Reserving Costa Rica Trip Items In Advance: How Much Time Is Needed?

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Don’t miss out on incredible hotel views by reserving early (our view from Si Como No)!

As another year comes to an end we are reminded of the opportunity we have to look back and reflect on the past 365 days of business operations. And boy, do I mean all 365 of them. I cannot recall a day when both of us weren’t hard at work, and clocking in any shorter than a 12-hour workday at that. Ah, the joys of being in the business of doing what you love. ūüôā

We have learned a lot over the past year,¬†but perhaps the most obvious lesson we will carry¬†with us into the¬†next one¬†is that more and more travellers seem to be discovering this rainforest wonderland. Regretfully, we have had to explain to too many travellers this year that the hotel, tour, transfer service, and/or rental vehicle they had their eye on was unavailable for their travel dates. At one point (around the beginning of September) I made a comment to Ricky that¬†the¬†quickly approaching high season at the end of the year was going to be the busiest one yet. Looking back, that statement could not have been more correct, as we have just made it through the¬†highest tourism season to date.¬†Ricky caught on the local news the other day that Costa Rican hotel reservations hit an all-time high this year, so I have no doubt our socios within¬†the industry have been feeling the same effects.¬†I cannot argue with the broadcaster’s findings either, as my early prediction was heavily influenced by the fact that the majority of our recommended accommodations sold out of their hotel rooms for¬†the high season a good month or so earlier than what we typically see¬†from year to year. A number of organized tours/activities, transfer services, and rental vehicles saw their share of sellouts too, so it’s safe to assume all corners of the market felt the boom.

This lesson learned creates a rather complicated problem for us, though. Without fail, 12 months of the year and every single year, travellers ask us¬†one of the golden questions of Costa Rica trip planning. You know, one of those questions that seems to shine in gold, echoed by a gospel choir singing “ahhhhhhhhhhhh” when appropriately answered, as if one of life’s greatest mysteries had been solved? One of those questions that can make or break a traveller’s entire trip experience? One of those questions that calls on us as trusted resources to provide both a succinct and justified answer that can be applied to the masses but also cater to the differences in each individual traveller? Yup, what we have learned this year about Costa Rica tourism (specifically its growth and what that¬†means for you as a visitor) has forced us re-evaluate our response to the loaded question: “When is the best time to book my Costa Rica… hotel, tour, shuttle service, vehicle rental, or <<enter your chosen trip item here!>>”

So just how do we answer this question? Delicately, with some detail, and backed by the jargon of a disclaimer right off the top. Something along the lines of…

Every hotel, every tour operator, every transportation service provider, every vehicle rental agency, every traveller, and every travel season is unique and ever-changing in its properties. As such, it is impossible to predict which items will sellout and when, just as it is difficult to know exactly which items travellers will choose for their vacations and for which exact dates. This being said, patterns and trends are extremely telling, and based on the behaviours of travellers and the Costa Rican businesses we often recommend (as studied from year to year, including the current year drawing to a close), the following would be our best recommendations regarding how much time visitors should give themselves to book their desired trip items in advance of their travel dates.

For those of you who have reached the point in vacation planning when you are questioning how much advance time is needed to secure reservations for your desired trip items, we suggest reviewing our suggestions below (especially as applied to hotel reservations, with tour/activity and transportation arrangements following suit) and using them as a guide when developing your preferred action plan.

For travel during JANUARY
(from the end of the first week onward):

make reservations during September/October of the previous year

*****

For travel during FEBRUARY:

make reservations during September/October of the previous year

*****

For travel during MARCH:

make reservations during September/October of the previous year

*****

*For travel during EASTER WEEK
(typically the last week of MARCH and/or the first week of APRIL):

make reservations during September/October of the previous year

*****

For travel during APRIL:

make reservations during January/February of the same year

*****

For travel during MAY:

make reservations during March/April (in some cases, same month booking may still be available)

*****

For travel during JUNE:

make reservations during April/May (in some cases, same month booking may still be available)

*****

For travel during JULY:

make reservations during March/April of the same year

*****

For travel during AUGUST:

make reservations during March/April of the same year

*****

For travel during SEPTEMBER:

make reservations during the July/August (in some cases, same month booking may still be available)

*****

For travel during OCTOBER:

make reservations during the August/September (in some cases, same month booking may still be available)

*****

For travel during NOVEMBER:

make reservations during September/October of the same year

*****

For travel during early DECEMBER:

make reservations during September/October of the same year

*****

*For travel during the HOLIDAY SEASON
(typically from mid-December to the end of the first week of January):

make reservations during July/August of the same year

If you know where you want to go and what you want to do, plan your trip early to mae sure all is possible (Ricky - map of Costa Rica)!

