How to Plan a Trip to Costa Rica On Your Own
The easiest way to travel independently in Costa Rica is to pick a beach resort, go there and relax. Second easiest is to rent an SUV, grab a guidebook and wing it, finding places to stay as you go.
If you’re not comfortable with that much flexibility, already have destinations in mind or have limited time you’ll want to create and reserve a workable itinerary to follow.
There are a few general suggestions below.
Don’t Try to Do Too Much
Two destinations in a week, three in ten days and four in two weeks is a reasonable target.
Find Destinations/Regions First, Figure out Transportation Second & Pick Hotels Last
Don’t sweat the details until you have an overall plan.
Making and confirming reservations can be time consuming and often they are non-refundable or include penalties so changing your mind can be expensive.
Once you have an idea of where you want to go start figuring out how to get there. Sometimes it’s a simple matter of renting an SUV and driving from place to place, but there are also destinations that can’t be reached by road or simply take too long.
The main reason we suggest planning transportation before reserving hotels is that you may discover you’re trying to do too much and it’s a lot easier to adjust if you don’t have a bunch of reservations.
Transportation on Your Own
If you have a lot of time (at least three weeks) that gives you a lot of flexibility to just wing it, take public buses and find a place to stay when you arrive.
If you’re planning a shorter trip we’d suggest that you rent an SUV because public buses can consume a lot of travel time.
There are also private transportation companies that run shuttles between tourist destinations. There’s no company that serves all of Costa Rica so it’s quite a bit easier to work with your hotel or a travel service than trying to reserve, pay for and confirm these private shuttles on your own. The price is usually the same or sometimes even lower.
If You’re Winging it be Flexible and Carry Mad Money
We’ve spent months on the road without a single reservation getting around by public bus, bicycle and rental SUV. It can be a blast and outside the weeks around Christmas, New Years and Easter you’ll rarely have trouble finding a place to stay (in high season you may not get your first choice but there will be something).
The most important advice we can give for winging it is to take advantage of the flexibility you have. If some place is great stay an extra few nights, if it’s not move on.
It helps tremendously to have a bit of mad money to move up a class or two in lodging occasionally so you don’t miss out on an area just because all the mid-priced lodges are full or to treat yourself to a little luxury if you start to run out of steam.