Helpful Information and other Tips for Your Trip
With perfect weather and an amazing diversity of plants and animals, Costa Rica is as close to paradise as you can get. This helps to explain why it is becoming the top destination in the world for eco-tourism, yoga and retiring. We were tourists ourselves before making the move, so we hope that this information helps you during your stay.
Below is some advice to help you have the time of your life. Pura Vida!
San Jose is an amazing city. We stayed there for a few of our trips while exploring Costa Rica and it’s just like any other large city. It’s very busy, noisy and not the most attractive as far as a city goes. One word of advice, is to avoid driving inside the city. Most tourists do not know that the San Jose International Airport (SJO) is not located in San Jose, but in Alajuela. The center of San Jose is a 30-minutes drive away from the airport. A taxi to San Jose will cost you the same as to Grecia. Note: official airport taxis (red with yellow triangles) are fairly expensive. It can be as much as $50. If you decide to use a taxi to get to San Jose OR even to Grecia, make sure that the quoted price is per trip, not per person.
We do suggest at least a one (1) day visit to San Jose to check out the Mercado Central as well as the museums and National Theatre there. If you want to visit San Jose center, go by bus (buses to San Jose from Grecia center leave every 30 minutes) and it’s a very enjoyable ride. Not only do you get to see the countryside, you also get to interact and experience the real Costa Rica. Stay in the center (around the “pedestrian-only” street). There is even a “China Town” area which is wonderful to walk around. Take only a small sum of money and a camera (umbrella during rain season is a must). There are many policemen in the center, so it’s safe during the daytime and even early evenings.
As you get further from San Jose, crime rates drop dramatically. Even at the touristy beach towns the crime rate is not as bad. In our area violent crime is virtually non-existent.
Driving from the airport
Unless you have driven in Central America before, we suggest arriving during the daytime, especially during the rainy season. Most rental agencies have an airport shuttle so picking up your vehicle is real easy. If you do not want to rent a car, we can arrange transportation to and from the airport. When doing group retreats we will coordinate for different arrival times.
Costa Ricans have a much higher tolerance for noise. We are in farm country which is not that noisy. You will hear the occasional motor cycle, tractor or even a truck. If the sounds of roosters bother you, or you need total quiet, we do have earplugs available for you.
Paying in cash: Some hotels and shops will give you a discount if you pay cash and don’t ask for a receipt. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
Information on Tours and sightseeing
We can help you arrange some private tours while you stay with us for your retreat. Some of the tours we can arrange for you is to the Poas Volcano, La Paz Waterfall Gardens, zip-line, coffee plantations, sugar factory and many other excursions. We can even arrange a walking tour of San Jose or even Grecia if you want. You can save lots of money if you have a group of 4, for example.
We’ll provide you with driving directions and entry prices to the surrounding attractions. Driving around our area is not difficult, especially once you get away from the center of town. The drive is very picturesque and you can stop any time you want to take a picture. It doesn’t matter if there is no curb to stop, you will see the locals stop in the middle of the road to talk to someone walking past.
Buying an excursion package has its advantages, too. You can relax and not think about driving and get some very interesting insights from your tour guide. You will definitely feel more relaxed and learn more if you buy an excursion package.
Ultimately the choice is yours!
Driving at night
We always warn people to be careful when driving at night. Some roads are very narrow and are poorly marked. Quite a few of the roads you will experience huge pot-holes, especially in rainy season. In the rainy season there is also a possibility of a landslides, fallen rocks or trees. Another hazard with driving at night, there are NO street signs! So trying to find someplace at night can be a challenge, it’s hard enough sometimes during the day.
Colones vs. dollars
We urge you NOT to exchange dollars (or your currency) to colones at the airport. They charge you a higher rate with a lower exchange. So you get less money. Your ATM cards will work in any of the local banks and you will get the current exchange rate. If you plan to drive around a lot and eat in small cafes (called “sodas”), you should have some colones. Although most places will accept dollars, it will save you time and energy trying to convert local currency prices to dollars.
ATMs are a very convenient way to withdraw smaller sums of money, and they are quite abundant in Costa Rica. Look for the “Plus” logo at the back of your card. If you have it, you should be able to use your card in virtually any ATM.
Notify your card issuer that you’re going to travel to Costa Rica, so that they don’t block your card at the worst time possible.
If you are going to use ATMs, remember that if you enter your password incorrectly 3 times, the machine will “eat” the card. You should be able to recover it, but it will take some time (2-4 days). You might not have that time. Be careful, especially if this is the only card you brought.
