What You Should Know Before Traveling to Costa Rica
What should you know before traveling to Costa Rica? You should know how to relax and Pura Vida for starters. However, when traveling to any foreign country, preparing yourself for culture, crisis, and atmosphere will make your trip much more enjoyable.
Below are a few pro-hacks, tips, and suggestions for anyone looking to travel to Costa Rica. This isn't just some online researched-over-the-web list of ideas either; this list is built from real experience. You can also download the InCostaRica app to get started on planning your quarantine escape.
So, dust off that fanny-pack, grab some pen and paper and let's get started.
Need to Know Laws
I am going to get this out of the way. Laws can be boring, but you are going to be better for knowing them. These are just a couple of primary rules to keep in mind when moving about in Costa Rica.
When you enter Costa Rica, you have to have a ticket out within the 90 days you are allowed to stay in the country. They don't care how -- plane or bus, doesn't matter -- you just have to show proof to the agent.
You can literally buy a plane ticket and refund it quicker than you can say 'Tuanis.' This is an option if you aren't sure when are leaving. If you are coming in through the Fronteras (borders), there are bus tickets you can buy that cost around 15,000 colones.
These come in handy and can be used a couple of times throughout the year as proof of exit. You just have to change the departure date.
The dreaded visa run. It's a market these days and has to be done. When you enter the country, they stamp your passport and scribble 90 in there. This is an all-access ticket for a 90-day ride in Costa Rica.
Times up? Return to the border and do it all over again with a proof of exit.
There are tour groups that offer rides to and from the border. There are also rideshare Facebook groups. However, the cheapest and most reliable route is the bus. There is a bus to the Frontera de Nicaragua every couple of hours from Liberia, Guanacaste, which obviously returns. On a good day, this route takes about 6 hours round trip.
There are also schedules from San Jose and other terminals throughout the country to Penas Blancas (Nicaragua border) and to the Panama Border for those closer to that Frontera.
It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with this process or get a buddy who has done it before to help you through the first time. After that, it is a breeze.
Tips: Do not be sidetracked by the attendants at the Frontera. They are not needed, and you do not have to pay them to park or guide you. Also, we suggest taking a photo of the bus schedules wherever you are traveling. Just a quick snap can save you a lot of frustration later.
Passport Driving License
Some say you can drive around with just a photocopy of your passport and exit stamp, not exactly. You must have your passport on your person for your country's driving license to be valid.
Sometimes it works, but it depends on the officer that you interact with. But, if you have the correct info already with you, then you won't ever have to worry. The reason behind the copy not working is because people take photos of other 90-day stamps to go with their passport.
Marijuana is NOT Legal
Marijuana is a drug in Costa Rica. This question comes up a lot, and the laws are under review for change, BUT! No matter what any body's cousin says about someone he knows who's dad is a lawyer's friend, the simple fact is, don't get caught with it.
Pot, weed, MJ, 'Puro,' whatever you call it, you will get fined and possibly incarcerated for having it in your possession, even though it is decriminalized.
Don't test the Police here, they do not play and will find a reason to arrest you if you give them an ounce of attitude.
If you must, the beach is your best bet, but we don't condone illegal activity here at incostarica.com, so stay safe and follow the rules.
How Does the Money Work?
Just like anywhere else, money is used to buy goods and services. In Costa Rica, you can use either U.S dollars or local colones. However, using local cash is going to save you a lot. While most businesses will exchange at a fair rate, you will find others who are not so fair.
The rate usually fluctuates between ₡560- ₡585 per dollar-- most stores sit at ₡550- ₡560. You can check the exchange rate here, or most banks have it posted daily. Having a small amount -- around ₡20,000 colones-- is a good idea when you are scoping out the street vendor.
If you are good at negotiation, you might be able to get a nice souvenir for a much lower cost than the same piece at the airport. Don't buy souvenirs at the airport if you can help it; support your local artist and business.
If you find yourself in a jam -- stolen wallet, credit cards, etc. -- you can wire money through multiple platforms. Xoom, Moneygram, Western Union, and directly through the banks works too ( Banco National works with PayPal, and Banco Costa Rica has Moneygram). Although sometimes a bit pricey, when it comes to money, Costa Rica has your back.
