Travel to Costa Rica during Covid-19: What you need to know before you go

(CNN) — If you’re planning to travel to Costa Rica, here’s what you’ll need to know and expect if you want to visit during the global coronavirus pandemic.

The basics

Costa Rica was one of the first countries to open back up for tourism, which it did in November 2020. So far, nearly 1 million travelers have visited the country in 2021 — back to almost 70% of pre-pandemic levels.

However, the Delta variant hit the country hard in 2021, with hospitals “dangerously full” at the peak, and Costa Rica ending high up on the board of the most new cases globally. Cases then dropped to some of the lowest levels seen in months, but are currently on the rise again due to the Omicron variant.

The US CDC advises against all travel to the country.

What’s on offer

Costa Rica is known for its “pura vida” (pure life), and, pandemic aside, the vida is still pura here. This is a country for nature lovers, with both a Caribbean and Pacific coast, and jungle covering about a quarter of the country.

Whether you’re here for the cloud forests, the volcanoes or the incredible nature and wildlife, your shoulders will definitely drop a few inches.

Most visitors pass through capital San José as a mere routing point, but it’s a beautiful city, with stunning architecture, public art and museums.

Who can go

Everyone. Costa Rica opened back up — even for tourism — on November 1, 2020. However, there are of course restrictions. And standard visa regulations still apply.

From January 2022, many activities will be restricted to those who’ve been vaccinated, the government has announced. Although entry rules aren’t set to change, restrictions on the ground will make it less attractive for the non-vaccinated.

In August, Costa Rica’s president signed a law that allows “digital nomads” to remain in the country for up to two years. To qualify, individuals must earn at least $3,000 per year and families must make at least $5,000. Benefits include the ability to open a Costa Rican bank account and their local U.S. driver’s licenses being honored locally.

What are the restrictions?

There’s no need for a negative Covid-19 PCR test result as there was initially. All passengers must fill out a Health Pass within 72 hours of travel. The website gives a QR code that you should show on arrival.

From August 1, fully vaccinated adults and anyone under the age of 18 (regardless of vaccination status) have been exempt from the requirement for travel insurance. Proof of vaccination — which must have taken place at least 14 days prior to entry — can be added to the health pass.

Anyone not fully vaccinated must have insurance which covers potential quarantine accommodation up to $2,000 and medical expenses of at least $50,000 related to Covid-19. This must be accompanied by a certificate in English or Spanish, giving the policyholder’s name, the dates of coverage and guarantees as stipulated above.

Residents and Costa Rican nationals may be subject to self-isolation on arrival.

The land borders, which had been closed to nonresidents, reopened April 5 to visitors not needing a visa. The previous 14-day quarantine for those entering via land has also been abolished as of April 5.

America’s CDC classes the risk in Costa Rica as “very high” and says US citizens should “avoid all travel to Costa Rica.” Even fully vaccinated travelers are at risk of catching variants, it says. It has kept this advice through June, even though it has downgraded other countries with high infection rates. Not that this seems to be stopping Americans — US visitor numbers were 93% of 2019 in September.

Meanwhile, the UK added Costa Rica to its “red list,” meaning travelers coming from there were subjected to hotel quarantine, in June, although it has since been removed.

Undeterred, American Airlines launched flights from Chicago and Austin to San Jose on November 2, 2021. Avianca launched flights from Cancún on December 2. British Airways returned after a pandemic break on December 15.

What’s the Covid situation?

Costa Rica has seen over 570,000 cases and 7,353 deaths as of December 31. Case numbers rose fast in 2021 — they doubled in April, and May saw record infection and death rates, according to the government, although they have now slowed right down.

They did drop — the week leading up to December 24 saw 432 new infections, down from a record high of 17,469 in the week leading up to September 11, and similar to the previous week’s 522. December 14 saw a third consecutive day of no deaths.

However, the arrival of the Omicron variant seems to have sent them spiraling again, with 1,696 new cases registered in the week leading up to 31 December.

Along with Mexico, Costa Rica was one of the first countries in Latin America to receive vaccines in December 2020. Nearly 7.6 million vaccination doses have been given so far, with just over 68% of the population fully vaccinated as of December 24, according to John Hopkins University, though local numbers rank it at over 80%.

What can visitors expect?

Things are getting back to a relative normal. National parks and beaches are open — the former are now back to 100% capacity. Restaurants and bars have reopened, to 75% capacity. There is a 30% capacity limit on cultural and sports activities. From January, buses will be back to 100% capacity.

There is a nightly curfew from midnight to 5 a.m..

Driving restrictions were relaxed on October 31.

Useful links

Our recent coverage

CNN’s Julia Buckley contributed to this report

Leave a Comment