Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful countries in the world and is most known for its diverse landscape.
It’s one of the most coveted and highly anticipated destinations that people want to visit. Travelers from all over want to explore Costa Rica and experience its beauty for themselves.
This Central American country is safe to visit, but no matter where you go in the world, you must pay attention to your surroundings and make smart decisions.
Here you’ll find helpful Costa Rica travel tips.
If you prepare before you leave for your journey, you’ll be ready for a safe, fun vacation.
These travel tips come from my experience after living in Costa Rica for over 6 years. These insider tips will help any traveler with their visit to Costa Rica.
They will help you save money, see more wildlife and get more enjoyment from tour operators.
21 Best Travel Tips For Costa Rica
1. Visa Requirements
Costa Rica requires a passport for entry just like anywhere else, but some travelers are also required to get a visa before visiting.
This link lists all countries and the requirements for visiting Costa Rica. You can click on your country to find out what you need before visiting.
If you are from the United States, you will need a valid passport and proof of a return ticket to show before entering Costa Rica, and you may stay for up to 90 days without a visa. But you do not need a Visa.
2. Book Tours Through Regulated Agencies
When booking a monkey tour or any other excursion, be sure to book through a trusted source.
Take time to research and ensure the tour company is legitimate. This is another way to protect yourself.
You most likely won’t come across fraudulent agencies, but it’s best to take that extra level of precaution ahead of time.
Yes, you can save money if you book your tours on the beach or in the streets from locals, but most of the time these tours are not insured and if anything were to happen you wouldn’t be covered.
If covid has taught us anything, it’s that anything can happen at any time. Don’t get stuck on vacation without travel insurance.
Not only can it help you if you are ever stuck in a foreign country if something were to happen, but it can also help with lost luggage, medical expenses, and pretty crime.
4. Pay Attention To The Seasons When Booking Your Trip
Before heading out for the day, especially if you’ll be exploring outdoors, be sure to check the weather.
You’ll want to be prepared, and you never know when rain or a storm will roll through. You may not notice the signs of change in weather approaching so it’s best to check your weather app and bring weather-appropriate items just in case.
If it is rainy season May to October you can almost guarantee that it will rain at some point during the day.
Below are the different seasons in Costa Rica to be prepared for:
- ☔️The winter season is from May through October. This is the wettest time of year.
- 🏝 The summer season is from November through April. This is the driest time of year.
- ☔️ The rainiest months are September and October. This is not the best time to visit.
- April and May are considered the shoulder season, so this is a great time to visit if you want to save some money on accommodations and transportation.
Another thing to note about the weather is the humidity, which is a real killer. It’s practically impossible to ever feel dry.
You may want to ensure the place you’re staying has AC because you’ll need some reprieve from the heat and humidity. This is especially true if you are not used to the heat or humidity.
Also, for such a small country, there is very diverse weather in the different regions, so be sure to research the area you’ll be staying in.
For instance, near Monteverde and the cloud forests, it stays pretty cool. San Jose is known for having an eternal spring.
Guanacaste is typically dry and hot, and the coastal areas are hot and humid year-round. Most of the country enjoys 12 hours of sunlight every day from around 6 am to 6 pm.
5. You Can Drink The Tap Water
For the most part, tap water is safe to drink in Costa Rica.
The only time you should refrain from drinking the water is in remote areas. It’s always a good idea to bring a water bottle with a filter. This will help give you extra protection.
Most places that do not have safe tap water will provide water bottles at restaurants, and other establishments, so don’t worry about getting handed unsafe water.
6. Theft Awareness
Costa Rica does not have a military and is only one of 23 countries in the world not to have one.
Without a military, Costa Rica is a safe and peaceful country. There is a police force, the OIJ, and the GAO, which is like a SWAT team.
However, the most common crime is theft, including car and house break-ins and pickpockets. To prevent petty thefts, you’ll need to use common sense and pay attention to your surroundings.
