Bargaining

  • A high standard of living along with a stream of international tourist traffic means that the Latin American tradition of haggling is uncommon in Costa Rica.
  • Negotiating prices at outdoor markets is acceptable, as is bargaining when arranging informal tours or hiring long-distance taxis.

Dangers & Annoyances

Costa Rica is a largely safe country, but petty crime (bag snatchings, car break-ins etc) is common and muggings do occur, so it’s important to be vigilant.

  • Many of Costa Rica’s dangers are nature related: riptides, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are among them.
  • Predatory and venomous wildlife can also pose a threat, so a wildlife guide is essential if trekking in the jungle.

Earthquakes & Volcanic Eruptions

Costa Rica lies on the edge of active tectonic plates, so it is decidedly earthquake prone. Recent major quakes occurred in 1990 (7.1 on the Richter scale), 1991 (7.4) and 2012 (7.6). Smaller quakes and tremors happen quite often (one area that sees particularly frequent seismic activity is the Península de Nicoya), cracking roads and knocking down telephone lines.

Two of the most popular volcanoes in Costa Rica, Poás and Turrialba, have been very active recently with a number of eruptions of varying degrees since 2014 and 2015. Due to safety concerns, the national parks surrounding these protected sites were closed at the time of research. Check the status of each before you visit.

Hiking Hazards

Hikers setting out into the wilderness should be adequately prepared.

  • Know your limits and don’t set out to do a hike you can’t reasonably complete.
  • Carry plenty of water, even on very short trips.
  • Carry maps, extra food and a compass.
  • Let someone know where you are going, so they can narrow the search area in the event of an emergency.
  • Be aware that Costa Rica’s wildlife can pose a threat to hikers, particularly in Parque Nacional Corcovado.

Riptides

Each year Costa Rican waters see more than 100 drownings, the majority of which are caused by riptides (strong currents that pull the swimmer in different directions). Many deaths due to riptides are caused by panicked swimmers struggling to the point of exhaustion. If you are caught in a riptide, do not struggle. Swim parallel to shore; eventually the riptide will dissipate. Alternatively, you can float until the riptide dissipates, then swim parallel to shore and back in where there is no riptide.

Thefts & Muggings

The biggest danger that most travelers face is theft, primarily from pickpockets, but also when personal possessions are left in parked cars. There is a lot of petty crime in Costa Rica, so keep an eye on your belongings and your surroundings at all times.

Government Travel Advice

The following government websites offer travel advisories and information on current hot spots.

  • Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.smarttraveller.gov.au)
  • British Foreign Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
  • Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca)
  • Dutch government (www.nederlandwereldwijd.nl)
  • German Federal Foreign Office (www.auswaertiges-amt.de/de)
  • Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.anzen.mofa.go.jp)
  • New Zealand government (www.safetravel.govt.nz)
  • US State Department (http://travel.state.gov)

Discount Cards

Note that discount cards are not universally accepted at museums and parks.

Costa Rica Discount+ (http://costaricadiscount.com; from US$20/50 for six/60 days) Discounts on car rental, activities and hotels of up to 20%. One card is valid for up to eight people and one vehicle. Buy it online and print it.

International Student Identity Card (ISIC; www.isic.org; around US$20 depending on country of origin) Discounts on museum and tour fees for any full-time student.

International Student Exchange (ISE; www.isecard.com; around US$25 depending on country of origin) Discounts on museums and tour fees for full-time students between 12 and 26 years old.

Electricity

While Costa Rica uses a 110V/60Hz power system that is compatible with North American devices, power surges and fluctuation are frequent.

Embassies & Consulates

Australia and New Zealand do not have consular representation in Costa Rica; their closest embassies are in Mexico City. Most countries are represented in San José. Mornings are the best time to go to embassies and consulates.

Canadian Embassy Behind La Contraloría.

Dutch Embassy

French Embassy On the A022, off the D022 (a smaller road off Rte 2, the road to Curridabat).