If you know where you want to go and what you want to do, plan your trip early to avoid problems with availability (Ricky Рmap of Costa Rica)!

AGGRAVATING FACTORS (IF THESE APPLY TO YOU, BOOK EARLY!)

If you are in one of the early stages of trip planning, especially if you plan to¬†visit¬†during one of the high season months, you may be starting to panic (for more information about Costa Rica’s high and low travel seasons, please see our related blog post: When Is The Best Time Of Year To Travel To Costa Rica?). Fight the urge and don’t allow yourself to do so. As deceptive as Costa Rica’s teeny, tiny size may be, tourism throughout the country is as abundant as its wildlife. There will always be a hotel with a room available, a tour operator looking to add another member to its group, and a shuttle with an empty¬†seat calling your name. In my entire history living, working, and literally marrying Costa Rica, I have never heard of a traveller having to sleep on the street, learn to raft down a river on their own, or hitchhike to their next destination. Such circumstances do not happen as a result of poor or last minute trip¬†planning, so don’t give up on Costa Rica as a¬†possible¬†vacation destination simply because you are unsure whether everything can be pulled together within the recommended window of time we suggest above. This being said, the earlier you are able to decide on and secure¬†your trip items¬†the better. Especially when any or all of the following aggravating factors (ie. criteria suggesting that reservations should be made as close as possible to the timelines we outline above) apply to you or your travel group:

  • Are you a member of a larger group of travellers (ie. a family group, friend group, work group, or school group) visiting Costa Rica together?
  • Are the hotels, tours/activities, or transportation services that you would like to experience during your trip those that tend to be the most popular (ie. those that are advertised widely and rank highly online and/or in print)?
  • Are you headstrong on obtaining your first choice for every trip item and/or would you be disappointed settling for your second, third, or fourth choice?
  • Do you (or does any member of your travel group) have any specific needs, requests, or¬†interests¬†narrowing down the field of¬†possible trip items (such as¬†physical ability limitations, the need for adjoining hotel rooms, a desire¬†urge¬†to participate in a particular sport/activity, etc.)?
  • Are you planning a fairly full, tight, and organized vacation itinerary that leaves little room for changes to be made without affecting everything else planned for the trip?

Overall, a travel group’s size (when larger than 1 or 2 travellers), their hotel/tour/transfer service preferences (when aimed at popular trip items), their needs/requests/interests (when specific), and the arrangement of their¬†trip itinerary (when full) are the most telling and obvious signs to suggest that Costa Rica trip items should be reserved¬†as soon as they have been¬†decided on.

What if I need to make changes to my advance reservations later?

Than so be it! It is far better to have secured your preferred trip items in advance and have to cancel or change them later than to wait so long that they are no longer available when you are ready to send in the official requests. Although each hotel, tour operator, and transportation service provider in Costa Rica has their own cancellation policy, most allow a window of time in which cancellations can be made without penalty (the majority of the tour operators and transportation service providers that we work with will allow cancellations up to 72, 48, and in some cases, 24 hours prior to the reserved tour/service date without issue), so opting to reserve trip items months or weeks in advance does not mean you forego your right to change your mind later if and when you want or need to. It simply means you have invested enough interest and care into your trip by planning ahead, and have left yourself some wiggle room to fine-tune your vacation plans (and trip reservations) down the road if necessary.

