Backpackers in Costa Rica are in good company as thousands of them travel to this intriguing country each year. It offers so much for the budget traveller. Unlike many commercial destinations, this nation offers beauty instead of luxury. There’s so much to see and do for very low prices. Here are some favourite destinations for people who don’t want to spend a lot of money on holiday.
This is perhaps the most popular destination on the Caribbean coast. It’s a big party atmosphere and you can find something going on every night of the week. If the dancing and the live music isn’t your thing, or you need to sleep off a hangover, there are quiet beach hotels isolated from the rest of the town.
Not every backpacker enjoys guzzling bottles of brightly coloured alcohols all night. Cahuita is the town for travellers who want to relax. It’s a small town located next to the Cahuita National Park. It’s only about an hour from Puerto Viejo yet the atmosphere couldn’t be more different.
You’ll only find a grand total of one bar in town and it’s never full. Most travellers prefer to lie around and read or go hiking throughout the forests surrounding the town.
Tortuguero is teeming with wildlife of all kinds. It’s on the northern coast and is the country’s version of the Amazon. Throughout April and May you can observe Green Sea Turtles coming to nest on the beaches. If you arrive during the off-season, you can still spot and array of colourful animal and plant life. The river cruises and hiking trips are inexpensive and leave the various settlements on a daily basis.
Corcovado National Park
If you want to put in some effort, visit the Corcovado National Park. This remote area is in the southwest of the country on the Osa Peninsula. It’s more popular than ever, but tourist numbers are still low. The biggest difficulty is actually getting to the park. Once you arrive here, you’ll be treated to isolated beaches, the best hiking in Costa Rica, and rare animals on land and in the crystal clear waters off the peninsula.
Backpackers in Costa Rica should consider booking many of these trips in advance. Since a lot of the attractions are remote you can get the best deals by booking a few months before you’re set to leave. Consider arriving during the rainy season as there are less tourists and you’ll encounter a whole other set of wildlife in the jungles and waters of this Central American paradise.
Kids are welcome in Costa Rica. There’s a whole other meaning to the word ‘family’ in this country. Ticos consider it an essential part of life and they’ll happily go out of their way to help younger travellers. Costa Rica is a country you can take your offspring to without feeling unsafe. Here are some of the things we’ve picked out for children travelling to this tropical nation.
The Best Beach
Kids in Costa Rica should stay away from the beaches near San Jose. They have questionable levels of cleanliness due to their proximity to the big city. Puerto Viejo de Talamanca on the Caribbean side is a very clean beach with the utmost privacy. The tranquil waters don’t have any dangerous hidden currents and the sand is so pure it’s almost pink.
The nearby town has plenty of accommodation and eateries too!
The Las Musas water park in San Ramon is a water park with a distinct absence of tourists. It’s a favourite amongst the local Tico population, though. Make sure you get here early to grab a table and a bench, otherwise prepare to sit on the ground. There’s a large pool and a smaller kiddie pool, along with a large waterslide.
What stands out about this park is the 300-foot waterfall used to recycle the water. There’s no chlorine and no salt in the water, yet the water is still pristine. It’s an object of wonder as well as a practical addition to the park.
Great Public Parks
In San Jose, the best park to visit is the busy La Sabana Park. It has something for everyone in the area. There’s a big pond with lots of ducks playing in the middle. A new National Stadium was built on the grounds. It consists of baseball fields, a swimming pool, football fields, and playgrounds. The National Art museum is on the edge of the grounds and is free to enter on Sundays.
For the sheer number of attractions this gets a spot on this list.
It’s risky to take your child on a long road trip, but if they can handle it take the road from the Central Valley to Orosi Valley. There are so many attractions to enjoy along the way. Split it into two days with an overnight stay in Orosi or do it in one full day. The biggest (literally) attraction is the Irazu Volcano. This 9,000-foot behemoth provides awesome views over the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean from the summit.
Visit the Santiago Apostol Parish ruins. This famous church was destroyed by earthquakes which destroyed the town of Cartago. Cartago was once the capital until 1823.
The roads are well-travelled, and therefore safer, and the attractions are all family friendly, whilst offering enough to keep kids in Costa Rica interested.
