Sunscreen is actually very expensive in Costa Rica. It is also something that you will need to apply every single day that you are there. The sun is particularly strong here because of Costa Rica’s close proximity to the equator. It is important that you only buy and use sunscreen that is environmentally and reef-friendly so that you don’t harm the plants and animals in Costa Rica or anywhere else you go that you use sunscreen. This is especially important when you are in the ocean. Mineral sunscreen, such as zinc oxide, is the safest option.
Souvenirs, like coffee, Cacique, and salsa Lizano, are significantly cheaper if you buy them at a local supermarket instead of waiting until you get to the airport. The same is true for any other type of souvenir as there is a huge mark up at the airport shops. If you have a chance to buy art, jewelry, wooden crafts, or other types of handmade souvenirs directly from the local artisans in Costa Rica that is even better.
Pipas are fresh coconuts that are usually sold on the side of the road or from a mobile vendor on the beach. This incredibly refreshing and hydrating drink is one of the most divine things that you can indulge in on a hot Costa Rican day. It is also a great hangover cure! Make sure that after you drink all of the liquid that you eat the meat inside, too. Also, please refuse the plastic straw that is usually offered when you purchase a pipa, as Costa Rica is trying to eliminate single-use plastics that usually end up in the ocean.
Traditional Costa Rican food is truly delectable. The main staples include rice and beans, sweet and savory plantains, locally caught fish, chicken, farm fresh cheese, homemade corn tortillas, avocado, and pico de gallo. Costa Rica is also home to an abundance of delicious exotic fruits. Eating what the locals eat not only makes your cultural experience more authentic, but will also save you from paying tourist prices for food that you get at home. If you go to the supermarket for snacks or to stock up your vacation rental, look for Costa Rican brands, as imported brands are significantly more expensive.
Power outages are not uncommon in Costa Rica, especially during the rainy season. Also, if you are staying in a more remote location or plan on walking around or back to your vacation home at night, having a flashlight can be a life saver.
Staying at any international chain hotel or resort in Costa Rica is going to mean that you will be paying much higher prices for everything. If huge high end resorts are your thing, then you probably already realize this. There are an abundance of locally and family owned hotels, lodges, restaurants, and bars that aren’t completely geared toward the five-star traveler with a five-star budget. Costa Rica is not a cheap destination by any means compared to other countries in Central America, but if you seek out the smaller and more local-vibe type establishments you are more likely to avoid tourist trap prices.
Waze and Google Maps work great in Costa Rica, as long as you have 3G access. Driving in Costa Rica can be a bit challenging, as the streets are not named and signs in some places are non-existent. Driving in San José is one of the most challenging of all driving experiences in Costa Rica, especially if you are not well-seasoned in the city. Most rental car companies have an option to rent a GPS too. If you plan on driving around Costa Rica, you will definitely want some sort of navigational aid. You might not use it the entire time, but you will be far happier and will save a lot of time if you have it when you need it.
If you don’t want to take on the challenge of driving in Costa Rica, a great option is to fly within the country. Sansa and Nature Air are two domestic airlines that offer quick flights to over a dozen destinations throughout the country. This is an especially ideal option if you don’t have a lot of time but want to see multiple parts of the country in one trip.
There are so many things to do outside, which is the best place to be in Costa Rica, that are entirely free once you are here. This includes beach walks, watching the sunset, hiking, birdwatching, swimming, surfing (if you brought your own surfboard), and observing the local wildlife around you.
There are quite a few free cultural activities in Costa Rica throughout the year too. Some museums, like the National Gallery of Contemporary Art and Design (free on Mondays) are free certain days of the week. During the annual town fiestas, the horse parades, called topes, are free to watch. There is often live music, art fairs, local markets, and surf competitions that are free to enjoy too.
There always seems to be some sort of celebration taking place in Costa Rica. Whether it’s a festival celebrating something Costa Ricans love, such as pejibayes or chicharrones, or an annual town fiesta where Costa Ricans celebrate for several days by means of dancing, drinking, Costa Rican-style bullfighting, and parades, there is always something exciting happening in the local community. Attending a local festival, fiesta, or celebration is a great way to experience the local culture while also have a ton of fun.