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Costa Rica: A Guide for beginners (Part 1)

You decided to go to Costa Rica, but... do you know what you can find in this country? Which month is the best to travel? What do you want to visit?

Here I will give you a quick guide about what this beautiful country offers you.

Costa Rica is, as you probably already have seen, full of attractions, mostly natural ones. Even though we live in a small country, we actually offer a lot in all different areas for every type of traveller, but it is important to know what we really want to visit... so let’s start.

Here I will show you the most popular places in Costa Rica and what you can do in each one of them. This is my guide to travel for the first time to Costa Rica...

San José and the Central Valley

San José is basically our city. It is neither a colonial city nor a huge city, but where you will find the largest part of the population and services of the country. It is always recommended to spend the first night in the country in or around San José, so you are close to the airport. More than a few nights are not necessary to get to know the capital.


Photo: Eloy Mora

From San José, you can easily do many different activities, for example:

  • Coffee Tour
  • Visit the Central Market
  • Visit the main attractions of “Chepe” (this is how the Ticos call their San José)
  • Visit the Turrialba. Poás and Irazú volcano
  • Do a City Tour by day or by night, in a VIP bus, guided or alone.
  • Visit museums and theatres
  • Visit the La Paz Waterfall Gardens
  • Visit our gastronomic district: Barrio Escalante
  • Visit the La Sabana Park
  • ...in the end, the options depend on what you really want to see.

 SJO 2

Photo: Eloy Mora

Tortuguero, Caribbean

Some people say visiting Costa Rica and not coming to Tortuguero is a sin... and I think it is a little bit true. The saddest thing is that even many Ticos don’t know this natural jewel.


The truth is, that one night is not enough, I recommend two or three. In the right season, you can see the baby turtles hatch, approximately between October and November, or the nesting of the turtles between July and September. Furthermore, it is a perfect destination for tourists that like birding or who like to see many animals.

The whole town is on water, on the shores of the canals of Tortuguero on the Caribbean side. For this reason, transportation is only possible by boat and getting there is not that easy like renting a car and going by yourself... a good plan is necessary. The lodges offer tours to the town and the national park and because of the difficulty of transportation, almost all hotels are full board or all-inclusive.


There is something for everyone: From basic hotels to 4 or 5-star lodges for demanding clients.

La Fortuna, Arenal

This place is located in the province of Alajuela, very popular for the majestic Arenal Volcano.


This area has the most developed touristic infrastructure in the country; this is why there are many activities to do. I would recommend you to stay at least 2 nights, but actually, there is so much to do, that you can stay longer with no problem.

Furthermore, the volcano offers, besides the stunning views that you shouldn´t miss, thermal baths everywhere. Many hotels have their own thermal baths that are heated through the veins of the volcano and its minerals. There are also tours of every type:

  • Canopy
  • Hanging Bridges
  • Gondolas
  • Hiking
  • Rafting
  • Waterfalls and Rivers (for example the Río Celeste and Río Fortuna are very close)
  • VisitingCaño Negro
  • Birding Tours
  • Many more

In this article, you can find more information about the activities in La Fortuna.

Like in Tortuguero, there is an immense offer of hotels and you should take your time to find a hotel according to your budget and which one you like the most.


It is the best option to book a hotel with thermal baths, so you can use them as much as you want and you won´t have to pay extra.



Even though Costa Rica is small, it is full of microclimates, which offers everything from beaches to cloud forests. Monteverde is our best cloud forest.

It is popular for its variety of natural reserves, private ones as well as state-owned, full of flora and fauna and also for having the longest canopy cables of the country. It is a great place for birders and tourists who like adventure. I also recommend visiting a reserve at night! It is incredible how many animals you can see!


If you stay two or three nights at this place, you will be able to do many activities and get other impressions besides the paradisiacal beaches of Costa Rica. It is a wonderful place, full of rustic lodges, wood cabins, chimneys and peace everywhere.


Manuel Antonio, Central Pacific

Manuel Antonio is the most visited national park in the country, by national and international tourists. The park is located on the Central Pacific coast and is full of species, mainly mammals and birds. Its white sands and forest by the seaside have made it so visited. Personally, I recommend you to visit the park during the green season to see everything in peace and with fewer people.

Usually, people stay here for three days or more... It’s never enough time at the beach! There are hotels and restaurants of every type; there are normal hotels and 5-star hotels or luxury houses for vacations. They also have their own marine, from which catamaran tours are starting.



If you want to visit the Manuel Antonio National Park, remember that the park is closed on Tuesdays, so it’s better to keep that in mind while you are in the area.

