TRAVEL TIPS FOR COSTA RICA TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
If you are inspired by lush flora and fauna, massive volcanoes and pristine beaches, then Costa Rica may be right up your travel alley.
It is a gorgeous and exotic country with so much to offer for both the luxury and adventure traveler.
Travel is starting to incorporate a major shift to sustainable tourism, and Costa Rica has been on the forefront of this movement for quite a while.
In fact, the country has a goal of becoming the world’s 2nd carbon-neutral country by 2021, after Bhutan.
For useful travel tips for Costa Rica, use this handy guide to help you make the most out of this beautiful country.
You may also want to check out Visit Costa Rica for additional information.
Planning Tips for Visiting Costa Rica
- If you choose to visit during the high season of November through February, be sure to book a few months in advance. People usually like to flock down south for the winter, so flights and hotels, not to mention top tours and attractions, sell out quickly. The week leading up to Easter is another busy time.
- To help with the country’s sustainability goals, opt for locally-owned ecolodges and tour companies that promote sustainable tourism, whenever you can.
- Plan to stay at least 1 week here, and 2 weeks if you want to visit 3-4 places. The country is small, but there is much to experience and you will need time to get to each of your destinations.
- Be sure to bring along a sturdy backpack, because you will, no doubt, be doing a lot of hiking/walking. The best travel backpack will not only carry your essentials, you can use it as a carry-on during your flight.
- To get the most out of your trip, consider a guided tour. There are so many to choose from: jungle trek tours, zipline adventures, volcano tours, horseback riding trips, village excursions, national park treks…these are just a few of the epic tours to choose from.
- Once you land at your destination airport, consider purchasing a prepaid SIM card for your cell phone. Without it, you will be unable to make or receive phone calls, or have data capabilities without being charged exorbitant roaming fees. However, some cell phone carriers do offer international plans that include Costa Rica, so check with them prior to your vacation.
- Costa Rica can be an expensive destination, so budget accordingly. Restaurants will generally charge a gratuity on your bill, on top of a 13% tax. Having accommodations with your own kitchen to make some meals yourself will go a long way towards saving money on food.
- Travel during the rainy season (May to November) to take advantage of the lowest prices. The crowds will be thinner at this time, but then that means the weather will not cooperate as much. A typical “rainy season” day is sunny in the morning, cloudy in the afternoon and rainy later in the day. This means you can still have fun during this time of year, while also saving money.
- When booking a tour, make sure the company has a permit with the Ministry of Health, insurance policies and certified tour guides. Also, check weather conditions before starting a tour, so you are wearing the right protective gear.
- Despite what you may hear about the water in Central America, drinking tap water in Costa Rica is quite safe! If you find you are running low on bottled water, refilling with tap water is okay.
- Be sure to always carry your original passport with you. US citizens only need a passport, and a valid return ticket (either back to the US or another country) within 90 days of entry. Police in Costa Rica are allowed to stop anyone and ask for papers, so always carry your passport with your tourist stamp with you at all times. They are generally very nice!
- Don’t accept unsolicited help from strangers, no matter how friendly they may seem. If you need help, call 911 or seek out a police officer.
- The currency of Costa Rica is the colón. However, US dollars and major credit cards are accepted in most places. When you do exchange money, make sure it’s at approved foreign exchange offices and banks. All bank transactions require an original passport, and ATMs are located throughout the country.
- Tipping is completely voluntary. Why? Because a 10% tip is generally added to your service bill. You can, of course, add an extra tip, but it’s usually not expected. This goes for restaurants, tour guides, drivers, maids, etc.
How to Get Around Costa Rica
While Costa Rica is a fairly small country – slightly smaller than the state of West Virginia – that doesn’t mean that you can road trip all around the country with ease.
There are paved roads, but often they are only one lane, which can cause traffic congestion.
Additionally, there is no main road that traverses the coastline, as there are in other countries.
So, allow much more time for travel.
It’s best to adopt the model of taking things slowly!
Don’t try and stuff a lot of activities and locations into a short period of time.
You’ll just stress yourself out trying to get there on time.
If you are going from one end of the country to the other, look into booking domestic flights to save some time.
For the ultimate in independent adventure, consider renting a 4×4.
The major roads are paved, but many others are little more than rugged.
And if it’s raining?
You’ll have to contend with muddy conditions, to boot.
But it’s all in the name of adventure!
Just don’t get stuck in the mud, and watch for potholes.
Follow local safety tips and weather conditions.
