Places in Costa Rica

Top events in Costa Rica


Every other year, downtown San José becomes a showcase for more than 5,000 artists from some 20 different countries, who congregate for the...


Costa Rica, with its high tropical mountains and cloud forest-capped volcanoes, is a haven for orchids; more than 1,400 different species grow...


The city's patron saint day.

Volcan Arenal, La Fortuna, Costa Rica
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Volcan Arenal, La Fortuna, Costa Rica

© Creative Commons / Wha'ppen

Costa Rica Travel Guide

Key Facts

51,100 sq km (19,730 sq miles).


4.7 million (2013).

Population density

92 per sq km.


San José.


Republic. Gained independence from Spain in 1821.

Head of state

President Laura Chinchilla Miranda since 2010.

Head of government

President Laura Chinchilla Miranda since 2010.


120 volts AC, 60Hz. American-style two-pin plugs are standard.

Emerald rainforest, pastel-coloured hummingbirds, smouldering volcanic peaks, tumbling rivers, and freshly picked oranges still warm from the glowing Central American sun: if Mother Nature can ever be accused of showing off, it is in Costa Rica.

Sat just north of the equator, this verdant chunk is one of the most bio-diverse spots on the planet. Costa Rica has a simply stunning variety of landscapes, microclimates, flora and fauna. Showcasing the country's breathtaking plant life, Costa Rica's national parks are its greatest glory, with one-third of the country set aside as protected natural areas. As well as being a world leader in eco-tourism, Costa Rica superbly caters for visitors looking for an adrenalin kick, with options including white water rafting, zip line tours through the rainforest canopy, surfing and quad biking.

The country’s eco-conscious bent has been one factor in why Costa Rica remains a pristine wilderness; you won’t find the rampant overdevelopment that blights many tourist spots here. Instead, the government, having recognised the environment to be one of its biggest assets, has maintained its commitment to ecotourism, most recently evidenced by a promise to make Costa Rica the worlds’ first carbon-neutral country by 2021. The country’s long-term stability in a region often fraught with political uprisings is another factor in its relative prosperity – having abolished its army in 1949, all the money can go towards medical and social facilities instead.

Tourists are spoilt for choice when it comes to getting up close and personal with nature. Whether it’s catching a glimpse of all four native monkey species in Corcovado National park, admiring the incredible orchids in the Monterverde Cloud Forest reserve, or becoming a bona-fide twitcher whilst out spotting one of the country’s 840 birds, Costa Rica will turn you into a nature-lover if you weren’t already.

The cities may not be its premier attraction, but that’s not to say tourists shouldn’t make a stop at one of Costa Rica’s urban centres. Get a sense of local life and culture as you explore downtown San Jose and its mishmash of architectural styles, national museums and excellent cafes. Or head to Puerto Limón on the Caribbean coast, a sleepy port town which makes an excellent jump-off point for surfers looking to catch the waves off Isla Uvita. It’s worth spending some time in the cities, if only to get a sense of how many Costa Ricans live, and what a multi-faceted country this truly is. For all those looking for an ethical adventure, Costa Rica’s charms will have you under their spell all too quickly.

Travel Advice

Last updated: 28 February 2015

The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit


There has been a steady increase in crime. Petty theft of personal items including passports is the main problem, but gang muggings and armed robberies can occur even in daylight on busy streets. Eight foreign nationals (including one British national) have gone missing in the last few years, with some related to criminal activity.

Don’t wear jewellery or carry large amounts of cash. Take particular care of your belongings in hostels and hotels. Lock valuables in a hotel room safe. Don’t use street money-changers.

Be vigilant when using buses, as thefts are increasingly common. Bags in overhead compartments are particularly vulnerable. Thieves have simple but effective ways of distracting you. Be particularly watchful of your valuables at the beach. Avoid poorly lit or remote areas.

Avoid using unofficial taxis - ‘taxi piratas’. Violent incidents involving tourists have been reported. Official taxis are red with a triangular sticker and plastic box on the roof with the name and number of the taxi company. Ideally, use radio-dispatched taxis. Make sure the driver’s ID is clearly visible on the dashboard and that the driver uses the meter.

Violent attacks including rape and other sexual offences are rare but there have been some in recent years. You should maintain at least the same level of personal security awareness as in the UK, including when using ATMs Don’t accept lifts from strangers. Avoid leaving drinks unattended in bars as there have been reports of ‘spiked’ drinks resulting in assault and theft.

Car theft and theft from cars is common, even during relatively short stops at restaurant and other car parks. Don’t leave valuables in hire cars, even in the boot and avoid leaving belongings where they can be seen from outside the car. Park in secure car parks with visible security staff, or in well-lit busy areas. There have been incidents where slashed tyres have given thieves the opportunity to help change your vehicle’s tyres while an accomplice steals from the car.

Local travel

If you’re visiting jungle areas you should go with an experienced local guide. If you visit a volcano pay strict attention to restrictions on entry to dangerous areas. When there is the risk of an eruption the national park is closed to visitors until the danger has passed.

Emergency contact numbers are: Police Emergency - 911; Ambulance - 911 or 128; Fire Service - 911 or 118; Police Investigative Service - 911 or 2221-5337.

Road travel

You can drive in Costa Rica on a UK Driving Licence or an International Driving Permit.

There may be delays on the road to Juan Santamaría Airport (between San José) due to road maintenance. Allow extra time for your journey.

Road conditions are generally good on main routes, although there can be potholes due to heavy rains in the rainy season. Landslides in the rainy season sometimes block the road between San José and Guapiles on the way to Limón and the new San Jose/Caldera Highway. Take care when approaching bridges as these are often only one-way, even if the road is two-way.

The standard of driving is lower than in the UK. Accidents are often caused by speeding or overtaking irresponsibly. Traffic lights are often ignored. Traffic police strictly enforce speed limits. If you have an accident you must not move the vehicle until the traffic police have arrived. The Traffic Police (Transito - telephone 2222-9330 or 2222-9245) and the Insurance Investigator (INS - telephone 800-800-8000) must come to the scene of the accident to complete accident reports.

Criminals sometimes cause deliberate collisions as a means of stopping vehicles in order to commit robberies or other crimes. If you think a collision was a deliberate act by another driver to make you stop, consider driving on until you reach a safe place like a police station or garage. In these circumstances you will need to be able to explain your actions to the traffic police.

Swimming and water sports

Take extra care when taking part in water sports and swimming from all beaches in Costa Rica. Rip tides are very common. There are normally no lifeguards. You should seek reliable local advice. 84 people died in drowning and other beach-related incidents in 2013.

There are regular sightings of crocodiles along the Pacific Coast near beaches popular with surfers (from Playa Azul down to Playa Esterillos) and there have been attacks in recent years.

Sea and river travel

Safety features on small boats are not always of a high standard. If you plan white water rafting, you should arrange this with an established company with experienced instructors.