17 Awesome Costa Rica Travel Tips: Things to Know Before You Go

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Why Costa Rica deserves to be on your travel list

So you’re planning a dream vacation? Costa Rica should be at the top of your priority list. It’s an enticing blend of lush rainforests, stunning beaches, and amiable inhabitants.

Plus, it’s quite convenient to reach from various parts of the United States.

Whether it’s a tranquil beach vacation or an audacious trek through the jungle, Costa Rica has got you covered.

And to get you ready, let’s explore my Top 17 Costa Rica Travel Tips.

Planning Your Trip

1. What season to choose for your visit

Costa Rica Travel Tips

Costa Rica primarily has two seasons:

  • dry (Nov – Apr)
  • wet (May – Oct)

The best season for your visit depends on your travel goals. If you fancy sunbathing on sun-kissed beaches, choose the summer. On the other hand, the rainy season has its charm with fewer tourists and lower prices.

Avoid Sept/Oct on the Pacific Coast due to heavy rain, but these are great months for the Caribbean Coast.

Always remember: smart planning leads to a great trip.

2. Top tourist attractions in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a treasure trove of unique landscapes and thrilling adventures.

Some must-visit spots include:

  • Volcanoes – Get your adrenaline pumping by climbing one of the five active volcanoes. The Arenal boasts stunning hikes, while the Irazu hides a surreal green-blue lake in its crater.
  • Monteverde – A paradise for naturalists! You’ll find coffee plantations, stunning hikes, and myriad creatures on a nocturnal rainforest tour.
  • Tortuguero National Park – One of the last refuge for the endangered green turtle. It’s a haven for jungle lovers, birdwatchers, and peace seekers.
  • Corcovado – Pristine jungles, hiking trails, and diving opportunities await you in this remote and rugged region.
  • Puerto Viejo – A fun coastal town with great beaches, surfing, and a chilled-out vibe.

These are just a few of the gems Costa Rica houses. Explore more, and you’ll be amazed at every corner.

Understanding the Economic Aspects

3. The real cost of vacationing in Costa Rica

Packing for Costa Rica? Well, a bit of financial planning wouldn’t hurt. Costa Rica is a tad pricier than its Central American neighbors but offers more bang for your buck – superior infrastructure, safety, and regulated eco-tourism.

While certain costs can be the same as at home, or even higher due to import taxes, you’ll likely find accommodation and transport less expensive than in other vacation hotspots around the globe.

A meal could cost you around $5-$20, a beer won’t set you back much at $2-$4, and accommodations can range from $10 at a hostel to a few hundred dollars at high-end resorts.

Still, compared to many vacation destinations with similar climates, landscapes, and activities, Costa Rica holds its own as an affordable spot. Successfully, might I add.

4. Money and currency tips

Navigating a new country’s financial landscape can be tricky.

Here are some tips to see you through:

  • Currency: Don’t worry about exchanging your money for Costa Rican colones. US dollars are widely accepted. Remember to carry sufficient colones in small denominations when heading to more remote areas.
  • Cash or Card?: Consider carrying a mix of both. Cash, preferably in small change, can give you better deals with vendors and is a lifesaver during power outages that render credit card machines useless.
  • Counterfeit notes: Do you have US $100 bills? Ensure they’re in mint condition. Some years ago, shops and banks began refusing them due to an influx of counterfeits.
  • Negotiating Prices: Many prices, especially in markets, are negotiable. A little haggling may just save you some bucks!

Remember: Understanding the money matter makes your travel smoother.

5. Tipping in Costa Rica

Tipping in Costa Rica can be perplexing. It’s neither mandatory nor expected but appreciated. Often, a 10% service tax is already included in your restaurant bill, but if you’ve enjoyed the service, feel free to tip extra.

Tips can be in colones or USD. Tips often go straight into the worker’s pocket, making them a wholesome income supplement.

Remember: tipping well is a gesture of your appreciation.

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Going beyond the beaches – Adventure and Wildlife

6. A peek into Costa Rica's National Parks

Welcome to Costa Rica’s real gems! Home to 28 national parks, your trip isn’t complete without exploring at least a few.

Let’s get you glimpses of some absolute standout ones:

  • Manuel Antonio National Park: Known for its enchanting beaches and lush rainforest, it’s also a wildlife watcher’s paradise. Spot monkeys, iguanas, and even sloths!
  • Arenal Volcano National Park: Have a spectacular sight of the highly active volcano from the park’s various hiking trails.
  • Corcovado National Park: One of the most biodiversity-rich places on earth, Corcovado is perfect for adventure seekers and wildlife enthusiasts.
  • Cahuita National Park: A hidden gem featuring an exotic combination of beach and rainforest.

Remember, careful watch on footprints has kept the real Costa Rica alive here. The park entry fees go towards maintaining these beautiful habitats.

7. Wildlife spotting in Costa Rica

Coming to Costa Rica and not spotting a sloth? Not possible! Costa Rica stands among the planet’s most biodiverse countries, and wildlife spotting is a thrilling adventure here.

