15 Dos and Don’ts When Planning A Trip To Costa Rica
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Costa Rica has quickly emerged as the top destination for adventure lovers. If you’re reading this post, it is likely that you’re planning a trip to Costa Rica. To get you started, here are a few things you need to know before traveling to Costa Rica!!
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Top Tips For Planning Your Costa Rica Trip
1| Get Ready To Spend Money
Let’s face the truth: Costa Rica is not cheap. Actually, Costa Rica is one of the most expensive countries to visit in Central America.
Take gas prices, for example. It costs approx. USD$1.07 a liter, which is 48% more expensive than in the USA and 22% more than in Canada! Tours average around USD$100 per person per day.
Why so expensive? It is probably because of the high prices of importing fuel and goods as well as the heavy import taxes. All these are transferred to the cost of traveling in Costa Rica. So make sure you adjust your travel budget accordingly!
If you’re curious, check out this Costa Rica Travel Costs page detailing how much it costs to visit Costa Rica.
2| Allow More Than One Week In Costa Rica
Costa Rica may look small on the map, but don’t let its small size fool you. There are so many places to see and adventures to be had – from its gorgeous beaches, misty cloud forests, extraordinary wildlife, lush rainforests to active volcanoes. It is impossible to see Costa Rica in merely a week. On our recent trip, we spent 2 weeks in Costa Rica – every day packed with activities – and we still feel we barely scratched the surface!
Our advice is: plan a minimum of 2 weeks in Costa Rica. It is a good amount of time to explore 3-4 places without feeling too rushed. You can add extra days if you want to cover more ground.
3| Visit During Rainy Season
Most people choose to travel to Costa Rica during the dry season (December-April) so that they can enjoy the nice sunny weather. But that comes with a price – it’s busy and expensive!
Why not visit during the rainy season (May-November) instead? You will run into rain showers, but in return, you’ll be rewarded with thinner crowds, greener landscapes, cooler temperatures and cheaper rates! Also, most tours run year round. Even for whale watching and turtle nesting tours!
Note: the weather really depends on what part of Costa Rica you are visiting. For example, when we visited in early November, it rained almost every day in Arenal, but was bright and sunny in Monteverde!
Pro tip: pack a light water-resistant rain jacket and bring a waterproof backpack when visiting during the rainy season.
4| Ditch Roaming. Buy A Pre-Paid SIM Card Instead.
Want to stay connected during your trip in Costa Rica? Buy a prepaid SIM card. It is cheap and easy!
You can get one at both SJO and LIR airports. Look for the Kolbi service desk. This mobile carrier is the largest in Costa Rica and has great connectivity around the country. You can buy 500MB data for USD$10 for one week, or 2GB for one month for USD$20.
Pro tip: 2GB should be more than enough to last you 2 weeks in Costa Rica. If you need more, you can top up at any store that has the Kolbi logo on the window. Simply ask for “recarga,” give the staff your phone number, and tell them how much money you want to top up.
5| Forget Google Maps. Download WAZE.
In North America, we rely heavily on Google Maps for navigation. But in Costa Rica, everyone uses WAZE. This free app is similar to Google Maps in searching for the best route. On top of that, it also gives you of real-time traffic updates, including accidents and police warnings!
6| Rent A Car
Typically, we avoid driving in a foreign country. But to maximize our sightseeing time and have the ultimate freedom to go wherever and whenever we would like, we decided to book a car rental. And that was the BEST DECISION we’ve made on our trip.
However, renting a car in Costa Rica can be tricky. We had come across many complaints about hidden fees while doing our research. After sifting through the options, we decided to go with Adobe Rent A Car – largest and most reputable car rental company in Costa Rica!
Why Adobe Rent A Car?
Renting from Adobe is easy and stress-free. They are transparent in their quote. This means you know exactly how much you will be charged when you pick up the car (no surprises!). There is NO license plate fees, environmental fees, airport fees or any other “mandatory” fees that other car rental companies make their customer pay. The only mandatory fee is the Liability Insurance (PLI), required by law. More comprehensive insurance like Collision Damage Waivers (LDW) and Total Protection (SPP) are available, but optional.
Another reason we chose Adobe is that they make it possible to enjoy a one-way trip. Our itinerary was arranged in a way that we had to fly into SJO and fly out of LIR. We thought this might be an issue given that our outbound flight was scheduled to leave at 6am (before their office hours). After explaining our situation, the Adobe staff was very accommodating. With more than 16 offices across Costa Rica, they are flexible to have the car picked up and dropped off at different locations. On the day, the staff waited at the office early in the morning for the drop-off and drove us at the airport!
