Thinking about planning your first trip to Costa Rica? Use our insider Costa Rica Travel Tips to make the most of your vacation. Famous for its spectacular scenery, which includes everything from white-sand beaches and verdant rainforest to fiery volcanoes. Costa Rica offers something for everyone, whether you’re looking for the perfect family holiday or a romantic escape. We’re pretty sure that after you experience the Pura Vida, you’ll be looking forward to your next vacation in paradise. Follow these Costa Rica travel tips on visiting and you’re sure to have the vacation of a lifetime!
Plan ahead for the high season
Any time of year is a great time to visit Costa Rica. However there is a definite high and low season. Tourists tend to flock to Costa Rica between December and April, during the infamous “Dry Season” and the country really comes alive. It’s an incredible time to be here. But if you’re planning your trip between December and April it is best to make your reservations WELL in advance. Rooms and tours tend to fill up very quickly during these months. Additionally prices tend to increase dramatically the closer you get to the high season.
Learn a little Spanish
Spanish is the official language in Costa Rica. Many of the locals speak English, especially around the popular tourist areas. You’ll also have no problem finding bilingual tour guides or hotel staff. However it never hurts to know a bit of the local language! Knowing a few Spanish phrases will go a long way as you’re traveling through the country, especially when you’re wandering around small towns, visiting local restaurants, or buying souvenirs. Make sure you look up tico phrases and idioms as well. Costa Ricans almost have their own version of Spanish!
Be ready for tropical weather
Throughout Costa Rica you can find up to 12 different micro-climates! That means that the weather can be extremely different in two places only a few miles apart. The most common weather conditions you’ll encounter will be heat, humidity and rain (depending on when and where you travel). Even if you’re traveling during the dry season, be ready for all kinds of weather, even rain. It is still a tropical country after all!
Try a vacation package
There are plenty of reasons why travelers choose to use Costa Rica vacation packages when planning their vacations. Besides saving you the hassle and headache of researching reputable tour operators and highly-rated hotels, a custom vacation package is made just for your needs! In addition, working with a reputable travel agency like My Costa Rica is safer than traveling on your own. For example, My Costa Rica does it’s research! We know the best hotels and safest tour companies. We’re also available to you 24/7 as part of our Always There for You Guarantee. If you’re looking for a stress-free holiday where everything is taken care of by travel professionals – a vacation package is worth considering.
Focus on one region
Despite its small size, Costa Rica seems HUGE when trying to plan a vacation. Costa Rica has over 800 miles of coastline and more than 2 dozen national parks. There is so much to see! Fortunately, it is quite possible to get the entire Costa Rica experience without wasting precious vacation days trekking all over the country. For example, in Guanacaste you can visit pristine beaches, tour a national park and go on various adventure and nature tours. The same applies to several other Costa Rica Regions. Talk to one of our expert travel guides to figure out what region will suite your needs best.
Plan for more than a week
All that being said, while you’re here you might as well get the most out of it! Most people agree that Costa Rica cannot be done in a week. There is so much to see, you’re much better served spending at least 10-14 days. Who doesn’t want a longer vacation anyway, right? Even though the country itself is quite small, the roads are not very developed and you often have to drive through the mountains between locations, so it can take a long time. You’ll also find very different cultures, beaches, forests and rainforests throughout the country so it is good to see as much as you can to get the full Costa Rica experience.
Be prepared to spend
While most Central and South American countries are typically considered cheap, Costa Rica definitely is not. It is better to over-budget when you are planning your trip and be ready for high prices. This is especially true in tourist destination. Costa Rica prices rival those in the United States and United Kingdom. That being said it is still possible to find affordable food options and souvenirs. Shop in grocery stores for food and shop around in different tourist shops to find the best prices. Avoid buying souvenirs in the airport on your way out of Costa Rica.
Bring cash and credit cards
Both are widely accepted throughout the country. Most hotels, stores, tour operators and restaurants accept credit and debit cards but paying in cash can sometimes get you significant discounts. The country has numerous banks scattered in every city and town, so exchanging money a simple affair. You can also use your ATM card to withdraw local colonies or dollars; just ask your bank ahead of time about transaction fees. In general, you’ll always get a better deal when paying with Costa Rica colones, unless the price is advertised in dollars. Having a little of both is always handy, as some stores in rural areas will only take local currency.
