Top Costa Rica travel tips

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written by Chloe Cann

updated 7.06.2023


Inspired by pictures of Costa Rica ’s rainforests brimming with exotic flora and fauna, steaming volcanoes and world-class beaches? Us too. If you're dreaming of a trip to this Central American nation, here are eleven indispensable Costa Rica travel tips to help you plan your holiday.

1. Plan for the high season

2. consider an organised tour, 3. bring cash with you, 4. be prepared to spend, 5. try costa rican cuisine, 6. watch your belongings, 7. heed caution when it comes to the weather, 8. having bug spray on hand - one of the most important costa rica travel tips, 9. learn the language, 10. choose between the adventure gateways, 11. rent a 4x4, 12. swap the pacific coast for the caribbean, 13. tie in a neighbour, 14. respect the country’s sustainability credentials, 15. enjoy pura vida.

Given that has made our list of the best places to go with kids , and our round-up of the world's best adventure holidays, it's fair to say that Costa Rica has a richness of experiences for all kinds of travellers.

The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guide to Costa Rica , your essential guide for visiting Costa Rica .

Tailor-made travel itineraries for Costa Rica, created by local experts

Costa Rica: Coast to Coast

12 days  / from 2980 USD

Costa Rica: Coast to Coast

From paradise beaches, scenic narrow waterways and magical rainforests, Costa Rica has much to offer. Head east and discover the tranquil Caribbean Sea, head west for the tumultuous Pacific Ocean and surfer’s paradise.

Discover Northern Costa Rica

10 days  / from 1825 USD

Discover Northern Costa Rica

This self drive itinerary allows you to explore the Central and Northern highlights of Costa Rica: from the active volcano Arenal to the cloud forest of Monteverde and the beaches of Guanacaste with plenty of surf & yoga - discover why they call it the land of Pura Vida - pure life!

A self drive Caribbean adventure

10 days  / from 1440 USD

A self drive Caribbean adventure

It's time to discover Costa Rica's Caribbean coast in your own rental car: From Boca Pacuare, where the turtles come to lay their eggs, to the unique culture of Cahuita and the beaches of Puerto Viejo! Your trip will finish in Turrialba, home of the main archaeological monument in our country.

Beaches and Volcanoes

7 days  / from 2050 USD

Beaches and Volcanoes

Escape to Arenal for volcanoes, waterfalls and wildlife reserves. Enjoy gentle hikes or partake in adrenaline-fuelled river rafting. Then journey down to Costa Rica’s Central Pacific for some sand and surf fringed by dense forest that’s teeming with wildlife.

From the Cloud Forest to the Beaches

9 days  / from 1825 USD

From the Cloud Forest to the Beaches

On this amazing trip, you will explore the Cloud Forest and rural life of Dota, including a community visit to get to know the real Tico life before heading to the incredible Drake Bay and Corcovado National Park with its stunning biodiversity, and then the amazing beaches of Manuel Antonio.

Tropical Costa Rica

7 days  / from 2300 USD

Tropical Costa Rica

Visit volcanoes, take a dip in a hot springs, drift lazily along the country’s waterways and seek out wildlife in tropical lowland forest. Costa Rica’s diverse ecosystem beholds a whole host of natural treasures.

Costa Rica’s Wild South

7 days  / from 2950 USD

Costa Rica’s Wild South

The wild south is an unbeatable destination for hikers and nature lovers with a sense of adventure. Come here to explore off the beaten path and to see Corcovado, a tropical wet forest and one of the most important endangered wildlife sanctuaries in the world.

Costa Rica Express - Animals & Beaches

10 days  / from 2795 USD

Costa Rica Express - Animals & Beaches

Start with Arenal volcano with its waterfalls, hot springs and hanging bridges before crossing the lake to Monteverde. The unique cloud forest invites both adventure and nature lovers for canopy and zip-lining activities as well as wildlife spotting. Finish the trip on the beach in Manuel Antonio.

A Dream of Costa Rica

16 days  / from 3360 USD

A Dream of Costa Rica

The ultimate Costa Rica trip! Spend a few days around Arenal volcano & the Cloud Forest Monteverde before heading to the coast - a beautiful hotel at the Gulf of Papagayo invites you to relax and for some water activities. Return to the Central Valley for another volcano - Poás before heading home.

Costa Rica Eco Adventure

12 days  / from 4300 USD

Costa Rica Eco Adventure

Come to Costa Rica for its compact jungle, tropical beaches, forests, wildlife and national parks. The country may be small but it’s a land of stunning natural diversity and the perfect backdrop to a veritable eco-adventure.

3 Days Adventure to Tortuguero

3 days  / from 385 USD

3 Days Adventure to Tortuguero

Tortuguero is a small village located on the northeastern coast of Costa Rica, known for its stunning natural beauty and abundance of wildlife. A 3 days 2 nights trip to Tortuguero offers a unique opportunity to explore the lush rainforest, observe sea turtles nesting, and experience the lifestyle.

Outdoor Fun and Beaches in Costa Rica

6 days  / from 1590 USD

Outdoor Fun and Beaches in Costa Rica

The perfect mix of jungle and beaches - visit La Fortuna with Arenal volcano and Fortuna waterfall. Afterwards, continue to Manuel Antonio with its national park and pristine beaches. Private transfers throughout ensure your comfort at all times.

With so many North Americans flying south for the winter – not to mention locals travelling home – it’s pivotal to book in advance if you want to visit Costa Rica during the high season. Christmas and New Year periods are especially busy.

Hotel rooms and buses can sell out weeks ahead, but by being savvy and using several transport links (such as a private shuttle), it’s possible to make things work. Alternatively, you can hire a car for greater flexibility.

The week leading up to Easter is another pressure point, though the parades and processions that take place during this time are quite unique and well worth seeing.


Arenal Volcano © Esdelval/Shutterstock

Veteran independent travellers might sniff at the idea of taking an escorted tour. Doubly so as Costa Rica is a country where hostels and hotels are plentiful and English is quite widely spoken.

Despite this, we recommend you don't rule out a tour entirely. Many activities have both high demand and surprisingly high prices, and there are few regular public bus services around the country. Joining a guided tour is one of the top Costa Rica travel tips as it means you can pack a lot of experiences into one 10-day visit without fretting about availability or logistics.

Rough Guides' own Tailor-Made Trips offers a full trip-planning and booking service in Costa Rica. We pair you with a local expert on the ground working for a local tour operator to design, book and execute a personalised itinerary that works for you. Get inspired by one of our sample itineraries, such as our ' Discover Northern Costa Rica ' or ' Beaches and Volcanoes ' - of course, all modifiable to fit your preferences.

Tourists on horseback in Costa Rican cloud forest © Shutterstock

Tourists on horseback in Costa Rican cloud forest © Shutterstock

When heading for the more remote areas in Costa Rica, try to carry sufficient colones (the official currency of Costa Rica) with you, especially in small denominations. Banking facilities can be scarcer here, and you may have trouble changing a 5000 note in the middle of the Nicoya Peninsula, for example.