Don’t leave your valuables lying out in your car and keep your purse or bag near you at all times.
This is true of anywhere you visit. When traveling in a foreign place and around large crowds, there is always a chance of theft.
As long as you don’t leave your items unattended or make it easy to steal from you, you shouldn’t have to worry about this.
I also like using this sunscreen diversion safe on the beach to help hide my vaulables.
7. Look At Your Checks And Bills
When eating at a restaurant, be sure to read over the receipt. There will likely be a 10% service charge and a 13% tax added to the bill.
This means you don’t need to leave an extra tip unless you enjoyed your server and would like to.
Also, be prepared for this as this makes all your meals 23% more expensive. After 6 years of living in Costa Rica, I’m still not used to it.
8. Protected Land
This is one of the coolest things about Costa Rica. Over 25% of Costa Rica’s land is protected through parks, reserves, and refuges.
There are 27 national parks, 58 wildlife refuges, 32 protected zones, 15 wetland areas and mangroves, 11 forest reserves, 8 biological reserves, and 12 additional conservation areas.
All of this protects the diverse natural habitats as well as the diverse wildlife. There are more than 500,000 species that live in Cost Rica, with 300,000 of those being insects.
It’s impossible not to explore the natural beauty and not see wildlife in this small but mighty country.
Take time to visit the protected areas near where you’re staying. You’ll fall in love with the natural beauty and the unique wildlife you see along the way.
As well as all of this, it is illegal to own any property within 150 yards of any public water source. This means that all beaches are public and it is illegal to have a private beach.
9. Visiting National Parks
Costa Rica has tons of wonderful national parks. For instance, one of the most famous parks is Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific coast in Quepos.
A Manuel Antonio National Park is you can’t just show up at this national park. You must reserve your tickets ahead of time. The park can sell out, too, so make sure you book it at least a day in advance and pick your time slot.
Not all parks fill up in this way, but if you have your heart set on visiting a certain place, be sure to look up in advance the admission requirements.
🚗 Renting a car is one of the best ways to see and get around Costa Rica. However, the cars are expensive to rent because they require you to get car insurance from a third-party company which significantly raises the price.
But if you want to see that country, this is the best way as public transportation is not the best.
If you’ll be visiting during the rainy season or in some of the more remote areas, getting a car with a four-wheel drive is highly suggested because some roads aren’t great.
11. Stay On The Trails
Another great Costa Rica travel tip is if you’ll be hiking and adventuring in the rainforest, stay on the trails, so you don’t get lost or run into wild animals.
You should also keep your hands to yourself and not touch all the trees along the way because you never know what’s hiding in them.
There could be snakes, spiders, and other insects lying in the holes or on the branches of the trees, and you don’t want to bother any wildlife.
Just another exciting perk to traveling around Central America.
12. Costa Rica Is A LOT More Expensive Than Other Latin America Countries
Costa Rica is more expensive than you’d think, especially to visit the different parks and protected areas.
For example, you’ll often have to pay at least $15 to visit a national park, which is something to account for when budgeting for your trip.
Restaurants are also expensive, especially if you go to tourist hotspots.
Look for “sodas” which are small, family-owned, local restaurants with traditional Costa Rican food.
They’ll be cheaper and much more authentic.
If you are looking to save money on vacation, you might want to consider going to Nicaragua, Panama, or Guatemala.
Costa Rica is not cheap!
13. USD vs. CRC
The national currency in Costa Rica is the colon. However, US dollars are accepted in most places you go.
You may not always get the best exchange rate when you use dollars, but they will galdly accept them.
You can pay for things in CRC or USD with most vendors. If you pay in USD you normally will get back CRC in changes.
At the ATMs, you can normally withdraw both USD and CRC. It’s a good idea to have both currencies on you.
If you pay by card, you may have the choice between using USD or CRC. Make sure you always have some cash on hand for tolls or vendors that don’t accept cards, especially when shopping.
