Last week a few friends and I traveled to Costa Rica for the first time and it was by far one of my favorite places yet. The country has some of the best views I’ve ever seen, the people are very hospitable, there are abundant outdoor activities, and the living is easy. We flew into San Jose, stopped in Jaco, and stayed in Manuel Antonio. Blame it on my blogger tendencies, but along the way I made a mental note of everything that made the trip easier or more enjoyable as well as tips I wish I would have known going into the vacation.
- Flights– Be on the lookout for airline promotions so that you can snag the best price for airfare. Southwest Airlines had a deal running for a roundtrip ticket under $300. Can you say SOLD?!
- Car rental vs. local bus– I can not stress enough how much I would advise you to rent a car. That being said, it does come with some hiccups. First off you HAVE to have car insurance in Costa Rica and there will be a large security deposit (like $500-$1000). No ifs, ands or buts. It is not optional and you will not be able to rent a car without purchasing insurance. Most car rental websites will not add in these costs so when you arrive to pick up your car you are slapped with a much larger bill. So be forewarned. Although we were upset about the added cost, we all agreed at the end of the trip that the car rental was our saving grace. It allowed us more flexibility to come and go as we pleased and not be on someone else’s schedule, as well as easily get to and from all of our activities and meals. Do note that depending on where in Costa Rica you are going, the roads may not be paved and pot holes are very common. We were fortunate to have paved roads everywhere that we went so it was not an issue. We were warned beforehand about the aggressive driving (which I was a bit nervous about), but if you can drive in Houston then Costa Rica is a cinche. While I am obviously pro car rental, I heard nothing but positive things about the local buses and it is definitely a cheaper alternative depending on your travel plans. Take into consideration how many places you will need to get to, how you will be able to get to each place (bus vs. taxi) and if it ends up being cheaper than a car rental. For us it was actually cheaper to rent a car because of the amount of places we would be traveling.
- DO pay the extra money for a GPS– This is a must if you rent a car. Being the penny pinchers we are, we thought about forgoing the $12/day to have the GPS, but boy were we glad in the long run that we had it. Believe me, you will thank me later.
- Check your credit card for discounts– A lot of credit card companies offer reward programs that have discounts on car rentals/hotels.
- Bring a car charger– The local radio stations aren’t all that great so you will probably want to play your own music. You will most likely be using your phone for pictures and other things and having a car charger comes in handy whenever you are needing to recharge.
- Location and seasonality is key for getting the best prices– We found while looking around for places to stay that usually the northern Pacific beach towns tended to be more expensive since the majority of places to stay are resorts. The more south that you go, the more options you will start to see. You see everything from hostels to 5 star resorts and prices all over the place. Also, Costa Rica has 2 “seasons”- dry and rainy season. Dry season is from December-April and rainy season is from May-November. Going in the “shoulder months” is said to have the lowest pricing. This timeframe is March-April and October-November.
- Rainforest vs. Beach– Why not both? Costa Rica is known for their tropical rainforests and gorgeous beaches. When choosing where you will stay take this into consideration depending on what activities you are wanting to accomplish. We chose to stay in Manuel Antonio, which is a walk away from many beaches, allowed us to go deep sea fishing as well as tour the surrounding rainforests.
- Eat where the locals eat– It is very true that locals make about $2/day yet most tourist towns you can expect to pay $10+/meal at any given restaurant. If you are trying to save money or just want to know where the best local food is- the best way is to ask the locals. While TripAdvisor is great for checking out rates and reviews, my advice is to first ask a local for suggestions and then narrow it down after that by using TripAdvisor.
- Drinks are expensive– Alcohol here is not cheap. Your best bet is to buy beer from the local grocery store and buy liquor from the airport at a duty free shop. We saved money by opting to pass on drinks during dinner and instead drinking by the pool or on the beach afterwords.
- There are 1000s to choose from– You name it and there is a tour for it. With hundreds of beaches, dozens of national parks, volcanoes and hundreds of activities to chose from, you must pick and choose wisely based on your trip duration, budget, and interests. Since we were only there for 3 full days, we chose to do 2 full day activities and 1 beach day. We went deep sea fishing for sport fish (caught 3 sailfish!) one day and did a zip line/water repelling tour through the rainforest the other day.
- Don’t feel like you need to have everything planned out ahead of time– Most hotels will offer activities and tours directly through them so feel free to wait to sign up for activities until you get there. Do not feel pressured to make a decision or plan everything in advance if you are unsure of what you want to do.
- The beaches are amazing and FREE– Take advantage of the beautiful beaches. I would definitely suggest getting up early to watch the sunrise and staying on the beach until sunset. Seriously the most breath-taking views that I have ever seen.
- Most places have wifi– There is no need to invest in a data plan since almost all tourist-accommodating places will have public wifi. You will just need to ask for the password.
- It is ok to drink the water– Forgo buying bottled water as it is completely safe to drink the tap water.
- Dollars are OK– The local currency is Colones but every place we went to accepted U.S. dollars or a credit card.
- Most people/places speak English– There was really no language barrier as almost every place we went to spoke pretty decent English.
- Don’t dress up– I would say anything more than shorts and a t-shirt and you are over dressed. Don’t bother bringing anything fancy as you will be out of place. Comfy attire is key! Learned this one the hard way.
- Bring water shoes– Most of the beaches are pretty rocky and most activities require them. My Chacos were my best friend on the trip.
As the locals would say, Pura Vida my friends and I hope that these little tips and tricks help you out if you are planning a vacation to Costa Rica. If you have any questions about my vacation please feel free to ask me!
Kimono | Hat