If you would have asked me a few years ago if I had any desire to plan a vacation to to Costa Rica, I would have said it wasn’t really on my radar. However, something happened when my husband turned 49. He began to think, “holy crap, I’m almost 50. I need a better retirement plan!” So he started searching “retirement opportunities” and Costa Rica kept popping up. So with that, we packed our bags and made our first trip. I didn’t research or plan our vacation very well, so that’s why I decided to give you tips for planning a vacation to Costa Rica if you plan to travel there.
We went on a Discovery Tour to Costa Rica that allowed us to see development, explore the area, meet locals and learn about retirement possibilities. Needless to say, we fell in love with the country, the people, the simplicity.
Since then we have traveled to Costa Rica many times. We vacation with our family for two weeks at a time during the summer and explored different areas of the country, mainly in the Guanacaste region. And after lots of prayers, and saving up, we did end up buying a lot and plan to build a home to use as rental income for our retirement years. Dang, all this talk about retirement makes me feel old. Did I mention my husband is six years older than me? 😉
My tips for planning a vacation to Costa Rica
- Research location. This is huge because there are only 2 airports in Costa Rica, so you want to know which airport to fly into. Liberia is up north in Guanacaste and the other is in San Jose which is the southern region. Also, figure out how far of a drive it is to your destination from the airport. Everything takes longer in Costa Rica especially driving because the roads are… let’s just say interesting. No stop lights, no stop signs, no street signs, two-lane roads… the roads are safe, but it takes a while to get anywhere. So be sure to bring your patience to Costa Rica, because they don’t do anything fast. Our two favorite areas so far are Playa Conchal and Nosara. Next summer we are staying a few days in the volcano area at Arenal.
- Book your hotel or rental home. As with any vacation, planning in advance is key to getting the best price. Planning a vacation to Costa Rica is no different. Depending on the season, you can get better deals. I am a huge fan of Hotels.com that let you search for multiple hotels at one and also home rental sites. If you wait until the last minute, you may not have as many options and prices may double. We have stayed at the WESTIN PLAYA CONCHAL, rented a home just down the road through VRBO at Reserva Conchal (also called Playa Flamingo area. Best white sand beaches in CR!) and our all-time favorite location is near Nosara where we rent a home and have officially started building our own home which will be for rent one day through Kalia.
- Plan your activities. There are so many things to do on vacation in Costa Rica. Everything from adventurous thrill seeking activities to low key relaxing activities like bird watching. Our family likes more adventurous activities, so we like to zip line, go on ATV tours, buggy tours, surfing, fishing and boating tours. Relaxing on the beach, hiking, rainforest tours, visiting the volcanos and so much more. Oh, and when you find the monkeys up in the trees, it’s amazing to watch! They did not like when our ATV’s come too close to their trees. We found that once you are at your resort or hotel, they have a full activity center to help you plan your tours as well. You can create your custom vacation to Costa Rica based on any number of activities or adventures you choose. Here is a great resource to help you plan your vacation to Costa Rica.
- Pack accordingly. Depending on the season you plan a vacation to Costa Rica will impact what you should pack. There is a rainy season and a dry season. And that about sums it up. In the rainy season, it rains every day, so you will want close toes shoes and a light rain jacket. However, it doesn’t rain all day long, every day. In the dry season, it does not rain for months. The roads are dusty. And when I say dusty, I mean you sometimes use your windshield wipers to scrape off the dust just to see out the window. You do not need as much clothing as it is hot and dry. However, if you plan to do any outside activities like ATV or buggy tours you definitely need a bandana to cover your mouth and nose! Also, we love to go hiking but remember the dirt is dirty and does NOT wash out! Take old tennis shoes & clothes for those outdoor activities. Here is my personal packing list I have put together for our family:
- Set a budget. Before planning your vacation to Costa Rica, decide what you want to do and where you want to stay. You can make the US dollar go far with planning. I think the activities and dinners out are the two biggest expenses outside of airfare and lodging. With the internet, you can literally plan everything out in advance and come up with a doable budget for your family. I suggest staying at least one week if not longer. We tend to alternate with an excursion activity on one day, then a chill day the next. On chill days we may explore a different beach, go on a hike or hang at the house/ hotel. This helps the budget and your energy level!
- Safety first. In general Costa Rica is a safe country. We have never had any issues. A few things our local friends have advised us on is to be aware and prepared. Be aware that in tourist areas, petty theft may occur like pickpocketing or stolen bags at the beach when you are in the ocean. Also, don’t carry a lot of cash with you. Costa Rica uses the colon or colones but the US dollar is widely used and accepted. Credit cards are also accepted almost everywhere. Taxi drivers may over change if paying with US dollars, so it’s a good idea to exchange some money for daily use. Here is a great article that answers questions related to Costa Rica money and more tips for planning a vacation to Costa Rica.
- Take lots of pictures and videos. Your vacation in Costa Rica will fly by so fast. Be that person who is constantly taking pictures and videos. I promise you will be glad you did after you get home. It’s an excellent way to remember a trip of a lifetime. Plus it’s easy to make of those picture album books once you get home.
Ok here is my specific packing list and links to my favorite items you must have when planning your vacation to Costa Rica.
- Rash guard, SPF shirt, hat & sunglasses
- Snorkel masks (These are THE best!)
- Old tennis shoes & old clothes to get dirty
- Beach blanket
- Bug spray
- Snacks, bars, nuts
- Liquor (there are stores but we typically take 1 bottle)
- Cooler cups & water bottles
- Portable compact cooler
- Games/ cards/ uno
- GoPro/ charger/ accessories
- speaker & charging cod
- phone chargers
- A good book
- Light rain jacket (depending on the season)
- Dry bag for phone & money
- Ziplock baggies
- A few extra trash bags to bring dirty clothes home
- Personal toiletries
- Swimsuits, cover up and shirt- daytime outfits
- shorts/ dress- evening outfits
- Comfortable shoes
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