Costa Rica FAQs Answered
Our frequently asked questions guide is a helpful resource to answer the most common concerns our guests have about their trip to Costa Rica. If you have any other questions though please email us or give us a call at 1-800-606-1860 and we’ll be happy to help you.
— What kind of vaccinations do I need before traveling to Costa Rica?
— Should I purchase travel insurance?
— Should I reconfirm my international flight?
— What are the Identification and Entry Requirements for Costa Rica?
— Who should I call if my flight is delayed or cancelled?
— How will you find us at the airport?
— How early should I arrive to the airport for my International flight?
— How do I pay the exit tax when leaving Costa Rica? How much is it? Do they accept credit cards?
— Can I safely eat or drink the food and beverages I am served?
— Medical Emergencies: what care services are available in Costa Rica?
— If I need medicine, can I easily get it?
— Is it easy to get sunburn, or get dehydrated in Costa Rica?
— Are there many mosquitoes in Costa Rica? Should I bring bug spray?
— Beach Safety
— Is Costa Rica safe?
— Where are Costa Rica’s airports?
— Are there any fees or taxes for domestic airports?
— What are the baggage restrictions on domestic flights?
— Is it safe to use taxis? How do you know they are official?
— What are the driving times between destinations?
— What are the roads like in Costa Rica?
Getting ready for your trip
What kind of vaccinations do I need before traveling to Costa Rica?
The Costa Rican authorities require that all travelers coming from the following countries have a yellow fever vaccination certificate: Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Bolivia, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador as well as the Republic of Guyana.
The vaccine should be applied 10 days before entering the country. This regulation will be enforced on everyone except senior citizens, children under the age of 9 and pregnant women.
Should I purchase travel insurance?
We highly recommend that you purchase travel insurance to protect your vacation investment. Unforeseen last minute events and emergencies can occur that may cause you to cancel or alter your vacation. In many cases the money you’ve paid will be completely non-refundable.
To get a free quote please click here: CSA Travel Protection Insurance
Or call: (800.348.9505)
Should I reconfirm my international flight?
You are responsible for re-confirming your International flights. You should reconfirm at least 48 hours prior to your flight departure. Compare the information you receive with the information listed on your final itinerary from us and if there are any differences in the information, advise your travel consultant or our Travel Experience Team immediately. (Travel Experience Team 1-800-606-1860 Ext. No.2)
What are the identification and entry requirements for Costa Rica?
To enter Costa Rica a valid passport and a pre-paid airline (or bus) ticket exiting the country is mandatory. Additional specific entry requirements depend on your country of citizenship. Currently, you may enter Costa Rica without a visa if traveling with a United States of America, Canada or most European passports. Immigration will then stamp your passport with your approved length of stay (usually 90 days). For other countries, a visa may be required. It is always best to contact the Costa Rica Embassy nearest you for up to date entry and visa requirements.
Expiration rules on passports change constantly. Each traveler must verify they have at least one blank page for the entry stamp and check their passport expiration date. Costa Rican Vacations recommends you have at least six (6) months of validity from the date you return to your home country. It is also a good idea to have several copies of the picture page of your passport with you when you travel. Again, for the most up-to-date requirements, check with your Costa Rica Consulate. Costa Rican Vacations is not responsible for clients traveling without proper Visa or Passport requirements.
If you are issued the 90-day visa and you plan on staying longer than that time, you must leave the country for 72 hours and then re-enter for a new 90-day visa or receive special permission (ie a work visa) before you arrive.
Link to Costa Rica Consulate in the USA click here.
What is the weather like in Costa Rica?
Costa Rica weather is tropical due to our proximity to the equator. The country is unique for having over a dozen micro-climates, all of which feature different characteristics. The degree of humidity or dryness varies depending on what part of the country you’re in and the month you’re traveling.
Traditionally our Pacific regions enjoy the least amount of rainfall between December and April, the Northern Pacific generally receives almost no rainfall during these months and the Central and Southern Pacific areas very little rainfall. We call these months our “Dry Season” or “Summer”.
Starting in May we’ll begin to get afternoon rain showers and once we get to September we are seeing afternoon rains almost every day. On the Pacific, the further North you go, the less frequent the rainfall, the further South you go, the more frequent the rainfall. This period between May and November we call our “Green Season” or “Winter”. Our Caribbean regions (like the Arenal Volcano region) receive about the same amount of rainfall month to month year round. This is a humid lush part of the country and an afternoon rain shower is common regardless of the month of the year you visit.
If you are visiting a mountain area like Cerro de la Muerte or Monteverde, you’ll be at elevations between 6000 and 11,000 feet so evenings and early mornings will be quite cool and a jacket is recommended.
When is the best time of the year to travel to Costa Rica
The best time to visit Costa Rica is a hard question to answer because every month of the year has certain advantages. If you want to lounge on a Pacific beach and have a guarantee of nothing but the sunshine every day, it’s best to visit between December and April. If you want good weather but love to see all the trees and flowers in full bloom, exploding with color it’s best to visit between April and July. If you are a wildlife lover and you want to see Sea Turtles emerge from the Atlantic to lay their eggs and then jump over to the Pacific to go whale watching, it’s best to travel between July and November.
