Costa Rica is “Pura Vida”. An expression used by locals in all sorts of situations that means everything is great, full of life and so on … But they are right, Costa Rica is very green, very wild, full of animals, beach and adventure … Lots of life! 25% of the country’s territory is Parks and Natural reserves and it is the richest country in wildlife and also perhaps one of the greenest countries we have seen in the world.

The thing here is the ecotourism: nature hike to see wild animals, surfing in the beach and adventure sport. If this is not your style this might not be your destination. For beach lovers often there is some disappointment, because the Caribbean Coast is not like the paradisiac beaches you see on postcards. It’s a wilder style beach with dark sand and dark water, but it also has its charm.

But Costa Rica is also one of the most developed countries in Central America, very Americanized and therefore has higher cost. Having fun here has a price.

What was worth it: The Caribbean reggae vibe of Puerto Viejo and Cahuita, the mountain climate of Monteverde and the relaxing hideaway Tortuguero.
What we wanted to do but we didn’t: Corcovado National Park to see the big wild animals that you only find out there (like the Puma, the 3 types of anteaters and the tapirs), a beach of the Nicoya Peninsula in the Pacific (such as Sámara or Santa Teresa) and a visit to Carara National Park to see the colonies of Scarlet Macaws and many other birds.

A few tips:

  • TRANSPORTATION: The public transport system is one of the worst we’ve seen to date. Simply because there aren’t many options of long-distance buses, except from San Jose, and for that to move between some points you may have to do up to 3 connections, some of which means getting out in the middle of a highway or a street to wait for another bus that goes to your destination. Also many bus routes aren’t frequent and connection schedules do not match, causing waiting hours between buses. To optimize your displacement use this website to search the bus schedules and connections. The best part: the heat is horrible and most of the buses do not have air conditioning, so be prepared to sweat a lot. Because of the bad system many companies offer minivan shuttles between most touristic spots, some are worth it (as the one connecting Monteverde and Arenal), but others are just too expensive. For sure the easiest way is to travel by car because the country is small, but this can get pretty expensive.
  • NATIONAL PARKS: The major attraction in Costa Rica is the national parks to admire the wildlife. As the transport system is bad and moving independently is not so simple, plan your itinerary before going to not miss the best (which happened in our case). The best options of National Parks for us: 1 – Corcovado National Park (in Osa Peninsula), because the main animals you will see there you will not find in any other park, 2 – Tortuguero National Park (on the Caribbean coast) but search for the right season for the sea turtles nesting or birth and 3 – Carara National Park (near Puntarenas) to see the colonies of birds, mainly of scarlet macaws. There are also other parks that many tourists are satisfied and if they are in your way it may worth the stop: Cahuita National Park, Manuel Antonio National Park, Caño Negro National Park and Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas de Guanacaste (the latter also for the turtles season).
  • WITH GUIDE OR WITHOUT GUIDE?: If you love to admire wild animals in the nature do not even think about visiting a national park without a guide. This will be your best investment. Many of the animals have natural camouflage and are very good at hiding. Your eyes are not prepared to find them and with a guide you will increase your success in finding them in 300%.
  • PANAMA TO MEXICO: If you just want to cross Central America inexpensively there is a bus service called Tica Bus, which takes you from Panama City to Chiapas in southern Mexico. The trip takes 5 days and all nights in the capital of each country you must pay for your accommodation. The total cost is USD 133 in tourist class and 172 USD in business class. But you can also buy just the sections between 2 countries, 3 countries, etc … Any section in their itinerary.
Our itinerary (20 days)

We crossed the border from Panama and Costa Rica in Sixaola, in the Caribbean coast and our first stop was in Puerto Viejo for 3 days, from where we also visited Manzanillo. Then we went to Cahuita for 2 days and then spent five days visiting friends in San Jose. From there we went to Tortuguero, in the Caribbean coast for 2 days and then crossed to the Pacific Coast to visit other friends in Jacó. From Jacó we went to Monteverde to spend 3 days and then we took the shuttle to Arenal, from where we left by bus to the border with Nicaragua, in Peñas Blancas.

The best of the country

Best period

Average spent/day
  • 80,00 – 100,00 US$ for the couple

Must-see places

  • The reggae vibe of Puerto Viejo
  • Corcovado National Park to see the best of the wildlife
  • Tortuguero National Park during the marine turtle of nesting or birth
  • Monteverde to enjoy the mountain climate and a lots of adventure

Amazing experiences

  • To admire all the different wildlife in the beautiful nature of the country
  • To see closely the super cute sloths at the sanctuary of Cahuita, which is almost impossible in the nature