7 Things to Know Before You Go To Costa Rica - United Hub

7 things to know before you go to Costa Rica

By Nick Harper

Squeezed in between the Pacific Ocean and Atlantic Ocean, wedged in between Nicaragua and Panama, the tiny republic of Costa Rica is a destination that should be towards the top of every traveler's bucket list. A land of almost unrivalled wildlife, volcanic scenery, adrenaline-fueled adventure and pristine white beaches, the Costa Rican saying of "pura vida," or “pure life," could not be more fitting.

Comparable in size to West Virginia, it's possible to see almost everything Costa Rica has to offer in a single visit – although one visit will never be enough. To help you get your bearings, here are seven key things to know before you arrive.

1. A tale of two cities

Costa Rica's big cities are small in number and population. Most travelers fly into the capital, San José, with a population of more than 330,000, and venture on from there. Located at the heart of the country, 'Chepe,' as the capital is affectionately known, appears unremarkable at first glance — a sprawl of concrete and noisy traffic. Stay a couple of days, however, and you'll find a city of historic neighborhoods full of contemporary art galleries, museums and fine cafés, restaurants and bars.

Your other option is to fly into the new Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport in Liberia, with a population of around 60,000. This once-sleepy cowboy town has been reinvented as a modern-day tourism hub, but it's less a destination in which to dwell and more a jump-off point for exploring the Parque Nacional Rincon de la Vieja and the beaches of the Peninsula de Nicoya, both of which are highly recommended.

Hanging Bridge over Monteverde Cloud Forest

2. Get closer to nature

Most visitors flock to Costa Rica for its natural habitat. Nowhere in the world will you find so much diversity squeezed into such a tiny space. As much as 25 percent of the country is now protected by national reserves, with dense rainforests and dramatic cloud forests home to thousands of creatures both large and small. Of the many options, we suggest you prioritize the two below.

For lush tropical rainforests, head for Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific coast, taking trails through the forest to pristine beaches, past capuchin monkeys, iguanas and sloths. And for Costa Rica's best cloud forest, head further up the coast to Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Under constant cloud cover and across more than 35,000 acres, it's home to more than 100 species of mammals, 400 species of birds and 1,200 species of amphibians and reptiles. More impressive still, it's one of the few remaining habitats that support all six species of the cat family – jaguar, ocelot, margay, jaguarundi, puma and oncilla.

3. Eco-friendly accommodations

Costa Rica has been at the forefront of the sustainable tourism movement for many years, and its best accommodations come in the form of eco lodges – designed to have minimum impact on the natural environment in which they're located. This means the best places to stay are well away from the concrete cities. Of the many options dotted throughout the country, the five-star Lapa Rios is arguably the best. Set within a 1,000-acre private nature reserve in the Osa Peninsula, it boasts 17 bungalows with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and the rainforest. Luna Nueva, La Cusinga and Finca Rosa Blanca Country Inn are just three other excellent alternatives among many.

Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica.

4. Go with the flow

Another of Costa Rica's biggest attractions are its volcanoes. More than 60 dot the landscape, most in the northern part of the country and in the Central Highlands, but only a handful of them remain active. Most tourists are drawn to Arenal Volcano, less than three hours north of San José. Arenal's conical peak rumbles and smokes, but since 2010 its explosions and lava flows have decreased significantly – it's considered to be alive but currently sleeping.

Even idle, Arenal is a sight to behold, and with its numerous hiking trails, hot springs, canopy walks and zip-lines through the treetops around it, its popularity is easily understood. Indeed, with 90 percent of the country's wildlife and 50 percent of its plant species living in the upper levels of the trees, taking a zip-line through the forest canopy is an essential experience.

5. Action and adventure

Blessed with two coasts, white-water rivers and the aforementioned volcanoes, Costa Rica offers rich pickings for adventure seekers. Zip-lining down the slopes of Arenal Volcano will have your heart beating faster, while the mountainous terrain and heavy rainfall combine to create perfect white-water rafting conditions – La Fortuna is just one standout stretch among many.