Going around with stacks of colones may not seem safe, but you should be alright if you keep them in a money belt — and it will save hours of time waiting in line. Some banks may not accept bent, smudged or torn dollars.

It’s also worth noting that, due to an influx of counterfeit US$100 notes a few years ago, some shops, and even banks, are unwilling to accept them. If you bring any into the country, make sure that they are in mint condition.

Costa Rica is among the most expensive countries to visit in Latin America – and it’s not just pricey when compared to its neighbours. The country can rival the UK and the USA for certain supermarket items, such as bottled water and sunscreen.

To save money, eat plates of gallo pinto at small family-run sodas , pay for groceries and other small purchases with local currency colónes instead of dollars and travel during the low season (aka the rainy season) for reduced room rates. If you're eating out, be aware that a 10% service charge and 13% tax are added to most restaurant bills and budget accordingly.

Additionally, many nature sites, from waterfalls to national parks, charge an entry fee so you'll need to factor that in too. Read our Costa Rica Travel Essentials page for Costa Rica travel tips on budgeting and more.

Costa Rica fruits stand market © Shutterstock

Costa Rica fruits stand market © Shutterstock

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Costa Rican food – called comida típica (“native” or “local” food) by Ticos – is best described as unpretentious. Simple it may be, but it’s tasty nonetheless. Especially when it comes to the interesting regional variations found along the Caribbean coast, with its Creole-influenced cooking, and in Guanacaste, where there are vestiges of the ancient indigenous peoples’ use of maize.

Típico dishes you’ll find all over Costa Rica include rice and some kind of meat or fish often served as part of a special plate with coleslaw salad and plantain, in which case it’s called a casado (literally, “married person”).

The ubiquitous gallo pinto (“painted rooster”), often described as the national dish of Costa Rica is a filling breakfast combination of red and white beans with rice, sometimes served with huevos revueltos (scrambled eggs). The heavy concentration of starch and protein reveals the rural origins of Costa Rican food: gallo pinto is food for people who are going out to work it off.


Plantain, rice and beans is a Costa Rican lunch staple © EQRoy / Shutterstock

While Costa Rica is, in general, a very safe country, pickpockets and petty theft can be a problem. Applying basic common sense will mean you avoid the hassle of lost belongings. Firstly, never leave items on show in your parked car. If you're heading to the beach try and park in a carpark (some are guarded by enterprising locals) or near other cars.

Next, be aware that pickpockets operate at bus stations and other crowded places like markets. Don't leave your bags unattended.

Even in the dry season (between December and April) visitors to the central highlands and the Atlantic coastal plain should prepare for frequent downpours. The rainy season starts in earnest in May.

In late September and October, many Pacific coast hotels and restaurants are closed for a break before gearing up again for high season. You might find a few more options on the Caribbean coast at this time of year.

The Rough Guides to Costa Rica and related travel guides

In-depth, easy-to-use travel guides filled with expert advice.

The Rough Guide to Costa Rica

No matter how clear the skies look at daybreak, make sure you pack waterproof clothing and dry bags for valuables on any trips into the rainforest. And if the showers are dampening your spirits you can always head west to the sun-scorched plains of the Pacific slope.


A rope bridge through Monteverde's Cloud Forest Reserve © Simon Dannhauer / Shutterstock

In Costa Rica, insect protection is crucial to prevent diseases such as dengue and zika. One of the essential Costa Rica travel tips to repel mosquitoes and other insects is to use a bug spray containing DEET. It is important to apply the spray to exposed skin and clothing, especially during the rainy season when mosquito populations increase.

In addition to bug spray, wearing long-sleeved clothing and using mosquito nets will also help prevent insect bites.

You won’t struggle to find locals with good English in Costa Rica, but picking up some Spanish can not only earn you kudos and a warm welcome – it can really boost your bargaining power.

Those with a good chunk of time on their hands can go one step further and enrol in one of the many local language schools that are scattered across the country, putting their tico accent straight to the test.

Monteverde and La Fortuna are two of northern Costa Rica’s backpacker favourites and both are excellent for outdoor activities. However, getting between the two can prove a lengthy process and much of the adventure offering is similar.

If you don’t have time for both, among our top Costa Rica travel tips is to pick Monteverde, as it boasts the trump card thanks to its drier climate and bohemian hilltop charm. Book ahead for an all-in-one adventure tour in Monteverde or if you prefer a more relaxed pace, check out this authentic farm experience , a fun tour for the whole family.

Where to stay in Monteverde

  • For couples: La Guayaba Monteverde
  • For unity with nature: Los Pinos Cabins & Reserve
  • For stunning views: Hotel Flor de Bromelia

Find more accommodation options to stay in Monteverde


La Fortuna de San Carlos waterfall in Arenal volcano national park, Costa Rica © FCG/Shutterstock

If you're planning to self-drive in Costa Rica, you need to consider a 4x4 . While some major roads are paved, many others are still little more than dirt tracks. Add in heavy rainfall and you've got a muddy mess to navigate.

Even if the weather is dry, keep your eyes peeled for potholes which can cause car trouble. Keep water and snacks in the car in case you break down, and try to carry a mobile with you so you can contact the car rental company if needed.

Our local expert in Costa Rica is happy to assist you with the planning and booking process, like this self-driving trip on the Caribbean coast. If the idea of driving sounds intimidating you can opt for a guided trip that includes transport, like this trip discovering the beaches in the South as well as cloud forests and volcanoes.

One quick fix for escaping Costa Rica’s crowds is to head east instead of west. With the international airport of Liberia so close to the Pacific coastline, it’s an easily accessible beach destination . The beaches of the Caribbean coast, are much harder to reach, meaning the region is also much less developed. If you're looking for an off-the-beaten-track experience you'll enjoy exploring the Caribbean coast.

Costa Rica Travel Tips Manzanillo-Caribbean-Coast

Costa Rica's Caribbean coastline is less well known, so one of the top Costa Rica travel tips is to head east instead of west© Simon Dannhauer / Shutterstock

Although they’re tightly packed into the waist of the Americas, each Central American nation boasts its own character, attractions and heritage. Next-door neighbours Nicaragua and Panama make the easiest and most obvious add-ons to a sojourn in Costa Rica.

Nicaragua is a more raw destination that’s best suited to intrepid, budget-conscious travellers. Panama offers a cosmopolitan capital as well as lashings of more rural adventure activities. To plan the trip of your dreams, see our tailor-made trip service. Trips like ' Highlights of Panama ' or ' Thrilling Adventures in Panama ' can be great extensions to your Central America trip.

Costa Rica has set its sights on becoming the world’s second carbon-neutral country (after Bhutan) by 2021. To help support its green goals, opt for locally owned ecolodges and operators that practise sustainable tourism wherever possible.

To help distinguish between the good, the bad and the ugly, the Costa Rica Tourism Institute has developed the CST (Certificate of Sustainable Tourism). Businesses are ranked from levels one to five based on their commitment to the cause.


Ecolodge with a view of Lake Arenal in central Costa Rica © Alexey Stiop/Shutterstock

The phrase Pura Vida does not just mean "simple life" or "pure life" for the people of Costa Rica it is a philosophy and a motto for life. Pura Vida is a way of life that incorporates relaxation, enjoyment of nature and good spirits.

