Costa Rica Travel Tips: 10 Things You Should Know
Hey there travel lovers! I’m Hannah, a solo female traveller from America on a mission to see the world. After visiting Costa Rica for my first time I decided to quit my jobs, sell my car and pack my two backpacks to follow my dreams of travelling the world. I’ve been travelling around Costa Rica for over 3 months now and here are some things I have learned along the way. Here are my 10 tips you should know before you travel to Costa Rica!
1. Costa Rica Travel Tips: Bugs!
Before coming to Costa Rica it’s important to be prepared for bugs and potential bug bites. Take it from me, I didn’t properly protect myself the first 2 weeks of travelling Costa Rica and the mosquitos and no-see-ums (which are a very small sand fly that are 10x more itchy than a mosquito bite, aka a traveller’s worst enemy) feasted on me. I’m gonna be real with you; my feet, ankles, legs and arms were covered in bug bites that drove me to the brink of insanity. So, with that being said, it is definitely worth putting in the time, effort and small chunk of change to protect yourself from bites.I didn't properly protect myself the first 2 weeks of travelling Costa Rica and the mosquitos and no-see-ums feasted on me. I'm gonna be real with you; my feet, legs and arms were covered in bites that drove me to the brink of insanity. Click To Tweet
Coming into close contact with bugs is inevitable in Costa Rica and honestly it’s all a part of the experience when travelling to a tropical paradise. Plus, you will see some truly remarkable unique bugs while travelling here! Try your very best to avoid scratching the bites as this will help them heal much faster. When you do get bug bites make sure to wash them right away and apply some natural balm/lotion. Again, learn from my mistakes!
My bug bites were so itchy I actually got several open wounds from scratching them too much (these bugs have taught me some serious self discipline). Rubbing the bites is a good way to help subdue itching. Avoid being outside during dawn and dusk as this is when bugs like mosquitos and no-see-ums are primarily out! When you do go out after dusk just make sure to apply repellent and consider wearing long loose pants to help protect your legs from getting bitten. Also, make sure to bring repellent with you as it can be quite pricey in Costa Rica!
2. The Currency
The local currency of Costa Rica is the colónes. Costa Rica does accept US dollars and credit/debit cards are accepted most places as well. Exchanging money at the airport is more expensive as they tax you for the transaction. Taking money out of an ATM and choosing colónes is a cheaper way to exchange your money or you can go to a large grocery store and get change back in colones as this is a far better rate vs. the airports.
Of course, you can find a bank and exchange your money there as well. Keep in mind that smaller towns don’t usually have ATMs so make sure to always prepare ahead of time. XE Currency convertor is a great reliable source for checking the daily currency exchange rates as they do sometimes change. Right now, 1 USD=580 CRC. So if you have 5,800 colónes that is equivalent to 10USD.
3. Visa Requirements
Depending on where you’re from, you are allowed to stay in Costa Rica for 90 days until you need to renew your visa. If you wish to travel in Costa Rica longer than 3 months you will need to border hop, meaning you need to cross the border, pay a small exit tax usually around $6, travel to a different country for at least 4 hours and you will be allowed to come back to Costa Rica for another 90 days.
Whether you plan to stay for more than 90 days or less, you need to make sure you have a return flight or a bus ticket to prove that you will be leaving the country within 90 days. Honestly, the workers at customs don’t always check to see if you have a ticket out of the country. However, you always want to make sure to have a ticket showing you will be leaving after 90 days because on the off chance that they do check, it’s going to be a headache to deal with while trying to cross the border! If you do plan on staying in Costa Rica longer than 90 days TicaBus is a great, reliable place to buy a bus ticket to a surrounding country like Panama, Nicaragua or Guatemala.
The weather alone is a huge reason why people visit Costa Rica. I mean what’s not to love about sunny days, tropical vibes and consistently warm weather! From mid-November until April is considered the dry season with December and January the most popular months tourists choose to visit. From May to mid November is considered Costa Rica’s wet/rainy season. I know from experience that rainy season is still an amazing time to visit because there are fewer tourists, prices typically go down and this is a perfect time to go whale watching and see other unique sea life!
Plus, in the beginning of rainy season it will still be hot and sunny during the day and only rain for a few hours in the evening, leaving you with plenty of time to explore during the day and relax to amazing Costa Rican rainstorms in the evening. Always remember to wear sunscreen along with maybe bringing a sun hat, loose fit clothing and definitely sunglasses! I recommend buying a good amount of sunscreen depending on the length of your stay because, like bug repellant, it’s quite expensive in Costa Rica.
Before travelling to any new country it’s always a good idea to learn the basics of the native language. This will give you more confidence and really allow for you to immerse yourself in the culture and form meaningful relationships with the locals. The people here are very nice and patient with foreigners who are learning Spanish and they will often times even help you with your Spanish. Sometimes locals will ask you to help them with their English which is such a rewarding culture exchange.Costa Rica has a phrase that most locals live their lives by which is: PURA VIDA. Which means pure life, simple life— a relaxed slow paced way of life. Click To Tweet
Costa Rica has a phrase that most locals live their lives by which is: PURA VIDA. Which means pure life, simple life— a relaxed slow paced way of life. Locals say this a lot! You will hear them say it as a way to say thank you, you’re welcome, hello, goodbye. Pura Vida is a versatile and interchangeable phrase here in Costa Rica! Here are some simple Spanish phrases that will come in handy as you travel around!