If, for some reason, your card does not work when paying in the stores or when trying to withdraw cash from an ATM, you can get a “cash advance” in most bank branches (this will, however, cost you an extra commission).
Although violent crime is practically non-existent outside of San Jose (and some beach areas), petty theft is widespread. Just take the same precautions as you would if you were visiting any large city: don’t leave anything in your car that someone might consider valuable; don’t waive $100 bills, keep an eye on your belongings, and so on. I once saw a woman at the airport take out a roll of money with $100’s $50’s and $20’s and I cautioned her that it was NOT a good idea to take out a roll of money like that. She was OH I’m here at the airport, it’s OK. I laughed and said your in another country and locals are watching you and some may want to try to pick your pocket. I urged her if she needs to take out money to just keep the smaller bills on the outside so it looks like she’s poor. If you’re at the beach, don’t leave your camera/clothes/hand bag unattended when you decide to go swimming: you wouldn’t do that in Florida, would you?
Don’t bring $100 bills. No one accepts them. You might even have troubles changing those in a bank. 20s are widely accepted. Note: the change will be in colones.
We do suggest you bring some warmer clothes with you. Yes we are around 10 degrees north of the equator, we are also at an elevation of 4,700 ft and it can get chilly at night. In December – February it can get cool at night, we’ve seen temperatures at the resort go as low as 54F. Though it warms up during the day. The minute the sun goes down, the temperature starts to drop. IF it is too chilly for you to sleep, we do have extra blankets, comforters and even a heater you can use.
We do have a washer and dryer that is available for a small charge. There are NO laundromats, we’ve looked.
The local cuisine is rather simple. In the Central Valley or on the Pacific coast your typical food will be a “casado”. It’s a dish that has a little of everything: rice, beans, one type of meat (beef, chicken, pork chop) or fish, salad and fried plantains. A typical breakfast includes gallo pinto (rice with beans), eggs, tortilla bread, and maybe some meat (like bacon or sausage) and coffee. This will cost you $4-6 (2,000-3,000 colones). A typical lunch (casado with a soft drink) should cost $5-9 (2,500-4,500 colones). If you are on a budget, always ask beforehand what it’s going to cost. There are lots of sodas around, so you should find the right one in no time. If you see a soda packed with locals, go for it. It’s probably cheap and good.
Please note: the prices above are as an example. The exchange rate changes daily and to roughly convert how much something costs in dollars, just double and leave off the zeros. Prices in touristy towns like Jaco, Manuel Antonio will be higher, especially during the high season.
Do not exceed the speed limit and follow the traffic signs. It’s dangerous, first, and second, the fines for traffic violations have been increased drastically: e.g. if you take over a car on a double line, it will cost you around 460 USD (!!!) if caught by police. For more driving tips, see Driving in Costa Rica.
You might not be able to see/photograph volcanoes or waterfalls if there is a fog. It’s not that uncommon. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t, it’s nature, unpredictable by definition.
You get a better shot at seeing Poas volcano if you arrive early, when the park opens (8 am). The good thing is that from our retreat center, you can see if the volcano is in a fog/cloud, so you can pick your timing and not waste your time and money.
The best chance to see Arenal volcano not covered with clouds is during the rain season. It is about a 2 1/2 hr drive from the retreat center.
If you plan to drive to some lesser-known spots, bring your GPS. In general, your car trip around Costa Rica will be much more pleasant with a GPS. It’s best if you buy/find a map of Costa Rica beforehand. You can also use WAZE if you have cell phone service here in Costa Rica. We’ve tried Google Maps and have gotten lost on dirt roads that just end.
If you plan to swim in the ocean or surf, read about rip tides. People die only because they don’t know what to do. If you know what to do, you’ll be just fine. Actually the chances that you’ll get pulled into one of those are slim to none, but better safe than sorry.
Depending on what country you are arriving from, you may not need any vaccinations to enter Costa Rica. It is highly advisable to check before hand if you are required to have any vaccinations and whether you need proof or not.
Make sure your passport is valid at least 3 month when you enter Costa Rica. If your passport will expire in less than 3 month, the passport control official will not let you enter the country. There is a safe available either in your room or in our private area where you can lock your Passport up in. The only thing you NEED to carry on you throughout the country is a photo copy of the front page of your passport AND a copy of your entry stamp.
