COSTA RICA BACKPACKING GUIDE
What comes to mind when you think of Costa Rica? Probably dense jungle, spectacular beaches, sparkling lakes and some of the most incredible biodiversity this planet has to offer. If that's the case then you're pretty much right. Our guide will give you the lowdown on all you need to know to get to, navigate and enjoy Costa Rica to its full potential.
UK citizens do not require a visa to visit Costa Rica and you may stay for up to 90 days. Officially, you are required to provide proof of onward travel before being granted entry, but this is rarely enforced. Worse case scenario is that you may be permitted less than 90 days to begin with. You will most likely be asked where you plan on going and how long for, but that's about it.
Entry fee: $0
Exit fee: $8 (£6.15)
Airport exit fee: $29 (£22.30) - Usually included in ticket price.
From Panama (Guabito) - The border crossing between the Costa Rican town of Sixaola and Guabito in Panama once had a pretty shady reputation (like a lot of Central American border crossings). Stories of corruption and "official fees" being relentlessly enforced rang out all across the backpacking community. These days it's perfectly safe, with the exception of the standard, run-of-the-mill border town weirdos harassing tourists.
The main bus will take you as far as the town of Changuinola. You'll then need to change to a collectivo for the 15 minute drive to border - $1.50 (£1.15). You can also take a connecting bus which takes 15 minutes longer and only saves you $0.20 (£0.15). Once dropped off head towards the bridge and turn right to the immigration office. Then, cross over the bridge where you'll find Costa Rican immigration on your left. From there, go down the slope on your right and the bus station is behind the shops. Take a look at the timetable here.
From Nicaragua (Penas Blancas) - Penas Blancas nicely summarises Central America's border towns - music, food, beers and bright coloured buses. After paying your $3 (£2.30) exit fee and passing through security and immigration on your right, cross over the border and repeat the process. The immigration will be straight ahead of you and you'll need to go round to the left hand side entrance. A little further ahead you'll find buses and taxis for your onward travel.
WHAT TO SEE & DO
Jaco is the ultimate chill-out spot. A party town favoured by surfers and beach goers with plenty of bars and restaurants. You can rent jet skis, surfboards or mopeds to go and check out the surrounding jungle.
Hostel recommendation - Room2board hostel is a brand new, no expense spared hostel right on the beach. There's a pool and a bar with activities going on every night. The dorm beds are super comfy, each with their own fan, light and socket. This hostel also has the best WiFi out of any place we've stayed in the last 8 months.
Go Canyoning -
Costa Rica Waterfall Tours are the best agency in Jaco if you want to experience what it's like to rappel down a massive waterfall. They'll pick you up from your hostel and take you in a jeep to a cabin in the jungle for lunch before you begin. You'll rappel down four waterfalls and, if you fancy it, you can jump straight in from heights of up to 75 feet.
San Jose -
Costa Rica's capital offers a great insight into the hundred mile an hour lives of the locals. There are many awesome markets to check out, foods to try and bars to to enjoy. If you're looking to party, El Pueblo is the coolest part of the city.
Corcovado National Park -
This park is a bit of the beaten track in the OSA peninsula but is well worth a visit as it is considered one the richest areas of biodiversity on the planet. Big cats, monkeys, birds and dolphins are some of the animals you can see in their natural habitat.
Manuel Antonio -
This is about as close to paradise as you can get. Miles of perfect beaches to enjoy and thick forest to explore. Awesome relaxing vibes during the day with a very social nightlife scene too.
Tortuguero National Park -
A breeding ground for endangered turtles. What more do we need to say? Baby turtles...
La Fortuna -
Costa Rica at its finest. Wonderful jungle surroundings with beautiful lakes, waterfalls and lagoons. Spend the day hiking through the trails before relaxing in the natural hot springs.
BUDGET & MONEY
By Central American standards, Costa Rica is a little more costly than the rest, but not as expensive as Panama. Like neighbouring Panama though, standards are fairly decent. Costa Rica's currency is the Colon (CRC) and it's exchange rate to GBP is currently around £1=750. You probably could get by with USD if you are only visiting the main tourist spots but you'll get a much less favourable exchange rate when receiving your change in the shops. Plus, the Colons are super bright and colourful.
A double room in a hostel or average hotel will cost about £25-£30 and dorm bed prices range from £8 upwards. There are obviously some cheaper options if you don't mind sacrificing comfort and amenities.
You can spend as much as you want on food. Meals from street vendors start around 1,500 CRC (£2) but if you're looking for European or Asian food you could easily spend as much as you would at home.
If you're planning to partake in some of the activities in Costa Rica, such as canyoning or zip-lining, you'll want to budget a fair bit more. Being more accustomed to the depth of tourist's pockets rather than those of a backpacker, you can expect to pay in excess of $80 and $100 for zip-lining and canyoning respectively.
We were paying, on average, £2 per hour of bus travel. Buses keep to the timetable pretty well and are certainly a step up in comfort from the chicken buses of Guatemala and El Salvador. The vast majority of the tourist routes are well covered by frequent buses.
- Guabito to Limon - 1.5 hours - 3,000 CRC (£4)
- Limon to San Jose - 3 hours - 4,425 CRC (£5.90)
- San Jose to Jaco - 2 hours - 2,550 CRC (£3.40)
- Jaco to Liberia - 3 hours - 5,350 CRC (£7.15)
- Liberia to Penas Blancas - 1.5 hours - 2,150 CRC (£2.90)
Costa Rica is widely considered to be one of the safest countries in Central America. People are extremely friendly and helpful. As with any destination on the backpacker trail you need to keep a sharp eye on your belongings on buses and in and around stations, cities and major attractions as petty crime and bag theft is always a concern. Try to avoid being out alone after dark and only use registered taxis which staff in most bars, clubs and restaurants will call for you.
Final thing; make sure to have these numbers saved in your phone -
- Police: 911
- Ambulance/Fire: 128/118
- Tourist Police: +506 2750 0452
- Your Embassy (UK): +506 2258 2025