With more and more tourists visiting Costa Rica every year, it’s extremely important for us to share tips like these, our top “do’s and don’ts” to help everyone have a fun and safe time.
If you’ve been planning for a trip of a lifetime to Costa Rica, make sure to read our do’s and don’ts of Costa Rica so you don’t make any costly mistakes, you respect the local customs and culture, you travel responsible and you have an amazing time!
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The Do’s of Costa Rica
Do plan ahead if you are visiting during high or peak season
Costa Rica is not exactly the best country to just “wing it” if you’re here for a short period of time or coming with tons of family. It’s not super easy getting around Costa Rica, it is extremely busy during high tourism season, it’s not that cheap and rainy seasons here are nothing to joke about (I’ll get to that part in a second). If you only have 10 days in Costa Rica and don’t really plan on visiting again, you want every single of those days to be as memorable as possible.
So make sure you plan your trip if you are visiting anytime between December through April which is our high tourism season months. Research and decide which places you want to go to, what are your “must sees” and “must dos”, what kind of hotels you want to stay at, how to get around, what kind of car to rent, etc. If you don’t, you may miss out on visiting certain places, doing certain activities or staying at a certain hotel if you wait too long to book.
For more planning tips, check out our following posts:
- Mistakes to avoid in Costa Rica
- Things to know before you visit Costa Rica
- Best places in Costa Rica for first timers
- Costa Rica survival guide
- Cost of traveling in Costa Rica
- Common questions about Costa Rica
- Costa Rica travel planning timeline
Do prepare for rainy season in Costa Rica and appreciate the rain
Tropical weather is no joke. The two seasons, dry and rainy, can be as extreme as you can imagine, especially with Costa Rica’s 26 micro-climates. You can go from dry 100 F (38 C) weather at the beach to 50 F (10 C) cold mountain weather in one day. If you visit during May – November, this is Costa Rica’s rainy season and you need to prepare for it.
Although some people get bummed out from the rain, we always suggest to appreciate it. Rain is what keeps our jungles lush, wildlife abundant and crops fruitful. Trust me, you can still have a magical time in Costa Rica despite the rain. Just make sure you know what to expect!
For those who don’t want to run into any rain at all, then the best times to visit Costa Rica are January – April. If you can only visit in September or October, consider the Caribbean coast such as Tortuguero or Puerto Viejo as the Caribbean side follows a different weather pattern and those times of the year are their summer months.
Do take a guided walk
Some people ask us if it’s worth spending the extra money for a guided walk in Costa Rica. We always say YES! Do at least one guided walk during your time in Costa Rica because it will greatly enrich your experience in the country. You’ll learn and gain a deeper insight to the country and Costa Rican rainforest, wildlife and nature . Even though we have done many guided walks, we always learn something new!
We especially recommend guided walks for families. The world is changing and our next generation needs to open up their eyes to different cultures, languages and traditions. And who knows, maybe their experience will be so inspiring and impactful that they will grow up to be a biologist or scientist or learn Spanish!
Furthermore, a guided walk is a must for birders or anyone who really wants to see wildlife. Your naturalist guide has trained eyes to see the animals and they normally carry telescopes so you can get a really close look.
Learn more about guided walks here.
Do ask about cancellation policies
This is something a lot of people don’t think about, but when you are booking tours, hotels and transportation, always ask for the cancellation policies when you pre-book. You never know when plans may change or you may have accidentally made a mistake in travel planning and you don’t want to get caught unaware.
Do leave the resort
For those staying at a resort (all inclusive or not), make sure to leave the hotel at least once or twice during your trip and visit a local town. I understand that a lot of people want to relax and chill at the resort (don’t blame you, you’re on vacation), but take advantage of being in Costa Rica, especially if you don’t plan to return.
Some people are only in Costa Rica for 5-7 days so they choose one destination and stay in one hotel for their trip. In those cases, it’s so worth getting out and taking some day trips to see the country whether you rent a car for a day or book day tours. And on that note…
Do try to see a volcano, the rainforest, waterfall and beach during your trip
Costa Rica’s big 4 that most people want to see are a volcano, the rainforest, waterfall and a beautiful beach. And yes, you can see them all in one trip!
For rainforest, La Fortuna, Tortuguero, Puerto Viejo, Manuel Antonio, Bijagua, Costa Ballena (Dominical, Uvita and Ojochal) and Osa Peninsula are excellent places. Monteverde is the cloud forest but is beautiful and well worth seeing too.
