Is this your first time travelling to Costa Rica? If so, you’ve made a great decision. Tourists from around the world come here for vacations, honeymoons, backpacking and even to retire. Depending on your budget, accommodation ranges from the best rentals in Costa Rica to beds in dormitories and homestays. The destination offers everything you could need and want as a tourist, and it’s likely you’ll return again in the future. Here are a few essential points to know about travelling to Costa Rica for the first time.
When to Visit
Almost all of Costa Rica’s two million tourists visit during the dry season, which corresponds to winter in the northern hemisphere. Expect crowds and price hikes but good weather. Some of the rooms sell out months in advance, especially around Christmas. If you want to escape the crowds and save a little, head in the wet season. The rainy season typically starts in late April lasting until November. Expect a few downpours, but it usually rains in the afternoon. This means you can still go hiking, sunbath on the beach and enjoy Costa Rica to the fullest. September and October tend to be the wettest months.
Where to Go
Knowing where to go before you turn up will help you get the most out of your trip. The vast majority of tourists arrive in San Jose. Spend a night or two in the capital city. If you want to experience the nature and wildlife, you’ll find several national parks and protected areas. Surfers often head to the Pacific Coast especially in Guanacaste Province to the northwest. Those looking for relaxation on quieter beaches with gentle waves usually head to the east and spend their time along the Caribbean coast. Buy a guidebook, research online and have a rough idea of where you want to go.
What to Do
Costa Rica’s claim to fame is the biodiversity. Thousands of species of animals live in the rainforests including colorful birds, monkeys, sloths, snakes and jaguars. Visiting the national parks are a must. Check out Manuel Antonio, Tortuguero, Corcovado and Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Other unique attractions include volcanoes (Poas, Arenal and Irazu), waterfalls and lakes.
If you’re into adventure activities, you can go ziplining through the rainforest, surfing, hiking and whitewater rafting. Be sure to trek in the jungles and visit as many waterfalls as you can. And not to mention the relaxing along the beaches and exploring the historical centers of Costa Rica’s charming towns.
What to Avoid
The first thing to avoid is renting a car unless the whole purpose of travelling to Costa Rica is to do a road trip. Rentals are super expensive even compared to the United States. It’s unlikely you’ll find anything for less than $400 to $500 per week. If you look online, you’ll probably think the advertised cost is reasonable. Don’t fall for it. The price doesn’t include all the additional extras including mandatory insurance and hidden fees.
Don’t rely on taxis all the time. Costa Rica is no different from the rest of the world when it comes to the typical taxi scams. Some claim the meter is broken or conveniently forget to reset it from the previous customer. Instead, Uber might be a better option. It reduces the risk of scams, gives you an estimated price for the journey and is generally safer to use.
Another thing you should avoid in Costa Rica is relying on using your credit card. You might not be able to use it in all the places throughout the country especially in rural areas. The vast majority of places will allow you to pay using your card. But you might have extra charges and high rates.
Getting the Best Value
When you arrive in Costa Rica, change some money into the Costa Rican colon. You might read that you can use the US dollar and the vast majority of places will accept it. But, you should also remember that you’re not going to be paying the official rates. More likely than not, the vendor will round up the cost based on a favorable rate to them. For example, most will estimate 500 colon for $1. However, if you look at the official rate, this might be as low as $0.90 meaning you’re paying an extra 10%.
Costa Rica is notorious for hidden fees. Advertised prices might not reflect the real amount you pay. Always clarify what the total cost is before you order or pay for something. When you explore the country, you can either join a tour or rely on public transport for independent travel. Use a combination of both. Some tours and guides are worth it to learn and appreciate the biodiversity and wildlife. Other times, hiring a guide might not be good value for money.
If you want to be savvy and potentially save a fortune, bring sunscreen to Costa Rica. When you’re outside all day under the hot sun, you’re going to need it. But a single bottle here can cost up to $25, which is probably three or four times the price back at home. The same is true for insect repellent. Buy a few bottles at home and bring them with you. Most tourists forget this and end up complaining when they arrive.
Traveling to Costa Rica
Now you have the essentials about where to go, what to do and how to get the best value for money, it’s time to start planning your dream trip. Costa Rica makes a great travel destination, and you won’t regret the decision to visit.