Visit Costa Rica – Introduction

Costa Rica is one of the principal countries in Central America. Nicaragua is to its north and Panama is to the south. The official language is Spanish, however Mekatelyu and Bribri are spoken too. Costa Rica split from Spain in 1821 and implemented a democratic constitution in 1949. The country is a bit unusual in that most of the people who live there are Caucasian. About 5 million people live there. The currency used is the Colon. San Jose is the capital and the largest city in Costa Rica.

Best Time to Visit Costa Rica

Temperatures in Costa Rica are remarkably consistent year round. Expect highs of 27 C (81 F) and lows of 18 C (64 F) regardless of the month. Rainfall can heavy in almost every month of the year, but there is a dry season on the Pacific Coast in the winter months. There are two short dry seasons on the Atlantic Coast in spring and fall. For the Pacific Coast, we think January and February are the best time of year to visit Costa Rica. For the Atlantic Coast, September is a better choice.

Costa Rica – Visa Requirements

Most visitors will find there is no visa requirement when they visit Costa Rica. Travel visas for 90 day visits are not required for citizens of North America, Australia and western Europe. Check your specific country at VisaHQ. For a list of exempt countries, visit Project Visa. You won’t need anything other than your passport if you visit Costa Rica by cruise ship.

Electrical Adapters for Costa Rica

Costa Rica uses standard North American plugs, so visitors from the United States won’t need an electrical adapter.

Ox Cart Parade Dance, San Jose, Costa Rica Tour

Ox Cart Parade Dance, San Jose

G Adventures – Costa Rica Tour

My G Adventures Costa Rica Tour was 9 days long in December of 2010. G Adventures’ Costa Rica tour included 8 nights in hotels. Prices on the tour are all quoted below in US$. Breakfast was included on the first and last days, but all other meals were extra. Some meals were included with optional activities though. Accommodation each night was included in the tour price. The weather wasn’t great at the beginning of December, as the rainy season had decided to linger. I’d recommend late December instead. Check out G Adventures – Costa Rica Quest too.

Ox Cart Parade, San Jose, Costa Rica Tour

Ox Cart Parade, San Jose

Costa Rica Tour – San Jose

We arrived at 1 pm in San Jose to start the Costa Rica Tour. We bartered for a $25 US cab ride to the G Adventures starting point at the Days Hotel. All 15 people in our tour stayed there. The Days Hotel was very nice. Extra nights before the adventure could be purchased for $85 a night. We were fortunate because the Ox Cart Parade was happening the next morning. Preparations for the Ox Cart Parade were underway that night. We headed out on foot at 4:30 to the park to see the carts being readied. Families camped out in tents for the parade. Later our group took a local bus to dinner.

Oxen, Ox Cart Parade, San Jose, Costa Rica Tour

Oxen, Ox Cart Parade, San Jose

La Foturna

After breakfast at the Days Hotel, we chipped in the few extra dollars per person for a private shuttle. This allowed us to stay in San Jose that morning to watch the Ox Cart Parade. After the parade, we took our private shuttle on a five hour ride to La Fortuna. We checked in to the Hotel Arenal Carmela for two nights. The Hotel Arenal Carmela had a small swimming pool, air conditioning and a safety box. The hotel was centrally located. From the hotel, we headed to Desafio Tours to choose optional activities. G Adventures gets a volume discount with operators such as Desafio, so expect to pay more if you choose to go without a group. Our whole group chose the liquid lava, hot springs & buffet dinner walk for $45 US compared to the standard rate of $75.

Arenal but No Volcano View, Costa Rica Tour

Can you see the Arenal volcano on the right? We couldn’t either.

Baldi Hot Springs

We proceeded in a van from the hotel to a nature walk closer to the volcano at sunset.  We arrived at a viewpoint just after sunset. No lava flows were visible, but the valley below us was full of fireflies. We drank some sugar cane punch and took the shuttle to Baldi Hot Springs. There were lots of tourists and locals at this popular location. Baldi Hot Springs is a huge complex with pools of different temperatures. It also has bars, lounges and 3 waterslides. One of the waterslides was very fast! They charged $5 for a locker and $10 deposit for towel. Keep your receipt for your towel! Afterward, the excursion included a buffet dinner at the hot springs and a shuttle back to the hotel.

