11 things I learned about Costa Rica during my two-week trip
Number 1 - Costa Rica isn't cheap
Costa Rica certainly is not that great of a bargain when you compare it to other destinations such as Asia. However it is more comparable to a smaller US city, say Sacramento in California, you get good value but you're not getting a bargain at least not in high season, and that even holds true for the current downturn in tourism due to COVID.
Number 2 - Costa Rica doesn't require a COVID test
Costa Rica changed their policies a couple of times and went from no immigration for tourism to only allowing to a no COVID test required policy (that is still the policy as of March 2021)!
Number 3 - Costa Rica is surprisingly distributed and diverse
You will see a lot of small beach towns along the coast that have awesome restaurants, awesome coffee shops but it's still small - it's basically just one beach and the even whole country is pretty spread out. There are a lot of small roads and you won't have the concentration as you have in other countries with one big city and then maybe one coastal city.
Number 4 - Costa Rican roads are not ideal
Costa Rican roads are not ideal, often most of them are just single lane roads. However, they are usually paved and as long as they're used well they're pretty free of major potholes. It is a good idea to have a 4x4 or at least a car with high clearance but it isn't absolutely necessary to do so and you can probably go in the standard sedan or rental car wherever you want.
Rental cars are readily available. Keep in mind that for most rental cars there's a charge of 15 to 20 dollars a day irrespective of what you see quoted when you make a booking. This liability insurance is mandatory. There is no need to pay the collision damage waiver if you have a credit card that covers that and rental agencies are easily waiving this one.
Number 5 - Language
Costa Ricans, especially in areas touched by tourism which is a bigger part of the country outside the capital, do speak a lot of English. That's surprising when you compare it to say Colombia but not as surprising when you compare it to say Panama where English certainly has the role of a second language.
Number 6 – Credit Cards
Costa Rican businesses generally accept any kind of currency - the local currency, they easily accept dollars and they generally accept most major credit cards. Maybe a little less American Express but still they do accept credit cards in most places.
Number 7 - it's amazingly beautiful
Costa Rica is amazingly beautiful and not just the rainforest but the places you find - the hills and the farms, even the tourist towns and the beaches with lots of tourists are pretty. The Tamarindo beach resembles Double Six beach in Bali quite a bit, especially now with fewer tourists there it is a really beautiful sight to see. There are wonderful beaches, lots of waves and just an enormous variety in landscape of what you can see in a simple road trip - which leads us to the next point which is climate...
Number 8 - Climate
Costa Rica has a quirky climate and it doesn't have the typical tropical climate you expect or you might be used to from Singapore or Panama. Because of all the hills that you find in Costa Rica the western side of the country - the Pacific side - barely sees any rain in Northern hemisphere winter and it is within 10 degrees of the equator. It's quite hot and it's perfect to go to the beach. The Caribbean side gets more rain all throughout the year and microclimates typically rule but on the western side as long as you're not coming in the rainy season which resembles summer you won't see a lot of rain
Number 9 - Friendliness
Costa Ricans are surprisingly friendly! You will have no trouble stirring up a conversation which certainly goes better in Spanish - but even in English that won't be a problem.
Number 10 - Tourism and development
There is a striking balance between tourism and development here, and Costa Rica now is a middle-income country on the level of say Malaysia. Seemingly it does look a little poorer given that there's still dependence in certain areas on agriculture but it's quickly becoming more of a service industry. Costa Rica has been able to pull off tourist development without ruining most places and it's quite a stunning feat - actually it is quite a model for this. I think a big part of that is the relatively high prices and high quality so don't expect great bargains but on the other hand, you don't have to worry too much about getting ripped off.
Number 11 - Safety
Costa Rica is surprisingly safe, while you certainly will find neighborhoods where you shouldn't go out at night especially in San Jose - most of the small towns are surprisingly safe, crime is pretty much a rarity and you will be able to enjoy the country with minimal precautions. You should be a little more careful with the rental car and items inside your rental car but that again is more of an issue in bigger towns and less of an issue in small towns.