Costa Rica's wave of popularity maintains momentum

Private villa specialist Rental Escapes already has over 100 properties in Costa Rica. But chief marketing officer Willie Fernandez is working to grow that portfolio by nearly 60% — within these next few weeks alone.

“I need the inventory to meet the demand,” Fernandez said.

Although Costa Rica has long enjoyed plenty of popularity among U.S. travelers, travel advisors and suppliers say that interest in the destination has accelerated, driven in part by a pandemic-era preference for destinations that offer a wide array of outdoor activities on top of continued pent-up demand for more memorable experiences.

“Since the pandemic, someone’s bucket list has now become their to-do list,” Fernandez said. “And they are interested in really venturing off to unique destinations and expanding their experience footprint.”

Costa Rica has nearly picked up where it left off in 2019 in terms of tourism numbers. Carolina Trejos, director of marketing for the Costa Rica Tourism Board, said the country ended 2022 with the volume of international visitors arriving by air at around 10% below 2019 levels. This year, Costa Rica expects its international visitor count to bounce back to its 2019 benchmark of approximately 3.1 million visitors.

“With hotel occupancy, we’re also seeing very, very good numbers,” said Trejos. “For our high season, which started in mid-November and is expected [to run through] a week after Easter, we are expecting almost 100% occupancy.” 

Costa Rica has also seen a recent influx of more affluent travelers, who tend to spend more during their visit, “which is good news, as far as more money being invested in our communities, our small businesses, tours, services and hotels,” Trejos said.

And she added that these luxury-market travelers will soon have more options when it comes to high-end hotel and resort accommodations. The country is set to welcome new properties from several luxury brands, including Six Senses, Waldorf Astoria and One&Only, over the next few years.

Heightened demand for upscale accommodations has meant that competition for some luxury offerings can be fierce. Jude Vargas, founder of luxury travel agency Art of Voyage, reports that clients looking to book high-end villa properties in hot spots like Santa Teresa and Nosara often need to move quickly.

“If you want a really nice, beautifully designed villa, you really have to be booking out well in advance,” said Vargas, adding that she recommends clients looking for these highly desirable accommodations book a year or more out.

The view from a Honeymoon Suite at the Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa in Costa Rica.

An opportunity for advisors

For travel advisors, Costa Rica’s growing popularity presents an opportunity.

“We get a lot of requests for Costa Rica, because it’s not an easy thing for people to book on their own,” said Carolyn Sandgren, president of Missouri-based Elite Travel Inc. & Cruise. “The perfect trip to Costa Rica [involves] flying into San Jose, spending some time up in the volcanoes and then coming down to the beach and flying home. And when you have an open jaw — where you fly into one airport, and you fly out of another — it’s a harder thing to book online.”

Sandgren said she recommends Costa Rica to clients looking for a new destination.

“When you have clients who have already been to Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Jamaica and Punta Cana and they call you and ask you for something new, any seasoned agent is going to start to look to Costa Rica and moving them into Central America,” Sandgren said.

But despite robust demand, Costa Rica is still somewhat unchartered territory for a sizable share of U.S. advisors. Rental Escapes’ Fernandez, however, predicts that’s likely to change soon.

“We see more requests for Costa Rica coming in direct right now than we do from travel advisors, but advisors are reaching out and doing their homework,” Fernandez said. “As the consumer gravitates more and more toward Costa Rica, and the travel advisor becomes more educated on Costa Rica, I anticipate that we will see a tremendous amount of [business start] coming from the travel advisors.” 

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