Traveling Tips Costa Rica
Here are some things to consider before and during your vacation to Costa Rica.
There are several options for getting from the airport to your destination.
- Car Rental – If it is in your budget, this is the best option. With a car rental, just download the Waze app, and you can find almost anything. You have the freedom to stray from the highway and see things you wouldn’t see otherwise. You will also have the freedom to go where you want once you reach your vacation rental. The roads aren’t bad, in fact, in most places they are pretty well maintained. There are potholes in some areas and be especially careful driving at night. Some roads don’t have the painted stripe markers and with no lighting, it can be dangerous. There are also lots of pedestrians and cyclists that use the roads day and night. Driving might be a little stressful for some. Costa Ricans generally drive aggressively or very slow. Traffic is common near San Jose but also you might find back-ups due to accidents. Just be patient and enjoy the scenery.
- Private Transfer – So if the car rental is not your thing, a private transfer might be the next best option for you. If you don’t reserve one ahead of time, you can negotiate with the many drivers waiting outside the airport exit. I recommend reserving a driver in advance as you really don’t know what you will get and many professional drivers will stop and show you some sights along the way as well as a stop for bathroom or food breaks. They will also protect your valuables while stopped. You can negotiate with them as well to take you to other places during your vacation time. They are usually full of information about the country and are happy to share their knowledge.
- Public Bus – For a budget traveler, this is the best option. The Costa Rican bus system is reliable. Just do your research on which buses to take to get to your final destination.
- Shared Transportation – There are services that allow you to share a small van with others. They typically only travel from hotel to hotel and if you are with more than 3 or 4 people, the cost is about the same as a private driver.
- Air Transfer – There are a couple of “puddle jumper” airlines in Costa Rica- Sansa, which is owned by TACA Airlines, and Aerobell. Both basically fly to the same destinations and use the same type of aircraft. The destinations are restricted to certain areas of the country and luggage weights are restricted. It is a faster way of getting to some destinations. You can also charter a helicopter to go to some areas.
Make sure your passport has at least 6 months of time before expiration and is in good condition before arrival or you won’t be permitted to enter the country. You can be rejected for the slightest tear or crease. Once you arrive, have a copy of your passport made and the page with the entry stamp and carry the copy with you. Leave your original passport in your vacation rental. The copies are valid to show any government official. You may need your original in the banks to exchange money. Some banks will not accept copies. If driving, you can show your copy to the traffic police along with your home country driver’s license.
Currency and Credit Cards
Most banks don’t require you to notify them if you are traveling to a foreign country but it is a good idea to verify this with your bank.
Here are some tips to not paying more than necessary:
- You are going to find that some places charge in dollars and others in Colones, the Costa Rican currency. If the business charges in Colones, pay in Colones. If their prices are in dollars, pay in dollars. This includes your credit card. If they ask you if your card is in dollars or Colones, tell them to charge you in the currency that their product is priced in. Otherwise, they will use their own exchange rate which is usually much more in their favor than what the banks will convert. Your bank will convert very close to the actual exchange rate when using your credit card. Just make sure your credit card or debit card bank doesn’t charge extra fees for using the card internationally.
- Most businesses accept credit cards but it is always a good idea to have “efectivo”(cash) of both currencies in your wallet or purse.
- Don’t exchange money at the airport!!! – It is a complete ripoff. The exchange rates used in the airport are much different with a higher spread than the actual exchange rates in the banks. There are many banks in Costa Rica to exchange dollars for Colones and vice versa. Just don’t do it at the airport!
- Most tourism activities charge in dollars. Make sure you bring dollars to activities such as sport fishing and zip-line tours for your tips and other purchases.
Costa Rica is a pretty safe country. That said, there are places in San Jose to avoid as well as a few other towns around the country- just like any other place in the world. If you are staying in downtown San Jose, just be sure to ask your host or concierge what areas to avoid. Generally, most crime is petty theft by opportunity.
Other safety tips:
- Don’t leave valuables and luggage exposed in your car windows. If you stop anywhere on your way to or from the airport, keep an eye on your car. If you hire transportation, they should watch your valuables for you.
- Once you get to your destination, don’t leave the car unattended while unloading your luggage. Also, don’t leave anything in your car overnight.
- Don’t leave your belongings unattended on the beach or anywhere else.
- If you rent a car and suddenly find yourself with a flat tire, do not accept help from strangers. Change the tire yourself or call the rental company. There is a common scam where the criminals follow you out of the rental car company, puncture your tire with a slow leak, and then follow you to offer you help when it is flat. While you are with one person fixing the tire, the other(s) are robbing you blind.
- Don’t walk alone at night. Although many places are safe, this is an important precaution to take.
- Keep your doors locked.
Cell Phones and Internet Services
Costa Rica has 3 major cell phone companies now and all use 3G and 4G. The local company is Kolbi. The other two major companies are Claro and Movistar. Be sure to check with your provider in your country to see if your phone will work here and what the rates are. You can also buy a prepaid chip here if that is a better option for you.
Internet speeds have improved greatly in the last few years. Fiber optic service is now available in many parts and 4G speeds are 20-50Mbs. Typically in a hotel or vacation home, you will find speeds from 5-50Mbs. If this is important for you, be sure to ask the host of the place where you will be staying about speed and reliability.
Electricity and Water
Costa Rica produces 99% of its electricity from renewable resources such as hydroelectric, wind, and solar power. The standard Type A or Type B 120v plug, as in the USA, is what you will find in most places. If you are coming from another country and bringing electrical devices, be sure to bring adapters.
The water in most places is safe to drink. AyA, the largest water company, has very high standards as do most of the other water providers. If you are in a very rural place, the water source may be from a well. If this is the case, you might want to drink bottled water unless they have a treatment system in place. You can still cook and brush your teeth with well water.
Temporary outages of both water and electricity are common. If you are using anything valuable plugged into an outlet, it is highly recommended that you use a surge protector and/or UPS battery with protection.
Costa Rica is a very friendly and safe place to travel, just use precaution, as you would anywhere else. There are many options for getting around. Pura Vida Rentals & Sales offers a discount on your car rental with National. We provide vacation rentals in the very secure Altos Leonamar of Punta Leona near the beautiful white-sand beach of Playa Blanca. We also can recommend and reserve activities such as adventure tours, sport fishing, spa services and much more. Book your vacation with us today!