Costa Rica Travel Information
Do I need a visa? What language do they speak? What money do they use? What side of the road do they drive on? Is the water safe to drink? What shots do I need for Costa Rica? Here are answers to some of the common questions travelers ask about travel to Costa Rica, and some info about guidebooks, Spanish language books, and maps.
Travel to Costa Rica: Questions, Answers, Tips and More
Where is Costa Rica located? Costa Rica is located in Central America, north of Panama and south of Nicaragua. See Googlemap for details.
Do I need a Visa for Costa Rica? Maybe. It depends on the purpose of your trip. As a Canadian, I filled in a tourist visa application on the inbound flight. But check what's needed to enter Costa Rica from your country according to your purposes (holiday, business etc) on my Do I need a visa page.
Is it safe to travel to Costa Rica? Generally, yes, it's safe to travel to Costa Rica, with a few precautions. As a solo woman traveler, I was advised by several Costaricans not to take the bus and explore the San Jose market by myself.
Though they emphasized that Costa Ricans are non-violent for the most part, they felt that I would stand out as a foreigner and so be a target for street vendors and pickpockets. Keep your wits about you and leave good jewellery at home.
One traveler I met had rented a car, and when he stopped at the side of the road to change a flat tire, a passing car slowed down, someone reached into the open window of his disabled car and stole his camera that had been lying on the front seat, then sped off before he could react. "I know better than to stop along the freeway," he said. "Yet I did it anyhow. I had been told if I got a flat tire to keep driving to a service station."
Are There Any Travel Advisories for Costa Rica? Travel advisories are posted by government agencies. See government travel advisory links, info this page for UK, USA, Canada, Australia to check for any current issues and my travel tips section for all kinds of info.
Travel Health and Vaccinations for Costa Rica : Do I need shots for Costa Rica? Consult a travel health clinic or your own doctor to be sure the usual shots (polio, tetanus, etc). Vaccinations for Hep A and B may be recommended.
Health Dental Care Costa Rica Clinics Costa Rica is proud of its excellent health care system, and patient-clients from around the world travel to San Jose and area to be treated at the clinics there. Dental and cosmetic procedures are a big draw for these visitors who are drawn to Costa Rica by its reputation for top level, cost-effective care.
Is the water safe to drink in Costa Rica? Generally, the tap water is potable (safe to drink) though it may taste different than you are used to, due to different minerals etc., so drink bottled water to be sure of not upsetting your tummy.
Costa Rica Weather and Climate : When is the best time to travel to Costa Rica? Costa Rica enjoys good weather year round, but the most popular time to travel is during the dry season in the central area and Pacific coast: Novemeber to May.
For the Caribbean coast, there is no dry season. Bear in mind that even if you plan to stay on the drier northwest province of Guanacaste, you may take day tours to the volcanoes and cloud forests.
As you go higher in altitude, the temperatures drop dramatically, and you'll need rain jacket / poncho and other light jacket to stay comfortable and dry. See travel packing clothing, and the list for Holidays to Dominican.
What to Pack for Costa Rica See my Travel Tips home page for general packing tips, and what to wear and pack for any trip to any place at any time. As well, I needed a warm fleece jacket for getting to from the Toronto airport in winter. If you are touring the volcanoes, then pack a rain jacket. It's COLD at altitude!
Costa Rica Airports, Departure Tax I arrived in San Jose (Juan Santamaría International, SJO airport code). A friend who is staying at a resort in Guanacaste in the northwest is flying via Liberia (Daniel Oduber Quiros International Aiport, airport code LIR), a few hours' drive north of San Jose.
In January 2010, at SJO, the tax was $26 USD, cash. Some all-inclusive tours may absorb the departure tax as part of the travel package. ATMs are available in the airports so you can make a cash withdrawal.
How long is the flight to Costa Rica? Travel flight times depend on your departure city, but to give you a rough idea, from Toronto (YYZ) to San Jose (SJO), it's about a 5 hour flight; a little shorter if flying into Liberia.
What Language to They Speak in Costa Rica? In Costa Rica, they speak Spanish, the official language, but English is widely spoken in tourist areas. As always, it's a good idea to carry a Latin American Spanish phrasebook with you. See this list of Spanish Phrasebooks on Amazon.com.
What Money (Currency) do they use in Costa Rica? The currency used in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican Colon (CRC) Rates fluctuate, but roughly $1 U.S. dollar = 562 Costa Rican colones. See travel currency tips for how to carry travel money safely, money belts, wallets etc.
ATMs in Costa Rica will dispense funds in either dollars or colones: your choice. If you will be buying goods at local markets, opt for colones to get the better price. Prices in colones converted to U.S. dollars may be rounded up, and vendors may not be able to make change in U.S. dollars. I used my credit cards for tours, souvenirs, etc. without any problems.
What side of the road do they drive on? In Costa Rica, they drive on the right. Your hotel or car rental agency may have tourism and road maps, but to be sure you have one, and to help plan your trip itinerary, get a waterproof map Costa Rica (Amazon). While much information is online, it's not accessible 24/7 :-)
What are the roads like in Costa Rica? Around the larger cities, highways / freeways are generally in good condition, but rush hour traffic can be a huge bottleneck. Signs are posted in Spanish, though fairly easy to read. Driving time from San Jose to Jaco on the Pacific coast is about 2 hours, depending on traffic. A new highway under construction should shorten the trip to about one hour.
Can I rent a car in Costa Rica? What kind of Car? If you are renting a vehicle, a 4WD is best to navigate rural roads. Heavy rains can turn some roads into mud holes. One traveler who rented a car used it for only two days before turning it in for a 4WD vehicle. If you are traveling with a group, rent one of the larger 4WDs to be sure to have room for your passengers and their luggage. Most car rental agencies do not allow anything carried on the vehicle roof rack except for surfboards. Most vehicles are manual transmission, so be sure you upgrade your skills if you are used to driving a car with an automatic transmisson.
Costa Rica Travel Guidebooks Look for a current one for the most up to date info - see new travel guide Costa Rica
What is the food like in Costa Rica? Tico, Gallo Pinto The foods in Costa Rica are similar to foods in North America and Europe, but with Costa Rica's own special flavors. You'll see Tico food, meaning the traditional Costarican meals, on menus all around the country, for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Tico food includes Gallo Pinto, seasoned rice and black beans. Breakfasts include scrambled eggs, bacon, ham, sausages or fruit, often pancakes and maple syrup. Of course, Costa Rican coffee is top of the line!
What do hotels cost in Costa Rica? Like anywhere else, hotel rates vary widely. In San Jose, I paid under $65 USD night for a comfortable room, with free breakfast and internet. A friend paid a lot more at a 5 star resort in Guanacaste. Other friends drove around Costa Rica and stayed at B & Bs for about $40 USD /night. Try the Adventure Inn and Best Western Irazu (see my blog post) and browse all Costa Rica travel specials.
Internet in Costa Rica In San Jose hotels I stayed in, internet was free and set up in computer roons, with wireless available throughout the hotels.