. Costa Rica | Northstar Meetings Group

Guide to Meeting & Event Planning in

Costa Rica

Learn why you should host your next meeting, incentive, event or conference in Costa Rica. 

Why Costa Rica for Your Next Meeting or Event?

With its reputation as an eco-friendly paradise, Costa Rica offers a naturally beautiful backdrop for meetings and incentives. The country’s offerings of modern and unique event spaces, including the stunning new Centro de Convenciones de Costa Rica in the capital of San Jose, complement its lush rainforest, stunning beaches and alluring wildlife.

Only in Costa Rica

This Central American country makes good on its decidedly green promises, with 95 percent of all the energy it consumes coming from renewable sources. The government’s goal, in fact, is for the entire nation to be carbon-neutral by 2021. Costa Rica also happens to be home to the happiest people in the world, according to survey results from the Happy Planet Index

The country's legendary dedication to protecting the environment was on full display when the United Nations Environment Program presented the Central American nation with a 2019 Champions of the Earth award. The honor recognizes Costa Rica’s extensive conservation efforts, including government policies designed to minimize climate change. In February 2019, Costa Rica made news by announcing a plan to “decarbonize” its economy by 2050, following the guidelines of the Paris Climate Agreement and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Forest cover now graces more than 50 percent of the nation, thanks to a major effort to restore natural settings that had suffered from deforestation. The nation’s reputation as an eco-friendly meeting destination was highlighted in October 2019, when the World Meetings Forum staged its Summit Costa Rica Sustainable Edition at the Costa Rica Convention Center.

There’s a new way for planners to get attendees involved in Costa Rica’s renowned sustainability efforts. In October, the Costa Rica Tourism Board launched a campaign promoting responsible wildlife photography — specifically, selfies. Appropriately dubbed the #StopAnimalSelfie campaign, the initiative aims to educate visitors and locals about how to respect wildlife and minimize the negative effects of using wild animals for selfies and other photo opportunities. Rather than posing with wildlife in manipulated settings that may be uncomfortable for the animals, the campaign encourages travelers to post selfies and other photos with a stuffed animal and caption it “I don’t mistreat animals to take a selfie,” accompanied by the campaign’s official hashtag. The campaign is a joint effort between the Costa Rica Tourism Institute and Costa Rica’s Ministry of Environment and Energy. Planners looking to engage attendees can share information before, during and after events, encouraging them to follow the campaign’s recommendations to show their own environmental consciousness in a proactive way.

Travel Essentials

Taxes: 13 percent sales tax; 10 percent service tax; total tax on hotel rooms, 23 percent
Total number of hotel rooms: San José, 7,426 rooms; Guanacaste province, 5,850 rooms 
Convention Centers:
In San Jose, Centro de Convenciones de Costa Rica; exhibit space, 15,000 square feet; number of meeting rooms, 12; In Guanacaste, Centro de Convenciones Coopeguanacaste, located in Guanacaste province on the Pacific Coast; exhibit space, 18,600 square feet; number of meeting rooms, 1
CVB: Costa Rica Convention Bureau, 011-506-2221-3753; 011-506-2256-4216
Local Currency:
Costa Rican colón (1 colón is equal to US$.0016)
Power:
110 volt (same as United States)
Time zone:
Central Standard Time

Transportation in & Around the Area

• San José: Juan Santamaria International Airport, about 12 miles from San José. Transfer cost by taxi, about $30
 
• Liberia, Guanacaste: Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport, about 11 miles from Liberia. Transfer cost by taxi, about $30

    Meeting and Event Venues

    Looking to Plan a Costa Rica Meeting?
    Learn everything you need to know about this spectacular locale at SMU International, Northstar’s premier event for meetings and incentive pros looking to book biz in the area.

    New & Coming Soon to Costa Rica

    • The Santarena Hotel, which opened in February, is set in Las Catalinas, a Pacific coast beach town in the Guanacaste province, the area of northwestern Costa Rica that’s popular for both leisure and incentive travel. The 45-room property offers ocean views and multiple dining venues, as well as a rooftop lounge and pool. Indoor and outdoor event space includes the Plaza, an open-air venue with ocean views and space for 600.