German Embassy Northwest of Parque Metropolitano La Sabana.

Guatemalan Embassy Southwest Parque Metropolitano La Sabana.

Honduran Embassy

Israeli Embassy

Italian Embassy Between Avs 2 and 8.

Mexican Embassy Northwest of Parque National.

Nicaraguan Embassy On the corner of 25A, in Carmen (San José).

Panamanian Embassy A block north of Parque El Retiro in San Pedro (San José).

Spanish Embassy

Swiss Embassy

UK Embassy

US Embassy Opposite Centro Comercial del Oeste in Pavas (San José).

Emergency & Important Numbers

Costa Rica's country code506
International access code011
International operator00
Emergency911

Entry & Exit Formalities

  • Entering Costa Rica is mostly free of hassle, with the exception of some long queues at the airport.
  • The vast majority of travelers enter the country by plane, and most international flights arrive at Aeropuerto Internacional Juan Santamaría, outside San José.
  • Liberia is a growing destination for international flights; it is in the Guanacaste province and serves travelers heading to the Península de Nicoya.
  • Overland border crossings are straightforward and travelers can move freely between Panama to the south and Nicaragua to the north.
  • Some foreign nationals will require a visa. Be aware that you cannot get a visa at the border.

Customs Regulations

  • All travelers over the age of 18 are allowed to enter the country with 5L of wine or spirits and 500g of processed tobacco (roughly 400 cigarettes or 50 cigars).
  • Camera gear, binoculars, and camping, snorkeling and other sporting equipment are readily allowed into the country.
  • Dogs and cats are permitted entry providing they have obtained both general-health and rabies-vaccination certificates.
  • Pornography and illicit drugs are prohibited.

Passports

  • Citizens of all nations are required to have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the dates of their trip.
  • The law requires that you carry your passport at all times; if you’re driving, you must have your passport handy, but otherwise the law is seldom enforced.

Onward Tickets

  • Officially, travelers are required to have a ticket out of Costa Rica before they are allowed to enter. This is rarely and erratically enforced.
  • Those arriving overland with no onward ticket can purchase one from international bus companies in Managua (Nicaragua) and Panama City (Panama).

Visas

Most nationalities do not need a visa for stays of up to 90 days. Check the visa requirements for your country at www.costarica-embassy.org.

Requirements

Passport-carrying nationals of the following countries are allowed 90 days’ stay with no visa: Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Panama, South Africa, the US and most Western European countries.

Most other visitors require a visa from a Costa Rican embassy or consulate.

For the latest info on visas, check the websites of the ICT (www.ict.go.cr/en) or the Costa Rican Embassy (www.costarica-embassy.org).

Extensions

  • Extending your stay beyond the authorized 30 or 90 days is time-consuming; it’s easier to leave the country for 72 hours and then re-enter.
  • Extensions can be handled by migración offices.
  • Requirements for extensions change, so allow several working days.

Etiquette

While Ticos are very laid-back as a people, they are also very conscientious about being bien educado (polite). A greeting when you make eye contact with someone, or more generally maintaining a respectful demeanor and a smile, will go a long way.

  • Asking for help Say disculpe (literally translated as 'sorry') to get someone’s attention, perdón (also literally translated as 'sorry') to apologise.
  • Visiting indigenous communities Ask permission to take photos, particularly of children, and dress more modestly than you would at the beach.
  • Surfing Novices should learn the etiquette of the lineup, not drop in on other surfers, and be aware of swimmers in their path.
  • Hitchhiking Picking up hitchhikers in rural areas is common. If you get a ride from a local, offer a small contribution towards the cost of the fuel.
  • Topless sunbathing It isn’t customary for women to sunbathe topless in public.