Costa Rica has two main and distinct climate zones; The Pacific and The Caribbean. The Continental Divide separates these two areas giving us a lot of variety in weather patterns on the Pacific coast. Our Caribbean side, though, remains pretty much the same all year round. Some of the main areas to visit in the Caribbean are Arenal, Tortuguero, Puerto Viejo, Turrialba, and the Orosi Valley. These areas receive almost the same amount of rainfall year round, with the months of August, September, and October being the months with slightly less rainfall. Generally, these areas have sunny humid mornings and late afternoon showers. The advantage to visiting the Caribbean is that it is always green, lush, and vibrant.
The Pacific side of the country includes popular areas like The Osa Peninsula, Dominical, Manuel Antonio, Jaco, The Nicoya Peninsula, Nosara, Tamarindo, Flamingo, Conchal, Playa Coco, and Papagayo. In general, the entire Pacific Coast is completely dry from the end of December through early April. We start to see our first showers in April and every month going forward, we receive a little more rain than the month before. The interesting thing about the Pacific Coast, though, is that the further South you travel (Osa) the more rain you receive and the further North you travel (Papagayo) the less rain you receive. The months of December – March tend to be very dry and breezy in Guanacaste (Northern Pacific). In May when the rains begin, everything comes to life, flowers bloom, trees are full of color; it’s a beautiful time to visit Costa Rica.
If you ask your travel consultant, “When is the best time to travel?” They will probably recommend what we call our transition months; May, June, July, August. This is when the Pacific Coast transitions from “The Dry Season” to “The Green Season”. This time of year is characterized by warm sunny mornings and afternoons, followed by late afternoon showers. Most showers only last 1-2 hours and then the skies clear up again. This “Green Season” is also a great time to visit as you’ll find the most favorable prices at hotels. Green Season specials are very popular and significant savings can be found by avoiding the peak season travel months of Dec., Jan., Feb., and March.
There is no bad time to come to Costa Rica. Just contact us and let one of our expert Travel Consultants know the type of vacation you are looking for, and they will help you choose the best month to give you the vacation you are looking for.
Arrival and Departure
Who should I call if my flight is delayed or cancelled?
How will you find us at the airport?
Airport Meet and Greet for San José Arrivals (SJO)
Our representative from Costa Rican Vacations will meet you at the airport upon arrival. Here is how to find them:
1. As soon as you exit the plane, you will walk through a hallway that will guide you to the lobby waiting area. At this point, our airport concierge will be waiting for you with a sign with your party’s name. As a reference, please note your concierge will be wearing dark blue pants and white long sleeve shirt.
2. Our Airport Concierge will escort you through immigration. (Please have passports handy and immigration forms completed).
3. You will then proceed to the luggage claim area to collect your bags. Your Concierge will assist you.
4. The Airport Concierge will then take you through customs. (Please be aware that your luggage may be hand checked, you may not bring plants, seeds, vegetables or fruits into Costa Rica.)
5. You will then be escorted out of the airport and introduced to your driver.
*If for some reason you are unable to locate our Airport Concierge, please proceed through immigration, baggage claim, and customs, and notify your driver upon exiting the airport.
Airport Meet & Greet For Liberia Arrivals (LIR)
A representative from Costa Rican Vacations will meet you at the airport upon your arrival. Here is how you’ll find us:
1. Exit the plane and proceed to immigration. Have your passports handy and your immigration forms filled out and ready.
2. You will then proceed to collect your checked luggage on or around the baggage carousel.
3. Continue on to the customs area. Your luggage will be scanned and in some cases hand searched. Please be aware you may not bring plants, seeds, vegetables, or fruits into Costa Rica.
4.Exit the building and you will see your driver with a sign with your name and our Logo. As a reference, please note your concierge will be wearing a white Costa Rican Vacations shirt and holding a green flag.
*If, for some reason, you are unable to locate our representative, please call our local numbers listed above prior to arranging other means of transportation.
How early should I arrive to the airport for my International flight?
When departing Costa Rica, check in time for your International flight from the San Jose Airport is 3 hours prior and from the Liberia Airport 2 hours prior to your flight departure time. Customers who fail to comply with the check-in time limits run the risk of missing their scheduled flights. Any penalties charged by the airline for late check in or missed flights are the responsibility of the travelers.
At the airport, you will have lines to purchase your departure tax, to check in for your flights and to get through security. This is why we STRONGLY suggest you reconfirm and check-in for your flight through the airline’s website and arrive at the airport at the required advance check in time.
Reminder: You can check in beginning 48 hours and up to 90 minutes before your international flight; depending on your airline. Online check-in allows you to print your boarding passes, pay for checked bags, check for upgrades and choose your seats!
How do I pay the exit tax when leaving Costa Rica? How much is it? Do they accept credit cards?
The exit tax costs $31 per person. It’s better to have cash, either in US Dollars or Colones (local currency). They do accept Visa and Master Card (they do not accept American Express), but credit card companies charge it as a “cash advance”, so you end up paying a lot in interest for a small charge. Cash is best.
