Setting off to Costa Rica for the first time? We’ve got your back with our top five travel tips. With frequent trips from California throughout the year, Anna and I have nailed down a routine that maximizes our adventure time. This short list of practical tips will help you embrace the Pura Vida lifestyle without a hitch.
Catch a Red-Eye
Traveling is hectic. It shouldn’t be a race against time… but it always is 🙃. How can you cram the most amount of fun into such a short time? The secret that gets us an entire extra day of Costa Rica adventure is booking red-eye flights. These flights usually depart in the late evening and reach Costa Rica by early morning, practically giving you an extra day in paradise. Like many people, I don’t sleep well on planes. My only salvation is some music and this ultra-soft face mask to have a fighting chance of catching some ZZZs. You save a hotel night’s cost, making it a win-win for you and your budget. Being so close to the equator, the sun comes up around 5:30am most of the year, right as your plane touches down. Breeze through customs and you’re on your way to the rental car pickup.
Leverage Travel Credit Cards
The process of renting a car in Costa Rica can be confusing and expensive. Some of the rental insurance requirements are mandatory, while some can be waived if you have the right travel credit card. Read our full post on rental car tips HERE.
Having a quality travel credit card can save you a ton of money, and we always use a combination of our Alaska Airlines Visa and the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Whether it’s complimentary access to the Priority Pass Lounge in Liberia, or priority boarding (for quick deplaning), these cards offer perks that can significantly enhance your travel experience. And the reward points? Use them for your next Costa Rican adventure!
Alaska Airlines Visa Card
We use the Alaska Airlines Visa to book our Costa Rica tickets for the free checked bags, free priority boarding, and the annual companion fare. The companion fare gets you a second ticket for around $200 (Alaska calls it $99 + taxes) with no blackout dates. This card should be in your wallet if you’re traveling from the West Coast of the US. Delta and JetBlue both offer comparable cards if you’re traveling from the East Coast.
Chase Sapphire Reserve Card
The Chase Sapphire Reserve is our go-to card for spending once we’re in Costa Rica. The most significant benefit is using it when paying for a rental car. It saves us over $1000/year by providing primary insurance for the car so we can decline the crazy expensive rental insurance. Just be sure to have a copy of the card benefit terms that highlight the primary insurance rental coverage. The card also comes with a complimentary Priority Pass membership so you can use the VIP Lounge in Liberia before your flight out. The Capital One Venture X is also a great card with a slightly lower annual fee and could be a good alternative.
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The VIP Lounge at the Liberia Airport
Pack for the Microclimates
(including the airplane)
Costa Rica, despite its small size, has many different climates. They range from the cooler, high-altitude mountainous regions to the scorching hot coastlines. The coldest climate experienced is often the airplane itself. I layer up in shorts under my travel pants so I can strip everything off when we touch down in the tropics.
Lightweight, breathable fabrics like cotton and linen are ideal for staying cool under the sun. Swimwear is a must, as well as a cover-up or sarong for when you’re not in the water. Don’t forget to pack a wide-brimmed hat, microfiber travel towel, sunglasses, and plenty of reef-safe sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun’s rays.
The mountain regions of Costa Rica offer a cooler climate compared to the coastal areas. When exploring these higher elevations, be sure to dress in layers, as temperatures can fluctuate throughout the day. Long pants and long-sleeved shirts made from moisture-wicking fabrics will help keep you comfortable and protected from insects.
Pack a mix of clothing – light, airy attire for beach areas, a warmer jacket for mountain regions, and some waterproof gear for those unpredictable tropical showers. Don’t forget a rain jacket, your swimsuit, and a good pair of hiking boots. Check out our complete Costa Rica packing list here.
Consider Travel Insurance
Our next secret isn’t really a secret but an essential piece of advice: think about travel insurance. Hopefully, you won’t need it, but it’s nice to have it for peace of mind if you’re planning on doing any adventure activities. We recommend SafetyWing, which offers extensive coverage, including medical, travel delays, and even baggage. It’s also really affordable for extended trips if you’re visiting for a while.
My card for our August 2023 trip
Rent a 4×4
Lastly, if you really want to make the most of your Costa Rican trip, we recommend a 4×4 rental (The AWD Hyundai Tuscon is our favorite). It’s really a requirement in the green season with so many of the roads being impassable in a 2WD car. Costa Rica’s roads range from smooth highways that interconnect the country to uneven dirt roads that connect all of the small towns along the way. A 4×4 lets you navigate it all with ease, giving you the freedom to explore off-the-beaten-path spots at your own pace. Check out our guide to renting a car in Costa Rica.
Dirt roads get washed out in the Green Season
These travel tips will not only help you enjoy your trip more but will also let you travel more efficiently and see more of the country. If you’ve got any more questions or need advice, drop us a message below!