Long: Costa Rica: The Pros and Cons of a Guided Tour vs. a Self-Organized Trip


Costa Rica is one of the most talked about destinations for 2022. Perhaps that’s because it reopened its borders in mid-2020 and has remained open ever since. So, compared to many other countries, you can be pretty sure that your trip will go smoothly.

Once you’re in Costa Rica, Covid doesn’t impact travel much. Masks are required indoors, but restrictions are not enforced as they are in Europe and the United States. So you can continue to live the “pura vida”.

You will hear this phrase everywhere you go in Costa Rica. But ‘pura vida’ is more than a greeting. Relaxing and enjoying life to the fullest is the national mindset. Considering how we’ve all had to live for the past two years, it’s no wonder we crave this relaxed lifestyle.

But what’s the best way to get the most out of Costa Rica? With rainforests, volcanoes, party towns, beaches, extreme adventures, retreats, and incredible wildlife, there’s plenty to choose from.

This means it can be difficult to know where to start when planning a trip. This leads many to opt for a guided tour, especially if it’s your first time in Costa Rica. But for those who have the time to research and plan, and aren’t limited by vacation length, walking around at your own pace might be a better option.

Here we explore what you can expect from a guided tour or solo tour.

Costa Rica Travel Restrictions

Travelers from all over the world are welcome in Costa Rica, provided they are fully vaccinated. There is no time limit yet to be boosted; you simply must have been double-jabbed with a approved vaccine 14 days before your trip. Children under 18 should not be vaccinated.

In fact, unvaccinated adults can also travel to Costa Rica, but you will need to purchase travel insurance to cover Covid expenses and accommodation costs for the duration of your stay.

All travelers must also complete an epidemiological information form to obtain a Health pass – you will need the QR code to walk through the airport and start your adventure.

What to expect on a guided tour of Costa Rica

Costa Rica has so many beautiful places it can be overwhelming to narrow it down. Are you heading to the Pacific coast or the Caribbean coast? How are you going to get around? What if you drive all morning only to find that the ride you planned has fallen apart? Joining a guided tour means someone else is worrying about all of this for you. True, they cannot control the weather. But they will have the experience and the contacts to make sure you have a great day.

Who is a guided tour for and how to choose the right one?

Guided tours can conjure up images of retirees strolling around an overgrown tourist attraction. But believe me, the tours have evolved from the bus tours of the 1980s. They now cater to many different demographics and you can choose from action-packed or slower routes.

Do some research, be clear about the type of vacation you want, and you’ll find a trip with like-minded people. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and answer any doubts with tour operators – most have online chats, so it’s quick and easy to get answers. Read on for some recommended tours to get you started.

Joining a tour is ideal if you have little free time or have other responsibilities to get home. Routes are carefully planned to make the most of each day and ensure easy journeys between stops. For example, traveling early or late in the day to get the most sun and daylight.

How are the roads in Costa Rica?

The roads of Costa Rica are one of the best reasons to take a guided tour. Considering tourism is the country’s second biggest earner, the roads aren’t stellar. Around San Jose, the capital, there are paved highways. But further, many roads are unpaved and very dusty. If you’re not used to a bumpy ride, the rides can feel really long.

The tours have drivers who know the best routes to take and, perhaps most importantly, you’ll be in a safe vehicle designed for these roads – you need a 4×4 to make sure you don’t feel every bump and bump. pothole.

Get off the beaten track to experience the real Costa Rica

With Costa Rica having a developed tourism industry for decades, it can sometimes feel like its culture and uniqueness has gotten lost among the resorts and restaurants.

A tour is therefore a good way to penetrate below the surface and visit lesser-known places. Established tour operators will have connections to local communities that you may not be able to visit on your own.

You are also more likely to be a responsible tourist, as your guide can brief you on local customs and rules that are respectful to observe.

