First of all, please keep in mind you are traveling to Central America, do not confuse Costa Rica with Puerto Rico. This is probably one of the most common mistakes tourist make when planning a trip, I have been in the tourism industry since 2010, and trust me you don’t want to book your flight to San Juan when you actually meant San José. Which brings me to another interesting point, San José Juan Santamaría Airport is the correct one, there is another airport called San José in California. (Yes I know this might sound crazy but it has happened).
Planning your trip
After double checking your flight, we have two possibilities: Did you plan the trip on your own or did you hire an agency? Let’s focus on the first one, even though Costa Rica is a very small country, distances can be pretty long, especially because we are filled with mountains and roads are not that great. It is very important that you ask for advice when designing your itinerary, you won’t want to spend most of your time on the road. Make sure to take advantage of your traveling between destinations, there are many stops you can accommodate during your journey.
Trip Advisor can be a very powerful tool when choosing hotels and restaurants, but make sure to research each place separately (visit their website, search for other review platforms). Always call or email each place even though you have booked your hotel through a different channel, Costa Ricans are very polite and helpful, don’t be afraid to ask everything you need to know. After all, we are Pura Vida!
You will have a laugh with this one. We don’t have a sense of direction, no really, we don’t have street addresses, or house numbers or anything similar. We always joke about it, because the first thing a Costa Rican might tell you when you ask for a direction, could be the following:
“Just keep straight, then turn right and where you see a white cow tied to a tree next to the yellow house. That’s where it is”.
So please, if you are able to get a GPS, do not hesitate. It could save you a lot of time and it will avoid frustration. But remember, Google Maps and GPS can be tricky, taking you on back roads where you would need a 4×4 car, so my next advice is to contact the hotel, restaurant or destination beforehand in order to have a clear understanding of where they are located. And if any of the devices mentioned work for them.
Renting a Car
There are many rental car businesses in Costa Rica but go for the ones you have heard of already. I’m sure there are many brands you will recognize. I would always recommend renting a 4×4 car, you are in the tropics and with this type of car, you won’t have to worry about anything. If money is an issue, and you have to rent a 4×2, then I would suggest strictly reviewing the tip I gave you on directions.
One of the most common questions is, should I bring dollars or colones? Since Costa Rica is a very touristy destination, almost anywhere you go will accept dollars. But make sure you have small dollar bills. It is always safe to carry at least some colones that you can exchange once you are in the country. You can visit Banco Nacional de Costa Rica or Banco de Costa Rica (Costa Rica’s main banks) and exchange your money.
Costa Rica is very unpredictable when it comes to weather. One day it could be bright sunny and the next morning you will have rain all day. No matter what you read on the weather forecast, do not believe it entirely. My recommendation is to always be prepared, we are in the rainforest and you need to be mentally prepared to any climate change. But please, embrace it, enjoy the rain when it comes and the sun when it shines. The best adventures happen when you least expect it no matter the weather, you will always have fun in Costa Rica. Rain brings flowers and animals alive, is the reason why you will see everything completely green.
You have to know the correct places to drink water from the faucet. If you are in the mountain area, it is very safe to do so. But don’t drink it if you are at the beach or in the city. It’s always safe to buy water, but if you can, bring a water bottle with you so you can refill whenever you can. We try to cause the least environmental impact.
Spanish is our main language. You will find that around 50% of the population speaks a little English, not fluently but they can maintain basic conversations. The nice thing about Costa Rica is that we do not have any language barrier when it comes to tourists. We will make every effort possible to come across. “Ticos” will use Spanglish or figures with their hands to make you understand. They will laugh and joyfully help you out. Don’t be scared to try and communicate, you will find it quite easy with a Costa Rican. If they can’t do it they will find a way.
Last but not least: Meals.
Our menu is very simple, we eat rice and beans every single day, every single meal. A typical breakfast will include our famous “Gallo Pinto” (Rice and Beans), eggs, sweet plantains, cheese, tortilla and sour cream. For lunch, we have the “Casado”, again rice and beans but this time it won’t be mixed like in the morning, plus a picadillo (finely chopped potatoes or other vegetables), salad, sweet plantains and a meat of your choice (Fish, Chicken or Beef). At night you can have another Casado or a light rice and beans with something else you can choose from. It will get boring trust me! We Costa Ricans are used to it, but we are very aware that after a week you might be looking for other options. Don’t worry you will find many other alternative meals on the menu.
If you keep these tips in mind, your trip to Costa Rica will start with the right foot. There are so many other tips you need to know. But keep posted, I will be talking about them according to each province. You can search through them and make sure to make the best out of this Pura Vida Journey!