In Costa Rica, the Spanish word for tip is “propina.” And unlike in the U.S., tipping is relatively uncommon outside the tourist industry. For example, most restaurants include a 10% service tax in the bill, so adding 15% isn’t necessary. Taxi drivers don’t expect a tip either, but always appreciate a little extra when the service warrants it. If you book a nature or adventure tour, tipping your guide is completely up to you, and many travelers feel a $5 or $ 10 tip is appropriate for a particularly attentive guide.
Buy a SIM card
Gone are the days of expensive international phone calls or slow Internet speeds. Costa Rica enjoys a well-developed communications system. High-speed Internet (wireless, cable and DSL) is available countrywide, and Internet cafes are common in tourist towns. Most cost less than $1 per hour, and myriad hotels offer free Wi-Fi to their guests. Costa Rica supports 3G and 4G service, and prepaid phone cards can be found at both airports, for cheap calls during your travels.Simply buy a local SIM card for about $2 and get a “pre-pago” (pre-paid, or pay-as-you-go) plan. Just $10 can last you up to 2 weeks! Local phone providers are Movistar, Kolbi and Claro. Convenient Apps to download before you arrive include Waze, Google Maps, WhatsApp, Skype and Uber.
Try local food
This is one of the best and most flavorful Costa Rica Travel Tips! For a tasty meal that’s easy on the wallet, visit one of Costa Rica’s countless sodas. They are small, mom and pop restaurants that serve the famous Casado. Translated as “married man’s meal,” a $5 casado comes with your choice of meat (chicken, fish, pork or beef), rice, beans, salad, and plantains. And if you’re lucky, your meal will also include a serving of savory picadillo–perfectly seasoned potatoes or squash. For dessert, look for tres leches. A moist vanilla cake made with three kinds of milk. Another great option is the local version of a snow-cone, known as a Granizado.
Don’t pack too much
Costa Rica has so many amazing destinations, it’s likely that you’ll be moving around. Pack lightweight, quick-dry clothes and leave your valuables at home. We understand that it’s easy to get carried away with your clothing choices, but keep in mind that regional airlines impose strict weight limits (usually a maximum of 25 pounds per person on Sansa). Many hotels and resorts provide onsite laundry service for a small charge, and if you’re staying on the beach, lightweight, quick-dry clothes are highly recommended. Remember that you can always pick up lost or forgotten items at one of the many shopping malls or pharmacies.
Pack sunscreen and bug spray
In Costa Rica the sun is fierce and the bugs are many! Don’t let sunburn or pesky mosquito bites ruin your trip. The nearer you get to the equator, the stronger the sun is. Costa Rica lies between 8-11 degrees north of the equator. As a comparison, Southern California lies 32 degrees north of the equator. A good guideline is to not stay in the sun for more than 60-90 minutes at one time. If you are in the water, use a higher SPF, as the reflection of the sun on the water makes it more likely to get burnt. While the risk of mosquito illnesses in Costa Rica are relatively low, there are still plenty of mosquitos buzzing around, especially near the rainforests. It is a good idea to carry bug spray with you at all times as well as anti-itch cream, just in case you do get a few bites.
Be ready for bugs
Costa Rica is remarkable tropical country with many amazing beaches and acres upon acres of rainforests and national parks. It also contains 5% of the world’s biodiversity! While we love Costa rica for its amazing diversity, that also means that there are many critters crawling around. No matter where you are staying, you’ll likely encounter many different bugs. Fortunately, most are harmless! If you find an unwanted bug, don’t stress about it. It is best to roll with the punches, say Pura Vida and go back to enjoying your vacation. Just make sure to check your shoes before you put them on, keep your food sealed and use bug spray and mosquito nets when necessary.
Pay attention to beach & rainforest safety
The beaches in Costa Rica are truly spectacular. However riptides are rampant throughout Costa Rica so do your research about beach safety and ask locals about the currents before you take a dip. After you’ve enjoyed the beach you’ll probably find yourself in one of Costa Rica’s incredible national parks. While exploring it is always best to travel with a guide and listen to their instructions about the wildlife and trails. It is unlikely that you’ll encounter dangerous wildlife in the rainforest, but make sure you follow their instructions and don’t take unnecessary risks. Additionally, make sure to always follow the marked paths and hike with a group.