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
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 high season. Christmas and New Year period 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 fro 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.
2. Consider an organised tour
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 group tour is a top Costa Rica travel tip as it means you can pack a lot of experiences into one 10-day visit without fretting about availability or logistics.
3. Be prepared to spend
Costa Rica is among the most expensive countries to visit in Latin America – and it’s not just pricey when compared to its neighbours. For certain supermarket items, such as bottled water and sunscreen, the country can even rival the UK and USA.
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 10% service charge and 13% tax is added to most restaurant bills and budget accordingly.
4. Watch your belongings
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, and if you are unlucky, report the theft at the local police station.
5. Heed caution when it comes to the weather
Even in 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.