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10 Mistakes to Avoid for First-Time Visitors to Costa Rica

If you are planning your first trip to this beautiful country, you may be wondering what to expect and how to make the most of your time here. While Costa Rica is a popular tourist destination, there are some common mistakes that first-time visitors often make that can impact their experience.

Here, I will explore these mistakes and give you tips on how to avoid them, so you can have a memorable and enjoyable trip to Costa Rica. So, let’s dive in!

10 common mistakes that first-time travelers make when visiting Costa Rica.

1. Are you flying to the Right San Jose?

First and foremost, you need to make sure you are booking your flight to the right country. It may sound silly but it can be an easy mistake for first-time visitors to Costa Rica.

When searching for flight prices be sure that you are looking up SJO for Costa Rica’s San Jose International Airport. Even more confusing for you is that its name is Juan Santamaria International Airport. And how about this, it’s not even technically in San Jose but in Alajuela.

The other airport that it is often confused with is in San Jose California. This could end up costing you a fair bit of cash if you end up not double and triple checking your destination.

2. Which Playa Hermosa Are You Visiting?

Now that you have booked your flight to the right country and are indeed landing in San Jose Costa Rica…is Playa Hermosa on your itinerary? If so, then you need to look a little further and see which Playa Hermosa you plan to sip cocktails on.

Costa Rica has several Playa Hermosas and they are located in all different parts of the country, so it could be another costly mistake if you don’t pay attention.

Playa Hermosa is the quiet neighbor of the overcrowded Santa Teresa where you can still find a bit of peace. The same goes for Playa Hermosa which is a chill beach town just outside of Jaco’s popular playground.

A few miles outside of Uvita you can find another Playa Hermosa.  One best reached by the Liberia International Airport, about half an hour away, is Playa Hermosa in Guanacaste.

So, when booking your shuttle and transportation or even which Costa Rican airport to land in, take a look to make sure you know exactly where you are going!

3. Don’t Avoid Booking a Trip in the Rainy Season

Not sure if you should book that trip in the rainy season after reading everyone’s comments online? Just come find out for yourself, because remember everyone is going to have an opinion about something.

Costa Rica is a country of microclimates. It may be also be raining on one side of the country and not the other or even one town may be overcast while another nearby still has sunny skies for the morning.

Yes, Costa Rica most definitely has a rainy season and some days it can really pour especially depending on where you are and which month. But this is when Costa Rica comes back to life. The colors are spectacular, and the greens are the deepest and most beautiful greens you can ever see.

4. Don’t Be Fooled by the Size of the Country

The country may appear small to you and google maps only says an hour and a half…but in reality, it could be at least half an hour more minimum depending on where you are driving. More often than not a lot longer.

Always give yourself extra driving time especially if you are visiting during Semana Santa (Costa Rica’s Holy Week), the high tourist season, and holidays. Everyone is out on the road trying to leave the city and usually headed to the beach…. especially during Semana Santa!  

There seems to always be ongoing road construction somewhere, and in other places, you wonder why there isn’t any construction going on. Costa Rican roads are notorious for landslides, potholes that can feel more like a crater or homemade pool in the road, slow-moving vehicles loaded with cows, and anything else you can imagine. So needless to say, just give yourself extra time and enjoy the scenery!

5. Thinking You Will Wait Until a Better Deal Comes Up

Speaking of high tourist season, if that is when you are planning on visiting Costa Rica, then you need to avoid “winging it” when you get here. Because winging it will have you out on a limb and nowhere to go.

Don’t just assume it is only busy from December to Holy Week. Costa Rica is a popular tourist destination even after April as the green season brings nature into full bloom and the waterfalls and rivers are flowing.

Don’t make the mistake of holding out until you think you will get a better deal because there may be nothing left and you are left with no deal at all. Especially when it comes to car rentals as they are booked up very quickly, months and months in advance.

6. Do Not Believe Everything You Read on Google Maps

Google maps is a great tool, but may not be your best friend in Costa Rica, especially during the rainy season and off-the-beaten-path routes. Waze is a popular app here in Costa Rica so you may want to have this along with your downloaded map offline.  You will be grateful for it when you come across heavy traffic and accidents.

It’s not unknown to be following Google’s directions only to find yourself on some far-off road, surrounded by trees wondering if the water is too deep to pass on the washed-up road. Trust me, it happens a lot more than you think.

7. Be Flexible and Pack Some Patience

You’ve heard the saying “tico time”, well it is, in fact, a real thing not just a saying. So bring along a little patience and it will go a long way in having a good visit.

Don’t take the word “ahora” literally when you are in Costa Rica. Ahora may mean now, but not to those that use the word and could have you waiting until nightfall sitting in your room waiting for those extra towels to be brought up to your room.

Plans can change depending on the weather, from rains making certain activities dangerous or washing out roads. Waterfalls can become even more dangerous to enter or trails can become closed such as Volcan Poas in the past for safety reasons. It all comes along with learning to go with the flow of things here in Costa Rica so have some backup ideas ready.

8. Not Using Available Free Apps

Google translate can go a long way in helping you get by. It’s a great tool for reading product labels in the store with the camera feature switching it directly into your language.

It can also come in handy in the restaurant for menus that don’t have an English version. Although tasty and a Costa Rican favorite some might not be quite ready to dive into a bowl of sopa de mondongo. And with the use of the translator, it can help you decipher the difference between ordering a plate of lengua en salsa or an ensalada de lechuga.

9. Crime in Paradise

Do not and I can’t emphasize enough DO NOT, leave your valuables in the vehicle. Especially if you are parking in tourist destinations and designated parking for popular attractions. Even if you lock it, you could very well lose it.

So many times, you read online in the town’s social media groups of vehicles losing their suitcases, backpacks, and laptops, all from the inside of their vehicle. And all the comments that follow “we need to put up a sign to warn the visitors” and “sorry this happened, it seems to happen every day now.”

You might as well just hand over your items when you are walking out to the beach or into the park and save the wasted time spent double checking the doors are locked. Because someone is there lurking as you arrange that blanket that you think is secretly covering your valuables. 

Bringing it with you to the beach is also a horrible idea. Leaving your items and bags on the beach while you go for a swim is like an all-you-can-eat buffet for those sitting there waiting for you to dive in and cool off. Tourist destinations like anywhere else in the world are high theft areas because it is so easily and readily available.

10. Carry More Than One Form of Payment

You should always have some cash on you and it’s best to have it in the form of colones. It’s not obviously something you want to be pulling out all at once and flashing around but you will come across some places where you can only use cash.

Parking attendants, roadside stands, and some food vendors along your travels are just a few places. Don’t toss away those heavy coins either they can add up quickly and will end up being quite useful. Just start adding them into a little plastic bag like the rest of us.

All in all, don’t stress along the way, things are bound to happen, you are visiting a place after all. Mistakes are a great way to learn for the next time and if they didn’t end up being too costly even better! Often those mistakes can leave us with some interesting memories and tales to tell.

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