Note: The airport tax may or may not be included in your airfare. Please check with your airline if you need additional information.
Money and Budgeting
Where can I exchange money?
Costa Rica’s official currency is the Colón, however, U.S. dollars are still widely accepted throughout the country. Money can be exchanged in banks but the process is not easy. You’ll usually have to wait in long lines and most tellers speak little English. Your passport is required to exchange money at all banks.
ATMs are the easiest way to get local currency. At most ATMs, you will have the choice of asking for colons or dollars. Keep in mind most banks charge a transaction fee between $2.00 – $7.00 dollars.
There are currency exchange booths in the San Jose Airport, but exchange rates are generally not favorable and fees are generally applied.
We recommend bringing U.S. Dollars in denominations from $1 – $20. (avoid 50’s and 100’s). Use these bills for your local purchases and you’ll receive your change in colons. You’ll then have some local currency to spend.
Can I use my credit cards?
Credit cards are widely accepted in Costa Rica, but there are some exceptions. If you plan on using your credit card frequently it is very important that prior to leaving on your trip you tell your bank that you will be in Costa Rica. For your protection most banks automatically block transactions in foreign countries, so be sure that you advise your bank that you will be making charges while in Costa Rica.
Mastercard and Visa are the most widely accepted. American Express is accepted at most hotels and some restaurants but not by local or small vendors. Discover Card is not accepted in Costa Rica.
How much cash should I carry?
This is a personal choice based on your spending habits, but we recommend that you have at least $100 cash with you upon arrival.(Only carry $1, $5, $10, $20 bills). How much cash you should carry throughout the trip depends on your plans, if you like to shop, and if you prefer to use a credit card for purchases or not. In almost all destinations you will have access to an ATM Machine. We recommend that you always place your cash, valuables, and passports in your hotel’s safe deposit box every time you leave your room.
Health & Safety
Can I safely eat or drink the food and beverages I am served?
Water is safe to drink throughout Costa Rica. However, we do recommend that you drink bottled water in remote areas. Bottled water is available at hotels, grocery stores, and restaurants. Do not use ice anywhere you would not drink the water! Keep in mind we all have different degrees of delicacy in our systems. If you are a person who often gets stomach distress when you travel, then it’s best to always choose bottled water.
Food is normally safe in all the better hotels that cater to international travelers.
In smaller “street restaurants” there is less certainty about the food quality. Avoid eating uncooked portions such as salads in such places. If you buy fresh fruits at a roadside stand or from a street vendor, wash the fruits carefully before eating them.
Medical Emergencies: What care services are available in Costa Rica?
Costa Rica provides one of the best health care systems in Central America, both in private and public sector, and both constantly strive to be up-to-date with contemporary medicine. It’s social security system called CCSS but is also known as “la CAJA”. Over the last 60 years, La Caja has established more than 250 clinics and 29 public hospitals in Costa Rica that cover all major populated areas throughout the country. The hospital services are available at a low cost to the residents and tourists alike, 365 days a year on a 24-hour basis. With that said, some CAJA hospitals won’t live up to expectations of U.S. and Canadian visitors. The public emergency rooms are usually crowded and noisy and it’s very likely that available doctors or nurses won’t speak English. CAJA system does function if you have a lot of patience and time to wait.
On the other hand, private clinics and hospitals provide top-class services and are frequented as main hubs for medical tourism in the country. Private clinics are often recognized for their excellent services and have positive testimonials. Currently, new developers are fostering investments of private clinics and hospitals throughout the country.
Some of the most frequented private hospitals in Costa Rica are:
Hospital CIMA: This hospital is controlled by the International Hospital Corporation of Dallas, Texas. CIMA is notably the best equipped, full-service hospital that features the most modern health care technology. The second establishment opened recently in Liberia, Guanacaste.
Hospital Clínica Bíblica: located in the heart of San José, and has recently opened a new clinic in Liberia, Guanacaste. The hospital in San José has a 24-hour rooftop heliport for emergencies.
Clínica La Católica: This hospital is known for its amenities for travelers that include a lodge for companion persons just a few steps from the hospital. Clínica Católica is also located in San José downtown, in the east area.
Hospital Metropolitano: This hospital is the newest privately operated hospital in San José. It has three locations, San José Downtown, Heredia and Tibás.
If I need medicine, can I easily get it?
If you need to purchase medicines in Costa Rica, pharmacies are always available. Even remote towns will have a pharmacy open during work hours. In San Jose and the Central Valley, 24-hour pharmacies are also an option.
Keep in mind that it is mandatory to have a prescription for some drugs. Prescriptions from doctors in the U.S. and other countries may be accepted but will most likely need to be translated to Spanish. It is best to arrive prepared with a complete supply of your own prescription medicines in their original prescription container.
In case of temporary emergencies, pharmacists are capable of administering injections. They can also provide recommendations for specific medical conditions and check your blood pressure.
Is it easy to get sunburn, or get dehydrated in Costa Rica?
Being in a sunny tropical climate, it’s easy to get sunburned or dehydrated. A bad sunburn or dehydration are two ways to put a major kink in any vacation. Make sure you use plenty of sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15 and drink plenty of liquids to avoid such problems.