Tap water is safe to drink. Our property is actually on a central filtration system for added safety to the drinking water. Bottled water is available at the local stores as well as most restaurants. You can always ask if they drink the tap water themselves OR if they prefer bottled.
If you are going to travel during “summer” you can expect most of Costa Rica to be dusty and dried out. Coming during the “winter” or rainy season is when everything is going to be lush and green like in the pictures.
Try to schedule your trip in such a way that you avoid going to the beaches during the major holidays such as Christmas, New Year and Easter week. The beaches are literally packed with the locals. Away from the beaches, everything is closed, including grocery stores and restaurants.
If you’ve been to Central /Latin America and hated to be constantly annoyed by locals trying to sell you everything under the sun, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by Costa Rica. Costa Ricans (or Ticos) are very proud people. It’s rare to see a beggar or a bum outside of San Jose area.
INFORMATION ON DRIVING IN COSTA RICA
• We highly recommend renting a GPS with your car. In Costa Rica, the roads are poorly marked (or not marked at all), and addresses are based on local places of interest. Its best to rent a GPS where you can enter geographical location of the place. Some GPS maps of Costa Rica are made half in English, half in Spanish, so if one place of interest you entered in English does not exist in GPS, try the same place in Spanish.
• If you have to drive through San Jose, keep your bags (especially your hand and belly bags) away from open windows or they might be snatched when you stop at an intersection. Do not keep your bag on the front passenger seat either. It is safer to place your bag on the floor behind the driver’s seat. You should always lock the doors and roll up windows leaving the car.
• If your credit card limit is low, find out what the hold is before booking your rental car. Some companies put a hold of over $1000.
Be very careful when driving at night. Some roads are very narrow and are poorly marked. There are more drunk drivers on the road at night. In the rainy season there is a possibility of a landslides, fallen rocks or trees and many pot holes.
• Don’t speed. It’s dangerous and the new fines are horrendous. Follow the speed limit and traffic rules. Your rent-a-car company will charge your speeding fine on your credit card.
• When driving through a town center, be very careful at the intersections. If you think you have the right of way, make sure you see the “stop” sign or “yield” for other directions. Sometimes all that’s left of the “stop” sign is the post where it used to be. Sometimes even the post is gone. I suggest you stop at each intersection or at least slow down. Surely, you might get honked at, but you’ll avoid an accident.
• Don’t worry if you are stopped by police. Be calm, nice and patient. If you don’t speak Spanish, show them your passport (or a copy) and the papers for your car. Typically they will let you go right away. If you showed them the papers and they still won’t let you go, call your rental company or your hotel. They should be able to help you out. If nothing works, call 911. This is the only emergency number that guarantees you that the person on the other end is speaking English. If you’re fluent in Spanish, call Transit Police at 2222-9245 (near San Jose), 2643-1654 (around Jaco). You might also try calling Tourism board at 800-868-7476 or 800-887-4766 (dial as you see on the screen). They should be able to help or at least give you more numbers to call for help.
• Do not try to bribe policemen. It’s a criminal offense here. If they give you a ticket, your rental company will charge you this amount. Then they will pay the ticket themselves. Please re-check this info with your rental company. VITAL INFORMATION!!!
• If you get into an accident, do not move your car, no matter what. Moving your car after an accident in Costa Rica might invalidate your insurance coverage. It might also be interpreted as admission of fault. Don’t worry creating a traffic jam. People here are used to that and they understand that you can’t move your car until the Transit Police and the insurance company arrives. Call transit police or 911 right away.
• Costa Ricans are very humble people, but they turn into maniacs the moment they get behind the wheel.” Costa Rican drivers, especially the young ones, are very impatient and driving culture is still lacking. If there is an impatient driver behind you, be calm, relaxed, and let him overtake you. If you drive defensively and anticipate the behavior of fellow drivers, you will be just fine. The convenience of driving and exploring on your own far outweighs any potential problems.
• What concerns the road conditions, in general, all big roads and highways in Costa Rica are in decent shape (more or less). That doesn’t mean that you don’t bump into a pothole from time to time. The roads are being constantly repaired, but it’s a mountainous country and it’s hard to keep up with pouring rain. Another thing: many roads are still dirt roads.
• Honking is a common language of the road here. If you see a friend, honk. If you’re upset with another driver, honk. Truck drivers honk ALL other truck drivers. Same goes for bus drivers. Important thing: when someone passes you, they honk (a couple of short quiet honks typically), saying, “I’m passing you, be careful”. I suggest you quickly develop the same habit. Sometimes people turn left without checking or turning on the turn light. So, do honk when you’re passing another car, it makes it safer for everyone.
