10 Things We Heard About Costa Rica Before Going – True or False?

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.

One Lane Bridge
Even the main roads have one lane bridges that slow traffic. This photo is on a nice day but we had to cross several on a very rainy day. La Flamingo – Dec. 2014


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.

Arenal VolcanoArenal Volcano Cloudy

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)

CR Waves
Typical waves at La Flamingo. They “break” all at once knocking you down and push you around. Dec. 2014


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.

7 Replies to “10 Things We Heard About Costa Rica Before Going – True or False?”

  1. Thanks for sharing! I’ve heard many of the same things as I’ve been preparing for my trip. Going to scour over the CR packing list so thanks for sharing the link.

    Regarding #4 – I’ve been told that as of Dec. 3, 2014, this tax is included in your airline ticket. I’m not sure if this is for U.S. travelers only, but it’s itemized on the ticket.

    1. And looking back the thing we didn’t take enough of were zip-lock bags. I honestly can’t remember why but I do remember my wife saying she wish we had a few more. Probably because it was so damp. You will get to watch the corners of your field guide curl up!

      So are you telling me we spent $87 extra dollars to leave the country? We flew out on 12/20 and security personnel were adamant about getting the tax before they let us go through. Please check that out and let us know when you get back. Not that I can appeal to anyone for my money back…

      1. Ziplocks – thanks! I have it on my list for electronics, but I’ll make sure to pack some extras.

        Regarding the tax – that’s what I was told. Did you have an arrival fee as well??? I just checked my ticket and these items are itemized and paid for with the ticket:
        Costa Rica Common Area User Charge: 6.29
        Costa Rica Security Fee: 3.04
        Costa Rica Tourism Arrival Tax: 15.00

        1. I will have to see if my wife can dig up the tickets to see about the arrival fees.

          On the exit tax I would have the $29 ready. If you are down to $29 leaving the country, then it is probably time to depart! One time when I was younger I got back to the airport with barely enough money to get my car out of long-term parking and gas home. Not going through that ever again.


  2. So I just returned from Costa Rica and thought I’d give you an update. It looks like my departure tax was NOT included and I ended up paying the $29. I was told that it should have been and will be included next time – I guess Costa Rica is going to be charging the airlines for it and the airlines will pass down the fee (with a nice sized surcharge added I would guess).

    From my standpoint, your post is basically spot on with my experiences (although I didn’t exchange money, use a ATM, or spend time at the beach). The only exception I can site is the rain – we had incredible weather. During our 14 days, it rained only once for 2 hours on the second to last day. Outside of that which can be very variable, I think your observations are well done. I was amazed at the number of Costa Ricans who didn’t speak any English and as you said, even lodges that advertised WiFi could be spotty at best.

    Now, onto sorting through the thousands of photos I shot 🙁

    1. Glad to hear that it didn’t rain but once. We really only had it for a couple of days and not hard. But some of the people we met didn’t think it would be raining?? Of course we didn’t go in the “dry” season.

      Glad to see you agree with most of the rest of the items I listed. I guess the lesson learned before I go on my next trip is to take what the travel literature – guides and internet – say with a grain of salt.

      I look forward to reading your posts about the trip and seeing the photos you narrow it down to. And from personal experience, let me say good luck with that!

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