Pura Vida: Tips on Traveling to Costa Rica

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Costa Rica is a peaceful, preserved country made up of exotic wildlife, lush rainforest, pristine beaches and gracious locals.  Nestled between the Pacific and Caribbean oceans, this Central American country is unique in that they have replaced their armed forces with la pura vida, or pure life – one of enjoyment and good vibes.

Much of Costa Rica’s land is preserved and/or protected national parks, which can make traveling through the relatively small country quite time consuming. Here are some travel tips and things to know before you go:

Plan your general route through Costa Rica before your trip: Seems like common sense, but what a lot of people don’t know is that almost all bus routes lead to San Jose. This means if you want to travel to another part of either coast by bus, you have to spend an additional 6+ hours getting back to the capital and buy a ticket to your next destination rather than just going north or south. This can suck up days of your vacation if you’re not organized, so budget your time wisely.

Planning a short trip that doesn’t include spending more than one day on a bus? Renting a car is always an option; just make sure you know how to change a tire and you never leave anything in your car overnight. Huecos, or potholes, are everywhere, and driving through rivers and along the edges of mountains is common. If this sounds intimidating, you can hire a driver to get to your next destination at any tourism agency. Take these extra expenses into consideration when outlining your budget.

Ditch the heels and pack light: It’s hot and tropical in Costa Rica year round, so you won’t need more than a tank top and shorts to feel comfortable (unless you’re in the highlands, in which case you will need a sweater and jeans). Sandals and flats will be your best friend when you’re walking along dirt roads, sandy beaches and uneven pavement.

Other things to pack: hiking shoes, bikinis, a sarong or two, a towel, bug spray, sunscreen and a hat. YA!

Use your manners: Local Costa Ricans, or Ticos, are (by in large) extremely polite. You’ll most likely hear ‘con mucho gusto’ more often than you can count. This phrase, meaning ‘with much pleasure,’ is a more eloquent way of saying ‘you’re welcome.’

Stay out of San Jose if you can help it. This bustling city can be somewhat dangerous and hard to navigate, so it’s best just to pass through and get to the good stuff, like the active volcano or cloud forest.

Hotel, airfare, car rental and restaurant prices vary depending on the season. The high season runs from December – January. Accommodations are most expensive during this time.  They are also crowded, so book in advance.

Stay off the beaches at night! Always.

Don’t collect seashells: It’s tempting, but in Costa Rica, it’s considered bad luck to take anything from the ocean.

If you happen to catch a stomach bug, eat papaya – lots and lots and lots of papaya.  This tasty fruit helps with nausea and boosts the immune system, and can be found just about everywhere.

Have time to visit Panama or Nicaragua for a few days during your trip?  You can take a water taxi from Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica to Bocas Del Toro, Panama, a string of islands in the Caribbean.  Or you can head from Tamarindo, Costa Rica, to Granada, Nicaragua by bus.  The world is your oyster – go girl!

Have you ever been to Costa Rica? Where did you go? Give us your tips!

Creative Commons License photo credit: Foticografia

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About Author

Ellen wanders. She wandered her way through Europe in 2007 during a semester abroad in Madrid, then through parts of the South Pacific after college graduation, and spent a year in South and Central America during 2010. Most recently, she went on a solo adventure south of the border to research and write the travel guidebook Go Girl Guides: Mexico.

2 Comments

  1. Totally agree with you on staying out of San Jose. It’s just a city like any other. There are so many beautiful natural places to visit! When I visit I usually stay a night SJ and head out. Last visit was to OSA Peninsula. Next one will be going up north check how life is is in that peninsula.

  2. From what I’ve heard, it’s important to wear jeans or long pants in San Jose. Shorts and shorter skirts are seen as clothes for the “women of the night”.

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