Tue 7 Aug 2007
We just got back from a six-day trip to lovely Costa Rica, and, as we shuffled through the lines at the airport, kept wishing we had another 15 days. We’ve never been to Hawaii but Costa Rica seems like it could be considered a poor man’s Hawaii. It’s got the beaches, the reefs, the forests, the volcanoes, the mountains, and the canyons. I’d recommend a visit there to anyone who loves the outdoors. A more lyrical post on our adventures later. For now, some “glad I did/wish I’d done differently” moments to help others who may be planning a trip.
1. Don’t rely on a printed tour book. The tourist industry is growing so quickly in Costa Rica that our 2005 edition was already out of date. Hotels had changed ownership or gone downhill, restaurants had disappeared, and some of the fees were wildly inaccurate. Start with the book to choose the areas you want to visit, and then use internet forums and travel sites to get up-to-date recommendations.
2. Budget the exit tax into your travel plans. At the airport, we had to pay $52 in order to exit the country.
3. If you don’t have a lot of time, rent a 4×4 and drive yourself. Despite the narrow,winding, hilly roads, we were glad to have the additional time and freedom a car provided. We calculated what the expense would have been if we relied on buses, shuttles, and taxis for six days, and the car cost came out slightly lower.
4. Be careful with your credit card. Although we paid for our trip with traveler’s checks and cash, we had to reserve all of our hotel rooms ahead of time with our credit card information. Someone used it to order $700 worth of goods online. Fortunately, our credit card company didn’t authorize the purchases and canceled the card. Next time, we will use a separate, low-limit credit card to reserve rooms and reduce risk.
5. If you stay in touristy areas, you can pay for everything in dollars and get away with not knowing Spanish. Of course, this convenience comes at tourist prices.
6. Leave the restaurants behind sometimes to eat yummy gallo (stir fried beans and rice) at a busy soda (lunch counter) frequented by locals. Also, order the fresh fruit or juice smoothies, available everywhere for a dollar or two.
7. Use the in-room safes. All the places we stayed had lock boxes, and we figured they were there for good reason. All of our valuables stayed safe and sound, and it felt excellent not to have to traipse around with our entire trip budget in our pockets.
8. Enjoy the origami. Most places, we were greeted with towels, sheets, napkins, and even toilet paper folded into fanciful shapes like swans and flowers. A treat!
9. Bring a compass or good sense of direction. Though streets and highways are numbered on maps, they are not named or numbered in real life. We never got really lost (it’s a small country), but we did have to do a lot of guesswork.