costa rica travel tips

  • Health

Medical attention is available in the whole country and many doctors speak English. For particular medical care, arrangements can be made through the hotels or Aratinga Tours.
Hepatitis A vaccination is recommended, typhoid fever and hepatitis B vaccinations might be considered. A vaccination for yellow fever is only mandatory in case you travel from a country where yellow fever can occur.
The risk of malaria is almost =0 in touristic areas as such that drug prevention is not necessary. Dengue fever may occur in highly populated areas in tropical lowlands. It is therefore always recommended to use insect repellent to prevent mosquito stings.
Traveler’s diarrhea can not always be prevented. Therefor we reccomand to your hands regularly and be aware of where and what you eat. People with sensitive intestines should avoid tap water. Don’t forget to include loperamide (Imodium), ORS (Oral Rehydration Solution) sachets and possibly an antibiotic in your travel kit.
We finally recommend you to contact your personal doctor or local health care authority for the most recent and personalized information.

  • Costa Rica climate

Costa Rica has a tropical climate. The average temperature is 21°C in the highlands and around 28°C in the lowlands. There is a rainy season from half May until November. The dry season lasts from December until half May. During the rainy season  mornings are usually sunny.
Seasonal differences in temperature are rather small and temperature mostly depends on the altitude. Climate in the Caribbean side of the country is significantly different than the rest of the country with rain more evenly distributed throughout the year and November and December being the wettest  months.

  • Clothing

Because of the heat and humidity in the lowlands we reccomand  to wear light clothes that allow easy and fast drying. When you plan to walk in the rainforest it is advisable to cover as much of your skin  to protect yourself from misquito and other  bites. Long sleeve pants and shirts, and closed shoes are therefor reccomanded.  During any time of the year you should be prepared for rain: a light raincoat and/or umbrella will do. Keep in mind that in the highlands it can be quite cold, especially at night, an extra fleece or pull-over is always handy.
Tevas or sandals are recommended to walk on the beach. Also pack some closed, comfortable shoes for hiking in the rainforest. Also bring a hat and or  sunglasses to protect you against the sun.

  • Documents

Most Europeans and North Americans do not need a visa, but they do need a passport that is valid for at least 6 months after the date of arrival. We recommend you to make a copy of your passport and bring it with you, as well as a couple of photos (passport size). This will make things easier in case you  lose the original.
If you travel to Costa Rica from Europe or somewhere else with a stopover in  the United States of America, you need to apply for a travel authorization at least 72 hours in advance. You can find all information on the website: https://esta.cbp.dhs.

  • Costa Rica currency

The “Colón” is the national  Costa Rica currency, but US dollars are widely accepted. Up to date exchange rates can be found on:
Tourists are advised to bring US dollars or traveller’s cheques. Bring small units of cash as 50 and especially 100 usd bills might not be accepted.
If necessary, you can change your money in the bank (bring your passport) or a recognized exchange offices. We strongly discourage you to change your money on the streets!
The most important credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, American Express) are widely accepted in most shops, restaurants, bars, hotels and car-rental agencies. Also ATM machines are widely available in the major cities in Costa Rica.
Euros are generally not accepted.

  • Electricity and voltage

Voltage of the electricity network is 110V in Costa Rica and plug sockets are of the American type. In order to use the plugs, to charge batteries of cameras and mobile phones, an adapter  might be necessary.

  • Opening hours

Opening hours in Costa Rica vary according to the type of business. Governmental offices and services generally open from 08.00 until 17.00h. Lunch break often takes 2 hours. Most banks open from 09.00 till 15.00h and do not close at noon. Shops generally open from 09.00 till 19.00h, from Monday until Saturday. Many supermarkets and grocery stores also open on Sunday; small businesses then close at noon.

  • Tips and taxes

In most restaurants, a 10% service  and 13% taxes are additionally charged on the amount mentioned on the menu (unless it is clearly stated in the menu that these charges are already included). If you are very pleased with the service or the food, you can always pay an extra tip.
Carriers in hotels are usually paid 1 US$ per bag, room maids 1 US$ per day.
A guideline for guides, drivers and tour leaders is about 1 to 2 US$ per person per day.
Airport taxe is  29 US$ per person to be paid locally in colones or dollars or by vredit card.