For beaches, here is our post for best beaches in Costa Rica.
Do at least one outdoor adventure
Costa Rica has a plethora of fun outdoor adventure and you have to do at least one. Whether it’s ziplining, horseback riding, snorkeling, scuba diving, it doesn’t matter. Book at least one fun outdoor adventure for you and the family for a memorable day!
You can read about our favorite 50 things to do in Costa Rica.
Some of the best outdoor adventures in Costa Rica are the Pacuare white water rafting, ziplining in La Fortuna/Monteverde, Hacienda Guachipelin, Buena Vista, Vandara (get 10% off Vandara Passes!), Caño Island snorkeling, Gulf of Papagayo boating, beach hopping in Gulf of Papagayo, Damas Island kayaking, Tortuga Island cruise and canyoning in La Fortuna.
Do bring a reusable water bottle
Costa Rica does have drinkable water in the city and nearly all touristic destinations so you can drink the tap water in Costa Rica so bring a reusable insulated water bottle. Many national parks such as Manuel Antonio National Park and Tenorio Volcano National Park no longer allow single use plastic water bottles inside. With a reusable insulated water bottle, you will also be grateful to have fresh cold water!
However, if you’re staying in remote areas, ask your hotel to see if the tap water is drinkable as usually it is not in rural places. If it isn’t, usually hotels will have filtered water bottles for you to fill up your bottle with.
Do eat at a local restaurant and try Cosat Rican food
Our favorite way to get more in touch with local culture is to eat at a typical restaurant and try the local food. Food is an important part to any culture and you can learn a lot about the country just by their diet. It may not be the most interesting cuisine but one thing you will notice right away from Costa Rican food is that it’s quite fresh!
Costa Rican food consists mostly of rice and beans, salad, tortillas, plantains and meat. They also eat a lot of beef, potatoes, chicken and fish.
A typical breakfast normally is a plate of gallo pinto, a mixture of rice and beans, tortillas, cheese, sour cream, plantains and eggs. Lunch is normally a hearty plate of rice, beans, salad, plantains and a meat (called a casado).
For the best local food experience, you have to go to a soda, what Costa Ricans call traditional Costa Rican restaurants. They are typically open air, small mom and pop restaurants either menu or buffet style. There you’ll find cheaper prices, more locals and a fun gastronomic experience. Find our recommended places to eat in our Costa Rica restaurant map.
Do bring an action camera
Action cameras are the best way to capture and record your adventures in Costa Rica. When you’re ziplining, snorkeling, canyoning, rafting or surfing, you can’t lug around a DSLR. So get an action cam like GoPro or the Insta360. Remember to bring the appropriate straps and mounts.
The Don’ts of Costa Rica
Don’t book your flight to San Jose, California
Unfortunately we have seen this way too many times. People book their flight to San Jose California instead of San Jose, Costa Rica. Don’t make this mistake because it’s a pricey one!
The airport code for San Jose, California is SJC. The airport code for San Jose International Airport, Costa Rica is SJO. Make sure you TRIPLE check your flight before purchasing!
Don’t book your flight to Puerto Rico either… their airport code is SJU.
Don’t assume Costa Rica is like Mexico
If there’s anything that will make locals cringe, it’s tourists assuming Costa Rica is like Mexico. Remember, Latin America is not homogeneous so Mexican culture, traditions, food and people are not similar to Costa Rica’s. Besides the fact both countries speak Spanish, they don’t have too much in common and even Mexican Spanish and Costa Rican Spanish are very different.
So when you visit Costa Rica, make sure you don’t act like that tourist and make Mexican references. Do a little bit of research before you go, even reading the Wikipedia page is something! Don’t forget that it’s important to be culturally sensitive when traveling abroad.
I should also probably add that Costa Rica and Puerto Rico are completely different. Many people confuse those two for some reason. Costa Rica isn’t an island nor is it a territory of the United States! Educate yourself and read more common misconceptions about Costa Rica and find out some important facts about Costa Rica so you are informed during your visit.
Don’t be afraid to speak Spanish
Hablas Español? No? Don’t worry! Even if you only know the Spanish basics, don’t be afraid to practice with the locals! The Costa Ricans love it! Tourism is a huge economic factor of the country, therefore many Costa Ricans in touristic destinations speak very good English. However, as guests in a foreign country, the least we can do is to learn how to say the basics, even if it is just hello and thank you.
