Costa Rica – top tips

A crocodile yawns on the banks of the Tarcoles River

If you’re planning to go to Costa Rica, here are some of my top tips to help you make the most of your visit:

Climate

One of the idyllic golden sandy beaches in Manuel Antonio National Park

You might expect Costa Rica to be hot and sunny as it’s so close to the equator, but the country’s home to lots of microclimates, which means the conditions vary massively from one place to another. During my trip, it was hot and sunny on the coast, but much cooler in the high altitude cloud forest.

The country has two distinct seasons – the wet season, which lasts from May to November, and the dry season, from December to April. I visited the country in November during the tail end of the wet season and it rained a lot. I’m Welsh and I like to think I know a thing or too about rain, but Costa Rican rain was unlike anything I’ve experienced.

It bucketed down like crazy for at least an hour each day and umbrellas were positively useless against the deluge. It was also too humid for waterproofs, which meant unless I wanted to hibernate indoors for huge stretches of the day, I got wet – very wet – every day. That said, you quickly get used to the rain and learn to live with it. And I’m not sure you can say you’ve truly experienced Costa Rica unless you’ve been soaked to the skin at least once. It’s all part of the fun.

Money matters

The national currency is the Costa Rican colón and its brightly coloured bank notes proudly showcase the country’s wildlife. When I tried to exchange my British pounds before my trip, I was (incorrectly) told by the currency exchange that you can’t buy the colón in the UK. So I headed to Costa Rica with a load of US dollars instead, intending to convert them there. But when I got there I was advised to keep my US dollars as they’re widely accepted throughout the country. I picked up some colón along the way, which came in handy for tipping and small purchases, but other than that I used my US dollars everywhere.

What to wear

View of Arenal Volcano from Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park

I didn’t find Costa Rica anywhere near as warm as I was expecting. There were some hot and humid moments, but equally there were times I felt decidedly chilly, so my advice is to pack plenty of layers. Loose cotton trousers and tops came in handy, especially when hiking through the rain forest. I’m a mecca for mosquitoes and was worried about being bitten, but the long, loose garments kept me cool and protected my skin from the sun and the pesky bloodsuckers. I was bitten a little, but thankfully not too often.

Leafy green foliage flanks the path through Arenal Volcano National Park

My toed-caped waterproof hiking sandals, which I took to go white water rafting, proved to be fantastic for hiking, especially during the fierce onslaughts of rain, as they were super comfy and dried out in no-time. If I’d taken non-waterproof trainers, I’d have been faced with the unpleasant prospect of wearing soggy, stinky shoes every day, so comfortable, waterproof shoes are a must.  And if you’re planning to take part in potentially muddy activities (mountain biking, horse riding, zip lining), take some old clothes you don’t mind ruining as I know from experience the mud doesn’t come out of pale clothing.

It’s also worth making good use of the reasonably priced hotel laundry services if you’re visiting during the wet season. The climate’s so humid it’s impossible to dry your clothes after you’re caught in one of the inevitable downpours and after a couple of days, your damp clothes begin to pong. Needless to say, the laundry services were a life saver.

What to pack

A roseate spoonbill wades in the waters of the Tarcoles River

The usual essentials for visiting a hot country will all come in handy – suntan lotion, sunglasses, a hat, hand sanitiser and mosquito spray. If you’re planning to see the local wildlife, it’s worth packing some binoculars and a long-lens camera if you have them. I took my long-lens camera, and while it’s heavy to cart about, I was so glad I’d taken it as a lot of the animals are high in the tree canopy. Having my camera meant I was able to get a closer look at the animals and take a ton of photos that would have been impossible on my phone.

Eating and drinking

Ceviche with tortilla chips

Ceviche (above), tilapia and tacos pop up regularly on Costa Rican menus, while casados is a popular and tasty option for lunch. This set meal usually consists of fried meat or fish served with rice, refried beans, vegetables, such as plantain, and salad. One of the most unusual foods I had was cactus flower ice cream, a delicious and unusual bright pink, slightly fruity desert.

Be warned, some food combinations can be a little odd – the vegetable nachos I ordered in La Fortuna unexpectedly came with boiled broccoli, carrots and cauliflower. While I ordered a tea with milk at a small bar near the capital San Jose and was given a cup of hot milk with a tea bag in it.

Meet the wildlife

A sloth climbing a tree in Manuel Antonio National Park

If there’s one creature you have to see before leaving Costa Rica, it’s the sloth (above). The lethargic fur balls are ubiquitous throughout the country and are usually to be found hiding in plain sight in the trees. Depending on which parts of the country you visit, there’s a good chance you’ll spot monkeys, frogs, tarantulas, iguanas and snakes, as well as lots of spectacular birds and unusual insects. Crocodiles, macaws, toucans, raccoons and an armadillo were just some of the many creatures I saw.

Get active

Looking for an action-packed, adrenaline-fuelled holiday? Then Costa Rica’s the place for you. The country’s diverse landscapes make it perfect for hosting a range of activities. Whether you prefer water sports to hurtling through the trees on a zip line, tracking the local wildlife or getting mucky quad biking, there’s something for everyone. I tried my hand at zip lining, white water rafting, horse riding, mountain biking and snorkelling during my visit, while I also joined lots of hikes, canopy tours and wildlife-spotting trips.

Have your say

Have you been Costa Rica or are you looking to go? If so, please share your thoughts and tips about the country in the comments below. And if you have any questions, please let me know – I’ll try my best to answer them!

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