If this is your first or your 14th trip to Costa Rica, there are a number of things to do to get organized. We hope you find our compendium of Costa Rica specific travel issues helpful - click on something you are interested in:
- CAR RENTALS
- CARS AND WHY 4WD
- DRIVING & SECURITY
- DRIVING AND CAMERAS
- ELECTRICITY, WATER AND SUCH
- FIRST NIGHT/ARRIVAL
- FLYING AND LATE ARRIVALS
- FOOD AND BEVERAGES
- GETTING LOST
- GREEN/RAINY SEASON
- HEALTH/VACCINATIONS AND OTHER MUMBO JUMBO
- LEAVING (SO SOON?)
- PASSPORT ALERT
- TIPS FOR FRED AND MARY
- TIPS FOR SUELLEN AND FAMILY
- TRAVELERS CHECKS, A WASTE OF TIME
- WEATHER, AIR CONDITIONING ETC
Costa Rica has literally 1000's of beaches and most of them almost entirely uninhabited (well except Manuel Antonio and Jaco). But we do want to alert you to the fact that every year tourists will drown because they do not understand rip tides. So for the sake of you and your family before you go in the water look for the tell tale signs of a rip tide where you are swimming. There are almost no lifeguards at any beach in Costa Rica and many beaches have no signs as to whether it is safe to swim or not so be careful. Strong rip currents are often easy to see. If you are not sure ask your local hotel about the best safe beaches near you - we have plenty of them too :-)) Some pointers you MUST be aware of
The easiest thing to remember is that often the safest/calmest most enticing looking area along a beach is usually a rip. A rip is usually the area devoid of wave activity and appears darker and deceptively calmer. It can sometimes appear milky or turbulent, but it is always pretty much void of wave activity. All that water coming in via waves has to go back out somehow, this is what a rip is.
Always take 5-10 mins when you get to the beach to observe surf conditions and identify where these areas are.
If you are caught in a rip, DO NOT PANIC. Go into floating mode and raise one arm as a distress signal when possible. See which direction the rip is taking you, is it straight out or at an angle? once you have determined this, and if you have the energy, swim to the right or left of the direction of flow, never against. Some rips can move at 3 times the speed of an olympic swimmer, you won't win! If you cannot swim out to either side of the rip, just go with it. Most rips won't take you out very far, and will usually spit you out not long after they take you, so keep calm and save your energy for the swim back to shore.
If you love the freedom of the open road, we rent only with Alamo Car Rental - ya we tried others (all of them at some point) and we want an agency that is reliable, does not quibble about minor issues when you return the car to us or them AND delivers your car to the Pura Vida breakfast table. This car is the most popular - the Suzuki Vitara 4WD 4 door which comes in manual or automatic. It does not have a lot of ooomph but it is comfortable and reliable.
Next up is the Toyota RAV4 and from there, the Toyota Fortuner and the biggest is the Land Cruiser Prado.
We also like the idea that the paper you sign for has the price you will pay for. There are plenty of car rental agencies to choose from in Costa Rica. Our experiences have varied from a perfect 10 (no problems at all for any guests EVER) to a perfect 0 (argued with guests about trivia, delivered cars that looked like they'd been to Botswana and back and had lousy table manners). So far Toyota has yielded excellent guest experiences and consistently competitive prices. Most importantly if they say they will bring the car at 8am, it is there and it is the car you ordered not "something much like it".
Things to consider when renting a car:
- where you are going (e.g. Monteverde potholes, rainy season etc);
- how much to spend (2WD is 2/3 the price of 4WD, manual transmissions save a few dollars a day etc);
- can you get a smaller SUV if you pack lightly (you need very little here as long as it is washable e.g. there is NO dressing for dinner) - use soft sided luggage only;
- make sure your car quotation INCLUDES mandatory basic insurance, mileage and taxes (don't learn about this at the rental desk when you pickup the car);
- if your agency won't deliver to the hotel add the cost of taxis and are there any rate deals e.g. weekly rates (most agencies charge 6 days rental for 7 day quote);
- check if your credit card covers CDW insurance AND the rental car company accepts it then you can decline CDW insurance when you get the car delivered;
- do you really need a $10 a day GPS when a $12 waterproof map and a compass might make for more entertainment for the kids?