Whether hiking through lush rainforests, relaxing on a white sand beach or enjoying the local cuisine, one of the best Costa Rica travel tips is to enjoy Pura Vida, which reminds us to live in the present moment and enjoy the simple joys of life.

Relaxing on a hammock ©  soft_light/Shutterstock

One of the best Costa Rica travel tips is to enjoy Pura Vida © soft_light/Shutterstock

Ready for a trip to Costa Rica ? Check out the snapshot of The Rough Guide to Costa Rica .

If you prefer to plan and book your trip to Costa Rica without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our l ocal travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.

We may earn a commission when you click on links in this article, but this doesn’t influence our editorial standards. We only recommend services we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.

Header image: Sunrise Arenal volcano in Costa Rica, Central America © Antonio Fernandez Dieguez/Shutterstock

Chloe Cann

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costa rica travel tips

Centering yourself on a surfboard or yoga mat, descending into bat-filled caves or ascending misty volcanic peaks – relax and enjoy the ride of Costa Rica.

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SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA-MARCH 3, 2015:  The National Theater in Costa Rica first opened to the public in 1897.  It remains a top tourist destination today.; Shutterstock ID 265490903; Your name (First / Last): Lauren Gillmore; GL account no.: 56530; Netsuite department name: Online-Design; Full Product or Project name including edition: 65050/ Online Design /LaurenGillmore/POI

Teatro Nacional

On the southern side of the Plaza de la Cultura resides the Teatro Nacional, San José’s most revered building. Constructed in 1897, it features a columned…

Green Hummingbird on a feeder at La Paz Waterfall Gardens.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Central Valley & Highlands

This polished storybook garden complex just east of Volcán Poás offers the most easily digestible cultural experience in the Central Valley and is the…

Iguana in Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica

Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio

Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio & Around

Featuring lush jungle, picture-perfect beaches and craggy headlands, this tiny park (1680 acres/680 hectares) absolutely brims with wildlife (and often…

Sunset on beach with Ocean, Costa Rica

Playa Negra

At the northwestern end of Cahuita, Playa Negra is a long, black-sand beach flying the bandera azul ecológica, a flag that indicates that the beach is…

Costa Rica, Limon Province, Caribbean coast, Gandoca-Manzanillo national wildlife refuge, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Playa Punta Uva beach

Southern Caribbean

Off a dirt road marked by Punta Uva Dive Center is a quiet, idyllic cove that could double for a scene in the film The Beach. When the water is calm, it…

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Parque Nacional Isla del Coco

Southern Costa Rica & Península de Osa

Around 500km southwest of the Costa Rica mainland, Isla del Coco is a natural wonder that teems with wildlife, including the largest schools of hammerhead…

Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal

Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal

From 1968 until 2010, Volcán Arenal was an ever-active and awe-striking natural wonder, producing menacing ash columns, massive explosions and streams of…

Costa Rica, Las Cruces, Wilson Botanical Garden, bromeliad bud, close-up

Wilson Botanical Garden

The world-class Wilson Botanical Garden is internationally known for its collection of more than 2000 native Costa Rican species. Species threatened with…

Top picks from our travel experts

The 16 best things to do in costa rica.

Montezuma Waterfalls

Montezuma Waterfalls

A 40-minute river hike leads to a waterfall with a delicious swimming hole. Further along, a second set of falls offers a good 12m leap into deep water…

Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas de Guanacaste

Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas de Guanacaste

Península de Nicoya

Las Baulas national marine park encompasses the entire beach at Playa Grande, as well as the adjacent land and 220 sq km of ocean. This is one of the…

Parque Nacional Tortuguero

Parque Nacional Tortuguero

Caribbean Coast

This misty, green coastal park sits on a broad floodplain parted by a jigsaw of canals. Referred to as the ‘mini-Amazon,’ Parque Nacional Tortuguero is a…

500px Photo ID: 76842259 - Museo Del Jade, San Jose, Costa Rica

Museo del Jade

This museum houses the world’s largest collection of American jade (pronounced ‘ha-day’ in Spanish), with an ample exhibition space of five floors…

Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja

Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja

Northwestern Costa Rica

Given its proximity to Liberia, this park (about 160 sq km) feels surprisingly uncrowded and remote. Named after the steamy main attraction – the active…

Parque Nacional Volcán Tenorio

Parque Nacional Volcán Tenorio

The park's heavenly blue river, waterfalls and lagoons are among the most spectacular natural phenomena in Costa Rica; as a result, the park is known to…

Playa Ventanas, Costa Rica.

Playa Ventanas

Tucked behind a grove of coco palms, this crescent-shaped, black-sand-and-pebble beach has elaborate rock formations at either end, and is called …

Playa Cocolito

Playa Cocolito

Here's your chance to see a waterfall crashing down a cliff, straight onto the rocks and into the ocean. El Chorro Waterfall is the pièce de résistance of…

Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Caño Negro

Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Caño Negro

Arenal & Northern Lowlands

This remote, 102-sq-km refuge has long lured anglers seeking that elusive 18kg snook, and birders hoping to glimpse rare waterfowl. During the dry season…

Maquenque Eco-Lodge

Maquenque Eco-Lodge

Set on 80 glorious bird-filled hectares, 20 unique bungalows (including five gobsmacking tree houses) overlook a lagoon and tropical garden; additional…

Scarlet Macaw, Costa Rica

Parque Nacional Carara

Central Pacific Coast

Carara is the famed home of one of Costa Rica’s most charismatic bird species, the scarlet macaw. While catching a glimpse of this tropical wonder is a…

Resplendent Quetzal

Parque Nacional Los Quetzales

The Road to Chirripó

Spread along both banks of the Río Savegre, Parque Nacional Los Quetzales covers 50 sq km of rainforest, cloud forest and premontane forest lying along…

Olive ridley sea turtle on the sand in Ostional Nacional Wildlife Refuge.

Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Ostional

This 85 sq km coastal refuge extends from Punta India in the north to Playa Guiones in the south, and includes the beaches of Nosara and Ostional. It was…

Pacuare Lodge

Pacuare Lodge

There are two ways into this dream of an ecolodge, both equally adventurous. Most arrive at its remote location on the Río Pacuare by raft, via a…

Parque Nacional Volcán Poás

Parque Nacional Volcán Poás

Here's your chance to get frighteningly close to this extremely active volcano, which last erupted in 2017. At an elevation of 2708m, the mighty Poás is…

Red-Eyed Tree Frog, Costa Rica

Reserva Biológica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde

Monteverde & Around

This beautiful cloud forest reserve came into being in 1972, when the Quaker community (which had already set aside a third of its property for…

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Costa Rica Travel Information

17 Things to Know About Costa Rica Before You Go

September 10, 2023 By Sammi 81 Comments

Although there is a lot of information about Costa Rica on the web, there is still so much misinformation. As we have been traveling around Costa Rica together for over ten years, we’ve learned a lot and want to share that knowledge with you whether you’re a first time visitor or repeat visitor.

Here are 17 things to know about Costa Rica before you visit.

There are Amazon affiliate links in this post.

