A FIRST APPROACH
Which Costa Rica Is Right for You?
Here's a snapshot of the popular Central American country's defining experiences: beaches, ecofriendly activities, and adrenaline rushes. Get a sense of which ones fit your travel style and your budget.
Hop on an ATV for a four-wheel joyride. Paraíso Adventure (paraisocostarica.com), at the Pacific beach resort of Jacó, about two hours southwest of San José, gets high marks for its Jungle & Safari Tour (from $85 per person for a half day). The company makes it easy for you to add to the thrill of an ATV excursion by showing you where you can splash through mud, roar up mountain slopes, and stop to swim under a chilly waterfall.
7 INSIDER TIPS
1. Costa Rican hotels are notorious for not honoring reservations. If you book by phone or fax, be sure to get a written confirmation. Prior to arrival, reconfirm.
2. Staying at a mid-priced hotel? Bring your own shampoo, washcloth, and even sink plug. Quite a few hotels lack these.
3. Planning to view birds or other wildlife? Pack khaki clothing, so you can blend in with the rain forest. And once you're on the trail, be patient. If a troop of monkeys passes overhead, wait quietly for a few minutes. Ground-dwelling animals may emerge afterward to feed on fruits dropped by the monkeys.
4. Even drivers of official taxicabs—red with a yellow sign with the plate number on each front door—can be reluctant to use the meter (la maria). Insist that yours does so, or expect to pay more than the meter rate. Alternately, check with your hotel concierge for the appropriate fare to your destination, and settle on a rate with the driver before you set off.
5. Parking a rental car at a surfers' beach? Don't leave anything in your vehicle. Break-ins have reached epidemic proportions, especially along the Nicoya Peninsula.
6. Riptides—narrow, fast-moving ocean currents that flow away from shore—claim many swimmers' lives each year. Ask locals about sea conditions before you dive in. Most riptides (also known as rip currents) are not identifiable to everyday beachgoers. If you get caught in one, swim parallel to shore to escape.
7. Rainforest Publications' waterproof, pocket-size, foldout field guides are handy for identifying wildlife species. They're widely available in gift shops in Costa Rica and from the company directly (rainforestpublications.com).
Costa Rica's dry season (November through April) has the best weather, but it is also the high season, when rates increase. The May through October wet season is cheaper and less crowded.
• Pint of locally brewed Imperial beer: $2 (1,115 colones)
• Plate of gallo pinto, rice and beans with traditional salsa lizano: $3.25 (1,800 colones)
• Hand-painted ox cart souvenir: $7 (3,899 colones)
• Taxi ride (taxiaeropuerto.com/) from the airport to downtown San José: $16-$20 (8,912-11,142 colones)
• Average rate for a two-star hotel in San José: $50-$60 (27,855-33,426 colones)