I am a journalist with lots of experience traveling internationally, and I enjoy sharing my recommendations with other tourists.
Costa Rica paints a rich image of natural paradises, combined with adventurous activities and breathtaking sights. But before you pack your bags and buy plane tickets for your next vacation, there are a few things you should consider about visiting this country.
Here are 10 things I wished I knew before traveling to Costa Rica.
Things to Know Before Traveling to Costa Rica
- San José has the best prices for souvenirs.
- Tours are your best option to save money.
- Rent a car.
- Traffic is insane.
- Pack sunscreen and bug repellent.
- Always pack a raincoat.
- Don't worry, you're not traveling to a deserted jungle.
- The coffee is amazing.
- Be respectful of nature.
- Always tip!
1. San José Has the Best Prices for Souvenirs
In San José downtown, you will find the “Mercado de Artesanías” (The Craft Market). In this place, you can find pretty much any souvenir you could ever dream of, and all for the best prices around. The vendors will often offer you special deals if you know how to bargain, and most of them accept credit cards.
When you are out on tours, it is likely that guides will offer a stop somewhere to buy souvenirs, but don't fall into temptation: The souvenir shops often cut deals with tour guides and offer the same products you can find at the craft market for twice or triple the price.
2. Tours Are Your Best Option to Save Money
If you're not the kind to venture out on your own, I would recommend tours as a perfect way to get to know the landmarks and natural parks, while saving some money. Standard tours include transportation from and to your hotel, typical food, tickets to natural parks and a guide.
If your goal is to learn as much as possible about Costa Rica and cram many activities into a single day, tours are a safe and fun option to travel through the country.
3. Rent a Car
If you like to stick to your own agenda or simply don't enjoy the idea of traveling with a bunch of people you don't know, rent a car to visit the places on your itinerary. Public transportation is efficient in San José, but traveling to different provinces will require your own vehicle. Just keep in mind that inclement weather and road repairs can cause delays and traffic jams.
4. Traffic Is Insane
In Costa Rica, driving the same road can take you either twenty minutes or two hours, depending on the traffic. Accidents and repairs on the roads are common and often can create traffic jams that can turn into a real nightmare if you need to get to the airport on time, so be sure to factor this in when you make your schedules.
5. Pack Sunscreen and Bug Repellent
Depending on the season, you can come across different climates in the region. But even when the skies are cloudy, UV rays are still present and can cause some serious sunburns if you don't apply sunscreen correctly.
Also, keep in mind that Costa Rica's vegetation makes it the ideal place for mosquitoes and ants, so if you want to avoid any bites while you're sightseeing, it is best to apply a generous amount of repellent.
6. Always Pack a Raincoat
Costa Rica has a very diverse and changeable climate. Keep in mind that as you move through different altitudes and regions, the climate can change in minutes. It is best to keep a raincoat close at all times.
7. You're Not Traveling to a Deserted Jungle
Let's be honest, you have probably heard that Costa Rica is a very adventurous place, but you have nothing to worry about. In the touristy neighborhoods, you can find large fast-food chains, well-stocked supermarkets and basically everything you would shop for back at home. In case you need a break from the tours, there are large malls with movie theaters and restaurants in San José.
8. The Coffee Is Amazing
Costa Rica is famous for its coffee, and while you visit the country, you can find many great opportunities to taste its unique and strong flavor. There are some big-scale coffee chains, but if you are looking for a more authentic experience, buy your beans directly from the local markets or ask for a cup when you stop for lunch.
9. Be Respectful of Nature
A lot of tourists travel to Costa Rica to enjoy nature, and that is not necessarily a problem, as long as they are mindful of the conservation efforts made by the authorities to preserve the species that live here. Don't expect to hold a baby sloth or take a selfie with a monkey, since most of the natural parks have strict restrictions in place to protect the animals.
In some places, like Manuel Antonio Natural Park, the trash left by the tourist has caused many animals to die after ingesting it by mistake, while others have learned to beg for snacks from the tourists or to steal their belongings in order to search for food.
10. Always Tip!
In Costa Rica, it is customary to tip in order to reward good service. A tip of 10% of the total cost should be acceptable, but the percentage can go up another 5% if you come across excellent service.
General Tips for Visiting Costa Rica
If you are planning to visit Costa Rica, the main thing you should decide is which places will be included in your itinerary. This will help you decide the best location in terms of lodging and transportation.
Another thing you should take into consideration is the currency conversion. Most tourist spots accept credit cards or dollars, but local currency, “colones” is the best option to use for tipping. In addition, “colones” are beautify adorned and they make for a good souvenir.
© 2020 Carolina Mejia
Carolina Mejia (author) from Mexico on January 12, 2020:
Thank you! I hope you find them useful
Liz Westwood from UK on January 12, 2020:
You give some useful tips for travellers in this article.