You might even get a slight deal when paying in cash.
It’s also a good idea to look into getting an international credit card before you leave to avoid extra charges.
14. Sunscreen And Bug Spray
Before you visit Costa Rica you are going to want to load up on sunscreen and bug spray.
If you have room in your luggage, bring sunscreen and bug spray to Costa Rica. I love traveling with these bug spray wipes, they are easy to keep in my day bag and come in so handy. Plus, I hate carrying around a massive bottle of bug spray.
It’s very expensive once you arrive so if you have the opportunity to bring it with you, you totally should. At the very least, you could bring a travel size to get you as far as possible.
15. Learn Basic Spanish Phrases
Many people in Costa Rica speak at least some level of English, but it’s always good to learn a few phrases to help you get by.
If you’re not in touristy areas, you will find fewer English-speaking Costa Ricans and may need to learn some words.
It’s also respectful to learn some Spanish and be able to at least say hello and thank you. If you’re ever in a situation where you’re lost or need some help, it’s also important to be able to communicate.
It’s fun to learn a few new things and test them out on your trip.
Here are a few for you:
- Hola = Hello
- Adiós = Goodbye
- Por favor = Please
- Gracias = Thank you
- Sí = Yes
- Lo siento = Sorry
- Donde esta el baño = where is the toilet
If you want to learn even more, this basic Spanish book on amazon is only $5 and will help you get ready for your trip.
16. Tipping In Costa Rica
Tipping is usually a personal choice, but I always try to help out where I can. Some of your tour guides, maids, servers and bartenders are earning a very low basic wage maybe around $20 a day.
A little tip can go a long way. When you visit Costa Rica try to give back to the country and tip.
You can read more about tipping in Costa Rica here.
17. Costa Rica Is NOT Mexico
Everything comes to Costa Rica thinking there is going to be Mexican food everywhere. Costa Rica is NOT Mexico and besides rice and beans, you will not find much Mexican food here.
So if you are expecting to eat tacos everyday, maybe you should book a ticket to Mexico instead.
18. Throw Your Toilet Paper In The Garbage
This is a hard one of most travelers to get used to. However, most places in Costa Rica are built with septic tanks and now sewage.
Everywhere you go in Costa Rica you will notice a little trash bin next to the toilet.
Most of the time you will see signs, however, if you are in less touristy places they assume you already know not to flush your toilet paper.
19. Visit The Caribbean Coast
If you have time be sure to visit the Caribbean coast as well as the Pacific coast. Most tourists only visit the Pacific side when the Caribbean coast has so much to offer and has a completely different vibe to it.
Since it is less touristy, you can often times get stellar deals on hotels and restaurants tend to be a lot cheaper as well.
20. It Gets Dark Early
Another Costa Rica travel tip that most people don’t realize, is that it gets dark early, like 6pm early. So you have to plan your days and tours accordingly.
The days here are pretty much 12 hours day light and 12 hours of night time almost year-round. So if you are expecting long summer days, you are in for a surprise.
21. Live The Pura Vida Lifestyle
Lastly, one of the best Costa Rica travel tips I can give you is to embrace the “Pura Vida” lifestyle.
You must learn to live the Pura Vida lifestyle. It’s the Costa Rican philosophy and means hello, goodbye, don’t stress, enjoy life, don’t worry, be thankful, be happy, and a whole myriad of things. When in Costa Rica, embrace the Pura Vida lifestyle.
This is will help you relax on vacation, move at a slower pace and not be so annoyed when things are taking longer than expected.
You are on vacation. Enjoy it!
Costa Rica Travel Tips Wrap-up
Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful places in the world. You will fall in love with it immediately.
From the mountains to the jungle to the lakes and oceans, you’re in for the trip of a lifetime. Hopefully, all of these Costa Rica travel tips have helped prepare you for your time in Costa Rica so that you can focus on the Pura Vida lifestyle.