30 Costa Rica Travel Tips to Know Before You Go

Costa Rica Travel Tips You Should Know

Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful countries to visit. With incredible beaches, diverse wildlife, kind locals, and pristine rainforests, it’s no wonder Costa Rica is one of the most popular countries to visit in Latin America. With that being said, there are still a ton of Costa Rica travel tips you should certainly know before you visit.

In this Costa Rica travel guide, I am covering all the essential things you should know before visiting Costa Rica so you can prepare for an epic vacation! 

Rio Celeste Waterfall
Rio Celeste Waterfall

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Speaking English in Costa Rica

English is widely spoken in Costa Rica, however knowing a little Spanish is appreciated. Additionally, while most Costa Ricans can speak English, some locals speak very little English. Therefore, having an app like Google Translate is your best bet.

You can download Spanish before you leave, this way, the app can work offline. So, if you run into a language barrier issue, having Google translate will be a lifesaver! 

Navigating Costa Rica

An important travel tip to know when visiting Costa Rica is how to navigate getting around the Country, especially if you’re driving. Most Costa Ricans will recommend using Waze for GPS. This is because there are speed traps that you certainly will not want to be pulled over for. However, when we were in Monteverde, the locals recommended that we use Google Maps.

Therefore, I check both apps and compare each route. At home in the USA, I always use Waze, but abroad, I like being able to download the offline map with Google Maps. This way, I have directions even when I don’t have cell service. So, my recommendation is to have both apps and make sure to download the offline map on Google. 

To do this, open up your Google Maps and look for your profile picture bubble on the top right-hand side. Click it and select “Offline maps.” Next, click “SELECT YOUR OWN MAP” and choose the areas for Google to download. Note that you will need to have some available space on your phone to do this. 

Here are some of my other favorite travel apps.

Mt. Arenal Volcano
Mt. Arenal Volcano

Downloading Whatsapp

Another one of the most important Costa travel tips to know is to make sure you have Whatsapp downloaded and activated on your cell phone before you leave. Whatsapp is the main way to communicate with anyone in Costa Rica, so you will want to make sure you have the app.

Sometimes when you try to activate Whatsapp abroad, it can be annoying, so just do it before you leave!

Cell Phone Service and Sim Cards

Since we are talking about cell phones, another thing you might want to consider is getting a sim card while in Costa Rica. This is a good option if your phone plan charges a lot of money for International data.

To use a Sim Card in Costa Rica, your phone will need to be unlocked. You can find out if your cellphone is unlocked by reaching out to your carrier. When getting a sim card, they may also ask for your passport. This is normal. Sim Cards are sold at the airport and in markets. 

Three popular carriers to use are Kolbi, Claro, and Movistar. Kolbi is known to have the best service overall. Most hotels also have WiFi, but we found the further you are from the lobby, the worse the Wifi is. 

Additionally, even with a sim card, cell phone reception can be spotty in more rural areas and in the mountains, which is to be expected.

Dry and Rainy Season in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is defined by two real seasons, the “Dry Season” and the “Rainy Season,” but just because it is the dry season doesn’t mean you won’t see rain, especially if you are staying in the rainforest. Similarly, just because you visit during the rainy season doesn’t mean it will always be downpour raining. 

The beginning of rainy season on the Pacific side starts in May and ends in November. The rainy season in Costa Rica is also known as the green season because everything gets extra lush. Most times during the rainy season, it rains in the afternoon.

We visited Costa Rica during the rainy season, and generally, it didn’t start raining until after 4 PM. The key to visiting during the rainy season is to just do everything early in the morning. It is also less expensive to visit Costa Rica during this time.

If there are any months to avoid during the rainy season on the Pacific side, they are September and October, which see the most rain. On the contrary, September and October on the Caribbean side are considered the two best months in terms of weather.

Regardless of when you visit, having a small travel umbrella, rain jacket, or poncho is not a terrible idea (especially if you will be in the mountains or rainforest).

blue jeans red dart frog. Little red frog on tree branch in Costa Rica
Strawberry poison dart frog – Also known as Blue Jeans Dart Frog

The Sun Rises and Sets Around 6

Due to Costa Rica’s position near the equator, no matter what time of year you visit, it generally gets dark around 6 PM and rises around 6 AM. This means that early mornings are essential to really take advantage of the daylight when visiting. 

Costa Rica is Expensive

It is easy to believe Costa Rica is relatively inexpensive, but that is not necessarily the case. Costa Rica is actually quite expensive for a Latin American Country. Rental cars, hotels, food at trendy restaurants and attraction prices seem pretty in line with what I see in the states. This is even more prevalent in tourist areas.

