8 Costa Rica Travel Tips for a Smooth Trip

You’ve heard about the black sand beaches, the towering palm trees, and the lush cloud forests. If you picture yourself drinking out of a coconut somewhere in Costa Rica soon, you’re probably thrilled– you’re heading to an amazing, picturesque destination. You’re going to have a blast! Before you go, though, take the time to read through these Costa Rica travel tips to make your journey smooth and effortless.

1. Learn Basic Spanish

Costa Ricans do speak Spanish. You’ve probably heard that the English proficiency in Costa Rica is much higher than in neighboring countries, and while this is true, it can often be very frustrating to get around in Costa Rica if you know no Spanish at all.

The first of the Costa Rica travel tips is to consider downloading the Duolingo app a few months before you go. Learn some basic Spanish or brush up if you already know a little. You should know your Spanish numbers (not just 1-10 but also hundreds and thousands, for currency purposes), as well as basic phrases such as how to ask for the bathroom, how to order food, and how to ask how much something costs.

2. Get Cash in Colones

One US dollar currently equals about 570 Costa Rican colones (this is why you’ll want to know your Spanish hundreds and thousands, too). Although other Costa Rica travel tips have told you that US dollars are widely accepted, you’ll have a much smoother trip if you have colones on you, too. Some places won’t accept or give change in dollars. In addition, if you pay in dollars, you may end up paying a little bit more than you would have in colones– otherwise known as the “foreigner price”.

The cheapest way to get colones is to order them at your bank a few weeks before your trip. Or, you can always exchange at the airport, or bring a credit/debit card (ensuring it carries no foreign transaction fees) and withdraw colones at an ATM when you get to Costa Rica.

3. Pack the Toiletries You Need, Especially Sunscreen and Bug Repellent

Tolietries can be expensive in Costa Rica, especially sunscreen and insect repellent, which are probably two of the items you’ll need most in Central America. In the more humid, coastal cities, mosquitoes abound at night, especially in rainy season. To be safe, it’s a good idea to wear insect repellent every day and night. In addition, the sun in Costa Rica can be blazing, so cover yourself in SPF every day, even when you’re not going to the beach.

packing toiletries

4. Don’t Bring Flashy or Expensive Accessories

Costa Rica’s humid climate will cause any metal jewelry to rust. More importantly, you don’t want to make yourself a target, especially in crowded cities such as the capital of San Jose.

You’re not likely to be the victim of a crime, and these Costa Rica travel tips are not meant to scare you from the country, but theft does happen. If a local sees you wearing an expensive piece of jewelry, they may assume that you’re a wealthy foreigner, and they may be more likely to steal from you.

It’s safer to keep flashy jewelry such as engagement rings at home, or at least tucked away where nobody will see them.

5. Bring a Durable Pair of Hiking Boots

If you know you’re not going to be hiking at all, you may skip this step. However, in the spirit of Pura Vida, the best Costa Rica travel tips will prepare you for any activity you may end up doing.

If you end up hiking in the mountainous regions, you may wish you had brought hiking boots. These areas can get muddy, and you may have to walk through water, so regular non-waterproof sneakers won’t always be the best option. Sandals such as Chacos can work in a pinch, too, but Costa Rica is home to killer ants that may eat up your bare feet. Hiking boots are the best choice.

man running in hiking boots

6. Overestimate Your Budget

You may think that Costa Rica is cheap because it’s a less-developed country. Think again. Due to the high volume of tourists and foreign expats, Costa Rica is not cheap. You’ll probably end up paying just as much as you would in the US for meals in restaurants, coffee, and hotel rooms.
So, keep your estimated budget on the high end, because you’ll likely have expenses you didn’t foresee before leaving home.

7. Bring Tums and Anti-diarrheal Medication, just in Case

If you’re adventurous and you eat the local food (stopping at sodas, or local restaurants, for example), you may find yourself experiencing tummy aches. While this won’t kill you and certainly shouldn’t stop you from experiencing Costa Rica’s beautiful culture, you want to be prepared. The foreign bacteria, especially when eating fresh vegetables, may not agree with your stomach. Keep a bottle of Tums in your bag for this reason, and you’ll be fine.

pink pills

8. Keep Calm and Remember, Pura Vida

When in Costa Rica, act like the Costa Ricans. “Pura Vida” basically means life is good, or in other words, life happens. The buses are hardly ever on time, so don’t plan a tight schedule. Or, you may find yourself caught in the rain every day during “dry season” on the Caribbean coast.

When life happens, just remember to say Pura Vida. After all, the locals here are extremely friendly, and if you just smile, someone will always be happy to help you!

Bottom Line

Costa Rica is a culturally vibrant place with some of the most beautiful sights in the entire world, so chances are, you’re going to have a great time. If you’re doing your research before your trip, you’re already ahead of the game. Even if your journey throws a few surprises at you, you’ll be just fine; our Costa Rica travel tips will have you well-prepared. Wherever you end up, just remember, Pura Vida.

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