Wanderlust readers’ tips on Costa Rica

From where to see wild sloths to the best hikes and romantic experiences, hundreds of readers responded when we asked for recommendations for Costa Rica

Team Wanderlust
07 March 2021

What to pack

Pack binoculars (Shutterstock)

Factor 50.

– Michael Butler

Get some good mosquito repellent.

– Julie Clark

Carry a light weight jacket… Rain can suddenly appear as if from nowhere.

– Mark Blyth

Take a good pair of binoculars; the wildlife and birdlife are phenomenal.

– Lloyd Booth

Take a bloomin’ brolly!

– Spencer Macdonald

Take a pocket dictionary with you, just in case. Useful!

– Jo Gomis

Take a good camera or smartphone with a high quality lens. The landscape is stunning so you wouldn’t want to miss an opportunity to catch some fantastic scenery.

– Gayatri Gogoi

Take sensible walking shoes as you don’t want to miss the scenery, and believe me, you can’t do it in flip flops.

– Rachael White

Where to see sloths

A sloth (Shutterstock)

I saw a sloth in Cahuita National Park.

– Julianne Joyce

Visit Santuario de Perezosos de Costa Rica, a sloth sanctuary 🙂

– Bethany Bramhall

Sloths are amazing but can be hard to see so look really carefully – don’t miss a night hike if you get the chance, I saw a lot.

– Sue Cobley

Manuel Antonio National Park is full of amazing creatures. We saw birds, monkeys and long trails of very busy ants carrying leaves. The highlight for me was sloths dangling from the trees. The park gets very busy, especially at weekends, but is well worth a visit. When planning your trip just bear in mind that the park is closed on Mondays.

– Alison Lawrence

Do not miss Monteverde Cloud Forest. You could see a sloth in the wild, that’s right, this is not a drill! I signed up for a jungle night trek and we courageously ventured into the forest in the dark and saw tarantulas in their burrows, flying glow bugs, snakes and then, just as we were giving up hope of seeing a sloth, our guide told us to look up. Straight above us was the biggest ball of fuzz I had ever seen. A mamma sloth! She had the most beautiful silly face and fuzzy butt, naturally I did what any self-respecting 27-year-old would do: I cried like a baby. It was a truly magical experience which should be high on everyone’s bucket lists!

– Daisy Dyke

I saw a sloth really close up on a night hike in La Fortuna.

– Christine Jones

Where to see sealife

Turtles in Costa Rica (Shutterstock)

Visit Drake Bay in August for the most amazing humpback whale watching! I also did a fascinating night walk bug tour and saw various frogs and spiders. And of course gallo pinto for breakfast. Costa Rica, pura vida!

– Anna Young

Visit San Lucas island, a former prison on one of two islands in the Gulf of Nicoya. The prison’s interesting history and archaeological sites contrast with waters filled with tropical fish, dolphins, hammerhead sharks and sea turtles.

– Mimi Lichtenstein

Don’t miss Tortuguero National Park, which is accessible only by boat. You drive to the embarkation point through mile upon mile of banana plantations. Once you arrive there are plenty of opportunities for wildlife watching both on treks and by boat. There are many creeks and lagoons to explore and the range of wildlife is amazing. Guides can be arranged to take you to see the turtles coming ashore to lay eggs by night. Don’t forget your waterproofs – it rains most days.

– Fiona Hyde

Tortuguero National Park is the best place to see turtles at night. If you take photos, make sure your flash is off so you don’t confuse them.

– Ana Acuna

Where to relax

Chill out in Puerto Viejo (Phortun/Shutterstock)

Make sure you visit Puerto Viejo but be prepared for a laidback and relaxed pace of life. Go with the flow and enjoy the locality.

– Gerri Tennant

Nicoya Peninsula on the northern Pacific coast. It’s relatively pristine and relaxing on the dark sands is a must.

– Mark Symons

For a truly unforgettable experience, take a boat transfer from Golfito to Golfo Dulce in the heart of the Costa Rica rainforest to relax and unwind at the excellent and eco friendly Playa Cativo Lodge. You can see the best of Costa Rica’s fauna and flora not forgetting the outstanding views from the lodge gardens which also supply guests with daily produce.

– David Brierley

Go at any time to this wonderful destination. You are guaranteed to have a great time. The scenery is wonderful and the people are so very friendly you will wonder why you haven’t visited before and will want to extend your holiday.

– Anthony Green

How to mingle with locals

A local craftsman (Wollertz/Shutterstock)

Having cycled twice across Costa Rica from west to east, using local guides with biking experience is essential to have a successful, fantastic cycling adventure.

