The internet is filled with all-inclusive resort deals for tropical destinations like Costa Rica. This past winter, I visited the beautiful country with a small group of friends and we were looking for a more DIY trip. That week in Costa Rica was easily one of the best weeks of my life. Being in paradise with your best friends, no worries, and the best pineapple ever is hard to beat. We planned our trip on an "adult budget", so it was affordable and budget-conscious, but we didn't stay in hostels and eat Ramen either.
We chose Costa Rica for its weather and location since it is fairly easy to get to, and for its gorgeous scenery. Costa Rica boasts beautiful mountains, volcanoes, beaches, both Caribbean and Pacific, and lots of wildlife adventure so it is a perfect vacation destination!
So, what time of year is best to travel to Costa Rica?
The best time of year to go to Costa Rica is between mid-December and April. This is the dry season, which is also the tourist season so you wont have the cheapest airline and lodging prices, but you will have fantastic weather and will not need to worry about your entire vacation being rained out! We elected to go December 13-21 which was just before the Christmas rush and saved us a great deal on our lodging.
We chose the Pacific side for the majority of our trip with a day visit to a volcano further inland. The Pacific side has bigger waves for those who enjoy surfing, and I had never seen the Pacific before so it was the obvious choice for us!
If you decide to stay on the Pacific coast like we did, you have a couple of options for getting there. You can either fly into the airport at Liberia, which is closer to the Pacific or into San Jose (the country's capitol and often more affordable airfare) and drive across the country. It was more afforable for us to fly into San Jose and drive, so that's just what we did!
There are buses around Costa Rica, but for long distance travel, renting a car is the best option and will give you more freedom for the duration of your trip. When renting a car, get the insurance as you cannot use your car insurance from the USA to cover you in Costa Rica. Also, get a 4-wheel drive car like the one we got above. The roads are not the smoothest, so it's worth the investment.
Before you depart, we recommend downloading the app NavFree. There are no real road signs when driving through the countryside except the occasional sign like the one above. If you download NavFree and use wi-fi to download your maps, you'll be able to use GPS tracking to find your way. The good news is, it's not that hard to get around because there are not too many roads to get very confusing.
A bonus of driving through the small towns is getting to see beautiful farm land which extends right up to the roadside and you can enjoy some of the best food ever from small sodaritas along the way. The country towns are chock full of tiny restaurants churning out burritos, empanadas, pastries, and glass bottle Coca Colas.
For the best prices, book your flight about 5-10 weeks before you plan to depart and always check kayak, expedia, etc for deals. Before you book, read this great article by Nomadic Matt about travel credit cards. You can get some great rates and sky miles if you do your research. He has tons of great travel planning tips and is an excellent resource for those of us who have been bit by the travel bug.