For a more sedate alternative, Arenal river tubing takes you through the heart of the North Central region's jungles, past a cast of crocodiles and caiman, kingfishers and iguanas. If you want to explore the deep blue depths, head across to the Caribbean coast to scuba dive and snorkel among the manta rays, manatees and whitetip sharks or surf the legendary Salsa Brava, translated as 'angry sauce'. As the name suggests, approach with great caution.

6. Sunshine and sand

Life shuffles by at a more leisurely pace on Costa Rica's two coasts, home to a seemingly endless array of breathtaking beaches. On the Pacific coast, Manuel Antonio is one of Costa Rica's most celebrated — with a rocky headland shielding the beach from powerful waves, making it a very family-friendly option. The same can be said about the soft sand that slopes gently into the ocean at Playa Flamingo.

For a livelier alternative, follow the crowds to Tamarindo in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, where surfers seek out the swells and the parties stretch long into the night. Playa Conchal, with its white sand and turquoise water, is a snorkeler's paradise and beautiful secret to all those in the know. Likewise, if you know to follow the unmarked dirt roads to Punta Uva on the Caribbean Coast, you'll be rewarded with pristine water, coral reefs, palm trees and a sense of supreme, smug solitude.

7. Party on

The fastest way to understand a new culture is by observing people in their natural habitat. Smaller festivals take place across Costa Rica throughout the year and offer a window into Los Ticos (an affectionate name for the people of Costa Rica). But, to truly immerse yourself, consider one of the main events. Fiestas Zapote takes place in December in San José and features rodeos, fair rides and bull fighting.

Limón Carnival takes place in October in the port city of Limón and is a smaller-scale version of Rio's Carnival — a riot of costumes, floats and flamboyance. Fiestas Palmares, in the town of the same name, is Costa Rica's biggest cowboy party, with a two-week celebration of rodeos, carnival rides and beer.

And Fiestas de los Diablitos takes place in two indigenous communities, Boruca and Rey Curre, in December and February, respectively. There, the villagers don masks and costumes symbolizing ancestral spirits and reenact victory over the Spanish conquistadors.

Getting there

United Airlines flies to two locations in Costa Rica; the capital San José (SJO) and Liberia (LIR). For more details and to book, visit united.com or use the United app.

Search flights

United Cargo operates more than 11,000 cargo-only flights in one year

By The Hub team, March 19, 2021

On March 19, 2020, United operated its first flight carrying cargo without passengers on board. While the passenger cabin was empty, its cargo hold was completely full, carrying more than 29,000 pounds of commodities from Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD) to Frankfurt Airport (FRA).

A year later, United Cargo has operated more than 11,000 cargo-only flights carrying more than 570 million pounds of freight. To support the COVID-19 pandemic recovery efforts, United Cargo has also transported more than 113 million pounds of medical and pharmaceutical products on both cargo-only and passenger flights as well as approximately 10 million COVID-19 vaccines, providing global communities access to the items they have needed most.

10 tips for spring travel

By The Hub team, February 24, 2021

Whether you haven't flown with us for a while or just need a quick refresher before your spring trip, read this list of tips to know before your flight and arrive at the airport travel-ready:

1. Download the United app for contactless bag check, travel assistance and more

Before your flight, download the United app to view your flight status, check in, sign up for flight notifications, locate departure gates, access our free personal device entertainment when available and more. We've also updated our app with new features that can make your trip a little safer, including contactless bag check.

Don't forget to use Agent on Demand for help with any and all questions you may have before your flight. This new capability is available at all our U.S. hub airports and allows you to use your own mobile device to contact a customer service agent via phone, video or chat to help with day-of-travel questions while you're at the airport. Learn more about Agent on Demand here.

United joins UNICEF COVAX initiative

By The Hub team, February 19, 2021

This week, we were honored to become the first U.S. airline to join the UNICEF Humanitarian Airfreight Initiative to combat the COVID-19 pandemic by transporting the vaccine and other critically needed supplies to underserved areas of the globe.

"We are committed to helping the global community in any way we can, and we all must work together to do our part to bring this health and humanitarian crisis to an end," said Director of Cargo Specialty Products Manu Jacobs.

We will leverage our expertise to transport these critical pharmaceutical and healthcare shipments around the world safely, efficiently and expediently. We are proud to partner with the United Nations to support this global effort and provide equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

Scroll to top