Hints & Tips
Here is a random order of things you may find useful if you're going to Costa Rica.
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- Buy stout hiking boots. Millets (outdoor and camping shop in the UK) can sell you a whole range, but we got all ours for about £50 (that's 50 pounds sterling) a pair. Make sure they are WATERPROOF, or if not, buy and apply many coats of one of the waterproofing compounds they stock especially for boots.
- Make sure you take clothes that can easily be dried. It's not cold in Costa Rica (unless you are exceptionally going right up into the mountains) so you don't need sweaters, coats or heavy jeans. In fact don't take any kind of jeans with you, they will just end up sodden and impossible to dry. Lightweight trousers are fine, as are shorts but be prepared to get bitten by the mozzies if you're only wearing shorts.
- Take mosquito repellent and USE it! More of a problem in the perpetually wetter areas like Tortuguero. In Manuel Antonio we just lived in shorts and T-shirts with no mozzie protection at all and never got bitten once. In Tortuguero, one trek through the forest, in long trousers and with mozzie repellent gave us multiple bites on our unprotected areas, like your hands. Mozzies like elbows, backs of legs and ankles but are not fussy.
- Take less than you think you'll need. Lugging all that luggage around quickly becomes unfunny. Backpackers get away with just one rucksack and, no, they don't smell and, yes, they do have clean clothes on. So ditch the small chemists supply and travel light
- Spend more on that first night's accommodation - after nearly 24 hours on your feet (well, sat down in an aircraft mostly) you'll appreciate the comfort.
- Take and use sun cream. If you're looking for the sun you don't need to be told this, but for non sun worshippers it can sneak up on and you will be lobster pink. Don't ruin part of your holiday for the sake of a bit of cream!
- Try using your Spanglish on the locals. They really appreciate it, and will immediately respond, in English if you're totally crap at Spanish, but I had many Spanish conversations. It just all adds to the feelgood factor.
- Costa Ricans ("Ticos") are FRIENDLY, unobtrusive and generally welcoming. OK, so not everybody is going to treat you like a lost member of the family, but you get the general idea. If you've ever visited The Gambia (West Africa) then you'll know how unfriendly, pestering locals can really put a downer on a trip.
- Take US dollars with you. Generally accepted (just ask to pay in Dollars) and they will do the conversion there and then. And they don't rip you off, giving you the average bank rate. Example: when I went it was 362 colones to the dollar (i.e. what the bank would give you). Everywhere used between 360 to 362 to work out what it would cost in dollars. So they are not there to rip you off, just to do business.
- Take your VISA card (and don't leave it behind somewhere!). Accepted more or less everywhere, and in far more places then the general demeanour of a place would have you believe. Just ask to pay using your "tarjeta de credito". You actually pay in their own currency (colones) when you use VISA so the exchange rate that appears on your VISA bill may vary from transaction to transaction.
- Costa Ricans (especially in San Jose) go everywhere with an umbrella, but frankly we found it all too much trouble. And it's just something else to weigh down your suitcase. But if you don't want to get your hair wet, take one. At least it is hardly ever windy so they don't turn inside out.
- Book your tours before you go (via the Internet, in our case) if you are only staying for a day in one place. It's too much stress to try and get a tour booked for the next day at a local office. Conversely, if you are spending a few days somewhere, and are at a loose end, it's very easy to book any number of tours from local offices in every town.
- Taxis are cheap. And red. And have a cunningly designed sign on top that says TAXI. By law they must have a meter running (the "Maria") so make sure they do. We never had a problem, but we were warned. In some places (e.g. Arenal) we always asked (and agreed) a price before being taken back to our hotel. Stops any arguments the other end.
- Taxis, and cars in general, would not pass a British MOT test. Seatbelts (especially in the rear) were defective or missing. Speedos worked most of the time. Suspensions were usually shot to hell due to the appalling roads. Just thought you'd like to know that.
- The road from anywhere to Monteverde is not a road. It is the original mountain pass, no tarmac (unpaved) with more potholes than a Welsh coalmine. It was 3 hours of purgatory getting there. And 2 hours getting out the other end.
- All roads have potholes. Some roads are more potholes than road. Taxis know where these potholes are (or where the good bit of road is left) and drive accordingly. That's why there are so many accidents in a country with just 3 million inhabitants. They usually drive on the right but you could have fooled me.
- Don't think Costa Rica is glamorous. You might not want to leave all your makeup behind, but a minimal amount will suffice. If you can keep it on your sweaty little face, that is.
- Put a rolled up towel in front (or behind) your door of every hotel to stop the creepy crawlies getting in. The baby scorpion that found its way into my room was quite a novelty, but I wouldn't want to meet its daddy.
- Drink that bottled water! Tap water is safe throughout, but bottled tastes better. Whatever, don't dehydrate.
- It's dark at 6pm and light at 5:30am. Costa Ricans tend to rise early (VERY early) to make the most of the daylight, and get things done before the rain hits. My suggestion is to do the same. We were in bed, asleep by 10pm, but up by 6am every day, listening to the howler monkeys. If you retire late and rise late, you'll miss the best part of the day. And let me know what you found to do at night because we found the night life in Costa Rica to be basically non-existent.
- Costa Rica is a wonderfully diverse place. I can only heartily recommend it. Go enjoy!