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Costa Rica Dos And Don’ts: What To Know Before You Go

Costa Rica Dos And Don’ts: What To Know Before You Go

NOTE: The content on this page was last updated on October 1st, 2017.


A traveller recently asked us to create a list of Costa Rica dos and don’ts to help her prepare for her Costa Rica vacation. We had a great time making the following list, and since the traveller loved our suggestions, perhaps you might too.


Do try eating at a local soda

Sodas are typical restaurants in Costa Rica that service wonderful local cuisine. They are usually named after the owner (if I had my own soda it would probably be Soda Nikki as yours would be Soda <<enter your name here>>) and the dishes are reasonably priced. The best part? Eating at a soda supports local, family-run businesses. Now that’s pura vida!

Costa Rica dos and don'ts
Ricky with Mario, owner of Soda Visquez in La Fortuna

Do pack a rain poncho… not a rain umbrella

Rain ponchos come in handy when you are participating in tours or various activities and it rains on the fly. Umbrellas are often difficult to rely on during tours–could you imagine yourself ziplining through the rainforest while holding an umbrella?

For more information about what to bring to Costa Rica, don’t miss our related blog post:
What To Pack For A Costa Rica Vacation

Do take more photos than you think you will ever need

There is so much beauty to be found in Costa Rica that even one million photos could not capture it entirely. You can always delete photos once you get home if you have far too many, so snap happy while you’re here!

Looking for other Costa Rica info? Consider reading our other post:  What To Pack For Costa Rica (And What Not To Pack)
Costa Rica dos and don'ts
Hidden beauty

Do drink the water (sometimes!)

The majority of drinking water in Costa Rica is clean. There are only some areas (mainly the Caribbean side of the country, and additional pockets elsewhere) where we would advise not drinking tap water. Always check with your hotel and/or restaurant just in case, but Ricky and I only ever drink tap water and we have never had a problem (nor have our clients reported an issue drinking the water in developed tourist areas). This being said, if you would prefer bottled water, it is widely available.

Do bring an anti-nauseant medication with you if you tend to get car sick

Costa Rica is full of mountains and curvy roads (yee-haw!) so taking a Gravol or similar medication before hopping in your rental vehicle or a tourist van can make a world of difference!


Don’t rely on travellers cheques

Most hotels and tour operators do not accept them (with the exception of some all-inclusive resorts). If you do not feel comfortable carrying cash with you throughout your vacation and you do not plan on paying for items with a credit card, bring travellers cheques with the intention of going to the bank every few days to cash them in (although you will need to pay the bank a commission to do so).

For more information about the use of travellers cheques in Costa Rica, don’t miss our related blog post:
Spending In Costa Rica: What To Know About USD, Colones, Credit Cards, And More!

Don’t get too excited about all of the fresh fruit available and eat too much at once

The fruit in Costa Rica fresh, abundant, and incredibly good. However, most visitors’ stomachs are not used to digesting it in high quantities on a daily basis, and as a result, it can produce unpleasant gastronomical side effects. Consumption in moderation is key.

Looking for other Costa Rica info? Consider reading our other post:  Colones To Dollars (USD): Exchanging Money In Costa Rica
Costa Rica dos and don'ts
Fresh fruit (note: no papaya!)

Don’t take a taxi that is not an official “red” taxi

Illegal taxi drivers (i.e., everyday drivers using their own vehicles) are widespread throughout Costa Rica, and although many are just trying to make a living (we are friends with a number), we recommend that travellers do not use taxi services other than the official type unless they know and trust the driver.

For more information about red taxis in Costa Rica, don’t miss our related blog post:
Is Costa Rica Safe? Yes, If You Travel Consciously, Cleverly, And With Common Sense. Here’s How.

Don’t be afraid to practice your Spanish with Ticos (Costa Ricans)

English is widely spoken and understood throughout most developed areas in Costa Rica, however the majority of Ticos welcome foreigners’ interests in trying to speak Spanish while on vacation. Want to know which Spanish language books we recommend? Check out our personal collection of ten Spanish language references books here, including a breakdown of which books we would recommend to specific types of learners.