There are also many things to do:

  • Visit the Manuel Antonio and Carara National Parks
  • Tour en Catamaran
  • Visit a mangrove swamp
  • Sportfishing
  • Horseback riding
  • Diving
  • Kayak & Snorkelling
  • Rafting or Safari Floating Tours


It is suitable for children and adults, couples but most of all for beach lovers. :)


Tamarindo & Papagayo, North Pacific

This area is full of beaches, golf, and many luxury hotels. The International Airport Daniel Oduber is close and there is also the biggest marine of the country.

Furthermore, this area is known for surfing all around the year in Tamarindo, Playa Naranjo at Roca Bruja (= Witch´s Rock), from December to March, as well as at Playa Grande from March to November.


A typical stay would be about three nights to enjoy the beaches and landscapes, anyways, some are staying much longer.


Habitación Nesto en Hotel El Mangroove

The hotel offers are huge and you can find many hotels from popular brands here. It is a very beautiful touristic area, but a little restricted for national tourists because of the first-class and luxury hotels. It´s normal to see many foreigners from North America living here or visiting the country often because the flights land directly at the airport in Liberia.


The pool at the Hotel El Mangroove 

.. and is there more information about Costa Rica missing?

Of course! Actually, this is just the first part of this guide. But for a starter: What do you think about visiting the places I mentioned? Do you already know them? Do you have more tips? 

Read here more in our second part: Costa Rica: A Guide for beginners (Part 2)

¡Pura Vida!

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  • Janaina & Dieter, Brazil

    The trip was wonderful! Your help was invaluable and without your choices it would not have been so good! I am very very satisfied and very happy with the choices you made!

    Thank you very much for everything!

    Janaina & Dieter, Brazil
  • Kathrin, Ines, Matthias & Ingo, Germany

    Hello dear Aline, many thanks to you for the great compilation and organization of the trip. We were able to spend eventful, interesting and wonderful days in Costa Rica and will keep them in good memory. A thank you also goes to the ARA Tours team, which was available 24/7 for problems and questions, which were solved and answered quickly and reliably. The punctuality of the transfers offered should also be emphasized. In summary, it was a wonderful holiday.

    Kind regards

    Kathrin, Ines, Matthias & Ingo, Germany
  • Carina & Thomas, Germany

    Hello dear Aline,
    Now we have arrived back at San Jose Airport after a great trip. Everything worked out great and the tour was just perfectly planned and organized. Thank you very much. We take a lot of positive memories with us.
    Best regards.

    Carina & Thomas, Germany
  • Yvonne, Switzerland

    The Costa Rica trip together with my family is already behind us - it was wonderful!!! Everything went smoothly from A to Z, we had a wonderful time, no incidents and wonderful experiences.
    We all enjoyed it very much; the nature is enormous, but also the warm-hearted people, the cleanliness, the food - we are very enthusiastic!
    At this point I would like to thank you very much for your support in the preparation, for all the bookings, clarifications and enquiries!!!
    We visited the waterfall in La Fortuna and had a great view of the Arenal. In Monteverde we did a Hanging Bridges and Zipline tour and in Nosara a surf course. In Finca Rosa Bianca we did the coffee tour, it was all great, fun and interesting 😊. All in all, we saw lots of animals, always ate well, enjoyed the beaches....even in rainy weather 😊. Often we were even glad that it was overcast, otherwise it would have been almost toouuu hot for us.
    So THANK YOU again so much for everything!!!!

    Yvonne, Switzerland
  • Christina, Switzerland

    Many thanks for the extensive support (before, during and after the trip) and the professional handling of our concerns. With your support we had a smooth and unforgettable vacation in Costa Rica! Our favorite hotels: Hotel Plaza Yara and the Poas Volcano Lodge - a dream!
    All the best

    Christina, Switzerland
  • Jeanne, Bernd & Bill, USA

    Yay! I´m glad we are back on track. Thank you again for helping us with all these changes.
    I´m glad we choose ARA-you are amazing! Thanks for all your help! It made it a very memorable visit!

    Jeanne, Bernd & Bill, USA
  • Janka, The Netherlands

    Hi Eli & ARA Team,
    We have spoken to the guest and they are super enthusiastic about their Costa Rica roundtrip! Everything was well organized, nice hotels, nice mix of activities & beach and they have big compliments for you guys!!
    Many thanks for all the good work!! The guest highly appreciate it!!
    They had lunch nearby in Ara Ambigua Lodge, and they loved this place. Friendly staff and good food!
    Do you work with this accommodation? If so, we would love hear 😊
    Once again, heads off for this amazing trip!
    With warm regards