    The Nayara Tented Camp, a sister property to the Nayara Resort, Spa & Gardens and Nayara Springs, is scheduled to open in December in Arenal Volcano National Park, in the northern zone that lies north of San José. The property will have 18 luxury tents, each of which will have a master suite with en-suite bathroom and outdoor shower. Each tent also will have an outdoor living area and a plunge pool fed by water from nearby hot springs. The camp also will feature a swim-up bar, a family-friendly pool and an open-air yoga pavilion.

    • Groups can enjoy a spirited new spa treatment at Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa, an eco-oriented member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World set on a 900-acre tropical reserve in the Costa Rican rainforest near the Arenal volcano. Among the newest options in the property’s meeting packages is a spa treatment that puts Tabacón’s own craft beer to creative new use. The Kapi Kapi treatment (which means “happy happy” in the language of the indigenous Maleku people) is an 80-minute body wrap made from Double Indian Pale Ale, complemented by an “express facial.” Those who prefer something more traditional can opt for activities like guided relaxation classes tailored for groups, soaking in natural hot springs or relaxing with a massage in a private, open-air spa bungalow. The property has more than 1,200 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting and event space, including a multipurpose room, private bungalows, gardens and open-air restaurants.

    Hotel & Venue Additions

    Nicoya Peninsula

    • Groups looking to enjoy the great outdoors will find lots to love at Isla Chiquita, which offers what’s billed as the only “island glamping” hotel in Costa Rica. Tucked onto the corner of a postcard-perfect island off the Pacific Coast on the top of a hill in the province of Puntarenas, Isla Chiquita has 15 luxurious, teak-floored tents with king-size beds, minibars and bathrooms. The only thing lacking is television and air conditioning — but, of course, the point of staying here is to reconnect with nature, albeit in an upscale and well-tended manner. The expansive Sunset Master Suite is fit for a high-ranking executive, with an open-air seating area complete with hot tub and hammock. The suite’s commanding view of the coastline also makes it a favored choice for sunset cocktail events. The property's on-site restaurant serves freshly caught seafood with a view of the private beach, where guests can relax or enjoy a variety of watersports. Buyouts for up to 32 people are possible, and the property has its own heliport and access to a six-person water plane, so VIP groups can arrive quickly and comfortably from the airports in San José and Liberia, as well as from other popular destinations along the coast.

    Hotel Nantipa, a Small Luxury Hotels of the World Hotel in Santa Teresa de Cobano, has opened on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula. The posh 15-room property, which sits between the jungle and the ocean, is designed to allow small groups to enjoy the region’s natural beauty while being pampered in stylish accommodations with modern comforts like air conditioning, WiFi and a minibar. Room choices include beachfront suites as well as bungalows furnished with hammocks. Guests also can relax at the swimming pool and savor new culinary experiences at the hotel’s restaurant, which serves Costa Rican specialties made with locally sourced ingredients, including fresh-caught seafood. Guests can partake in activities that range from surfing lessons and horseback riding on the beach to hikes to the nearby Montezuma waterfall — and hopping a boat to Tortuga Island, part of the Islas Negritos Biological Reserve.

    • Small incentive groups might find the perfect fit at Hacienda Barrigona, a 500-acre property in Costa Rica’s Blue Zone on the Nicoya Peninsula. An extensive refurbishment has resulted in the debut of 10 guest rooms spread among three villas, with common areas that include swimming pools, open-air dining, and Bali-style yoga and meditation studios. The property specializes in customized group-wellness retreats, as well as programs designed to awaken creativity, with a menu of diverse activities that can include surfing, writing, art and photography. Planners also can make good use of the property’s scenic setting: Up to 100 people can be hosted for private events in a postcard-worthy open-air space, between a private beach and a verdant jungle.

    • Just across the Nicoya Gulf sits the quaint Pacific Coast town of Puntarenas, a gateway to a variety of nature-based activities, including hikes, wildlife viewing and day cruises. Group-friendly hotels with meeting space are few and far between in this sparsely populated side of the gulf, but there is one standout right in town: the Puerto Azul Boutique Resort & Marina. This 62-room property has four meeting rooms that accommodate a total of 300 attendees, while outdoor events around the two swimming pools can host as many as 1,000. Rooms with balconies in the larger tower offer stunning views of the water, and the property’s on-site marina makes it easy to coordinate cruises and tours of the nearby mangroves.