The prices are not outrageous, just more than you would possibly expect. For example, tickets to the La Fortuna Waterfall are $18 per person, and then Mistico Bridges is over $20. The attractions really do add up. 

With this being said, that doesn’t mean Costa Rica can’t be done on a budget. Eating at local restaurants, taking the bus, doing free activities, and staying at hostels are all ways to reduce costs. 

La Fortuna Waterfall
La Fortuna Waterfall

Currency and Credit Cards in Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s currency is the Colón, however, the US dollar is also widely accepted. For tipping, which I will get to next, sometimes it is good to have a couple of Colones on you. You may also want to have some Colones if you go through any toll booths.

Credit cards and Debit Cards are also widely accepted in Costa Rica. I always recommend using your travel credit card whenever possible! Great travel credit cards will have no foreign transaction fees and allow you to rack up points for your purchases.

Many travel credit cards also come with a handful of different protections. This can include baggage delays and supplemental car insurance. You can learn more about my favorite travel credit cards in my travel hacking guide.

If you need to take out money from the ATM, some major banks are CitiBank, Branco de Costa Rica, Branco Nacional de Costa Rica, and Branco Promerica.

Tipping in Costa Rica

Tipping is always a common question, so I wanted to make sure I covered it in these Costa Rica travel tips. Tipping is not necessarily expected, however, it is appreciated. Make sure to check your bill because sometimes a tip may even be added in.

Some still recommend giving a 10% tip. During our trip, we tipped our tour guides, hotel staff, and shuttle driver, who helped us with our bags.

Checking Your Bill

The Costa Rican people are some of the nicest locals we have met throughout our travels. With that being said, one of the most common schemes seen in Costa Rica is charging for extra items on your bill. This did not happen to us, however, I have heard about it happening from other traveler friends. It is just something to be wary of.

Costa Rican Locals and Pura Vida 

As I mentioned above, the Costa Rican locals were some of the nicest people we have met, seriously! We became friends with one of our tour guides, and on his day off, he gave us a private night tour out of the goodness of his heart and wouldn’t even accept a dime from us. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had! 

You can see they have such love for their country, and they live by the saying “Pura Vida,” which means pure life or simple life. They embrace the pure life, and you will often hear locals say it as a greeting gesture and goodbye gesture. Really you can say it in almost any scenario, though! 

Costa Rican close up of little yellow frog - Hourglass tree frog
Hourglass tree frog (I believe) on our night tour

Bug Spray and Sunscreen Before You Visit

If you’d like to save some money before visiting Costa Rica, I recommend utilizing this travel tip! Sunscreen and bug spray are pretty expensive in Costa Rica, so it is best to bring them from home. I use both Juice Beauty and Blue Lizzard.

My go-to has been Juice Beauty because I like the way it smells, and it is allowed in my carry-on travel bag! You will also want to add bug spray. You will likely be in the rainforest after all. 

Now, if for some reason you forgot to pack it and don’t want to completely break the bank, you can get it from Walmart, which is close to the San Jose Airport. While you are there, you can grab some snacks too. However, if your flight lands at 5 AM like ours did, Walmart doesn’t open until 7 AM, and there was no Walmart in La Fortuna. 

Think Twice About Going Under the Water at Hot Springs

Hot Springs are one of the best things to do in La Fortuna, Costa Rica. They offer tons of benefits for your skin, and they are just cool in general, but you may see signs not to put your head under the water.

This is because they are natural and not filtered or treated with chlorine. This is actually common practice in general with hot springs, no matter what country you are in. Bacteria often grow in warm waters that can enter through your nose. So, if you want to play it safe, just don’t put your head under the water.

The Springs resort hot spring in La Fortuna with woman sitting on edge

Animal Tourism in Costa Rica

When people think of Costa Rica, they often think of Sloths. Many even seek out holding and playing with sloths. However, human interaction with sloths really affects their health negatively. So, always so no to this type of animal tourism.

We personally didn’t see any tour operators offering this, but just in case. Wild sloths are also covered in fleas, ticks, and algae, so you won’t want to be holding one!

Sloth in tree in La Fortuna

Costa Rica is More than Just Beaches

If you didn’t already know, Costa Rica is so much more than just beaches. Costa Rica definitely has beautiful beaches, but I urge you to see more than just the beach! Consider seeing one of the many volcanoes, exploring the rainforests in Arenal (La Fortuna), and even the Cloud Forest in Monteverde. This country has a diverse landscape and wildlife to go with it.  

