After spending three months in Costa Rica, I have learned one thing or two! That is why I want to share with you all my tips and tricks so that you can enjoy your trip to the Pura Vida country to the fullest! Indeed, there are several things to know before visiting Costa Rica and I would have loved to know them ahead!
Things to know before visiting costa Rica
- Costa Rica is divided into 7 provinces: San Jose, Alajuela, Puntarenas, Cartago, Guanacaste, Limon & Heredia
- As Costa Rica is close to the equator line the sun rises early and sets early (about 5:30 am respectively 6:00 pm – might vary depending on the season of course)
- There is a difference in climate between the Pacific coast and the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. In other words, the dry season on the Pacific side is from December to April, while the dry season on the Caribbean side is mainly from July to October.
- In the central part of Costa Rica, such as La Fortuna or Monteverde region, you will need a jacket as the temperatures are cooler at the end of the day, and a lot of wind along the day.
- Spanish is the official language with also local indigenous languages.
- English is not very common. We notice a huge difference between the Caribbean and the Pacific coast in the number of people that can speak English. Indeed, while in the Caribbean coast (namely Cahuita and Puerto Viejo) has several locals that speak English, on the Pacific coast it is quite the opposite.
- You can pay in two currencies, either the US dollar or Colons (the local currency). We always paid in Colons during our stay. 1 US dollar is 640 Colons at that time.
- Credit cards can be used easily anywhere. Only two main parts of Costa Rica required cash only: Tortuguero National Park and Drake Bay (Corcovado National Park).
- ATMs can give you either Colons or US dollars. Keep in mind to always withdraw money inside a bank (not on a sidewalk) for safety reasons. Moreover, BNC and BN are the two banks that don’t charge fees for any withdrawals.
- When you go to a restaurant or buy a service (such as a guided tour, massage, etc.), taxes are added to the initial price, namely 13% general tax and 10% service tax. Therefore, always ask if the prices shown are taxes included.
Cost of living
- Costa Rica is such an expensive country. The cost of living is very high and is comparable to prices in Europe/Canada (even more expensive sometimes).
- Speaking of prices, most of the time is cheaper to eat in a Soda (which is the name of local restaurant) than buy grocery shopping.
- Read my ultimate Costa Rica travel guide here to have a detailed budget.
- Costa Rica has (surprisingly) two international airports: Liberia airport also known as Daniel-Oduber-Quirós, located in the North West part, and Juan Santamaría airport, located in San Jose (central part).
- several other local airports offer domestic flights such as Juan Santamaria airport to Drake Bay airport. A great option if you are short on time.
- Costa Rica is considered the safest country in the whole of Central America. And I can relate!
- Locals are very kind and always want to help you. Many times, ticos came to us asking if we needed help.
- Just don’t stay on the beach after dark. Otherwise, stick to the basics guidance and you will be fine.
Mobile data & Wifi
- Power outages are frequent here but never last long.
- WiFi is mostly terrible throughout the whole country. Hence, unfortunately, this country would not suit digital nomads (for now).
- If you buy a local SIM card, go for Kolbi&ICE only. Don’t buy Claro because it has a very weak network and in some parts of the country it doesn’t even work at all (such as on the Osa peninsula).
- Go for a prepaid mobile plan and then charge your phone at any store. You just have to find a shop with the Kolbi sign (a frog) at the entrance.
- WhatsApp is very popular in Costa Rica. Everything is done through Whatsapp: medical appointments, activity reservations, etc. Don’t bother yourself with emails or phone calls.
- Costa Rican roads are very basic and not very well maintained. Therefore, subscribe to full insurance if you rent a car as Costa Rica is one of the countries with the most road accidents in Central America.
- Most of the roads across the country have one lane. Consequently, traffic jam is very common in Costa Rica.
- Avoid making long trips on Sundays because this is the day when the locals return to the city after enjoying nature. Hence, the traffic is even more important than usual.
- The distances to be covered are longer than expected. Even if the GPS announces 2 hours of road, multiply it by 2 in case of traffic or mountain road.
- As the roads are basic, during the rainy season, you need to have a 4×4 to move around certain areas.
- There is no sidewalk anywhere on Costa Rican roads. It can quickly become dangerous when you have to walk a long way along the road to reach your destination.
- Usually the roads are limited to 90km/h.
- Costa Rica can be visited by public buses. There is a free app called Moovit that gives you information about the bus schedule and changes. Even though the information is not always accurate, the app will make your bus journey much easier!
- Some bus companies (such as Tracopa) offer numbered seats, on a first-come, first-served basis. Therefore, I strongly advise you to always arrive early to book your seats (especially if it is a long trip)! One other thing to keep in mind is that bus companies overfill the bus capacity. In other words, they continue to sell tickets (at the same price) even though there are no more seats. Then, you will have to stand in the middle of the bus. And for having done it a few times, I promise you that it would be a terrible ride!