    San José

    • The Centro de Convenciones de Costa Rica opened in 2018, near Juan Santamaria International Airport and the capital of San José. The US$35 million facility features an environmentally sustainable design that includes internal and external LED lighting and 2.5 acres of solar roof panels.

    • Health-and-wellness-oriented experiences are available at Kinkara, which opened in 2018 in Costa Rica’s Chirripó foothills, southeast of San José. Part of the Cayuga Collection of upscale sustainable hotels, Kinkara is an all-inclusive property that focuses on “collective group experiences,” with an array of customizable mindfulness retreats. Guests sleep in a group of 31 Lotus Belle canvas tents (26 of which are double occupancy, and five of which accommodate four people), each furnished with 500-thread-count cotton linens, bathrobes, USB charging pods and WiFi. The tents sit in an eye-catching circular pattern around a central garden, which produces some of the locally sourced ingredients for the property’s farm-to-table menu. Planners can choose from programs that feature yoga, meditation and even classes about sustainable agriculture, while guests looking for more active adventures can join outings for horseback riding, hiking, surfing and zip lining.

    Escazú

    • The latest hotels in the San José metropolitan area include the 126-room AC Hotel San Jose Escazú, which opened in 2018 in upscale Escazú. The property has a European-inspired restaurant, a fitness center and 2,143 square feet of meeting and event space, including five meeting rooms.

    Guanacaste

    • Guanacaste has witnessed the debut of several meeting- and incentive-level hotels in recent months. Among them is the 150-room W Costa Rica – Reserva Conchal which is enveloped by a 2,300-acre nature reserve. Groups can make use of more than 10,000 square feet of event space, including eight meeting and event rooms, and partake in activities like beach games and deejay breaks.
     
    • The 294-room Planet Hollywood Beach Resort Costa Rica also opened recently here. The all-inclusive property offers group package options that include private check-in, private group dinners and free group activities. Guests also can sign up for treatments at the PH Spa & Beauty Bar and create their own theme music for the visit, using Planet Hollywood’s Your Soundtrack music program.
     
    • The 120-room Margaritaville Beach Resort Playa Flamingo debuted in November 2018 along one of Guanacaste’s picturesque beaches, after an extensive redesign of the former Flamingo Beach Resort & Spa. The property has a water sports center, a spa, tennis courts and a movie theater, and offers 3,264 square feet of indoor event space, as well as outdoor settings for receptions and meals.  

    • Costa Rica continues to up its appeal for wellness-minded groups with the January debut of Kasiiya Papagayo , a luxury “eco-wilderness retreat” set on 123 acres along the Pacific Coast. Targeted at small groups (no more than 10 people can stay here), Kasiiya takes its eco-friendly goal seriously, with five tented suites set on timber-frame platforms with no concrete or nails. But comfort isn’t forgotten; each tent is outfitted with a king-size bed, closet, bathroom and indoor/outdoor shower, as well as a private terrace with chairs. Three tents overlook the beach, and two are tucked into the hillside. The property offers a three-level fitness program that includes holistic spa therapies as well as movement exercises inspired by Brazilian Capoeira martial arts. Guests also can ponder the region’s natural beauty at Kasiiya’s beach cabana, sunset deck and library. When it’s time to refuel, South American-inspired cuisine created by chef Sebastian Guevara is served at the hilltop chef’s table.

    • Smaller groups looking to get close to nature will do well at Tambor Tropical, an adults-only hotel in the tiny town of Tambor, on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica’s Guanacaste province. The lushly landscaped property — which is available for buyouts for up to 24 guests — features 12 units set in beautiful wooden buildings, with a swimming pool, a bar and full-service dining just steps away. As with many smaller hotels in ecologically rich Guanacaste, outdoor activities are a big draw at Tambor Tropical. Whale watching, horseback riding, ATV excursions, bird-watching, open-air yoga and nature hikes are just a few of the options, and groups also can volunteer with the Tambor Bay turtle-rescue program, which aims to grow the once-shrinking local population of Olive Ridley sea turtles through a variety of initiatives. Beach patrolling, hatchery monitoring and beach cleaning are among the ways that MICE groups can get involved.

