Geography & Weather:
Where is Costa Rica?
When is the best time to visit Costa Rica?
For the record, we think that any time of year is a great time to visit Costa Rica.
Keep in mind that there are 2 distinct seasons: The Dry Season is December – April. And the Green Season is May – November. During the Green Season, there are typically afternoon or evening showers awaking the rainforest and wildlife. Green Season travelers can also expect fewer crowds and lower prices!
Related Article: 8 Rainy Season Travel Perks.
How’s the weather?
Costa Rica enjoys mild, subtropical weather with little variety year-round. The most variation comes from differences in elevation. For example, evenings are cool in San Jose and Monteverde. Daytime temperatures range from 70 degrees to 90. The lowlands average around 80-90 F, the Central Valley about 72 while it can dip below 50 on the mountains at night!
The weather forecast shows rain every day for my travel dates. Should I be concerned?
Don’t panic when your weather app shows rain. That’s the tropics! It’s typical to see little to no rain from December to April, but the remaining months of the year routinely have rain at some point in the day. Don’t let that keep you from traveling though! Rain is a way of life in the rainforest. The rain cools everything down, keeps the forest lush and verdant, and gives life and vibrancy to the animals of the forest! Pack water-wicking clothing, a light rain jacket, and appropriate shoes – and the rain won’t slow you down! It’s part of the experience.
What are the entry requirements for Costa Rica?
US passports are mandatory and should be valid for at least 6 months or longer beyond the dates of your trip. Passports should be in good condition; Costa Rican immigration may deny entry if the passport is damaged in any way. Citizens of other countries please check entry requirements. We recommend that you carry a photocopy of the passport and leave the original in a safe place while traveling about the country.
Minors under the age of 18 who are traveling with only one parent/guardian are recommended to have additional documentation if leaving their country of residence. This is in an effort to prevent international child abduction. Many governments have initiated special procedures for minors at entry and exit points. We suggest a notarized letter from the parent/guardian not traveling. Also minors under the age of 18 traveling with adults with a different last name are recommended to have additional documentation if leaving their country of residence.
How will I recognize the person picking me up from the international airport?
If you are arriving into the San Jose International Airport, after clearing immigration please look for the CANATUR representative, who will be holding a list of surnames (for arrivals from 7:00 AM until 10:00 PM). They will guide you through baggage claims and customs to your transportation. If you are arriving into the Liberia International Airport, you will meet your transfer driver directly outside the airport. They will have a sign bearing your last name.
Do I need to do anything before departing Costa Rica?
We recommend checking in at least 2 hours prior to all international flights.
There is a US $31 departure tax at the international airports. This must be paid in cash, or by Visa/MasterCard. The fee can also be paid in advance at some hotels or banks. Some airlines include this in their ticket price; some do not. Please check with your airline. If your airline does not, it is payable at a special counter at the airport before you check-in.
Health & Safety:
Costa Rica is a generally safe destination but petty crime and thievery do exist, especially in San Jose. Common sense and being alert to surroundings and scams is effective crime prevention. We recommend keeping a low profile and leaving trappings of affluence at home to avoid becoming a target. Do not leave things in unprotected cars, not even in the trunk.
Do I need immunizations before my trip?
None are required for travel to Costa Rica from the United States. Persons traveling to Costa Rica from certain countries in South America and Sub-Sahara Africa must have a valid yellow fever vaccination. Those affected countries include Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, French Guiana and Venezuela. If you have specific health concerns, we recommend speaking with your physician before you travel.
What is Costa Rica’s currency?
The local currency is the Colón(es).
Do I need to exchange money before I leave?
Money exchange is provided at most banks. There is also a money exchange service at the airport and at some hotels, but they may not have the most favorable rate. The US Dollar is widely accepted. We recommend traveling with small denominations of US dollars for tipping purposes. Credit Cards are widely accepted most commonly MasterCard, Visa and American Express. ATM’s may be unreliable. Look into fees your bank may charge, they tend to be higher for international transactions.
Should I tip?
Tipping is entirely up to you based on the level of service, overall experience and your budget. Nobody should expect a tip but it is a nice way of rewarding someone for their knowledge, experience and help. Restaurant bills include a 10% gratuity but leave an extra tip for good service.
What are Costa Rica’s taxes?
There is a 13% sales tax at restaurants and retail stores and an additional 10% service tax is added to meals as a tip for the staff. Hotels are subject to a 13% sales tax on room charges.
For all pre-arranged tours and transfers, you will be met in the lobby of your hotel at the time designated on the voucher.
