The high (summer) season runs from November to April, and though it's also classed as the 'dry' season it doesn't necessarily mean there will be no rain - but there should be less of it! Prices are higher during this time. The 'green' season (from May to November) can still be a good time to visit, especially the early months when days can start off with sunshine then turn rainy in the afternoon/evening. More careful planning is required then, though, as some roads become impassable (even in a 4x4).
Bird-watchers will be happy year-round: flocks migrate to Costa Rica between September and November, though those in search of the resplendent quetzal will be more sucessful between November and May. For turtle enthusiasts the leatherback can be seen nesting in Tortuguero (on the Caribbean coast) from mid-February to mid-April, or on the Pacific coast between September and March. Green turtles nest on the Caribbean coast during August and September.
There are public holidays throughout the year, normally around one per month. The main celebration is Semana Santa (Holy Week or Easter) - hotels are busier during this time so availability may be scarce.
Note: flight, boat, train and bus timetables change constantly, and airlines come and go, so please do not rely solely on this information for your travel planning. Check with relevant companies, or a flight search engine like Skyscanner, first.
Costa Rica’s main international airport, Juan Santamaría International (SJO), is at Alajuela, 20 minutes west of the capital, San José.
Some direct flights from the USA and Europe land at Liberia Daniel Oduber Airport (LIR), which is particularly handy for the Nicoya peninsula.
As of May 2016, British Airways will be flying directly from London Gatwick to San Jose. In the meantime, the most convenient routes are with Iberia via Madrid, or with Condor via Frankfurt, both taking around 15 hours from most Western European cities. The alternative scheduled option, travelling via the US (see below for carriers), risks a slow transit procedure.
From North/Central America:
There are regular flights to Costa Rica with US carriers Delta, American Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways, Northwest and Continental from Dallas, Miami, New York, Houston and other US cities; most fly to San José, but some land at Liberia. There are also Spirit Air flights from various major cities.
Costa Rica's own airline, LACSA - which is part of the TACA group - connects San José with the US (New York, Miami and LA) and central America / the Caribbean (Mexico City, Havana, Santo Domingo etc), as well as Lima in Peru.
There's a regular boat service connecting Los Chiles with San Carlos, on the southeast corner of Lake Nicaragua.
How to get around Costa Rica depends on which regions you’re travelling to.
Two airlines fly to most of the tourist highlights: Nature Air and Sansa. They currently operate short internal flights from San José’s domestic airport at Parva to regional airports such as Quepos (for Manuel Antonio National Park and the central Pacific coast), Puerto Jiménez (for the Osa Peninsula), Tambor (for the Nicoya Peninsula) and Arenal / La Fortuna. Of the 2 airlines, Nature Air planes tend to be more reliable as they have 2 engines and can fly through rain, and the service is slightly better. Note that luggage is strictly limited to 30lbs per person; excess baggage is around US$25/kg.
Driving around Costa Rica might seem the obvious solution given the country’s small size. However, while there are good tarmacked roads to the central Pacific coast, roads to most rural areas are very poor. Even with a high clearance 4x4 you’ll only average 30km per hour, and rivers can rise dramatically in the 'green' season. There’s almost a complete absence of signage, making navigating the towns a slow and maddening process. And if you’re spending several days in a rural lodge, you won’t need your car anyway. If you really want the freedom of your own vehicle see our car rental recommendations.
There are convenient ferry crossings in several useful places around Costa Rica which can reduce land journey times. Always check ferry times before you set off, and arrive at least an hour before your ferry leaves to be sure of having a ticket. There are ferries connecting the central Pacific coast with Paquera on the southern tip of the Nicoya Península, and services connecting Puntarenas with Playa Naranjo and Vaquero. On the Osa Peninsula's Golfo Dulce, there's a daily passenger ferry between Golfito and Puerto Jiménez, and a weekday water taxi to Playa Zancudo. There's also a water taxi between Bahía Drake and Sierpe. On the Caribbean coast, a bus-and-boat service runs several times daily from Cariari to Tortuguero. Canal boats travel from Moín to Tortuguero, although no regular service exists. A daily water taxi connects Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí with Trinidad, Nicaragua, on the Río San Juan.
Most hotels will arrange transfers to nearby hotels, or to and from San José and Liberia if required. This can be more economical and less stressful than hiring a car.
Citizens of the UK, most other European countries, the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia don't need a visa for visits of up to 30 or 90 days (the time limit varies from country to country, so check with your local Costa Rican embassy if you're planning to stay for longer than 2-3 weeks). All visitors will need to show a valid passport and proof of onward travel.
HEALTH & SAFETY
Some vaccines may be required for travel to Costa Rica - check with your doctor. Malaria and Dengue Fever are present in some areas of the country, so seek medical advice about whether you need to take anti-malarials at least a month before you travel, and always wear mosquito repellent (preferably one containing DEET).
Tap water is generally safe to drink in Costa Rica, but stick to bottled water in remote areas. Always wear closed, heavy-soled footwear in jungle areas to protect against snake bites (Costa Rica is home to several venemous species).