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Best Costa Rica Travel Guidebooks

This post may include affiliate links. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Planning a trip to Costa Rica and need to find the best resources? This roundup of Costa Rican guidebooks will help you out!

Costa Rica has so much to offer that it can be hard to know where to start in your planning. I mean, world-class rafting and some of the best beaches in the world. National parks with active volcanos to cloud forests with the best birdwatching in the area. If you haven’t visited Costa Rica yet, these guidebooks will help you on your planning journey.

free costa rica Travel printable

The ultimate list of Spanish phrases for Costa Rica with kids. 

Considerations When Chooing A Guidebook

There are so many guidebooks out there that it can be hard to know exactly what to choose. Between online blogs (like this one!), self-published guidebooks and old-fashioned guidebooks, there are a lot of options. Here are a few considerations when choosing a Costa Rica guidebook.

eBooks vs. Print

To me, there is nothing like thumbing through a print book as I plan a vacation. For some reason, the way guidebooks are broken down by region makes it really easy for me to get a feel for to country as I plan my trip. Additionally, I can underline and dog-ear the pages for easy reference. I know a person can do that with an eBook, but for me, it’s just not the same.

The guidebooks, however, can be bulky if you plan to travel with them. Sometimes you don’t have the very most up-to-date information on a destination- but that’s why we have Instagram, right?

On the other hand, eBook travel guides to Costa Rica can be handy if you are already taking an eBook reader to Costa Rica and want to travel light. This way you can have all of your books in one place and refer to the guidebook as well. Don’t forget to download the book offline in case you need to refer to it when you don’t have an internet connection.

Make sure to read the reviews of the eBooks online before purchasing as some of the Kindle editions of these books have complaints- mostly about user-friendliness such as navigability and ability to read the maps.

One option is to find these books or eBooks at your local library- they might be older editions but many things in Costa Rica do not change that fast. The older edition, along with a good map (more on that below) can be just as good as the newest edition.

Edition Choice

You may want to find the very latest edition of each guidebook and use that. However, I find that many of the latest editions have only changed the title and the print date, but much of the information has stayed the same.

For this reason, you can often save some cash by purchasing an older edition of a guidebook or purchasing one used on Amazon. I wouldn’t go back farther than about 10 years, and I would cross-reference the hotels you plan to stay at with Google, just to make sure they haven’t closed.

As I mentioned before, when I am looking for activities in Costa Rica I often use Instagram. You can check specific hashtags, popular Instagram accounts or just go to the recent stories from the region you are planning to visit. Instagram is a wealth of travel information, and often I can find an insider scoop there that I can’t find anywhere else.

Related post: Costa Rica’s National Parks Guide

Online Search vs. Guidebook

Many people like to search online instead of using guidebooks. I think that is a great idea, but for me, it can be good to use a guidebook that has been vetted and breaks down the area by region.

If you are looking for online resources besides this blog you can check out:

  • Two Weeks in Costa Rica
  • My Tan Feet
  • Costa Rica Guide
  • James Kaiser

These are my favorite resources, and all of these blog authors have also created their own guidebooks or maps.

Personal Consultations

Many popular Costa Rica travel blogs (including this one!) offer time to speak with an expert. It can be a great way to flesh out your travel plans and make sure you are on the right track. I offer this service (see below) and especially love to talk to travelers with children.

Mainstream Travel Guides

These are the big hitters in travel guides and are tried and true household names in the realms of guidebooks.

Lonely Planet Costa Rica

This is the best Costa Rica travel guide in my opinion. It’s the one that I most recommend. It’s is a comprehensive resource for those planning a trip to Costa Rica. It includes in-depth information on destinations, activities, restaurants, and attractions, as well as maps and travel tips.

It’s easy to navigate and has tabs for each region. I love the cultural and historical information about Costa Rica at the beginning of the book.

Lonely Planet guidebooks are more geared toward lower-budget travelers and backpackers, but I still find a ton of great info and I love this book.

The Kindle edition is free on Amazon with Kindle Unlimited.

Lonely Planet Central America

Lonely Planet’s Central America Guide has everything you need to plan the perfect trip to this region- whether it be Costa Rica, Belize, Guatemala, or Honduras.

Inside this book are in-depth descriptions of every destination and activity suggested by Lonely Planet writers, maps for each area of the country, travel tips, and cultural information about the people who live there.

The Costa Rica section is abbreviated but excellent, and I add this book here because if you are traveling to multiple Central American countries, this book will cover Costa Rica just fine.

This book is also free with Kindle Unlimited.

Moon Costa Rica

This guidebook was written by a woman who lives in Costa Rica, and so it includes a lot of insider tips about the region. Her thoughts on Costa Rican culture are spot on. Moon tends to be a nice mix of budget and higher-end accommodations and activities, and this is a great guidebook for family travel.

