Traveling To Costa Rica – FAQs
You are bound to have questions about your trip and visit Costa Rica. No need to worry. We’re here to help! Traveling to Costa Rica will be a breeze.
You are bound to have questions about your trip and visit Costa Rica. No need to worry. We’re here to help! Traveling to Costa Rica will be a breeze.
Costa Rica is a small Central American country bordered to the north by Nicaragua and to the south by Panama. To the east, you’ll find the Atlantic or Caribbean Coast, and to the west, you’ll find the Pacific Ocean. This small peaceful country is approximately 9 degrees north of the equator. Due to its geographical position, it serves as part of the Central American isthmus between the North and South American continents and the bridge between the northern and southern hemispheres. This allowed wildlife species to migrate between the two which is one of the factors that contributed to the incredible biological diversity that is found here.
Rugged highlands are found throughout most of the country, they range from approximately 1,000 to 2,000 meters (3,000 to 6,000 feet above sea level). The Cordillera de Guanacaste, Cordillera Central, and Cordillera de Talamanca are the main mountain ranges extending the length of the country. There are several active volcanoes (Volcán Arenal, Volcán Poás, Volcán Irazú, Volcán Rincón de la Vieja and Volcán Turrialba). The country’s highest mountain is Cerro Chirripó, reaches a height of 3,819m (12,530 ft.). The country has large coastlines on both the Atlantic and Pacific sides, as well as a number of rivers and streams that attract expert kayakers and rafters. Costa Rica’s land mass is 51,100 square kilometers, making it about half the size of Kentucky or two-thirds the size of Scotland.
Costa Rica’s weather is temperate all year, so any time is a great time to travel to Costa Rica! The coastal breezes cool down the warmer beach areas. Temperatures in the mountains are pleasantly warm during the day and get cooler at night, making each-each morning refreshing and bright. The average temperatures range from 89°F at the highest on the coasts, down to 62°F at the lowest at highest elevations. The rainy season – called the green season by locals – is from May to December. But even during this season, it is sunny and warm most of the day. The rain comes in short dramatic bursts, usually in the afternoon.
Being in a tropical climate, it can be easy to get sunburned or dehydrated. Make sure you use plenty of sunscreen (remember, we’re just 9 degrees above the equator!) and drink plenty of liquids so you stay healthy during your Costa Rica vacation.
Costa Rica is 6 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time, which is equivalent to Central Standard Time (CST) in North America for half of the year. Costa Rica does not change clocks for daylight savings time, so from April through December local time is one hour ahead of CST, or Mountain Time.
If you have read any of the many guidebooks on Costa Rica, then you are probably aware that Costa Rica is a diplomatic, peaceful country with NO standing military. Costa Rica has been fortunate to have never had a single war or significant political turmoil since 1948 when it abolished its army after a civil war. The Costa Rica Government is considered by many political experts to be the most stable in Central America.
Many people ask about the general time periods of the high and low season, which typically corresponds to the dry/green season months. The dry season usually begins in late November and continues through mid-April. The rains here start in May and grow heavy in August, September, and October. While the months of August and September can be exceptionally wet (though some travelers do not mind at all), the beginning and end of the green season are, in our opinion, some of the best months to travel to CR. Prices are down, the foliage is green, and there are fewer crowds.
In Costa Rica, “regular business hours” depends on the business. For government offices, the hours are relatively short. Usually, 8 am to 4 pm, Monday through Friday. For banks, it is a bit arbitrary, and depends on the particular bank and branch; they open any time between 9 and 11 am and close anytime between 3:00 and 7:00 pm. Shops in smaller towns are usually open from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, but some will open earlier at 8:00 am, and some will close later at 7:00 pm. Most groceries stores open at 7 am and close at 8:00 or 9:00 pm. Convenience stores and liquor stores are open later till 9:30 or 10 pm. Some offices and stores will close for lunch, either between 12:00-1:00 or 1- 2:00.
A passport is required for entry in Costa Rica. For US and Canadian citizens, only a valid passport is necessary. No prior Visa approval is required. For non-US citizens, a Visa is sometimes required depending on where your citizenship is based. It is always a good idea to find out the current visa and entry requirements from your local Costa Rican Consulate. Once you enter Costa Rica, most visitors are given a 90-day tourist visa that is stamped in their passport. Make sure your passport is valid for the entire length of your stay. Some foreign nationals of certain countries may be given a shorter visa, 30 or 60 days. Be sure not to outstay your welcome!
