Costa Rica is a paradise for people who love nature. It’s no surprise that ecotourism is so popular there since there are so many places to hike, zip-line, kayak, and do other outdoor activities. It’s also a beautiful place to just hang out on the beach and do nothing all day. I did a little bit of both, which made for a great trip across the country.
But after being here for almost a month, I realized there were a few things I wish I had known before I came.
Here are some tips, pieces of information, and general things you should know before you go to Costa Rica, so you can have a great time and hopefully not make the same mistakes I did:
Costs can be very high in Costa Rica.
It is one of the most expensive places in Costa Rica to live in La Fortuna. Even though I knew before my trip that Costa Rica was more expensive than other Latin American countries, I was still surprised by how much it cost to travel there.
Prices for lodging, food, and activities are similar to some US cities, especially in popular tourist areas like Manuel Antonio and La Fortuna. There aren’t many free things to do in Costa Rica. National park entrance fees start at about $15 per day, and tours start at $60.
Go to the sodas for cheap food.
Mom-and-pop restaurants, or “sodas,” are one way to save money while travelling through Costa Rica. These are always very clear about what they are, and they serve hearty meals that are typical of everyday Costa Rican food.
The most common dish is called a “casado,” and it has rice and black beans, some kind of meat or fish, and a salad. Most of the time, these cost between 4,000 and 6,000 colones, or $6 to $9 USD, and they are very filling.
In an instant, the weather can change.
A rain coat and boots that don’t get wet are a must. Even though I was ready for almost any kind of weather in Costa Rica, I couldn’t believe how quickly sunny skies could turn into a downpour in the blink of an eye. Flash storms happen often in Costa Rica, especially if you plan to go there during the rainy season (May to November).
It is best to rent a car…
In Costa Rica, having a car can change the way you live. Many of the places I wanted to go were either too far away (and too expensive) to get to by taxi or couldn’t be reached by public transportation.
A person I met in Uvita said that having a car isn’t a luxury, it’s a must. When I saw how far apart many of the attractions were, this made a lot of sense to me.
…but taking the bus is cheap and easy.
I took the bus to get to Playa Ventanas near Uvita, but I got stuck there and had to hitchhike back. If you’re travelling alone and don’t have a lot of money, the best way to get around Costa Rica is by taking the public bus.
Even though renting a car gives you more freedom over where you go and when, you can get from one city to the next using public transportation. Also, it’s very cheap and easy to get around.
The national parks are wonderful places.
One of my favorite places was Tenorio Volcano National Park, which is near La Fortuna. Since I’m from the United States, I’ve had great national parks all my life.
Let’s just say that it’s not easy. But Costa Rica’s national parks blew me away with how well they were kept, how easy it was to get to them, and how beautiful they were overall. These places were amazing, from the wild trails in Manuel Antonio National Park to the waterfall in Tenorio Volcano to the Amazon-like canals of Tortuguero.
Nearly every place has wild animals.
When talking about how many different kinds of animals there are in Costa Rica, national parks aren’t the only places to find them. There seem to be wild animals everywhere here, from monkeys who like to get into trouble to sloths on the side of the road to the occasional scorpion in the shower drain.
I wish I had known how common it is for animals to live in rooms. When I found a couple of them in my bag, I realized that I had to always keep them closed.
Each coast is very different from the other.
Seeing the sun rise on the side of Costa Rica that faces the Caribbean I saw how different a small country can be when I went to both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. One thing is that each beach is very different.
Small coves with rocky cliffs and waves that are good for surfing can be found along the Pacific coast. Most of the sand is golden, and when the sun goes down, it shines in a beautiful way. I also noticed that the restaurants on the Pacific coast were more expensive and that it had a lot more tourists.
We don’t really need addresses.
Even in San José, the country’s largest city, there are no real addresses. Even on official documents, Costa Ricans don’t write their address as a number and a street name. Instead, they write a description of their home. For instance, someone might say that they live in “a big white house next to a Catholic church.”
When you go to Costa Rica, this might not be a problem because most taxi drivers know the main hotels and landmarks. But if you stay in an Airbnb, it can be hard to explain to a driver where it is.
Tours aren’t always a waste of money.
When I looked at the prices for some of the tours in Costa Rica, I was shocked. But after doing a few, I realized that some of them were worth it (while others were not).
I recommend booking through Get Your Guide when you can, because the platform gives a detailed description of what the tour includes and what you can expect in terms of how long it will take, what to bring, where you’ll be going, etc.
Get ready to fall into tourist traps.
Aside from the tour scams mentioned above, there are quite a few tourist traps all over Costa Rica. I’m not too surprised by this, given how touristy the country is as a whole. One trap is paying for expensive shuttle services that aren’t much faster or more reliable than taking the bus.
If you want to go anywhere in Costa Rica from San José, the bus will probably be just as easy. For other routes, like the one between La Fortuna and Tortuguero, which takes twice as long with public transportation, a shuttle is a great choice.