10 More Tips to Plan a Trip to Costa Rica

We enjoyed our first trip to Costa Rica so much that we decided to visit again, a year later! Costa Rica is a great place to enjoy warmer weather, beaches, relaxation, and the “pura vida” lifestyle. During this trip, we spent time touring the Jaco area, Guanacaste, and the Nicoya Peninsula. Rather than update our first post with new tips, we decided to share a new post with 10 more tips. In this post, we share some general tips and information to help you plan your trip to Costa Rica based on our 2nd visit.

1 – Planning Your Itinerary: Allocate your time wisely

On our first trip, we stayed at the W Reserva Conchal in Brasilito Guanacaste, Mint in Santa Teresa, the Andaz Papagayo and Rio Perdido in Bagaces. This time, we stayed at the Marriott Los Suenos in Playa Herradura (near Jaco), W Reserva Conchal, Casa Chameleon in Mal Pais, and the Andaz Papagayo.  We visited some familiar spots but also some new ones too.

We drove a lot on this trip: about 2,000 kilometres over 2 weeks. While we feel like we did explore more, we do feel like there is still so much to see and do. Next trip, we will most likely plan our itinerary to include a visit to San Jose for 1-2 days and 4-5 days on the Caribbean Coast to see what those areas are like. We would also recommend looking at flight options with Sansa, the small local airline that shuttles people around the country to avoid driving.

Unlike other destinations like Hawaii or Barbados, Costa Rica is a large country and it takes time to get places and you need to plan your itinerary to take that into account. If you only have 5-7 days, choose one spot. If you have 7-10 days, it is possible to split your trip between two spots. If you have 10+ days, you can split your trip between 3 spots with some careful planning.

2 – The Roads – Driving in Costa Rica: Be ready for anything and everything

The roads in Costa Rica vary a lot and you need to be mindful of all kinds of things, most notably potholes as some as car and tire destroyers. You could be driving down a highway that reminds you of those you are used to back home but then, in Costa Rica, your cortisol rises as you randomly encounter a part of the road that is missing as they are installing a culvert and haven’t re-paved the road yet. The roads can also be very narrow: there are no shoulders and people drive to avoid potholes and pass other vehicules, which makes it a little stressful and scary at times. In Costa Rica, the road is shared by all: motorbikes, cars, semi-trucks, quads, wildlife, cows, horses, pedestrians and cyclists: it can feel stressfull to deal with so many things occurring on narrow roads all the time. People also seem to pass at times that are pretty dangerous and passing lanes are not common.

Also, stick to the “yellow” roads on Google Maps as they tend to be in much better condition than the “white” roads. Even at that, Google Maps and Waze may send you down roads that have rivers and other things that you want to avoid! If you do need to drive through a river, find the Facebook Groups where people share information about the river conditions as it varies from day to day.

You need to practice defensive driving in Costa Rica more than in other places. We would say that “pura vida” applies to almost everything in Costa Rica, just not when driving!

3 – Driving to Jaco from Liberia: Avoid Driving at Night

National Route 1 is Costa Rica’s main highway: from Liberia to Canas, it reminds you of a North American freeway but beyond that, the road is a narrow stretch of two-lane highway that is undergoing construction and is best avoided at night due to the lack of lighting and signage for the road construction. It is also not that enjoyable to drive during the day due to the road conditions.

Jaco Beach at sunset

We arrived late in Liberia and had to do most of the drive to Playa Herradura at night and would recommend only driving during the daytime. There was also a toll that only accepts cash which was not noted online anywhere or even Google Maps or Waze: make sure to have some Colones with you to pay the toll as they don’t accept credit cards. Tolls can be paid in US dollars (bill only, not coins) but the exchange rate is not the best and you will get change back in Colones anyways. If we recall correctly, the toll was about 350 Colones.

4 – Your Car Rental: You may not need a 4*4

On our first trip, we did not rent a 4*4 but as our itinerary involved returning to Santa Teresa/Mal Pais, we decided to rent a 4*4 this time. Had we not ventured to Santa Teresa, the 4*4 would have been unnecessary based on this trip’s itinerary. The 4*4 was very useful and a necessity to drive the unpaved road in Santa Teresa and Mal Pais, including driving up and down the narrow and bumpy hill to our hotel, Casa Chameleon. While we were impressed by the progress they made in paving some parts of the road to Santa Teresa, the rain and erosion has damaged other parts of it and it looked even worse. If you are staying in Santa Teresa/Mal Pais, rent an ATV to get around as even with a 4*4, the roads are very rough and better suited to an ATV.

5 – Over tourism in Santa Teresa: Should you still visit?

On our first visit to Santa Teresa, we were impressed with how clean things were and that things seem to be working to minimize over-tourism, unlike how over-tourism and development are affecting beach towns in Bali like Canggu. While Santa Teresa may have found ways to limit development on the beach (…and the beach is as stunning as ever), other signs of over-tourism are manifesting: waste management infrastructure needs some improvement as there was a lot of trash on the side of the road and near the beach. We were also told of some water shortages as a result of an increase in tourism, the traffic rivals what you can see in Bali sometimes, and locals are complaining about unaffordability due to the global digital nomad trend. This is a global trend that seems to manifest itself over and over in small beach towns like Santa Teresa.

We don’t think people should stop coming to Santa Teresa as it is a beautiful place to enjoy the beach, explore the surrounding areas like Montezuma and Cabuya on ATV (we really recommend renting from ATV Valerio’s as they bikes were in good condition and the staff friendly and helpful), and eat really delicious food. Santa Teresa’s food scene is fun, creative, and vibrant and rivals those of large cities and is better than Tulum’s, in our humble opinion. It truly is an amazing place to enjoy the beach and a good food scene but it does seem to be getting busier.