LGBT Travellers

In Costa Rica the situation facing gay and lesbian travelers is better than in most Central American countries, and some areas of the country – particularly Quepos and Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio – have been gay vacation destinations for two decades. Homosexual acts are legal, and in 2015 Costa Rica became the first country in Central America to recognize gay relationships. Still, most Costa Ricans are tolerant of homosexuality only at a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ level. Same-sex couples are unlikely to be the subject of harassment, though public displays of affection might attract unwanted attention.

The undisputed gay and lesbian capital of Costa Rica is Manuel Antonio; while there, you can pick up an issue of Playita (www.gaymanuelantonio.com/playita-magazine.html). The Spanish-language magazine Gente 10 (www.gente10.com) is available at gay bars in San José.

Agua Buena Human Rights Association This noteworthy nonprofit organization has campaigned steadily for fairness in medical treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS in Costa Rica.

Center of Investigation & Promotion of Human Rights in Central America The leading gay activist organization in Costa Rica.

Toto Tours Gay-travel specialist that organizes regular trips to Costa Rica, among other destinations.

Insurance

It's vital that travelers purchase the right type of travel insurance before coming to Costa Rica. Basic insurance tends to cover medical expenses, baggage loss, trip cancellation, accidents and personal liability, but it’s worth spending extra to make sure you’re covered in the event of natural disasters. If you intend to take part in adventure sports, make sure that those particular sports are covered by your policy; for divers, some policies only cover you up to a certain depth.

Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.

Checking insurance quotes…

Internet Access

  • The number of internet cafes in Costa Rica has greatly decreased with the advent of smartphones, and wi-fi in restaurants and cafes.
  • Expect to pay US$1 to US$2 per hour at internet cafes in San José and tourist towns.
  • Wi-fi is common in all midrange and top-end hotels, and in the vast majority of budget hotels and hostels. Some hostels still have computers for guest use and/or wi-fi.

Maps

Unfortunately, detailed maps are hard to come by in Costa Rica, so it’s best to purchase one online before your trip.

  • The excellent, water-resistant 1:350,000 Costa Rica Adventure Map published by National Geographic also has an inset map of San José. Available online or in various book and gift shops in San José.
  • Another quality option is the 1:330,000 Costa Rica sheet produced by International Travel Map, which is waterproof and includes a San José inset.
  • Fundación Neotrópica publishes a 1:500,000 map showing national parks and other protected areas; it's available online and in San José bookstores.
  • The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo (ICT; Costa Rican Tourism Board) publishes a 1:700,000 Costa Rica map with a 1:12,500 Central San José map on the reverse; it’s free at the ICT office in San José.
  • Maptak (www.maptak.com) has maps of Costa Rica’s seven provinces and their capitals.
  • Few national-park offices or ranger stations have maps for hikers.
  • Instituto Geográfico Nacional in San José has topographical maps available for purchase.
  • Incafo formerly published the Mapa-Guía de la Naturaleza Costa Rica, an atlas that included 1:200,000 topographical sheets, as well as English and Spanish descriptions of Costa Rica’s natural areas. Used copies can be purchased online.

Media

La Nación (www.nacion.com) Spanish-language daily newspaper.

La Prensa Libre (www.laprensalibre.cr) Launched in 1889, this is the oldest continually published daily newspaper in Costa Rica. Spanish language.

Tico Times (www.ticotimes.net) Costa Rica’s online English-language newspaper. It's high quality, though news and views are often geared toward the expat community.

Costa Rican Times (www.costaricantimes.com) This online, English-language newcomer focuses on Costa Rican happenings but also features international news.

DVDs In Costa Rica DVDs are region 4.

Money

US dollars accepted almost everywhere and dispensed from most ATMs; carry colones for small towns, bus fares and rural shops. Credit cards generally accepted.

ATMs

ATMs are ubiquitous, typically dispensing colones; many dispense US dollars. They are not easily found in rural and remote areas.

