Costa Rica is a gorgeous country with immense biodiversity including fascinating flora and fauna. There are several breathtaking crystal blue beaches and plenty of exciting activities for travelers. Costa Rica has been a hot travel spot for the past decade, and interest continues to grow as resorts, attractions, and eco-tours expand to accommodate more visitors. If this country is on your list of beautiful places to see, it is essential to know as much as possible before you travel. Continue reading for our pro tips for a vacation in Costa Rica.
➜ Location and affordability. Given that Costa Rica is located in Central America and surrounded by countries that are relatively cheap for travelers (Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama), the big misconception is that Costa Rica is the very same. However, this is not the case. Be sure to do your homework before traveling to ensure you budget correctly for everything you want to see and do while you’re there.
➜ A wide variety of accommodations are available to suit different budgets, from luxury and all-inclusive hotels to mountain lodges, cabins, and hostels. No matter which one you choose, when booking a hotel ask for a written confirmation of the service and cancelation policy. Do not give any information about your debit or credit card over the phone, and be sure to use the hotel’s safe-deposit box while you’re there.
Outlets are 110 V, with standard US two-prong plugs.
➜ Vaccines. The health care system in Costa Rica is very good, both private and public. However, basic vaccines for hepatitis A and B are recommended, as well as rabies and tetanus, before making the trip. When traveling FROM countries in Africa (Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Sudan), Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, and the Republic of Guyana, the government of Costa Rica requires the yellow fever vaccine certificate. The vaccine must be administered at least 10 days before the start date of your trip.
➜ Respect the country and its residents. Over 25 percent of Costa Rican land is a part of the protected parks and reserves. With 27 national parks, 32 protected zones, and eight biological reserves, the land is beautiful and should be respected. This means cleaning up after yourself when you spend the day on the beach, leaving the wild animals and plants alone, and bringing a reusable water bottle instead of buying plastic ones.
Although many locals know English, there is no harm in learning basic Spanish phrases to help communicate more effectively. Download some audio lessons on your mobile device and listen while traveling or keep a pocket translator handy.
➜ Money tips. The colón is the currency of Costa Rica. US$ dollars and major credit cards are widely accepted. Exchange money only at banks and approved change offices. Check the exchange rate here. Bank transactions require a valid passport (not a copy nor a picture).
ATMs are located throughout the country. Some of them remain closed from 11:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m.
Remember not to flash your cash.
Sales tax or Value Added Tax (VAT) is 13%. It is included in the final price of every service or product purchase.
The departure tax should be included in most airline tickets. For those flight tickets where it is duly stipulated that they do not include the departure tax, you must pay $29 per person, either in dollars, colones (local currency), credit or debit card.
➜ Book tours offered by authorized travel agencies. Ensure the company has the operating permit of the Ministry of Health, insurance policies, and certified tour guides. Make sure the tour guide provides you with the safety instructions and the activity´s regulations before starting the tour. Always check the local weather conditions and forecasts before you take a tour, and take a ‘copy’ of your passport along with you.
➜ Eat where the locals go. It is easy to find restaurants, sodas, cafes, bistros, and bakeries. The cuisine is quite extensive and includes both national and international options. A fantastic way to become enriched in the culture of Costa Rica is by going to authentic ‘Sodas,’ which are small eateries that serve delicious local food. The local cuisine includes plenty of beans, rice, plantain, sour cream, and the local dish Casado. Casado is a meal that incorporates rice, black beans, lettuce, plantain, and a protein source. They can also be vegetarian and vegan too!
In restaurants and hotels, a 13% Value Added Tax and a 10% tip are included in the final price; however, if you are happy with the service and want to leave a gratuity, it is welcomed.
➜ Drive Safely. Driving in Costa Rica is the best way to explore the land, so renting a 4X4 vehicle is advisable. However, when renting, be sure to read the contract thoroughly to understand what is covered and what is not. Ask for details of car policies and insurance, and be aware of all the details about the insurance policies. Verify the condition of the car and its required safety equipment (warning triangles, reflective vests, lug nut wrench, spare tire, and a fire extinguisher
Understand that the roads in this country are of poor quality. Being a defensive yet safe driver in Costa Rica is important, as the driving infrastructure is not always the best. Plus, the terrain can get more adventurous depending on where you choose to go.
If you experience a mechanical issue or a flat tire avoid stopping in lonely places and don’t accept unsolicited help from strangers. It is better to call the Rent-a-Car or dial 9-1-1 to request help. Don’t leave any valuables unattended in your car – such as credit cards, cash, jewelry, or your passport. Use public parking lots with surveillance. And finally, use a GPS or a GPS navigation app. It’ll save time and prove convenient when exploring. Just make sure you have a chip or an international data plan!
➜ Be aware of your surroundings. Costa Rica is a safe country to visit, making it the perfect destination for families with children. That being said, it is crucial to be aware of your surroundings because pick-pocketing is a common crime – as it is in many touristy destinations throughout the world. Safety tips include keeping totes, purses, and backpacks zippered shut and carried toward your front, instead of slung over your shoulder toward your back and accessible to anyone behind you. If you tend to carry your wallet in your back pocket, move it to a front pocket, or place it safely in an interior jacket pocket or fanny pack. If using a fanny pack, never buckle it at your back where it could be easily accessed, unsnapped, and drop to the ground – pull the buckle around to your side or front.
➜ Additional Safety Tips
➣Use official transportation only.
➣Avoid unsolicited help from strangers.
➣Avoid walking, jogging, or sightseeing alone in secluded areas, especially at night.
➣Do not share the details of your itinerary on social media or with strangers.
➣Understand the risks of traveling alone and being with people you do not know.
➣You can trust the police. They are there to help you.
➣Always keep in touch with your family and friends.
➣In case of emergency or suspicious behavior, dial 9-1-1