Helpful Tips and Tricks for Travel in Costa Rica

Mary Gross is a student at Concordia University Portland and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is currently studying abroad with ISA in San Jose, Costa Rica

Little snippets of wisdom I have picked up from my time studying abroad in Costa Rica. Through my weekend travels, I have compiled a list of Costa Rican essentials that will help anyone else traveling here. Learn from my mistakes and avoid making them in the first place!

Always bring sunscreen, bug spray, and chapstick.

Costa Rica is HOT and humid. Do not make the mistake of forgetting sunscreen. You will regret it the next day, I promise. Bring chapstick to protect your lips from getting sunburnt as well. Bug spray is also a must-have. Always have these three things on you to save yourself from a lot of discomforts!

Ask locals about their favorite places.

When planning weekend trips, rely more on word of mouth from locals (ask your host parents, Uber drivers, teachers, or other students for their favorite places) than on the internet. A lot of beautiful places in Costa Rica are not discoverable via the internet, so do not rely on Google as your guide here. This applies to finding the bus stations and buying your tickets here as well – most of the time you will not be able to book buses online in Costa Rica, and you will have to ask around where the bus station is and go there in person to buy your ticket.

Travel cheaper and better.

Stay at hostels, rather than hotels, to save money. Many hostels in Costa Rica have options for less than $10 a night – if you are willing to sleep in a hammock or share a dormitory-style room with other travelers (both of which I have done and thoroughly recommend). At your hostel you will have access to a fully equipped kitchen – take advantage of this and buy groceries to make your own meals instead of eating out. You will be able to buy fresh fruit and vegetables at local markets for very cheap. These things will save you a lot of money that you can spend on other things, like excursions.

Always carry cash on you.

This one is twofold: 1. Always have cash, rather than a credit or debit card. 2. Always keep your cash on your person, not in a backpack that you will stow under the bus. It’s happened to me, and it’s happened to many of my friends here, that our cards get declined while we are away on a weekend trip. Luckily, my friends were able to spot me, but I have learned never to rely on using my card while I’m away for the weekend. Half the time the ATM machines are broken and it’s really not a risk worth taking. So my advice to you is to always take out cash before you leave for your weekend trip – and take out more cash than you plan on spending, just to be on the safe side. Keep your cash on you at all times, in a discreet place, to avoid the likelihood of being robbed. I usually carry my cash in a small purse or a fanny pack, and it never leaves me.

Travel in small groups.

It is safer to travel with at least one other person than it is to travel alone here, especially for girls. And it is better to travel in a small group, rather than a large one, because more opportunities will be available to you. Traveling in a smaller group, of 2 to 4 people, ensures your safety when you are out in sketchy parts of the country, and it also makes you more approachable to fellow travelers that you may want to befriend. Traveling in a smaller group also makes planning easier because fewer opinions need to be considered, it’s possible to all share one taxi, and there are plenty of group excursions you will be able to do altogether when you travel with the smaller number.

When in doubt, drink bottled water.

There are areas in Costa Rica where the water is safe to drink and there are places where it isn’t. My advice is if you are traveling somewhere new, drink bottled water instead of tap water. Better safe than sorry. And if you are traveling during the 90+ degree weather under the scorching Costa Rican sun, consider mixing a packet of Tang in your bottled water for extra electrolytes to avoid heat stroke. Tang comes in a variety of flavors in Costa Rica, and it is delicious!

Keep your camera ready.

As you probably already know, Costa Rica is a beautiful country. I have encountered lizards, snakes, monkeys, raccoons, poisonous tree frogs, butterflies, toucans, and a baby sea turtle. And I have captured many beautiful pictures of these animals. Make sure you travel with your camera, ready to go, so that you don’t miss any surprise photo opportunities!

The world awaits…discover it.

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