On top of all that, they have a wide selection of vehicles for hire, all of which are less than 2 years of service!
Our experience with Adobe Rent A Car was exceptional. We highly recommend them to anyone looking to hire a car in Costa Rica!
How’s Driving In Costa Rica?
→ Driving in Alajuela & San Jose: Traffic is terrible during the daytime. Pay attention to unpredictable and reckless drivers. Watch out for motorbikes.
→ From Alajuela to Arenal: Hilly at times, but roads are well paved with a few potholes here and there. Try not to drive at night as there is no street light.
→ From Arenal to Monteverde: Make sure you drive a 4×4 vehicle. The last 1/3 of the drive turns into pothole-ridden dirt and gravel roads. The roads in Santa Elena town are paved though.
→ From San Jose to Liberia/Guanacaste: The main Route 1 is generally well-paved. In between Canas and Liberia, there is a 4-to-6 lane highway. Other parts are 2 lanes.
7| Book Domestic Flights If Short On Time
Flying within Costa Rica is expensive, but if you’re short on time (or don’t want to drive), domestic flights may be a sensible option.
Costa Rica has 2 local airlines: Sansa Airlines and Nature Air. They fly out to as many as 13 different destinations within the country, and it generally takes 30-45 minutes! Both airlines use small propeller planes that can hold between 12-19 passengers only.
We flew with Nature Air once from LIB to SJO and it took us only 50 mins. Even though we spent a total of USD$300 on the tickets, it was money well spent to skip the 4 hours of driving back on the same route. Plus, Nature Air has large windows, giving us an unobstructed view of Costa Rica’s lush mountains, beaches, and volcanoes from above!
One important thing to note is the small luggage allowance per person. At check-in, if your baggage exceeds their size and weight restriction for carry-on (and they are VERY strict about it), you will need to pay extra to have it checked.
8| No Need To Exchange Colones Beforehand
US dollars are widely accepted in Costa Rica, especially at hotels, restaurants, and tour agencies. Even at local supermarkets! So there is absolutely no need to exchange Costa Rican Colones in advance.
If you need Colones, go to the banks for the best exchange rates. Or, pay in USD at restaurants or supermarkets and get the change back in Colones.
Pro tip: Keep some coins for the tolls if you plan to drive. We encountered a toll booth when driving from San Jose to Alajuela.
9| Tipping Is Not Required
It is not customary to leave a tip. At restaurants, a 10% service charge is included in your bill. Tour guides, drivers, housekeepers usually do not expect an additional tip for their service.
10| Tap Water Is Safe To Drink
Yes, it is perfectly safe to drink tap water!
11| No Spanish? No Problem.
English is widely used in most tourist destinations. Having said that, it is always useful to know some Spanish, especially if you want to eat at a soda (local diner).
The Spanish phrase you will hear a lot in Costa Rica is: Pura Vida. It means “pure life,” but it is commonly used to mean hello, goodbye, and everything’s great. Remember that!
12| Follow The Experts: Join Guided Naturalist Tours
It is true that you can go on self-guided hikes and tours at many places. But you will see so much more than expected if you join the experts on guided tours.
At the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park, we joined the specialist on a walk who pointed out a variety of bird species, animals and insects along the way. If we visited on our own, we wouldn’t have spotted ourselves and gotten these amazing pictures and videos of them!
Although guided naturalist tours are a bit more expensive, they will leave you an unforgettable memory!
Note: many of these tours include hotel pick-up and drop-off so there’s no need to worry about transportation.
13| Order Seafood, But Know That Shrimps Are Expensive
Costa Rica has plenty of fresh seafood, but do you know that shrimps are very very expensive?
Fishing techniques such as trawling kill turtles and destroy coral. So, to protect the marine resources, the government has put a halt to the use of trawler nets to catch shrimp and other unselective and destructive fisheries. That is why shrimps are expensive in Costa Rica.
But not to worry, there are so many other delicious seafood available for us to enjoy at inexpensive prices!
14| Don’t Miss Out On Local Healthy Snacks
Make a trip to a local supermarket and you’ll realize Ticos (Costa Ricans) love cassava chips, yuca chips and plantain chips. They are addictingly delicious! You can find a variety of them on the shelves, sold under the brands PRO and Soldanza.
Toasted corn snacks by Jacks Picaronas are popular among the locals as well.