Be prepared, pack your binoculars, and you can find:

  • Monkeys and Sloths: These mischievous creatures are pretty common. The Osa Peninsula is a great hotspot for animal enthusiasts.
  • Toucans: Want to spot the vibrant Toucans? Head to the Arenal Volcano area.
  • Macaws: Scarlet macaws paint the sky with colors as they fly overhead. Look for them around Playa Hermosa.
  • Wild Cats: Lucky enough, you might spot a Jaguar in the Corcovado National Park. Be patient though, they are elusive.

Remember, preserving wildlife is a conscious Costa Rican effort, and respecting these creatures will make your experience more rewarding.

Here are all the Best Things to Do in Costa Rica

Transportation Tips

8. Renting a car vs. Public Transport

When it comes to getting around in Costa Rica, you’ve got options – rent a car or use public transport.

Each has its merits:

  • Renting a Car: While it can be costly (starting at $80 a day), it offers extreme flexibility. It’s a game changer if you want to reach tourist hotspots early or visit remote places, where public transport is scarce.
  • Public Transport: Certainly cheaper. With buses transporting you to major tourist areas, it’s ideal if you’re on a stringent budget or solo journey. But be ready for some challenges navigating through the more remote areas.

Remember, your choice will directly impact your traveling experience. Plan wisely!

9. Safety measures and local rules for driving

So you’ve picked your rental car? Before you hit the road, let’s get you up to speed with safety measures and local rules.

  • Expect Dirt Roads: In towns and cities, roads are well-paved, but elsewhere, anticipate rustic experiences. Patience, defensive driving, and avoiding potholes are the recipe for success.
  • Be Cautious at Night: Avoid driving long distances at night. Poor lighting, faded road lines, unpredictable weather, and local pedestrians are your chief adversities.
  • Beware of Unpredictable Drivers: Inhabitants might seem impatient and fast, which can seem scary to unsuspecting tourists. Stop signs and red lights can be a suggestion rather than a rule, especially late at night.
  • Insurance is a Must: Accidents happen. Ensure you’re covered.

Remember, awareness of your surroundings and understanding of the local driving culture make your journey safer.

Accommodation Options

10. Budget-friendly places vs. luxury resorts

Whether you’re a budget-conscious traveler or someone looking for a luxurious stay, Costa Rica is flexible enough to accommodate both.

  • Budget-friendly Places: Consider hostels, camping, and rental apartments. Hostels and campsites are the most affordable, often costing less than $15 per night. Beware, however, as they might lack some comfort. If you’re traveling with a group or want more facilities, look at rental apartments.
  • Luxury Resorts: If spending isn’t a concern and luxury is necessary, Costa Rica has some of the best resorts in Central America. Although a bit pricey, they provide an unforgettable stay experience with top-notch amenities, excellent food, and spectacular views.

Remember, whether you spend a dollar or a hundred, enjoy the most of your Costa Rican experience.

11. Going local with Costa Rican Airbnbs

Want a taste of real Costa Rican life? Try staying in a local Airbnb! It’s more personal and often cheaper than hotels.

Finding a place with a kitchen can save you money by letting you cook. And let’s not overlook the charm of local hosts guiding you to the places only locals know!

Airbnb options widely vary, be it luxurious villas or rustic huts. Yet each offers a unique perspective of the Costa Rican lifestyle.

But remember, book early – popular places run out fast.

Experiencing Local Culture and Cuisine

12. Authentic Costa Rican dishes you must try

Are you a foodie, too? Lucky for you, Costa Rican cuisine is simple, hearty, and delicious!

Here are some must-try Costa Rican dishes:

  • Gallo Pinto: A tasty and hearty breakfast of rice and beans. Calories are high but remember – they burn off quickly if you’re adventuring!
  • Casado: Beloved by locals, served for lunch or dinner, it’s a wholesome platter of rice and beans, some protein, and a side salad.
  • Ceviche: A perfect coastal treat, fresh raw fish is ‘cooked’ using lime juice and served chilled. Delicious and refreshing!

Remember, food is a culture’s identity. When you sample authentic local dishes, you taste a bit of Costa Rica’s history and identity.

13. The Pura Vida spirit – Understanding local customs and habits

“Pura Vida” – Pure Life. Beyond being just a phrase, Pura Vida is the philosophy of a nation. It’s about being happy and appreciating life’s simplicity. It’s used to say hello, goodbye, thank you — you name it!

Pura Vida symbolizes the Costa Rican mindset. For Ticos (Costa Ricans), life is not about worry and rush; it’s about taking things easy and enjoying every single moment.

It makes the locals some of the friendliest people you could ever meet. They respect nature, value family and social bonds, and, most importantly, know the fine art of relaxation.

Embrace the Pura Vida during your stay, and your trip will be an unforgettable one.

Essential Packing Tips

14. What to pack for a trip to Costa Rica

Did I pack everything I need? Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered.