Kids at Shaka
All of our surf and adventure activities can be tailored to suit all abilities and ages over 6. Contact us for more details. Unfortunately due to our intense surf & yoga instruction programs and the retreats small and intimate size, we do not offer packages to children under the age of 6.
During your trip to Costa Rica you can expect to have to deal with a lot of different people. Ticos are usually informal, peaceful, and always willing to help. Social conventions aren’t as strict in Costa Rica. Either way, you should still act in the correct manner so you make a good first impression. Here are some tips on etiquette in Costa Rica to endear yourself to the locals.
A strange quirk of Costa Rican culture is the fact everything is informal until you start drilling into speech. Ticos will always use formal terms in conversation. When they’re addressing a visitor like you, you’ll be referred to using ‘usted’. They only use the more informal friendly term ‘vos’ for friends and members of their own family.
When you greet someone or say goodbye you should say ‘pura vida’. It’s used as a way to say hello, goodbye, or just to fill space in a conversation. Both sexes will always shake hands. Hugs are generally reserved for family members and friends. At the same time, you should keep a respectful distance and avoid invading their personal space. Stop by our Facebook page and say Pura Vida!
Etiquette in Costa Rica starts to get strange, from a tourist’s point of view, when it comes to confrontation. Ticos will do practically anything to avoid confrontation. They don’t want to offend anyone. Remember, this is a country which takes peace so seriously it abolished the armed forces.
Sometimes, a Tico will give you the wrong directions to your destination simply because they don’t want to tell you they have no idea where you’re trying to reach. The attitude isn’t about achieving the best in customer satisfaction. It’s about maintaining high standards and reducing the risk of upsetting anyone.
Dress to Impress
Costa Rican men will only wear short trousers if they happen to be on the beach. It’s common to see them wear thin shirts with an open neck and long trousers anywhere else. Costa Rican women will show skin wherever they happen to be, which usually leads to catcalls and whistling. This is accepted in Costa Rica, so female visitors shouldn’t get too upset when it happens.
Either way, if you’re visiting local families or sacred sites you should always dress conservatively. You don’t want to risk offending anyone, even though confrontation in Costa Rica will never go past the passive aggressive stage. Check our packing tips for more information on what to bring on your trip to Costa Rica.
If you’re planning on visiting someone, you should never worry about being late. Punctuality isn’t a Costa Rican strong point. In fact, most people will actually arrive anywhere from five minutes to an hour after the appointed time. They have a word for it, ‘Tico Time’.
Generally, this doesn’t apply to public transport and tour operators. These are very timely and you should aim to arrive at your destination at the arranged time.
It’s always handy to know something about the country you’re visiting before you actually get there. Even if most of the conventions don’t apply to you, it’s good to know as much about your destination as possible. These facts about Costa Rica focus on life and traditions. You might find some of them strange, or completely eye-opening as some of them directly contrast with what we believe in countries like the UK and the US.
It’s common for parents to give two-year-old children coffee. This seems mad as surely it’s just going to keep them up at night? It doesn’t because Ticos live a highly active lifestyle so the caffeine usually doesn’t affect them.
Ticos don’t wait around to embalm you or for your relatives to pick out a nice casket. They put you in the ground on the same day. Your obituary comes out after you’ve been buried. Costa Ricans are very laidback even when it comes to death.
Costa Ricans are naturally short. You’ll find nearly every piece of furniture outside of holiday resorts to be about six to eight inches lower than an average piece of furniture found in the USA. Tall and comfortably round people will have problems getting up out of chairs in a standard Tico family home.
For all the country’s natural beauty, there’s still a lot of people who shun the benefits of good health. To illustrate this, most cigarette brands will cost you less than $2. McDonald’s, Burger King, and other major fast food chains also do home delivery. Now you don’t even have to leave your house to get fat!
Addresses simply don’t exist outside of the major cities like San Jose. To deliver mail and find people, you’re usually directed to a major landmark like a church or statue. From here, you usually have to ask someone if they know who you’re looking for. This makes driving very complicated.
