Both seasoned travelers and new visitors to Costa Rica will benefit from taking a little time out to plan their trip in advance. For example: it's amazing how a little mosquito repellent can make your trip so much more pleasant if you plan to visit say the Tortuguero canals. What to bring, when to come and what attractions to see are all factors that come into play in a successful vacation or holiday.
What to Bring
When someone asks us what to bring on a Costa Rica vacation the answer is always a bit complicated. What you bring has everything to do with what you plan to do during your stay. Here is a list of major items you may want to consider bringing. Obviously you may add or take away from this list depending on your destination in Costa Rica.
- Swim suit
- Sun block (UV rays are very strong in Costa Rica - minimum SPF30)
- Comfortable walking shoes (or hiking shoes if you plan to hike many of the National Parks)
- Binoculars (especially for bird watching or dolphin/whale watching)
- Mosquito repellent (can be purchased locally but if you have a preferred brand you should bring it)
- Digital camera (could be waterproof if you plan to snorkel or swim)
- Sun hat or cap
- Compact umbrella (for the rainy season)
- Surf board (these can be rented if you are not too attached to your own board)
- Boogie board (can also be rented in Costa Rica at many coastal hotels/shops)
- Short pants (for warmer coastal areas)
- Long pants (for high elevation cooler areas)
- T shirts
- Heavy socks (for hiking)
- Light socks (for general wear)
- Light sweater or jacket (the highlands can be chilly especially at night)
- Extra contact lenses or glasses (for those who use them)
- Deodorant (can be purchased locally but your brand may not be available)
- Tampons (can be purchased locally but your brand may not be available)
- Prescription drugs (most can be purchased locally even without a prescription but best to be safe and bring a bit more than you need for the duration of your trip along with the prescription)
- Travelers checks
- Drivers license
- Passport (check now to see when it expires)
- Airline ticket (if arriving by plane)
- Emergency money (hide a bill somewhere safe for emergencies in case your wallet or purse is stolen)
- ATM or credit cards (make photocopies in case these are lost or stolen)
- Membership or discount cards for Hotels/Hostels and rental car companies
- Health Insurance card (for both car rental and health care - the private hospitals accept some US insurance plans)
- Sturdy backpack (if traveling mostly on foot)
- Light daypack (if appropriate for day trips from your place of lodging)
- Guide book(s)
- Fingernail clippers
- Headphones & music player
Other Important Travel Tips:
VERY IMPORTANT: NEVER LEAVE YOUR BELONGINGS UNATTENDED IN YOUR CAR ANYWHERE DURING YOUR JOURNEY! Make sure your car is in excellent working order and it is recommended not to drive at night. Always park in a secure (guarded) parking lot.
- Leave expensive jewelry at home
- If you book through an on line service or travel agency it doesn't hurt to call ahead and make sure your reservation is confirmed. Get a person's name and a confirmation number from the hotel so you will have something to show the desk clerk when you arrive. If you find your reservation is not ready, at least you can contact the booking agency before you leave home and make sure they follow through.
- If you have any expensive items with you lock them in the hotel safe or keep them with you. Never leave anything of value in your hotel room. Sadly some have had things stolen by hotel staff even in some upscale hotels.
- Charge batteries for whatever items you may be bringing that require batteries (or bring extra batteries)
- Forward your emails to an account you can check at an Internet Cafe
- Electricity in Costa Rica is 110VAC/60HZ (same as north America) - same plug style as the US.
A great tool for planning your trip and knowing what to pack can be found here
Travel to Costa Rica
Air fares are tied to the seasons. Most people travel to Costa Rica between December and April in the dry season so fares tend to be higher at that time. If you don't mind a bit of rain and like the idea of being around less tourists you can plan your trip between May and December. Depending where you are in most areas of Costa Rica the rain tends to fall in the afternoon during rainy season so you can hike, golf and do other activities in the morning then retire to a covered place for the afternoon and enjoy the mostly warm rains.
Many major airlines have flights to both Juan Santamaria International Airport (about 15 minutes from the Capital San Jose) and Daniel Oduber International Airport in Liberia Guanacaste (near the most popular Pacific beaches).
From North America: Air Canada, American Airlines, Delta, Frontier, Continental, United Airlines, Mexicana, Spirit Air, US Airways and Grupo TACA all have regular direct flights into Costa Rica from many major hubs.
From Europe: Iberia, Condor and Martinair all have flights to Costa Rica (some stop in Miami or elsewhere enroute)
Cruise ShipsA number of cruise lines (such as Carnival and Royal Caribbean) have seasonal passages that include either Puerto Limon (Caribbean side) or Puntarenas (Pacific side). We suggest you check with the specific cruise line for more details about available itineraries.
By CarDriving from north America through Central America to Costa Rica can be a daunting experienced if you don't speak Spanish well. However, if you want an adventure we suggest you visit http://drivemeloco.com and read the Gringo Guide to driving through Mexico and Central America.
For those who live in Panama it is less daunting to drive up the Pan American Highway to the border.
You will need your car registration and original title to get into the country (no photocopies). Be sure your drivers license is current and has plenty of time on it before you leave home. A source for Central America Auto Insurance is http://www.sanbornsinsurance.com/.