Costa Rica Travel Tips
Keep in Mind...
- Pack an umbrella Even if you're planning to visit during Costa Rica's dry season, don't count on continuous sunshine. Showers can occur year-round.
- Bring small bills The U.S. dollar (USD) is widely accepted in Costa Rica. It's to your advantage to bring American money, particularly small bills for purchasing souvenirs and tipping.
- Look out for "Golden Beans" Costa Rica has perfected a cup of java. Coffee enthusiasts can get their fix and learn about the planting and growing process at a variety of plantations across the country.
To many, Costa Rica's charm lies in its lush rainforests, unspoiled beaches, and abundance of wildlife. With breathtaking landscapes and a myriad of creatures—from toucans to monkeys to jaguars—it's easy to see why. Where else can you hike active volcanoes, zip-line through cloud-covered rainforests, and surf warm turquoise waters within the span of a few days? In this compact but diverse tropical paradise, exhilarating outdoor activities abound. Nature-seekers will roam thick jungles, while beachgoers will sprawl across the powdery sands. It's hard not to admire all the splendors this "Rich Coast" has to offer.
However, for others, this small Latin American country has a different appeal: it's relaxed way of life. Residents—known as Ticos—often recite the catchphrase "pura vida" (or "pure life"). This guiding philosophy can be observed from Costa Rica's central cosmopolitan capital of San José all the way to the sandy Atlantic and Pacific coasts. To truly immerse yourself in the good life, kick-back and admire the awe-inspiring scenery. Surround yourself with graceful butterflies at La Paz Waterfall Gardens, hike along monumental Arenal Volcano, mingle with locals at Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, or simply sit in a hammock under a palm tree along the Nicoya Peninsula. We have a sneaky feeling you'll discover the pure life, too.
How To Save Money in Costa Rica
- Don't rent a car at the airport Most car rental companies at Costa Rica's airports add a 12-percent charge to their rates. It's best to reserve a car ahead of time from a company located in the heart of town, rather than the airport.
- For better rates, exchange at the airport The exchange rate is generally better in Costa Rica for American dollars (USD). While you'll want to bring a few Costa Rican colóns (CRC) with you for small purchases upon arrival, exchange the bulk of your cash once you're traveling around the country.
- Make sure the meter is running Taxi drivers have a reputation for charging extra by not switching the meter on. As soon as you step into a taxi, either check that the meter is running or negotiate a flat rate with the driver to avoid a scam.
Costa Rica Culture & Customs
Costa Rican residents (los Costarricenses or "Ticos") are known for their pleasant and easy-going nature. Always warm, welcoming, and living life to the fullest, Ticos often greet each other with a hearty "Pura Vida!" (meaning "pure life"). Don't be alarmed by their benevolence and eagerness to please guests; to blend in, just reciprocate with kindness and embrace their positive philosophy.
The official language here is Spanish; however, you'll find English-speakers in popular tourist areas. But using some key phrases, such as "por favor" ("please") and "gracias" ("thank you"), is a polite gesture that goes a long way.
Dressing in casual clothing coincides with the laid-back Costa Rican lifestyle. You'll want to pack loose fitting clothing and sturdy hiking shoes if you're planning to explore the country's rustic wildlife reserves, volcanoes, and parks. You'll also want to lather up with sunscreen and insect repellent, as mosquitoes and other critters swarm Costa Rica's damp rainforests.
Coffee beans are commonly associated with the "Gold Coast." You're also likely to spot coffee plantations in the Central Plains; many travelers enjoy taking tours here. However, high-end coffee beans are hard to come by, since they are commonly exported rather than sold locally.
The official currency is the Costa Rican colón (CRC). One U.S. dollar (USD) is equivalent to about 500 CRC. However, U.S. dollars are accepted (and preferred) at many attractions, restaurants, and stores. As far as dining goes, travelers should note that restaurants add gratuity into the bill. However, tipping extra is not uncommon; if the service is stellar, leave an additional tip. For tour guides and drivers, plan to dole out about $10 USD per day.
Costa Rica's official religion is Catholicism. Over 90 percent of Costa Rica's population identifies as Catholic; however, the Catholic Church's presence is not readily visible to the unsuspecting traveler, except during patron-saint celebrations when locals flock to the streets outside local churches for dancing, music, and scrumptious cuisine.
In Costa Rica, you'll face few safety concerns. However, in congested San José, you'll want to keep an eye on your belongings and your rental car. Pick-pocketing and car theft is common in heavy tourist areas.