Go Ahead traveler Melissa explored the best of Costa Rica on tour. Here, she shares her need-to-know tips before you embark on a trip to this Central American gem.
I knew I was excited to visit Costa Rica for the first time, but what I didn’t expect was how much I’d fall in love with this beautiful country. Full of incredible wildlife and greenery, Costa Rica has a diverse mix of landscapes and its culture is equally fascinating.
While large parts of the country are poor and underdeveloped, Costa Rica has still managed to pioneer the practice of eco-friendly initiatives. The diversity of the country is part of what makes it so interesting, but it always helps to know what to expect before you visit! Here, some of my top Costa Rica travel tips to ensure you’ll have an amazing time on tour.
Know when the wet season is
Worried about mosquitoes? You might want to travel during Costa Rica’s dry season, which occurs from mid-November through April. I traveled in April, and we saw no rain for our entire trip and therefore very few mosquitoes. In the months of May through October, the country experiences upwards of five inches of rain per month, which means you’ll likely encounter more mosquitoes.
Bring plenty of bug spray
Regardless of when you travel, it’s best to be prepared with protective bug spray. You likely won’t need mosquito netting for your room, but it’s good to have either a travel-sized bottle of bug spray (for your carry-on) or a larger one to stash in your checked luggage. If you don’t want to worry about a bottle leaking in your bags, you can actually buy bug spray in easy-to-apply wipes! I found these Natrapel insect repellent wipes that were great for bringing around, although I never needed to use them.
If you’re really worried about getting bit, you could also spray your clothes with Permethrin, an insecticide that prevents bugs from biting you through your clothes. If you’d rather not take the time to spray yourself, you can buy clothing pre-treated with Permethrin at places like REI or EMS. It’s also smart to wear long-sleeved clothing or pants when you’re venturing through the rain forest so your ankles and arms are protected. Look for hiking pants or clothing made with lightweight, quick-drying fabric that will keep you cool on your walks.
Pack layers and lightweight clothing
Costa Rica has a tropical climate, which means it’s generally pretty hot and humid. In April, we saw temperatures up into the 80s! However, in the Arenal and Monteverde regions—the mountainous areas of Costa Rica—temperatures do get quite a bit cooler, especially at night. You’ll want to make sure you pack plenty of layers and clothing in light-colored and lightweight fabrics. Short sleeves in quick-dry or performance fabrics are a great idea because you’ll stay cool without having to worry about your shoulders getting burned in the sun. A sweatshirt or lightweight jacket is great for when you arrive in the cooler mountain region, and you’ll definitely want to bring a rain jacket or umbrella too. There is always a chance of precipitation in a rain forest, but luckily these storms tend to pass through quickly.
Pack Dramamine if you’re prone to motion sickness
Costa Rica only has one major highway throughout the entire country. You’ll travel on this to get to and from the airport, but the rest of your time on the bus will be spent largely on bumpy, unpaved roads. Transfers between regions can be lengthy, but the time will fly by as you look out the window and marvel at the incredible mountain and forest views. You’ll also travel by boat across Lake Arenal and to get to the island of Tortuguero, which is an awesome way to spot wildlife and a more fun way to get around (at least in my opinion). If you do get seasick or carsick, it’s a good idea to bring some Dramamine.
Prepare to shut down
My favorite thing about Costa Rica was how immersed we were in the environment. Each hotel did an amazing job of putting the focus on the incredibly green, lush landscapes—we could even hear howler monkeys outside of our rooms from one hotel! Because of this, and the fact that Costa Rica is so dedicated to wildlife conservation and preservation, it can be a little difficult to connect to the internet sometimes. While all of the hotels did offer Wi-Fi, it could be spotty or available only in common areas. Personally, I took that as an opportunity to grab my book and a spot in a hammock to relax and enjoy the scenery!
Seek adventure with zip lining
This was probably the scariest (and best!) thing I did on tour. I had never been zip lining before, and while I was really nervous before going, it turned out to be a fun experience that pushed me outside of my comfort zone. In my group, there were a few travelers who decided to go at the last minute and were also grateful they did. We all felt very safe the whole time, but it is a rush—you do have to walk up quite a few stairs (and the ride to get to the top is bumpy). It’s not recommended for those who have heart problems or women who are pregnant, but if you’re looking for a new adventure, this is definitely the thing to try.
You can walk as much or as little as you’d like
There are tons of opportunities for you to explore by foot if you’d like, or take a step back and rest. In Arenal, avid hikers can go on a fairly steep and challenging walk, while those who are just looking forward to a view can sit and take in the scenery from an expansive lookout point. Those interested in visiting the hanging bridges—my favorite excursion of the trip—will enjoy a look above the treeline, but there is also a butterfly museum nearby if you’d prefer something more low-key. Each day there was also plenty of time to rest or enjoy the hotel pools before dinner, a must after a busy day of exploring the rainforest.
Bring binoculars and a good camera
Okay, I’ll admit it—I didn’t see myself being particularly interested in bird watching before this tour. But once I caught a glimpse of some of the vibrant, colorful wildlife, and my Tour Director started telling us about the different species, I was hooked. We had tons of fun hunting down Northern Jacanas, macaws and the beautiful Quetzal, not to mention all kinds of monkeys who hid high in the trees. There was something to see around every corner, and I genuinely regretted not bringing my own pair of binoculars. I am just thankful my fellow travelers were happy to share theirs with me!
Learn to like rice
Costa Rican cuisine is simple but filling, and famous for rice and beans in particular. We had rice at every meal (even breakfast!), but it was always served with lots of fresh vegetables, savory meats, fish and sometimes, my favorite: fried plantains. Fruit was served in abundance, and I was pleasantly surprised by how delicious the desserts were (usually a custard or type of flan). Since Costa Rica is one of the world’s largest exporters of coffee beans, coffee lovers will enjoy the strong, dark brews served each morning at breakfast.
Embrace the adventure
Costa Rica is an incredible country, and there is so much natural beauty to appreciate. Take your time there to really unplug and savor the experience of being immersed in the wildlife. Whether you’re relaxing in the pool or sitting outside to enjoy the sun (and the sound of the howler monkeys), the experiences you’ll have on this vacation will open your eyes to Central America.
Have you ever been on a Costa Rica tour? What travel tips would you add to this list?