Cash

  • The Costa Rican currency is the colón (plural colones), named after Cristóbal Colón (Christopher Columbus).
  • Bills come in 1000-, 2000-, 5000-, 10,000-, 20,000- and 50,000-colón notes, while coins come in denominations of five, 10, 20, 25, 50, 100 and 500 colones.
  • Paying for things in US dollars is common, and at times is encouraged, since the currency is viewed as being more stable than the colón.
  • In US-dollar transactions the change will usually be given in colones.
  • Newer US dollars are preferred throughout Costa Rica; if your note has a rip in it, it may not be accepted.
  • When paying in US dollars at a local restaurant, bar or shop the exchange rate can be unfavorable.

Changing Money

All banks will exchange US dollars, and some will exchange euros and British pounds; other currencies are more difficult. Most banks have excruciatingly long lines, especially at the state-run institutions (Banco Nacional, Banco de Costa Rica, Banco Popular), though they don’t charge commissions on cash exchanges. Private banks (Banex, Banco Interfin, Scotiabank) tend to be faster. Make sure the bills you want to exchange are in good condition or they may be refused.

Credit Cards

  • Cards are widely accepted at midrange and top-end hotels, as well as at top-end restaurants and some travel agencies; they are less likely to be accepted in small towns and in remote areas.
  • A transaction fee (around 3% to 5%) on all international credit-card purchases is often added.
  • Holders of credit and debit cards can buy colones in some banks, though expect to pay a high transaction fee.
  • All car-rental agencies require drivers to have a credit card. It’s possible to hire a car with just a debit card, but only on the condition that you pay for full insurance and leave a deposit for traffic violations.

Exchange Rates

AustraliaA$1₡421
CanadaC$1₡431
Euro zone€1₡665
Japan¥100₡510
New ZealandNZ$1₡386
UK£1₡745
USAUS$1₡567

For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.

Tipping

Restaurants Your bill will usually include a 10% service charge. If not, you might leave a small tip.

Hotels Tip the bellhop/porter US$1 to US$5 per service and the housekeeper US$1 to US$2 per day in top-end hotels, less in budget places.

Taxis Tip only if some special service is provided.

Guides Tip US$5 to US$15 per person per day. Tip the tour driver about half of what you tip the guide.

Traveler’s Checks

With the popularity of ATMs and credit cards, traveler’s checks are increasingly uncommon in Costa Rica and difficult to exchange outside big cities. They can be exchanged at banks, typically only for US dollars or Costa Rican colones.

Dollars Versus Colones

While colones are the official currency of Costa Rica, US dollars are virtually legal tender. Case in point: most ATMs in large towns and cities will dispense both currencies. However, it pays to know where and when you should be paying with each currency.

In Costa Rica you can use US dollars to pay for hotel rooms, midrange to top-end meals, admission fees for sights, tours, domestic flights, international buses, car hire, private shuttle buses and big-ticket purchases. Local meals and drinks, domestic bus fares, taxis and small purchases should be paid for in colones.

Opening Hours

The following are high-season opening hours; hours will generally shorten in the shoulder and low seasons. Generally, sights, activities and restaurants are open daily.

Banks 9am to 4pm Monday to Friday, sometimes 9am to noon Saturday

Bars and clubs 8pm to 2am

Government offices 8am and 5pm Monday to Friday; often closed between 11:30am and 1:30pm

Restaurants 7am to 9pm; upscale places may open only for dinner, and in remote areas even the small sodas (inexpensive eateries) might open only at specific meal times

Shops 8am to 6pm Monday to Saturday

Photography

  • Always ask permission to take someone’s photo.
  • With the prominence of digital cameras, it is increasingly difficult to purchase high-quality film in Costa Rica.
  • Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Photography is full of helpful tips for photography while on the road.

Post

  • Mailing smaller parcels (less than 2kg) internationally is quite reliable; for example, a 1kg package costs upwards of US$30 to ship to North America and takes one to two weeks to arrive.
  • EMS (Express Mail Service) courier service costs a bit more but includes tracking and is speedier.

