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Costa Rica Travel Tips for Gringos

Updated on February 25, 2011

You Can Drink the Water

I have traveled extensively all throughout Costa Rica for the past five years. From Guanacaste in the north to Manuel Antonio in the southern pacific, I have seen much of this wonderful, exciting country. I have read some of the other hubs on CR here and they are usually full of warnings about the crime, disease, etc. I am here to tell you not to worry about that. I have traveled and lived there for many months at a time and I had very little problems.


Guanacaste is a huge area in the north west Pacific side of Costa Rica. The beaches there are spectacular and there are lots of great beach towns. One of the best things about Guanacaste is the fact that you can fly into Liberia Airport and then drive to the many great beach towns that are 30 to 40 minutes away.

Liberia Airport

Continental, Delta, and several other major U.S. carriers fly into Liberia Airport on a daily basis. The planes are usually quite full so make sure to get your reservations in time. Liberia itself is a fairly large city about 20 minutes from the airport heading northeast. Liberia has restaurants, shops, schools, and a large modern hospital.

There are many car rental agencies in Liberia and all of the major agencies. I suggest that you go with one of the smaller, lesser known agencies such as Solid Rent-A-Car which have better prices and great service. They will bring the car out to the airport for you and sign you up right there so you don't need to come in to their office.

You don't need a 4 x 4 unless you plan on taking river roads and going into rough terrain. The roads in Costa Rica are smooth and new MOST OF THE TIME and over most of the country. Please check with the locals or hotel staff if you are planning on taking any side trips, which you probably will. They will know which roads to avoid. This is important unless you don't mind a ribcage rattling ride that lasts for two hours. Gas is relatively inexpensive and it is best to get a vehicle that uses diesel fuel, which all of the gas stations have. Note: you don't fill it yourself at these gas stations. They workers will do it for you, and clean your windows, check your oil, etc. Just like the good old days. A small tip is plenty, don't overdo it.

Currency Exchange

The Costa Rican currency is called the "colon". As of the writing of this hubpage, one U.S. dollar was equal to 585 Costa Rican colones. Money goes pretty far here if you are careful and shop where the Costa Ricans shop. If you go to tourist trap areas, prices are pretty high and you will pay accordingly.

View from Aqua Sport restaurant of Playa Hermosa in Guanacaste
View from Aqua Sport restaurant of Playa Hermosa in Guanacaste

Crime and Punishment in Costa Rica

Traveling in Costa Rica has it's challenges however and one of them is the prevalent crime against Americans and tourists. Tourists are targeted by pickpockets and thieves mostly. One word of advice (I learned this the hard way), don't leave your passport and laptop in the car, no matter how well you think you've hidden it away.

Don't think you can pop into a store for a few minutes and come back and it will be okay. Wrong again. Thieves will follow you and they will wait until just the right time to break into your car and steal your stuff.

My advice: don't bring your laptop or super expensive electronic items unless you plan to live there for a prolonged period of time. If you bring a digital camera, make sure it is an inexpensive one that you can afford to lose. Do not leave it in the car or in a bag on the beach while you take a swim. It will be gone.

Don't Talk to Crackheads

Sounds like silly advice right? I mean, who would talk to a druggie on purpose? That is the whole point. These guys will come up to you very politely and ask if you need help, directions, anything to get your confidence, then they will rob you blind. So just avoid talking to strangers altogether unless it is in a situation where you have been introduced by someone you know. These guys will come up to you while you are on the beach and offer to bring you food and drink, or take you to a nearby secluded island, or take you on a fishing expedition, etc. Don't fall for it. They are just trying to glom off you and possibly worse.


Don't try to buy drugs on the beach or at the bar. Chances are you will be set up. Here's how it works. That cute girl you are talking to is a hooker and you don't know it yet. You just think she's "into you". Your confidence is up. She asks you if you want to buy some cocaine. You're on vacation, you want to please her, so you say, "sure, why not." so you give her some money. She comes back an hour later with the drugs. As you pull out from your parking spot, you are pulled over by the cops, searched thoroughly and presto! they find the bag of dope.

Bribery is a Way of Life for Cops

You are scared. You have seen TV shows about Americans who have been busted in foreign countries and sentenced to hard labor for many years over small quantities of drugs. You freak out, start crying. No need to soil your undies, just take the head cop aside and cut a deal. But don't give them too much. They will ask for a lot but settle for less. $40 to $60 should be about right, but you have to gauge the situation for yourself. And be polite otherwise they may just bust you anyway AND keep your money.

Remember, the hooker set you up. Lesson: Don't do or buy drugs when in a foreign country (or anywhere else for that matter).

So these are just a few tips for my gringo friends when traveling in Costa Rica. More to come.

This sign was in the back of a restaurant near Playa Tamarindo.
This sign was in the back of a restaurant near Playa Tamarindo.


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    • bludstream profile image

      bludstream 8 years ago

      Don't mention it. I am heading back to CR soon, do a little fun and sun and research for the writing of my newest book, "The Crocodile Bridge".

    • fdoleac profile image

      fdoleac 8 years ago from Hollis, New Hampshire

      I am making the rounds on posts in Costa Rica to obtain advice. Thanks for the info.