If you’re visiting Costa Rica for the first time, you probably have a lot of questions and concerns. In this post, I put together the most commonly asked questions about Costa Rica we have received from our readers and we answer them to the best of our knowledge from our perspective: a Costa Rican who has been working in the tourism industry for over 20 years and an American who immigrated to Costa Rica over 10 years ago. Want to know more about Mytanfeet? Read our story here!
There are affiliate links in this post.
Costa Rica Questions and Answers
Don’t forget to check our Costa Rica travel tips and Costa Rica section for more detailed travel information! Are you ready to start planning your trip? Check out our sample Costa Rica itineraries here!
Can I Get Around Costa Rica Without Knowing Spanish?
Yes, you can get around Costa Rica without speaking Spanish. Since tourism is one of the most important industries of Costa Rica with the majority of their tourists from the USA and Canada, many locals who work in the tourism industry speak a high level of English. This is one of the reasons why Costa Rica is a great destination for first time international travelers who only speak English.
However, don’t count on all Costa Ricans speaking English (one of the things to know about Costa Rica before you go). Small family run hotels may not speak more than basic English, local restaurant workers may speak very basic or no English and bus/taxi/shuttle drivers know none, little or basic English.
If you plan to be visiting non touristic destinations or small, rural towns, we highly recommend learning basic Spanish or downloading Google Translate to work offline. We strongly recommend writing down Spanish words and phrases if you have special needs like food or medicinal allergies, dietary restrictions, disabilities, etc.
And if you want to practice your Spanish, go for it! Locals appreciate it, even if it’s broken Spanish. Refresh your high school Spanish with our downloadable Spanish cheat sheet!
When is the Best Time to Visit Costa Rica?
The best time to visit Costa Rica will depend on the type of vacation you want. For a winter escape, the best time to visit is dry season, or Costa Rica’s summer. We highly recommend first time visitors to come to Costa Rica during the dry season. Learn more about Costa Rica weather here.
The sunniest and driest months are January – April or October on the Caribbean coast. December is also a great month. It’s right at the start of dry season but it is very busy with the Christmas and winter holidays.
Are you OK with rain? Want to see wildlife like whales, dolphins and turtles? Then May – November are the best times of the year. Just keep in mind this is our rainy season so you will need to pack properly and come prepared.
Will it be your first time traveling internationally? Are you traveling with babies or senior citizens for your very first time to Costa Rica? Avoid October. October is the rainiest month in Costa Rica. Some places and roads may flood, there may be tropical storms, it may rain too much for tours to run and driving can be trickier.
You can read more about the best time to visit Costa Rica in this post.
Our personal favorite time to visit Costa Rica? Shoulder months such as May, June and November. Less people, a bit cheaper and still great weather!
Where is the Best Place to Visit in Costa Rica?
The best place to visit in Costa Rica depends on what you want to see and do. If you’re looking for a beach vacation and are visiting for the first time, then beach towns in Guanacaste, Jaco, Puerto Viejo, Santa Teresa, Montezuma or Manuel Antonio are fantastic destinations. Looking for hiking or adventure? La Fortuna, Monteverde and Bajos del Toro are excellent places. Want to get away from it all in the deep rainforest? Head to the Osa Peninsula!
You can read more about the best places to visit in Costa Rica in this post.
Where Can I See a Volcano in Costa Rica?
Costa Rica has many volcanoes! Some are even active! The most popular volcanoes that are easily accessible are Arenal, Irazu and Poas. All three of these volcanoes have their own national park making it easy to see these awesome forces of nature.
The volcano with the most iconic cone shape is Arenal Volcano and this volcano is very easy to see from La Fortuna, the main town by the volcano.
What is Rainy Season in Costa Rica Like?
Rainy season in Costa Rica is generally from the beginning of May to end of November. The rainiest months in Costa Rica are September and October except for the Caribbean coast. The Caribbean coast’s rainiest months are June and November.
On the coasts, a normal rainy season day is sunny in the morning and rainy and cloudy in the afternoon. In mountainous, high elevation areas, it can rain in the morning and is usually quite cloudy and rainy by late afternoon. In rainforest areas, it rains more often and can even rain in the dry season.