    Janka, The Netherlands
  • Thomas, Deborah, Eva & Paula, Switzerland

    Dear Priska
    Happily I write some words to you in English, so you can easily forward them also to Ara Tours, please. Thank you all, we spent a magic time in Costa Rica! Baumeler's and Ara Tours organisation and logistics were perfect, everything worked out even better than we expected. The tours were brilliant, we really enjoyed everything very very much!
    All the accomodation was absolutely wonderful... the setting, the quality, the food, with happy helpful friendly staff everywhere. It was a wonderful way to experience this beautiful country the way we did, on a private tour with personal guide and drivers. We saw and learnt sooo much - it would have been impossible to do so on our own.
    Especially we praise our brilliant guide Fernando Perez, we benefited so much from his truly wide knowledge and deep love for his Country which he passed on in lovely encouraging way. We even became friends and we will meet in Switzerland coming September! Also our driver Carlos Sandi was great, not only as a driver but also as a compagnion, animal spotter and photographer. Thank you!
    So.... now we just enjoy our last day...
    Sunny greetings, pura vida

    Thomas, Deborah, Eva & Paula, Switzerland
  • Yvonne & Andrea, Switzerland

    Hello all
    Unfortunately, our wonderful trip is already over and everyday life has caught up with us again. We would like to thank you very much for everything. The trip was planned exactly according to our wishes and we have seen so many beautiful places.
    Thank you Stefanie!
    We have felt completely comfortable and top cared for by you. Via Whats App we got immediate answers to our questions, with the car everything worked out great. In all locations we were treated very warmly and nicely. It was just so indescribably beautiful, we will dream of the beautiful experiences for a long time. In any case, we will warmly recommend you and hope for a next time. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
    Best regards.

    Yvonne & Andrea, Switzerland
  • Anita, Switzerland

    We have arrived safely in Switzerland and have already returned to work.
    It was a wonderful trip you put together for us.
    Your excellent service, as well as the 24 hour support service from ARA Tours, was truly outstanding.
    I have already recommended you several times and would book with you again and again. Thank you very much and keep me informed if there are any interesting offers.
    Best wishes.

    Anita, Switzerland
  • Lukas & Isabelle, Switzerland

    Hello Pedro, our time in CR is coming to an end and we wanted to say "thank you very much for organizing a phenomenal week". Everything has been well organized and we have seen many beauties of nature. Thanks!

    Lukas & Isabelle, Switzerland
  • Reinout & Yvonne, The Netherlands

    Thanks Jenny for the clear answer. We will make an appointment via the link you gave us.
    Today we visited National Parc Cabo Blanco. What an amazing park, so quiet for tourists, so full of animals, really lovely and therefore together with Monte Verde, Cahuita and Corcovado the park today, Cabo Blanco, scores high in our ranking of most beautiful parks of CR.These parks give us reason, together with the Pura Vida in CR, to come back soon. We'll keep in contact.

    Reinout & Yvonne, The Netherlands
  • Dominik, Germany

    Good day Jennifer
    As we have already told Simone, the stay at Lapa Rios is extremely enriching, thanks to the well planned planting and the untouched environment we see a lot of animals. Contrary to the plans before the stay, we do not want to visit more animals in captivity at the end. We will have a look at the few hours before we leave.
    We thank you and your team very much for the excellent advice and the permanent support! We can only recommend Ara Tours.
    Best regards.

    Dominik, Germany
  • Daniel, Jana & Theo, Germany

    A big thank to you, you saved our vacation!
    Communication already worked very well in Germany. The help from you, especially through Aline, should be mentioned here. This was fantastic from the first WhatsApp message to the last. We already know Costa Rica, so we knew what we wanted and what not. Ara Tours was an important point of contact for us. We are very grateful to Aline precisely because our actual travel agent cancelled our trip 36 hours before departure. She immediately organized everything for us. Whether the hotel in beautiful Punta Leona, the tours to the national parks, even the shuttle service with the great driver Guillerno Ortega has to be mentioned here. We are very grateful to you, dear Aline, but also to the entire Ara Tours team. You too made our almost 3-week trip to Costa Rica unforgettable again. We would love to come back and of course we will book through Ara Tours again.

    Daniel, Jana & Theo, Germany
  • Alexander & family, Switzerland

    Thank you, everything really worked out great. Super organization and at any time quick info / help / support from you!
    We liked it very much. The conclusion in Quepos was crowning. We liked the beach in the National Park Manuel Antonio very much. We would have liked to stay longer, but we take home many wonderful, unforgettable impressions. PURA VIDA!
    Many thanks to you Aline! We will gladly recommend you to others.

    Alexander & family, Switzerland
  • Neumann Family, Germany

    - The route was super planned, first on the beach time to arrive and then only from Monteverde with excursions inland etc. and at the end again beach - perfect!
    - Support from Ara Tours was VERY good!!! Through Whatsapp reachability the service was great, very quick answers / very flexible, good suggestions etc. Also with the doctor Ara Tours helped with translations by phone - that was really very, very good!
    - The home stay day was an absolute highlight - very authentic - so we got to know the locals REAL, the family was super friendly and very open and have talked about everything. Not at all touristy perceived.