1. Costa Rica is not as cheap people think

This is one of the most important things to know about Costa Rica. Many people assume that Central America automatically equals cheap travel. This is the biggest common misconception about Costa Rica . Yes, its neighbor, Nicaragua is dirt cheap but it’s is also one of the poorest countries in Latin America so you can stretch your money very far there.

Those who don’t know this about Costa Rica get an unfortunate surprise when they see prices here. Tours can easily cost $150 USD a person, food can be the same price as Canada/USA/Europe and gas has always been more expensive at around $5-6 USD a gallon. Without careful planning, you can blow through hundreds of dollars fairly quickly.

But we can help! Read about the cost of Costa Rica in these posts to help you stay within your budget. Also don’t forget to take advantage of our Costa Rica deals ! We have discounts for car rentals, tours and a couple hotels.

  • Cost of traveling in Costa Rica : See how much food, transportation, tours, hotels and souvenirs cost.
  • Save money in Costa Rica: Our local insider tips for saving money traveling in Costa Rica.
  • Cheap things to do in Costa Rica : Activities under $20 USD.
  • 1 week Costa Rica budget : See how much 3 people spent in Costa Rica for 1 week.

2. Costa Rica is a small country but it takes longer than it seems to get around

Costa Rica is a little smaller than West Virginia and Denmark so it’s easy to think you can road trip the whole country in a week. Technically you can, but trust me, that wouldn’t be very fun!

This is because of the not so great infrastructure so the roads in Costa Rica are never as the crows fly. The average speed limit on the highways here is 80 kmph (~50 mph). Many routes only have one lane which causes lots of congestion and traffic as all the trailer trucks use the same route. There is no one road that goes all around Costa Rica either that easily connects coast to coast.

So when planning out your driving routes, make sure you always add at least 1 hour to whatever what your GPS says. Read more about getting around Costa Rica here to plan out your trip.

For example, Tamarindo to San Jose is 259 kilometers or 161 miles. On a good day if we leave at like, midnight or 4 in the morning, it takes us 4-4.5 hours. However, due to lots of construction and more people on the road, the average drive time now is 5.5 hours. One time it took us 10 hours because an deadly accident occurred on the one lane roads. Unfortunately we were standstill for 2 hours and ended up arriving in San Jose during rush hour.

This is one of the mistakes to avoid when traveling in Costa Rica . Don’t try to drive everywhere, don’t drive cross country routes everyday and always know that your drive will take longer than what the GPS says. For a one week trip it’s best to choose 2 destinations or pick a home base and do day trips. Plan smart, travel easy.

3. Tap water is safe to drink in Costa Rica

In the Central Valley cities, you can indeed drink the tap water. We have no problem drinking tap water in San Jose, Heredia, Cartago and some mountain areas like Monteverde.

Though tap water is generally safe to drink, I still recommend bringing a filter if you’re sensitive. You can also help the environment by bringing an insulated water bottle and filters instead of buying bottled water.

The more remote and rural places generally don’t have drinkable tap water however. These are places like Tortuguero, Osa Peninsula, Santa Teresa, Sarapiqui and Golfito. Hotels will indicate whether the water is safe and tour guides will let you know which faucets to use. Some hotels will have a bottled water station for you to fill up your bottles.

Read more about drinking tap water in Costa Rica.

4. Dengue, not malaria is the main disease from mosquitoes in Costa Rica

The mosquito borne disease travelers should concern themselves with in Costa Rica is dengue fever, not malaria. Costa Rica has many more cases of dengue than Malaria and Zika.

Remember, mosquitoes are in Costa Rica year round and are worse in rainy season. Mosquitoes breed in stagnant water so bring plenty of repellent and cover up. Read our tips for protecting yourself against mosquitoes in Costa Rica.

Extra travel safety tip: Make sure to purchase travel insurance just in case you do catch something! You can read more about Costa Rica travel insurance in this post.

5. Costa Rica gets cold but it doesn’t snow

Costa Rica experiences typical tropical weather but it has many micro-climates. It doesn’t snow but it does get quite cold in some areas due to the high elevation. You can read more about Costa Rica weather in this post.

things to know about Costa Rica before you go - Irazu Volcano

Some of the colder areas are Monteverde , Poas, Vara Blanca, San Isidro de Perez Zeledon, Chirripo and San Gerardo de Dota . Temperatures in those areas can get down to a chilly 50s Fahrenheit (10 C) at night if the winds are strong. The coasts stay nice and hot, mostly in the 80s and 90s Fahrenheit (27 – 32 C) during the day.

Make sure to research the area you are visiting so you come prepared. For packing tips, check out our Costa Rica packing list to see what you need to bring for different activities and destinations. Our must have items are an insulated water bottle , microfiber to wel, battery pack , sunscreen SPF 50 , sunglasses, dry fast clothes and mosquito repellent .

6. US dollars are readily accepted and are the standard currency in tourism

Hotels and tour companies quote their prices in USD in Costa Rica. This is normal in tourism. Additionally, Costa Ricans can have bank accounts in USD as mortgages and car payments are quoted in USD. US dollars have become the standard currency in tourism.

So when you’re trying to get your money together, don’t stress too much about exchanging it all beforehand as it’s not 100% necessary if you are from the USA. USD is accepted in pretty much every touristic destination.

If you are Canadian however, it will be better for you to have Costa Rican currency due to the Canadian dollar and USD exchange rate. Ask the hotels or tour companies if you can pay in colones instead and how much the exchange would be. Canadian dollars and other currencies are not accepted in Costa Rica, only USD.

Also make sure you check what the exchange rate is. The exchange rate changes everyday, sometimes even hour so you need to check. Since the current the exchange rate is around 540 CRC to 1 USD, some places may try to stiff you by using a 500 to 1 rate and you will lose out a bit. The best place to exchange currency is at the bank, not at the airport exchange rate booth.

Read more about handling money in Costa Rica.

Tip for exchanging currency: supermarkets accept USD and if you pay in USD, they will give you your change back in Costa Rican colones. Easy way to exchange money without having to go to the bank. Just make sure to calculate the exchange rate. The supermarket should have a sign of the exchange rate for the day near the front or by the cashier.

7. You can still visit Costa Rica in rainy season and have a great time!

Dry season in Costa Rica has the best weather. Thanks to the sunny days, it is also our high tourism season because everyone wants to escape the winter up north.

Costa Rica’s rainy season is around beginning of May to end of Nov/beginning of December. The rainiest months for most of Costa Rica is September and October and November and June for the Caribbean.

Yes it rains and you do need to pack and research more for rainy season. But you will still have a great time! Check out our Costa Rica rainy season packing list for tips.

Here are some other things to know about why it’s actually awesome to visit Costa Rica in rainy season.

  • Rainy season is also Costa Rica’s low season. This means less tourists!
  • Prices for hotels and tours go down and businesses throw lots of promos in October. It’s the best time to travel cheap in Costa Rica.
  • A typical rainy season day is sunny and hot in the morning, cloudy in the afternoon and rainy in the evening/night.
  • Rainy season is the best time to see certain wildlife like humpback whales and turtles .

