9 Things to know before traveling to Costa Rica
Perfectly planned-out trips are never a good idea – that’s not what this list is about.
When you’re on vacation, the element of surprise and experiencing the unexpected are how some of the best memories are made – and that just doesn’t happen when you always know exactly what you’re getting into.
It IS however, a good idea to have some basic knowledge of the place you’re visiting before going there. And that’s what we’re going to talk about here. Nothing too meticulously detailed or overcomplicated – just some simple and helpful background info on one of the best vacation destinations in the world!
Here are a few travel tips to keep in mind before visiting costa rica.
1. Bring bug spray
Aside from your passport, this might be the single most important thing to bring with you to Costa Rica.
Traveling to the tropics has gotten a lot more serious with Zika. And if you’re one of those people (like me) who wasn’t blessed with the mosquito-repelling gene that some people seem to have, you’ll need to protect yourself.
*Important note – In addition to the discomfort that mosquito bites cause, Dengue Fever and Zika are also something to watch out for. Want more information on the current state of Zika in Costa Rica? Try reading: Zika on the Osa Peninsula? 7 Costa Rica travel tips.
The good news? Dengue Fever and Zika can be easily prevented by wearing bug spray! For further information on prevention I highly recommend: Costa Rica and Mosquitoes: Tips to Prevent Zika, Dengue, and More
2. …..and Sunscreen
Costa Rica is located 10 degrees north of the equator and we all love the beaches – enough said. Wear sunscreen.
(PSST… for more tips on what to bring with you to Costa Rica, click here).
3: If you rent a car, be cautious
Driving in Costa Rica is probably a lot different from what you’re used to. No street signs, no street addresses, and traffic laws are… not really enforced. But potholes, dirt roads, and wild drivers are the norm – stay alert on the road!
Remember you are on vacation, so enjoy the journey. Don’t push yourself by driving fast or worse, driving at night. Avoid San Jose rush hour, it is one of the world worse.
It’s also important to note that while drunk driving is illegal in Costa Rica, drinking while driving is NOT (even more reason to exercise defensive driving in Costa Rica).
4. Don’t expect to see a McDonalds on every corner.
This isn’t L.A., London, or New York. Costa Rica is a small, mostly rural nation without many of the “conveniences” that larger cities have. While this may seem inconvenient to some, it’s part of what makes Costa Rica so special, unique, and rich in culture.
So instead of sitting around missing Starbucks or Burger King, immerse yourself in Costa Rican culture and try some fresh and flavorful local cuisine.
5. Notify your bank before your trip
It happens to the best of us. You’re on vacation, finished enjoying a lovely meal with your significant other (or friends, family, whatever), and your card gets declined.
Unless you warn your bank that you’ll be traveling out of the country, this will most likely happen to you. Avoid this mess ahead of time by calling your bank.
Seriously – just do it. It takes 5 minutes.
6. Be smart with your finances
Costa Rica is Credit Card Friendly. You’ll always get the correct exchange rate with your credit card, so don’t be afraid to use it. Most hotels and restaurants across Costa Rica do accept credit cards.
However, there are some more remote restaurants, shops, tour operators, taxis, etc. that ONLY accept cash. While Colones (the Costa Rican currency) is the cash of choice, I have yet to find anyone who does not accept dollars. The only stressor about dollars is the exchange rate (the big hotels by the way are the worse). If you want to avoid this all together carry some colones. ATMs are easy to find, just about anywhere in Costa Rica.
7. Travel Smart – Travel safe
Costa Rica is beautiful, laid back, and generally extremely safe. It’s very unlikely that you’ll experience or witness any sort of violent crime while you’re there. But just like in any big city, it’s important to protect yourself against petty theft. Remember Costa Rica is a third world country and most people are poor.
Don’t let your common sense go on vacation. It is easy to get caught up in the moment, but make sure you check yourself. Generally what is wrong in your country is wrong in this country. Don’t leave valuables in plain sight or unattended. You wouldn’t do it in New York, don’t do it Costa Rica. If you care about it, take care of it.
To decrease your chances of getting pick-pocketed, try to keep jewelry and other valuables out of sight, avoid going out after dark by yourself, place valuables in your hotel safe, and be aware of your surroundings at all times.
Click here or more tips on staying safe in Costa Rica.
8. Plan out your excursions
This is the one thing that I suggest looking into ahead of time (at the very least), as the excursions/adventures you decide to partake in will affect what you’ll need to bring and how much money you will be spending on your trip.
I mean, you wouldn’t want to decide halfway through your trip that you want to hike a volcano, and then realize that you’ve left your day pack and hiking boots at home, would you? It’s always good to have a general idea of what sorts of activities are going to be available to you and pack accordingly.
9. The exit visa (fee)
Once the standard fee everyone had to pay on their way out of Costa Rica, fewer and fewer tourist have to line up and pay this. In an act of brilliance, Costa Rica has mandated that the airlines incorporate this fee in the ticket charge. However it is not fully implemented with all airlines, especially the discount airlines. If you do need to pay at your departure, the airlines will let you know. The cost of $26 per person (paid at the airport in cash or credit card) catches many people off guard. Be sure to factor this extra expense into your travel budget – especially if you have a big family!
Costa Rica isn’t just another place to visit – it’s a magical experience. And with a bit of knowledge and planning ahead, your trip will be better than you could have ever dreamed possible. And above all else, remember to have fun, go with the flow, and make the most of every situation!