Costa Rica Travel Tips

There are a lot of great resources to prepare you for trips to Costa Rica & Central America in general – but they all seem to have some holes. Here are a bunch of tips that were missing from most of the resources I found.

  1. BYOTP – Bring your own toilet paper. In Central America the plumbing isn’t as forgiving as in N. America, and even in very nice places, the toilet paper is 1 ply and very rough. So bring your own – Charmin makes great travel rolls. Just remember not to flush it if it’s the nicer stuff… throw it in the trash.
  2. Bring Wet Wipes. You will get sticky with all the humidity and heat, and it’s very refreshing to wipe some of that off throughout the day.
  3. Remember there are specific seasons throughout the year – not just weather seasons, but seasons for seeing animals and flowers too. An area that might be good to see a certain bird one time of year may be a bad time to see it another time of year.
  4. Bring a poncho everywhere, and use it. If it starts raining, you might be temped like me to just let it get you soaked – the downside to this is your clothes won’t dry in the humid climate without a dryer – and most hotels won’t have one for guests. After two days of laying out my clothes after getting rained on they still weren’t dry.
  5. Don’t expect to see tons of exotic animals and birds. They generally hide from people, and you usually need a guide to spot any at all. My guides and taxi drivers spotted birds and a sloth that I never would have seen on my own.
  6. There usually isn’t air conditioning anywhere, and as a result windows are left open throughout buildings and in vehicles to let air in, which also lets bugs in. Bring lots of bug spray!
  7. Learn the currency exchange rate beforehand – people will generally try and take advantage if they can tell you have no idea what to pay them.
  8. Don’t get in the wrong Taxi. If you call a Taxi beforehand to pick you up somewhere, don’t hop in the first Taxi that comes along when they say “going to Arenal, right?” if you’re going to Arenal. Make sure the Taxi driver has your name, and confirm with that. I got in a Taxi thinking it was the one I had called and pre-payed, only to find out after he had driven away that he was just a taxi sitting there waiting for people going back to Arenal.
  9. Beware of the cheapest level of lodging at some hotels. Many hotels in Central America have side buildings that are cheaper than the main building. Some have shared bathrooms or are just smaller and don’t have all the amenities of the main building. It can be temping to book them because of the lower price, but typically what they don’t tell you is just how far the building is from the lobby. One place I stayed, Arenal Observatory Lodge, had a side building “La Casona” with a shared bathroom that was fabulous – except it was a 1/2 mile down a mountain through the forest to the building. Which isn’t a fun walk in the dark when you are dead tired, but can be fun if you’re adventurous.
  10. Don’t be afraid. Some people are nervous about Central America because they don’t know what to expect about a lot of various things. The two things I was most afraid of were crime and running into a scary animal in the jungle. Just like everywhere else, in Costa Rica there are bad areas of town and areas where you’re totally safe. Don’t ask for trouble, and you’ll have a wonderful, safe vacation. Every Tico I met was super friendly and they all spoke at least a little English too. Don’t be scared of dangerous animals either  – my guide in Monteverde Rainforest Reserve said in the 20 years he has been leading guided hikes he has never seen a Jaguar or any of the more dangerous animals (even though they know Jaguars live there – they’ve caught them on motion sensor cameras). They are more afraid of you than you are of them.