A collection of Costa Rica travel and backpacking resources including Costa Rica travel, entry visa requirements, employment for backpackers, and Spanish phrasebook.

Backpacking Costa Rica

Looking for important travel information while backpacking around Costa Rica? Here you will find information on working in Costa Rica, entry visas, Costa Rica hostels, and much more.

Table of Contents

A guide for backpacking around Costa Rica. Get important travelers information when it comes to Costa Rica including visa requirements, employment opportunities, common Spanish phrases and translation, as well as Costa Rica hostels.

Facts About Costa Rica

Costa Rica often conjures up images of paradise, and even for the intrepid traveller, the reality does not often disappoint. It is a tiny nation, with great topographical and cultural variety. You can be in the volcanic mountainous selva in the morning and sunning yourself on golden sandy beaches by the afternoon. There are few places in the world that provide such a compact playground for the budding backpacker.

In recent times, Costa Rica has drawn over one million visitors each year, from tourists wanting to explore the historic capital San Jose, to surf enthusiasts looking for that perfect, once in a lifetime Pacific wave. Nestling between the beautiful central American states of Nicaragua (to the North) and Panama (to the South), with the Pacific ocean to the West and the Caribbean Sea to the East, Costa Rica is well worth a lengthy stop-over if you are en-route to Central America. It also merits a trip in its own right.

  • Currency: Costa Rican Colon (₡), American Dollars accepted for many transactions
  • Time: GMT/UTC -6 ()
  • Language: Spanish (official), English widely spoken.
  • Telephone Service: Dialling code +506
  • Emergency Numbers: All services 911

Climate

Being close to the equator, Costa Rica experiences a tropical climate. Typically for an equatorial country, the climate is divided into a dry and wet season. During the wet season (May – Nov/Dec) conditions are hot and wet. The hottest average temperatures are felt from March to May and the coolest from November to January. Average annual temperatures for most of the country lie between 21.7°C (71°F) and 27°C (81°F).

Rainfall patterns vary greatly across geographical areas and are not solely dependent on the seasons. Some areas receive an amazing 6 metres (18 ft) of precipitation per year, while others get under 1.5 metres (4 ft). Most of the rainfall typically falls over a two week period, often as successive days of unabating, torrential rain.

Costa Rica is a relatively mountainous country and for this reason you can find much cooler temperatures at altitude. San Jose, the capital, stands at approximately 1170 meters above sea level and has a mean annual temperature of 20.6°C (69°F). Costa Rica’s mountain range, which forms an upland belt through the centre of the country, affects climatic conditions both on the Pacific and the Caribbean slope.

Things to See and Do

Starting off in the capital can be a good way to find your feet when embarking on a trip, and also give you an insight into the character of a nation. San Jose (Chepe) affords you both. During daylight hours, the city markets are a great place to sample the vibrancy of Costa Rican culture – something of an assault on the senses! By night, the capital has much to offer in terms of eateries, and all forms of entertainment; nightclubs and bars are plentiful, many staying open until the early hours.

Don’t spend all your time in San Jose, though – with so many spectacular sights on offer throughout the country, exploration outside the capital is compulsory. The highest peak in Costa Rica is Cerro Chirripo, which reaches 3820m (12,533ft) into the clouds. The mountain is found in the stunningly rugged national park of Cordillera de Talamanca, unmissable for its high alpine lakes and cloud forest. Conveniently, there is also a mountain hostel on the ascent that is ideal for weary trekkers.

One of the most exciting features to see when visiting Costa Rica is the looming, volcanic landscape. Perhaps the most spectacular of all volcanoes is ‘Arenal’, located in the Parque Nacional Volcan Arenal. It has not officially erupted since a devastating explosion in 1968, but the volcano continues to rumble – lava outflows, streamers of molten rock and clouds of ash are part of daily life here. The best views of the volcano are from the Arenal Observatory on its northern side. A night tour shows the volcano at its most impressive.

Travel

The early months of the rainy season (May to July), when temperatures are at their most pleasant, is one of the best times to visit Costa Rica. This is the time of year when the spectacular rains begin, but you avoid the extreme precipitation experienced in the later wet season.

