10 Things I Learned From My Recent Trip to Costa Rica

I got back yesterday from my Mileage Run Vacation to Costa Rica where I spent three nights in the capital city of San Jose. Costa Rica is famously known for wildlife, nature, endangered species, exotic waterfalls, volcanoes, and beautiful beaches. It was my first time in Costa Rica and here are 10 Things I learned From My Recent Trip to Costa Rica:

1. Taxi Cab Mafia at SJO Airport – As soon as I left the arrivals hall at SJO International Airport, I was mobbed by the taxi cab mafia where I was endlessly harassed by taxi drivers. It’s a very common theme in Latin American countries and the worst encounter was in Lima, Peru. There are a lot of unauthorized taxi drivers hawking a ride from the airport looking to make a quick buck. I encountered one taxi driver who called us an “a**hole”. Needless to say, we already had rental car reservations.

2. The road conditions are horrible – I drove in Costa Rica the majority of the time and one day I spent 8 hours of total driving. The road conditions are horrible with potholes, bridges with one lane, poor signage, and the lack of lighting during the night. Despite all this, people still walk on the side of major roads and freeways without sidewalks and it can be quite dangerous, especially at night.

3. The food in Costa Rica is amazing – The basic staples of Costa Rican cuisine are gallo pinto (rice and beans) and plantains. Add in a protein (egg, chicken, fish, beef) and that’s the typical breakfast, lunch, and dinner meal. I could seriously eat gallo pinto all day and it’s that good.

4. The weather is unpredictable – Prior to my Costa Rica trip, I looked at the weather conditions and it called for rain and thunderstorms all day. The climate in Costa Rica is tropical, so expect rain and thunderstorms are expected. I thought it was going to ruin my trip since I absolutely dislike continuous all day rain when I’m on vacation. The hour by hour weather predictions are totally unreliable. Throughout the entire time I was there, I had sunshine and it didn’t rain heavily except for the last night.

5. Driving in Costa Rica during the night is quite scary – With horrible road conditions and the combination of heavy downpour makes driving in Costa Rica quite dangerous. During the last night, I encountered hail when driving in very heavy downpour rain. Mix this in with one lane bridges and low visibility, I had to rely on road reflectors (sometimes there are none). The roads were also very narrow and you’ve got 18 wheeler trucks speeding opposite of you and one mistake can be deadly.

6. The Costa Rican locals are very friendly – I absolutely love talking to locals in a foreign country because I want to see what it’s like living there from their perspective. Costa Ricans love talking to foreigners and a majority of them speak English in towns like Jaco and Limon. They love their country and aren’t shy about giving tips and recommendations for tourists.

7. US Dollars are accepted in Costa Rica – The official currency of Costa Rica is the colon and I found that a majority of places widely accept the US Dollar which was quite surprising. It’s always good to carry some local currency for tolls and small convenience stores. In addition, credit cards are widely accepted so don’t withdraw too much local currency.

8. Costa Rica is really Pura Vida – The Costa Rican phrase “pura vida” means pure life and it really is. Costa Rica is simply beautiful and at times jaw dropping. There are scenic rainforest drives with lush greenery and endless amounts of beautiful beaches to choose from. Life is laidback in Costa Rica and reminds me of Hawaii.

9. There’s a $29 USD departure tax to be paid – It’s a common theme in Central America where one needs to pay an airport departure tax prior to leaving the country. Note that it is not included in the price of your airfare ticket, but it was convenient that they accept US dollars, colons, and any combination of the two. Be advised that credit cards have a cash advance fee. The purpose of this fee is for airport improvement as most Central American airports are in terrible conditions.

10. Mandatory SLI insurance on car rentals – There are two types of insurances that must be covered, one is SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance) and one is CDW (Collision Damage Waiver). This is another common theme in Latin America where one needs to agree to pay the mandatory SLI insurance or else your rental reservations will be held for hostage. CDW insurance can be declined if you use a credit card that has car rental coverage.


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3 Comments on "10 Things I Learned From My Recent Trip to Costa Rica"

  1. I’m planning a trip to CR next year and I have been toying with the idea of *gasp* doing a tour. that said, I would rather do my own thing. What was your methodology for the car rental?

    • Choose a reliable rental car company (avoid Economy at all costs), get a 4×4. Make sure you make a video or take pictures of the previous car damages before driving the rental. Bring a flashlight and know the emergency numbers just in case you get a flat tire or need help on rural roads. Of course, rent a GPS if you don’t have one already. Have fun in Costa RIca and let me know if you have any more questions.

  2. Thanks for a great post.
    Heading to CR in February for the 10th time (perhaps 11th?). Great place to go!
    One thing I haven’t figured out is how to go about obtaining cell phone/internet service…any suggestions?

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