Our learning experiences:
1. NEVER pay full price for anything in Costa Rica.
This may seem like easy advice, but we Americans tend to take most things at face value and forget that not everyone is as honest. Ticos are not more dishonest than any other people, but they are poorer than developed nations’ citizens and, so, look to make a higher profit if they can to get by. North Americans and Europeans are typically looked at as easy money. They also expect some degree of haggling. Personally, I am not much into (or good at) the ancient art of the haggle. I found that if I threw money on the table with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude, they usually took it (sometimes with a mumbled comment of “Gringos!“).
2. Get used to being scammed.
On the same note as Number 1, Ticos do have the art of the scam down to a science. My favorite, was the guy who would always magically appear wherever I parked demanding money. Sometimes he would even have an official looking uniform (just shirt) or I.D. card. He would explain that he is some type of government parking officer patrolling the area. After spending some cash on these guys, we learned to walk away. However, I always worried about my Land Rover afterwards too.
Car rental in Costa Rica is very expensive. 4X4’s are even more expensive. During the peak season, the price goes up again. There are no cheap deals. Basic cars run over a $100.00 a day during peak season, SUV’s more. Trust us, we lived there. Do not plan on renting a vehicle without dropping some serious money. The buses are actually quite good and taxis run all over the city and urban areas.
For some reason, tourists seem to think that Costa Rica is a bargain, 10 years ago maybe, but not now. While you can get good deals on airfare (check Frontier Airlines), once in country the costs quickly add up. If you are planning to spend a decent amount of money on a vacation, than Costa Rica prices are comparatively moderate to other tropical destination like Hawaii or the Bahamas. If you are hoping to get by on a few hundred dollars, then Costa Rica will very quickly burn that up.
Costa Rica is a third-world country. Therefore, you do need to be cognizant of health issues. The American Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that you are up to date on the normal vaccines. These vaccines include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, and your yearly flu shot. In addition, they recommend Hepatitis A and Typhoid (we got both). For people staying in country for more than 30 days, traveling in rural areas, or heading to the southern border by Panama, then they also recommend Hepatitis B, Yellow Fever, Malaria, and Rabies. Costa Rica does not specifically require any proof of vaccinations. Note, my sons and I contracted cholera while living there (extremely unpleasant and life threatening). Sanitation in rural areas is very poor. Dengue Fever is a problem in isolated areas in the south. Remember, there is no vaccine for it, but since it is transmitted by mosquito liberally use bug repellant.
The U.S. State Department strongly advises to only use public Costa Rica medical facilities in cases of severe emergencies. There are private hospitals for the more affluent Ticos and wealthier tourists, like the Cima Hospital, Clinica Católica, and Hospital Clínica Bíblica. Care at these facilities is inexpensive compared to the U.S. You can buy travel insurance to cover the costs if needed or check if your insurance covers international medical costs. Most importantly, emergency response in Costa Rica is very limited in general and non-existent in many areas. Do not expect to whip out your cell phone (if you even have coverage) and call 911. If traveling to remote areas, be careful. Bring extra medications if needed too.
7. Creepy Crawlies
Yes, Costa Rica has poisonous critters. In resort areas you will be fine. In rural areas you need to be careful. Sandals are not recommended for hiking in the rainforest. Costa Rica is home to over 170 species of snakes, 17 are venomous. The fer-de-lance is absolutely deadly and notoriously aggressive, and even if you survive, it inflicts a permanent necrosis to tissue that can be life crippling. There are also rattle snakes, coral snakes, eye-lash vipers, bushmasters, and boa constrictors. DO NOT go hiking through the rainforests off paths. In addition, Costa Rica has some problematic insects. The famous bullet ants have a bite that is liken to a gun shot (hence their name). They also have loads of fire ants. Wait until you see the spiders! Tarantulas and Wolf Spiders that size of baseballs, but not dangerous (just scary). Welcome to the tropics!
National Geographic proclaimed the Central Valley of Costa Rica as the best climate in the world. I agree. The beaches, however, can be brutally hot and humid. Costa Rica has year-round consistent temperature, which makes living there easy on your wardrobe. It does have a dry and rainy season, though. During the rainy season it rains, a lot. I live in Seattle when not traveling; we have nothing on Costa Rica. When it rains, it REALLY rains! Buckets of rain will come down all day, many times so bad that car wipers are useless. Since most of Costa Rica attractions involve being outside, forget it. I HIGHLY recommend avoiding vacationing from May through November.