To many, Costa Rica’s charm lies in its lush rainforests, unspoiled beaches and abundance of wildlife. With breathtaking landscapes and a myriad of creatures — from toucans to monkeys to jaguars — it’s easy to see why. Where else can you hike active volcanoes, zip line through cloud-covered rainforests and surf warm turquoise waters within the span of just a few days? In this compact but diverse tropical paradise, exhilarating outdoor activities are abundant. Nature-seekers will roam thick jungles while beachgoers will sprawl across the powdery sands. It’s hard not to admire all the splendors this “Rich Coast” has to offer.
However, for others, this small Latin American country has a different appeal: it’s a relaxed way of life. Residents — known as Ticos — often recite the catchphrase “pura vida” (or “pure life”). This guiding philosophy can be observed from Costa Rica’s central cosmopolitan capital of San José all the way to the sandy Atlantic and Pacific coasts. To truly immerse yourself in the good life, kick-back and admire the awe-inspiring scenery. Surround yourself with graceful butterflies at La Paz Waterfall Gardens, hike along the monumental Arenal Volcano, mingle with locals at Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, or simply sit in a hammock under a palm tree along the Nicoya Peninsula. We have a strong feeling you’ll discover the pure life, too.
How To Save Money in Costa Rica
- Don’t rent a car at the airport
Most car rental companies at Costa Rica’s airports add a 12 percent charge to their rates. It’s best to reserve a car ahead of time from a company located in the heart of town rather than the airport.
- For better rates, exchange at the airport
The exchange rate is generally better in Costa Rica for American dollars (USD). While you’ll want to bring a few Costa Rican colóns (CRC) with you for small purchases upon arrival, exchange the bulk of your cash once you’re in the country.
- Make sure the meter is running
Taxi drivers have a reputation for charging extra by not switching the meter on. As soon as you step into a taxi, either check that the meter is running or negotiate a flat rate with the driver to avoid a scam.
Costa Rica Culture & Customs
Costa Rican residents (los Costarricenses or “Ticos”) are known for their pleasant and easygoing nature. Always warm, welcoming and living life to the fullest, Ticos often greet each other with a hearty “Pura Vida!” (meaning “pure life”). Don’t be alarmed by their benevolence and eagerness to please guests. To blend in, just reciprocate with kindness and embrace their positive philosophy.
The official language here is Spanish; however, you’ll find English-speakers in popular tourist areas. But using some key phrases, such as “por favor” (“please”) and “gracias” (“thank you”), is a polite gesture that goes a long way.
Dressing in casual clothing coincides with the laid-back Costa Rican lifestyle. You’ll want to pack loose fitting clothing and sturdy hiking shoes if you’re planning to explore the country’s rustic wildlife reserves, volcanoes and parks. You’ll also want to lather up with sunscreen and insect repellent, as mosquitoes and other critters swarm Costa Rica’s damp rainforests.
Coffee beans are commonly associated with the “Gold Coast.” You’re also likely to spot coffee plantations in the Central Plains; many travelers enjoy taking tours here. However, high-end coffee beans are hard to come by since they are commonly exported rather than sold locally.
Costa Rica’s official currency is the Costa Rica Colón (CRC). Since the CRC to U.S. dollar exchange rate fluctuates, be sure to check what the exchange rate is before you go. Major credit cards are accepted at most restaurants and shops.
As far as dining goes, travelers should note that restaurants add gratuity onto the bill. However, tipping extra is not uncommon; if the service is stellar, leave an additional tip. For tour guides and drivers, plan to dole out about $10 USD per day.
Costa Rica’s official religion is Catholicism. More than 90 percent of Costa Rica’s population identifies as Catholic; however, the Catholic Church’s presence is not readily visible to the unsuspecting traveler, except during patron saint celebrations when locals flock to the streets outside churches for dancing, music and scrumptious cuisine.
In Costa Rica, you’ll face few safety concerns. However, in congested San José, you’ll want to keep an eye on your belongings and your rental car. Pickpocketing and car theft are common in heavily trafficked tourist areas.