To read more about visiting Costa Rica in rainy season , click the link. Personally, we love rainy season in Costa Rica. Less crowds, not as hot, more wildlife and it’s cheaper!

8. Sloths aren’t everywhere (sorry)

As much as I hate to break it to you, sloths aren’t everywhere. I know Costa Rica markets their cuddly sloths so much it seems that the roads are crawling with them but it’s not true. Sloths, being the masters of camouflage, are normally very difficult to see without a guide or trained eye.

things to know about Costa Rica before you go - sloths

Additionally, there are some places where sloths aren’t found in Costa Rica which a lot of tourists don’t realize. For example, it is incredibly difficult to see one in Guanacaste due to the extremely dry climate. But if you visit the South Pacific or the Caribbean coast, sloths are much more common thanks to the lush rainforest.

One of the main “complaints” I’ve heard from visitors is that they didn’t see a sloth. I asked them where they were in Costa Rica and many of them were at the Pacific coast or in the city where sloths don’t live. If you want to see a sloth, then you need to go to where they live! Find out where are the best places to see sloths in Costa Rica in our guide.

To make sure you see a sloth, hire a guide. They have trained eyes and will have binoculars or telescopes to find them. If you’re staying on the Guanacaste coast and want to see sloths, check out this awesome Rainforest and Sloth day trip !

9. Police can stop and ask for your papers at any time

In Costa Rica, police are legally allowed to stop any car and ask for papers. Always have a color copy of your passport and photo of your tourist stamp with you. Remember that to legally drive in Costa Rica as a tourist, you need to have your original passport (not a color copy), your original driver’s license and a valid tourist stamp with you.

If a police stops you, they’ll ask you for your passport, ask you where you’re going and then send you on your way. Most of the time they don’t ask anything else and many of them speak some very basic English.

Also something else to note is that the police in Costa Rica are generally very nice. They don’t have a “shoot first ask later” mentality here and are willing to help tourists out. Likewise, there is a tourist police (policia turistica) that are specifically to help tourists so don’t be afraid to ask them questions.

10. Wi-Fi is readily available…

…at hotels. It is common for hotels to offer free Wi-Fi and many of them have it available throughout the whole property. Some hotels may only have it in reception but it is free.

However, it’s hard to find open Wi-Fi in public places. It’s not like NYC where you can find a Starbucks and use the free Wi-Fi. If you see a restaurant with a secure Wi-Fi connection, you can ask them for the password. I’ve found most places are OK with giving it out as long as you are a customer.

If you always want Internet during your time in Costa Rica, we highly recommend getting a prepaid SIM card for your phone or renting a Wifi hot spot. Find out how to get a prepaid SIM card in Costa Rica . Car rentals also have Wi-Fi hot spots for rent.

Travel tip: The way SIM cards work is you will take out the existing SIM card in your smartphone you use at home and put in the Costa Rican one. Now your phone will be on the Costa Rican network so you can make local calls and texts in Costa Rica and be able to go on the Internet. Your phone number from home will NOT work anymore. A prepaid SIM card will subtract the credit used from calls/texts/internet from your balance accordingly. When your balance is low, you can add more credit to it at a supermarket or cell phone store. If your phone has eSIM, eSIM is also available in Costa Rica. Airalo is a good option for eSIM.

11. The standard tipping amount is 10%

This is something important to know about Costa Rica. First of all, tipping is not absolutely mandatory in Costa Rica. This is because tip, or service tax, is normally already included in the price so Costa Ricans don’t tip extra. Service tax is 10% in Costa Rica.

However, if you would like to tip your guide, driver, hotel maid, etc. you may do so and it is very well appreciated. The standard amount to tip in Costa Rica is 10% and you can tip in Costa Rican colones or USD. You can tip more or less depending on how you feel the service was too.

Read more about tipping in Costa Rica in this post.

12. You must drive defensively in Costa Rica!

People are always surprised by the driving in Costa Rica . It’s something I warn people about when they are renting a car in Costa Rica because the driving here is not well organized due to the not so great infrastructure.

Simply stated, always drive defensively, especially in the cities. Don’t get stressed out or mad because it is a fact that you will get cut off and tailgated. You will see cars jump the line, not heed stop signs, run red lights and not use blinkers.

Of course not all Costa Ricans drive this way but for the most part, it is like that, especially in the cities. Once you get out to the rural areas, it’s much more relaxed since there are less cars but you still need to drive defensively due to the infrastructure. There are always people, dogs, chickens, cows and other things in the middle of the narrow road thanks to lack of sidewalks, street signs and street lights. Get our Costa Rica car rental discount here and save some $$!

13. San Jose’s not as bad as people make it out to be…

…for a day. San Jose is not the biggest nor prettiest capital city but it does have some hidden gems. You do not need many days in San Jose, just a day, day and a half or two is enough. You can find some of the best restaurants and craft beer in San Jose!

Then there are the cultural treasures: the National Theater and museums. Any history lover will want to stop by the city as there are few museums of this quality anywhere else in the country.

things to know about Costa Rica before you go - San Jose

So when it comes down to it, San Jose really isn’t as bad as people make it out to be for 1 or 2 days. And honestly, it is the best place to experience Costa Rican life since over 1 million Ticos live and work in the capital city (out of a population of nearly 5 million).

Also, we know many tourists who use San Jose as their home base and book day trips for their vacation. San Jose is centrally located so you can see many beautiful places on a day excursion.

Have a few days in San Jose? Check out our San Jose, Costa Rica travel guide for the best things to do or our San Jose day trips post. You can even get our San Jose tours discount to save some money!

14. English is widely spoken but not all Costa Ricans speak English

People assume that because Costa Rica is a touristic country and that there are so many North Americans here, that all the locals know English. Though many Costa Ricans know a degree of English, not all of them do. The Costa Ricans with higher education and who work in tourism, real estate or call centers are generally fluent in English.

But don’t assume that all Costa Ricans know English. For tourists, you can get around Costa Rica without knowing Spanish, but it is helpful to learn at least the basic words. You can download our handy Costa Rica Spanish cheat sheet to learn a little. Personally, we always learn how to say the basics like hello and thank you in the language of the country we’re visiting to be polite.

15. It gets dark by 6 PM everyday in Costa Rica

And the sun rises around 6 AM everyday since Costa Rica is only 8-12 degrees from the equator. It changes only about 15 minutes throughout the year. Being a tropical country, Costa Rica doesn’t have Daylight Savings Time either.

So make sure to take into account that it gets dark by 6 PM everyday when planning your trip. Many places close at 5 PM too, not many places open late night nor are there really any 24 hour supermarkets or restaurants. In Costa Rica, you will learn to enjoy the early mornings. Plus, it’s a bit hard to sleep in with so many monkeys howling and birds chirping at 5 AM!

Personal tip: we don’t recommend to drive long distances after dark or to walk on the beach or streets at sunrise or after sunset.

16. Costa Rica doesn’t have much in common with Mexico

For some reason, many foreigners think Costa Rica is like Mexico. But Costa Rica and Mexico are completely different!