If you are a surf enthusiast, the wetter the season the better. Swells increase on both coastlines during the peak of the wet season. This is sometime during September to October on the Pacific side, November to May on the Caribbean side.

Temperatures are more or less stable throughout the year in Costa Rica and therefore there is not really a bad time to visit. At the height of the rainy season, some roads can become flooded and cut off, and venturing far off the beaten track can prove tricky.

Accommodation

In the capital San Jose, the traveller can take advantage of all manner of accommodation, including hotels, hostels and private lodgings. Hence, prices can range from extremely cheap (usually in hostels) $5-25, to very expensive (luxury hotels) $100+.

Outside the capital, along the backpacker trail, it is easy to find cheap accommodation in one of the numerous travellers’ hostels. These are much cheaper than hotels at around $20 a night.

In more remote locations it can be more difficult to find cheap accommodation. Venturing into the national reserve forest areas, and bedding down in a jungle lodge for the night is worth splashing out on – though if you are on a budget this will have to be an occasional luxury!

Health

A good standard of medical care is available in San Jose, but when venturing outside the capital, it can be limited. In San Jose travellers usually go to one of the private hospitals; Hospital Clinica Biblica or Hospital Cima San Jose (addresses below). They are small hospitals, but have excellent facilities: a 24-hour emergency room, an intensive care unit, surgical and maternity services, CAT scan and MRI, and a 24-hour pharmacy.

Before travel, be sure you are up to date on all routine immunisations. Aim to see your GP at least 4-6 weeks before your trip, often this period of time is needed for vaccines to take effect. If you are due to depart in less than 4 weeks, you should still make an appointment with your doctor. It might not be too late to obtain vaccinations or medications, as well as other information about how to protect yourself from illness and injury while travelling.

Recommended Vaccinations:
Hepatitis A Hepatitis B For those travellers who expect to stay for a prolonged period (6 months+) and who will have intimate contact with local people. Typhoid

Malaria prophylaxis with chloroquine or proguanil is also recommended for the provinces of Alajuela, Limon (except for Limon City), Guanacaste, and Heredia.

Useful Links

Hospitals San Jose

Hospital Clinica Biblica Calle central y primera, Avenidas 14 16, Apartado 1307-1000, San Jose tel. 506-522-1000 Hospital Clinica website

Hospital Cima San Jose Prospero Fernandez Freeway; tel. 506-208-1000 Hospital Cima website

Tourist Information Centre

Oficina de Informacion Turistica
Plaza de la Cultura
Avenida Central-2, Calle 5
San Jose
Costa Rica
Tel: (+506) 2221090
Fax: (+506) 2554997

UK Embassy in Costa Rica

PO Box 815-1007, Centro Colon, San Jose, Costa Rica
Telephone: +(506) 258-2025 24 hr Emergency telephone: +(506) 225-4049* Fax: +(506) 233-9938 E-mail: britemb@racsa.co.cr UK Embassy website

Entry Visas for Costa Rica

Luckily, citizens of most countries (including UK and US) do not need to apply for a visa to enter Costa Rica and can enjoy a 90 day period of travel without such legal administrative hassles. More information about which nationalities do require a visa can be found at www.costarica.com. At the end of the 90 day period most travellers must apply for a visa extension. The procedure and costs are outlined below:

You will need:

  • Completed application form.
  • 2 passport-size photos.
  • Passport valid for 6 months at time of entry.
  • Proof of sufficient funds to cover duration of stay.
  • Return or onward ticket.

It usually takes between 1 day and 2 weeks to issue the visa, depending on the nationality of the applicant. Tourist and business visas cost $15 and are usually valid for between 1 month and 90 days.

All travellers (perhaps with the exception of US and Canadian citizens) require a passport with at least 6 months remaining until the expiry date to be able to enter Costa Rica.

Addresses

Costa Rican Embassy in London
Flat 1
14 Lancaster Gate,
London W2 3LH.
Tel: (020) 7706 8844
Fax: (020) 7706 8655
Website: costarica.embassyhomepage.com

Foreigner Work Permits in Costa Rica

To be able to work in Costa Rica, it is necessary to apply for a working visa. Tourist visas do not permit legal work, but of course, volunteering is an option.