Are there many mosquitoes in Costa Rica? Should I bring bug spray?
Mosquitoes are common year-round, however, rare in some areas due to low overnight temperatures (Monteverde or San José). Mosquitoes are most common at dusk and dawn; especially in rain forest or rural areas. It’s a good idea to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants if you are going to be hiking or walking in the forest during these times. A good insect repellent sprayed onto your clothing or skin will be effective to keep mosquitoes from bothering you (if you use both sunscreen and insect repellent, apply the sunscreen first and then the repellent). A DEET based product is not necessary but is generally the strongest option you can buy.
Malaria does exist in Costa Rica (as in every other country in Central America), although it is very rare and any outbreak makes the news. It’s up to you whether you want to bring malaria medication, but be aware that plenty of locals and expats get by without it, and thousands of tourists visit each year without using this medication. More common mosquito-derived ailments are Dengue fever and the Chikungunya and Zika virus, which are easily combatted by taking the precautions mentioned above as protection against mosquito-borne diseases. If you develop one or more of the following symptoms seek medical evaluation for treatment: fever, rash, joint and/or muscle pain, severe eye pain (behind eyes), mild bleeding (nose or gum bleed or easy bruising).
It is important that visitors follow basic safety precautions when enjoying the sun and sand at Costa Rica’s beaches. PLEASE be aware of the risks that exist at beaches throughout the country:
- Many beaches will be marked with flags to let people know the conditions of the surf.
- Red Flags indicate that water conditions are unsafe and no one should enter the water.
- Yellow flags indicate rough conditions and swimmers should enter with caution, but no restrictions apply.
- Green flags indicate normal conditions.
- Always swim within designated areas. Enter the water carefully. Be aware of rocks or steep drop offs.
- Never swim alone.
- Respect the beach-inhabiting animals; some of them have painful methods of keeping humans away, for example, the spiny sea urchins.
- Keep in mind that lifeguards are uncommon on the beaches. Do not count on lifeguard assistance.
- Rip tides, strong currents, and big waves are normal in Costa Rica. They can also appear unexpectedly and without warning. Respect warnings on the beaches. If you are unsure if your beach is safe, check with your hotel or call us so we can assist you with information about your area.
Is Costa Rica safe?
Costa Rica is an extremely safe country. Please remember when you are traveling within Costa Rica to use the same common sense you would use at home. It is very easy to let down your normal guard while you are here in Costa Rica enjoying the “Pura Vida” lifestyle, but it is important to take normal safety precautions. The largest crime in Costa Rica is petty theft so be diligent in watching over your personal items. Use your hotel safe at all times. Do not leave cameras, purses, Ipads, Ipods, and cell phones unattended on restaurant tables, pool lounges, or beach towels. Leave expensive watches and jewelry at home. If you have a rental car, stow your personal belongings under the seat, make sure the car is locked and if possible park it in an area in which you can keep an eye on it. We always recommend you bring a photocopy of the picture page of your passport as well.
How much do I tip drivers and other service workers?
Visitors should offer a tip to the service provider if they feel satisfied with the service that they have received. If you feel that the driver, tour guide or person assisting you has done a great job, then please, go ahead and tip him/her. Please, do tip the service employees that enhances your experience based upon how much you think that they deserve.
Some guidelines are:
- Hotel bellboy, US$1 per bag
- Hotel maids US$2 per day
- Tour guides US$5 per person
- Drivers US$5 per each hour of service
- Fishing 15-20% of the charter fee
- Do consider that a 10% service fee is added, by law, to all food & beverage bills. Additional tipping for food and beverage is based upon how much you consider appropriate.
Do I need to bring jackets or raincoat?
A light waterproof windbreaker or poncho is a good idea if you are visiting the Caribbean (like the Arenal Volcano area). A sweater or light fleece will get you through cooler evenings in San Jose or Monteverde. If you are visiting the mountains, though (Talamanca Area) you will want some warmer clothing or plan to layer.
How do people dress for dinner?
Costa Rica is a casual country. Most people wear shorts, t-shirts, sundresses, sandals. If you are going out for a special dinner, you may want to wear a polo or button-down shirt for men and a nice top or sundress for ladies. Nothing too fancy.
WiFi, hair dryers, ironing board, and safes in room
Each hotel is different; please ask your travel consultant or the Travel Concierge on details of the hotels you will be visiting.
Will we need electrical adapters for our electronics?
The electricity in Costa Rica is 110/220 volts AC, 60Hz10/ 120 watts, the same as in the United States. Generally, most outlets will be designed for 2-prong, flat blade plugs. If your electronics require a different plug shape or wattage, please make sure to get a voltage converter.
How do I contact the in-country support team?
As part of your vacation you will have access to our 24/7 Travel Experience Team. Please remember your travel consultant will NOT be your first contact. If you need anything at all it is always best to go to our In-Country Travel Experience Team, who are equipped to help you faster than anyone else.
To reach our Travel Experience Team during your stay for anything at all from dinner reservations to a lost passport PLEASE CALL 4031-7711. This is a local number that you can call from your hotel to reach us.