Costa Rican food isn’t like Mexican food at all and even the Spanish is different. In Costa Rica, they don’t say andale andale or anything like that. They are two completely different countries with their own cultures, traditions and customs.

So when you visit Costa Rica, don’t crack any jokes about Costa Rica being Mexico or Costa Ricans as Mexicans. It’s one of the points about being a responsible traveler and as guests in a country, we have to be respectful.

PS. Costa Rica is not Puerto Rico either. For some reason lots of people get these two mixed up! We get a lot of “Costo Rico” or “Costa Rico” comments. People even think Costa Rica is an island, which it is not. We have even had people book their flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico instead of San Jose, Costa Rica! Do not make this mistake when planning your trip to Costa Rica!

17. Costa Rica doesn’t have a military and theft is the most common crime against tourists

Did you know that Costa Rica is one of 23 countries in the world with no military? There is only the police force, the OIJ and GAO (like a SWAT team). Because of the lack of military, Costa Rica is a a peaceful country, making it one of the safest countries in Latin America for traveling, especially families.

The most common crime in Costa Rica is theft: car/house break ins and pick pockets. To prevent this, a lot of it is common sense. Don’t hang your purse on the back of your chair, don’t put your backpack in the overhead compartment of the bus, don’t leave your wallet on the dashboard of your car, don’t leave your car windows open.

So when you’re traveling in Costa Rica, make sure to always lock the door, roll up the windows, have one person stay with your stuff at all times and don’t leave any valuables visible in the car. Don’t park in remote, dark areas. Don’t leave your belongings unattended on the beach. Use your common sense. Be alert and aware.

You can read more Costa Rica safety tips here and our Costa Rica tourist scams.

Read more Costa Rica travel tips below!

Types of accommodation in Costa Rica

How to get around Costa Rica

1 Costa Rica week itinerary

50 things to do in Costa Rica

Costa Rica Vacation Checklist

  • First time to Costa Rica? Read our First Time in Costa Rica guide.
  • Not sure how to move around Costa Rica? Read our How to Get Around Costa Rica guide to find the best transportation method for you.
  • Click the link to get our detailed Costa Rica Packing List so you know what essential items to bring.
  • Do not forget to purchase Travel Insurance for your trip to Costa Rica.
  • Stay connected by purchasing a prepaid SIM Card in Costa Rica.
  • Save money with Mytanfeet Deals for tours and hotels. Save more money with our Costa Rica Car Rental Discount.

Join our mailing list and get our free Costa Rica eBook!  

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We Are Global Travellers

Top tips for travelling in Costa Rica

Updated On 30th January, 2022

If you’re planning a trip to Costa Rica , this blog post is for you. Don’t move an inch.

I’ve just got back from one month travelling and exploring this gorgeous Central American country and in this blog post I am going to share all of my lessons, findings and top tips to help you plan your visit (and not make the same mistakes!).

We will go through top tips for renting a car in Costa Rica , what to expect from the roads in Costa Rica, how much it costs to eat in Costa Rica, examples prices in Costa Rica, all the way to how to be a sustainable tourist in this country, what money is accepted in Costa Rica and how to choose your destinations wisely. Yep, there’s a lot of really important knowledge in this Costa Rica travel guide and you’ll be left with more top tips for travelling in Costa Rica than you thought possible. I got you.

Did you know?

Over 25% of Costa Rica’s land has now been turned into protected parks and reserves. There are currently 27 national parks, 58 wildlife refuges, 32 protected zones, 15 wetland areas/mangroves, 11 forest reserves, and 8 biological reserves, as well as 12 other conservation regions! This land is incredible. 

If you’re planning your dream trip to Costa Rica you’re onto something out of this world!

At the same time though, it’s important to do your research before travelling to Costa Rica because Costa Rica is known to be the ‘ Switzerland of Central America ‘. Mhmmmm… not cheap. Don’t worry we have ways to save money in Costa Rica in this blog post too!

Let’s tuck in, shall we?

Other blog posts and travel guides you might find useful…

  • The best things to do in La Fortuna, Costa Rica
  • A guide to visiting Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica
  • The ultimate Santa Teresa travel guide, Costa Rica
  • A guide to visiting Monteverde, Costa Rica
  • North America: The Ultimate Travel Guide
  • South America: The Ultimate Travel Guide

costa rica travel tips

Costa Rica Google Map Legend

With this Google Map, you can have all my tips and recommendations at the touch of your fingertips. These are all the things I wish I knew and spent a lot of time researching before my Costa Rica adventures.  This Google Map Legend includes:

  • Best walks, hikes, viewpoints and activities
  • Best waterfalls, beaches and coves to visit
  • Road trip tips (campsites, laundrettes, lunch spots)
  • My favourite places for coffee, brunch and dinner
  • Things you must add to your bucket list!
  • Travel guide links within each location

1. Costa Rica is a lot more expensive than it's neighbouring countries

This was probably the advice I was given the most before heading to Costa Rica, forget mozzie spray. 

‘It’s so expensive’ were the words on fellow travellers lips. I have to say, it’s true. Travelling in Costa Rica isn’t cheap, particularly if you want to make the most of the abundant land and visit multiple national parks, waterfalls and reserves. Some are cheaper than others, for example the Uvita waterfall entry was $4 per person. For the Rio Celeste waterfall (and National Park entry) it was $15 with parking.

Most things come with a price and so it’s important to account for the extra costs beyond the basics (transport, accommodation and food) when planning and budgeting for your trip to Costa Rica.

I probably felt the costs a little more as I was travelling solo and choosing to stay in hotels / Airbnbs / guest houses, as opposed to hostels and shared rooms. In my opinion, there are always ways to cut costs and save money on a trip, including in Costa Rica so fear not, don’t let these comments put you off the trip of a lifetime here!

  • 30 places to travel on a budget
  • 25 top tips for travelling on a budget
  • Top tips when planning and researching for your next adventure

2. You can use either USD / CRC in most places

If you’re confused about the currency accepted here in Costa Rica, let me clear things up for you.

Costa Rica’s national currency is the colón (Costa Rican Colones) but US $ dollars are pretty much accepted everywhere too.

When you withdraw money at ATMs you will most likely be withdrawing in CRC but when you pay by card you can choose to pay in USD or CRC.

Basically, as long as you have USD or CRC you will be fine to pay. If the vendor only has CRC and you pay in USD, they will calculate the change in CRC for you. So you just may end up with a mix of currencies in your wallet.

One top tip for travelling in Costa Rica, I will say, is that when you withdraw / get money exchanged prior to travelling get a mixture of small and large notes. Some people struggled to give me change when I was breaking the larger notes.

Also, if you’re driving and use the toll roads available in Costa Rica, it’s great to have some change rolling around for a speedy drive through.

3. Paying in cash can secure you a cheaper price

Another top tip for travelling in Costa Rica and reason to carry at least some cash around with you is that cash can secure you a cheaper price or better deal with vendors.

I would never advise carrying too much cash but a mixture of card and cash, particularly when shopping is a great idea!

Cash was also useful for me in Costa Rica when they had a power cut (more frequent than you think, usually due to rain) and I was needing to pay in a restaurant when card machines were down.