Toro River Rafting, La Fortuna, Costa Rica Tour

Toro River Rafting, La Fortuna

 Toro River Rafting

On day 3, we chose the Full Day White Water Toro River Rafting! The G Adventures discounted price with Desafio was $75. Some others on our tour repelled down a canyon instead and then did the lower class water rafting in the afternoon. Their rafting was in brown slow moving water. The full day class 3/4 Toro River Rafting was definitely the better choice. We were picked up at the hotel at 8:30 and it took an hour to get to the starting location. At the starting point, we met other rafters and had a large group picture.

Man Overboard, Toro River Rafting, Costa Rica Tour

Man Overboard, Toro River Rafting

The safety instructions for our Toro River Rafting included telling us that at times the water might become too rough. So, when they give the command we were to move to the center of the raft and point our paddles straight up. The command for this was “Holy ****”. They also gave instruction on how pull your raft mates back into the raft, which it turned out we needed to know. We had a fabulous time in the rapids! There were two pit stops along the way, one for swimming and one for a fruit snack. They ran a kayak along side at several points and took great photos of us with a waterproof camera. Pictures were available later for purchase for $25.

After the Toro River Rafting, we traveled 40 minutes by private van to a spot where we had a buffet lunch at 3 pm. The CD photos were available for purchase at lunch. We then returned to the hotel in our van and arrived back by 4 pm.

Tracie, Monteverde Horseback Riding, Costa Rica Tour

Tracie, Monteverde Horseback Riding


The next morning we traveled by shuttle bus to the shore of Lake Arenal. Then we crossed the lake by boat and drove by van to the Monteverde Cloud Forest on the Nicoya Penninsula. The road was a twisty, turny, rough road surface. I don’t recommend trying a rental a car in this area. We rode on the shuttle van for an hour and then stopped for lunch at a local restaurant in a small town. These small diners are all called “sodas”. After you finish eating, you tell the cashier what you ate and pay for in. In Costa Rica the price on the menu includes 10% service + 13% tax, so no tipping is necessary.

After lunch we rode another hour to Monteverde and we were dropped off at the Monteverde Lodge Amanecer. The Monteverde Lodge Amaecer had thin wooden walls, but it was nice. Unfortunately the tin roof was very noisy in the ensuing down pour. We arrived around 3pm and walked to the horse back riding stables provided by Desafio Tours. We rode for about an hour, just before sunset. It cost $30 US. We saw sloths, a toucan, leaf cutter ants, and several exotic birds.

Red Eyed Tree Frog, Ranario, Monteverde, Costa Rica Tour

Red Eyed Tree Frog, Ranario, Monteverde

Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve

Next morning we started at 7:30 with a 20 minute shuttle ride to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve. Unfortunately the heavy down pour meant that the animals all took cover. We missed seeing the amazing monkeys, mammals, bird watching and canopy wildlife. Basically nothing was out due to the heavy rain and wind storm. All I saw was a stick bug and a beetle. It was the beginning of December when it should have been the beginning of the dry season. I’d recommend waiting until January for a Costa Rica Tour. The nature walk was done by 10 am. We could have done the Sevaltura Zip Line and Canopy Walk, but chose not to because the zip line was exposed to the rain and wind of the storm. We went back to the hotel and then headed to a soda for some Olla de Carne – meat soup.

Flooding near Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, Monteverde, Costa Rica Tour

Flooding near Santa Elena Cloud Forest

Extremo Zip Line

After lunch I chose the Extremo Zip Line, which costs $40 plus $5 for the “superman” on the last long section. A guide was stationed at beginning and end of each zip. Some runs were short, some were long, some were tandem, one was a swing and one was a repel. Needless to say, there were many guides. For the tandem zips, the second person runs the brake by grabbing the rope with their gloved hands. The fast zips had their own stopping mechanism. It was pretty easy. Don’t slow down to the point you get stuck or the guide will need to come back out and get you. The pics for purchase from Extremo Zip Line were not exceptional quality like our rafting ones had been.