However, it doesn’t pour rain every day during rainy season and it’s not like someone just turned on the faucet. It’s more of a gradual transition from dry to rainy season. Costa Rica’s transition months are May and June (dry to rainy) and December (rainy to dry). Additionally, day time and night time temperatures don’t vary greatly between dry and rainy season. Rainy season may be a few degrees (Celsius) cooler, but more humid.
Is Costa Rica Safe for Solo Female Travelers?
Costa Rica is a safe country and is a great place for solo travelers, especially female solo travelers. Their culture is very friendly and open, making it easy for solo travelers to have a good time.
Additionally, English is widely spoken in touristic areas and there are several towns popular for backpackers and solo travelers such as Tamarindo, Dominical, Jaco, Manuel Antonio, Santa Teresa, Monteverde and La Fortuna. You can find hostels in all those popular towns to meet other travelers and stay in a safe place.
The main crimes against tourists are petty theft or car break ins. However, using common sense will go a long ways in Costa Rica (lock your doors, roll up windows, don’t leave belongings unattended, don’t walk alone at night or early morning, avoid parking in dark streets, etc.) You can read our post for Costa Rica safety tips and common Costa Rica scams for more tips.
One thing to note is that some male Costa Ricans are quite outspoken and are not shy about persistently hitting on female travelers. If you don’t feel comfortable, firmly tell them to leave you alone and that you’re not interested.
Do not be afraid to speak out if you feel very uncomfortable and go to a public establishment or business. Many establishments have their own security guard (like banks) and many touristic destinations have a tourist police around.
Is Costa Rica Safe for Families?
Yes! Costa Rica is a wonderful country for families whether they are young families, seniors or multi generational families. These is something for everyone and toddlers, kids and teens will have a blast exploring this beautiful tropical country. They will love all the beaches, rainforest and volcanoes.
Additionally, Costa Ricans love kids and babies as their culture is very family centered. They are particularly respectful to pregnant women and women with young children. When it comes to security, Costa Rica is a very safe country for families.
Keep in mind that families with babies, toddlers and children under 5-8 will not be able to partake in many of the activities since there are height and weight limits. Parents will need to switch off and most tour companies and hotels don’t offer child care services unless you stay at a luxury resort.
There are some towns that offer babysitting services or pack and plays like Tamarindo and Samara and some resorts like the Westin Conchal offer day care.
How Much Should I Tip in Costa Rica?
Tip, or service tax as it’s called in Costa Rica is 10% and is included in the restaurants, tours and hotels’ prices. It is not mandatory to tip more but if you want to, it is greatly appreciated. Americans are the main demographic of Costa Rica’s tourists and the American tipping culture is quite intense, so tipping has become a bit more expected in Costa Rica in more American & Canadian dominated touristic places (places like Tamarindo, Jaco, Manuel Antonio, Playas del Coco).
You can tip in USD or local currency, Costa Rican colones. Sales tax is 13% in Costa Rica so on menus, you may see something like impuestos incluidos which would be the 13% or impuestro de servicio no incluido which would be the 10%.
For tipping, the standard amount is 10%. You can tip more or less depending on how you feel the service was.
You can read more about tipping in Costa Rica in this post.
Does Costa Rica Take USD and How Much Cash Should I Bring?
USD is readily accepted in Costa Rica when it comes to tourism for both cash and credit card. The current exchange rate is around 540 to 1 but it changes daily. You can read more about handling money in Costa Rica in this post.
Credit cards are also widely accepted in Costa Rica but some remote places (like Osa Peninsula) and some businesses in places like Tamarindo, Samara, Santa Teresa and Puerto Jimenez are still cash only.
We recommend to bring around $300 USD cash per person for one week in Costa Rica and then you can go to the ATM or exchange money at the supermarket to get out more if you need to.
The currency of Costa Rica is the colon, colones plural.
What do I Need to Pack for Costa Rica?
We recommend bringing clothes that dry fast and wick away moisture, closed toed hiking sandals or good walking shoes, lots of sunscreen and mosquito repellent, sunglasses, hat, a micro fiber towel, an insulated water bottle and a swim suit.