A note about common sense…

Despite our recommendation above, when vacation planning, please do not reserve multiple rooms at a variety of¬†hotels for the same travel dates. Doing so may present you with¬†a variety of accommodation options to help you plan the best trip possible, but the truth is, it is also robbing other travellers of arriving at the same end. Travellers often tell us¬†that they are free to focus on their tour/activity plans for a particular area of the country because they already have reservations at three hotels for their time in the same area. Eventually, 2/3 of their room bookings will be cancelled, but in the meantime, two other families were likely unsuccessful securing a room at their preferred¬†hotel because of the inconsiderate actions of Greedy Greta or Selfish Steve. Don’t get me wrong, I get why some travellers reserve trip items the way they do, as multiple bookings for the same travel dates helps keep a variety of doors open. But, I can also appreciate that well-organized trip planners who invest¬†ample research into their vacation have already narrowed-down which exact accommodation(s) would be best for them, and these knowledgeable and efficient travellers are keen enough to know that¬†booking early (and not merely overbooking) is the key to getting what they want. For these prepared and proactive travellers, there is no advantage¬†to keeping multiple room bookings floating around in limbo-land. Still not convinced? Let me turn the table for a moment. Imagine the disappointment you would feel if you found the perfect hotel but it was already full for your travel dates. Now imagine how frustrated you would feel if you knew that the person who booked the last room–your ideal room--may not even stay there at all, they just don’t want you to have that option. Greedy Greta and Selfish Steve, meet Angry Allison and Annoyed Al.

Wait too late and you'll be up the creek without a paddle (Nikki - canoeing the Penas Blancas River)

Wait too late and you’ll be up the creek without a paddle (Nikki – canoeing the Penas Blancas River)

MITIGATING FACTORS (IF THESE APPLY TO YOU, YOU COULD GET AWAY WITH WAITING TO BOOK… IF YOU HAVE TO)

Recall the disclaimer disclosed at the start of this post? Here’s where¬†it comes into play. Sure, our booking timeline recommendations discussed above are backed by what we’ve come across throughout our work in the industry, but that doesn’t mean things can’t change at any time. If we suggest booking your January hotel in September/October of the previous year, does this mean that¬†it will be impossible to book in December? Nope, we simply feel that it will be a greater challenge to secure availability for¬†all that you want if you wait to make your reservations that close to your travel dates. In addition, you¬†may not get the accommodation you want¬†with the highest online rating, obtain the tour time you would ideally¬†like to zipline at, or secure the shuttle service departure time that would work best with your hotel check-in/check-out hour, but you will¬†still get to experience a lot of what the country has to offer, and hopefully that’s the real reason you’ve decided to visit anyway.¬†Here are some mitigating¬†factors (ie. criteria suggesting that there may be room to place reservations outside of¬†the timeline parameters we suggest¬†above) if¬†any¬†apply to you or your travel group:

  • Are you an Individual travelling alone and/or a couple travelling together (ideally without children)?
  • Are the hotels, tours/activities, or transportation services that you would like to experience during your trip those that are not overly¬†popular (ie. not those that are advertised widely and rank highly online and/or in print), set in remote locations, and/or offered by smaller, independent, local¬†companies?
  • Do you have little interest in specific trip items (ie. your interest in hotels, tours/activities, and/or transportation services¬†is open and flexible)?
  • Do you have few specific needs, requests, or interests¬†(ie. your¬†travel abilities and style are¬†open and flexible)?
  • Are you planning a fairly light and spur-of-the-moment¬†vacation itinerary that leaves a lot of¬†room for changes to be made on a whim?

On average, lone travellers and couples with not overly specific travel preferences, needs, requests, or interests, and a fairly unorganized trip itinerary, are the ideal type of traveller to succeed with last-minute Costa Rica vacation planning. This is likely given that they are the most flexible and accommodating travel demographic with the least amount to lose.

QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Have you had any luck booking items in advance or reserving last minute?

Pura vida!

3 responses to “Reserving Costa Rica Trip Items In Advance: How Much Time Is Needed?

  1. This is really awesome and very helpful for me.Thank you so much for sharing such a great blog. i would like to plan here.

  2. Amazing tips for trip to Costa Rica and these tips are very important to those people who want to make tour to Costa Rica.

  3. Wonderful tips for planning a trip to Costa Rica. Reservations are very important, and the months that you stated just makes it easier for visitors to plan their trip on months that will be great for their schedule and budget. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful, fully researched blog post.

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