I’m so happy to hear that you want to visit my country! Costa Rica is a great spot for sun, fun, and unforgettable adventure. Many first-time visitors are nervous to go to an unfamiliar place, and have a lot of questions. This is totally normal! Costa Rica is very tourist-friendly, so there is nothing to worry about. It is smart to do some research though still, which is why you are here! Below are eight questions that first-time visitors have; and more importantly I have applied my Costa Rica expertise to supply answers to ease your mind.

Studying Spanish in Alajuela
Studying Spanish in Alajuela


1. Do I need to be able to speak Spanish to get by in Costa Rica?

Speaking Spanish is definitely a plus when you are conversing with Ticos, but it is not required. Many Ticos speak English. A little bit of working Spanish can take you a long way in Costa Rica though, so it’s not a bad idea to learn a few key phrases, or to brush up on what you learned in high school. Even if you say the wrong phrase, most locals will appreciate the effort you made and will kindly correct you. Keep an eye out for me though, as I am fluent in both English and Spanish!

Playa Grande sunset & surf
Playa Grande sunset & surf


2. When is the best time to visit Costa Rica?

There is really no “bad” time to visit my beautiful country. We don’t have your typical North American seasons; we have a wet season and a dry season. Either is fine for visiting, you just might have to adjust the activities that you plan to do. The dry season runs from December through April. This is also the peak visiting season. The wet season runs from May through November and sees fewer tourists.

American Airlines at Liberia Intl Airport
American Airlines at Liberia Intl Airport


3. What do I need to know about entry requirements for Costa Rica?

Costa Rica has requirements that are similar to many other countries. Most notable, you must have a passport that is valid for six months after your planned exit date. If your passport is set to expire within the next year, it is best to just renew it. You will also want to have a copy of your travel itinerary that shows proof that you have purchased a ticket to exit Costa Rica within 90 days. If you are staying beyond 90 days, you will need to obtain a Visa (this is true for many countries, but some require a Visa for a 30 day stay, so look up the specifics based on your country).

White Tip Reef Shark
White Tip Reef Shark


4. What should I pack for my visit to Costa Rica?

While I am known to travel light, I understand that tourists need to bring a few things for their trip. I recommend that you look at your itinerary to help you decide what the essentials are for you. If you are planning to spend a lot of time outside (which I hope you are!) you should bring plenty of bug repellent and sun block. Of course, these are things that you can purchase once you have arrived; be sure to check with your airline to see what you are allowed to include in your luggage. For clothes, you should bring a little of everything – light shirts and jackets, sweaters, warm jackets, regular and warm socks, a raincoat, hiking boots, tennis shoes, and of course, a bathing suit! You can rent a wet suit, surfing gear and scuba gear if you are going to partake in water activities. If you aren’t fluent in Spanish, you may want to bring a pocket-sized translation book. The nature-lover that will be out and about often should definitely include a first-aid kit in their luggage, and binoculars too. If you plan to spend a lot of time on the beach, be sure to bring a towel and sandals.

Driving to Playa Hermosa
Driving to Playa Hermosa


5. Is there public transportation available, or do I need to rent a car?

Rental cars are available throughout Costa Rica, if you are interested in driving. I prefer taking my own way across the country, so that I can keep my own pace and stop anytime I want. If you plan on renting, you must be at least 21 years old and have a valid driver’s license and credit card with you. Some remote spots in Costa Rica are not accessible by car, or any vehicle, so keep that in mind when planning your travel. Public and private transportation is also available. Many locals use the bus systems daily, and it is quite convenient and safe. Just be sure to check the schedules ahead of time. A more expensive option is to arrange your transportation through an agency. This will give you a little more freedom with your travel times, and the rates are reasonable.

Family playing with pigeons in Plaza de a Cultura
Family playing with pigeons in Plaza de a Cultura


6. Is it safe to travel to and within Costa Rica?

I always feel safe hopping around in Costa Rica, and the local Ticos are a friendly and happy people. There are, of course, some steps that tourists can take to protect themselves and their property. As with any travel, make it a point to be aware of your surroundings, and don’t leave your belongings unattended. Store your passport, ID, and money in a “secret” pouch that you keep close to your body. Try to avoid bringing valuable items with you, but if you must, keep it safe when traveling and store it in a safe at your hotel.

7. Who do I tip, and how much should I tip?

In Costa Rica, you aren’t generally expected to tip a cab driver. Private transportation, however, is open for tipping based on your satisfaction level. At restaurants, the tip should already be added to your total bill. If not, you can leave a 10% tip. If you are staying at a hotel, you can tip the staff as you feel comfortable based on the level of service you receive. The same goes for any tour guides that you use; they are happy to accept a tip.

10 Thousand Colones - Back with Sloth in the Rain Forest
10 Thousand Colones - Back with Sloth in the Rain Forest


8. What is the local currency in Costa Rica?

Many places will accept US dollars and/or standard credit cards, but the official currency of Costa Rica is the colon. Banks will give you the best exchange rate, I don't recommend airport exchange offices or hotels.