Costa Rica Travel Guide
Costa Rica is such an incredible country with so much culture, beauty and of course amazing weather! It’s a travel destination that constantly gets recommended, now I see why! Being surrounded by nature for 5 incredible days I cannot say enough about why Costa Rica should be on your travel bucket list! With tons of opportunities to enjoy nature, encounter wildlife, the laid back Pura Vida vibes, and of course photo ops you’re guaranteed to start booking your return trip as soon as you get home.
This detailed Costa Rica travel guide covers what to expect, how to get around, places to stay, where to eat and of course what to pack for your trip! As a black woman I also like to be prepared when traveling to new destinations. I want to get the most bang for my buck while still indulging in maximum enjoyment! My detailed 5-day intinerary shares how we made the most of our time in La Fortuna and Jaco Costa Rica so you can too!
What to Know Before You Go to Costa Rica
Language: the offical language of Costa Rica is Spanish. Most of the restuarants and shops in the touristy areas speak English however if you do plan to use UBER like we did expect that some of your drivers won’t speak English at all.
Currency: the Costa Rican Coló is the official currency in Costa Rica. Many places accept major credit cards. I suggest bringing a small amount of cash to tip at restaurants that may not have the option to write a tip in.
Best time to visit: anywhere from December-April is the best time to visit Costa Rica because it’s the dry season. You can expect temperatures to be between 70-90 degrees F. Be warned that even in the dry season there can still be rain especially in the rain forest areas but most storms pass within the hour.
How to Get Around Costa Rica: there are two camps when it comes to getting around Costa Rica-car rental or shuttle service. If you like to be on your own schedule, have a good phone plan and don’t mind driving in a new country rental cars are a great option, From what I’ve read there can be a lot of hidden fees when booking a rental for Costa Rica due to their insurance policies. With that in mind my friend and I relied on shuttle services and UBER to get around. I would recommend using My Day Trip and if you’re able request Luis A. G. M. He was so kind, funny and a wealth of information!
The 5 Day Itinerary
Where to Stay in La Fortuna
The real question you’re probably asking is: should I use Air BnB or book a hotel? Air BnBs are still a budget friendly option for lodging in La Fortuna. Keep in mind La Fortuna is not a 1st world country so a lot of the options will most likely not have A/C or some of the usual amenities you might be used to in Air BnBs in more develeped countries. Since we planned to be out most of the day my bestie and I skipped the nice hotel and booked this Air BnB. Truly it was a place to lay our heads and shower but the waterfall pool was perfect for relaxing + photo ops. If you don’t mind spending more on lodging and want luxurious amenities I truly recommend splurging on the Springs Resort and Spa. I know Tabacon comes highly recommended but all the on sight excursion options makes the Springs a better deal in my opinion compared to Tabacon.
What to Do in La Fortuna
La Fortuna is hands down the one place in Costa Rica I feel like you have to see. Nestled in the middle of Costa Rica there’s so much to do in this little oasis. With so much to do it can be hard to decide what to do. Another reason it can be difficult is because a lot of the must see sites are not close to each other or to downtown La Fortuna. As you’re building out your itinerary and choosing how to get around make sure you add extra time for travel plus unexpected stops. While we were able to squeeze everything in we wanted to in such a short time it can feel rushed. If you really want maximum enjoyment add an extra day where possible and thank me later! Here are the things I recommend doing in La Fortuna:
- Visit a waterall. The two popular options are La Fortuna Waterfall and Rio Celeste. Both are pictureque and deep in the rainforest. One thing many blogs fail to mention is that to get to either of these you have to hike 500 steps. If you’re short on time hit up the La Fortuna Waterfall. I loved this one because you’re actually able to get in at the waterfall instead of down stream at Rio Celeste. Being able to do that you really got to feel it’s force. Also keep in mind that the water is going to be COLD so you probably won’t spend as much time in the water as you anticipate. For pics honestly don’t worry about getting there early, in fact so many people go early now it’s crowded. We went mid day and to see how packed it was around that time watch my vlog. Plus people are nice enough to move out of the way if you ask nicely.