    Neumann Family, Germany
  • Marine & Bruno, France

    We would like to thank you personally for this beautiful trip that you organised for us and for the follow-up that you did throughout the stay. A big thank you also to Jennifer d'Ara tours! Thank you again and have a great week!

    Marine & Bruno, France
  • Walter, Switzerland

    We really appreciated your (almost) daily updates from Costa Rica on Covid and related issues. That was a highlight compared to other incoming agents worldwide! We thank you for your effort and wish you that you manage the coming time well and stay healthy.

    Walter, Switzerland
  • Ronald, Germany

    Our great compliments for keeping us informed every day on the developments. We wish you all the best and keep yourself and families in good health and mood during this unprecedented period!

    Ronald, Germany
  • Kathrin, Germany

    You are really super! It is impressive how you manage the crisis with your super flow of information and the great reversal. Hats off!

    Kathrin, Germany
  • Michael, Germany

    Hello, we were on a round trip in Costa Rica from 27.11., which was booked through BigXtra and organised by them. We would like to take this opportunity to thank you very much. The tour was simply amazing! The support by Carlos was just great. We have done many trips before, but this one was an unforgettable experience thanks to Carlos. Carlos speaks very good German and was able to sensitively introduce us to Costa Rica, its incomparable nature and its great, friendly inhabitants. Pura Vida became for us a term for the attitude towards life in Costa Rica. Please say hello to Carlos from us and once again a huge thank you to him in the name of the whole group of 8. We wish him only the best for his future.

    Michael, Germany
  • Evelyne, Switzerland

    Wie just did a 4 week trip in Costa Rica which was organised from ARA tours and we really liked it - well done Ara Tours! We also had a guide - his name is Enrique. His German is really good and he knows a lot about Costa Rica and he showed us a lot of animals. We had a wonderful time with hime - thank you so much Enrique!

    Evelyne, Switzerland
  • Tanja, Germany

    perfect tour perfect tour guide pablo, everything very well organised 👍👍👍👍🇨🇷🇨🇨🇷 were thrilled

    Tanja, Germany
  • Ines, Germany

    Many thanks and great praise to our tour guide Mauricio and our bus driver Adrian! We felt very comfortable during the 2 weeks in Costa Rica. The wide-ranging knowledge of Mauricio and the super driving skills of Adrian were particularly admirable. Thanks to the eagle eyes of both of them, we had the opportunity to observe a variety of animals in Costa Rica. Thank you for everything!

    Ines, Germany
  • Sabine, Germany

    I can only recommend ARA Tours. Thanks again to Nicole for the great planning of the tour and the support. Our tour guide Peter Käser was simply incredible (a walking encyclopaedia) and always had an answer to all my questions about the flora and fauna and the history of CR. Our driver Julio carried my father on his hands, for which I am very grateful. CR is also worth a trip for wheelchair users at any time (with ARA Tours, of course).

    Sabine, Germany
  • Thieme Family, Germany

    We would like to thank you once again for organizing our trip [...] through the beautiful country of Costa Rica. Our special thanks go to our tour guide Enrique, who with his extensive knowledge of flora and fauna about his country brought it very close to us and made us want to come even a second time. We were very glad and happy to travel with him, as he was also very committed to our problems on site, in addition to his competent function as a tour guide.

    Thieme Family, Germany
  • Antonia-Maria & Boris, Austria

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your sensational effort! I do not know such a competent tour guide as with you really from nowhere else... and we have already traveled a lot... 🙏🏻🍀

    Antonia-Maria & Boris, Austria
  • Katja, Germany

    I wanted to thank you again for the great Costa Rica trip. We flew back home very happy and with many great impressions. A compliment for the super organisation. Everything worked out perfectly (except for the handover of the rental car, which was force majeure...). So thank you again and I have already recommended you to friends:-)!

    Katja, Germany
  • Denise & Alain, Switzerland

    Thank you very much for your email and the tickets. We really appreciate how quickly and efficiently you deal with our requests each time!

    Denise & Alain, Switzerland
  • Philippe, Switzerland

    Hello Christine Thank you very much for this information. The support is super👍 many thanks Gruss

    Philippe, Switzerland
  • Marianne & Stefan Gräub, Switzerland

    Otherwise, the planned trip was a complete success. Everything went well and the visits you organised were all very interesting. The visits you organised were all very interesting and gave us a great insight into the respective topics. The fact that the Ticos are very friendly and always ready to help was fully confirmed.

    Marianne & Stefan Gräub, Switzerland

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