If you’re visiting in rainy season, then we recommend bringing a waterproof rain jacket and a waterproof backpack or rain cover. If you plan to do any activities like hiking, ziplining, rafting then you need to bring proper outdoor gear.
For those planning to visit more mountain or high elevation areas like Monteverde, Poas/Vara Blanca, San Isidro de Perez Zeledon and San Gerardo de Dota, make sure to bring a warm sweater and socks and long pants as it’s cooler up there.
You can read our Costa Rica packing list for more tips.
Which Shoes Should I Bring to Costa Rica?
The best shoes for Costa Rica are closed toed hiking sandals. These are excellent all terrain shoes that go easily from land to water with good support. For light outdoor activities, these shoes are the best as you will avoid soggy socks, wet sneakers or stuffy feet. These shoes are perfect for white water rafting, white water tubing, ziplining, safari float, boat trips and light easy hikes.
If you plan to do more hiking and go to more national parks or private reserves for hikes, then we recommend completely closed trail running shoes or lightweight hiking shoes. Some places require completely closed shoes like Rainforest Adventures Braulio Carillo and Mistico Hanging Bridges Park. They will help protect your feet agains insects, bugs, rocks and branches on the trail.
You can read this post for more tips on the best shoes for Costa Rica.
What are the Best Beaches in Costa Rica?
Costa Rica has a myriad of beautiful beaches! Some of our personal favorite beaches for tourists are Conchal, Cocles, Punta Uva, Grande, Avellanas, Playa Hermosa Osa, Carrillo and Playa Hermosa Guanacaste.
What Are the Must Do’s in Costa Rica?
That’s a tough one to answer as there are so many great things to do in Costa Rica!
Some must do’s in Costa Rica are white water rafting at the Pacuare River, canyoning in La Fortuna, boating in Playas del Coco, snorkeling at Cano Island, hiking Corcovado National Park, kayaking in Tortuguero National Park, ziplining and going on a coffee tour.
If I had to choose at least 3 must do’s in Costa Rica, I recommend ziplining, hiking a national park and eating at a Costa Rican soda (local restaurant). And of course watching a sunset on the beach!
Read our 50 things to do in Costa Rica for more ideas.
What are the Must See’s in Costa Rica?
Ohh another tough question! Costa Rica’s stunning rainforest, coastal, volcano and jungle landscapes make it an incredibly photogenic country. See beaches, waterfalls, rivers, volcanoes and jungle all in one trip!
What Voltage Does Costa Rica Use?
Costa Rica uses 110 volts.
Should I Rent a Car or Take Shuttles in Costa Rica?
It will depend on your budget and time you have in the country. We recommend renting a car if you want to explore, want more freedom and flexibility and aren’t on a strict on a budget. Renting a car in Costa Rica is the ultimate way to discover the country. (Get our Costa Rica car rental discount here)
However, if you are not used to driving in foreign countries and are on a strict budget, then we recommend taking shuttles, either private or shared. Shared shuttles are more convenient than public buses as they offer door to door hotel drop off and pick up. Unfortunately there are usually just two schedules a day (AM and PM) so you need to make sure it fits in your itinerary. Likewise, you will be sharing the vehicle with 9-14 other people.
Private shuttles are an excellent option for families and big groups who don’t want to drive. You have the vehicle all to yourself and can pick a stop along the way. Read more about Costa Rica shuttles here.
Take the bus for a fun local experience and if you have more than 5 days. The public bus takes a long time and can require multiple changes depending on your destinations.
Read more about getting around Costa Rica in our post.
Do I Need a 4×4 to Drive in Costa Rica?
It will depend on where you are going. For most touristic destinations and the cities, there are well paved roads and a 4×4 is not necessary. Some places may just require a high clearance car, not necessarily a 4wd in the dry season. However, in rainy season, some places may need a 4×4 as roads get washed out, potholes get bigger, it’s muddier, etc.
Check our Costa Rica road conditions post to see what the road conditions are like for popular places. Always ask your host and check the places you want to visit to see what kind of car is required.
Get all our Costa Rica driving tips here.
What Side of the Road Does Costa Rica Drive On?