Public Holidays

Días feriados (national holidays) are taken seriously in Costa Rica. Banks, public offices and many stores close. During these times, public transport is tight and hotels are heavily booked. Many festivals coincide with public holidays.

New Year’s Day January 1

Semana Santa (Holy Week; March or April) The Thursday and Friday before Easter Sunday is the official holiday, though most businesses shut down for the whole week. From Thursday to Sunday bars are closed and alcohol sales are prohibited; on Thursday and Friday buses stop running.

Día de Juan Santamaría (April 11) Honors the national hero who died fighting William Walker in 1856; major events are held in Alajuela, his hometown.

Labor Day May 1

Día de la Madre (Mother’s Day; August 15) Coincides with the annual Catholic Feast of the Assumption.

Independence Day September 15

Día de la Raza (Columbus Day) October 12.

Christmas Day (December 25) Christmas Eve is also an unofficial holiday.

Last week in December The week between Christmas and New Year is an unofficial holiday; businesses close and beach hotels are crowded.

Smoking

  • Smoking Banned in all public places, restaurants, bars and casinos, and on public transport. There are no separate ‘smoking areas.’ Some hotels in Costa Rica are non-smoking only.

Taxes & Refunds

Travelers will notice a 13% sales tax at hotels and restaurants, although many smaller budget and midrange businesses have been known to waive the tax if you pay in cash.

Telephone

  • Mobile service now covers most of the country and nearly all of the country that is accessible to tourists.
  • Public phones are found all over Costa Rica, and chip or Colibrí phone cards are available in 1000-, 2000- and 3000-colón denominations.
  • Chip cards are inserted into the phone and scanned. Colibrí cards (more common) require you to dial a toll-free number (199) and enter an access code. Instructions are provided in English or Spanish.
  • The cheapest international calls from Costa Rica are direct-dialed using a phone card. To make international calls, dial ‘00’ followed by the country code and number.
  • Pay phones cannot receive international calls.
  • To call Costa Rica from abroad, use the country code (506) before the eight-digit number.
  • Due to the widespread popularity of voice-over IP services such as Skype, and more reliable ethernet connections, traveling with a smartphone or tablet can be the cheapest and easiest way to call internationally.

Mobile Phones

  • 3G and 4G systems are available, but those compatible with US plans require expensive international roaming.
  • Prepaid SIM cards are cheap and widely available.
  • See https://opensignal.com/networks for coverage details for each of the four cellular providers (Claro, Kolbi, Movistar, TuYo).

Time

Costa Rica is six hours behind GMT, so Costa Rican time is equivalent to Central Time in North America. There is no daylight saving time.

Toilets

  • Public restrooms are rare, but most restaurants and cafes will let you use their facilities, sometimes for a small charge – never more than 500 colones.
  • Bus terminals and other major public buildings usually have toilets, also at a charge.
  • Don’t flush your toilet paper. Costa Rican plumbing is often poor and has very low pressure.
  • Dispose of toilet paper in the rubbish bin inside the bathroom.

Tourist Information

  • The government-run Costa Rica Tourism Board, the ICT (www.ict.go.cr/en), has an office in the capital; English is spoken.
  • The ICT can provide you with free maps, a master bus schedule, information on road conditions in the hinterlands, and a helpful brochure with up-to-date emergency numbers for every region.
  • Consult the ICT’s English-language website for information.

Travel with Children

In a land of such dizzying adventure and close encounters with wildlife, waves, jungle ziplines and enticing mud puddles, it can be challenging to choose where to go. Fortunately, your options aren’t limited by region, and kids will find epic fun in this accessible paradise that parents will enjoy too.

Best Regions for Kids

  • Península de Nicoya

Excellent beaches and family-friendly resorts make this an ideal destination for families. This is a great place for kids (and their folks) to take surfing lessons.

