Tips on Traveling in Costa Rica
Costa Rica - Between Two Oceans
Vacation Tips for Planning Your Trip
If you plan to visit Costa Rica, planning ahead pays off. There are many different interesting things to do and see, and tourist attractions are scattered all over the country. It is also important to know that there are a few possible distractions that can interrupt travel plans to make your trip less than perfect. So, it is in these contexts that I am going to give several valuable tips on traveling in Costa Rica. I offer advice on selecting hotels, beaches and several other areas of interest for tourists. I have also published another article on traveling in Costa Rica which complements this piece.
Look Up Online Reviews Before Booking
I have used TripAdvisor many times to find suitable and even out-of-the-way places for lodging in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. I respect the honesty of individuals who have visited a place. So, I recommend that you do the same. Pay special attention to the end of each review where it says “Would I go back to the __________? If they say no, then take that as a word of caution.
But I would be amiss if I didn’t tell you to also watch for phony reviews. It is said that TripAdvisor and other travel forums are being packed with fake glowing reviews. These reviews are being written by people who are getting paid to create fake identities and positive feedback. Although TripAdvisor has a review process that weeds out the obvious fakes, I advise you to be wary of glittery reviews anyway.
I like to read the online reviews that are given a rating between 2 and 4. Here you can see critical viewpoints of a place. No place is perfect for all people, and everyone has different needs and wants. If enough people review a place, they surely you will find someone who addresses points of view that are similar to yours.
Travel Guides for Tourists
Read a Tourist Guide
Additional advice comes from Christopher Baker in his Costa Rica Handbook: "…..too many Costa Rican hoteliers are abusive to guests and fail to rectify faults with their hotels. …….. Failure to honor reservations is another common complaint. Discounts or refunds are rarely offered, regardless of circumstances. The problem spans all price levels, … and foreign-owned properties have a better record.” So, if you don't have a previous booking and are at the hotel, inspect the room first before you commit.
Finally, I recommend Frommer’s Guide for its reviews. It is always expensive to take a vacation and the small investment of a guidebook can pay off quickly.
Check for Complaints Published Online
Before finishing booking, check for consumer fraud reports on the Costa Rica section of the web site Complaints Board before booking. There are some, albeit a few, that have been reported to overcharge on credit cards, particularly one place in Jaco Beach area and three different car rental agencies (all internationally known). Another report was for some poor fellows who lost a surf boards that weren’t tied down well on top of the shuttle bus - the company wouldn’t cover the loss. So check out shuttle services before you book.
Other complaints are also found on this site. A particularly distressing incident happened at the Riu Guanacaste Hotel, where $3000 of bridal gifts were reported stolen. And the staff never admitted culpability, even though one of the employees was seen taking the gift envelopes after the ceremony.
Don't Go to Some Beaches Expecting a Relaxing Time
The popular beaches have plenty of peddlers who want to sell you Peruvian whistles, beads, pipas (coconut water), granizados (sno-cones with sweet milk powder), ceviche (lime-pickled fish), massages, pottery, beads or whatever. So, if you want a quiet beach time, go to a beach that doesn’t have easy car or foot access. Early mornings are usually quiet times on busy beaches though. Some of the resorts that I know of in Guanacaste have boats that will take you to these beaches so you can relax and not be bothered by vendors. If you can find a beach that is on the Internet and there are resorts there, expect to find someone there who will be offering something for sale. Just say, "No, gracias."
Several More Valuable Tips on Travelling in Costa Rica
- Rainy season advice. Bring a poncho with you if you are going during the rainy season or if you are going to do a rainforest tour. If you have an expensive camera, buy an expensive rain sleeve to protect it or take a camera that is water-proof.
- Check on prices or be hesitant with a vendor if you are buying something or want a specific service. Services provided outside of the hotels can be cheaper than those in the hotel, like massages on the beach. Be willing to walk away and talk again with them again later. Tourist prices are always higher than what the "Ticos" are charged.
- If you book at an all-inclusive resort, find one that suits your needs and vacation goals. Some resorts have many activities and they cater to different needs, from relaxation to partying (even parties for adults who have risque lifestyles). In family resorts, there are usually plenty entertainment activities. Find a resort that is small in a remote location if you want to relax.
- If you are frugal, bring your own cosmetics, shampoo, etc. because the prices on these things in stores is usually twice that paid in other countries, including Nicaragua and Panama.
- On certain beaches there are an abundant number of thorny trees which shed limbs and thorns regularly. So if you around these trees, these inch-long thorns can penetrate through the thin soles of your flip-flops. So, it is better to wear tennis shoes or thicker sole sandals if you are wandering off the beach on trails.
- If you are wandering on trails near estuaries or rivers, watch for crocodiles, snakes and ants. My strategy, as I like taking photos in out-of-the-way places like these, is to walk very slowly and inspect about a 5-10 foot area around where I place each step. This way, I see many things that others would miss and I avoid stepping in the wrong place.
- On some beaches the waves are very high and there is usually a strong riptide (like Cabuyal beach near Papagayo Peninsula). Don't wander to far out and get local advice regarding swimming safely on the beach. Many of the drownings that occur on the beaches involve tourists who have been drinking too much alcohol.
- See my other HubPage articles on Costa Rica, which includes information on festivals and food. My articles have many photos as well. I also have a blogspot site called GuanacasteCostaRica-MiTierra.
Lastly, if anyone has more tips to add to this list, I am always open to suggestions. Add your comments below.