Can the Travel Experience Team assist me in booking restaurant reservations?
Need a good place to go for dinner? Few travel experiences are more rewarding than breaking bread with the locals, on their turf; sharing their comfort food. Our Travel Experience Team will help you immerse yourself in a new land, enjoying regional cuisine, and becoming part of the local culture.
Among the population in Costa Rica are immigrants from all of Europe, the Americas, Middle East, Australia, North Africa and most of Asia. Their contribution to Costa Rica’s cuisine includes great fusion combinations. Costa Rica provides a wide variety of succulent tropical fruits, fresh vegetables, fresh seafood, and quality beef. Our typical staples like rice and beans are enhanced and taken to a new level with the influence of all the different cultures creating amazing fusion cuisine.
If you crave international dining; in tiny Costa Rica you can sample Argentinean, Chinese, Indian, Italian, French, Mexican, Japanese, Peruvian, Spanish, Middle Eastern and yes, American food. Most restaurants provide vegetarian options too.
For a list of “must try” restaurants. Just contact the Travel Experience Team!
Costa Rica is well known for its’ abundance of wildlife and a relative ease to get up close to birds, mammals, and reptiles. It’s important to remember that these are all wild animals. Our slogan is “Observation without Disruption” When you encounter wildlife, remember we are in their habitat. Sit or stand quietly and enjoy the wonder and brilliance of seeing animals in the wild. Please NEVER try to touch any wild animals and do not feed them. Human food causes serious health problems, especially for Monkeys. Every year park rangers find many animals killed by the consumption of human food. Animals can be a danger to you as well. Although they look cute and cuddly, most rainforest animals have sharp teeth and claws and they will not take kindly to being disturbed. Bring your binoculars and your cameras and enjoy the incredible variety of wildlife throughout the country, but please help us to protect this, our most valuable natural resource, by respecting each and every animal and bird you encounter.
Is there a weight limit or age limit for adventure tours?
Please note that some tours have weight, age & size restrictions. Be sure to check descriptions on your itinerary and advise us immediately if you have a concern.
What should I wear for my adventure tours (Rafting, Ziplining or Rappel, cave tours)?
If you plan on doing any hiking or adventure activities you should plan on bringing comfortable, durable closed-toed shoes.(Keen or Teva’s, or Sneakers with a sturdy, treaded sole). Footwear is likely to get wet and muddy, so be prepared with a secondary pair of shoes to wear after your activities. For rafting and waterfall rappelling, you will get wet. Bring a set of dry clothing to store with the outfitter so you can change after the tour. Flip Flops are not appropriate for any outdoor adventure activity.
Roads and Transportation services
Where are Costa Rica’s airports?
There are two international airports in Costa Rica – the San José International Airport (SJO), which is in Alajuela, and the Daniel Oduber International Airport (LIR), which is located in Liberia. Passing through customs at either of the international airports is relatively stress-free. After collecting your luggage, you continue through a checkpoint where officials pass baggage through an X-ray machine. After this, you’ll be able to leave the terminal and travel to your final destination.
Are there any fees or taxes for domestic airports?
Domestic airports: the airports listed below require passengers to pay an arrival and departure fee. To prepare yourself for the trip, remember to have the following amount ready in colones or dollars when arriving to and departing from these airports: Tambor $2.25; Quepos $5 for arrivals, $3 for departures; Arenal $7.
What are the baggage restrictions on domestic flights?
If you are flying on a domestic airline you should know that there is a luggage weight limit for each person. If you exceed the limit, the airlines will not allow the extra weight until the plane is full and the exact weight of ALL luggage and passengers is determined. If the flight has reached its maximum weight capacity to remain within safe parameters for flight, your additional luggage will have to wait for the next available flight. This could be one or two days later so it’s important that you stay within the guidelines set forth by each airline.
If the flight still has space for additional luggage and additional weight, you may pay a fee at the time of check-in to allow your extra luggage to travel with you. This is at the airline’s discretion based on weight and space on the aircraft. The Baggage Policies for the two Domestic Airlines are as follows:
For Nature Air: Up to 40 pounds checked luggage (depending on your ticket type) and one small piece of carry-on luggage not to exceed 10 pounds per person. For additional fees related to overweight or sized luggage please refer to: http://www.natureair.com/baggage.aspx
For SANSA Airlines: 30 pounds checked luggage and one small piece of carry-on luggage not to exceed 10 pounds per person. For each extra pound, there is a US $1 fee per pound (Space for extra weight cannot be guaranteed). For additional fees related to overweight or sized luggage please refer to: http://www.flysansa.com/eng/tri/bag/bagbagpol.asp?hd=5
As these are low weight limits, we suggest that you pack light. You can also inquire with your travel consultant about baggage storage. Finally, please remember that you need to be at the domestic airstrip at least 45 minutes before your domestic flight departure.
Is it safe to use taxis? How do you know they are official?