  • Northwestern Costa Rica

The mysterious and ghostly cloud forests of Monteverde pique children’s imaginations about the creatures that live there, while the area’s specialty sanctuaries let them see bats, frogs, butterflies and reptiles up close.

  • Central Pacific Coast

Easy trails lead past spider monkeys and sloths to great swimming beaches at Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, a busy but beautiful piece of coastal rainforest.

  • Caribbean Coast

The whole family can snorkel all day in the relatively tranquil waters of Manzanillo or Cahuita and set out on a night adventure to see nesting turtles.

Costa Rica for Kids

Mischievous monkeys and steaming volcanoes, mysterious rainforests and palm-lined beaches – Costa Rica sometimes seems like a comic book made real. The perfect place for family travel, it's a safe, exhilarating tropical playground that will make a huge impression on younger travelers. The country’s myriad adventure possibilities cover the spectrum of age-appropriate intensity levels – and for no intensity at all, some kids might like the idea of getting their hair braided and beaded by a beachside stylist in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. Whatever you do, the warm culture is extremely welcoming of little ones.

In addition to amazing the kids, this small, peaceful country has all the practicalities that rank highly with parents, such as great country-wide transportation infrastructure, a low crime rate and an excellent health-care system. But the reason to bring the whole family is the opportunity to share unforgettable experiences such as spotting a dolphin or a sloth, slowly paddling a kayak through mangrove channels, or taking a night hike in search of tropical frogs.

Children’s Highlights

Wildlife-Watching

You can’t not spot wildlife in Costa Rica – coatis cause regular traffic jams around Laguna de Arenal and scarlet macaws loudly squawk in tropical-almond trees down the central Pacific coast. Stay a day or two at a jungle lodge, and the wildlife will come to you.

Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, Pacific coast Tiny and easily accessible; a walk through this park usually yields sightings of squirrel monkeys, stripy iguanas and coatis.

Parque Nacional Cahuita, Caribbean coast Seeing white-faced capuchins is almost guaranteed along the beach trail; go with a guide and you’ll probably see sloths, too.

Parque Nacional Tortuguero, Caribbean coast Boat tours through Tortuguero canals uncover wildlife all around, but staying in any jungle lodge outside the village will reveal the same.

Chilamate Rainforest Eco Retreat, Sarapiquí Valley In the valley's steamy rainforest, this family-friendly lodge has miles of trails for easy wildlife-spotting hikes.

Turtle-Watching, Pacific and Caribbean coasts One of Costa Rica’s truly magical experiences is watching sea turtles lay their eggs under the cover of night.

Animal Sanctuaries

Not getting close enough to wildlife in the wild? Animal encounters are guaranteed at wildlife sanctuaries and animal refuges. Many of these organizations rescue and rehabilitate orphaned or injured animals for release or lifetime care.

  • Frog’s Heaven, Horquetas A frog-lover’s heaven, this tropical garden is filled with all sorts of brightly colored (and transparent!) amphibians, including the iconic red-eyed tree frog.
  • Ecocentro Danaus, La Fortuna Walk the trails to look for monkeys and sloths, visit a pond with caimans and turtles, delight in the butterfly garden and ogle frogs in the ranarium (frog pond).
  • Jaguar Centro de Rescate, Playa Chiquita No jaguars were here at the time of research, but you may get to hold a howler monkey or a baby sloth. You’ll also see colorful snakes, raptors and frogs.
  • Alturas Animal Sanctuary, Dominical Meet various rescued critters here, from macaws and monkeys to Bubba the famous coatimundi.

