5 Things to Know Before You Go to Costa Rica

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5 Things to Know Before You Go to Costa Rica

Hola ๐Ÿ‘‹

Planning your first trip to Costa Rica? Do it. It’s a dream destination, but there are a few things that many travelers forget when going down the Instagram and TikTok inspiration rabbit hole. Before you jet off, here are our 5 things to know before you go to Costa Rica.

Things to Know Before you go to Costa Rica
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Our favorite happy hour in Potrero

Costa Rica Is Not Cheap

While Costa Rica can provide good value for travelers, it’s important to know that it can also be a relatively expensive destination compared to other countries in Central America. Prices for accommodations, dining, and activities can be higher, especially in touristy areas. You can still have an amazing trip without breaking the bank. You’ll just have to research, plan, and budget a bit.

Accommodations

Consider staying in low-key vacation rentals or budget hotels to keep costs down. You’ll often pay a premium if you need to stay beachfront, so instead, look for places within walking distance or a short drive to the beach.

Maybe your dates are flexible and you can visit Costa Rica in the Green Season. It’s our favorite time to be in Costa Rica because crowds are much less than in the peak times, and prices are way better. There’s more rain but the scenery is more vibrant and lush to make up for it. Our favorite off-season spot is Tulemar Resort. You can find good prices for one of the highest-rated hotels in the world. Take a look on TripAdvisor.

Food and Drinks

In busier tourist areas like Tamarindo, La Fortuna, and Manuel Antonio, prices for a meal out can rival those of back home. That adds up for a family traveling for a few weeks. Instead, try eating some meals at a soda (a local Costa Rican restaurant). You’ll get to experience an authentic dish and support the locally owned business.

In the coastal towns, beach vendors will often try to sell you food and drinks at inflated prices. We’ve done it but the costs add up quickly. We prefer to pick up our own cerveza and our favorite koozies for a day at the beach.

Towns with many competing restaurants often have great happy hour deals for food and drinks. Take advantage of that happy hour pricing when you can!

Activities

Opt for free or low-cost activities like hiking in national parks or relaxing on public beaches. Most national parks have low-cost entry fees and can provide hours of exploration to see tons of animal life and stunning beaches. One of our favorite no-cost activities is the free thermal hot springs in La Fortuna.ย 

Adrenaline activities like zip lining in Manuel Antonio or riding ATVs in La Fortuna will up the budget quickly. Try joining a tour that provides multiple activities on the same day and it’s often much more cost-effective than booking the activities separately.

Some hotels and resorts are so beautiful that the place is the activity. Tulemar in Manuel Antonio is home to an on-site Sloth Sanctuary and you can see wildlife everywhere. We’ve seen sloths, monkeys, toucans, and macaws there, and it didn’t cost anything extra.

Rental Cars

From our experience, seasonality is the single biggest variable in rental car cost. The same rental car may cost $600 for a week in July, and double that for a peak week in January. Rental rates are much lower in the green season, which is actually our favorite time to visit Costa Rica. If you can handle the potential for some weather, May and September are some of our favorite months to visit.

Sloths can be seen all around Tulemar

Addresses are not a thing

In Costa Rica, the traditional street address system is not commonly used. Instead, locations are often described based on landmarks, reference points, or distances from certain landmarks. While this may initially seem confusing, it’s an opportunity to live the pura vida lifestyle and navigate like a local.

It really helps to have a reliable GPS or mapping app on your phone. Don’t hesitate to ask locals or other travelers for directions or clarification when needed. We always bring an extra battery like this because GPS apps can drain your phone battery quickly. Embrace the unique way of finding your way around and enjoy the spontaneity it brings to your journey.

Renting A Car Is Crucial

One of the best ways to explore Costa Rica at your own pace is by renting a car. Public transportation can be limited in some areas, and having a vehicle gives you the freedom to visit off-the-beaten-path destinations. Sure, you can run into problems, but it’s rare, and there’s often a friendly local or expat to help out.

We were having dinner at Gracia in Playa Flamingo and our rental car wouldn’t start… the battery had died. One of the servers was kind enough to give us a jump. We had the battery swapped out the next morning and continued on with the trip without issue. Be sure to rent a 4×4 vehicle, especially during the green season when roads may be challenging due to rain and unpaved conditions.

Don’t miss our guide to renting a car in Costa Rica

Anna and I grabbing some lunch at the restaurant
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4×4 is sooo helpful in the Green Season

Tico Time Is A Thing

In Costa Rica, the concept of “Tico Time” refers to a more relaxed and laid-back approach to timekeeping. Schedules may not always start on time or go exactly as planned. This cultural aspect is deeply ingrained in the Costa Rican way of life and is part of the charm of the country. Embrace the slower pace, practice patience, and allow yourself to immerse in the present moment. Remember, sometimes the best experiences are found when you go with the flow and embrace the unexpected.

The Sun Is Strong

At the equator, Costa Rica is blessed with warm water and abundant sunshine. While itโ€™s great for travelers, it’s essential to protect yourself from the intense tropical sun. Be sure to pack and regularly apply reef-safe sunscreen with a high SPF, a good waterproof hat, and lightweight, breathable clothing that covers your skin. Staying hydrated is also crucial, so carry an insulated refillable water bottle and drink plenty of fluids throughout the day.

Let’s go!

These are our 5 things to know before you go to Costa Rica. It’s not a complete list, but they’ll help you plan your first trip. Unsure of the tipping expectations? Don’t miss our guide to the basics of Costa Rican culture.ย 

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Cody & Anna

Cody and Anna Traxler

Weโ€™re Cody and Anna, and weโ€™ve fallen in love with Costa Rica over the past decade. Weโ€™re not experts in every part of the country, but our countless adventures have inspired us to create this travel guide. Our goal is to share our experiences and help you jet off on your own unforgettable journey. Enjoy Ultimate Pura Vida and start planning here ๐Ÿค™

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