Looking for other Costa Rica info? Consider reading our other post:  What To Buy In Costa Rica: Our Costa Rica Souvenirs Shopping List And Buying Tips
Costa Rica dos and don'ts
No love scenes; a sign posted at the public pool

Don’t wait to buy your souvenirs until you are at the airport at the end of your vacation

They are overpriced! Instead, buy souvenirs in popular areas (such as La Fortuna/Arenal, Monteverde, Manuel Antonio, and Tamarindo, for example) or else in other areas of the country where you can find them (such as in smaller towns, at huts along the beach, or at stops along the side of the road). Remember to check local grocery stores for souvenir opportunities too. If wanting bags of coffee to take home with you (Costa Rica is well-known for its coffee), it is usually cheaper to buy these at a local grocery store than in an official souvenir shop, however both of these sites will be less expensive than buying coffee at the airport directly.

For more information about buying souvenirs in Costa Rica, don’t miss our related blog post:
What To Buy In Costa Rica: Our Costa Rica Souvenirs Shopping List And Buying Tips

QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: What are your best Costa Rica dos and don’ts?

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21 thoughts on “Costa Rica Dos And Don’ts: What To Know Before You Go”

  • Don’t drive fast in your rental car, on the highway, or blowing dust all over everything on the dirt roads. Don’t pay bribes on the highway. Tickets do not cost that much. Don’t waste your time comparing Costa Rica life to life in the U.S.. It doesn’t translate.

    Do take a million pictures, enjoy the incredible clean air, catch waves, climb hills, commune with nature, it’s everywhere.

    Once again go slow, that’s the pace here.

  • Hey Secondhand Surfer – thanks for the comment! Excellent line:

    “don’t waste your time comparing Costa Rica life to life in the U.S.. It doesn’t translate”.

    Pure pura vida. Saludos de La Fortuna!

    • Bluebird Annie –
      Thank you for your comment! Have you been to Costa Rica? If not, you would LOVE it! It is a birdwatchers haven – Ricky (the other half of is an avid birdwatcher and cannot get enough of the species variety. If you ever make it to Costa Rica (or re-visit, if you have been before) feel free to email us ( as we’d be happy to send you some birdwatching site recommendations!
      Pura vida!

      • I had the pleasure of spending 9 days in Guanacaste Province trapping and banding the Ruby Throated Hummingbird with expert Bill Hilton, Jr. on one of his citizen scientist trips called “Operation Ruby Throat” in February of 2009. I went back for a quick visit to the Caribbean side near Puerto Limon in April of 2011. I will return for sure, just don’t know when.

      • Bluebird Annie –
        I am SO glad to hear that you have had such and incredible, educational, and nearly once-in-a-lifetime experience in Costa Rica. “Operation Ruby Throat” must have just thrilled you. We look forward to your return someday and cannot wait to read your thoughts and notes about your next Costa Rican journey if you are kind enough to post them on your blog. 🙂
        Pura vida!

  • When you go to places like Costa Rica, it is very important to know the Do’s and Don’t’s if you don’t want your trip to be spent haphazardly. Costa Rica is a wonderful place. A trip to the this land must be enjoyed thoroughly.

  • Hi! Love your blog! These do’s and don’ts are really nice tips! We just moved to Costa Rica last August and have been experiencing a lot to say we now understand a lot of these do’s and don’ts. Always good reminders!

  • Most of these tips are spot on! However we had no problem with the taxis, at least in Tamarindo. We stayed outside of town and a few times it was so hot we didn’t feel like walking into town, and we didn’t want to leave our rental car with all our souvenirs sitting on the street so we caught a $2 taxi ride. All the different drivers were friendly and fast. Also everywhere we drove people were zipping around us and we were going at least 100kph. We were getting passed by mo-peds! Do get a rental car so you can stop whenever you want and find hidden gems like the waterfalls along the treacherous road to Monteverde or any of the amazing local restaurants, or to get a fresh Pipa hacked open with a machete! And do stay in different climates, go stay in the Rainforest and spend some time soaking up some time on the beach!