– Ian Major

Use local buses to get an authentic feel of the people and places instead of too much travel in a private vehicle.

– Cheron Titus

In Limon province on the Caribbean coast is a village in the jungle called Pandora. A local biologist lives there with his family and has small houses where you can stay for free; in exchange you plant trees and help build trails in the jungle. I planted a lemon tree in 2014 and this year it grew its first lemons. An amazing experience.

– Ewa Treszczotko

Try to learn some of the local language, you will be surprise how far it can get you.

– Sue Cook

How to save money

Gallo pinto, aka rice and beans (Shutterstock)

Dress scruffily through the airport; you’ll receive a lot less hassle from touts this way.

– Mark Adamson

To save money, eat plates of gallo pinto at small family-run places. Pay for groceries and other small purchases with the local currency (colon) and travel during low season (aka the rainy season) for reduced room rates. If you’re eating out, be aware that a 10 per cent service charge and 13 per cent tax is added to most restaurant bills so budget accordingly.

– Carol Thomas

Where to try the local produce

Guanabana (Shutterstock)

Costa Rican fruit is the best! Guanabana is in plentiful supply. The fruit market in San Jose on a Saturday morning is fab. Not to be missed.

– Alison Berrieman

Don Juan Coffee Tour in Monteverde was beyond my expectations. You get a tour of the plantation, learn about the whole coffee production process, pick your own coffee beans and sample fresh local coffee.

– Tony Clifford

Where to walk or hike

Cerro Chirripo (Shutterstock)

Costa Rica’s highest peak, Cerro Chirripó, is a must. It’s a really long hard trek to the top but seeing the Pacific and the Caribbean is a great enough reward.

– Sue Beardwell

Go to Montezuma in Puntarenas province and walk from the small centre to the waterfall through the forest. Capuchin monkeys are often spotted there and the waterfall’s bottom pool is lovely for a swim.

– Helen Harjak

Bogarin Trail in La Fortuna is easily accessible from the centre of town so no car is needed. It has great guides and when you buy a tour you get free admission to the park for the rest of your trip so try to go on your first day; it’s a lovely place to just wander around first thing in the morning.

– Claire Walsh

Catarata Escondida in Rincon de la Vieja National Park. After the four-hour or so hike to get there you come to an open air waterfall but if you follow the trail another 100m or so you come to a waterfall completely hidden among the forest. Our tour group had Christmas lunch there in 2019 and it was magical. I also recommend Corcovada National Park on the Osa peninsula, where our tour saw in the new year.

– Edmund Murray

Experiences not to be missed

Ziplining in Costa Roca (Shutterstock)

Horseride down the beach in Corcovado National Park.

– Amelia Slinger

Go to San Gerardo de Dota and the Savegre River – Eden revisited! And you might get a glimpse of the fabulous resplendent quetzal.

– Isobel Buckley

Esquinas Rainforest Lodge is an amazing place to stay and it supports local community projects to preserve the surrounding rainforest in Piedras Blancas National Park.

– M Youngman

I recommend visiting Monteverde Cloud Forest. You can easily get lost there but the experience and the views are unbelievable. It has high trees, all green and brown, and animals that you have not seen before. This is a must.

– Raquel Fernandez Segura

See wildlife, Arenal volcano and go zipwiring! Do a nightwalk and let the guides take amazing pictures. For a day out chilling on the beach after all the adrenaline, Tamarindo is stunning and you can watch surfers. The food and bars there don’t disappoint.

– Emma Wolski

For memories that will last a lifetime, white water raft to Pacuare Lodge, which is exhilarating and scenic. The lodge is outstanding. Be sure to have a romantic dinner in the treehouse there, which is only accessible by zipwire.

– Karen Vaquero

If you have to sell your grandmother, do it, but do not miss a few days on Osa peninsula. Most tour companies don’t include it because of the boat/plane journey but it’s simply the most beautiful, quiet and friendly place with abundant wildlife. I’d also recommend you fly one way and get the boat the other way so you see as much as possible from the sky and sea.

– Julia Pollock

Hire a car and take a road trip. Driving in Costa Rica can be expensive and a bit scary, but it is absolutely worth the extra cost and it turns a holiday into an unforgettable adventure. Some of the roads can be rather ‘exciting’ – such as Cerro de la Muerte (aka the mountain of death) – but this is all part of the experience. Best of all, it gives you the freedom to visit loads of cool, off-the-beaten-track places at your own pace, for that ultimate sense of pura vida.

– Caroline Lywood

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