Travel tips: The Do's and Don'ts of Costa Rica


Costa Rica is a country brimming with gorgeous natural attractions and bursting with vibrant culture. Whether you’re visiting for three days or 30, here’s how to make the most of your trip.

DO prepare for some wild roads. Whether you are driving yourself or are being driven, the road ahead of you will likely be winding and full of hills. While never veering to the point of being genuinely unsafe, roads are often narrow and weave through the rainforest while following the curvature of the terrain below, resulting in a road that can sometimes resemble a roller coaster while the road plunges down a hill or over a mountain. These roads, however, are nothing to fear but merely something to get used to. Driving stick-shift is almost mandatory in some situations, so if you are planning to drive and don’t know how to drive a manual transmission, learning how before your trip may save you from trouble. Otherwise, buckle up and enjoy the ride.

DO practice your Spanish while you’re there. Because of increased tourism to the country, it is very easy to find people and places that will accommodate to English speakers; at some restaurants, menus are entirely in English. While this can be helpful when you don’t know Spanish very well, don’t miss out on the chance to improve your Spanish. Depending on your Spanish skills, practice speaking with natives, ranging from simply ordering your food in Spanish or having full-on conversations with locals. Either way, by stepping outside your comfort zone and speaking to others in Spanish, you can improve your skills while embracing local culture.

DO get on board with the environment-friendly culture of Costa Rica. The country contains almost 6 percent of the planet’s biodiversity within the .003 percent of the world’s surface that it accounts for, according to the website for the Embassy of Costa Rica in Washington D.C. Wildlife and nature are key elements of the country’s booming ecotourism. The country takes the environment very seriously with hotels often featuring compost bins, in addition to the standard garbage and recycling bins, and lights are switched off whenever they are not in use. Be sure to follow whatever environmental policies are in place there. Once you spend an afternoon in a rainforest thriving with animals, it’s even easier to understand the power behind simple things like turning off a light switch.

DON’T just stick to the beaches. The beaches of Costa Rica are absolutely breathtaking, with warm, tranquil oceans perfect for stand-up paddle boarding in some areas and ideal surfing spots in others. However, the beaches are just the beginning when it comes to the beauty in Costa Rica. Venture out into the rainforests to see diverse wildlife like howler monkeys, sloths and toucans. Volcanoes, such as Volcano Arenal, prove to be the location of some of the most beautiful vistas in the country. For those who want to see the rainforest but don’t want to compromise on beach time, a visit to Manuel Antonio National Park offers several different beach options framed by lively rainforests. Forget watching out for seagulls at these beaches — it’s monkeys and raccoons that will be trying to get into your stuff!

DON’T just participate in the Americanized version of Costa Rica. With Americans making up a large portion of Costa Rica’s tourism, the country has implemented tourism attractions tailored to American demands. Burger joints crop up in small towns and signs written only in English are prevalent throughout even the countryside. While it can be nice to experience some familiarity in a foreign country, don’t let yourself get too comfortable to the extent you don't immerse yourself in Costa Rican culture. Venture out and be sure to experience Costa Rican staples like gallo pinto and plantains, and don’t be afraid to stop along the small shops and restaurants in the villages along the road. It might just be where you find the best coconut water you’ve had in your life.

DON’T worry about converting your dollars to colones too much. In most of the areas around popular tourist destinations, vendors accept dollars and can give you change in colones to use in other areas that don’t take dollars. Save your time by not waiting in the long exchange lines at the airport and just use your dollars when you can.

Have fun and pura vida!

Ava Garcia is an avid runner and Oreo fanatic. She loves backpacking, going to museums and baking cookies. Nothing makes her day quite like a good book and an iced chai tea latte.