USD for a 2 hr ride. Then, you need to take a ferry to Jaco going to Montezuma for 42 USD for a 1 hr ride.
Manuel Antonio Park
Known as the park that is most visited by tourists, Manuel Antonio Park is densely populated with mammals and birds. Don’t be shy to ask your guide if you’d like to observe an animal. Apart from this, there are also beaches around the park like Espadilla Sur Beach and Manuel Antonio Beach. It is best to go to the beaches first and then the nature trails
It is fairly cheap and easy to get to Manuel Antonio Park by bus. It would only cost you 6-8 USD and would take only 3 hrs and a half. But if you have rented a car, it would be faster with a 3 hr ride, not much of a difference actually.
Looking for a white sand beach that offers snorkeling and swimming? Manzanillo is the perfect place for that. The afro-caribbean culture gives this place colors. Also, because of the proximity to fishing spots the town has delicious food in it. They serve very good sea food on the market!
Because of its proximity to Puerto Viejo Talamanca, it is better to go there first then here. Take a bus going to Puerto Viejo Talamanca and then take a taxi going to Manzanillo. The ride from San Jose to Puerto Viejo Talamanca takes about 4 hrs and costs for 10 USD. While, the taxi ride from Puerto Viejo Talamanca costs for about 10 USD as well for a short 20 min ride.
Fun Things to Do in Costa Rica
If it wasn’t obvious by now there are really lots of places to surf in Costa Rica. The places vary on difficulty but all offer unique experience. Costa Rica is one of the places in the world that surfers purposefully seek. The surf schools available are also worth it because you’ll definitely learn at the end of the courses.
Another learning opportunity in Costa Rica is to learn Spanish. There are a lot of Spanish classes in Costa Rica offering packages with different services. Some packages have it all like the AIFS Study Abroad in San Jose. Some specialize in teaching the students quality Spanish classes and some focus on the cultural immersion on school.
Biking around beaches
There are lots of mountains wherein you could have fun with your bicycle; if you don’t have one, you could also rent it out. One place that has a cycling trail is Arenal Volcano, La Fortuna. The views are just astounding. You could feel that you’re surrounded by beauty as you wander on the trail and cycle slowly. Seriously, you need to try this!
Nightlife in Costa Rica
Costa Ricans love to party. That’s why you’ll see lots of bars, clubs and restaurants. Some of the most active places to party at night are Jacò, San Jose and Tamarindo. If you have time after doing your day activities you could always take it up a notch by partying in these places.
The port city in Limòn hosts Limòn Carnaval, a one week celebration of Costa Rica’s cultural diversity. They celebrate the members of the community from all races. The festival is full of energy and colors. You won’t see anyone not smiling as they celebrate this festival. As a tourist, you’ll love the cultural immersion in this Carnaval.
It is really a classical way to explore places but it is still universally remarkable. Horseback riding is popular with tourists because it is easier to be one with nature in this way. Many places offer horseback riding tours. Examples are places in Monteverde, La Fortuna, Jaco and Cocles.
After sunbathing and swimming, you might want to dive into the colorful life under water. There are lots of places to dive in Costa Rica but if you’re a beginner you might want to go the Caribbean coast because you’ll enjoy the peaceful dive. If you’re intermediate to advance you might want to go to the pacific coastline because there you’ll see manta rays and sharks.
Try Gallo Pinto
Gallo Pinto is the favorite breakfast of Costa Ricans. They add black beans or red beans to their rice and pair it to other dishes. There are many variations of Gallo Pinto in Costa Rica but each variation proves that Gallo Pinto is better than old plain boring rice in the morning.
Try Fresh Tropical Fruits
Costa Rica has lots of fruits all over the region. Examples are bananas, watermelon, guavas, mangoes, coconuts, papayas, cantaloupes, blackberries, pineapples, passion fruit, and carambola. Costa Ricans really like their fruits served as juice or shakes. An example is their coconut shake that is really creamy and sweet. You’ll often find restaurants or even kiosks selling shakes
Festivals in Costa Rica
Limon Carnival happens on the port city of Limon. This carnival has a lot of vibrant feels to it. The people are very energetic and you’ll rarely see people not smiling. They celebrate the unity of different cultures residing in Costa Rica with music and dancing. This is the best time immerse in Costa Ricans culture because they show off their food and people.
After Christmas and New Year, there is another festival tourists are excited to. Fiestas Palmares is two-week long fiesta on January that celebrates culture of Costa Ricans and having fun. What I mean by fun is bullfighting, soccer games, outdoor concerts, comedians, horse parades, beer and many more! Well, if that’s not fun I don’t know what is.
A transformational festival that is said to transform human potential. Yes, it is spiritual and a fun way to get loose. VICE said that is like a “hippie jungle festival”. Combination of yoga for partying, dancing that removes your inhibitions and many more.
Have you ever been to Costa Rica? What is your favorite thing to do in this beautiful country? Let us know if you want to travel to Costa Rica soon! Happy travels!
About the Author: Ruben, co-founder of Gamintraveler.com since 2014, is a seasoned traveler from Spain who has explored over 100 countries since 2009. Known for his extensive travel adventures across South America, Europe, the US, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, and Africa, Ruben combines his passion for adventurous yet sustainable living with his love for cycling, highlighted by his remarkable 5-month bicycle journey from Spain to Norway. He currently resides in Spain, where he continues to share his travel experiences alongside his partner, Rachel, and their son, Han.