Lokal's Guide to Costa Rica

By Lokal Team

Pura vida: the pure life.

It’s an adage you’ll hear everywhere from the pink sand beaches on the north side of Playa Conchal to the colorful, musical city streets of San Jose. You’ll soon learn that the simple life is more than just a greeting, a goodbye, or a way to describe when all is well.

Pura vida is a way of life. It’s something you feel when you’re trekking off-the-beaten-path in rural Costa Rica, learning about culture from the locals, and getting lost on a rainforest adventure. Costa Rica will remind you to slow down, take it all in, and connect with the beautiful landscapes and delightful people surrounding you.

Cultural Highlights

If there’s one thing that visitors remember most about Costa Rica – besides the spectacular nature – it’s the Tico people. A colloquial term for Costa Rican nationals, Tico’s are the embodiment of the term pura vida – happy, welcoming, and full of life.

The traditions, customs, and foods of Tico culture are a combination of the ancestral traditions of the indigenous people that inhabited the land before colonization and the cultures that arrived over the course of modern history.

For a taste of traditional Costa Rica, head to a soda to sip a cafecito with the locals and try the typical rice and bean breakfast (aka Gallo Pinto). Better yet, see the coffee culture first-hand with a visit to a coffee growing community and have a traditional Tico dinner with a local family.

Elsewhere in the country, listen for the rhythms of salsa, merengue, cumbia, and bolero. You’ll be enchanted by the calypso beats of charming Caribbean coastal towns like Playa Chiquita, where you can learn to bailar like a local at one of many religious and street festivals happening throughout the year.

When you’re keen to practice your Spanish, get lost in the local markets, where you can interact with long-time vendors that have generations worth of insights into Costa Rican history, people, and life.

A Nature Lover’s Dream

The entirety of Costa Rica is less than 20,000 square miles. But in a space that only accounts for 0.25% of the world’s landmass – small enough to rank among the 100 smallest countries in the world – Costa Rica houses 6% of the world’s biodiversity.

Home to 200 species of mammals, over 400 species of reptile and amphibian, 850 species of birds, 300,000 types of insects, and 1000’s of plant species, this is one of the most biologically diverse places on earth… and a nature lover’s dream destination.

Over the last 40 years, the Costa Rican government has endeavored to impress the principles and practices of conservation on Costa Rican society. Those efforts have transformed the country into a model for sustainable practices across many industries.

With nearly 30% of its landmass protected and countless government programs dedicated to supporting an ethos of conservation, development, and sustainability, Costa Rica has become a go-to destination for sustainable or 'green' travel.

Popular Destinations

From coast to coast, mountain top to river valley, cityscape to rural village, Costa Rica is brimming with spectacular sights and sounds. About the same size as West Virginia, visitors will have no trouble fitting in more than one of these popular destinations in one unforgettable trip.

  • The South Pacific Coast is where you’ll find the Osa Peninsula rainforest. With 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity and the last virgin rainforest on Central America’s Pacific Coast, it’s one of the most impressive parts of Costa Rica, but it’s also one of the less-visited. Here, you have ample opportunities to connect with rural communities, check out unforgettable local wildlife like monkeys and sloths, or trek to Sirena Biological Station in Corcovado National Park.

  • The Pacific coast boasts stunning sunsets, but there’s not much that compares to the warm, turquoise waters of the Caribbean Coast. If easy-going is the pace you’re looking for, soak up some sun from the comfort of a hammock on the beach, or spend your day catching waves at surf spots offering the perfect breaks in the small towns surrounding Puerto Viejo. From this bustling hotspot, head inland to see what traditional life looks like in the indigenous community of Yorkin.

  • Costa Rica is home to over 60 volcanoes and, over the last 50 years, Arenal has earned a reputation as the most impressive. With activities that include daily yoga sessions, adventurous excursions inside the Arenal Volcano National Park, and a chance to relax in the natural thermal hot springs, visit Rancho Margot and get more than just a peak at what was formerly the most active volcano in the country.

  • Costa Rica is full of unique treasures and Monteverde is one you can’t miss. At 5,200 meters above sea level, the Monteverde Cloud Forest still has high levels of humidity. That unique climate creates a cloud-like mist that shrouds the flora and fauna in one of the rarest habitats on earth. For fewer crowds, head to Los Santos Forest Reserve near Los Quetzales National Park, a cloud forest where you can explore over 100 acres of reserve teeming with wildlife, bird life, and a chance to spot the elusive quetzal.

Experiencing the Best of Costa Rica, The Lokal Way

Lokal connects travelers who crave awe-inspiring experiences with local tour operators who have a lifetime of knowledge about Costa Rica and embody the spirit of conservation.

In partnership with local individuals, groups, and communities, we are committed to providing an amazing culturally immersive and sustainable trip. We choose partners that:

  • improve the wellbeing of local communities
  • preserve cultural traditions
  • conserve fragile environments

Whether you’re choosing from our reputable network of a la carte experiences or designing a more personalized travel experience with our custom trip planner, you can do it all with Lokal. But Lokal takes cultural connection one step further with our immersive community experiences.

In stark contrast to mass tourism, the emphasis of community tourism is social, economic, and environmental sustainability. This is a type of local-led tourism wherein individual entrepreneurs and small communities facilitate experiences that are part of their livelihoods, ultimately helping them develop alternative sources of income and a more sustainable future for themselves.

Take, for example, a community that has produced coffee as their primary source of income for generations. With coffee production stagnant in recent years, the community might facilitate coffee tours and set up a separate community lodge and restaurant, giving travelers the chance to actively participate in their daily lives. Engaging with these tourism projects provides the community an opportunity to continue to sustain themselves and even develop.