Before you jump in a taxi, there are a few things you should know:
Only hire authorized cabs. One of the most important things to remember when taking a taxi in Costa Rica is to only hire licensed, authorized cabs. Affectionately known as “rojos” due to their cherry-red color, these taxis are easily identifiable and can be flagged down as you would anywhere else in the world. However, in some parts of the country, illegal taxis, popularly known as ‘piratas’, can often be mistaken for an authorized cabs, as their drivers make every attempt to appear legitimate. The easiest way to differentiate between a genuine and illegal taxi is to look for the yellow triangle on the vehicle’s doors. Even though they might be a little cheaper, don’t be tempted to take an illegal cab – stick to the authorized taxis.
Keep the meter running. In Costa Rican taxis, the meter is known as the “Maria,” and this device is usually mounted on the vehicle’s dashboard. Before setting off on your journey, ensure that the Maria is turned on, as this can eliminate the possibility that you’ll be overcharged for your trip. To request that the driver turns on the meter before you hit the road, simply gesture at the Maria and say “Puede, por favor, poner la Maria,” which means “Can you please turn on the meter?” Most drivers will not take offense to this request, and it helps keep everything straightforward in terms of what you can expect to pay. In terms of rates, most cabs charge around $1 for every two-thirds of a mile traveled or so, making taxis a remarkably cost-effective way of getting around.
Tipping is not expected but the little extra money is always welcome. Avoid using big bills, as drivers don’t have a lot of change with them and are reluctant to take anything larger than $20 US dollar bill.
What are the driving times between destinations?
Travel times can vary significantly between destinations. Our speed limit, in general, is 50 km/hour. Thus, if the distance between destinations is 200 km, you should plan on it taking about four hours.
Our main highways that connect major cities and ports are mostly 2 lanes. There is often truck traffic on the roads which can affect the time it takes to get from one place to another. It can often be difficult to pass and at times we have to be patient until we get to an area that allows us to get around the slow moving 18-wheeler.
Getting there is part of the fun, though, so be sure to enjoy the gorgeous scenery and chat with your driver about the local towns you’ll be traveling through.
Here is a list of some of the more popular routes with driving times:
- Alajuela (SJO Airport) to Manuel Antonio – 3.5 hrs.
- Alajuela (SJO Airport) to Arenal – 3 hrs.
- Alajuela (SJO Airport) to Monteverde – 4 hrs.
- Arenal to Tamarindo – 4 hrs.
- Liberia to Tamarindo – 1 hr.
- Liberia to Arenal – 3 hrs.
What are the roads like in Costa Rica?
The roads in Costa Rica vary significantly depending on the route that you are traveling. Roads between most destinations are two-lane, paved roads that wind up and around the mountainous terrain throughout the country. If you find yourself driving in the country, it is best to be very alert and drive defensively. Try to avoid driving at night as most roads are not lit and do not have reflective lines. Weather conditions can change quickly and nighttime driving can be dangerous. Some areas and some hotels do not have paved entrances, so chances are at some point you will find yourself along a dirt road during your trip to Costa Rica. Many bridges narrow to a single lane and drivers must be ready to yield and give right of way to the oncoming traffic.
For your first visit to Costa Rica, we generally recommend taking private transports to get a feel for the driving conditions. This way, the next time that you visit you will already understand the driving conditions and can decide whether or not to rent a car. Our system of roads in Costa Rica continues to improve each year but signage is limited and sometimes inaccurate. Vehicles equipped with GPS devices have significantly improved visitors’ ability to tour the country at their own pace. Should you decide to drive, we strongly suggest equipping the vehicle with a GPS unit. For experienced travelers, with a lot of patience; driving on your own can be a fun experience. In general, though, we prefer our guests to enjoy our private transfers.
What are the requirements for a vehicle rental?
Rental Requirements: passport, valid driver license (a foreign driver license is valid in Costa Rica for 90 days after the last arrival to the country) and the minimum age for rental is 25 years old.
Basic insurance for your rental is included in the price. This covers minor damages, scratches, small dents, tires, for ONE designated driver and is non-refundable. Please note that you will need to pay a refundable deposit directly to the car rental agency via major credit card (Debit cards and cash are not accepted for the deposit) at the time of pickup. This refundable deposit varies from $1,000-$2,500 US depending on the rental car agency and covers collision, major damage, and car theft. This deposit will then be released to you by the car rental agency upon return of the car. If you like to add an extra driver or opt for full coverage insurance, please inform the rental company when you pick up your vehicle and you will then pay the price difference directly to them.
When driving in Costa Rica, make sure you have allowed yourself plenty of travel time between destinations as the mileage can be misleading. Not all routes have accurate road signs. We strongly advise against driving at night as roads may be unlit and in some cases are quite curvy which can be dangerous.
Currently, Costa Rica does not use street names and numbers for addresses in most areas. We use landmarks to give directions. Keep this in mind when traveling if you do stop to ask for directions. Most Costa Ricans will explain location using North, South, East, West and in meters or kilometers, not miles. Landmarks such as buildings, trees, and waterways are also often used.
And again, please be advised there is a risk when leaving unattended luggage or valuables in your rental car. Always lock your vehicle, put personal items out of site, and try to park in areas where you can see the vehicle. Always check into your hotel first, and unload your luggage before enjoying activities.
