Costa Rica, along with its biggest city San Jose, is a frequent travel destination for people who long for beautiful sights, interactions with diverse wildlife, and a friendly, welcoming culture. But for a first-timer, the planning process can be overwhelming.
Things to do in San Jose—and Costa Rica overall—are so abundant that you might not know where to start. That’s why we’ve compiled this guide for how to get the most out of your Costa Rica vacation.
Time Your Trip Appropriately
Costa Rica is an incredibly popular destination for North Americans interested in a warm winter getaway; accordingly, hotels tend to book quickly around December, January, and February. If you plan on using Costa Rica as a warm getaway from the cold winter months, make sure you plan well in advance. Similarly, spring break tends to spike travel populations to Costa Rica. Otherwise, you can travel during the off season and find more availability—and possibly, a discount on your stay.
Check Out the Museums in San Jose
San Jose is home to a number of interesting museums. For example, there’s the Museo del Jade Marco Fidel Tristán Castro, founded in 1977. It’s an archaeological museum dedicated to preserve Costa Rica’s heritage—and it has the world’s largest collection of American jade, with more than 7,000 pieces on display overall. There’s also the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, an unusual attraction built under the Plaza de la Cultura. It has more than 1,600 gold artifacts from the pre-Columbian era (500CE-the 16th Century CE). The Plaza de la Cultura itself is a gigantic square in the heart of San Jose, which links up to Juan Mora Fernandex Square, which is home to the National Theatre.
Consider Planning a Tour in Advance
In Costa Rica, English is commonly spoken, and getting around is quite easy. Still, it’s helpful to take a guided tour (or two) to learn about some of the most interesting parts of the city. Guided tours can also help you save money, especially if you purchase them as part of a package deal.
Prepare for Wet Weather
Costa Rica is a wet country, with tons of rain, so be prepared. The country’s dry season, stretching from December to April, is still known for its frequent and heavy downpours. If you visit the country during wet season, you should be prepared for heavy rain and floods to interfere with at least some of your plans. In fact, some hotels and restaurants near the Pacific Coast actually close down during the wet season, reopening only when the dry season returns.
Learn Some Spanish
It’s true that English is commonly spoken throughout Costa Rica and especially in San Jose, so you can probably get by no matter what, but it’s in your best interest to learn a bit of Spanish. Not only will it allow you to have more fluid conversations with the local population, it will also help you establish a reputation with the people you meet; depending on the situation, you may experience a warmer welcome, or you may get some negotiating power.
Venture Into the Rainforests
Costa Rica alone holds 4.5 percent of the entire world’s biodiversity, and 25 percent of its national territory is made up of rainforests. Try not to leave the country without venturing into at least one of the rainforest and dry forest destinations the country has to offer. Some of the most popular areas include the Arenal Volcano area, Monteverde, the Central Pacific rainforests, and Guanacaste National Park. Just make sure you have a solid understanding of the environment of each of these areas before venturing in on your own—and don’t take unnecessary risks.
Consider Venturing Out
If you’re already in Costa Rica, consider traveling to a nearby Central American country like Nicaragua and Panama. Traveling from one of these countries to the other is easy, and if you already know some Spanish, you should have no trouble making the transition. That said, Nicaragua and Panama each have a rich cultural history of their own, well worth experiencing.
Beware of Pickpockets and Scams
Costa Rica has become an incredibly popular tourist destination, and like with most tourist destinations, there are risks of pickpocketing and scams. Make sure to guard your personal belongings closely in heavily populated areas, and be aware of common scams run on tourists in the area.
With a warm climate, beautiful rainforest scenery, and a culturally rich capital city in San Jose, Costa Rica remains one of the most popular destinations in Central America. If you’re looking to make it the focus of your next vacation, start learning Spanish, and if you’re hoping to travel during the dry season, start making your reservations now!