- Get a physical map – Or at least a GPS! Costa Rica, although beautiful, can be difficult to navigate. Most places don’t have straightforward addresses and even if you have a working cellphone there, service can be spotty in many remote areas. Also, if you research ahead of time where you’ll be going specifically, you’ll be able to familiarize yourself with names of towns, streets, etc.
- Don’t leave your bags unattended – This seems like an obvious one, but you’d be surprised at how often it still happens! Just this last trip, my dad left our bags unattended in the taxi right before we were to head out to the airport. He left the taxi – and our bags with all our valuables – alone outside while he went back inside the house. Luckily, the driver was a really nice guy and didn’t leave, but he did warn us about other taxi drivers who might not be so morally inclined.
- Buy souvenirs from individuals in non-touristy spots – This is another one that is probably true for travel in general. However, Costa Rica has so much tourism that it might be difficult to get away from touristy areas. You may have to go out of your way a bit, but your wallet will thank you later.
- Don’t automatically rent a car – If you want to rent, be prepared to pay a lot more than you pay in the U.S. or even Europe. There are a lot of alternatives to renting, like taking a bus or taxi. However, depending on your itinerary and how much freedom you want, renting may be a good option. Just make sure to take the cost into account when planning the entire trip. Flying to your destination might be more affordable if you aren’t interested in making stops along the way.
- Expect to pay more – For basically everything. Unlike some other Latin American destinations, Costa Rica can be pretty expensive; especially in popular places. For dining out, plan on spending about the same as you would in the U.S. Water is not free, and beer and wine can rack up your bill, as well. Pro: the food is delicious and it’ll be money well spent!
- Dress casual – And pack rain-friendly clothing. Expect to get rained on at least once, if not many times, during your stay. Costa Rica stays that green for a reason! Also, local dress tends to match the attitude: easygoing and laidback.
- Research activities before you go – Another obvious one, but most people let this slip by. I like to use TripAdvisor and other travel forums for information on different activities, attractions, etc. This way, you’re aware of the cost, know what to expect, and won’t be overcharged by the vendors near your hotel.
- Decide what kind of trip this is – Costa Rica can be different things for different people, so decide what kind of vacation you’d like to have before you go. You don’t want to plan for a beach vacation and then spontaneously decide you also want a 2-day trek through the jungle once you’re there. You won’t have hiking/camping equipment and purchasing it in Costa Rica can get expensive. Can you do more than one thing? Of course! But know yourself and plan accordingly if you’re the spontaneous type 🙂
- Learn Spanish – Although most locals speak English, it’s always good to know the language. In the very least, learn a few phrases. It’ll come in handy if you’re trying to negotiate a price for something and/or trying to convince someone you’re not a tourist. I use Duolingo when I want to learn another language: it’s free and it’s an app, so can’t get much better than that!
Obviously, there are a ton of great travel tips out there and these are just a handful of tips that I’ve found personally helpful. The most important thing to take away is to do your research, be prepared, and be open to try new things. Costa Rica is rich in things to do and there’s something for everyone. 🙂