Mistico Hanging Bridges rainforest

Pack More than Just Beach Clothes

Unless you are planning to stay by the coast the entire time, you will likely need to pack more than just beach clothes. This is especially true if you plan on going up to the mountains in Monteverde, where the temperatures are much cooler given the elevation.

Additionally, if you plan on doing any hiking, a good sneaker/hiking boot and athletic wear are a good choice. I preferred longer pants (bugs), and some trails were very muddy, so hiking boots really came in handy.

Packing a light sweater, long-sleeve shirt (good for night tours), pants/leggings, and sneakers/hiking boots be good for any hiking, night tours, or if you plan to visit the mountains.

Getting Tickets to National Parks

Costa Rica has some beautiful National Parks. One of the most famous is Manuel Antonio which is located by the beach on the Pacific Coast. However, you can’t just show up at this National Park.

You need reservations that have to be made online in order to visit the park. Reservations to Costa Rica National Parks can be made here. You will need to make an account first. You will then choose the park you wish to visit, the day, and possibly even the time slot. 

The online system can be a little finicky, so try not to get too frustrated. Alternatively, if you go with a tour group, you usually will not need to worry about making a reservation. 

Toucan in the trees in La Fortuna

Renting a Car in Costa Rica

I believe renting a car is one of the best ways to see Costa Rica, especially if you are planning to visit more than one area. In Costa Rica, they drive on the right side of the road, the same as the USA.

One thing to keep in mind when renting a car in Costa Rica is that they require you to get car insurance from the company. This often brings up the price significantly. Unfortunately, 3rd party websites like Expedia often don’t tell you about this mandatory fee. 

Because of this, many feel as if they are being “scammed,” but this is not the case. During our trip, I worked with Greg from CR Surf. He works directly with several local car rental companies, including Alamo, Adobe, and Vamos (all reputable rental companies in Costa Rica). The rental he did for us was direct with Alamo for an incredible price (better than anything I found online), and it included all the mandatory fees, so there was no surprise. 

You can fill out the form to get your quote here, and MAKE SURE to copy and paste: “SAM OPP FIND LOVE & TRAVEL” in the referral section in step 3!

4-Wheel Drive and the Roads Costa Rica

If you were planning on renting a car, you may have come across some people telling you that you need a vehicle with 4-wheel drive. This certainly used to be the case, but it is really dependent on the season and the place you are traveling to. We didn’t feel we needed a 4-Wheel drive in La Fortuna at all. However, when we drove to Monteverde, we did feel we needed it once we were getting into Monteverde. 

The rule of thumb is if you are visiting during the rainy season, you are better safe than sorry. Some of the roads are gravel and have a lot of potholes. The roads can also be somewhat narrow around the countryside as well. During our time in San Jose, we found the roads were fine. 

Additionally, Costa Rica is a small country, but it often takes longer than you’d expect to get somewhere. This is because there is a lot of twisting and turning roads as well. 

Make Sure to Try Coffee and Chocolate

You can’t visit Costa Rica without trying some chocolate or having a cup of coffee. These are staples of the country, so you know it’s all local and fresh! While you’re at it, make sure to try all the local fruits too! There are so many delicious fruits locally grown.

Coca Bean opened up at night
Coca Bean

Eat at a Soda

Staying with the food vibes, you should also consider eating at a Soda! Soda’s are local family-owned restaurants where you can expect to get traditional Costa Rican food at an affordable price. This is where the locals eat. Some things you can expect to find are Gallo Pinto and Casado. 

The Dogs of Costa Rica

Another Costa Rica travel tip you should be prepared for is the dogs around the country. We saw tons of stay dogs as we drove around the country. The dogs are often right on the side of the road, crossing the roads, and even lying in the middle of the road. So be vigilant when driving. 

Mt. Arenal Tip

If you are planning on visiting the Arenal La Fortuna area, you likely are hoping to see the famous Mt. Arenal Volcano. Believe it or not, most of the time, the volcano is covered in clouds. During the dry season, it tends to be covered more often than in the rainy season.

If you do want to try and get a glimpse of the Volcano without cloud coverage, your best bet is early in the morning!

Mt. Arenal in La Fortuna

Keep Your Hands off The Trees

Costa Rica is tropical rainforest full of a wide variety of flora and fauna along with wildlife. Some of these plants have poisonous features, spines, or poisonous creatures hiding in them.

If you were uncertain of the most important Costa Rica travel tips on this list, this is one of them – especially if you are traveling to Costa Rica with kids.

We saw green snakes that looked just like a vine, along with a pit viper that was so tiny and looked like it was a part of the tree. We also found tiny bats that looked like they were a part of the tree and a tarantula peeking out a gap in branches. These animals are master camouflagers.