6 – Budget Tip for Canadians – Pay in Colones

On our first visit to Costa Rica, we found things to be more affordable as the Canadian Dollar was doing better. Since then, the Canadian Dollar has dropped in value against the Costa Rican Colon: on our first visit, 1 Canadian Dollar was worth 500 Colones and it has since dropped to 397 Colones. When possible, choose places that charge in Colones and pay in Colones as it helps to make things more affordable. We found several places like supermarkets and restaurants that charge in Colones. Many restaurants charge in US dollars which gets very expensive, especially when 15% tax and 10% service charge are added to the bill at restaurants: you end up paying 55% more sometimes.

Use an ATM to take out Colones or use a no foreign transaction fee credit card to help save as much as possible if you are budget conscious. We still find our dollar goes further in Costa Rica than other destinations and are generally satisfied with what we get. We still believe that Costa Rica is cheaper for Canadians than Hawaii and other places in the Caribbean but definitely more expensive than others. Don’t go to Costa Rica thinking it’s cheap: budget to pay similar prices to large cities in Canada in Costa Rica for meals and fuel.

7 – Parking at the Beach: Some are easier than others

This time, we explored many more beaches and towns than on our last visit. Generally, it is easy for anyone to access beaches as they are all public but parking can sometimes be challenging. At most popular beaches, the parking is “free” but there are self-appointed parking guides that will “help you” park your car and “guard it” while you go to the beach. We noticed this in Santa Teresa (Playa Hermosa), Playa Flamingo, Playa Hermosa, Playa Panama, Playa Grande. and Playa Blanca (near Jaco). You can park farther away and just walk but it makes it a bit more difficult to just park nearby to checkout the beach briefly.  

Playa Linda Matapalo near Dominical

Some beaches don’t have parking and you need to find creative solutions. For example, when we were staying in Playa Herradura, we decided to spend half a day at Playa Blanca, which involved us paying to park our car in someone’s yard and taking their shuttle to the beach (the shuttle was a van shared with others, including the catch of the day for successful fishermen!). It was an adventure that was worth it though as the beach was stunning and we stayed for 4 hours! We just wished we had brought a few “rubias” (cold beers) and some snacks! Email us for more information.

Overall, we really enjoyed some of the beaches near Dominical, including Playa Linda in Matapalo. There were no unofficial parking guides, you can park with your car in sight, it was uncrowded, and the beach was stunning. Google Maps is a great way to find beaches in Costa Rica.

8 – Bugs and Wildlife: NO LANGOSTAS this time!

On our last trip, when we were staying a the W Reserva Conchal near Brasilito, we had trouble enjoying being outside at night due to the massively large flying grasshoppers/locusts that are also nicknamed “langostas”. Thankfully, there wasn’t an invasion of the langostas this time, and we only actually saw one, very briefly, on our last day. We also were surprised to experience fewer bugs and critters this time around and the worst thing were the “no seeums” on the beach. All of this to say, the presence of bugs can vary.

A langosta landed on Jason and needed to be removed
A langosta landed on Jason and needed to be removed

We also were luckier this time as we saw so many different birds, including various types of toucans. We also saw monkeys and coaties, as usual.

Don’t let the bugs keep you from visiting Costa Rica as it can vary depending on the season, the year, and where you are visiting.

9 – Chili Guaro: It might be your favorite shot that you’ve never heard of/tried yet

We were introduced to “chili guaro” at a hotel restaurant after our meal was done. “Chili guaro” is a shot made using the sugarcane distilled liquor common in Costa Rica with tomato juice, hot sauce, lime and spices. We tried a few and each recipe was different in taste, strength and spice level. If you like spicy Caesars and Bloody Marys, chili guaro will be right up your alley! Most people order a beer and a chilli guaro. Even if it is not on the menu, you just need to ask! Repeat after us: “Disculpe, puede tomar un chili guaro, por favor?”.

10 – The Food: We are not sick of it yet

Most people say the food in Costa Rica isn’t very exciting, as the traditional cuisine often consists of rice and beans, and more rice and beans. There is some truth to this but there are also many other options. We ate ceviche every day, and each one was very different. The “casados” which are rice and beans with protein (chicken, beef or pork), plantains, and other accompaniments can get repetitive but each one we had was unique and was a healthy meal (we much prefer casado over hamburger and fries).

Here are some food highlights from our recent trip:

  • In Cabuya, we had the most amazing fish tacos at Habitat;
  • In Montezuma we had Mediterranean food made with local ingredients on the beach at Playa de los Artistas;
  • In Dominical we had the best tico breakfast ever and delicious pineapple french toast at Cafe Mono Congo;
  • In Ocotal we had excellent patacones, ceviche, and cocktails at Father Rooster’s by the beach;
  • In Santa Teresa we had Vancouver-grade sushi at Katana and the ceviche at La Cevicheria was still spectacular (as was the Peruvian chicken and passionfruit cheesecake at Chicken Joe’s);
  • In Jaco we had top-notch Thai food that rivals some of the best we’ve ever had at Jerah Thai.

All of that to say, if you do your research, put in a bit of effort, and are patient, you will find some really good food in Costa Rica. Google Maps is more useful than TripAdvisor to minimize the risk of ending up in a tourist trap.  


Once again, we left Costa Rica with some unfinished business and a long list of other places we want to visit in the country on a future trip. Costa Rica is a place where adventurers and nature lovers will feel at peace and fall into the “pura vida” lifestyle easily. Maybe one day we will branch out and visit during rainy season as people seem to say it’s something very unique and special. Until next time Costa Rica!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: