If you are a first-time traveler to Costa Rica, you probably have a lot of questions you would like answered before stepping foot into this beautiful country so that you can plan and make the most of your trip.
Luckily, after living here for quite some time and talking to visitors about their expectations and questions, we have compiled a list of a few of the most important things to know while planning a trip here. Whether you are coming for a Costa Rica surf trip, a refreshing dose of sunny weather and beach time, or maybe even a wedding or family reunion, Costa Rica will welcome you with open arms and we can almost guarantee that you will be back someday.
1. U.S. dollars are widely accepted!
If you are stressing out about having to convert currency or make frequent trips to the ATM, you can stop now. U.S. dollars have pretty much become the standard currency for tourism in Costa Rica. Many prices for hotels, tours, and activities are quoted in USD which makes it very simple and easy to track how much you are actually spending. The currency in Costa Rica is colones, and the exchange rate to USD is about 550 to 1 right now.
Make sure that you are aware what the exchange rate that is being used wherever you are, because some places might try to use a 500 to 1 rate and you could lose out a little bit. However, in general, handling money in Costa Rica is very easy and people will take whatever is easiest for you whether that is U.S. dollars, colones, or a mix!
2. Rainy season isn’t a bad thing!
Summer or the dry season in Costa Rica falls during the winter months up north, so that is when everyone wants to escape the cold and head down to the beach. It is also the holiday season when lots of people have vacation time from work and school, so this is high tourist season in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica’s rainy season is May-November, with the rainiest months being September and October. During these months, there are a lot less people taking vacations since it is summer up north and there are less days off. People seem to be scared to visit Costa Rica during this time, but the truth is it really isn’t that bad! One plus is that since it is low season, there will be a lot less tourists around. That means you will have more beach space and less people to compete with for waves when you are out surfing! It also means that prices for flights, hotels, and even activities will be much lower than they are during high season. There will also be less waiting time to get into restaurants or bars, and more chances to interact with locals rather than tourists. It also isn’t rainy all the time.
Most days still start off hot and sunny, and if the rain comes, it will likely be in the afternoon or evening. So, don’t let the time of year change your travel plans. Costa Rica is beautiful year-round, just pack a rain jacket if you are going to come during the wetter months! And it likely means that you will see more rainbows which is definitely a plus.
3. Costa Rica is a very safe country to travel in!
Did you know that Costa Rica is one of just 23 countries in the world that doesn’t have a military? They just have a police force, the OIJ (judicial investigation), and GAO (swat team). Whether you are a solo traveler, with a group of friends, or a family, Costa Rica is one of the safest countries in Latin America to visit. The most common crime in Costa Rica is just petty theft. Most often things get stolen off the beach when people go into the ocean to swim. Luckily, this is easily avoided!
Keep your valuables locked up (most hotels always have a safe in the room), don’t leave things unattended on the beach, and roll up your windows and lock your car when you are not in it. Otherwise, don’t worry and soak up your time in this amazing country!
- English is widely spoken and locals will love talking to you!
Really though, people might stop you on the street to ask you where you are from and see how your day is going. Since tourism is so big in Costa Rica, especially in Tamarindo where you can participate in Iguana Surf’s Costa Rica surf camp, the locals are used to seeing foreigners everywhere and will be fast to welcome you. Especially at Iguana Surf- the instant you walk in the shop and start talking to the people who work there, you will feel like you are part of the Iguana Surf family. Because of the large number of locals who work in tourism, many Ticos speak English and don’t mind using it. So, don’t worry if your Spanish isn’t quite up to par! Definitely ask the locals for advice on the authentic, cheap food spots, less crowded places to surf, the cool places to go at night, or even just simple directions because they will be more than happy to help you and might even invite you out with them.
One thing to be aware of is that because of the culture, Tico men can be a bit forward compared to the norms we are used to in the states or other similar countries. If you are a solo female traveler, you will likely be asked if you have a boyfriend or where you are from. If you do not want to talk to them, simply ignoring it and walking away or just giving a polite smile and saying you don’t want to talk to them will do the trick. It is extremely rare that you would ever be in any real danger, these guys are just a little extra friendly.
- Wifi is readily available!
Not when you are out at the beach or just walking through town, but almost every hotel, restaurant, and bar has wifi. You will probably just need to ask for the password. Most travelers find that it is enough to find their way and plan things out without having a phone plan while in Costa Rica. In fact, it is refreshing to not be constantly connected!
However, if you are planning a longer trip or have a job that requires you to be reachable at all times, it is super easy to get a prepaid sim card for your trip, and they are usually pretty cheap, especially compared to U.S. phone prices. With a prepaid card, you will be able to make calls and text and also have internet while you are out and about.
Hopefully after reading these tips for planning your trip to Costa Rica, you feel more prepared and excited to make your dream a reality! We can’t wait to welcome you for whatever getaway you would like to plan, from a full Costa Rica surf trip to a relaxing few days just hanging on the beach.
We know you will love the Pura Vida.