Community tourism is transforming an industry in which primarily big business and large development projects previously benefited, wherein environmental stewardship is more highly valued, and where travelers can have a positive impact.

On Lokal’s unique day and overnight trips, you’ll gain an understanding of rural and indigenous Costa Rica in a way that few travelers do – and you’ll do it all while empowering local entrepreneurs and communities to maintain control over their land, livelihoods, and traditions.

Lokal’s Top 3 Excursions in Costa Rica

With options that range from kicking back at an eco-lodge to adventuring through the rainforest, our goal is to make amazing sustainable adventures more accessible to travelers.

Looking to get off the beaten path for a two-week immersive experience? Need just a few days to connect with the peace and tranquility of the natural world? Discover more highlights with Lokal’s top 3 excursions in Costa Rica.

#1 Rainforest Ecolodge and Rafting Adventure
This 3-day, 2-night adventure takes you into the heart of the Costa Rican rainforest and out of service for a chance to connect, unwind, and discover. After an adrenaline-filled ride along the spectacular Pacuare River, you’ll arrive at the remote Rios Tropicales Eco-lodge, where you’ll have a chance to discover an array of birds, wildlife, rainforest hikes, and waterfalls.

Your host, Rios Tropicales, is locally-owned, employs a staff that’s 95% local, and are committed to conserving the natural areas they share with their guests.

#2 Tami Lodge and Bio Coffee Adventure
If peace, tranquility, and comfort are your idea of a perfect holiday, a 3-night stay at Tami Lodge gets you off the beaten path with all the amenities you need to unwind and relax. You’ll stay in a spacious, glamping-style bungalow tucked into a quiet corner of the Santos Forest Reserve and surrounded by the natural wonders of Costa Rica.

Your host, Santos Tours, is locally owned, employs a staff that’s 100% local, and provides inspiration, education, and environmental consciousness to more than 70 local families in the LosSantos region.

#3 Natural and Cultural Wonders
Departing from San Jose with flexible departure dates year-round, this 14-day immersive experience gives you a whole two weeks to connect with nature as well as the rural and indigenous communities working to conserve it. From hiking Costa Rica’s mountainous highlands to learning the ancient art of mask carving, you’ll leave with a fuller understanding of Costa Rica’s diverse people and their traditions and natural heritage.

Your host, MARO Experiences, is locally owned, employs a staff that’s 100% local, and supports local and rural communities to grow in a sustainable way.

Best Times to Visit

The Costa Rica dry season runs between mid-December and April. In the North Pacific, temperatures are often well into the 90s, but without the humidity of the Caribbean coast. There, and in the Northern Plains, temperatures consistently hover around the 70s or 80s, with humidity levels making the temps feel even more extreme.

But while you’ll have a chance to soak up days full of heat and sunshine, the dry season coincides with some of the coldest months in North America – making them the peak travel months for Costa Rica.

For fewer tourists and more flexibility in accommodations, the months between May and November are considered the rainy season. In drier areas of the country, afternoon and evening showers last for no longer than a few hours. But along the Caribbean coast, rain is almost constant between September and October.

Safety

A country with universal health care, high literacy rates, and a reputation as one of the most forward-thinking countries when it comes to environmental stewardship, Costa Rica has the highest standard of living and lowest crime rates in Latin America.

Traveling anywhere requires a certain degree of precaution, though. Start with these general safety tips regardless of where in the world you’re travelling next:

  • Do your research. Know where you’re going, areas to avoid, and the safest ways to travel. Check up-to-date travel information and notices with the State Department's website, read reviews, and ask questions when you’re on the ground and unsure about something.

  • Make copies of your travel documentation. Nobody wants to find themselves without a passport when it comes time to head home at the end of their holiday. Make copies of your passport, driver’s license, and other important documentation before you leave.

  • Protect your valuables. Petty theft is a problem in most popular tourist destinations. Ensure your valuables are always in sight and use lockers and safes to lock up things like laptops, phones, jewelry, and travel documentation.

  • Be aware of your surroundings. Use good judgement when talking to new people and don’t wander into areas you aren’t familiar with.

  • Get your phone working. Consider purchasing a local SIM card to stay in touch with family or friends back home, find your way around, and talk to locals using translation services.

  • Food and drinking water (including tap water) is generally safe in Costa Rica, with the exception of some more remote and underdeveloped communities.

  • Before hopping on the plane, talk to your doctor about any recommended vaccinations for Costa Rica. Common vaccinations include Tetanus, Hepatitis A, and Diphtheria, but your doctor will make recommendations based on where you’re traveling and your own personal medical history.

Getting There

The main airport in Costa Rica is Juan Santamaria International Airport, located just outside of San Jose. If you’re heading to the Central Pacific coast, the Caribbean coast, the Southern regions of the country, or to Manuel Antonio, this is the airport to get to.

From the US, there are a number of direct flights taking visitors to San Jose. Departing from hubs such as New York, Los Angeles, Denver, Dallas, Houston, Orlando, and Miami, both major and budget airlines fly here. Look for direct flights in a range of prices from American, United, JetBlue, Spirit, Southwest, and Delta.

Direct flights to San Jose from Canada are available from Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. Both Westjet and Air Canada offer direct flights to this popular destination.

Flying in directly from the UK is also possible, with British Airways leaving from London Gatwick. Elsewhere in Europe, you can catch a connection via Madrid and Paris.

The second busiest airport in Costa Rica is Daniel Oduber International Airport. If you’re looking to access the Guanacaste region and the Nicoya Peninsula, this airport is the gateway.

Plan Your Next Trip With Lokal

We are committed to a unique travel concept that provides unforgettable experiences and also helps preserve cultural tradtions and conserve nature. We look forward to being a part of your next Costa Rica trip!

Lokal Team

From the entire Lokal Team.

Explore Costa Rica!