  • DO bring sunscreen if you’re from the Northern parts of the world. It is available in CR but for about $20 USD a bottle.
    DO pre book shuttles if you aren’t renting a car. They’re pricey but the public buses eat up a lot of your vacation time.
    DO spend New Years Eve in Tamarindo. It is quite a ‘touristy’ town, but I can’t think of anywhere in Canada where you can bring fireworks and a six pack to the beach and celebrate with 10,000 other beach goers! DO watch a sunset in Santa Teresa… it’s the most incredible place I’ve been in CR.
    DON’T miss inland Costa Rica. Yes, the beaches are nice, but the ziplining, volcanoes, coffee farm tours, and blue rivers of Monteverde/Rio Celeste are fun too.
    DON’T expect really good coffee if you’re used to specialty/third wave coffee like in Canada/USA/Australia. Most of the best Costa Rican coffee is exported to those countries and they’re left with average coffee for themselves.
    DON’T expect the same type of quick customer service as in North America. The people in Costa Rica are nice, but Tico time is a real thing. If you’re dying for water, just buy a bottle because you might have to wait a while once you get to a restaurant.
    One more DO: DO have fun!!! Costa Rica is one of the most fun, relaxing, beautiful places I’ve ever been… so enjoy it!

    • Jason Mueller –
      Great tip! Learning the language (or at least enough to converse basically and experience communicating with locals) is a great way to heighten the quality of a trip. The fresh fruit too, is an added travel bonus. 😊 Wishing you all the best with your ropes course over in Jaco!
      Pura vida!

    • that traveling nurse –
      Great question! We have yet to use Uber ourselves, so unfortunately we cannot add much to the conversation about them. 🙁 I know people tend to be on the fence regarding the Uber debate; what was your Airbnb host’s specific concern about “taxistas” in Costa Rica? We have experienced our fair share of taxi scam attempts, but most are drivers who fail to turn on the meter (the “maria”). Regardless of whether the act is committed on purpose or innocently forgotten, the problem can be avoided by simply requesting (or demanding) that the meter be turned on before starting the service (or even getting into the taxi, for that matter). So long as the meter is turned on, you shouldn’t get scammed (from a pricing standpoint, that is, unless there was a different scam type that your Airbnb host was referring to?).
      Wishing you safe and enjoyable travels! 🙂
      Pura vida!

      • They were referring to that same kind of scam… and then some pretending to be lost and not know the way so even if the “maria” is turned on, you would end up paying more because they are going around in circles so to speak. As for Uber drivers not doing the same kind of thing, I wouldn’t really know how “honest” and reliable the service is. Thank you for your reply!

      • that travelling nurse –
        Got it! How sad, no? That some people would play such games to manipulate others. 😕 I suppose anything is possible, and I’m not sure how anyone could avoid such an ever-present problem. Bringing maps with you isn’t a solution, as it would be hard in advance to know each and every route you would be taking throughout your trip (ie. last minute decisions to visit certain sites and/or unplanned trips into town to pick up items may not be accounted for in upfront trip planning). For us, since we know our way around, it would be easy to know if a taxista ever took a wrong turn (to “pretend” to be lost, as per your concern), but I can 100% appreciate that foreign travellers unfamiliar with the country would be unable to do the same. You are right, too, that Uber drivers could scam riders the same way as you mentioned taxistas could, so we agree: honesty would be hard to come by in either case. Fortunately, we have not run into many taxi/driver problems ourselves, and we wish the same for you throughout your trip. Once you are back, let us know how things went, and which route you took, either taxi or Uber. We would over to hear about your experiences and thoughts!
        Pura vida! 😊

      • We have been in Costa Rica for almost a week and have used Uber every day. It is wonderful.. Rides are 1000 to 3000 colones ($2 – $6) depending on where you need to go. If you are alone, buses are cheaper but take more time. But if you are 3 or more, Uber is definitely the way to go. Everything is handled through the app on the phone, so no need to carry any cash, except for tip if you wish. Cars usually come to your location in 5 mins or less.

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