Oh, and for parking, you’ll need some small change/notes. A lot of paring areas are run by locals that ask for a small donation and of course, don’t take card.

4. Look out for the 10% service charge and 13% tax!

The taxes in Costa Rica are something to look out for, particularly if you’re on a budget and not wanting any surprise additions to your bill at the end of the night.

On menus, restaurants and bars will disclose whether the taxes are included in the prices or excluded and added to the bill at the end. Keep an eye out for those!

5. Pay attention to the weather and seasons when booking your trip

A top tip for travelling in Costa Rica is to pay attention to the seasons when you are planning and booking your trip.

Consider what activities you plan to do in Costa Rica. Consider the focus of your trip. Is it sunny beach days? Is it nature? Is it an outdoor adventure? Or it is tucking away into a retreat space and embracing all the land has to offer? Are you needing to cut as many costs as possible to make it affordable? Looking to avoid the crowds, or get stuck into them?

Whatever your intention, it’s important to do your research on the clear seasons here in Costa Rica to ensure you get the most out of your trip.

Top tips for travelling in Costa Rica:

  • The winter (wetter season) season is May – October
  • The summer (dry season) is November – April
  • September / October is said to be the worst time to visit as a lot of businesses shut down (particularly on the Pacific Coast) during these months as it’s very rainy.
  • However, Sept / Oct are considered the best months for the Caribbean Coast which sees dry and sunny weather.
  • April / May is the shoulder season so you can secure some great deals on transport and accommodation before the weather turns to full Winter motions.
  • The weather will affect the car hire recommendations (4WD are recommended in the winter months as roads can flood and driving can become more challenging on many roads in Costa Rica).

Dive into Costa Rica weather a little more here.

6. Hiring a car is one of the best ways to see Costa Rica

Hiring a car in Costa Rica is one of the best ways to see the country… no doubt about it. I rented a 4WD for the month that I was exploring and there wasn’t a moment of regret.

Advantages of renting a car in Costa Rica include:

  • Reduced need to book onto expensive tours to see. the popular spots and waterfalls
  • Flexibility and freedom
  • Ability to change location and plans with minimal organisation/stress
  • Can arrive at popular spots at a time of your choice, often avoiding crowds.
  • Can reach off the grid Airbnb and cool locations!

However, there are many things to consider when booking a car in Costa Rica. I was unsure about a few things and a few things caught me off-guard so I’m going to share my learnings with you!

  • Pay attention to insurance policies when booking your car.

In Costa Rica, it is not essential to have insurance like it is in many countries like the UK. This makes not having third-party insurance a huge risk. When I booked my 4X4 online it advertised it as ‘fully covered’ and in the UK this means fully covered lol. However, when I got to pick up my car they informed me that third-party was not included and pulled out their additional documents and small print. Had someone damaged my car on the road or whilst parked I would have been liable. Having no idea of the driving conditions or roads at this point I paid the extra £300 to cover myself. A bit of a blow but it gave me peace of mind. Just a note, be careful of wording when booking and check for third party insurance. Often the price is a baseline and you need to pay insurances on top!

  • I recommend getting an SUV or 4X4 for the clearance

Of the 3000miles+ I covered in Costa Rica, I would say 60% were absolutely fine and the rest required full attention, avoiding potholes and adjusting speed to account for varying terrain levels. A top tips for Costa Rica when hiring a car would be to get an SUV or 4X4 for ease and comfort.

  • The roads vary from amazing and smooth to some of the worst I’ve driven on

It totally depends on what part of the country you visit. Some of the worst roads I encountered were around Santa Teresa (Nicoya Peninsula) and up in Monteverde. But many and most of the roads across the country were absolutely fine!

  •  There are assistants at the gas stations that fill your car for you, you can sit in your car

Pretty sweet! Particularly if you are a tourist and need assistance anyway. Often they will give your windows a quick clean so it’s nice to drop them a tip if you have some change!

  • How much is fuel in Costa Rica?

In May 2021, it was 689 colones per litre for regular petrol and for diesel 553 colones per litre. Cards were accepted at every station I stopped at.

  • Have some cash for the toll system.

I only paid tolls on my large journeys on the highways. They were never above 1000CRC so they aren’t expensive but I’d recommend having a little pot of cash for them!

  • I only came across like 3 sets of traffic lights in a whole month of driving, one in Quepos and the rest coming into San Jose, the city!
  • Download Google Maps offline so that you have directions when you lose signal / WIFI
  • Don’t park under coconut trees

(if they drop they will do some damage!)

Top tips for travelling in Costa Rica

7. Tap water is drinkable

Tap water in Costa Rica is generally known as safe to drink.

The choice to drink tap water is at your own discretion. It’s best to ask and check with the restaurant/hotel/bar you are at before drinking it. Sometimes in rural areas, it can be a safer option to drink bottled water but of course, where it’s safe to drink tap water, this is a better option for the environment.

I carried a reuseable water bottle around with me in Costa Rica and never struggled for places to fill it up. I also drank tap water and had no problems (of course our systems are all very different though so go with what feels best for you). 

8. National Park and trail fees add up

As mentioned earlier, if you want to make the most of the abundant country that you are visiting, you are going to want to visit at least a few trails, parks and waterfalls whilst you are here in Costa Rica.

Chances are, it’s the flora and fauna that have bought you here.

There seemed to be a fee on most places I visited, though of course if you listen to tips from fellow travellers, do your research (like you are doing on this post) and are curious, there are always alternatives that can save you money!

For example:

  • In Arenal, you can pay for a day pass to one of the Hot Springs resorts OR you can head to the free spot on the river for a dip in the same geothermal springs. See more in my Arenal guide here.
  • You could pay for one of the many Sloth trails or you can spot them in the wild. On my Chocolate Tour they had 3 resident sloths in the trees! In Manuel Antonio, I spotted 3 in the trees on the beach!

Example prices in Costa Rica:

  • Rio Celeste National Park entrance – $13.50
  • Curi-Cancha Reserve – $20
  • Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve – $25
  • Uvita Waterfall entrance – $4
  • Montezuma waterfall access – 3000CRC
  • Manuel Antonio National Park entrance – $18
  • Tour guide for Manuel Antonio (recommended) – $15

Top tips for travelling in Costa Rica

9. It's a good idea to learn basic Spanish phrases

There were many times that I actually couldn’t communicate with the gorgeous Spanish humans in front of me. For this reason, and out of respect for the culture and country through which you are travelling, I’d suggest learning a few of the basic phrases. Such a fun part of travelling through a new country!

Here are a few to get you started!

  • Donde esta el baño = where is the toilet
  • Hola = Hello
  • Adiós = Goodbye
  • Por favor = Please
  • Gracias = Thank you
  • Lo siento = Sorry
  • Sí = Yes
  • No = No
  • ¿Quién? = Who?
  • ¿Qué? = What?
  • ¿Por qué? = Why?
  • ¿Dónde? = Where?

10. Look out for 'sodas' - get some local food!

Sodas are small Tico (Costa Rican) eateries where you will find local food, locally priced. This is a great way to save money on food as eating in a soda tends to be a lot cheaper than the international and western establishments.