What should I do in case I have a car accident?
Remember that if you are involved in an accident here in Costa Rica DO NOT MOVE YOUR VEHICLE. By moving your vehicle, even if it is blocking a travel lane, it is accepting responsibility for the accident, whether it was your fault or not. Your rental car agency will leave instructions for you to follow if you are involved in an accident. Make sure to keep those accessible during your trip.
If there are injured people please call 911 and proceed to contact your car rental company, If additional assistance is needed you may also contact Costa Rican Vacations 24/7 emergency number 40317711.
What is covered if I rent a car with basic insurance?
If you plan your vacation with us, included in the price of your vacation is basic insurance for your rental. This covers minor damages, scratches, small dents, tires, for ONE designated driver. The refundable deposit that you will pay directly to the car rental agency (via major credit card) at the time of pickup covers collision, major damage, and car theft. This deposit will then be released to you by the car rental company upon return of the car. If you like to add an extra driver or opt for a full coverage insurance, please inform the rental company when you pick up your vehicle and you will then pay the price difference directly to them.
Calling Costa Rica
Costa Rica has an international country code of 506 (the US country code is 1), and anyone calling Costa Rica from outside the country needs to apply this code. If you’re calling from the United States or Canada you need to dial 011 first, which indicates that an international call is about to be made. Failure to do this will place your call to New Brunswick, Canada (area code 506)! Once you dial 011, and then 506, you just dial the number and you’re through.
So to call the Costa Rican Vacations office from the USA or Canada you would dial 011-506-2296-7715. That’s the international code of 011, then the country code of 506, and then the telephone number or 2296-7715. This is just an example – you should never need to call us from the States on this line as we have a US Toll-Free number that you can call just like any other.
Calling from outside the US or Canada is slightly different, in that the rest of the world has a different international code. This code is either 00 or the + sign (whichever you prefer or your phone can support). So if you were calling Costa Rican Vacations from Europe, say, you would dial like this: 00506-2296-7715 or +506-2296-7715.
Calling from Costa Rica
Calling other countries from Costa Rica is exactly the same: 00 and then the country code (1 for the USA/Canada) and then the number itself, area code first.
To call to Europe (or elsewhere) you dial: 00 + country code + city code + number.
How does the Phone System, Cell Phone Service work in Costa Rica?
You can make International calls from most hotels. Most calls will have a fee, so do check with the hotel for costs prior to making your call. You may access Skype on your laptop, smartphone, or Ipad anywhere that there is Wifi. If you are carrying your personal cell phone, it’s best that you check with your service provider in your home country to find out about connectivity and costs. Some phone companies have very expensive fees for utilizing their service inside Costa Rica.
Is it possible to buy prepaid cell phones at the airport?
Until recently, all Costa Rican telecommunications was handled by one government-owned company—ICE (Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad)—and this made it nigh on impossible to obtain a telephone line or for visitors’ cell phones to work in Costa Rica.
Now, with the market opening up to Latin American telecommunication giants Claro and Movistar, things are easier. We can’t guarantee that your existing cell phone line will still work when you bring it to Costa Rica, but you CAN now buy a Costa Rican “pay as you go” SIM card that will give you a Costa Rican number for the duration of your stay. Progress!
Prepaid cell phones are now available at Juan Santamaria International Airport through Kolbi (ICE). If you are arriving though Liberia Airport, Daniel Oduber and would like this service please coordinate with our Travel Experience Team and they can make the arrangements with your driver to make a stop at the nearest store that may offer this service.
In order for this service to work, you must have a phone that is “unlocked” and has a replaceable SIM/GSM card. Check with your cell provider first, but in general T-mobile and AT&T use the SIM/GSM technology; Verizon phones do not have SIM cards and thus will not work. An ICE prepaid SIM chip is $20. The approximate value for a call to the US is US$0.30 per minute.
Costa Rican Embassies
In the event of an emergency, consular officials can provide support, guidance and other assistance to help you. Here are some of the main embassies in Costa Rica:
- United States Embassy: The American Embassy in Costa Rica is located in the capital of San Jose. The building’s address is Calle 120 Avenida 0 in Pavas, and the contact telephone number is (506) 2519-2000. To find out more about consular services offered by the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica, you can visit the official website. This site has a range of useful information, from safety and security announcements to data on regional travel programs, like the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
- Canadian Embassy: The official embassy of Canada can be found in La Sabana Executive Business Center behind the Contraloria General de la Republica in San Jose. Consular officials can be reached by phone at (506) 2242 4400. The official website has detailed information on a number of topics, and should be the first stop for Canadian visitors in need of assistance.
- British Embassy: British citizens who find themselves in need of consular assistance should contact the British Embassy in San Jose. The U.K. has maintained strong diplomatic ties with Costa Rica for many years. The British Embassy is located at Apartado 815-1007 in Edificio Centro Colon, and the phone number is (506) 2258-2025. Hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Fridays. See the official website of the British Embassy for more information.
- Spanish Embassy: The Spanish consulate is also located in San Jose, at Calle 32, Paseo Colón y Avenida Segunda. Spanish citizens should call (506) 2222-5745 for general inquiries, or email email@example.com for more information.