    Peninsula Papagayo          

    • Costa Rica’s natural beauty is the backdrop for a new venue at Andaz Costa Rica Resort at Peninsula Papagayo. This luxury property recently debuted El Jardin, a tropical outdoor event space, which it advertises as the largest outdoor event venue in the 1,400-acre Peninsula Papagayo development on Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast. The new, 9,472-square-foot event space, set against a tropical forest with views of Culebra Bay, accommodates up to 672 guests for dining or 350 for meetings, and planners can make use of a custom, open-air tent and other covered options, as well as WiFi, restrooms, loading facilities and power panels. Themed events can include movie nights, evening picnics and concerts. In addition, guests can also combine the space with Chao Pescao, a restaurant that specializes in Latin American cuisine and creative cocktails, also served with a view of the bay.

    • The 182-room Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo has unveiled a new Playa Blanca Terrace Hospitality Suite, an ocean-view venue designed by Costa Rican architect Ronald Zurcher with indoor and outdoor space for small-group events. The property recently added a food truck that serves Costa Rican fare and burgers; for private events, planners can customize the menu and add their own signage/logos to the truck. Late in 2018, the resort added a series of new features and amenities, including a revamped spa and wellness center with a hammam room; a steakhouse, Nemare; and a private concierge lounge. The property offers a total of 14,400 square feet of meeting and event space.

    • Bangkok-based Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas, which this year came under the umbrella of the InterContinental Hotels Group, is gearing up for its Central America debut. Six Senses Papagayo is slated to open in mid-2021, bringing a new upscale, eco-friendly choice to the Papagayo peninsula. The 2,300-acre property aims to preserve 70 percent of its terrain for natural flora and fauna, with accommodations set in 41 pool villas and 31 residences. Wellness is a central focus at the hotel, with a spa and fitness center complementing a menu of healthful activities. Cuisine will make use of ingredients from the hotel’s own organic farm. The property is owned and developed by the Larkspur, Calif.-based Canyon Group in partnership with the Costa Rica-based Garnier Group. While details about group facilities have not yet been announced, the Six Senses brand generally offers an array of services, including meeting space and guided activities such as team-building exercises and yoga classes.  

     

    Costa Rica Meeting Hotels

    Things to Do in Costa Rica

    Extending Your Trip in Costa Rica

    • Groups can learn the secrets of traditional Costa Rican cuisine as well as indigenous culture through private tours led by Caribe Fun Tours in partnership with Terraventuras. The company offers customizable Afro-Caribbean culture excursions for up to 12 people to Puerto Viejo, a picturesque town on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. Participants get hands-on experience during cooking classes that take place at a private home, with an emphasis on local favorites like rice and beans, chicken, plantains and salad. The program can easily be combined with a visit to an indigenous reserve in Bri Bri, Talamanca, about 30 minutes from Puerto Viejo. There, guests are immersed in centuries-old traditions with the expert guidance of a shaman, who teaches about the value of medicinal plants and age-old hunting methods. Participants also can learn to make chocolate and join a purification ceremony.

    • Staging an event at the Museo del Jade (Jade Museum), which is home to Central America’s largest pre-Columbian jade collection, is a safe bet for wowing groups in the capital city of San José. Set conveniently downtown, near a variety of must-see attractions like the National Theater, the Jade Museum opened in its current location in 2014 in a strikingly modern, five-story building that’s hard to miss. The extensive exhibits, which feature more than 7,000 archeological pieces, represent far more than just jade, in fact; groups can learn about pre-Hispanic culture, history and ecology as they explore displays that include stone, shells, jade and ceramics, including pieces from centuries-old Olmec and Mayan civilizations. Private group tours are a popular option, and planners can also make use of a variety of venues, including a 150-person terrace, 200-person lobby, 150-seat auditorium and various smaller classrooms and workshops.

    • Take a stroll through the Mercado Central, San José’s Central Market, which dates from 1880. Visitors can wander more than 200 shops and stalls to grab a chifrijo, a favorite snack of pork rinds and fried beans, and peruse the amazing array of local produce on display.