Superman Option, Extremo Zip Line, Monteverde, Costa Rica Tour

Superman Option, Extremo Zip Line, Monteverde

After the zip lining we went back to the hotel. The group went out to dinner at Don Juan Restaurant, which had delicious food. Some prices were: cocktails $5, cheese platter because you’re in dairy country – 3 cheeses, baguettes and grapes for $8. The honey mustard chicken at $14 was really really good.


Next we traveled to the small town of Quepos on the Pacific to visit Manuel Antonio National Park. The park is known for its monkeys, armadillos, coatimundis, sloths and over 350 species of birds. We left at 8:00 by private shuttle and there were two stops along the way. The first stop was at bridge over a river with restaurant and gift shop. We crossed the bridge on foot and looked down on a dozen large crocodiles. We bought fresh coconuts for $1 and delicious green peeled mango pieces in a bag with salt and lime juice for $1. The heat and humidity increased noticeably at this stop.

Crocodile Pit Stop en route to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica Tour

Crocodile Pit Stop en route to Manuel Antonio

Our second stop was for lunch at small town. It took them 2 hours to serve 15 people. We were approaching the coast. So there was lots of seafood, tuna steaks, shrimp and delicious fish fillet for around $10. We arrived in Quepos at 3pm and stayed at the Mono Azul. We were on the standard G Adventures tour, while other G Adventures tours staying here were on comfort level, which had more conveniences. Our standard pricing had no cable and no air conditioning. We had a ceiling fan. The comfort accommodation is villas with private pools and breakfast included. Our hotel was about 20 minutes from Manuel Antonio National Park.

Mangrove Kayaking near Manuel Antonio Park, Costa Rica Tour

Mangrove Kayaking near Manuel Antonio Park

Costa Rica Tour – Mangroves

The next morning we visited the mangroves near Manuel Antonio National Park. We chose the Mangrove Kayaking for $65 including lunch. We left at 9:30 but departure times are dependent on the tide. After missing out on wild life previously because of rainfall, we now experienced the other extreme. It was too hot and sunny, so some animals were hiding. We did see herons, land crabs, turtles, a big hawk with a piranha in its foot and we saw one monkey. We were on the water by 10:30 and stayed out for 2 hours.

Rafaeles las Terrazas Restaurant view near Manuel Antonio Park, Costa Rica Tour

Rafaeles las Terrazas Restaurant view near Manuel Antonio Park

Afterward we had lunch at Rafaeles Las Terrazas Restaurant. They served casadas – beans and rice dish and salad, egg and fried banana. You had a choice of fish or chicken for main course with a tortilla and a blended fruit smoothy. Through the telescope at restaurant we saw a howler monkey and there was an iguana nearby too.

Sloth, Mnuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica Tour

Sloth, Mnuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio

Normally the tour would go back to hotel at this point, but they dropped us at the entrance to Manuel Antonio National Park at 2:45. The park was closing at 4 and the entrance fee was $10. Manuel Antonio is a protected wildlife and beach area. You can pay $20 per person for a guide with telescope, but we didn’t do that. We had a white faced monkey try to steal from our pockets and we saw several sloths. It took 15 minutes to walk to Manuel Antonio Beach. The monkeys get close looking for food, but don’t feed them or you’ll be swamped and harassed. Others saw an agouti (like a guinea pig with longer legs). There were lots of tourists at the beach but no vendors. The beach wraps to a rocky outcropping which isolates it.

Manuel Antonio Beach, Costa Rica Tour

Manuel Antonio Beach

Costa Rica Tour – Back to San Jose

We could have gone back to San Jose the next morning, but with 15 people we again chipped in for a private shuttle. This gave us extra time to head back to the Manuel Antonio Beach again. We took public transit to the beach for 50 cents. Later we returned to San Jose by private shuttle. For an extra $8 each the shuttle took us to Jaco, where 3 people decided to take the $50 bungee jump. We arrived in San Jose at dinner time and stayed at the Days Hotel again. The group and tour leader took the local bus downtown for 50 cents each, where we had a walking tour of San Jose at night.

The next morning we caught a cab to the airport. Everyone pays a $26 departure tax, but it can be paid at the hotel to speed your departure. Costa Rica was a great adventure!

Costa Rica Tour Slide Show

Costa Rica Blogs