7 Essential Costa Rica Travel Tips: A Guide for First-Timers to Fully Enjoy Their Visit

Costa Rica, the land of vibrant biodiversity and captivating landscapes, has become a magnet for visitors and property investors alike.  If you’re considering a visit to this tropical paradise, you’re in for an unforgettable experience. However, a visit to this breathtaking country is not without its challenges. If you’re considering a trip to this tropical paradise, it’s essential to prepare for the occasional hurdles.

Whether you’re planning a short vacation or thinking about buying property in Costa Rica in the future, you’ve landed in the right place. In this guide, we’ll unveil some Costa Rica travel tips and insights to help you navigate the inevitable pitfalls and make the most of your trip.

1. Currency Matters: Dollars or Colones?


Costa Rica’s colorful notes are called ‘colones’ and they fit with the vibrancy of this nation.

Let’s start with a Costa Rica travel tip that could save you both money and headaches: when you travel to Costa Rica, convert your Canadian dollars or Euros into US dollars before you embark on your adventure. This is because US dollars are widely accepted throughout the country while other foreign currencies are not, and most transactions can be conducted in US dollars (all property transactions are done in US dollars). 

When you make a purchase at a store or restaurant in dollars, you’ll typically receive Costa Rican colones as change. The exchange rate you will receive will likely be that day’s central bank exchange rate; however, it is good practice to keep track of the current exchange rate yourself and double-check your change to avoid opportunistic practices. Most businesses in Costa Rica aim to offer fair rates to tourists because this country’s economy is so heavily based in tourism, so you can expect to have a pleasant and hassle-free financial experience with some due diligence.

2. Water Quality Insights


Quench your thirst with some tap water when you need to. Our coastal climate can get quite hot so it’s nice to know that we’re never far from a clean glass of H2O.

Costa Rica is blessed with an abundance of natural water sources. Springs and aquifers ensure the country’s water supply is pristine. While most of Costa Rica’s town water systems chlorinate the water to guarantee quality, you might still wonder whether to buy bottled water. The choice is yours, but it’s essential to know that many residents including our entire Osa Tropical Properties team confidently drink tap water daily. So, when it comes to water, you’re in good hands in this tropical paradise. The water’s quality here is, indeed, a hidden treasure.

3. Sun Protection is Essential


Don’t let yourself get pegged for a tourist by getting redder than a lobster. Wear sun protection and stay in the shade to get a full day’s worth of enjoyment in the outdoors, and not a nighttime of pain.

Costa Rica’s tropical climate promises endless sunny days, making sun protection a must. Bring along sunscreen and stylish sun hats – both are critical weapons against the scorching sun. Sunscreen can be eye-blisteringly expensive to buy in Costa Rica, so it’s more cost-effective to bring your own supply. Protect your skin from the sun’s powerful rays to avoid sunburn, especially during outdoor activities and beach visits to avoid missing out on a day of adventure. 

4. Footwear For Explorers


In Costa Rica, it is widely believed that footwear is optional. However, there are times and places where you want to protect your feet from sharp and stingy things.

If you plan to explore Costa Rica’s natural beauty, it’s wise to bring good hiking sandals and closed-toe shoes. Flip-flops might be comfortable for a stroll along the beach, but they’re not suitable for more rugged terrain. Ants and mud can become obstacles, and you’ll find hiking sandals and shoes to be a valuable asset during your adventures. Don’t limit your fun with the wrong footwear because a lot of the most spectacular nature experiences will take you off the beaten trail in Costa Rica.

5. Insect Repellent: Beat the Sandflies


Costa Rica’s beaches can be as bitey as they are beautiful if you are there around sunrise or sunset so it’s best to pack some natural repellent and keep in on you at all times in case of spontaneous sunset stops.

Costa Rica’s beach sunsets are straight out of a dream, but sandflies can be the stuff of nightmares. These tiny insects can be as relentless as the waves during sunset beach visits. To keep these little critters at bay, it’s a good idea to have insect repellent on hand. Opt for a natural repellent if possible, as it’s better for the environment and your skin (citronella essential oil or even a layer of coconut oil will do the trick). This way, you can enjoy the sensational colorful sunsets in peace.

6. Ocean Safety First


We are lucky to have publicly and privately funded lifeguards at least every weekend (and during the week during high tourism season) on three of our most popular beaches in Costa Ballena: Playa Dominical, Playa Hermosa, and Playa Ventanas. Photo from the Guardavidas Costa Ballena Lifeguards.

Costa Rica boasts pristine, wild beaches that call for a refreshing dip in the ocean. However, Mother Nature has her quirks, and riptides can be powerful and common at many beaches. Always swim within the designated areas between the flags and follow the advice of lifeguards. If you are at a beach without lifeguards, this advice is all the more important: if you feel a strong current while wading in the ocean, don’t venture further in; instead, walk along the beach to a calmer spot. Rips can change position, so it’s essential to stay vigilant. If you are not a high-level, very strong swimmer, do not go further than waist-deep in the ocean. The Pacific Ocean’s waves here are strong and consistent, which is why our beaches are so popular with surfers. But they can also sweep an unsuspecting swimmer off their feet (in a not-ideal way). These are all important tips for enjoying the ocean’s embrace in a safe way.

7. Safeguard Your Valuables: Outsmart Petty Theft


Only you can prevent petty theft — unfortunately the police won’t do much to protect you or help afterwards. Stay vigilant and keep your belongings in watchful groups. Opportunists won’t likely bother with the challenge.

While Costa Rica is a welcoming and safe destination, like any tourist hotspot, it’s essential to be cautious of petty theft. Tourists are often targeted because they are perceived to have valuable items like cameras, smartphones, or laptops, which they often times carry around their person. To prevent theft, never leave your belongings unattended, even for a moment. This means that your items should be stored away out of sight when not used and within arm’s reach with your eyes on it at all times. Petty thieves have had a lot of practice in our tourist hotspots and they know when to strike – like when you get up to look at the Scarlet Macaws flying overhead.  Lock your valuables in a safe before leaving your hotel or rental property if you are not taking them with you, and leave everything important at home that you don’t absolutely need to have on your trip like your heirloom necklace given to you by your great grandmother. Also, avoid leaving items in your car, especially if they are visible. Stay vigilant, watch over your possessions, and your visit to Costa Rica will be nothing but joy.

Costa Rica Travel Tips: Where the Negatives Turn Positive

Costa Rica, with its captivating beauty and welcoming embrace, has something for everyone. By following these essential Costa Rica travel tips and being well-prepared, you can make the most of your trip and enjoy all the beauty this Central American gem has to offer. Whether you’re interested in a vacation or considering buying property in Costa Rica, planning ahead and staying aware will ensure a safe and memorable experience. This savvy advice, earned by countless experiences you don’t want to have, along with a dose of common sense, will help you savor the pura vida spirit of Costa Rica to the fullest. So, embark on this journey with confidence and let Costa Rica’s magic unfold before your eyes.

Do you have any other essential Costa Rica travel tips that you think we should add to this list? Leave us a comment below with the tips you always share with visitors and subscribe to our weekly newsletter by filling out the form below to stay informed about all things Costa Rica lifestyle.

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