Practical Travel Tips: Costa Rica

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Deals to Costa Rica happen with some regular frequency. If you are delight being in nature, definitely go visit. You could be hiking up the volcano in the morning and back on the beach by the afternoon. Yvonne, of Hello Wander World, who last wrote about Bangkok, recently went and here are her practical travel tips.

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Pura vida! This is the motto of Costa Rica. Directly translated, it means “pure life”, but experienced in Costa Rica, it means a lifestyle of peace and love for one another and the Earth. As a visitor, you’ll be fully embraced by this lifestyle with fresh food, slower pace, and lots of outdoor adventure.

Unique Experiences

With such robust wildlife and ecodiversity, Costa Rica offers really unique experiences focused on the Pura Vida lifestyle! Yogis find their way to Costa Rica for tranquil escapes in the lush rainforests and beaches. There are many companies that run week long or more yoga retreats full of zen and bendy sessions.

Turtle lovers find their way to Tamarindo, the home of the endangered leatherback sea turtle. You can join the conservation movement by volunteering with the caring and hatching of these endangered animals. There are excursions to see the babies hatching for people just visiting the area too.

There are excursions to explore the numerous rainforests through hanging bridges, zip-lining, ATVs, hiking, rafting, and more. These excursions can be a bit pricier, ranging from $50 – $150, so picking and choosing what you want to do beforehand will help you save money. Activities like hiking can be done without a guide and will save you money.

Hanging Bridges – see the rainforest from above! – Photo: (c) 2017 – Yvonne of Hello Wander World

Where to Stay

Since Costa Rica is focused on ecotourism, the lodging options are very in tune with nature. This means lots of open space with views (outside San Jose). A Costa Rican hostel is like a fun summer camp in a drop dead gorgeous place with hammocks and slacklines casually strewn across palm trees and open yet plush common areas, perfect for meeting up with new friends to talk about your adventurous day. There are equally as many private rooms as there are shared rooms, which is a great plus if you prefer a little more privacy.

If you prefer the royal treatment, there are luxury hotels to spoil you rotten. La Fortuna offers luxurious escapes with rainforest resort and spas – with their own spring-fed hot spring pools. There are also options for day passes to these spas if you choose not to stay in the resort. You can find beach resorts and golf courses in the Papagayo Peninsula of the Guanacaste Province.

Relaxing on a hammock in the hostel – Photo: (c) 2017 – Yvonne of Hello Wander World

How to Get Around

You’ll most likely fly into the capital, San Jose (SJO). Unfortunately, there isn’t much to do or see in San Jose, so for us, it was just a transport point. From there, you can rent a car or take buses to the cities you’re visiting. (Editor’s Note: Most US airlines–Spirit Airlines being a big exception–include the Departure Tax of $27 in their ticket price. You will see some hotels that can help you pay for the tax before going to the airport — if you are flying Alaska, American, Delta, jetBlue, Southwest or United, DO NOT use it. If you are flying Spirit, you will need to pay this at some point before check-in).

While renting a car allows for more flexibility (and can potentially save you money if traveling with a group), Costa Rican roads can be very windy and unpredictable. You’ll need to be more careful with safety, like not keeping anything valuable in the car and waiting to pull over in a populated place if someone hits you. Also, keep in mind that most cars are manual. In the rainy season, when it can potentially rain all day and the sun sets early, I wouldn’t recommend driving unless you’re comfortable in those conditions.

There are a network of buses you can take advantage of if you are uncomfortable with renting a car. I chose to use Interbus, which had pick-ups near the SJO airport with direct transfers to cities like La Fortuna (4 hours), Monteverde (3 hours), Manuel Antonio (3 hours away), and more. If you plan on visiting more than one city, you can get a package deal for your transfers.

If your home base is San Jose, there are also tour companies that will pick you up and drive you to your excursions – just google San Jose Day Trips!

On the road in Costa Rica – Photo: (c) 2017 – Yvonne of Hello Wander World

Currency Exchange

Costa Rica accepts US dollars almost universally. There’s no need to exchange to the local currency, so I would suggest bringing USD and an international ATM card. Carry small bills around with you because oftentimes taxi drivers and restaurants may not have change. Tipping is optional, but encouraged if you have a good experience.

Visa and Mastercard are accepted (almost nobody accepted Amex), but a lot of places still incurred credit card fees, even if the card itself didn’t incur fees. Remember to always charge in the local currency! (Editor’s Note: Dynamic Currency Conversion is a scam. Never take the US Dollar option when traveling aboard, always take the local currency option).

The cost of food and housing is comparable to the US. Meals are around $6 – $12, but excursions can be pricey.

Language & Greetings

English is spoken almost everywhere, but it’s always nice to know simple greetings.

Hello: hola

Thank you: gracias

And of course, pura vida! Which is sometimes used like a salutation for good wishes.

What To Eat

If you want to eat your way through Costa Rica, you must start and end at a soda. Sodas are small family-owned restaurants that serve traditional Costa Rican dishes. The Costa Rican staple is called the casado, which consists of rice and beans, a vegetable, and plantains. You’ll also experience fun, personal service by the soda owners, making you feel as if you were a part of the family.

With the abundant coffee and chocolate plantations in the region, it’s obviously a good idea to try fresh coffee and chocolate. There are tours offered in the plantations that usually involve some taste testing. Taste chocolate at all different stages of creation, beginning at the sweet cacao fruit and ending in freshly melted chocolate with toppings, like chili powder sprinkled on top. These tours are educational and delicious!

Tap water is safe to drink, so carry a water bottle and fill up to stay hydrated.

3 different stages of chocolate: the cacao fruit, cacao nibs, and hot chocolate using grounded nibs – Photo: (c) 2017 – Yvonne of Hello Wander World

Safety

Use general precautions when visiting, such as traveling in groups and using taxis instead of walking, especially at night. Don’t travel with too much cash or valuables on your body. Almost every local you’ll meet will be friendly and warm, so don’t be scared of getting to know the people. Just practice common sense safety and you’ll definitely leave with great memories.

When taking a taxi, make sure it’s an officially licensed car. They are easy to spot because they’re red and have a yellow triangle on the driver door.

Best Times to Visit

The most popular time to visit Costa Rica is mid-December – April during the dry season. You’ll get tons of sunshine for your adventures. Because this time is high season, you’ll find prices to be a little higher but still very affordable.

Don’t cross May – November off your possible visiting time though. Although the rainy season can mean lots of rain, sometimes every day, you’ll get to experience fewer crowds and milder temperatures. The locals call the June – August timeframe the Green Season because the rainforests are lush and the waterfalls are bigger. I went for a week in July and didn’t get rained on once! Sometimes you can get lucky. Some even argue that the best time to visit is during rainy season.

Just a taste of the unique flora that grows in the rainforests – Photo: (c) 2017 – Yvonne of Hello Wander World

Costa Rica has set itself apart as a travel destination. The whole country ran on 100% renewable energy for almost all of 2016, making the air and Earth that much fresher. The diverse and lush ecosystems speak for themselves, but then you add in the pura vida lifestyle, the good food, and the unique encounters with nature, to create an unforgettable experience. Pura Vida!

About The Author:

Yvonne is a software engineer by profession, traveler by heart. When she’s not traveling, she lives in DC, attempting to satisfy her wanderlust through picking up new hobbies (like flying trapeze) and trying new foods (like pupusas). She’s on the never-ending quest to taste and see all the flavors of the world, and she believes everyone should experience the type of travel that opens your mind to imagination and creates a flurry of emotion. Follow her on this quest through her blog, Hello Wander World or Instagram @hellowanderworld.

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