We recommend bringing sunglasses, a swimsuit, a beach towel, a hat, sunscreen, insect repellant, a light raincoat and/or umbrella, a sweater/light jacket and long pants: evenings can be chilly (especially in San Jose or mountainous regions),comfortable clothing for hiking, touring, etc. (70-90 degree weather), hiking shoes, sandals, day pack (fanny pack, backpack, etc.), your passport, your driver’s license, your credit card, English / Spanish dictionary (many locals and 90% of the tourism industry speak English), a Costa Rican guidebook (Fodor’s, Lonely Planet, etc.), drugstore items (toothpaste, soap, lotion, razor, etc.), pharmaceuticals as they can be costly in Costa Rica and of course a camera to capture the best moments on your Costa Rica vacation!
Exchange US Dollars – When you arrive, you may exchange your money at any local bank or most of the upscale hotels (if you are one of their guests). Note that you will get a better exchange rate at banks. You may also get foreign currency by using your ATM card. However, it’s important that you know the exchange rate before you do this. US dollars are widely accepted in Costa Rica, in fact, many tours and accommodations are set in US currency. As long as you have low denominations, paying for small purchases should not be a problem. However, the exchange rates will vary depending on where you exchange your US dollars or what you buy with them. Dollars are widely accepted, but you’ll probably receive your change in colones.
Credit Cards – Credit cards are widely accepted by most businesses in Costa Rica. Most vendors give discounts for using cash, as a credit card merchant companies charge high percentages on transactions here.
How much money you spend depends entirely on what you plan to do, what you want to see, what you want to buy, where you want to go and how you want to get there. To give you an idea of what to expect, here are some average costs: a typical lunch or dinner costs around $6-8 at an affordable local restaurant (or “soda” as they called in Costa Rica) or up to $20-40 or more at a formal restaurant. Beer or basic mixed drinks run about $2-3 at a typical bar or restaurant, and double or more at a luxury hotel or posh restaurant.
Taxi fares are very cheap compared to tickets in U.S. cities. A short trip within a town like San Jose that is only 2 or 3 kilometers will cost between $2 and $6, depending on local traffic (which can be significant in downtown San Jose). Other services like Uber are also available, and the fares are usually lower. Costa Rica is seen by some as a very affordable destination and expensive by others. There is a dual economy here (local/foreign) and if you wish to make an effort to find bargains they certainly do exist, as do tourist traps that overcharge. Be aware of the current value of the local colon vs. your currency so you can make your purchases wisely.
Some of the most common questions we get are about Money & Tipping in Costa Rica. A general rule of thumb is to tip like you would in your country. In most restaurants, a 10% service charge is already added to your bill. If you receive exceptional service, we recommend leaving an additional 10%. For porters, 1000 colones (about $2) is a fair gratuity. Tipping taxi drivers are almost unheard of, but if you feel the urge, it will be well-received! For tour guides, follow the guidelines for each company or again, tip as you would be in your country for similar services.
There are several beaches that claim the lives of many swimmers every year. Costa Rica’s beaches do not usually have lifeguards, so you need to be very aware of rip tides and undertows. Most of these accidental deaths are caused when swimmers panic. Many rip tides will pull you out but not under. To escape a rip tide, swim parallel to shore until you find a place where the current subsidies, then swim to shore. Do NOT fight the current directly.
The local authorities state that the drinking water when traveling to Costa Rica is perfectly safe, but we recommend that you stick to the bottled variety wherever possible. Water in certain areas may disagree with your system, so we suggest you play it safe and be cautious of what you consume.
The fruits and vegetables in Costa Rica are safe to eat. However, if you are susceptible to upset stomachs when traveling abroad make sure that you only eat peeled fruit and well-cooked foods.
There are surprisingly few mosquitoes in Costa Rica on popular tourist beaches. There are more in the rainforest and along the rivers. If you intend to take a river rafting tour or hike the jungle, bring insect repellent, but make sure it does not contain citronella or other harmful pesticides that could hurt the local wildlife.
Despite the perception of Latin American countries being dangerous, Costa Rica remains a very safe, stable country. The most common crimes against tourists are pickpocketing and breaking into rental cars. You can certainly avoid being the victim of such crimes by not putting yourself in high-risk situations.
There is nothing required for entry when traveling to Costa Rica unless you are coming from South America or sub-Saharan Africa. In which case you must get a Yellow Fever vaccination at a minimum of 10 days before you travel. There are also some recommendations if you plan to be traveling to remote regions.