Coffee aficionados, check out Cafe Britt. This brand is known for their coffee and gourmet chocolates. The chocolate covered coffee beans, dark chocolate covered pineapple, and dark chocolate with creamy nut filling are a few of our favorites!
15| Go Beach Hopping? Keep In Mind That…
One of the fun things to do in Costa Rica is going beach-hopping. However, the beaches may seem close to each other on the map, but are actually far to drive to.
This is because there is no actual “road” connecting the beaches so you can’t really drive along the coast. You will have to drive out of the beach town and go back to the main road first before you can head towards the next beach community.
You may find some people attempting to drive their car onto the sandy pathways leading up to the beaches. Don’t do that. We have seen cars got stuck there and people had to push them from behind.
Pro tip: Instead of driving, rent an ATV. That is the fastest way to beach hop!
We hope you find these tips helpful for your Costa Rica trip planning. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them below!
Costa Rica Trip Planning Resources
✓ Best Luxury Hotels: The Springs, Hotel Belmar, Andaz | Compare reviews on TripAdvisor
✓ Flights + Hotels + Rental Car Bundle: Search on Expedia
Disclaimer: This post is written in partnership with Adobe Rent A Car. As always, all opinions on For Two, Please are my own and I only recommend brands that I 100% stand behind.
These are all great tips! Costa Rica is such a beautiful country, and there’s so much to do and see. I’m glad you talk about the driving here. We actually hired a local driver because the roads were so bad – or non-existent – that we felt much safer with him doing the driving! Plus, he took us to some amazing little restaurants that we would never have known about otherwise!
Hi Lois, i’m traveling there next week. I’m afraid to drive but not have much money either to spend on taxis. how much was the cost of the driver that you hired?
Hi Lois Can you tell
Me the name of the restaurant a that the driver took you?
Great article! Visited the Pacific Coast last summer and it was great during rainy season, especially since it wasn’t too crowded. It is true that in less than 2 weeks you can’t visit the whole country. I would disagree with your point 11 though, if you stick to touristy places, yes they speak English but if you visit off the beaten path places they definitely don’t and as in all of Latin America, you pay more and will be treated more like a tourist if you don’t speak Spanish. That being said English levels are higher in Costa Rica than in the rest of Central America. Renting a car is obviously a great idea but also a lot more expensive and a bit burdensome. Happy travels!
Are you saying WAZE works better than Google Maps? That is incredible. I know google maps is not as dependable when you move out of urban areas in India so I can imagine it may not be so accurate in Costa Rica. I like places where people do not expect a tip from you. I find tipping culture very demeaning. It is like throwing change on people. There are more respectful ways of saying Thank you.
I had no idea about the tipping and tap water! My former student has been traveling through Costa Rica and it’s been wonderful to see her photos of the beaches and animals. It may be one of the more expensive countries in Latin America, but it’s sure worth it!
Oh wow I didn’t know Costa Rica is so beautiful during the rainy season. The green is so lush and gorgeous! I always agree it’s better to travel during off season to enjoy a different kind of beauty!
Getting an expert local guide was probably the best thing we did in Costa Rica. Our guide took us to the top of Arenal Volcano and then the magic happened. He showed us insects, plants, and trees that we never would have noticed. With his knowledge and enthusiasm, he showed us all kinds of medicines, secrets, and mysteries of the forest. We realized that our two hour hike wasn’t even close to long enough for everything that we were seeing.
Wow, so many great tips and very useful for my trip planning to this amazing central American countries – thanks a lot for covering aspects, like: transportation, food, and pre-paid sim card. I should bookmark this when I am about to fly there! @ knycx.journeying
These are some great tips. They have really made me rethink some of my plans for Costa Rica as I was planning to visit for a week. I like the idea of hiring a car but good to know what to look out for
I loved this article. I had never been to Costa Rica and would love to visit it in 2018. I really loved your advice of planning for a minimum of 2 weeks in Costa Rica. That is what I usually do. You can’t enjoy a place in FF mode. And, I love rains so I am definitely going to follow your advice.
Havent been to Costa Rica yet but these are some great tips which I will take on board.
Fabulous tips – we LOVE Costa Rica! I’ve been three times now and it’s the most incredible country! But yes, it’s definitely not cheap, and the mass tourism from the US will keep it that way. And you should definitely allow for upwards of a week – there’s SO much to see and do!