Tourism
The thriving tourist trade obviously provides a great deal of work in Costa Rica for most months of the year. As a traveller, you may be in a position to find work in the most touristy areas. Seasonal bar work is a possibility.

Teaching English
Alternatively, if you plan to stay for a longer period and manage to get a working visa, a solid work option is teaching English. Even better if you arrive in possession of a TEFL qualification as you will be in a stronger position to negotiate decent working conditions. English teachers are in such high demand, though, that even without the TEFL qualification, it should not be a problem to find work. Positions are readily available in private language institutions, public schools and also within companies.

Volunteering
Voluntary work is a great thing to do if you really want to spend some time in the country and also want to access areas and situations that are not common to the regular tourist route. Many volunteer projects require you to raise a large sum of money in sponsorship. For this reason it is worth carrying out some detailed research well in advance if you are considering voluntary work as a serious option.

How to Say Common Spanish Phrases

Spanish is the official language of Costa Rica and is spoken widely throughout the country.

Meeting People

English
Spanish
yes
si
no
no
thank you
gracias
You are welcome
De nada
please
por favor
Excuse me
Discúlpeme
hello
hola
goodbye
adiós
Good morning
Buenos dias
Good night
Buenas noches
I do not understand.
No entiendo.
Do you speak…?
Habla usted…?
English
Inglés
Spanish
Español
What is your name?
Como se llama usted?
Nice to meet you
Encantado de conocerle
How are you?
Cómo estás?
Good
bien
bad
mal

Directions

English
Spanish
map
el mapa
left
la izquierda
right
la derecha
Straight on
directo
far
lejos
near
cerca

Methods of Transport

English
Spanish
Where is…?
Dónde está…?
How much is the fare?
Cuanto es lo justo?
Ticket
boleto
A ticket to…, please.
Un boleto para…, por favor.
Where are you going?
Hacia dónde vas?
Where do you live?
Dónde vive usted?
train
el tren
bus
el autobús
underground
el metro
airport
el aeropuerto
Train station
la estación del tren
Bus station
la estación de autobuses
Underground station
la estación del metro
departure
la salida
arrival
la llegada
parking
el estacionamiento

Time

English
Spanish
What time is it?
Qué hora es?
Today
hoy
yesterday
ayer
tomorrow
mañana

Accommodation

English
Spanish
hotel
el hotel
room
el cuarto
reservation
la reservación
Are there any vacancies?
Tiene habitaciones?
No vacancies.
No hay lugares.
Passport
el pasaporte

Places

English
Spanish
Post office
la officina de correo
bank
el banco
Police station
la estación de policía
hospital
el hospital
chemist
la farmacia
shop
la tienda
restaurant
el restaurante
museum
el museo
church
la iglesia
square
la plaza
strret
la calle

Shopping

English
Spanish
How much does this cost?
Cuánto cuesta?
I will buy it
Lo compro
I would like to buy…
Me gustaría comprar…
Do you have…?
Tiene usted…?
open
abierto
closed
cerrado
postcard
la postal
stamps
los timbres
little
poco
lot
mucho
all
todo

Meals

English
Spanish
breakfast
el desayuno
lunch
el almuerzo
dinner
la cena
vegetarian
vegetariano/vegetariana
cheers!
skal!
The bill please
Me trae la cuenta por favor

Drinks

English
Spanish
drink
la bebida
coffee
el café
tea
el té
juice
el jugo
water
el agua
beer
la cerveza
wine
el vino

Food

English
Spanish
meat
la carne
fish
el pescado
vegetable
las verduras
fruit
la fruta
potato
la patata
salad
la ensalada
dessert
el postre

 

Costa Rica Hostels

Hostels are a cheap form of accomodation, and so they are essential to backpackers and other budget travellers. We have compiled a list of hostels in Costa Rica to help you plan your journey. If you are looking for a hostel in Costa Rica, you’ve come to the right place.

Costa Rica

There you have it, the ultimate Costa Rica backpacking guide. We hope you have found all the information you need for backpacking around Costa Rica.