Getting Around in Costa Rica
There are many ways for a traveler to adventure about in Costa Rica. Most hotels offer airport shuttles, and there are Taxis almost anywhere you go. Uber is also an option but in more urban areas. Or just rent a car.
Costa Rican Taxis are safe and affordable. Sometimes you can ask how much to somewhere, and they won't set the meter; they just come up with a fair price for the journey. The taxis are red and have a yellow triangle on them.
There are gypsy taxis, which are typically safe, but you are best to go with a registered cab. You never know if they are insured or not.
Costa Rica is flooded with tourism attractions and shuttle buses. They are a bit pricer, but if you get a private shuttle and have 5 or 6 people, that breaks the cost up and can prove to be quite a commodity.
Interbus is a popular one for those leaving the airports. They are cheap, well known, and reliable. I have personally used them several times, and I have never found a more hospitable shuttle service in Costa Rica.
Hotels sometimes have shuttle services as well for a much lower cost, if any. This usually depends on where you are heading and which airport you are flying to.
Costa Rica Buses
There are buses all over Costa Rica. From public transportation, Alfaro to Tica, which are widely used and very cheap compared to other options. As we mentioned above, we highly suggest taking photos of the bus schedules wherever you are and make a file for them. (you can thanks us for that when you review the app!)
There is not a ton of easily accessible information on this, and sometimes purchasing tickets online an be a pain in the nalga. If you can, go to any terminal and buy your tickets in advance, so you don't get stuck with standing-only.
I love rental cars, and there are tons of options. They have Adobe, Enterprise, and many more. There are stations at the airport. Making sure you set up a reservation is key to getting the best prices, though.
Also, ask about hidden charges. Ticos are known for holding this information until the last minute.
Something to know; whoever set up the reservation has to be in person with the card they made the reservation with. There are legit companies as well that have full coverage that do not require deposits or credit cards, which I use all the time.
But whatever you choose, renting a car is going to give you freedom in Costa Rica that memories are made from. Just make sure if you are going loco get a 4x4 because Costa Rica outside Alajuela will eat a Prius for a snack.
Costa Rica Lodging
Whether you are looking for the hostel experience or want the all-inclusive, Costa Rica does not play. They have something for everyone at all sorts of prices. There are tons of great deals on Airbnb and Booking as well as Travelocity.
Other options to consider are work exchanges. Hostels usually have a schedule of travelers that swap lodging for time cleaning. If you can get in on this deal, not only will you save a ton of money, but you can build a reputation on hostel sites around the world for travel destinations everywhere. You can get more info on that here.
What should I bring?
As much as you want to order all those new Bermuda shorts and water shoes, I would suggest keeping it simple.
Find clothes that are going to dry fast and breathe well and that are made of cotton. If you are in Costa Rica during the rainy season, bring a poncho and water shoes that will last. Make sure you have bug spray and sunblock.
The dry season also has a ton of insects, but you need to be more worried about dust and keeping your skin safe from UV rays.
A lot of these things can be bought in Costa Rica but will cost a bit more. Items that aren't made in the country get a hefty tax on them, so pack accordingly.
Once again, those street vendors are your friend when you want a sarong or a new bathing suit, or the cute bohemium shorts with the tassels. Don't overthink your packing list because it's hot here, and you'll find yourself aiming more for "birthday suit" than suit and tie.
One more thing! Keep your belongings safe! Lock them up and don't flash around money. Petty theft is a thing in Costa Rica. The country is safe for the most part, but these things happen. So, rather be safe than sorry.
I suggest a fanny-pack. I love these little hip-hugging fashion pieces. Costa Rica has so many different styles; it's hard not to want to buy many. They are an excellent idea for a souvenir gift as well.
Here is a list of what I use in mine, and I have a standard 1980's style Quicksilver fanny-pack (OK, it may actually be from the '80s, but like, WHATEVER) they do come in different sizes though.
Fanny Pack List:
Here's a quick list of items you'll need in your handy dandy fanny pack:
- List of emergency numbers: family, Red Cross, hotels
- Copy of passport with entry stamp
- Plastic bag
- Hand sanitizer
- Personal sanitary items
- Bug spray
You'll be amazed at what you can fit in these things -- some fit water bottles. But this little list covers most of what you need on the fly.