Fire safety marshals in the US would have simultaneous heart attacks when they learn about this interesting fact. All doors open inwards instead of outwards. Costa Ricans have gotten used to pushing when they leave and pulling when they enter. Yet strangely they’ve never had a major fire disaster caused by these doors.
Like many Latin nations, there are bullfights throughout the country. This is one of the more intriguing facts about Costa Rica as it’s bullfighting with a twist. For a start, the bull rarely dies. Secondly, you genuinely don’t know the outcome of the fight since the bull has a chance of winning and isn’t killed for doing so straight after. It makes the spectacle a whole lot less guilt-ridden and family friendly.
Talk about Costa Rica and you usually talk about the safari adventures in the jungles. You might talk about visiting the beaches and meeting some of the locals. Driving in Costa Rica is a scary experience if you only have memories of driving in Europe and North America. It’s an adventure in itself and it’s bound to get the adrenaline pumping through your veins. Here are some of the nuances you need to get used to if you intend on renting a car during your stay.
Ticos Drivers are Crazy!
It’s a harsh subheading to kick off this article but it’s true. Drivers in Costa Rica are simply crazy. You don’t have right of way as a pedestrian and people are very casual about safety. They’ll happily barrel on by despite the huge cliff drop a few inches from their rear wheel. If you value your life, let them pass and don’t try to get into a fight with a Tico driver.
Can You Drive?
Anyone can drive a vehicle in Costa Rica if they have a valid driver’s licence. Your licence from your country of residence will suffice. Your visa must be valid for it to be enabled within the country. This is a real problem for tourists who don’t need visas to enter the country. You may well need a visa to actually drive a car, though.
Finding Your Way
It’s common in many Latin countries to not have street lights and signs. The same thing applies to addresses. If you’re planning on driving somewhere, take a map and don’t rely on spotting a sign to guide you. Make sure you know precisely where you’re going. Take a local guide if you need to. You don’t want to risk getting lost on these poorly maintained roads.
The roads are terrible, especially in remote areas. You’ll find potholes which can kill your suspension if you hit them. Sometimes there are manhole covers missing and you’ll occasionally see a tree growing in the middle of the street. You should also watch out for any telephone poles. Telephone poles in Costa Rica don’t give on impact, so it will be your car bearing the brunt of the damage.
Watch out for the bridges. They rarely have guardrails and they’re very narrow. Only one car should pass at once. For your own safety, let the other person pass if two of you approach the bridge at the same time. It’s very disconcerting to look down and spot a drop of about 200 feet.
Driving at Night
Driving at night is something you should generally avoid. Despite all the hazards of driving in Costa Rica, it’s still a safe thing to do if you’re careful and a good driver. Driving at night is a whole other world. There are no lights on the roads and you have to rely on your own skill. Unless it’s an emergency, leave the car at home and stay off the roads at night.
If you’re still thinking of taking a road trip around Costa Rica, be sure to contact us first for some helpful travel tips. Already been there, done that and survived to tell the tale? We’d love to hear about your experiences! Drop by our Facebook page and share your Costa Rican adventure story
Costa Rica is a country renowned for its nightlife. Things really start to get hot after 10pm. If you’re visiting the country, you’re bound to indulge in the nightlife in Costa Rica at some point. Whilst there are lots of similarities to the UK and the US in the way people approach clubs, there are also some notable differences. Read on to find out more about getting your groove on in Tico town!
Dancing in American and European clubs normally involves swaying mindlessly in time with the beat. If you’re a good dancer you might even be mocked by the rhythmically challenged. In Costa Rica, dancing is taken very seriously. It’s why you’ll find dance studios teaching all manner of jives and tangos at discounted prices. Some clubs will even offer dancing lessons early in the evening before the festivities begin.
If you’re not a good dancer, take a few lessons first or don’t dance. You will get a few odd looks if you act like Michael Jackson’s white cousin.
Live music is something else you’ll see regularly in clubs and bars. Concerts are one type of live music. These tend to involve anything from Flamenco to chamber music. You can find these bands in theatres and dedicated concert venues. They’re more formal and focus on the music over the drinks and the dancing.