The last thing you want is to rest your body on one of these critters. So, the best course of action is to keep your hands on your body. 

Oh, and while you are at it, if you are doing any sort of hiking, staying on the trail is key. Again, you won’t want to step on or run into any dangerous animal hiding. If you are sticking to the trails and not hanging all over the plants, you will be FINE – this is not to scare you!

Close up of Pit Viper Snake hiding on tree branch
Close-up of Pit Viper Snake hiding on a tree branch

Power Outlets in Costa Rica

This will be another useful travel tip you should know before visiting Costa Rica! Costa Rica uses two plug types; the A and B plug. Plug type A is the plug that has two flat parallel pins, and B is the plug that has the same pins and a grounding pin. Costa Rica operates on 120V supply voltage and 60Hz.

Using a universal adaptor will make sure you have the right outlets for your electronics. 

Costa Rica Travel tip: Some phone chargers and computer chargers can be universal if they are flat two prongs. 

Water Safety in Costa Rica

This is always a top-asked question when visiting Costa Rica. The water is generally safe to drink in Costa Rica. The only area’s water should not be consumed is in more rural areas. The city areas are considered safe. If you find yourself more sensitive to drinking different water, consider getting a Lifestaw water bottle that comes with a filter.

Safety in Costa Rica

Safety should always be the first priority when traveling. Thankfully, Costa Rica is relatively safe, with petty theft being the most common offense. However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stay alert and take precautions.

Some safety Costa Rica travel tips include not walking around alone at night, parking in empty parking lots at night, and keeping your valuables in sight at all times.

Additionally, keep all your valuables locked up when left at the hotel, and do NOT leave any valuables in the car or in plain sight. 

Walking across suspension bridge in Mistico Hanging Bridges Park La Fortuna Costa Rica
Mistico Hanging Bridges

Manuel Antonio National Park Tip

If you are planning on visiting Manuel Antonio National Park, this Costa Rica travel tip is for you! This is one of, if not the most popular National Park in Costa Rica. It was named one of the most people places in the world. Because of this, tourist traps have seemed to develop here. 

When driving here, you will see people wearing what seems like “official” vests telling you to park in their parking lots. They can even be quite aggressive when you decline. These people are not official workers, and oftentimes, the parking lot is very far from the entrance. 

Just keep driving all the way to the park entrance. If they start to really hangle you, tell them you are picking someone up at the entrance.

Get A Guide If You Want To See Wildlife

Usually, I like to explore places on my own, but I found the guided tours in Costa Rica were well worth it to see wildlife. Both times I went with a guide, we saw an incredible amount of wildlife I would have never seen without their help. In fact, I even tried on my own and didn’t see anything. 

These guides are specialized in spotting wildlife. They know the most popular wildlife in specific locations and where to look. Many times the guides are all communicating with each other to give even more opportunities. You can find lots of guides with reviews on Viator, which is what we used.

Remember always to keep a safe distance from wildlife. Monkeys can look super cute, but they can also bite you and steal the stuff in your bag. We watched this happen in Thailand and Bali.

baby coati in La Fortuna Costa Rica

Print Copies of Your Important Documents

This is one of the more general travel tips to do on all your vacations, but just in case you haven’t done this in the past, having copies of your important documents while in Costa Rica is always a good idea. 

Digital Nomads in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is known as one of the best places to be a digital nomad in Central America. This is because Costa Rica has great internet service, a pretty large ex-pat community, relatively good healthcare, clean water, fresh food, and more!

Plus they just opened a 1-year Digital Nomad Visa that can be extended to a 2nd year.

Costa Rica Travel Tips Wrap-up

This concludes some of the most important travel tips to know before visiting Costa Rica. Remember to have an incredible time when visiting Costa Rica, it is an incredible country! Have any questions about these Costa Rica travel tips or believe one should be added? Let me know in the comments below! 

You may also be interested in: Best hotels in La Fortuna, Costa Rica | Beach Vacation Packing Guide | Rio Celeste Waterfall Guide

Did you find these Costa Rica Travel tips helpful? I’d appreciate it if you could share it below! 

Costa Rica Travel Tips Things to know before you go
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Samantha Oppenheimer

Samantha Oppenheimer (Sam Opp) quit her corporate marketing job in 2018 to travel the world and become a travel writer, blogger and content creator. She loves experiencing authentic travel experiences, photography, and nature. Sam shares helpful travel itineraries, travel tips, budget tips, and travel advice from her personal experiences. You can also find Sam's words featured in large publications including Mirror, Thrillist, and Well + Good. Learn more here: https://findloveandtravel.com/samantha-oppenheimer/

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