• Headlights. Sometimes drivers flash headlights for greeting friends (or other truck or bus drivers). Flashing headlights is also used to notify other drivers that there is police ahead.
• When you park your car on the streets of any town, usually there will be a person helping you to park. He will also take a look at your car while you are gone. When you leave, he will help you to get out of the parking safely. It is a nice custom to tip him a small amount. Five hundred colones will be greatly appreciated.
INFORMATION ON HOW TO READ ROAD SIGNS IN COSTA RICA
If you plan to drive and you don’t speak Spanish, print this article and bring it with you! Very useful information.
Traffic Signs in Spanish/ENGLISH
camino cerrado/ROAD CLOSED
ceda/ceda el paso/YIELD THE RIGHT OF WAY — NOTE: if you’re on the side of the bridge that has the “CEDA” sign, YOU MUST YIELD to oncoming traffic until the bridge is clear.
curva peligrosa/DANGEROUS CURVE
desprendimiento de terreno/FALLING ROCKS
encienda los faros/las luces/TURN ON THE LIGHTS
hombres trabajando/MEN WORKING
limite de velocidad/SPEED LIMIT
no estacionar/se prohibe estacionar/NO PARKING
no hay paso/WRONG WAY
no virar/NO TURN
puente angosto/NARROW BRIDGE
reduzca la velocidad/REDUCE THE SPEED
una via/ONE-WAY STREET
zona escolar/SCHOOL ZONE
DRIVING TIMES TO LOCAL ATTRACTIONS
Use the driving information times below as a guideline. The actual driving time will greatly depend on weather and road conditions. All the big roads (called “la pista”) are typically in decent condition.
Sarchi 10-15 min Beautiful countryside town of Sarchi is famous for its exuberantly painted oxcarts, handcrafts and furniture. It’s also known for it’s “birthday cake” shaped church.
Doka Coffee Plantation 50 min A very educational coffee tour, a must for coffee-lovers.
Los Chorros Waterfalls 30 min 3 waterfalls, one with a swimming hole, easy hiking.
The World of Snakes 15 min A guided hands-on tour, if you are into snakes, don’t miss this experience.
Else Kientzler Botanical Gardens 20-25 min 7 hectares of manicured paths with more than 2000 plants from all over the world.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens 50 min 5 waterfalls, beautiful gardens with butterflies and humming birds, nice trails, very easy hiking.
Poas Volcano National Park 45-50 min You can see Poas volcano right from the retreat center. If you are really adventurous, you can even hike to the volcano. It is about a 3 1/2 hour hike directly from our front door. The views of the whole valley on the way up are so beautiful that you’ll want to stop and take some pictures.
Poas Canopy Zipline 40 min 14 cables and 24 platforms (one is 600 meters long). It is the only one to offer a safe zipline experience for children aged 5 and up to ride with the parents.
Carara National Park 1.5 hours World class birding, the best place to see scarlet macaws and ant-eaters.
Playa Blanca beach
(Central Pacific, near Punta Leona) 1 hour 45 minutes Excellent swimming, body-boarding, can do snorkeling. Turtles visit this beach from time to time. Scarlet macaws, green parrots, pelicans and magnificent frigates can often be seen.
Jaco beach (Central Pacific) 2 hours Excellent surfing/ body-boarding beach, lots of good restaurants. Also try Herradura beach for surfing or Agujas for fishing.
Arenal Volcano (La Fortuna) 2.5 – 3 hours The drive is very easy. There are lots of hot springs in the area. If your budget allows, try Tabacon springs (day entrance), if not, try any of the less expensive options. Many hotels have thermal pools.
Manuel Antonio National Park (Central Pacific) 3 – 3.5 hours The best place to see all 3 types of monkeys as well as sloths. The park itself is tiny, so hiking is very easy. The best beaches are inside the park, but you can have great time at the beaches in front of some hotels. You can do swimming, surfing (beginners) and great body-boarding.
Caribbean side 3.5 – 4.5 hours
Monteverde (Cloud forest reserve) 4 – 5.5 hours Beautiful drive. Try zip line for adrenaline rush or do some hiking (day and night tours are widely available).
Liberia and Guanacaste beaches 4 – 5.5 hours
We are always adding to this information page to help you enjoy your stay here in Costa Rica.