Preparing for Your Trip to Costa Rica

When planning a trip abroad, it’s essential to do your homework on the destination. This is especially true for a country as diverse and vibrant as Costa Rica. From understanding the local customs to knowing what to pack, there are several things to remember when coming to Costa Rica. This guide will provide you with all the necessary information to ensure your Costa Rican adventure is as smooth and enjoyable as possible.

Understanding Costa Rica


Costa Rica is a small country located in Central America, bordered by Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south. Despite its size, it boasts a diverse landscape with coastal plains separated by rugged mountains, the highest of which is Cerro Chirripó.


The country’s climate is as diverse as its geography. Costa Rica experiences a tropical climate with two distinct seasons: the dry season (December to April) and the rainy season (May to November). However, the country’s varied elevation creates multiple microclimates, leading to significant weather differences between regions.


The culture of Costa Rica is a blend of indigenous heritage and Spanish colonial influence, with a dash of Afro-Caribbean flair. The people, known as Ticos, are known for their hospitality and their philosophy of “Pura Vida” (pure life), which emphasizes a happy, peaceful, and simple lifestyle.

Planning Your Trip

When planning your trip, the first thing to consider is the best time to visit. While Costa Rica is a year-round destination, your choice may depend on your preferred activities and tolerance for rain. The dry season is the most popular time to visit due to the pleasant weather.

Choosing the right destinations in Costa Rica depends on your interests. Nature lovers should head to national parks like Manuel Antonio or Corcovado, while beach enthusiasts will love the Guanacaste province. For adventure activities, Arenal is a must-visit.

Given Costa Rica’s popularity, it’s advisable to book your accommodations and tours in advance, especially if you’re visiting during the high season. This will ensure you have a wider selection and better prices.

Learning Basic Spanish

While English is commonly spoken in tourist areas, learning some basic Spanish phrases will enhance your travel experience. Not only will it help you navigate local markets and off-the-beaten-path destinations, but it will also allow you to connect more deeply with the Ticos.

Packing for Costa Rica

When packing for Costa Rica, consider the country’s diverse climate and activities. Here are some essentials:

  • Lightweight, quick-dry clothing for the humid climate
  • A rain jacket or umbrella for the rainy season
  • Sturdy shoes for hiking and flip-flops for the beach
  • Sunscreen and insect repellent
  • A reusable water bottle and a travel adapter

Getting a SIM Card for Connectivity

Staying connected during your trip is important, especially for navigating, booking accommodations, or emergencies. Upon arrival, consider purchasing a local SIM card for reliable and affordable connectivity. Local providers include Kolbi, Movistar, and Claro. Remember to check if your phone is unlocked and compatible with the local network frequencies.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article, where we’ll delve into what to expect when you’re in Costa Rica, from embracing the local cuisine to navigating the tropical weather and wildlife.

Embracing the Local Cuisine

One of the joys of traveling is indulging in local cuisine, and Costa Rica is no exception. The country’s culinary scene is a delightful blend of indigenous, Spanish, and Afro-Caribbean influences. Don’t miss out on trying a ‘Casado‘ – a traditional dish consisting of rice, beans, plantains, salad, a tortilla, and a choice of meat. For a sweet treat, ‘Tres Leches’, a cake soaked in three kinds of milk, is a must-try.

Navigating the Tropical Weather

Costa Rica’s tropical weather is characterized by high temperatures and humidity, with frequent rain during the rainy season. It’s essential to be prepared for all kinds of weather conditions.

  • Preparing for rain: Even during the dry season, rain showers are possible. Always carry a lightweight rain jacket or umbrella.
  • Sun protection: The sun in Costa Rica can be intense. Protect your skin by applying sunscreen with a high SPF, wearing a hat, and using sunglasses.

For more detailed information on Costa Rica’s weather, check out this Costa Rica Weather Guide.

Dealing with Wildlife and Insects

Costa Rica is home to a rich variety of wildlife, including numerous insect species. While most are harmless, it’s good to be prepared.

  • Use insect repellent to protect against mosquito bites.
  • Be cautious of your surroundings, especially when in the rainforest or other natural areas.

Staying Safe

Safety is a crucial aspect of any travel experience. In Costa Rica, it’s important to be mindful of both beach and rainforest safety.

  • Beach safety: Be aware of riptides and always ask locals about the currents before swimming.
  • Rainforest safety: When exploring the rainforest, it’s best to travel with a guide and follow their instructions about wildlife and trails.

For more tips on staying safe in Costa Rica, visit this Safety Tips Guide.

Spending in Costa Rica

Understanding the local currency and spending habits can help you budget your trip effectively.

  • Currency: The official currency of Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colón, although US dollars are widely accepted.
  • Tipping: A 10% service charge is typically added to your bill in restaurants, so additional tipping is not necessary unless you want to show extra appreciation for the service.


While Costa Rica is a beautiful and welcoming country, it’s important to be well-prepared for your trip. From understanding the local culture and climate to planning your itinerary and packing appropriately, there are many things to remember when coming to Costa Rica. By keeping these tips in mind, you can ensure a smooth, enjoyable, and memorable Costa Rican adventure. Remember, the essence of Costa Rica is ‘Pura Vida‘ – so take the time to relax, explore, and enjoy all that this beautiful country has to offer.

-Written by Glenn Tellier (Founder of CRIE and Grupo Gap).

[email protected]

Frequently Asked Questions


Do I need a visa to visit Costa Rica?

It depends on your nationality. Citizens from countries like the USA, Canada, and most European nations do not need a visa for stays up to 90 days. However, it’s always best to check with the Costa Rican embassy or consulate in your country.

What is the official language of Costa Rica?

The official language of Costa Rica is Spanish.

What is the currency in Costa Rica?

The official currency of Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colón, although US dollars are widely accepted.

Is it safe to drink tap water in Costa Rica?

Yes, tap water is generally safe in Costa Rica, especially in urban areas. However, it’s recommended to drink bottled water in rural areas or if you have a sensitive stomach.

What is the best time to visit Costa Rica?

The best time to visit Costa Rica is during the dry season, from December to April, when the weather is most pleasant.

What are some things tourists should be careful about in Costa Rica?

Tourists should be careful about riptides at the beach, wildlife when in the rainforest, and petty theft in crowded areas.

Do you need to tip in Costa Rica?

A 10% service charge is typically added to your bill in restaurants, so additional tipping is not necessary unless you want to show extra appreciation for the service.

Should I carry my passport with me in Costa Rica?

It’s recommended to carry a photocopy of your passport and leave the original in a safe place.

How much money do I need for 2 weeks in Costa Rica?

This depends on your travel style and planned activities. On average, budget travelers might spend around $50-$70 per day, while those seeking more luxury might spend $200 or more per day.

Why not go to the beach at night in Costa Rica?

It’s generally not safe to go to the beach at night due to the risk of petty crime and the lack of lifeguards.

Can you drink the water in Costa Rica?

Yes, tap water is generally safe to drink in Costa Rica, especially in urban areas.

How early do you need to get to the airport in Costa Rica?

It’s recommended to arrive at the airport at least 3 hours before an international flight.

What can you bring back from Costa Rica to the US?

You can bring back items like coffee, local handicrafts, and certain types of rum and liquor. However, be sure to declare these items at customs.

How do I ask for a check in Costa Rica?

To ask for the check at a restaurant in Costa Rica, you can say “La cuenta, por favor.”


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