Here is a list of non-birding related items that we had read or heard before our trip to Costa Rica in December 2014. In our experience some are correct, some aren’t, and a few fall in the gray middle area.
The points aren’t in any particular order.
1. We had heard most Costa Ricans spoke some English so you really don’t need to know Spanish. Mostly False. Only at the major locations – the airport for example – or at the lodges. Otherwise very spotty. We could have used knowing basic Spanish.
2. We had read not to exchange money at the airport because of the exchange rate and fees. False – Do it. We would have been better off to pay the higher fees and got some colóns at the airport. We ended up wasting money because we hadn’t broken any U.S. $20’s at the airport and then later going to an ATM.
3. We had heard mixed reports about renting a car. We didn’t rent one and I am glad we didn’t. We hired drivers to get from place to place, which I think is the way to go for the first time traveler. Next time I will do a hybrid system . I would hire a driver for the 3-4 hour journey from the airport to our destination and then rent a car at the location for a few days. I spoke to a gentleman from Saskatchewan who drove and it was “OK” with the most recent GPS software. But I talked to a couple from the U.K. with just maps and they had to stop 20 times asking for directions from the airport. There are very, very few directional road signs. And they are small.
4. Don’t forget your exit tax at the airport – $29 per person. True. We talked to several people who knew nothing about it.
5. It is called the Rain Forest for a reason. True. We were in the rain forest area for 4 days. It rained 3 of them. In fact the first day we were there it was clear and the locals said it was the first day in 3 weeks it hadn’t rained.
On the left the view of Arenal Volcano on our first day in the area. This would be the only day the volcano was seen most of the day. On the right is a more typical view (or lack of ) of the volcano.
6. I read you should download a copy of “What to pack for Costa Rica” and then follow it. True. We used the 2 small flashlights we had every night. The lodges aren’t very well-lit. And my wife lost her glasses. But we had packed a second pair as the list recommended. The one we used is located here.
7. We had neither read or heard about the waves at La Flamingo. We were expecting the types of waves we experienced in different parts of the U.S. If I’m describing it correctly, the waves “break” all at once, knocking you down if you’re standing in them. Not what we were expecting. (See losing wife’s glasses in 6 above)
8. Allow time at customs/immigration on the flights if you have to make a connecting flight. True and False. Coming back into the U.S it’s true, not so much going out. We saw and have heard of several people missing connecting flights because of the long lines coming back into the U.S. Luckily we had a 3 hour layover in Houston because it took an hour and 20 minutes to get through the long line. But maybe it was because of the holidays?
9. I had read and heard that WiFi is spotty. True. Several places you had to be within 50′ of the service to get your phone, laptop, etc. to work. I didn’t use either but my wife and daughter had some troubles with their phones.
10. You can drink the water. True. None of us had any problems.
I would like to know if you have any points to add or disagree with my points. Just leave a comment below.