Insider information – pass it along and share with your friends
Costa Rica Guide is packed with important practical information about passport validity and rental car insurance but we’ve also accumulated a list of less critical but helpful tips that you’ll appreciate.
None of these tips is going to save your life but they might save you a little money, time or embarrassment.
That Cop isn’t Waving to be Friendly – If you see a police officer standing by the side of the road waving at you don’t wave back and drive on past. Most traffic stops in Costa Rica are conducted from the side of the road so instead of flashing lights and a siren you’ll likely be pulled over by a simple wave followed by pointing at the shoulder where you should pull over.
Spend Dollars Get Colones – Never buy colones at home or in an airport. The exchange rates and commissions are atrocious. US$ are accepted nearly everywhere in Costa Rica and you will receive your change in Colones at a very fair rate (some of the big international chains like Denny’s, Hertz and Holiday Inn will Charge a significant commission, but generally not the local businesses). In a day or two you’ll have plenty of Colones to spend at the occasional snack stand on the beach that only accepts local currency.
BYO TP – A small packet of kleenex in a purse or a camera bag comes in handy if you need to use a restroom on the road. Service stations, small restaurants and National Park visitors centers frequently do not supply toilet paper.
That Stinks – Another bathroom tip. There are almost never fans in Costa Rican bathrooms. You may have paid $400 a night for a beachfront suite but even there odds are you’ll have to make do with a small window for ventilation.
Free “Taxi” – Most canopy ziplines, rafting trips, horseback rides and other tours include transportation from and to your lodge and most other lodges around the area you’re visiting. Whenever we’ve asked they’ve been happy to drop us off anywhere in their service area. Of course they aren’t obligated to accommodate you but if they are headed into La Fortuna to drop off other clients it doesn’t cost them anything to drop you there instead of delivering you back to Tabacón or another resort you’re staying at.
This works especially well in areas like Arenal, Monteverde and Manuel Antonio where you might want to go into town for some souvenir shopping or to try another restaurant and it’s likely other tour clients are already headed there. You only have to pay for a taxi one way instead of both and have an extra $15 to splurge on desert.
Better than Branding Cattle, But Not Much – The bright neon plastic wristbands that many resorts and lodges use to identify whether you qualify to drink free at the bar, use the hotsprings, which dinner menu you should see and even whether you should be allowed on the grounds are something I can live without.
I’ve always asked politely if I can carry it in my pocket instead of wearing it and they’ve always agreed. If they seem hesitant tell them you’re allergic to some plastics or that it bothers you in bed and you can’t sleep.
You Have to be at the Airport Earlier – Costa Rica is one of the only countries in the world where you have to pay a departure tax in person. You can do it when you arrive, in advance at up-scale airport hotels, or at the desk in the airport before you check in.
Regardless of when you pay your tax, immigration reserves one hour prior to your flight departure to use the information you submit to check up on you. Because they need this time the airlines are forced to close check-in one hour before departure so if you aren’t done and in line for security an hour early you may have to wait for the next flight.
In 2014 they announced to great fanfare that the tax would be included in all airfare. By mid-2015 this has not actually happened but it may in the future.
TIP – At LIR there is a secret window at Banco Lafise near the exit from customs (at the far end of the airport away from the check-in windows) that is sometimes faster.
Blanket—Ask for a blanket. When you walk in to your hotel it might be 90° and 90% percent humidity but at two in the morning the air conditioning, the weather front or the altitude may catch you by surprise and at least once you’ll want the option of just pulling on another cover. It will nearly never be provided so ask when you check in.
Passport Copies—Ask the rental agency or your first night hotel to copy the picture and visa page of your passport. There is no reason to carry your passport on your raft trip (leave it in your hotel safe or at the desk) because a copy is sufficient and accepted, BUT it does no good to make a copy of your passport before you leave home because the entry visa is required.
Your first opportunity for a valid copy will be at the car rental agency desk or if you’re not renting at your arrival hotel. Take advantage of it then don’t expose your passport to unnecessary risk.
Fill ‘er up Often—If you’re driving fill the tank every time you get close to half full. There is nearly nowhere in Costa Rica where you can’t reach a full service station with half a tank. However, there are a number of places where a quarter tank will leave you walking down the road with an empty soda bottle hoping to find someone with a full tank, a piece of hose and willingness to give up a couple of liters for less than the $100 left from your last ATM transaction.