- French Embassy: The Embassy of France in Costa Rica is located at 200 m Sur y 25 m Oeste de la Mitsubishi in Curridabat, San Jose. French tourists can reach the consulate by calling (506) 2234 -4167, or checking the official website for travel notifications and other useful information.
- Mexican Embassy: The Embassy of Mexico is located at Bird. 7a. No. 1371 in San Jose. The main switchboard can be reached at (506) 2257-0633, and the hours of operation are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The official website has more information on available consular services.
- German Embassy: Germany’s embassy can be found in Sabana Norte, 300 mts oeste del ICE in Torre La Sabana, 8th floor. Check the German Embassy’s website for opening hours and a list of consular services available.
- Italian Embassy: Italian citizens spending time in Costa Rica should contact the Italian Embassy in the event of an emergency. This consulate can be found at 5a entrada Barrio Los Yoses, and the phone number is (506) 2224-6574. The official website has more information.
- Chinese Embassy: Chinese nationals who require consular assistance should contact the Chinese Embassy at (506) 2291-4811. The consulate is located at 100 mts sur y 50 mts oeste de la casa de Oscar Arias in Pavas, San Jose. Visit the official website for more information.
- Russian Embassy: The Russian Embassy is located in Barrio Escalante, San Jose, 100 mts norte y 150 este de la Iglesia Santa Teresita. The main switchboard number is (506) 2256-9181. The official website has more information.
These are just some of the embassies located in Costa Rica. Other countries maintain consulates here, including Argentina, Belgium, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, Israel and Poland, to name a few. To find other helpful information about consular services in Costa Rica, and a range of other topics, visit the official website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The following list of things to pack for Costa Rica will keep you prepared and traveling light for any type of Costa Rica itinerary. It also includes a few precautionary guidelines to ensure your personal safety and satisfaction.
Follow these tips on what to bring to Costa Rica and you’ll surely be prepared for a trip of a lifetime!
- Valid passport + copy of the photo page
- Airline tickets
- Drivers license + copy
- Insurance card and contact information
- Money belt and passport pendant for important documents
- CRV “Airport meeting instructions”
- Day pack or fanny pack
- Soft sided luggage to avoid going over domestic flight weight limits
- Waterproof bag for wet/dirty clothing
- Zip lock baggies to keep cameras and iPods dry in your back pack
- Eye drops
- Insect repellent
- Pain relievers (acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and/or just a simple aspirin)
- Waterproof sunscreen
- Contact lenses and cleaning solution
- Personal medicine prescriptions in the original prescription bottles
- Any over the counter medicines that you prefer. Most U.S. brands are not available in Costa Rica.
- Your personal toiletries
- Hiking or walking shoes
- Beach sandals or flip-flops (dressy sandals optional)
- Long sleeved T-shirts (recommended for sunburn protection, hiking and fishing)
- Swimsuits and a casual beach cover-up (for ladies)
- Hiking shorts (quick dry) and cotton shorts
- Lightweight pants and shorts
- Sun hats or baseball caps
Although Costa Rica is very casual, we recommend that if you are going to spend time in San José, that you bring along a pair of longer pants, good walking shoes, and a bit more formal clothing than you would wear in the laid back beach towns. This helps you to stand out less as a tourist.
- Light weight jacket or raincoat (poncho style); something warmer for higher elevations or on the open ocean.
- Camera (batteries and charger)
- Swiss army knife
- Key chain flashlight
- Nalgene or other water bottle
- Wet wipes/antibacterial hand gel
- Cork screw
- If you have some extra space and want to help underprivileged youth, bring down new or used cleats and soccer gear to donate. We’ll pick it up right at the airport so you don’t have to carry it on your trip. For more info go to Tacos4Ticos.org.
- Leave photocopies of your passport, drivers’ license, credit cards, airline tickets and any reservation that you have prepaid with your home emergency contact person
- If you are visiting from US or Canada, there is no need to bring electric converters as they are the same in Costa Rica
- There is no point in carrying all of your keys
- Make sure you have plenty of storage on your memory card(s)
- Leave expensive and irreplaceable jewelry at home
- If you plan on using your credit card frequently, it is very important that prior leaving your trip, to inform your bank that you will be in Costa Rica.
Fishing in Costa Rica
(More about Fishing seasons and each destination in our Travel Guide section for sportfishing).
Fishing Licence: do I need one and where to get it?
Fishing licenses are required for 16 years and older, and only for those who actually plan to fish. That is, people who are just going for the ride on the boat do not need a license.
Licenses can be pre-purchased through your travel consultant or can be purchased at the dock. If you purchase through us, we will email the license as a PDF and you must print it out and bring it with you on the boat. If you purchase at the dock, please note that only cash is accepted.
Cost PER PERSON for a fishing license is US$15 for 7 days, US$30 for 15 days and US$50 for 1 month.
Recommendations for tipping
When heading out on a sport fishing trip, it’s customary to tip the crew! The customary tip is 15% to 20% of the charter cost. For an exact amount, please ask your travel consultant and they can provide the charter cost.