But aside from cost, I LOVED the local cuisine. Lots of beans, plantain, rices and sour cream!

I’ve included my favourite sodas in all my Costa Rica Travel guides.

11. Casado is the local dish

A Casado is an authentic Costa Rican meal using rice, black beans, plantains, salad, a tortilla, and an optional protein source such as chicken, beef, pork, fish and so on. Of course though you can make it veggie like I did!

Even if rice, beans, meat and plantain aren’t your thing… my top tip for travelling in Costa Rica would be to try the local dish at least once.

You can see my vegetarian option below. The Casado is a versatile dish and there is always the option to have meat / no meat and add any extras you fancy!

A guide to visit Arenal volcano, Costa Rica

12. Bring Binoculars with you to embrace the flora and fauna experience

Okay so I’ve always had an appreciation for nature but Costa Rica takes it to a whole new level.

The species, colours and abundance here are ridiculous. If you’re looking to spot some of the wilder, more camouflaged animals e.g. the sloth, bringing a pair of binoculars is a wonderful idea.

I didn’t even consider bringing mine but I wish I had, just to enhance my walks more.

Luckily though, enough people had them and were kind enough to lend them to you if they spotted something amazing.

Alternatively, when you’re visiting National Parks you can hire a tour guide that will bring all the equipment and more. This is one of the many perks of having a tour guide for a small extra cost.

Basically, you could walk through a park with 10 sloths in the trees without seeing a thing if you aren’t paying attention / have the binoculars to observe them in the tree tops.

Top tips for travelling in Costa Rica

13. Consider paying the extra for a guide on some of the tours / national parks

This leads on from the last point.

Of course when paying for a National Park entrance you think, what do I need a guide for. But honestly, if you’re ever going to get a guide, let it be in Costa Rica.

Sure you can piggyback onto someone else’s tour along the way but having that one to one experience and opportunity to ask questions was one of my absolute favourite experiences in Costa Rica.

I got a guide in Manuel Antonio National Park and he had been walking the park and lands here, studying the species for 15+ years. You just cannot compete with that kind of knowledge. It was fascinating and it was the densest experience with nature during my whole month in Costa Rica!

See all my Costa Rica travel guides here.

14. No toilet paper or other down the toilets (only human waste)

It’s actually been so weird coming back to England and putting toilet paper down the toilet again.

Across the whole of Costa Rica, you are asked to place toilet paper and any waste that isn’t derived from the human body, in the bin. Simples.

Top tips for travelling in Costa Rica

15. Bring an insulated waterbottle to keep your drinks cold on hikes / long drives

Gosh I was so grateful to have bought my insulated water bottle with me to Costa Rica. This has to be one of my top tips for travelling in Costa Rica.

Whether it’s on a long drive, a day at the beach, in your room with just a fan or a day hike, it’s so refreshing to open your bottle to cold / ice-cold water – particularly in the 30-40 degree heat and humidity!

16. Bring hiking trail shoes and water shoes

Another thing I was so happy I thought to pack – hiking shoes!

I know space in your luggage can be limited but with the number of epic trails, hikes, waterfalls and rocks to explore here in Costa Rica, you’ll be using them a lot more often than you think.

Even the short hike to Montezuma Falls , near Santa Teresa , was demanding of a grippy shoe. At one point I took my shoes off (nearing the waterfall) and nearly slipped big time. I put my Merrel hiking trainers back on immediately. The pathways and walks aren’t always maintained and as manicured as you may hope so having shoes with a good tread is a good idea!

Hiking trainers or Teva sandals are perfect!

17 Bring a poncho / raincoat / umbrella for the downpours

Need I say more… when it rains it rains.

18. Use the local laundrettes when your clothes get damp from the humidity!

If you are visiting Costa Rica in the shoulder season or in the winter (rainy) season as I did then you may be going from rainstorms to A/C, or rainstorms to humidity/fan rooms. If your clothes aren’t given the chance to dry properly, they can start to get a damp smell.

Fear not, there are local laundrettes in most towns and villages. I washed my swimwear and any other bits every week for just a few dollars.

19. Selina hostels are the vibe for young travellers, whether you stay there or just enjoy their bar / restaurant areas

During my month in Costa Rica, it only took me about a week before I realised that there was an establishment on most young travellers lips… Selina’s .

Selina provides guests with beautiful places to stay, travel, and work abroad indefinitely .- Selina

What stood out to me about each Selina property was the attention to detail and the consistent strength in their branding. Each property was lined with a eye-catching art, gorgeous nutritious menus, areas perfect for social gatherings.

Basically, whether you’re a digital nomad looking for somewhere to work and have your breakfast, whether you’re a traveller looking to connect with others over a cocktail, or looking for somewhere to stay that’s affordable, in a prime location and has music, cocktails, style and wellness offerings… this is it.

I stayed at Selinas in Monteverde because I wanted to be around people as a solo traveller and it did not fail me!

They have other properties in Costa Rica in:

  • Manuel Antonio
  • Santa Teresa
  • Puerto Viejo

20. If you're short on time choose Monteverde OR La Fortuna

If you’re at the stage where you figuring out your itinerary my top tip for travelling in Costa Rica would be to map out the locations you’re thinking and then list the activities you desire to experience in each. You will find that in a few locations, activities will be very similar, like Monteverde and La Fortuna.

In both of these destinations, you can: admire views of Arenal Volcano (so long as the weather permits), do a chocolate farm tour, coffee plantation tour, engage in trails, adrenalin activities and more.

If you’re short on time, this could be a good way around it.

Check out my Costa Rica travel guides below to get a better idea of what each destination offers:

A guide to visit Arenal volcano, Costa Rica

21. Keep an eye on your belongings, just be wary!

22. bring a facemask for the dust.

Forget COVID, there are some areas of Costa Rica that I wanted to wear a mask because of the dust!

Where roads haven’t been tarmacked yet and the roads are dry, cars passing can mean churning the dust up into the air and into everyone’s airways lol. There were big trucks sprinkling water across the roads to prevent this but, bring a mask.

23. Respect and enjoy this sustainable country

A few top tips for travelling in Costa Rica, in a respectful way:

  • Take your litter off the beach with you when you leave.
  • If you take food into national parks, leave no trace when you leave.
  • Learn some of the local lingo!
  • Don’t let taps and showers run unnecessarily
  • Turn off lights and electrics when not in use (AC is expensive!)
  • Bring a reusable water bottle and fill it up instead of buying single-use plastic
  • Respect wild animals and keep your distance, don’t scare them
  • Leave wildflowers and plants alone, protect the land
  • Eat and support local where you can!

A guide to Arenal Volcano and La Fortuna, Costa Rica-44

Have you got a top tip for travelling in Costa Rica??

Anything you’d add?

Love as always and happy adventuring,

costa rica travel tips

Founder of Where’s Mollie / We Are Global Travellers, content creator, photographer and videographer. I am certainly no stranger to adventure, outward and within. I thrive in nature, with nature and by recognising my true nature in the midst of it all.

See all of Mollie’s adventures and guides here.

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Top tips for travelling in Costa Rica




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