- Walk the Arenal Hanging Bridges. For the adventurous, animal lover this is the perfect excursion. You need to buy tickets for this in advance, get your tickets here. Not only do you get incredible views from the treetops in the rainforest, there are tons of animal spotting opportunities. We saw snakes, monkeys and this cute ringtailed animal, see it in my vlog. Everyone says to skip the tour guides but if you really want to see the widelife I suggest getting one because they have telescopes to see the animals better as well as lazer pointers so you can see exactly where things are.
- Relax in the hot springs. Did you even go to Costa Rica if you didn’t go to a hot water spring? There are so so many options depending on your budget but truthfully I wholeheartedly say to splurge for The Springs Resort and Spa. It’s a little out of the way but for the same price as one day at Tabacon you can get a two day pass PLUS you’re able to be on the grounds earlier and later than Tabacon. If you’re worried about the photo ops, don’t because as you can see there wasn’t a shortage of places to capture an iconic hot springs in the rain forest pic here.
- Whitewater tubing or rafting. Costa Rica boasts of the best rafting in the world. The great thing is there are tons of options for different levels. If you’re looking for something tame check out a Class 1 or 2, for more of a thrill try a Class 3 or 4. My bestie really wanted to do this and thanks to the onsite options at the Springs Resort we were able to squeeze this before heading to Jaco.
***A warning about the Sloth Tours- so many blogs recommend these however a lot of the sloth tours are actually people who have removed the sloths from the wild to put them on their grounds which is why it’s actually so much harder to see them in the wild over the years. If you do really want to see sloths do your research on the facilities to ensure that it’s an ethically run business.
Where to Eat in La Fortuna
There was no shortage of great food in Costa Rica. Even my bestie who is an extremely picky eater was pleasantly surprised with all the places we stumbled across. If you’re in La Fortuna here are my top recommendations on where to eat:
- Red Frog Roasters: this place not only has amazing coffee but delicious options for breakfast like pancakes to lunch with more traditional dishes like Casado.
- The Springs Resort: not techinically a restaurant but the breakfast buffet was EVERYTHING! Build your own omelettes, oatmeal, fresh pressed juices, lattes all for under $20 per person, like I said this resort turned out to bless us in a lot of ways this trip.
- Don Rufinos: this place is on the pricier side but was worth every penny. It offers an upscale take on local favorites and crafted cocktails that were just as delicious as they were strong. It’s worth every star it’s earned in the reviews.
Where to Stay in Jaco
If you’re looking to get the most out of Jaco I highly recommend staying at a beach side hotel. Having a place to grab free breakfast after staying out way past your bedtime is truly an underrated blessing. We stayed at the Croc’s Resort and Casino since it was one of the hotels offered on the Chase portal, which meant extra points! And no this isn’t sponsored, but I have joined the points side and I am lowkey mad I’m this late to the game. Beyond free breakfast the Croc’s Resort also has a coffe shop on sight with delicious lattes and pastries. Plus their pool is open to the public so midday it becomes the perfect pool party vibes!
What to Do in Jaco
Jaco is very much a traditional beach town. Early in the morning not much is happening, a couple runners on the beach or early beach side horseback rides. Around the afternoon things really get popping. The beaches fill, the music swells and the drinks start flowing. If you’re looking for some fun things to do in Jaco here is what I recommend:
- Hit the beach. A very obvious option but it’s definitely a must for me whenever I go to a beach destination. Jaco Beach is where the crowd hangs out to soak up the rays and enjoy calmer waters.
- Jaco Walk. For some shopping and delicous food this is the place to go. It’s not really big so don’t think you’ll spend all day here but it’s a great early afternoon activity before laying out at the beach.
- Enjoy a pool party. Why go to a party town if not to party? Jaco Blu is one of the places to go, however as of December 2022 it’s under construction due to reopen later in 2023. Croc’s Resort has a DJ and poolside bar plus volleyball and basketball. It turns into a pretty fun place to drink and dance the afternoon away.