Costa Rica drives on the same side of the road as the USA (right hand side).
Do I Need a GPS to Drive in Costa Rica?
Yes. We highly recommend renting a GPS from the car rental company or using GPS apps. If you have Internet on your smart phone, we recommend using the app Waze, it works excellent in Costa Rica. Google Maps also works for main destinations.
Costa Rica doesn’t exactly have street names or house numbers so don’t worry about using the “address”. Signage is not the best so if you use Waze or Google Maps, all you have to do is type in the name of your destination.
How Bad are the Mosquitoes in Costa Rica?
Mosquitoes are found throughout Costa Rica all year round. The only places that don’t have mosquitoes are high elevation areas like Monteverde, San Gerardo de Dota, etc. There are a few diseases you can catch from mosquitoes and in Costa Rica, dengue is the biggest concern.
We recommend bringing plenty of mosquito repellent, reapplying often and covering up to avoid getting bit. The worst areas are on the coast and worst time of year for mosquitoes is during rainy season. Don’t forget after itch cream!
Should I Be Worried About Snakes or Spiders in Costa Rica?
If you’re scared of spiders, bugs or any type of creepy crawley, prepare to face your fears in Costa Rica. There are 4,000 known species of insects in Costa Rica so you will see bugs like grasshoppers, bees, millipedes, ants and spiders.
But don’t fret! Pretty much all touristic destinations are zoned and developed. Hotels are clean and get fumigated. Just be a bit cautious if you’re staying in a super cheap hotel or a remote destination, you may see an unwelcome guest or two in your room. Be prepared to see lots of bugs if you’re going to the rural rainforest places.
As for snakes, it is not common for people to get bit by snakes in Costa Rica. Unless you’re trekking deep into the jungle by yourself and not properly dressed, it is not a concern. When you’re hiking, never go off the path or touch trees and plants and always follow your guide’s instructions.
Can I Drink the Tap Water in Costa Rica?
You can drink the tap water in Costa Rica is main cities and major tourist destinations like San Jose, Heredia, Monteverde. However, if you have a very sensitive stomach, are sick or getting over a cold, we would recommend you to bring a water filter or buy bottled water if you have to.
Furthermore, be aware that it is not recommended to drink the tap water in rural areas such as Tortuguero, Osa Peninsula, Santa Teresa and Golfito. Hotels will tell you if the tap water is safe to drink and most hotels will have filling stations with bottled water.
You can read more about drinking tap water in Costa Rica here.
Can I Flush Toilet Paper in Costa Rica?
Yes and no, but 99% no. Due to the type of sewage system Costa Rica uses, you have to throw the toilet paper in the trash in nearly all places. There are very few high end resorts and hotels where you can flush the toilet paper but most places will have signs to please throw the toilet paper in the bin.
Please be a respectful tourist and heed their request. Sewers and pipes get extremely clogged when toilet paper is flushed and it is costly and timely to get it fixed/cleaned.
How Soon Should I Book Tours in Costa Rica?
If you’re visiting in high season (December – April and end of June to August), we recommend booking tours at least a few weeks to a month beforehand, especially if it’s something you absolutely have to do.
This is high tourism season in Costa Rica and you will want to reserve your spots. Many places like Tabacon hot springs, Mistico Hanging Bridges and Sky Trek require reservations and can sell out quickly in high season, particularly during Christmas in Costa Rica. Tabacon can sell out months in adavnce for Christmas and Holy Week so if it’s one of your “must dos” then book it ASAP!
If you’re visiting in low season months like September – November, it’s not necessary to book way ahead in advance. We recommend doing it at least a week out. You can read our Costa Rica trip planning timeline for more information.
Where Can I See Sloths in Costa Rica?
Sloths are not found everywhere in Costa Rica. If you want to see a sloth in Costa Rica, then you will need to go to the right places!
The best places to see sloths in Costa Rica are Manuel Antonio, Puerto Viejo, Dominical, Uvita, Bijagua, Osa Peninsula, Tortuguero and Arenal. You can see both 2 and 3 fingered sloths in these areas and they are quite common.