I love love love the wet season, so am totally behind you there – we’re big wildlife fans, and photography enthusiasts, and the landscapes always look so lush for photos, with the rain bringing out more wildlife 🙂
Fantastic post and very useful tips. I’m hoping Central America, and especially Costa Rica, will feature in my travel plans in 2019 so this post will be extremely useful. I like your suggestion to visit in the rainy season – ‘bad’ weather has never really bothered me / stopped me doing anything, so it’ll definitely be nice to avoid ridiculous costs and crowds.
I have only visited Costa Rica as a cruise port. I would love to go back. Thanks for the tips on rental cars. High prices, no tipping, and roads full of bad drivers will remind us of home (Auckland). Lots of really useful tips here, and I will remember to check out cassava chips and plantains (two favourites of mine). I will come back to this page before we plan a visit.
Super tips. and the great tip on tipping not expected too 🙂 Never been to that part of the world yet. but I have read so much about Costa Rica that I need to seriously plan. Happy New Year!
Thanks for the recommendations. I live part-time in neighboring Boquete and we are hoping to take a Costa Rica road trip this year. The prepaid phone card is the #1 thing I always tell people visiting Panama, too. Great tips- especially the road conditions in each of those areas. Thanks for that.
Wow great list of tips for CR. Like the fact that you recommend people to buy a local sim card. Many travelers still dont seem to get this and are always so dependent on WiFi signal. Also no need to change Colones before your trip. Those travelers with a big stash of money always make me wonder why the hell they did this! 🙂
Costa Rica is really beautiful and we would love visiting it during the rainy season. But your first pointer of being ready to spend money left me rethinking on spending two weeks there. Great pictures and tips.
Costa Rica is an absolute delight from all the numerous accounts of travelers that I have read. Costa Rica is definitely high on our bucket list, we would love to get there ASAP. These are some great tips and are sure to stand us in good stead when we get there.
Such great tips. Certainly, didn’t know tips were not required and that the water was safe to drink. Costa Rica has been on my bucket list for a long time. Especially to see the unique and lush landscape. Waze also works better in Ecuador and other countries in Latin America. Really hope I can visit Costa Rica soon. Pinning this for later 😀
These are wonderful suggestions for all travelers. Costa Rica has fast risen on the global tourist map and on many traveler’s bucket list. It’s good that you talked about WAZE as an alternative to Google Maps. I’ll keep Adobe Rent a Car in mind when i plan my trip to Costa Rica.
Ohh Costa Rica! The main reason for why I havent visited Costa Rica before is how expensive it is! But I guess by reading your post going during the rain season a trip to Costa Rica doesn’t have to cost that much! I knew that there are many american tourist ut I am surprise that we can use american dollar there. I love seafood but I am quite glad to hear that the goverment is trying to protect the sea life! Thanks for this post and hopefully I will get to Costa Rica soon!
These tips are fantastic and also make me want to head to Costa Rica. I also love the aerial picture you have from the plane.
Looks like you explored the in and out of Costa Rica as your guide is detailed for anyone going there. I think I read somewhere about soemoen swearing by WAVE over Google, so not surprised you mentioned it again. I never expected Costa Rica to be expensive though, the name looks affordable. I agree with you, going on a gudied tour is the best way to explore another environment especially the ones that boasts of rich natural landscape such as Costa Rica. Good tips you have here. Anyone heading over to Costa Rica will surely find this useful.
Costa Rica reminds me so much of my home country, Trinidad and Tobago. It’s so lush and the birds look similar! I didn’t know it was so expensive though so I better start saving up!
I’m dying to get to Costa Rica, and I’m surprised to hear that it’s expensive. I always just think of Central America as super cheap. What would you say a budget day would cost? I would LOVE to visit in rainy season when the landscapes are extra lush, so that’s an amazing perk that it’s cheaper then as well! Great tips!
Your photos are awesome, I have always wanted to visit Costa Rica! I had no idea it was so expensive, I will definitely make sure I take your tips into consideration while I plan my trip! Grabbing a SIM card is an awesome idea to cut back on roaming costs, and renting a car would be awesome while I am there!
Great tips for travel in Costa Rica! The money one definitely sticks out, lol–we knew it would expensive, but after coming from Nicaragua, the sticker shock was significant. We also rented a car, and agree it makes the country so much more accessible. You pay a price for that, though–it’s expensive and a headache to drive, as I’m sure you guys saw! We may look into Adobe Rent a Car next time.
Inspiring Guide! I spent a few weeks in Costa Rica back in 2014! It’s true what you say about WAZE it works so well. I also concur with you about visiting during the wet season. What I did was visit right at the end of dry season. That way I got the best of both worlds 🙂
This makes us so excited for Costa Rica! it’s like a trend for Canadians to go and feel like have been missing out not going! For sure will go for more than a 2 week!!
