Costa Rica: A Review

This isn’t something that goes with the general theme of my blog but I find it is useful to read other people’s travel recommendations. So here’s my brief review along with some recommendations.

Costa Rica is considered one of the eco-tourism meccas of the world. B a wide array of activities, everything from beach bums to adrenaline junkies can find something to do. Backpackers are common in Costa Rica but the infrastructure seems to shine best for mid range and high-end travelers. With the amount of things to do, 2 week travelers can pack a non stop itinerary while covering a lot of ground. Solo travelers will do OK but activities/accommodations can tend to favour pairs (not more than the average place though). You will find Costa Rica to be fairly expensive compared to other Central American countries. Food and drink is comparable to western standards for prices and hostels will be on the higher end. Many hostels do include breakfast though. While more difficult to avoid the more traveled roads, with a car and some company, it can be done. During the period I was there, it was easy to find miles of isolated beach to yourself though (in the places I visited)

Hostel in the jungle

Hostel in the jungle

I visited during late November till just before Christmas. The weather was entering the dry season and it’s a great time to go. The beaches are not as busy and many activities will be easier to book. Peak rates come into effect Dec 1st but the real boom isn’t until the week before Christmas. You may still be able to negotiate activity rates before then. Most of my time was in the drier regions (e.g. Guanacaste, Nicoya Peninsula) of the country and I can recommend Montezuma as one of my favourite places. It’s a small hippy town with lots of free things to do (beautiful waterfalls, beaches, and a park nearby). Nosara (Playa Guiones) was also a great little surf town that isn’t too developed. There isn’t much to do except chill out and surf. Waves break softly and are great for beginners and intermediate surfers. Catch a wave in the morning and late afternoon and chill out under a tree with a book during the sun’s hottest hours. There is a bookstore in town offering a wide variety if you don’t have a good read.

Montezuma waterfalls. One of my favourite towns

Montezuma waterfalls. In one of my favourite towns

Other places I enjoyed were La Fortuna and Monteverde. La fortuna has lots of activities (canyoning, canopy tours, hikes, volcanoes, ATV etc.) to do but you will definitely need money for them. If you ever see the volcano, it’s gorgeous. The hike up Cerro Chato is also amazing. If the weather cooperates, you will see the beautiful lake as well as do some serious jungle trekking around the lake. Monteverde also offered lots to do with the rainforest being the centrepiece of the town. I recommend going early and getting a guide. The lush rainforest is beautiful but difficult to appreciate without knowledge and knowing where to look. White water rafting is recommended (try some of their famous rivers like Pacuare) and you should book this early to try to get an established date. I didn’t like Quepos (the main draw is the national park nearby). It’s overdeveloped and what used to be a gem, would get too crowded with tourists quick. If you do go, don’t get a guide (just look where others look – tons of guides/tourists wandering and it’s small). Also be aware of the racoons/monkeys that will steal your stuff near the beach if left unattended.

Arenal volcano. One of many spectacular volcanoes in Costa Rica

Arenal volcano. One of many spectacular volcanoes in Costa Rica

I would avoid places like Jaco, Tamarindo and other busy tourist towns. However if you like that sorta thing, read about a few places before checking one out. Theft/crime will also run higher in those types of towns. Costa Ricans (Ticos) are generally very hospitable and helpful. Most will try to point you in the right direction but be aware that there are also a lot of people trying to rip you off. Read advisories on taxis, and people trying to bring you to places for commission.

That brings me to safety. For the places I visited (San Jose, Nosara, Montezuma, La Fortuna, Monteverde, Quepos), I found it to be very safe for the most part. Standard traveling precautions apply but nothing overly paranoid. That being said, don’t go off on your own especially at night as this can lead to theft incidents (possibly armed robbery). Hostels will know if there are sketchy areas to avoid (day or night). Don’t bring what you don’t need and don’t leave things you valuable unattended (even sandals at the beach unfortunately). Theft is a common occurrence.

Iconic Costa Rican frog

Iconic Costa Rican frog

Getting around is not too bad but knowing basic spanish will help a lot. I recommend learning some before leaving home. Local buses are more adventurous and recommended if you can spare the time. Shuttles will run you anywhere from 6-10x more than local transportation. It can be a lot faster though and good for people in a rush.

Foodwise, there is nothing to write home about. I would stick to Costa Rican flair if possible. Outside of that realm, I found things to be hit and miss. Their smoothes/shakes can be good and I frequently ate casados (typical CR dish – cheap and fills you up) as my meal of choice. Other notables would be Mexican, fried chicken (popular there and quite good), and pizza. Ceviche is also a popular CR dish that you should try. For coffee, buy lots of it (at the supermarket) and look for the export quality stuff. CR exports all the good stuff out and tend to drink the lower quality stuff. Support fairtrade where possible to continually grow their FT industry. Tarrazu is a famous region that grows exceptional coffee. Try and get some from there (marked on the bags)

Typical food

Typical food

Even though CR is better geared towards other budgets, I still recommend backpacking (in almost all cases). Your ability to see and experience the world outside tourist eyes is a little easier (e.g. romantic Costa Rica vs reality). Take the time to learn more about the country (e.g. its strengths and its pitfalls). Remember to bring the following: Afterbite (or some sort of itch cream), a good book, waterproof camera (if you can swing it), good bug spray (cheaper in western countries), quick dry towel (random weather changes and expensive laundry services make these a god send), more than 1 pair of shoes, phone (unless you want to be away from that sorta thing), thick plastic bag (useful for doing laundry in), USB (useful for backing up pictures as you go along).

Coffee: Buy lots of it

Coffee: Buy lots of it

Tip: You can frequently get a bunch of the liquid/gel plastic bags from the airport. That way you don’t have to buy ziplocs!

5 things you may not have known about Costa Rica

1. Toilet paper cannot be thrown in the toilet

2. They have achieved a lot in terms of environmental conservation but maintenance remains a major issue.

3. The slap pound is the common farewell “move” among guys.

4. The USD and the colon is used interchangeably . There is no need to change more money than necessary at home (maybe $50 max). Bring the rest in small USD bills and traveler’s cheques.

5. Sex tourism is a big industry in the country. Drugs and foreign money have grown the industry.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below.

– C


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