     
    • Costa Rica’s tasty dishes (olla de carne, patacones, flan) can be found throughout the country.To get the deep dish on the country’s food and beverage, Foodie Tours Costa Rica offers customizable excursions, including a “farm to table essential gastronomy experience” and a contemporary cuisine program that showcases the creativity of San José’s chefs.

    • Costa Rica is the world’s 13th largest coffee producer. Learn about the entire production process — and enjoy ample opportunities to sample java — during guided visits to a number of farms around the countryside. Top choices include Hacienda Espiritu Santo (phone: 011-506-4104-0500), a 600-acre coffee plantation near San Jose in Naranjo, where visitors can observe how farmers maintain and harvest coffee crops and learn how the process has evolved over the years. Also worth a visit is Finca Rosa Blanca, a self-described “coffee plantation resort” that offers boutique-style accommodations as well as an organic coffee tour; participants can pick during the harvest season, from October to January. After the tour, groups can relax on the outdoor deck as they sample a fresh cup, accompanied by homemade biscuits and cookies. The property also offers a seasonal tasting menu that features ingredients from Rosa Blanca’s own organic greenhouse.

    • The country is also known for its scrumptious chocolates, crafted from locally grown beans. Rainforest Chocolate Tour in La Fortuna, near the Arenal Volcano, offers an interactive program that teaches groups and individuals about cocoa-bean harvesting and grinding, and developing organic chocolate. Desafio Adventure Co. offers a chocolate tour in the same region, with a visit to a plantation that sells cocoa beans to a woman’s cooperative. Desafio also has a program that combines a chocolate tour with a guided nature hike to the La Fortuna waterfall, where participants can swim in the gentle waters.

    • For a whale of a time, catch a cruise to view the majestic mammals along the southern Pacific coast. Since humpback whales are present year-round here, it’s especially easy to plan a visit.

    Getting Active & Outdoors

    • Costa Rica is a nation that begs to be actively explored. For climbing and rappelling, Guanacaste and La Fortuna are the top picks, while Chirripo National Park — home to the second-highest peak in Central America, at 12,500 feet — provides an awe-inspiring challenge and equally exciting views. Ziplines let guests explore the lush canopy from a unique vantage point; there are a number of operators in various locations around Costa Rica, including Arenal, Guanacaste, Jaco and Manuel Antonio. Horseback riding is another fun way to immerse groups in this country's beautiful countryside — especially in Guanacaste, where ranches provide the perfect setting for saddling up. Contact the convention bureau to source outfitters and destination management firms that can arrange any of the activities listed here and below.
     
    • Participants will find new ways to enjoy their free time in the Peninsula Papagayo resort area. In August 2018, a  program called Papagayo Bike Share launched, with a fleet of 60 electric-assist, GPS-equipped bicycles. Riders can make use of seven docking stations around the peninsula as they explore. In addition, visitors can take advantage of the new Papagayo Explorers Club, which allows participants to join expert guides — including biologists and naturalists — for only-in-Costa-Rica excursions like the Cacao Volcano Expedition, which includes a 4X4 vehicle ride through the nation's lowest-altitude cloud forest to the crater of an inactive volcano. Horseback riding and "underwater scooter" rides are among the additional offerings.
     
    • World-class river rafting awaits along the Pacuare River, with excursions that can last several hours or several days, with ample opportunities to observe the local flora and fauna while navigating the rapids. Tubing is another way to experience Costa Rica's spectacular scenery and view wildlife, especially in Guanacaste, Sarapiqui, Manuel Antonio National Park and Arenal.
     
    • Water-based fun also awaits just off the coast, with diving and snorkeling especially rewarding, thanks to the views of unspoiled coral reefs and colorful fish. On the Pacific coast, visitors can explore underwater caves and dramatic rock formations at Manual Antonio National Park, while on the Caribbean side, more than 120 species of fish and 40 species of crustaceans make their home along the coral reefs of Manzanillo Beach and Cahuita National Park, providing plenty of memorable snorkeling possibilities.