  • Communication

Costa Rica has one of the most advanced telecommunication systems in Latin America. There is a relatively well-developed mobile phone network and good access to internet in most cities and hotels. In many  hotels a free wireless netwerk is available in the common areas for free. Some even have computers available for hoteguest.
International phone calls from Costa Rica can be made through an operator by dialing 116 and following the instructions or by dialing 00 + country code + desired number. Be aware of the fact that calling from your hotel room normally is quite expensive. A cheap  alternative to make a phone call abroad could be to buy a “Kobï” prepay card (Tarjeta Kolbï prepago), which can be used in public phone boots and fixed telephone lines. These prepay cards are widly distributed in supermarkets, farmacies and ICE offices and can be bought with a 500 colones, 1000, 2500, 5000 and 10000 colones credit. Today some hotels also offer free international calls through skype. Looking for an internet café and making an international call through skype obviously is also a very cheap option.

  • US Embassy  in Costa Rica

Phone number: 2519-2000
Phone number in case of emergencies: 2519-2280 or 2519-2279
Address: At the intersection of Avenida Central and Calle 120 in the Pavas Section of San José, Costa Rica; Calle 120 Avenida 0, Pavas, San José, Costa Rica

  •  UK Embassy in Costa Rica: 

Phone number: 2519-2000
Adress: Edificio Centro Colon, 11th floor, San José Costa Rica

  •  Costa Rica holidays

• January 1st: New Year
• April 11th: celebration of the national hero Juan Santamaría
• Holy Week (Semana Santa): March or April. The Thursday and Friday before Easter Sunday are the official holidays, though most businesses shut down the whole week. From Thursday to Sunday bars are closed and alcohol sales are prohibited; on Thursday and Friday public buses stop running
• May 1st: Labour Day
• July 25th: celebration of the annexation of Guanacaste
• August 2nd: celebration of “la Virgen de Los Angeles”, Costa Rica’s patron saint with a religious procession to Cartago
• August 15th: Mother’s Day
• September 15th: Independence Day
• October 12th: Colombus Day
• December 24th / 25th: Christmas

  • For your safety: some tips

Costa Rica is not more dangerous than any other country, but we would like to give you some tips in order to avoid problems.
• Keep in mind that you are a tourist in Costa Rica and therefore will stand out from the local population.
• Never walk alone or without a guide in isolated areas, beaches or streets.
• Avoid wearing expensive jewellery in public.
• Be discrete with your money and valuables (camera, mobile phone…), you’ll carry more on you than the average Costa Rican.
• Always keep an eye on your belongings. Don’t leave valuables inside of your car when leaving it behind.
• Wear your personal belongings tight to your body when walking in public. Especially in downtown San José you should be alert for pickpockets. Don’t get distracted by them: they often work in teams one distracting you from your luggage and another one going after it.
• In case you are lost and want to look at a map, do it in a public and safe place. Don’t give the impression to be lost in front of strangers, and ask for directions with a policeman.
• Make use of the hotel safe to keep your money, credit cards, documents and other valuables.
• Make two copies of your passport: leave the original one in the hotel safe. Keep one with you and leave one with your luggage. Another option is to have a digital copy of your passport online.
• In case of loss or theft of your passport or other valuables, contact the OIJ (Organismo de Investigación judicial): 2295-3000, where you can obtain an official document confirming the loss. This document is needed in order to get a new passport (together with two photos) or for insurance purposes.
• Don’t keep all your money at one place. Keep a small amount of cash, for example for daily expenses, with you on a safe place. Keep the rest in the hotel safe or your luggage, or distribute it amongst your travel companions.
• In case you bring Traveller Cheques, write the serial numbers down somewhere. This way an eventual loss or theft can be reported easily.
• You might consider a travel insurance in case you take valuable or expensive things with you.
A different type of danger consists of rip currents in sea. Before you go for a swim, ask advice to a local or lifeguard if these are present. At some beaches, a system of flags indicates whether or not it is safe to swim. Preferably do not swim alone. In case you end up in a rip current, stay calm and swim perpendicular to the current or parallel to the beach until you are free and can swim to the shore. Do not fight against the current!

  • Time difference

Costa Rica is 6 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). There is no day-light saving time.