National Geographic Costa Rica

This image-heavy guidebook is focused on experiential travel, so if you are looking for excursions, this is a great option.

Related post: Top Costa Rica Excursions

Frommer’s Costa Rica

What I like about this book is that it includes itineraries for lots of different lengths of stay in the country. There is also a pocket map included.

Rough Guide To Costa Rica

These books are more geared towards backpackers and those looking to go a little bit more off the beaten trail. I will usually consult with an older edition of this book and then build my itinerary from there. This book hasn’t been updated since 2017, but the newest edition of the book is available for preorder so I’m excited to see what they’ve done in the newest edition. There will be a free Kindle version of the book as well.

DK Eyewitness Costa Rica

This is a great book! I love the driving routes to cultural sites, and there is a section on eco-tourism. There are lots of full-color images and cultural information. I really love their restaurant recommendation section. I’m a total Costa Rica foodie!

Related post: A Foodie’s Restaurant Guide To La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Fodor’s Costa Rica

This guidebook has lots of full-color photos, making you want to depart for Costa Rica immediately. Fodor’s has long been an authority in travel in general, and this guidebook is no exception. I really like their “best of” section at the beginning of the book.

Self-Published Guidebooks

These guidebooks are created by bloggers and authors who are on the ground in Costa Rica. These are all bloggers that I follow and love and can attest to the authenticity of their content.

  • James Kaiser
  • My Tan Feet
  • Two Weeks in Costa Rica
  • Costa Rica Guide

Guides To Take With You On Your Trip

Costa Rica Spanish – Lonely Planet

There are a bunch of travel Spanish books out there, but by far my favorite is an old Lonely Planet book specifically of Costa Rican Spanish. You can get it used on Amazon, and if you see it for sale, scoop it up because it is the best.

Related Post: Basic Spanish Phrases For Travel

Laminated Wildlife Guides

These are the BEST. My kids love to refer to the species they are seeing in real life with the guides, and we bring Expo markers to circle what we’ve seen. We do scavenger hunts too. These are a fun memory from the trip, and we talk about what we saw on the plane ride home too! Here are a few of my favorites:

Costa Rica Bird Guide

The Birds of Costa Rica is the definitive guide to Costa Rican birds, and every guide in Costa Rica uses it. If you are a birdwatcher, this is a must-have for your trip.

Related post: Popular Costa Rica Animal Sightings

Costa Rica Maps

I would definitely recommend taking a map to Costa Rica. Even though Google Maps and Waze work, it is really really easy to get turned around on Costa Rican back roads, and internet connectivity is not guaranteed.

To avoid getting lost I recommend the following maps:

Waterproof Map by Costa Rica Guide

I happen to know from talking to this couple that they make painstakingly perfect updates to this map. They travel offroad to study discrepancies between reality and Google Maps. It’s the definitive map of Costa Rica, plus you are supporting a small business with your purchase.

National Geographic Costa Rica Map

This map is one of the more detailed maps on the market, and I have traveled with it for years. If you stay on the main roads and some well-known side roads, this map is for you. If you are going way off the beaten path, I recommend the laminated map above.

You can also find an abundance of free printable maps online that show specific regions, which can be good for getting yourself oriented but not necessarily for navigation.

Related post: Driving In Costa Rica – Complete Guide

Conclusion- My Favorite Guides

My favorite guide is The Lonely Planet– I think it does a really good job of giving the background of each area. I also like that there aren’t too many luxury places in the book as we tend to be more of a mid-range or budget travel family. Finally, I think they do a great job of updating the book from year to year, and have awesome online resources.

As for maps, you have to go with the Waterproof Travel Map of Costa Rica. Ray and Sue of Costa Rica Experts spend a painstakingly long amount of time making sure their map is as up-to-date as possible. The latest edition was revised in 2020 and is excellent.

For kids, it is super fun to get the laminated wildlife guides and take along some dry erase markers. You can make a game of spotting different species or use them as a reference when on wildlife and nature tours.

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About the Author

Christa profile image

Hi- I’m Christa! I fell in love with Latin America in my 20s, and I’m still head over heels! Here at Pura Vida Moms I celebrate what it means to be bicultural- Costa Rican recipes, bilingual parenting and family travel.

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Christa profile image

Hi- I’m Christa, and I’m on a mission to help the world fall in love with Costa Rica through food, travel and language. I’m a mom of two Latinas, bicultural, bilingual (English/Spanish), and 100% in love with celebrating parenthood in all its forms, (even the sucky parts). I’m so happy you found the site- WELCOME! Find out more about me here

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