    Costa Rica Excursions

    The Latest Group Activities
    Costa Rica is gearing up for a busy 2020, with a variety of new group activities debuting around the nation. Among the offerings:

    • A new “chocolate route,” which will provide access to 17 factories and workshops where the sweet is perfected in the Caribbean region of Talamanca 
    • A new electric car route in the town of Monteverde, making it easier to go green and eco-friendly in one of the country’s most biodiverse regions 
    • A new cycling route around the Arenal Volcano, in which participants can stay fit while viewing stunning scenery
    • New group excursions in the mid-Pacific region, such as nature-based activities like surfing, snorkeling, waterfall diving, and touring mangroves and hanging bridges 
    • New cultural activities in Costa Rica’s south Pacific region, including sugar cane and chocolate tours and a new excursion to Rancho Quemado, a rural tourism destination where groups can hike and even search for gold during a tour of an old mine 

    The Costa Rica Tourism Board is square one for information about all the latest options for groups.

    Volcanos and wildlife
    Perfectly situated between the Arenal volcano and Lake Arenal, the Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa is an ideal place for a nature-focused stay, with gorgeous views at every turn. Guests here can enjoy hiking along seven miles of trails as well as horseback riding and mountain biking through the dramatic scenery. Guests will want to keep their eyes open for abundant wildlife, including monkeys, anteaters and coatis, as well as 500 species of birds.
     
    Up in the clouds
    National Geographic calls it "the jewel in the crown of cloud forests," and with good reason. The postcard-perfect Monteverde Cloud Forest is lined with trails that make it easy for visitors to enjoy the scenery, while the Monteverde Wildlife Refuge offers after-dark tours that provide a fascinating glimpse of the region's nocturnal inhabitants, including tree snakes, foxes, sloths and monkeys.
     
    Get lost…and found
    La Senda Costa Rica is a farm/nature preserve/wellness sanctuary set on 74 acres in Guanacasta, where small incentive groups can take cooking classes and relax during yoga sessions. La Senda also houses an enormous labrynth where visitors can wander.

    A Maze-ing Cacti
    A natural cactus labyrinth is the setting for a pair of new group activities that will debut next year at the JW Marriott Guanacaste Resort & Spa, in the Guanacaste province in northwestern Costa Rica. During the daytime, groups can join the Labyrinth Adventure, which includes an all-terrain-vehicle excursion through the woods to arrive at the labyrinth, with options to go horseback riding and soar above the scenery on a canopy tour. After dark, the Fine Dining Under the Stars program leads groups to the same dramatic setting for a gourmet, open-air dinner, as well as a cacao ceremony accompanied by live music and a circle of candlelight. Each program accommodates up to 40 people.
     
    Pet the locals
    Translated as "Land of the Strays," Territorio de Zaguates is a nonprofit rescue shelter for stray dogs in the mountains of Alajuela. Here, visitors can take part in a wide-ranging, no-kill effort to take care of more than 1,300 dogs — they can even go on walks through the countryside with the canine residents.
     
    Hail a taxi
    Andaz Costa Rica Resort at Peninsula Papagayo recently debuted a new Nimbu water taxi, which takes guests to the new Andaz Beach House and is also available for private tours around the coastline.
     
    Festival Time

    This colorful country offers a wealth of cultural and historical activities. Plan your event to coincide with one of these traditional festivals (contact the Costa Rica Convention Bureau for more information):

    • The annual Fiestas Zapote, which takes place in January, centers around a large-scale rodeo in San José.

    • The pre-Lenten Limón Carnival brings lots of costumes, floats and music to the streets of the Caribbean port city of Limón.

    • A celebration that takes place in two indigenous communities, the Fiestas de los Diablitos (Festival of the Little Devils) includes costumed locals re-enacting — through music and dance — a victory over Spanish Consquistadors. The event takes place in the southern Pacific towns of Boruca in December and Rey Curre in February.

    Top 10 Restaurants in Costa Rica

    Costa Rica offers a wealth of dining options. Here is a list of some highly-rated choices in the capital of San Jose.

    1. La Terrrasse French Cuisine - French 
    2. Restaurante Silvestre - Latin 
    3. Restaurante Jurgen's - International
    4. Restaurante Grano de Oro - French
    5. La Esquina de Buenos Aires - Steakhouse
    6. Park Cafe - International 
    7. Tenedor Argentino - Steakhouse 
    8. Furca - Steakshouse
    9. Limoncello - Italian
    10. Tin Jo - Chinese, Japanese, Indian