If you decide to get a vaccination as a precaution, please talk to your doctor. Usually, he or she will recommend you get the vaccination 2-3 weeks before you travel to Costa Rica. Some travelers have asked whether they need malaria pills for exploring Costa Rica’s jungles. Again, it is best to ask your doctor. You can also check out the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO).
In Costa Rica, the 911 Emergency System is in place. However, it’s sometimes faster to call the Costa Rican Red Cross (128). Make sure to leave a copy of your itinerary with a family member or a neighbor at home with contact numbers for where you’ll be each day. And buy travel insurance. For a nominal investment, it’s worth the peace of mind!
For further questions about Traveling to Costa Rica, feel free to contact us directly!
YES! Healthcare in Costa Rica is excellent and there are several ultra-modern hospitals with English speaking Doctors (some are North Americans) in the greater San Jose area.
Costa Rica has long been a desired destination for birding enthusiasts, biology buffs, natural historians and nature lovers of all types. Manuel Antonio National Park is famous for its practically tame wild monkeys. You can also see fantastic jungle creatures on the Osa Peninsula, in Tortuguero and other more remote regions. Scarlet macaws, marine turtles, hummingbirds, sloths, leaf-cutter ants, quetzals, toads, frogs, monkeys, crocodiles, toucans, bats, iguanas – the list of wildlife one can see here seems endless.
There are over 500,000 species of animals, and more are being discovered all the time. Costa Rica is home to 6% of the Earth’s species on just .03% of the Earths land, making it the most biologically diverse place on Earth per square mile! No wonder Costa Rica is considered to be one of the most “biologically intense” places on earth, particularly in the Osa Peninsula. If you love wildlife, be sure to take a guided tour of one of Costa Rica’s National Parks.
Intra-country flights within Costa Rica baggage restrictions vary from carrier to carrier. However, most domestic Flights in Costa Rica only allow a 25-pound baggage limit per person. In fact, before some flights, they will weigh you and your luggage to make sure they can handle the weight. For international flights, two bags to check and 1 to carry is the standard (usually with a 75 pound limit for each bag). Baggage fees vary widely depending on your carrier.
Yes, driving in Costa Rica is safe. Their are several reputable rental car companies available throughout the country and many visitors chose to rent a car. In San Jose you’ll find paved roads and generally good driving conditions. However there is almost always traffic and you need to watch for potholes, speed bumps and deep gutters on each side of the road. There are paved highways throughout the country but once outside of San Jose you’ll drive through many curvy mountain ranges. Near beaches and national parks the roads are generally gravel and not as well taken care of. When renting a car it is important to tell the agency where you’ll be traveling. Some places require 4-wheel drive. If for some reason you need to pull over to change a tire or get something out of the trunk, go to a public place and to do it, especially at night. Never leave valuables in the car and if you must, leave them in the trunk and be SURE to lock the doors. Make sure to have a working cell phone and download Waze for the most up-to-date maps.
Yes! However make sure that your cell phone is not “blocked” before you arrive (you can check with your cell phone provider). Once you arrive in Costa Rica it is very easy to buy a SIM card ($2) from any of the local service providers: Movistar, Kolbi and Claro. You can chose a pre-paid (pre-pago) plan and put money on your phone as you go. Re-charging your phone can be done online or at many convenient stores or supermarkets (just look for the provider logos hanging up outside the store). Ask the clerk to “recargar” and give them your phone number and amount you wish to put on the phone. If you don’t plan on using a lot of data you can last up to a week on 1000-2000 colones ($2-4). If you’re driving a car, you will want to have a working cell phone with a lot of data so you can use Google Maps or Waze. Wifi is also offered at almost all hotels and many restaurants as well.
There are some really neat locally made products that make great souvenirs or gifts. Costa Rican coffee is among the best in the world and makes a great, affordable gift. Other popular items are hot sauces, handmade wood and ceramic crafts, hammocks, leather rocking chairs and jewelry. The artisan town of Sarchi is a popular tourist stop where gifts can be purchased directly from the craftsmen. There are also plenty of tourist shops in downtown San Jose.
With two coasts, on both the Atlantic and Pacific Coast, there are a wide variety of beaches in Costa Rica on 800 miles of coastline to choose from! There are a variety of beaches here with different widths, sand color, watercolor, and foliage. For example, Manuel Antonio, Tamarindo, Puerto Viejo, Santa Teresa, and Nosara.
YES! You can plug any normal electric-powered device (hairdryers, shaver, laptop computer, etc.) into an electrical wall outlet in Costa Rica.