You will, at least during your time here learn a very important Costa Rican phrase which is pura vida. It means “pure life” directly translated to English but they use it as a way to say hi, bye, hello, thank you or anything good. Como estas? Pura vida! Soy Samantha, pura vida.
If anything, you will get very good at saying that one Spanish phrase during your time in Costa Rica!
Don’t freak out from the bugs
As an incredibly rich tropical country, there are lots of bugs here. You’ll find all sorts of insects: ants, spiders, scorpions, grasshoppers, moths, butterflies, centipedes, beetles and much more. So just be aware that you will run into some bugs and insects in Costa Rica but don’t freak out!
Take it as an opportunity to embrace your fear (if you’re scared of bugs) and learn more about these important critters. I used to be scared of them when I first moved here but now they don’t bother me.
Remember, it was their home first so we should treat them with respect. It’s another reason why we recommend taking a guided walk because the naturalist guide will share more information about the flora and fauna and understanding is an important step to acceptance. And you never know, you may find yourself liking them more, or at least respecting them.
I’m not saying you should start picking up all the bugs you see but just don’t cry, scream or freak out or else you will be doing that a lot during your time in Costa Rica!
Don’t underestimate Costa Rican roads and don’t take that shortcut!
Many people ask us if they really need to rent a 4wd or 4×4 for Costa Rica. They plan to go to Matapalo in Osa Peninsula, rent an Airbnb up in the mountains outside Uvita and go to Monteverde in September. Yes, we tell them, for your itinerary you should rent a 4wd/4×4 for those places due to the weather, road conditions in rainy season and the fact that your Uvita Airbnb actually says you need a 4wd!
If your itinerary sounds something like that, do not underestimate Costa Rican roads. We do have highways and paved roads here but in rural destinations, expect unpaved roads with pot holes here and there. So here are our tips:
- Spend the extra money and rent the 4wd/4×4. You may also want to consider getting full insurance if you’re going to do a lot of off road exploring.
- If you don’t want to spend the extra money, highly consider picking different destinations/places to stay.
- If you don’t want to drive, check if it’s possible to get a shuttle although it may end up being more expensive. Even consider taking a domestic flight.
- For those who can drive a manual, make sure you are a confident and proficient manual driver. In rural areas, you may need to drive narrow unpaved roads up a mountain so be 100% sure you can with a manual transmission.
- Don’t take that shortcut. Waze and Google Maps works well in Costa Rica but if you accidentally miss a turn and they reroute you to a “shortcut”, do not take it. Stay on main roads.
Don’t go off the trail, don’t feed the animals and don’t bother wildlife
Please be a responsible tourist in Costa Rica and stay on the trail. Too many times have we seen people jump fences for a photo and we have to point out to them that they’re not supposed to. There is a reason why there is a sign! You can harm plants and the flora by going off the path. Not only that, it can be very dangerous.
Also don’t bother wildlife. We have seen people pestering the wildlife so they can get a close photo. If you see a wild animal, don’t feed it, don’t touch it and don’t bother it. If it is injured, find a local who can help you call a local animal rescue.
So when it comes down to it, don’t do it from the gram – it’s not worth it and it makes you a very irresponsible tourist. Respect the sign, respect the country you are visiting and respect nature.
Don’t wait until last minute to book things if you’re visiting during Christmas, New Years, March and Easter
Christmas, New Years and Easter are the busiest times to visit Costa Rica. If you wait until the last minute to book, you may find yourself very stressed out and scrambling to get everything together. Cars and vacation rentals go super fast and if you book last minute, it will most likely cost a lot more.
Start booking at least three months in advance so you’re guaranteed a car, a private shuttle and any MUST SEES or MUST DOS, especially if you are traveling with a large group or family. For Christmas and New Years, start booking at least 3-4 months in advance. Vacation homes in popular touristic destinations book up months, even a year in advance during the holidays.
July is another busy month since it is summer vacation in North America. Easter Week is also an extremely busy time and it normally coincides with North American spring break so plan early for those dates too.
Read our Costa Rica planning guide for more tips.
Don’t take shells, plants or anything from their natural habitat
Costa Rica is all about nature and leaving things as natural as possible. Even though it’s tempting to take some beautiful shells home, they encourage to take as many photos as possible and leave only footprints.
We hope you have a great time in Costa Rica!
I hope this post was helpful for your trip planning and don’t forget to check out our Costa Rica destination map if you’re still trying to decide where to go. We also have a set of Costa Rica itineraries for those who want to put together their own trip.
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.