Travel Advice for Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a pretty easy place to visit. People flying in from the USA and Canada might arrive in 6 hours or less, the small size of the country and good infrastructure make it possible to visit the humid lowland jungles one day and walk around in a light jacket in high elevations the next.

Nevertheless, if you are on your way to Costa Rica, the following tips and answers to FAQs about traveling to Costa Rica will help prepare you for a trip of a lifetime:

Forget the malaria pills: Travel health advisories sometimes suggest taking malaria medicine when visiting Costa Rica. This simply makes no sense because malaria is extremely rare in Costa Rica and seems to only pop up around a swampy area near Limon that is not visited by tourists.

Yes, you can drink the water in most places: Tap water is potable in most parts of the country. One of the exceptions is Tortuguero but even there, locals will tell you not to drink the water.

Don’t forget the sunscreen: Costa Rica is fairly close to the equator and you will know it as soon as you feel the intensity of the tropical sun. Don’t mess around with those very strong UV rays! Put on equally strong sun block to avoid serious burns.

Try a small umbrella for rain: Away from high elevations, many people find ponchos to be too hot to wear in warm, humid conditions. Try a small umbrella instead.

Dollars or Colones?: Dollars are accepted in most tourist areas and many businesses but they might not give a good exchange rate. Instead, change dollars into Colones at a bank or walk in to a WalMart or Mas x Menos supermarket, look for the Servi Mas desk (this will be fairly obvious), and change money there. You will get a much better rate than the airport and will avoid ATM fees. Speaking of ATMS, you should be able to access your bank account at most but might be charged $5 or more by the bank at home plus $2 by the machine.

Bring clothing for hot and cool weather: Depends on where you plan on visiting but keep in mind that high elevations such as Chirripo and Cerro de la Muerte are much cooler (65 degrees during the day, 45 at night) than coastal sites (85-90 degrees during the day, 75 at night).

Try Salsa Lizano: This condiment tastes great on pinto (rice and beans) and all sorts of other things!

Allocate enough time for public transportation: If you plan on using buses and other public transportation to get around, give yourself much more time that driving on your own.

Driving tips: Lots of visitors to Costa Rica use a rental vehicle. Most find that they can drive around no problem but that they have to drive in a very defensive manner. The general lack of street signs can be frustrating but is solved by also renting a GPS navigator. All car rental agencies offer this and we can’t recommend using one enough!

Crime issues: Travel in Costa Rica is safe and easy to do as long as common sense is used. For example, don’t walk around cities at night, be wary of pick-pockets and scam artists on buses and in crowded situations, be aware of your surroundings, and don’t leave any objects in an unattended vehicle anywhere.

Bring accessories that help you make the most of your trip: It’s best to travel as light as possible but you don’t want to leave home without your camera, binos, and a mobile device with essential apps for Costa Rica like the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app.