Experienced independent travelers might sniff at the idea of an escorted tour, especially in a country where hostels and hotels seem to be on every corner and English is widely spoken.
However, many activities have both high demand and surprisingly high prices, and there are few regular public bus services throughout the country. A group tour is a top travel tip for Costa Rica, as you can pack many experiences into a 10-day visit without worrying about availability or logistics. Rough Guides’ customized trips offer a comprehensive itinerary planning service, working with a local expert on the ground to create a personalized itinerary that’s right for you.
3. Be prepared to spend
Costa Rica is one of the most expensive countries in Latin America – and not only in comparison to its neighbors. For certain supermarket items, such as mineral water and sunscreen, the country can even compete with the U.K. and the U.S.
To save money, eat plates of gallo pinto in small, family-owned sodas, pay for groceries and other small purchases with colones in local currency instead of dollars, and travel at reduced room rates during the off-season (aka rainy season). If you are eating out, please note that 10% service charge and 13% tax will be added to most restaurant bills and the corresponding budget.
Additionally, many natural areas, from waterfalls to national parks, charge an entrance fee, so you’ll have to consider more than also. Check out our Costa Rica Travel Essentials page for budgeting tips and more.
Plantain, rice and beans are a common Costa Rican dish.
4. Watch your stuff
While Costa Rica is generally a very safe country, pickpockets and petty theft can be a problem. If you use common sense, you will avoid the hassle of lost items. Never leave objects on display in your parked car. If you are going to the beach, try to park in a parking lot (some are guarded by enterprising locals) or near other cars.
Next, note that pickpockets are used at bus stops and other crowded places like markets. Don’t leave your bags unattended and report theft at the local police station if you’re unlucky.
5. Take care when it comes to the weather
Even in the dry season (between December and April), visitors to the central highlands and Atlantic coastal plain should prepare for frequent downpours.
The rainy season begins in earnest in May. In late September and October, many hotels and restaurants on the Pacific coast are closed for a break before getting ready for high season again. At this time of year you may find some more options on the Caribbean coast.
No matter how clear the sky is at daybreak, make sure to pack waterproof clothing and packs for valuables when traveling in the rainforest. And if the showers dampen your spirits, you can always head west to the sun-baked plains of the Pacific slope.
The suspension bridge through Monteverde’s cloud forest reserve
6. Learn the language
You won’t have any trouble finding locals with good English in Costa Rica, but learning some Spanish can not only earn you high praise and a warm welcome, but also strengthen your bargaining power.
Those with plenty of time on their hands can go one step further and enroll in one of the many language schools scattered throughout the country to put their Tico accent directly to the test.
7. Choose between the adventure gateways
Monteverde and La Fortuna are two of the most popular backpacking destinations in northern Costa Rica and both are great for outdoor activities. However, it can prove tedious to switch between the two, and much of the adventure offering is similar.
If you don’t have time for both, our top travel tip is to opt for Monteverde, as it comes up trumps thanks to its drier climate and bohemian charm.
Waterfall La Fortuna de San Carlos in Arenal Volcano National Park, Costa Rica
8. Rent a 4×4
If you want to drive yourself in Costa Rica, you must consider a 4×4. While some main roads are paved, many others are little more than dirt roads. Add heavy rain and you have a muddy mess to navigate. Even in dry weather, keep your eyes open for potholes that can cause car trouble. Keep water and snacks in the car in case you break down, and try to carry a cell phone so you can contact the car rental company if needed. If the idea of driving sounds intimidating, you can opt for a guided trip with transport. To get in touch with a local travel expert in Costa Rica, contact us at.
9. Swap the Pacific Coast for the Caribbean
A quick solution to escape Costa Rica’s crowds is to head east instead of west. Because Liberia’s international airport is so close to the Pacific coast, it’s an easily accessible beach destination. The beaches of the Caribbean coast are much harder to reach, which means the region is also much less developed. If you are looking for an extraordinary experience, you can explore the Caribbean Coast.
The Caribbean coast of Costa Rica is less known.
10. Involve a neighbor
Although tightly packed into the waist of the Americas, each Central American nation has its own character, attractions and heritage. Neighbors Nicaragua and Panama are the easiest and most obvious additions to a stay in Costa Rica.
Nicaragua is a more rugged destination best suited for intrepid, budget-conscious travelers. Panama offers a cosmopolitan capital as well as a variety of rural adventure activities.
11. Respect the country’s sustainability features
Costa Rica aims to become the world’s second carbon-neutral country (after Bhutan) by 2021. To support its eco-friendly goals, opt for eco-lodges and locally owned operators that practice sustainable tourism whenever possible.
To distinguish between good, bad and ugly, Costa Rica’s Tourism Institute has developed the CST (Certificate of Sustainable Tourism). Companies are ranked from level one to five based on their commitment to the cause.
Ecolodge overlooking Lake Arenal in central Costa Rica
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