I did a short 9 day tour of Costa Rica with a travel company called GAdventures. I went about mid-way through my exploration of Colombia and I went with a tour company for a change of pace. Since it was with GAdventures, it was always go-go, which was great because we only had 9 days. Well more like 8 at most. It was my second tour with GAdventures, first was in Bolivia in 2012.
Below are are the cities we went through:
- San Jose
- La Fortuna
Things you must do:
- Manuel Antonio National Park in Quepos
- White Water Rafting (With Desafio Adventure Company. Between San Jose and La Fortuna)
- Superman Ziplining and Tarzan Swing Bungee Jump in Monteverde (100% Aventura)
Bring your US dollars! They are good here! But don’t expect to get any dead presidents back in change. You will get the native currency, Colones, for your change.
Costa Rican Colones consists of plastic paper money and coins. Plastic money is awesome because it’s durable and most importantly you can keep some in your swimming trunks without worrying about it getting soggy.
As for current conversion rates, it’s pretty simple. When I was there 1 US Dollar was about 535 colones. But when you buy things with cash, the conversion rate will essentially be 1 US Dollar = 500 Colones. So if you buy something that costs 1500 Colones, and you pay with a $5 bill, you will get 1,000 Colones in change. If you paid with credit card, you might get an exact conversion, depends on how they charge you (In Colones or Dollars). In touristy places, like souvenir shops, things are often priced in dollars. But otherwise things are usually price in Colones. Don’t worry though, EVERYBODY takes the almighty US dollar!
Also, very important, DO NOT exchange your US dollars for Colones when you get to the airport! First of all there is no need since dollars are accepted everywhere, but more importantly, while they say there is no exchange fee, they are giving you about 25% less for your dollar. It’s a scam, really. Some countries you have no choice. Or if you are bringing any other currency such as Euros. But please, if your stacks are in USD, steer clear.
Anyways, as of this writing the conversion is simple and stable. We will see if that changes any time soon.
Taxis are red and they have meters. A lot of unregistered taxis which don’t have meters, so you might want to negotiate before you take off (a la Bolivia). Prices are similar to what I was used to paying in the states to my dismay (I was used to Colombia’s prices at the time). No Uber but it may be coming as I did see an ‘Uber in Costa Rica’ presentation at one of the hotels I stayed at.
You will want to take buses from city to city. Not really any way to fly from city to city in Costa Rica like I was used to in Colombia.
For a Latin American country, English is spoken heavily. Definitely not to say everyone speaks English but the first taxi driver I met spoke perfect English. Many waiters and waitresses at restaurants spoke it. That’s not to say you won’t get plenty of opportunities to practice your Spanish though, and you will still want to learn the native tongue if living in Costa Rica.
Warm in San Jose for the most part. Hot in Quepos. Can get a little chilly in the mountains in Monteverde and La Fortuna. It’s the rain forest so you can expect rain.
Rice and beans! Ticos (what Costa Ricans call themselves) love to use those two basic variables in any dish. Their healthy food combined with their active lifestyle is one reason why they are such a healthy and happy people.
There are plenty of options for food so if you aren’t a rice and beans kind of person don’t worry. The best restuarant I went to was probably a Peruvian called Machu Picchu or something along those lines. I had lunch at a Subway in San Jose that was more expensive than what I’d pay in the states (Costa Rica isn’t exactly cheap).
Hostels are everywhere as well as decent hotels. Never had any issues with places that I stayed at, except WiFi reception at most places left a lot to be desired. If you are visiting Costa Rica you shouldn’t be inside on Facebook or Netflix though anyways right? Too much to do and see. I didn’t stay at any Airbnb places but I know there is a big Airbnb market there.
Hostels are the best places to meet fellow travelers and foreigners. If you want to meet some Ticos or Ticas, dating apps are popular especially Tinder. A cool bar in Monteverder called Bar Amigos is a really good place to meet fellow travelers and Ticos. It’s really the only good bar in Monteverde.
San Jose has it’s bad spots but you would never go near those neighborhoods. Incredibly safe country especially for Latin America, your only concern should be avoiding being eaten by an croc or drowning in the ocean (there are no life guards every 100 feet like we have in the states).
Ticos are often said to be the happiest people in the world and it’s easy to see why. Beautiful beaches, great weather year round, rainforests to explore, a stunning array of wildlife, eco-friendly, and even a stable economy, the list goes on and on. A country everyone should visit at least once. If you haven’t gone, you need to go.
Oh, and Pura Vida!