Updated June 3, 2020
Traveling is always an exciting adventure. There are so many new things to see, exciting activities to get your blood pumping, foods to try, as well as awkward situations to figure out how to get yourself out of. When traveling in a foreign country it is quite common to unintentionally commit a cultural faux pas because you simply do not know the correct custom. In Costa Rica the people are so warm and friendly they will often overlook a tourist’s clumsy cultural blunder to the point that the tourist may never even be aware of their mistake. But if you would like to avoid an awkward situation altogether, here are 7 must know travel tips in Costa Rica to be aware of, as well as general knowledge on being a smart and savvy traveler in Costa Rica.
1. Exchanging money
Try to avoid changing money directly in the airport as soon as you arrive. As is the case pretty much everywhere you can get a better rate at ATM’s. Luckily in the baggage claim area in San Jose there is an ATM. And worst case scenario, you can definitely use US dollars to pay a cab driver to get to your hotel, then worry about changing money later. Also keep in mind that in most tourist destinations dollars are accepted in restaurants, hotels and even grocery stores and souvenir shops. If you want to buy something from a local farmer’s market, however, it would be a good idea to have local colones. Most places will still accept dollars but on the street a 500 colones to 1 dollar ratio is generally used for convenience and the ATM’s generally hover around 530 to 1 so you will lose a little. It also depends how hefty a fee your bank charges for international withdrawals but if you’ve been savvy and picked out a good international debit card with little or no fees an ATM will give you your best exchange rate.
Check out our article on the weather in Costa Rica to get a good idea about the general weather patterns for the area in which you are thinking of getting married. If you are coming during the dry season the rain probably won’t affect you too much, but if you are coming during the green season, or rainy season, then this is something to be aware of so that your perfectly planned idyllic beach wedding doesn’t get ruined by an epic downpour. Costa Rica is full of brilliant sunshine all year round so even if you plan to come during the green season that doesn’t mean that you will get rained on your entire trip, you just need to plan accordingly. The easiest way, of course, is to choose an indoor or covered venue, but if your heart is set on that outdoor tropical wedding plan your ceremony in the morning. In Costa Rica the days generally dawn bright and sunny and cloud up for a nice downpour in the evening. However, during the week before we recommend talking to someone in country to find out how the weather has been trending in your particular area and plan your ceremony and activities accordingly.
in the past tipping was not generally expected in Costa Rica, however with the influx of American tourists that has changed. Menu prices will sometimes include tax and tip and sometimes not. Be sure to check your bill when you receive it to see if the 10 % service tax has already been added. And if the service was excellent and you want to leave extra, it will be appreciated.
Costa Rica in general is a really safe country, but that doesn’t mean you can let your guard down completely. You are traveling in a foreign place and as such you are always a target for thieves and the like. Generally, the worst thing that happens to tourists is somebody snatches their wallet or luggage, but if your passport gets stolen the day before your wedding you’ll be in quite a pickle. So how to be smart? If you rent a car don’t park it somewhere with all your stuff clearly visible. Rental cars are an enticing target for thieves. If you go out at night, take an official red taxi instead of walking. If you do walk, go in a group. Unofficial taxis abound and are constantly offering rides to people walking along the street or waiting at a bus stop. They are cheaper than the red ones but they are not overseen or regulated in any way, use them at your own risk and if you don’t speak Spanish it’s probably best not to. Don’t ever carry your passport around with you. Lock it up in the hotel as soon as you arrive and leave it there. Costa Rica does require that you have ID with you at all times so we recommend that you make a copy and carry that with you instead. And for extra security have an extra copy stored separately at the hotel as well. Don’t miss this important travel tip in Costa Rica!
Most hotels and restaurants in touristy areas offer WiFi as well as it is possible to find Internet cafes. For in country service that is usually much cheaper than adding international calling to your cell phone you can buy a refillable sim card at the airport or at a cell service store. If you are able to remove your sim card you can simply replace it in your normal phone and just refill it as it runs low. If you are unable to remove your sim card you can also buy a cheap basic phone for calls and texting.
6. Renting a car
Think this one through carefully. Renting a car is fairly expensive, roads are not well marked, and drivers are a little crazy depending on where you are. Plus, keep in mind that many of the tours, such as those mentioned in our activities article, include transportation and taxis and buses are abundant and relatively inexpensive. If, however, you really want the freedom of your own car, it is doable. If you’re looking to save money, it’s best to rent your car from a location outside of the airport. Thoroughly check over the vehicle with the attendant when you pick it up and make sure you have all the appropriate insurances. Get a GPS or at least download an app like Waze on your smartphone if you have mobile internet. Road signs are fairly self-explanatory, when they exist, but keep in mind that distances are in kilometers.
In Costa Rica, smoking is not very popular as it is in Asia or Europe. It is not allowed to smoke indoors in Costa Rica, and depending how close you are standing next to someone outdoors it may seem inappropriate. Always check with the staff of a hotel or restaurant etc to find out where there is a designated area.
Are you planning on getting married in Costa Rica? Check out my guide below for my recommendations on the best wedding venues in Costa Rica: