Are you planning a trip to Costa Rica?
Unless you already know exactly where you are going and exactly what you want to do, the next stage of planning get a little confusing.
It's like walking into Chipotle and realizing you are suddenly faced with three of your favorite things and must choose; tacos or nachos?
I'm here to help with this excruciating choice.
Even though it’s a small country, it’s well-touristed. So, when you start figuring out where to go in Costa Rica, it can be information overload.
This post in intended to narrow it down and keep it simple to make your planning easier.
The first question is, where to go in Costa Rica?
If you’re questioning whether to go resort-style or backpack, click here.
Both inland and coast are pretty cool, but most people are going to want to mix in some coasts.
When I stayed inland, I missed out on a lot of the wildlife that the coasts have in excess. There wasn't the exotic frogs or howler monkeys. The weather inland was rainier during my stay in July as well.
True, there were some great hot springs we visited, crazy vegetation and a more authentic Costa Rican experience inland, but if you only have time for one, head to the sea.
There are two options here, the Pacific Coast or the Caribbean coast.
The Caribbean coast is less developed and more authentically Costa Rican.
The Pacific Coast, on the other hand, is more developed with a variety of accommodations, yoga studios, surf spots and national parks.
The national parks are where it's at.
So where to go in Costa Rica?
As you might suspect, most travelers will opt for the Pacific Coast.
For most of us, the Pacific Coast is the better option.
It makes sense, especially for a shorter trip because it’s closer to both international airports (Juan Santa Maria in San Jose and Daniel Oduber Quiros in Liberia). The roads to this part of the island are also better maintained and there are more affordable options for buses, shuttles or private cars.
The Pacific Coast is also home to more national parks, 11 in total which is a lot for such a small country. The variety of wildlife you will see on this part of the coast is huge. There are multiple types of monkeys in the trees, sloths, exotic birds and humpback whale sightings too.
If surfing is the purpose of your trip, you will most likely want to go the Pacific coast, especially if you are a beginner because the breaks are more friendly. If you are brand-new to surfing, there will be more surf schools to choose from here as well.
Lastly, the Pacific coast has more predictable seasons. The dry season is January – March. This also the high tourist time. However, even during the wet season, it typically isn’t rainy all day. It mainly storms in the mornings or evenings.
I was there in the wet season and most mornings there would be a rain shower before I woke up. There were a few nights with spectacular rain but it generally lasted less than an hour.
The Caribbean coast is better for those who are short on money but long on time. This coast flies under the radar for most tourists because it’s more difficult to get to from the major airports.
There are no big resorts or chain hotels on this part of the island. You’ll be more likely to find small, boutique hotels, backpacker hostels and some eco lodges than grand resorts with 5 pools.
There is also more natural charm on this part of the country. That means, the beaches won’t be cleaned daily, it’s more wild and untamed. There are fewer national parks on this side, but, interestingly enough, some of the most amazing wildlife only lives on the Caribbean. Some of the best coral reefs are also on this side.
If it is your first trip to Costa Rica and you have 7-14 days, I’d recommend opting for the Pacific Coast.
If you have closer to a month and are on a small budget, the Caribbean Coast may be a more budget-friendly option. You could also consider starting with the Pacific coast and then going to the Caribbean from there.