1- Be realistic with your budget
This is #1 because it’s the most common, and understandably so. Costa Rica is the most expensive country in Central America because of its popularity with tourists, quality of life for the locals and overall safety. But these things come with a high sticker price. Visitors also forget to include things like food, transport, tours and unforeseen costs such as park entrance fees. When decided your budget make sure to leave some wiggle room for extra expenses, especially if you don’t plan on staying in hostels with cold showers. Like they say, you get what you pay for!
Most Common Costa Rica Travel Mistakes
Take a look at this list of tips we created that will save you time, money and hassle caused by lack of knowledge and planning:
1- Be realistic with your budget
2- Don’t forget your documents!
Your documents are the single most important things not to forget. Without a passport and credit/debit card you won’t be going anywhere. Make sure that your passport doesn’t expire within 3 months of the dates you are traveling. We also recommend printing airline ticket and hotel confirmations because WiFi in the country is not always reliable and roaming/overage charges by cell phone providers can be very costly. Make sure to have your return ticket handy as you will not be able to enter the country without it. Before you leave your country make sure to notify your bank of your travel dates so they don’t block your cards for suspicious activity. Also, be sure to bring your driver’s license if you plan on operating a vehicle. **Tip** You can scan all your documents and/or take photos of them with you phone and save them (the cloud, your email or Google Drive) just in case you lose something you will have it available.
3- Carefully plan your carry-on
If you’ve traveled much you will know that the possibility of an airline losing your bag is real. Be sure you have the essentials in your carry-on so you are prepared just in case this happens to you. We recommend you pack your documents and important papers, a change of clothes, prescription medicines, valuables and eyewear if applicable.
4- Leave some stuff at home!
How many times have you returned from a vacation with items you didn’t use the entire time you were gone? Many people (myself included) tend to overpack for holidays. This will only slow you down and leave you with too much stuff to keep track of. Remember you are coming to a tropical climate. No matter where you go, you are not likely to be cold and could do without that oversized jacket.
5- Beware of overeager itineraries
Many people overextend by jamming more into their itinerary than is realistic. Even though Costa Rica is a small country, the terrain and traffic make travel times much longer than one would imagine by looking at a map. Also, plan to be at the airport with plenty of time to spare. Traveling to San José from another destination can take longer than you might imagine. There are more cars than there are people in the city and therefore traffic can be horrible (a 10-mile drive can take more than an hour with traffic). Never cut your arrival time to less than 2 hours from your flight time. We recommend staying in San José the night before your flight unless it is late in the day or evening. Also, be aware that while day trips from San José to places like Manuel Antonio, Arenal Volcano and Monteverde are possible, they are not recommended. You’ll end up with a full day of traveling and not much time to enjoy the destinations. Consult with travel agents to get a realistic idea of what is possible and help with planning.
6- Don’t let your guard down
Even in the land of “tranquilo” and “pura vida” one must keep their eyes open and be aware of their surroundings. Violent crime is uncommon in Costa Rica, but petty theft is commonplace, as is in almost all tourist destinations. Never leave your valuables unattended in restaurants, beaches, your rental car or anywhere else. You should even lock them in the safe of your hotel room. Also, by preventing these incidents you are actually reducing the likelihood for future crime in an area. It’s always a good idea to check in with your accommodation to ask if there are any known security issues that you should be aware of. We know you are excited about being on vacation, but remember that you are not at home. Always practice good judgment whether it be swimming in ocean, where riptides are a real concern, on a high-adrenaline rafting tour or interacting with wildlife. By simply following the instructions of your guides and heeding warnings you can save you and your loved ones a lot of heartache.
7- Plan ahead
Nowadays many travelers like the idea of not being tied down to reservations and not committing to a set itinerary. This is fine if you’re under no time or budget constraints, but otherwise you may want to think ahead. Many hotels and transportation services in high season will not have availability and you may be forced to stay somewhere you don’t like. A little research will help save you time and make sure you stay at the right place for you. Besides, who wants to spend their vacation worrying about that kind of thing??
8- The myths of Booking.com and Expedia
It can be tempting to book hotel rooms with these internet giants. They are easy to use and tout things like “best price guarantee” and “free cancellations”. The truth is that you are not really getting the whole picture. These travel sites are only concerned about selling rooms, not which hotel is the best fit for you. They often omit details of properties in order to make them look more appealing. Often time guests arrive not knowing that the room they booked didn’t have air conditioning or even a window! We recommend booking directly with hotel, which will always match the best price, for the most accurate descriptions and best service. Trust us, hotels give preference to their direct customers.
9- There’s only one SJO
The San José airport is where the majority of visitors enter Costa Rica. Although it doesn’t happen often, some people have gotten mixed up and booked tickets to San José, California or even San Juan, Puerto Rico. If you use the airport code SJO you’ll be good to go!
10- Put down that mobile device
In this age of technology, we’d like to suggest you try to disconnect a little while you’re on vacation. Memories are even more special than photos, and it’ll be one less thing for you to worry about while you’re getting your tan on.