Pandemic Travel Tips
As we learn how to live with covid-19 and travellers start to return to Costa Rica's stunning beaches, jungles and volcanoes, we share some advice on travelling here during the pandemic.
On November 1st 2020, Costa Rica reopened its borders and has been welcoming international tourists from all over the world. With an economy that relies heavily on tourism, the Costa Rican Government decided to open airports (land borders remain closed) and encourage travellers to return as long as they fulfill new entry requirements and obey nationwide protocols.
Costa Rica’s Ministry of Health and the Tourist Institute have developed sanitary guidelines for all aspects of the tourist industry which are designed to keep both tourists and workers safe. As a result, Costa Rica has been awarded a ‘Safe Travels’ stamp from the World Travel and Tourism Council and San Jose International Airport received the Airport Health Accreditation from the International Council of Airports.
Like most other places, there are currently many cases of covid-19 in Costa Rica, but thanks to a proactive and fast response from the start, Costa Rica has been relatively successful in managing the situation. In a country of 5 million, there have been 189,959 confirmed cases, 40,054 of which are active now, and 2,532 deaths due to Coronavirus (as at 25/01/21).
Costa Rica was among the first Latin American countries to start a mass vaccination programme which began on 24 December 2020. People in residential care homes, frontline health workers and those with known risk factors are being prioritised and vaccinated first. Costa Rica hopes to have vaccinated 3 million people by the end of 2021, covering 80% of the population.
In order to encourage tourism, the government has made it relatively simple for tourists to visit Costa Rica. You do not need to take a covid-19 test prior to entering the country and you do not need to quarantine on arrival. However, you must abide by national safety protocols and you must fulfill the following criteria:
You must purchase health insurance that is valid for the duration of your stay, that covers you for medical expenses in case you contract covid-19 and that covers your accommodation costs for 14 days in case you have to quarantine. There are 2 options for medical insurance:
Purchase an international insurance policy. This will need to be approved by the Costa Rican authorities prior to your visit and you will need to carry a cover letter stating that you have purchased a minimum of $50,000 medical expenses and $2,000 accommodation expenses.
You must have completed the online Health Pass from Costa Rica’s Ministry of Health within 48 hours of your travel date. You need to upload your insurance documents when you complete this form and make sure you download the QR code when you complete the form as you will need this at the airport.
Please note that the length of your visa will be determined by the length of your travel insurance policy and your return flight date, so the previous 90 day visas will no longer be issued as standard. For more detailed information on entry requirements, insurance companies and practicalities at the airport, see the excellent ‘Two Weeks in Costa Rica’ or ‘My Tan Feet’ travel blogs.
National Safety Protocols
Both tourists and citizens must abide by the national protocols put in place to protect the health and wellbeing of everyone in Costa Rica and to prevent the national healthcare system from being overwhelmed. The main protocols for visitors are:
Airport - you will need to wear a mask, respect social distancing markers, wash hands where required and allow your temperature to be taken.
Social distancing - you will need to stay in your social bubble (those you are travelling with) and respect social distancing. Some places have markers on the floors or other measures to indicate the correct distance of at least 1.8 metres.
Masks - it is mandatory to wear a mask in all public spaces and in all indoor settings except when eating, while alone, or in a private home. Masks are also mandatory at bus stops and on all forms of public transportation. Masks are not mandatory outdoors but you must respect social distancing rules.
Driving - there is a nighttime driving curfew between 10pm until 5am on weekdays, and 9pm until 5am on weekends. In addition, there are daily driving restrictions depending on your vehicle registration plates. As a tourist using a rental car, tourist shuttles or public transport, you are exempt from the daily driving restrictions. You will need to carry your passport, car rental documentation and hotel reservations to show the transport police if you are stopped.
Activities and Amenities
As a result of the sanitary protocols, most businesses in Costa Rica are able to operate relatively normally. Some activities, such as mass gatherings, concerts and sporting events remain prohibited. One advantage of visiting Costa Rica is the abundance of national parks, beaches and outdoor activities making it a great place to avoid crowds and be outdoors.
Shops - almost all supermarkets, pharmacies and shops are operating with normal business hours. Shoppers need to wear masks inside and wash or sanitize hands prior to entering.
Hotels - all hotels are able to operate at 100% capacity so they can be fully booked. Public spaces in hotels, like gyms, restaurants and pools, must only operate at 50% capacity. Guests must wear masks in indoor spaces, wash and sanitise hands regularly and respect social distancing.
Restaurants & bars - these can be open at 50% capacity between the hours of 5am and 10pm on weekdays and between 5am and 9pm at weekends. You will need to wash your hands when entering and wear a mask. Once you have received your food or drink, you can remove your mask.
Beaches - for the rest of January, all beaches are open from 5am until 6pm every day. After January 31st, beach opening times will increase from 5am to 10pm on weekdays, and 5am until 9pm at weekends.
National parks - most national parks are now open although they are operating at 50% capacity and some have limited trail access. All visitors must wear masks, wash hands and have a temperature check on arrival. In addition, parks will only accept payment by card to limit the use of cash.
Tour operators - outdoor activities such as zip lining, whitewater rafting, hiking and boat trips are all operating. Reputable operators have reduced capacity and numbers of tours to manage social distancing and limit contact between groups.
All businesses and amenities mentioned above must also follow strict safety guidelines. So expect to see staff wearing masks, enhanced cleaning of all facilities and spaces, regular hand washing or sanitizing, limited capacity and social distancing in force.
If you experience symptoms of covid-19 whilst you are in Costa Rica, you can get tested free of charge. You need to self-isolate, and then call the bilingual Costa Rican government hotline on 1322. If you test positive, or are suspected of having covid-19, you will be placed under isolated quarantine for 14 days. If you need treatment, you will be taken to a hospital and placed under expert medical care.
If you need a negative RT-PCR COVID-19 test (nasal swab) for onward travel, many clinics and hospitals in Costa Rica can provide that service.The test costs around $100 and you will get the results within 24 to 72 hours. For the area around Libélula Lounge, you can get tests at BeachSide Clinic or Hospital Metropolitana in Huacas, and Hospital San Rafael Archangel or Hospital Metropolitana in Liberia.
This is a constantly evolving situation and we recommend that you check the latest news from Costa Rica, the embassy of your home country, your insurance company and your airline before you travel. Here are some useful resources:
Two Weeks in Costa Rica - Costa Rica travel blog written in English
My Tan Feet - Costa Rica travel blog written in English
Visit Costa Rica - Official tourism site for Costa Rica in multiple languages
La Nacion - Costa Rica’s national newspaper
The Tico Times - English language news site for Costa Rica
Ministerio de Salud - Costa Rica’s Ministry of Health website
Embassy of Costa Rica - Embassy of Costa Rica in Washington DC
San Jose International Airport - Flight and airline information