There aren’t any sloths on the Guanacaste coast so if you’re staying in Playas del Coco, Tamarindo, Samara, Santa Teresa, Montezuma or anywhere along the North Pacific coast, then you’re out of luck. You can go to Diamante Eco Adventure Park which has an animal sanctuary or NATUWA wildlife sanctuary.
Otherwise, you will need to travel to the rainforest to see sloths. The closest place is the town of Bijagua (2.5 hours from Tamarindo). If you don’t have a car, you can take an awesome day trip to the Bijagua rainforest for a walk in the hanging bridges and nature walk to see sloths.
Read more about sloths in Costa Rica in this post.
What is Costa Rican Culture Like?
Costa Ricans are very loving, gregarious and outgoing people. There is a reason why the slogan of the country is pura vida! It means pure life in English. They say this for everything good. They use it as a greeting, a goodbye, as a way to say thanks or a way to describe how life has been. Costa Ricans, nicknamed “Ticos” are generally laid back people who don’t worry too much about the responsibilities of life. Instead of taking everything so seriously, stressing out and overworking, they enjoy what is given to them.
Since the country depends heavily on tourism and their reputation as an eco-friendly country, the locals love to teach and share their knowledge, experience and love of nature and wildlife. Their culture is very friendly and they want every visitor to have a great time in their country which is one of the reasons why tourists love Costa Rica so much – the people!
How Can I Move to Costa Rica?
This is a question I get all the time. It is actually quite hard to move to Costa Rica if you aren’t retired, rich, planning to open a business or are already working remotely. Work visas are difficult to get since they are given to foreigners who are filling a position that a Costa Rican cannot (which is not many).
Wages in Costa Rica are also quite low (average monthly salary is $800 USD a month) which makes it difficult for foreigners to move here permanently unless they open their own business. And even still, businesses in tourism fluctuate a lot and we see businesses open and close ALL the time. Something important to note is that we have a ton of taxes in Costa Rica for businesses. Taxes are high and it is expensive to have employees for all the social charges.
The Reality of Moving to Costa Rica
Most people who move to Costa Rica are retirees (it is one of the top retirement destination in the world), digital nomads or entrepreneurs. But something interesting is that most people do not stay here permanently. Many people who retire in Costa Rica end up going back (to be closer to family when they reach a certain age) and digital nomads move on after 6 months or a year due to the high cost of living. Even people who say they are “moving to Costa Rica” end up changing their mind. They decide to visit for 3-6 months of the year instead of being here full time year round.
Entrepreneurs are more likely to stay in Costa Rica for a longer period of time but even families with kids born in Costa Rica end up leaving for at least part of the year if not completely. Some families end up moving back to their home country to be closer to other family or get better schooling for their children when they’re older.
When it comes down to it, the reality of moving to Costa Rica is that it’s not easy and it’s not going to magically change your life. Living in Costa Rica is not the paradise that people market online. It is difficult to live in another country where you don’t know the language, don’t know the customs or culture and don’t know how to navigate the system. Make sure you do plenty of research and visit many times before making the big move or purchasing any real estate.
Our Advice on Living in Costa Rica
My best advice if you want to move to Costa Rica is to first try staying down here for at least 3 months at a time to see if you like it. Vacationing and living somewhere is very different. Second, figure out how to make an income or save up a lot of money. Costa Rica is not cheap and many foreigners tend to live the lifestyle they did back in their home country which is expensive here.
Most people find that they can’t live in Costa Rica full time so they find a job in their home country that allows them to become snowbirds (visit during the winters up north) and it works for them very well. Or they have a full time remote job and become digital nomads, staying in Costa Rica only during the Canadian/European/American winters.
Costa Rica Vacation Checklist
- First time to Costa Rica? Read our First Time in Costa Rica guide.
- Not sure how to move around Costa Rica? Read our How to Get Around Costa Rica guide to find the best transportation method for you.
- Click the link to get our detailed Costa Rica Packing List so you know what essential items to bring.
- Do not forget to purchase Travel Insurance for your trip to Costa Rica.
- Stay connected by purchasing a prepaid SIM Card in Costa Rica.
- Save money with Mytanfeet Deals for tours and hotels. Save more money with our Costa Rica Car Rental Discount.