If you do rent a vehicle, be sure to check for any damages – verify the condition of the car and its safety equipment.
Also, read the contract to understand what is covered and what is not.
Some terrain in Costa Rica can get quite sketchy, so be aware of situations where a rental car may not cover you in some areas.
Public buses are a cheap way to get around.
That is, if you’re not in a hurry!
The infrastructure here is still developing and is a bit convoluted, but it’s a great way to experience local life.
The buses are privately owned and bus conditions vary.
In addition, these private companies set their own rates and times.
Depending on where you want to go, find out which bus company has that route and where their terminals are.
Some of the major companies are Pulmitan, Tuasa, Tracopa, and Grupo Blanco.
Most buses will have their destination displayed at the front, as well as the name of the bus company.
While most of these companies don’t have dedicated websites, you can more easily get information on schedules once you get into the country.
Or, there is an app called Yo Viajo that is handy to use for bus information.
For example, the 7-10 bus station in San Jose is a major hub, with several companies running from here to various destinations.
An exception to this is the Pulmitan bus company, which has its own station from San Jose.
See what I mean by convoluted?
Having said that, Pulmitan has nice double-decker buses with air-conditioning and WiFi, going to such places as Guanacaste.
On city buses and short routes, they only accept fares in cash in the local colónes currency.
Simply hand the driver your fare – there is no pay machine on board.
You don’t need exact change, but having small bills and coins is a good idea.
In San Jose, you can take the public bus to nearly every tourist attraction.
On longer routes you can pay with a major credit card or cash at the bus station.
Keep in mind that bus stops are not always easily marked, and some bus stations are even inside restaurants or joined to another business.
As you are moving about, stay vigilant in crowded and touristy areas, and especially in transportation hubs, were petty theft is a common problem.
Keep your valuables close to you and/or locked at all times.
And don’t wave your cell phone around!
Only use it discreetly when you need to.
Although most Costa Rican residents know English pretty well, picking up a few Spanish phrases will get you far with the locals – it will earn you kudos and a warm welcome!
Not to mention, it will boost your bargaining power at the local markets should you find an item you simply must have.
If you are traveling during the high season, get off the beaten path, leave the crowds behind and head to the Caribbean coast, as opposed to the more populated Pacific coast.
In the east, the area is less developed.
The beaches here are a little more challenging to get to (rent that 4×4!), but you will be rewarded in the way of more seclusion.
The Cost of Traveling Costa Rica
For the average traveler, $200 per day is the suggested budget.
This includes lodging in mid-priced hotels, tours, food and incidentals.
Expect to pay between $900 and $1,400 for a week.
The value added tax (VAT) is 13%, which is added to things like hotel and restaurant bills.
To get the best prices, consider traveling in the off-season (the rainy season).
This is when hotel rooms and vacation rentals will generally offer the best deals.
Costa Rica Booking Resources
The big tour companies are not made the same; you will want to do your research before you book.
Visit Go Costa Rica for the best tours available, depending on your interest.
The following are the best platforms for online booking, and a great way to begin planning your trip to Costa Rica.
Not only can you book from these websites easily, you are able to comparison shop given your dates of travel and your budget.
Momondo – A great resource for inexpensive flights, and endorsed by many frequent travelers.
Skyscanner – One of the best websites for searching multiple destinations at the same time.
Google Flights – A quick and easy way to search for any flight. Enter your departure and arrival airports to bring up a calendar with prices so that you can see which dates have lower fares.
Hostelworld – The largest selection of affordable hostels online. Many hostels these days have more amenities and options for private rooms.
Booking.com – The best overall platform for finding budget hotels and guesthouses. They have the biggest inventory and the best deals.
Hotels.com – You can find a variety of different types of accommodation here. Also, frequent members can earn free hotel nights.
Airbnb – This is a great way to get the local experience, by staying in a place hosted by a local.
World Nomads – This is one of the leading travel insurance carriers, and they have several different plans according to your needs.
These travel tips for Costa Rica will ensure your travel plans to this breathtaking country leave you prepared for the adventure of a lifetime.
Do you have any travel tips for Costa Rica that I missed? If you do, leave a comment below!
If you are looking for a step-by-step guide to help you plan your trip to Costa Rica, check out The Ultimate Guide to Trip Planning.
If you are still feeling overwhelmed, or simply do not have the time to plan your trip to Costa Rica, why not let us help you? We will create the perfect bespoke itinerary just for you!