Live bands are the second part of nightlife in Costa Rica. Live bands are brought into bars and are normally made up of local people. You’ll find some touring bands too. Now these bands are good. It’s not just a few high school kids putting a band together because they’ve got nothing better to do. If they were in the US they’d be competing for a record contract.
Costa Rica is a country which doesn’t necessarily segregate its venues according to music type. Most bars will play different types of music on different days of the week. Ticos are very open to different types of music and there a lot more varied musical tastes within the country.
You can go to the same bar one night and listen to rap and return another night to listen to traditional Flamenco.
Ticos enjoy a good drink and a good dance, but the idea of a night on the town isn’t to get wasted. This is the American and the British way of doing things. Drunkards aren’t appreciated. Drink in moderation and focus on the music and the dancing to make the most of your time in this part of the world.
What’s your favorite Costa Rican spot after sunset? Drop by our Facebook page and let us know!
Fishing trips are a great way to get away from everything and relax, as well as catch your dinner. Fishing in Costa Rica is a popular sport as its waters are teeming with aquatic creatures. Competition fishers also come to Costa Rica to train for their next event. You can sail around the country and encounter hundreds of different creatures. Read on if you want to take to the waters!
Where to Fish?
In short, you can fish anywhere where there’s water and still be successful. Sail off the west coast in the Pacific Ocean to catch sailfish.
The costs of hiring a boat are quite high, though. For a full day, prices can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Move away from the more popular areas for lower prices. Most tourists settle on the central coasts where there’s a high concentration of marinas, It’s not uncommon to catch a fish one every hour for proficient fishers.
You might also want to consider paying a visit to the Osa Peninsula. As well as fish, you can spend some time whale watching. Make sure you arrive at the right time, though! Contact us before you book to ensure your visit coincides with prime whale watching time if this adventure appeals to you.
If you want to stay on dry land, try some fly fishing. Many of the inlets and waterways have their fair share of fish to catch. It’s ideal if you intend on combining hiking through the jungles with fishing.
Guides and Experts
Always take a guide with you. If you charter a boat from a marina you’ll get someone automatically. If you’re hiring a boat yourself, hire some help alongside it. The local Ticos know about the tides and when and where to fish. They’ll keep you safe and show you some of the best fishing action around.
Here at Shaka we have two great nearby fishing spots to set off from, the cost is around $60 per hour for hire of the boat, skipper and bait. Our boat has a capacity of four. See our activities page for more details.
Splitting the Cost
A great tactic to use to keep the costs of fishing in Costa Rica down is to meet some other visitors and split the costs with them as part of a joint fishing trip. Most boats are not full and they can accommodate large numbers of people. You can meet some new friends and potentially find someone new to travel with as you make your way through this colorful country.
Most marinas will have fishing stores nearby. Since fishing in Costa Rica is popular for both autonomous settlements and visitors, there are big fishing stores in most major towns. In the smaller villages you can probably find someone who will refill your stores of bait and hooks.
Greetings from Costa Rica, friends! My name is Katie, I’m the new volunteer at Shaka. I arrived Thursday night and have spent the last couple of days getting settled in and getting to know the guests and staff. I’m originally from Iowa, USA, but have also had addresses in Utah, Colorado, Indiana, and The Netherlands. I left my most recent job in Human Resources and my roller derby ream in Iowa to come to Costa Rica and to see some more of the world. My time here is part vacation (yoga, hopefully some surfing, and what I’ve come to know as Pura Vida) and one part work (volunteering).
I found the volunteer opportunity at Shaka through a Google search for volunteer opportunities in Costa Rica. I got in touch with Krista and we both felt the experience could be a good fit. My interest in Costa Rica in general stemmed from an internship in college with a company in Colorado that runs adventure and eco tours in Central and South America. For them, I made calls to Costa Rican resorts and ecolodges that are known for sustainability practices. A bit of a hippy, I love living green; a tree hugger so to speak.
I’m looking forward to learning Spanish, enjoying the beach, deepening my yoga practice and getting a little hospitality experience; my degree is in Tourism Management. I can’t wait to share more about my experience here at Shaka!
Love and Light,