Great tips…especially about traveling in monsoon to escape the crowd -m less crowd and greener landscapes…what more can one ask for 🙂
Also, I had no idea about this app waze…thanks for sharing 🙂
Minimum of 2 weeks? Wow! As you say, one just doesn’t think of such a long stay in the tiny place. Good to know that Costa Rica has so much to offer.
I’d definitely take the guided nature tour. The view from the sky are splendid.
Nice reading about all the tips for planning a trip to costa rica. I can’t agree more with your choices.
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nice post thanks for sharing n keep it up
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this post really amazing.
Excellent in every way. Thinking of including this beautiful country in my next travel plans. Thanks.
I am looking to go to the Osa Peninsula but have never been to Costa Rica. I will be staying at a new Place called Osa Falls Resort. It will be completed soon and it’s on the Osa Peninsula. Any do’s and don’t?
Hey! I have not been to the Osa Peninsula actually. Sorry, I can’t help answer your question.
Thank you for sharing amazing tips. Very well organized pictures and content.
Thank you, very informative post! I completely agree, one week is nowhere near enough time to fully enjoy they beauty of Costa Rica. Went two years ago for a week and came back the next year. Make sure to research and plan before going to make the most with your time over there. Amazing place!
Awesome post. This place seems to be very interesting and full of fun. I would love to add it it my bucket list and now can’t wait to explore it. Your tips are also very helpful. Keep sharing such interesting and informative posts.
Cool post! The trip to Costa Rica is really a wonderful experience.
I am really interested in traveling too 🙂
Thanks again !
I travelled a lot and have seen so many places but this will be my first time in Costa Rica. I found your post so useful for me. Many thanks for sharing all the information and tips.
If you are flying in to the airport during business hours you can buy up to six bottles of liquor or wine at the duty free store just before you clear customs. Liquor is just as expensive or more expensive in the grocery store than it is at home. There is also a 13% sales tax on almost everything along with a 10% service tax on all restraunt meals which makes it 23% added on to all restraunt meals.If you are using a foreign credit card most credit cards will charge items in colones and use the bank daily exchange rate to change them to US$ and then convert the Us dollar to your country’s currency. This can amount up to an extra 10% just on credit card and exchange rates. ATM s are available in most popular tourist towns but are usually limited to a maximum of 200$ per day. If you carry Us dollars that are accepted everywhere . If menus are priced in $ you will get dollar for dollar but if the menu is in colones most restraunt only give you 500 colones per $ when the posted bank rate just hit 600 colones. If you don’t rent a car(short term approx100$ day with full insurance)interbus and or grey line bus will pick you up from your hotel and deliver you to your next hotelat a very reasonable rate I would not go anywhere in CR pre-christmas or at Easter vacation very very expensive. The best times to go are June July, November. If you are driving beware of all the crazy motorcyclists everywhere. Enjoy your stay it is more than worth it to see this country at least once
There are great tips and good posts to travel in Costa Rica.
thanks for the information
Thank you for sharing this information. It was very useful and interesting.
Interesting place. I am glad that my family has planned a trip to Costa Rica next week as it’s so much fun and I am sure our trip will be full of excitement and enjoyment. I would love to share your post with my dad and relatives so that we can see each and every attraction there. Keep posting such wonderful places attractions.
I am sure that these are gonna help out soo nicely.
An additional note on driving, bridges in CR require the drivers attention. To save money, bridges on most roads reduce lanes. A two lane road will choke down to one lane. There is signage in Spanish to let you know which direction has right of way. Even on the multi-lane highway, bridges choke down to one lane. It is an unusual experience.
I love to visit Costa Rica. Very helpful post for me. Great informations. Thanks!!!!
These are great tips! This definitely wants me to go and visit Costa Rica. Think that is is really helpful that you suggested to buy a sim card. Also, I didn’t realise that it was going to be expensive. This has been very helpful for my future planning.
Would love to visit Costa Rica.
More beautiful is the way you have captured it.
This is great tips! This definitely wants me to go and visit Costa Rica. Thanks for sharing your information.
Costa Rica is an amazing place for nature, birds and wildlife lovers, the small country has so much to offer from tropical rain forests, cloud forests, volcanic mountains, so many variety of birds, wildlife, beautiful beaches!
Words cannot explain the love can feel when connecting with the Pura Vida vibe of Costa Rica. A very magical and special place that should be a bucket list item for everyone.