If the pick-up time for a tour or transfer is not indicated on your voucher, a message will be left for you at hotel reception the night before to advise of pick-up time. Ask your concierge to call day prior to reconfirm pick-up times.
What do I need to know before my domestic flight?
Reconfirm domestic flights 24 hours before departure. There is a baggage limit of approx. 25-50 lbs per person on all domestic flights (see individual voucher for specifics), and a personal weight limit of 250 pounds. Excess baggage will be accommodated on a space available basis at an additional charge.
Private charter flight restrictions are much stricter, going over established weight guidelines could result in an inability to fly; and any incurred expenses are your responsibility. You may store excess luggage in your San Jose hotel. Dress in Costa Rica is very casual, pack lightly!
Should I rent a car when I’m in Costa Rica? Is it safe? What are the roads like?
Renting a car is a great option for those who are independent-minded and who prefer spontaneity in their schedule. Costa Rica is roughly the size of West Virginia, but the roads are not the same quality as the United States. This typically makes travel times longer. You are likely to encounter roads with pot holes, slow-moving traffic on 2-lane highways, and other inconveniences. Remote areas may be more difficult to access by car during the green season. Only you can determine if this option will add to or detract from your adventure. Please discuss this option with an Expert if you are unsure.
Driving in Costa Rica is safe as long as you exercise the same precautions that you would observe in the United States or while traveling in any other country. We do not recommend driving in Costa Rica at night due to the nature of the roads. NEVER LEAVE PERSONAL BELONGINGS IN AN UNATTENDED RENTAL OR TRANSFER VEHICLE.
What are car rental requirements in Costa Rica?
You must be at least 21 years old and have a valid driver’s license. An international driver’s license is not required. Mandatory insurance with basic coverage is included with all car rentals through Costa Rica Experts. Additional insurance to cover the $1000.00 deductible (except third party liability) is available at $10.00 per day at contract signing. A credit card imprint is required for all rentals.
How will I get directions to my destination?
A Costa Rica road map will be provided for you when you pick up the car. For detailed driving instructions ask the car rental representative when you pick up your vehicle and hotel front desk staff from point to point. For an additional fee, you may rent a GPS system and cell phone from the rental car company.
Phones & Internet:
How can I call friends and family while in Costa Rica?
Costa Rica’s country code is 506. To call Costa Rica from the US, dial 011-506 followed by the 8-digit local number. Hotels and supplier phone numbers can be found on each travel voucher. Cellular service and WiFi are available at almost all destinations. Reliability may vary.
Can I use my cell phone in Costa Rica?
Please contact your service provider to discuss international roaming service packages, as data usage and roaming charges can be very expensive. Please note that phone service is not available in many remote areas so be prepared to be completely out of touch for a few days.
Can I get internet access in Costa Rica?
Internet is readily available at most hotels. Most all towns have internet cafes. You can save a bundle on international calls by creating an account on skype.com. Most internet cafes will already have the program installed on their computers. Be cautious about bringing laptops, as the tropical climate may be harmful to electronic devices.
What is the electrical voltage in Costa Rica?
Electricity is 110 volts AC, the same as the United States and Canada. The sockets are of the American 2-prong standard but budget places often don’t have a place for a grounding prong (3-prong plug), so bring an adapter. Unplug electronics during an electrical storm as most outlets offer very little surge protection. If you will be using a computer or multiple appliances, consider using a power strip with surge protection. Also remember to keep unused electronics unplugged as electricity in Costa Rica is very expensive.
Food & Water:
Is it safe to drink the water?
The water is safe to drink. However, if you are in remote areas of the country, it is recommended that you drink bottled water.
What type of food should I expect?
If you want to eat like a tico (native Costa Rican) expect to have a breakfast of eggs, spiced beans and rice and perhaps a side of plantains. A typical lunch is a casado – a six-part dish: chicken in sauce, beans, rice, fried plantains, salad and a scoop of mashed potatoes. Dinner along the coast will consist of whatever fish is in season. If you are staying in the central or mountain region of Costa Rica, steak is recommended.
You will also see a variety of American fast food restaurants and the tico version called a Soda, where one can get a quick lunch with local flavor.
Many dinner tables will have a bottle of brown sauce on the table. That popular sauce is Lizano salsa, a slightly sweet with a hint of spiciness with black pepper and cumin. It is used for most all food types including salads and accompanying meats, eggs, gallo pinto, tamales and vegetables. Keep in mind if you ask for salsa, you will receive this Lizano salsa. If you want the chopped tomato, onion, pepper salsa, ask for pico de gallo.
Related Article: 7 Costa Rican Food Staples You Must Try