Beaches

  • Playa Ocotal, Península de Nicoya Placid, wooded gray-sand beach on the quiet northern end of the peninsula.
  • Playa Pelada, Nosara area This low-key beach has little wave action and big, intriguing boulders.
  • Playa Carrillo, near Sámara South of family-friendly Sámara, this beach can be all yours during the week and convivially crowded with Tico families on the weekends.
  • Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, Pacific coast Beach visits are usually enlivened by monkeys, coatis and iguanas.
  • Parque Nacional Marino Ballena, Pacific coast A yawning stretch of white-sand, jungle-fringed beach, a sand spit shaped like a whale’s tail at low tide, and the chance to see whales spouting offshore.
  • Playa Negra, Cahuita This black-sand, blue-flag beach (meeting Costa Rica’s highest ecological standards) has plenty of space to plant your own flag.
  • Playa Manzanillo, Mal País & Santa Teresa Beautiful, jungle-backed beach from here to Punta Mona (about as far south as you can go before you have to start bushwhacking).

Adventures

Mangrove tours Kayaking or canoeing through the still waters of mangrove canals can turn up waterbirds, caimans, sleeping bats and sloths. Try Parque Nacional Marino Ballena, around Puerto Jiménez and Tortuguero.

Surfing lessons For surfing lessons specifically tailored to kids, check out One Love Surf School on the Caribbean coast; kids’ lessons are also offered at beginner beaches in Jacó and Tamarindo.

White-water rafting Family-friendly rafting and ‘safari trips’ happen year-round on Ríos Sarapiquí, Savegre and Pejibaye.

Volcán Irazú, northeast of Cartago Peer into a volcano's crater at this national park with a kilometer of trails suitable for children.

Planning

Although Costa Rica is in the heart of Central America, it’s a relatively easy place for family travel, making pre-departure planning more similar to that required for North America or Europe than, say, Honduras.

Eating with Kids

  • Hydration is particularly crucial in this tropical climate, especially for children who aren’t used to the heat and humidity; fortunately, Costa Rica’s tap water is safe everywhere (except for the rare exception, usually in remote areas).
  • If you’re traveling with an infant or small child, stock up on formula, baby food and snacks before heading to remote areas, where shops are few and far between.
  • Kids love refreshing batidos (fresh fruit shakes), either al agua (made with water) or con leche (with milk); the variety of novel tropical fruits may appeal to older kids.
  • Coconut water might be old news back home, but watching a smiling Tico hack open a pipa fría (cold young coconut) for you with a machete is another thing entirely and it's often cheaper than bottled water.
  • Many restaurants have kids’ menus, but these tend to offer international rather than Costa Rican food.

Getting There & Around

  • Children under the age of 12 receive a discount of up to 25% on domestic flights, while on some carriers children under two fly free (provided they sit on a parent’s lap).
  • Children aged three and up pay full fare with most bus companies.
  • Car seats for infants are not always available at car-rental agencies, so bring your own or make sure you double (or triple) check with the agency in advance.

Accessible Travel

Independent travel in Costa Rica is difficult for anyone with mobility constraints. Although Costa Rica has an equal-opportunity law, the law applies only to new or newly remodeled businesses and is loosely enforced. Therefore, very few hotels and restaurants have features specifically suited to wheelchair use. Many don’t have ramps, and room or bathroom doors are rarely wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair.

Streets and sidewalks are potholed and poorly paved, making wheelchair use frustrating at best. Public buses don’t have provisions to carry wheelchairs, and most national parks and outdoor tourist attractions don’t have trails suited to wheelchair use. Notable exceptions include Parque Nacional Volcán Poás – closed at the time of research due to volcanic activity – and the Rainforest Adventures aerial tram.

Download Lonely Planet’s free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.

Volunteering

Costa Rica offers a huge number of volunteer opportunities. Word of mouth is a powerful influence on future participants, so the majority of programs in Costa Rica are very conscientious about pleasing their volunteers. Almost all placements require a commitment of two weeks or more.

Lonely Planet does not vouch for any organization that we do not work with directly, and we strongly recommend travelers always investigate a volunteer opportunity themselves to assess the standards and suitability of the project.

English Teaching

Amerispan Study Abroad (www.amerispan.com) Offers a variety of educational travel programs in specialized areas.

Sustainable Horizon (www.sustainablehorizon.com) Arranges volunteering trips such as guest-teaching spots.