- You always need to pay inside the bus directly to the driver except for longer journeys, for which is advisable to go to the ticket office in the terminal. They only take cash by the way!
- The price of a bus trip varies from one bus company to another and you have no way of knowing the price before you get on the bus.
- The point of departure and the destination is noted in front of the bus. So, it is very easy to find the right one. If you have a doubt, just ask the driver.
- There is not much leg space inside the bus. For tall people like us, it is very difficult to do long journeys!
- Don’t be surprised if everyone is listening to music on speakers or talking on the phone. It is normal in Central America, it is part of their culture.
- Alright, so I know everyone probably told you not to take “pirates” as they called them which means non-official taxis. However, in three months around Costa Rica, we used (despite ourselves) mainly “pirates”. Indeed, official taxis are very difficult to find outside “big” towns. You can, of course, find them at the airport, big city and that is all.
- You can recognize the official taxi by its red color with a yellow triangle in front of the car.
- Official taxis or pirates, whatever you decide to grab, always set the prices with the driver before going in.
- I advise you to ask to your host or hotel for a trusted taxi.
- Uber app is not very common in Costa Rica. Some parts of the country such as San Jose, Alajuela town, or La Fortuna town offer Uber options. However, you have to pay them in cash only.
- Even though the country has great public transportation, if you have the budget, I would highly recommend renting a car. In this way, you will not be dependent on buses and you will be able to visit easily all the places, even the most remote ones. Indeed, public buses remain only on the main roads. Therefore, if the place you want to visit is far from this road, you will have to either finish the trip by cab or on foot.
- Be aware that there are tolls on the roads when you change provinces and enter a highway.
- Don’t be surprised if you see every time in busy places, people that ask you for money for parking because they will watch your car. They are called “parquet” and you won’t be able to escape them. Just give them a few colons and they will be happy with it.
- Water is drinkable in most parts of Costa Rica.
- A 2L water bottle costs on average less than 3 US dollars in a shop.
- Costa Rica has, unfortunately, a lot of stray dogs, some places more than others as is the case in the Osa Peninsula.
- Don’t touch fauna or flora and always keep a safe distance to respect them.
- Costa Rica is home to many deadly species from snakes to trees. Therefore, always look where you put your feet (especially for snakes – Costa Rica has hundred of them with notably the most dangerous ones.)
- Costa Rican Wildlife is incredible and we felt comfortable with all of them around our surroundings, except for the presence of the white-faced monkeys. Take extra caution will you are around the Capuchin monkeys since they are very clever and are very used to human presence (unfortunately). Consequently, if you have food in your bag, for example, they will come at you to steal it.
- Wildlife is so abundant in Costa Rica! Therefore, this country is perfect for all animal lovers! We saw animals every single day and we felt grateful for it!
- There are quite a lot of mosquitos around the country. I haven’t found the right solution to repel them even by putting long sleeves when the sun is down and insect repellent.
- Don’t be surprised if after a beach session, you have red spots mainly on the legs. There are “purges” bites as locals use to call them. In other words, sand fleas.
- Also, sandflies are terrible in Costa Rica, especially along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. And you know what? No insect repellent will work on repelling them at all!
- In most cases, you will need to pay the entrance fees by credit card only.
- One single-use plastic and food are forbidden in some national parks. Therefore, I can only advise you to come with your water bottle.
- There is only one national park in Costa Rica that offers park entrance for a donation (you choose the amount). Otherwise, all other parks have an entrance fee of at least 15 US dollars per person.
- Airbnb is very well-known in Costa Rica and we only used this booking platform. One advantage of Airbnb is that you won’t have a surprise about Taxes (13%) when you pay at the counter of a hotel for instance. Indeed, taxes are already included in the total price.
- 99% of the time they don’t want you to throw paper in the toilet as they have a very poor specific system.
- As the country has high demands and expensive accommodation, I strongly advise you to plan your accommodation at least 2 weeks. Otherwise, you will have difficulties finding available accommodation.
- If you have less than 3 weeks available in Costa Rica, I highly suggest you stick to one part of the country. In other words, either visit the Pacific coast and the central part of the country or visit the Caribbean side and the central part of Costa Rica. This is (especially if you don’t have a car).
- Starting from 3 weeks available in Costa Rica, you will be able to visit most of the country.
Frankly, Costa Rica has stolen my heart at first sight! I have never felt better than being here surrounded every single day by nature and wildlife! I can’t recommend you enough to visit this country and experience the Pura Vida lifestyle!
During these amazing three months, we always felt safe. It was our first time in Central America and we couldn’t have started with a better country than Costa Rica.
I hope I have highlighted the main things you need to know before visiting Costa Rica and I sincerely hope you will love this country as much as I did! In the meantime, don’t forget to check out all my posts related to Costa Rica here.
Sending you lots of Love,