Here’s your essential Costa Rican packing list:

  • Lightweight clothing for the tropical climate.
  • Go eco-friendly with a refillable water bottle—you’ll need to stay hydrated.
  • A sturdy pair of shoes for hiking through rainforests or up volcanoes.
  • A waterproof bag to protect valuable gadgets.
  • Sunscreen and bug spray—yes, it’s tropical!
  • A phrasebook or translator app to converse with locals.
  • Binoculars for those wildlife spotting adventures.

Remember, you’re visiting a haven of biodiversity, respect that fact by using eco-friendly products as much as possible.

Related Article: My Complete Costa Rica Packing List.

15. Gear up for some adventure

Ready to sail your boat in Costa Rican waters? Here’s some gear you’ll need for the most impactful experiences:

  • For Rafting and kayaking: Don a life vest, helmet, and grab an oar. Use protective gear: waterproof shoes, tennis shoes, or something similar.
  • Ziplining: Safety first! Ensure your harness, helmet, and security cable are properly in place before soaring across looming canopies.
  • ATV Riding: Live the adrenaline on four wheels! Wear your helmet, eye protection, and appropriate clothing, preferably boots and gloves.

Remember, adventure is fun, but safety comes first. It’s what makes the thrill worthwhile!

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Health and Safety Considerations

16. About healthcare facilities and protection against common diseases

Healthcare in Costa Rica is commendable and robust. Both public and private hospitals offer high-quality and affordable healthcare services. Pharmaceuticals are also readily available.

However, I recommend that you have adequate health insurance that covers medical evacuation. I use SafetyWing.

Costa Rica is a tropical country, and naturally, mosquitoes are a concern. Some diseases like Dengue Fever, Malaria, Chikungunya Virus, and Zika have occurred, however, their prevalence is quite low.

Wearing long sleeves, using bug repellent, and sleeping in air-conditioned or screened rooms can help prevent mosquito bites.

Remember, health is wealth – take good care.

17. Safety guidelines for travelers

For an anxiety-free journey in Costa Rica, follow these safety guidelines:

  • Stay alert about your surroundings, especially in crowded places. Petty theft is the most common offense.
  • Do not walk alone at night, and avoid empty parking lots.
  • Keep your valuables in sight at all times and lock them up when left at the hotel.
  • Ensure you don’t leave any valuable items in the car or in an easily visible location.
  • Keep a copy of your passport handy at all times.

Remember, precautions are your safety net when traveling!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Yes, the tap water is generally safe to drink in Costa Rica. However, most visitors opt for bottled water to err on the side of caution.

If you’re venturing into remote areas, it’s advisable to carry your water or check with your accommodation whether tap water is safe at that location.

For environment-friendly choices, consider carrying a refillable water bottle or a filtered water bottle. Stay hydrated!

Reliable internet and good cell phone coverage are common in Costa Rica, especially in the urban areas. Many hotels provide free Wi-Fi, but it can get patchy the further you move from the lobby.

For consistent internet coverage during your trip, consider getting a local SIM card from popular carriers like Kolbi, Claro, or Movistar.

Also, be prepared for spotty cell phone reception in remote areas or in the mountains.

Travelers from the US, UK, European Union, and around 100 other countries do not need a visa to stay up to 90 days in Costa Rica.

However, confirming the latest visa requirements from your country’s embassy or consulate before your trip is the best practice.

Remember, your passport should remain valid for a minimum of six months from your entry date into Costa Rica.

You may also be asked to show proof of return tickets or onward travel arrangements.

Costa Rica is blessed with good weather year-round, but the best time to visit depends on what you wish to do.

If beach lounging and suncatching are on your agenda, December through April — the dry season, is your best bet.

For fewer crowds, lush landscapes, and surfing, you might prefer the green season (May to November).

Remember, the Caribbean coast has a weather pattern that doesn’t always align with the rest of the country, and it might be a good option if you’re planning a trip in September or October.

Here is my complete list of The Top Beaches in Costa Rica.

While the official language of Costa Rica is Spanish, you’ll find that many locals speak some English, especially in touristic areas. This is due to the high influx of tourists, and the residents’ interest and need to communicate with them.

However, don’t assume that everyone speaks English. Knowing a few basic Spanish words could make your trip smoother and more enjoyable. The locals always appreciate it, so why not give it a shot?

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Conclusions – Costa Rica Travel Tips

Making the most out of your Costa Rican trip - Embrace Pura Vida!

As you pack your suitcase for this thrilling journey, remember one thing: Costa Rica’s beauty and charm lie in its simplicity and the Pura Vida spirit that echoes wherever you turn.

Forget your worries, gear up for Costa Rican adventures, taste the local cuisine, trek through the rainforest, lounge on the beaches, and make the most out of your Costa Rican voyage.

Living the Pura Vida means taking the time to soak in life’s beauty and truly appreciating the simple things. This is the secret to a fulfilling and joyous travel experience in Costa Rica. Embrace it, live it, love it!

I hope you enjoyed my 17 Costa Rica Travel Tips and you find them useful on your next trip. If I missed anything, Let me know in the comments below!

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