- Check out the nightlife. Jaco boasts of being a great party town, however if you’re a POC and a woman this statement should definitely come with an asterick. After a lot of research as to who would play our kind of music Orange Pub came up as one of the top places along with Le Loft. Orange Pub does play the hits as well as local and reggae music. One thing I was surprised by was how similar to Miami the crowd was in terms of body modification and dressed in terms of nakedness. It was a bit of a culture shock because while your girl doesn’t mind a scantily clad fit, I just wasn’t expecting so much brazenness here. So keep that in mind. It was recommended by a few bloggers that if you want to differentiate yourself from locals or night walkers a lot of people suggest to dress more casually i.e. jeans. You can see what my bestie and I wore on the vlog!
Where to Eat in Jaco
I won’t lie in Jaco we relied heavily on the amenities at Croc’s Resort which is another reason I’m really glad we sprung to stay here. Their on site coffee shop El Cafetal satisfied my caffeine needs while their complimentary breakfast had the most flavorful and filling avocado toast I’ve had. If you’re looking for some dining options outside of the hotel here’s where I recommend.
- Graffiti Restro Cafe + Wine Bar: when I say this was my favorite meal of the whole trip! Not only was the food perfectly seasoned and cooked, the drinks were delicious and vibes top tier.
- The Green Room: while they do serve food here my bestie and I weren’t impressed HOWEVER the drinks! I don’t know where they found the mixologist they have but not only were they esthetically pleasing, the were so well paired. This is a great place to pregame, take in the live music then head out to the clubs because a lot of clubs won’t have drinks like this.
What to Pack for Costa Rica
During the peak season December-April the temps can vary from 70 to 90 depeding on where in Costa Rica you plan to be. In La Fortuna and other rain forest areas the temps will be on the low side and you can expect it to be cloudy with a few showers here and there. The beach towns like Jaco will be on the higher side with the sun SHINING all day long. With that and the excursions in mind here is what I suggest you pack for Costa Rica:
- Bug Spray and Sunscreen- thank me later for reminding you! In the rainforest there will be mosquitos especially at lower elevations and around water so please remember to bring bug spray. Even in the jungle but especially for the beach pack sunscreen so you don’t burn.
- Swim suits– at the bare minimum bring at least 2, one that you can wear for any water activities and another with the tan lines you want but honestly I packed one for every day.
- Water shoes– another thank me later moment, for the waterfalls there will be rocks so pack a pair of water shoes to save your feet.
- Cover ups– this is based off your personal preference but think oversized button ups, kaftans, or if you want to maximize your swim suit cute pants or skirts. Think things you can easily pack and hike or that will work for going to dinner after a beach day.
- Shorts– if you’re prone to chaffing like me I suggest you pack spanx style shorts and cute linen shorts to wear when you’re out exploring.
- Dresses- think everyday ones as well as one or two for a night out. I like to pack breathable maxi styles for exploring that can be worn to dinner or a slip style dress for the club.
- Hats- when you’re near the equator that sun just hits different so don’t rely on just your sunscreen, pack a hat to protect yourself also!
- Hiking shoes/sandals- for checking out the bridges to walking around in the city pack a pair of shoes or sandals that are comfortable to walk in all day
- Rain Coat/Umbrella– even in the dry season pack a rain coat to protect you while checking out the sites if it rains randomly, which it will.
If you want some outfit ideas to inspire your packing list for Costa Rica, then keep your eye out for my post on everything I wore in Costa Rica coming Wednesday!
Shop My Packing List
Hopefully you found this detailed Costa Rica travel guide helpful. I know it can seem a little overwhelming as a woman, especially of color, to travel to certain destination because you don’t know how you’ll be treated. I felt both safe and welcomed in all the spaces my bestie and I went to. If you’re looking to see even more then watch my Costa Rica Travel vlog to get a better look at each of these places plus a look at what I’m like to travel with! For even more travel guides and destination idea see my other travel blog posts. To get some vacation outfit inspiration stay tuned for my post on Everything I Wore in Costa Rica or see my other vacation fits.
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