- How are you = como estas?
- How much is__ cuanto es
- My name is = mi nombre es
- What is your name = Cual es su nombre?
- Where are you from = de donde eres?
- Thank you = muchos gracias
- Nice to meet you/ My pleasure = Mucho gusto
- Where is the bathroom? = donde esta el bano
- Have a nice day = que tengas un buen dia
- Good morning = buenos dias
- Goodnight = buenas noches
- See you later! = nos vemos mas tarde
6. Costa Rica Travel Tips: Cost of Living
Costa Rica is definitely the most expensive country in Central America, but tit’s well worth it to experience this beautiful paradise. Accommodation, food and transport will be your biggest expenses.
Keep in mind if you are renting a car you need to pay for insurance as well. I’ve met quite a few travellers who were not aware of having to pay extra and ended up not being able to afford renting a car. Roads are not very developed in Costa Rica so when renting a car make sure to be extra cautious! Tips are included into the service tax so don’t feel bad for not leaving tips at restaurants because they aren’t expected but certainly appreciated. However, do make sure to tip your tour guides!
Let’s talk about food! Sodas are family owned restaurants that offer Casados, which is a big plate of rice, beans and plantains with your choice of veggies and/or meat for roughly $3- $5 depending on where you are! Plus, you are supporting local businesses and families by going to sodas along with getting to experience and taste local Costa Rican cuisine. Almost everywhere you go you will find a farmers market where you can buy local produce for a good price. If you are a fruit lover like me, always buy fruit from the markets you see on the sides of the street. You get a lot more for your money while again supporting local families/businesses.
You can find most hotels and hostels starting at $15-$20 a night! Hostels typically tend to be on the cheaper end and this is also a great way to meet other travellers and people from around the world! Choosing to volunteer and do a work exchange program is a great way to cut the costs of living or travelling. Through a quick internet search you can find many places around Costa Rica that offer work/trade where you offer a few hours a work a day in exchange for free accommodation and sometimes even free food!
Although Costa Rica is not the cheapest place to visit you can still travel here on a budget and still have an amazing time if you’re smart about where you spend your money!
7. Tap Water & Vaccinations
The tap water in Costa Rica is generally safe to drink. Wherever you plan on staying it’s always encouraged and smart to ask locals or people who have been living in the area for a long time if the surrounding tap water is clean. It’s also smart to bring a reusable water bottle to help reduce plastic and keep our planet healthy! There are no required vaccinations to enter the country of Costa Rica.
8. Public Transportation
Costa Rica is full of amazing nature and sometimes very remote places, so the public transportation is highly dependent on where you are staying. In most cities and small towns, there’s a bus system which is very easy to use and also the cheapest option for public transport, other than hitchhiking. Bus prices depend on how far you’re going and from where. Hitchhiking is more common in some areas, like Tinamaste, where there’s a tight knit community of people who will stop and offer to give you a ride up the hill even if you aren’t actively trying to hitchhike. Of course, always be safe and cautious when deciding to hitchhike and use your best judgment if it feels safe to get in the car.
There are usually two different types of taxis in Costa Rica: red taxis and local Tico taxes called colectivos. The red taxis are very obvious to spot and usually charge way too much compared to the local taxis. My advice is avoid these taxis unless it’s the only option available to you. The more time you spend in Costa Rica you’ll get used to spotting colectivos. If you are waiting at the bus station or on the side of the road, you can easily spot them because they either honk or shine their lights to indicate that they are a taxi.
At first, I was reluctant to get into a random car, as anyone should be. However, after talking with many locals, they explained these are safe and way cheaper than red taxis. These local taxis usually cost 500 colónes; whereas, the red taxis are anywhere from 2,000-5,000 colónes. In some areas of Costa Rica, like chill Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean side, you can rent out bikes and bike your way around surrounding towns!
9. Travel Safe
Costa Rica is a relatively safe place to visit with many friendly locals. You always need to be aware of your surroundings no matter where you are in the world, even in your home town. The biggest safety threat is petty theft like pickpocketing or bag snatching so just be smart! Don’t carry large amounts of cash with you, avoid carrying your passport around at all times; instead just take a picture or print out copies of your passport. Don’t flaunt expensive possessions, be aware of your surroundings, don’t leave your belongings unattended at the beach, lock your car. If you choose to have a couple drinks avoid getting too drunk especially when travelling alone.
Also, a word of caution for all my solo female travellers out there! Be aware of local Tico men as they can sometimes be very forward and aggressive in their approach when they see a female travelling by herself. All in all, Costa Rica is one of the safest Central American destinations to visit, just practice basic common sense and you will have an amazing time!
10. Local Culture
The locals in Costa Rica are (for the most part) friendly and interested in getting to meet foreigners. As mentioned earlier, the locals here live their life by the phrase Pura Vida. The culture here is laid back, simple and slow paced. Unless you are driving on the roads… where locals are usually speeding due to running late! You will hear people say “Tico Time” which refers to locals typically being 15-20 minutes late to places because of the slow way of living.
If you want to blend in as a tourist wear simple, comfortable clothes. I’ve met and created many meaningful relationships with locals here and they have taught me so many important life lessons. For example, how a simple life can truly be so beautiful and that the amount of money you have does not determine your level of happiness. Costa Ricans have a very beautiful perspective on the world and find their happiness in the simple things. We truly have a lot to learn from this amazing culture!
Enjoy paradise! Pura Vida!
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