Forestry Management

Cloudbridge Nature Reserve (www.cloudbridge.org) Trail building, construction, tree planting and projects monitoring the recovery of the cloud forest are offered to volunteers, who pay for their own housing with a local family. Preference is given to biology students, but all enthusiastic volunteers can apply.

Tropical Science Center (www.cct.or.cr) This long-standing NGO offers volunteer placement at Reserva Biológica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde. Projects can include trail maintenance and conservation work.

Fundación Corcovado (www.corcovadofoundation.org) An impressive network of people and organizations committed to preserving Parque Nacional Corcovado.

Monteverde Institute (www.monteverde-institute.org) A nonprofit educational institute offering training in tropical biology, conservation and sustainable development.

Organic Farming

WWOOF Costa Rica (www.wwoofcostarica.org) This loose network of farms is part of the large international network of Willing Workers on Organic Farms (WWOOF). Placements are incredibly varied. WWOOF Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Belize have a joint US$33 membership, which gives potential volunteers access to all placement listings.

Reserva Biológica Dúrika (www.durika.org) A sustainable community on an 85-sq-km biological reserve.

Finca La Flor de Paraíso (www.fincalaflor.org) Offers programs in a variety of disciplines from animal husbandry to medicinal-herb cultivation.

Punta Mona (www.puntamona.org) An organic farm and retreat center that focuses on organic permaculture and sustainable living.

Rancho Margot (www.ranchomargot.com) This self-proclaimed life-skills university offers a natural education emphasizing organic farming and animal husbandry.

Wildlife Conservation

Be aware that conservationists in Costa Rica occasionally face harassment or worse from local poachers and that police are pretty ineffectual in following up incidents.

Earthwatch (www.earthwatch.org) This broadly recognized international volunteer organization works in sea-turtle conservation in Costa Rica.

Sea Turtle Conservancy (www.conserveturtles.org) From March to October, this Tortuguero organization hosts ‘eco-volunteer adventures’ working with sea turtles and birds.

Las Pumas (www.centrorescatelaspumas.org) A feline-conservation program that takes care of confiscated wild cats, both big and small.

Reserva Playa Tortuga (www.reservaplayatortuga.org) Assist with olive-ridley-turtle conservation efforts near Ojochal.

ASTOP Asociacion Salvemos las Tortugas de Parismina Help protect turtles and their eggs, and help improve quality of life for villagers in this tiny community.

Weights & Measures

  • Weights & Measures Costa Ricans use the metric system for weights, distances and measures.

Women Travelers

Most female travelers experience little more than a ‘mi amor’ (‘my love’) or an appreciative glance from the local men. But, in general, Costa Rican men consider foreign women to have looser morals and to be easier conquests than Ticas (female Costa Ricans). Men will often make flirtatious comments to single women, particularly blondes, and women traveling together are not exempt. The best response is to do what Ticas do: ignore it completely. Women who firmly resist unwanted verbal advances from men are normally treated with respect.

  • In small highland towns, dress is usually conservative. Women rarely wear shorts, but belly-baring tops are all the rage. On the beach, skimpy bathing suits are OK, but topless and nude bathing is not.
  • Solo women travelers should avoid hitchhiking.
  • Do not take unlicensed ‘pirate’ taxis (licensed taxis are red and have medallions) as there have been reports of assaults on women by unlicensed drivers.

Work

It is difficult for foreigners to find work in Costa Rica. The only foreigners legally employed in Costa Rica are those who work for their own businesses, possess skills not found in the country, or work for companies that have special agreements with the government.

Getting a bona fide job necessitates obtaining a work permit, which can be a time-consuming and difficult process. The most likely source of paid employment is as an English teacher at one of the language institutes, or working in the hospitality industry in a hotel or resort. Naturalists or river guides may also be able to find work with private lodges or adventure-travel operators, though you shouldn’t expect to make more than survival wages.