Lucky you! If you’re reading this, it means you’re either planning a trip to Costa Rica soon or fantasize taking a trip to Costa Rica… soon. Either way, fun! These travel tips for Costa Rica are for you
After I scoured the web for packing tips before I left on my own trip, I realized there were not many helpful resources out there. I do not rank “pack shorts and tank tops” as a helpful list to a tropical country!
So, after living in Costa Rica for over six months, I’m happy to create a little list for travelers ready to embark to one of the best countries ever (opinion by me). Not to worry, there are plenty of tips for men, women, as well as rainy and dry season tips.
So sit back, grab a smoothie, and get ready to prepare for life in the Pura Vida, Mae!
1. A coin purse is key!
Paper Costa Rican money is beautiful – colorful and with adorable creatures crawling all over them. They also heavily use coins for 500 Colones (around ($1) one US dollar), 100 Colones (more or less ($0.25) a US quarter), along with 50/10/5 Colones coins respectively.
The new 10 and 5 Colones coins are very light (think paper light), and if you pay in cash, you always end up with tons of coins. My coin purse was a life saver!
2. Don’t worry about exchanging all your US Dollars (if you’re American)
Both US Dollars and Costa Rican Colones are accepted everywhere you go – just know you will pay slightly more in the conversion since they give back Colones in change. Decide for yourself if the convenience is worth it.
To do a quick rough conversion, double the amount of Colones to get the US Dollar amount. So if you want to purchase a hat for 8,000 Colones, that is around $16 US Dollars.
3. That being said, small change is clutch
It’s easy to get money out of ATMS (Colones or US Dollars), but it will be in large bills. Taxis (like from the airport), often straight up refuse to give back change for large bills. Many of them don’t take cards either, so you will be reduced to a staring contest to figure out how to pay.
The same goes for buses, restaurants, and even government buildings. Small change is important and always wins. Again, this isn’t the case 100 percent of the time (the smaller the town, the more common), but it’s never pleasant when it does come up.
4. Always bring the rain poncho, insect repellant, and anti-itch cream.
No matter if it’s rainy season or not, it’s never fun to be caught in a downpour or to itch your legs into a bleeding state. Both of which I’ve done in Costa Rica. Mosquitoes are around even in the busy city of San Jose, so just be prepared with the proper weapons against insects and weather.
5. Toiletries are expensive
Don’t forget the waterproof mascara, conditioner, toothpaste, tampons, sun lotion, and aloe vera. Otherwise be prepared for a nasty surprise at the pharmacy or grocery store.
6. Mountains vs. Beach
The city (San Jose) is cooler due to the higher altitude, so remember a sweatshirt, pants, and socks, even if you are headed directly to the beach. These things are also handy for the airport, a bus ride, or at night.
For both mountains and the beach, a bandana comes in handy for all that sweating you do in the heat or while active. A water bottle helps replace all the liquids you lose so close to the equator in the heat. Flashlights are great since it gets dark around 6 pm at night all year round.
In the mountains or rainy season, you’ll want tall socks for the mosquitos and hiking. Tennis shoes are also key for going on muddy hikes, as well as a hat for sun protection. The sun is strong all year round so close to the equator!
On the beach or in the dry season, a hat is great to have no matter your skin color (those that ‘don’t burn’ need protection too), and tennis shoes for the random jungle hike you may find yourself on (again).
Loose fitting clothing (girls built in bras, sports bras, tube top bras, etc.) are life-savers in the intense heat. Plenty of things you can throw over your swimsuit (again, loose fitting). Also, deep conditioner for long hair (salt from the ocean is not friendly, nor strong sun).
Even in the transition season (between dry and rainy) a downpour can catch you off guard. In Costa Rica I walked more than in the States, so an umbrella was nice for longer journeys.
Tennis shoes that can get messed up with mud are great to have for the impromptu hike in the jungle (which always seems to occur, even with the hiking-adverse). Flip flops are great for any beach town, and sometimes you don’t want to feel like a tourist, so a pair of nice walking shoes is great for the city. Many people like to dress up in Costa Rica (no sweat pants or pajama pants in pubic here!), so flip flops can stand out in certain areas.
9. A small bag or backpack
Whether hiking or beaching it, a small pack or bag is so important for lugging around sunscreen, snacks, camera, mosquito dope, or spare beer. You’ll thank me later. You don’t want to look like this girl on a hike, plastic bag and water bottle attached to the hips:
For soda or beer, this is a must in Costa Rica.
Life in Costa Rica Tips:
1. Pura Vida, Mae!
You will hear this saying over and over and over in Costa Rica. It’s one of the most beautiful things about the country, and it is the perfect symbol of life in this country. It means a mixture of things but literally translates to ‘the pure life,’ which is to say, a slower and more tranquil pace of life.
If you ask someone how they are, the response will be ‘pura vida!’ 90% of the time. To add the ‘mae’ and the end is like ‘dude’ or ‘man’ which is extra laid back! Pura Vida sums up Costa Rica.
2. Con Gusto!
With pleasure! In Costa Rica, instead of saying “you’re welcome” when someone says “thank you”, the response more often than not is “con gusto”. It’s just the phrase here, but I think it symbolizes so much more. It’s like going the extra step and expresses pleasure in service. Part of the Pura Vida.
3. It’s more expensive than you think
Many people expect lower Central American prices when they travel to Costa Rica. Food, groceries, toiletries, clothes, and real estate are on par, and sometimes more expensive than average American prices. Just be prepared when budgeting your trip to Costa Rica.
4. For Spanish speakers, the formal is used much more than the informal. (Usted vs. Tu)
If you plan to speak a bit of Spanish while in the pura vida, remember to start out with the formal. Not always the case in other Spanish speaking countries.
5. The pharmacy has it if the grocery store doesn’t
As an American, I forget most of the world keeps toiletries, vitamins, make-up, aspirin, cold medication, rubbing alcohol, etc. at the pharmacy, a separate building from the grocery store.
There are no giant mega stores with everything you can think of inside in Costa Rica, so remember if you get sick, go first to the pharmacy. You can tell the person behind the counter your symptoms or needs, and they can direct you to the perfect solution. This was so nice when I had a mild eye infection – no doctor needed!
I am a natural worrier, but even with normal apologies people often say this, tranquillo – no worries! Don’t worry about it! Again, that Pura Vida mentality.
7. Natilla will change your life
The coutnry dish is rice and beans – gallo pinto. They add a white sauce on the top, which tastes like a thicker, more magical sour cream mixed with mayonayse (in non-gross way). Don’t knock it until you try it! I’m addicted.
There you go, a couple of lists to help you prepare for your magical trip to the Pura Vida. Enjoy!