Are you traveling alone in Costa Rica? Find your tribe on a group tour

A tour is perfect if you are traveling alone. You’re given a ready-made set of travel companions and guaranteed company for meals, an aspect of solo travel that many dread. But don’t worry, there will be free time in the itinerary so you can have your own space when you need it.

Ready to book? We have selected the best guided tours in Costa Rica

All prices exclude flights


G Adventures’ Ocean waves and sunsets is a small-group tour designed for “budget-conscious young travellers”. It costs €467 which includes all accommodation (stay in hotels or hostels) and transport, with many optional extras.


All new from Intrepid Upscale Costa Rican trip (9 days, from £2,550/€3,065) includes everything the country is famous for. You’ll spot wildlife as you explore the Cano Negro wetlands and Manuel Antonio National Park with guides. You will visit an agricultural project focused on promoting sustainable farming practices while preserving ancient traditions. Plus, the chance to get below the surface of San Jose on a city tour with the guide.

Top of the line

black tomato From Pacuare to Papagayo: A Luxury Conservation Adventure in Costa Rica (£6,750 / €8,112) takes you from the Pacuare River to Arenal, from the Miravalles Volcano region to Papagayo, with a focus on adventure, sustainability, conservation and uncompromising luxury. Experiences include hiking in the Nairi Awari Indigenous Territory high in the Talamanca Mountains to learn about the Cabécar culture and hear the cosmovision and visit Proyecto Asis, a major animal rescue center specializing in sloth conservation.

How to organize the best trip to Costa Rica

Plan when to leave carefully

Many travelers land in San Jose, rent a car, and hit the road for unknown destinations. It’s a great plan – except in high season.

From early December to late January, tens of thousands of tourists flock to Costa Rica, particularly from the United States where most visitors come from. Consequently, accommodations, car rentals and restaurants are booked months in advance. This will vary depending on where you are going in the country, of course. But if you want to visit popular beach towns and areas around national parks, make your reservations at least two months in advance.

If you want to drive yourself but have the itinerary planned out for you, consider a self-guided vacation like this 17-night trip with an award-winning operator Pure Adventure.

Relax and enjoy the ride by hiring a driver

Since most of us drive ourselves at home, hiring a driver while on vacation is a real luxury. As mentioned above, the roads of Costa Rica are not always easy to drive. So being driven by a local also means you won’t have to be jolted out of holiday mode by tricky trading or unreliable sat nav.

A driver in Costa Rica will be cheaper than in Europe or the United States. Also, most drivers will give you a discount if you take multiple rides with them. So figure out which stops you will need to travel between and make a deal with them.

Good drivers stay in business because customers recommend them to their friends. We found our driver, Jimmy Leiton, through word of mouth and we were not disappointed. He arrived to pick us up on time, explained what we were seeing along the way, and his prices were reasonable. He can be contacted via Whatsapp at (506) 8540 1780.

Spend your holiday budget as you see fit

Going it alone suits all budgets. You can spend the money or stick to cheaper bed and breakfasts. Locally run accommodation is the best bet to keep it cheap, but check if the room has air conditioning and a private bathroom as these are not always provided as standard.

It’s life

One of the big advantages of not being with a group is that you don’t have to compromise on your itinerary. If you like a beach where you stopped for lunch, you can book a room nearby and soak it up for a few days. Likewise, if you find that a place you landed on isn’t quite what you hoped for, you can easily move on.

Be friendly with the locals

Costa Rica is full of gems that you will want to visit on your trip. The best-known national parks and other attractions are well marked and therefore easily accessible by car, or by quad quad in some cases. But less frequented places are not always easy to find. Substitute the need for a tour guide by chatting with locals. Most will be happy to help you with directions and flattered that you wanted to explore their area.

A little Spanish goes a long way

If you plan to rely on locals for directions or recommendations, it’s only fair that you try to communicate in their language. So learn the phrases you’ll probably need before your trip. It can also save you money – you will find it easier to negotiate if you can do it in Spanish.


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