Other considerations (NONONO NO NO!):
- If you want, you can leave your bags piled up in your car while you park and go to the beach
- If it seems fitting to the occasion, you can wear dingle dangles of gold and diamonds all over you while walking the streets of a big town
- If you feel the need, you can flash a waiter with wads of Dollar Bills
- If you get a flat in a dark dank neighborhood, you can accept help from three friendly teenagers who quickly pop out a blacked out Nissan Sentra
Finally make sure the rental car company will pick up you or your car, or drop you off where you need to be. If all of this seems a bit confusing, email us ahead of your trip. We'll email you a quote from a reliable company. Good luck with your planning :-) We have driven on nearly every road in Costa Rica and a whole lot of things that would not be called roads with no problem at all (OK in truth, a few adventures, an occasional curse, some great pics and frequent grins).
From a brochure of a car rental firm in Tokyo: "When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage then tootle him with vigor." We think this may work in Costa Rica too.
The guide books seem to insist on 4WD as the preferred type of vehicle. This advice you may find a bit odd as most locals (Ticos) drive small 2WD cars. This photo is of an impromptu river crossing near Playa Avellana on the Guanacaste coast at the beginning of the rainy season. NOTE: you are not allowed to drive rental cars in rivers - this will void the insurance.
So why would YOU need a 4WD if you have no plans to cross rivers and streams? First, you don't. If you know where the potholes are like the locals! Second, you'll never need really need to use the 4WD because most potholes are not that big . . . the biggest problem is hitting a pothole in a small 2WD or maybe clipping the edge of the road and "catching your wheel".
You do not need a 4WD - what you do NEED is the height and durability of a 4WD so you don't bottom out when you hit one or two or 20 of these frequent contributors to the car repairers benevolent fund of Costa Rica.
Costa Rica has some of the finest potholes in the planet.
You may have heard of a problem with petty theft in Costa Rica.
Be careful showing "wads of cash", do not wear jewelry and take care of expensive cameras and computers. You just might be ripped off by some sharp and fast characters and have a bummer of a day. This can happen anywhere in the world and it does happen here too.
THIS IS HOW YOU DO IT:
When traveling keep your car in your sight - leave nothing in the car that you want to keep. Get to your destination early and unload your bags at your hotel, THEN go to the beach/the forest/the bar. Leave your jewelry in any other country. There are no dress codes here. All hotels have a SAFE of some kind - ALWAYS keep valuables in the safe. Have a safe trip!
"Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them." --Frederick Douglass
Be careful if you are a congenital speeder. Our fines are stiff (and this is why you need to watch your speed here):
- Driving in excess of 20 km/h over the posted speed limit but not exceeding 120 km/h: over $600
- Driving in excess of 120 km/h but not exceeding 150 km/h: over $800 and more
There are cops with roadside radar guns in many parts of the country - keep a careful eye on speed limits (and speed bumps).
Yes we have some static traffic cameras also. Well yes and no. They were installed in 2011 caught a LOT of speeders who were fined lots of money and then democracy kicked in and they caught nothing but flack - our unique Costa Rican democracy shut them off for 6 months or till sometime unknown.
So in memoriam to bad ideas I give you their locations so you can wave and smile as you drive by:
1. Autopista Florencia del Castillo connecting San José and Cartago. Cameras are close to Terramall, and the speed limit drops from 80 km/h to 60 km per hour near cameras.
2. Autopista General Cañas connecting Alajuela to San José. Cameras are located between Hospital México and the Hotel Crowne Plaza Corobicí. Limit drops from 80 km per hour to 60 km/h.
3. Autopista General Cañas Highway to Río Segundo, close to the Cervecería Costa Rica in Alajuela, near Intel bridge. Speed limit drops from 80 km per hour to 60 km/h.
4. Autopista Florencio del Castillo Highway in La Lima de Cartago. Cameras are located in front of Tomza gas station. Speed limit is 80 km/h.
5. Circunvalación between the Rotonda Zapote. Limit is 80 km/h.
6. Four cameras in Alajuela on the road between airport and Mall Internacional. Limit is 80 km/h.
"Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them." --Frederick Douglass
The water in MOST of Costa Rica is completely safe to drink. In fact much of the water in our area comes from the volcanic mountains just above us - near Poas Volcano. If you are not sure or want to be even safer than safe, buy bottled water and contribute to the economy. We provide refillable biodegradable drinking bottles at the Pura Vida if you need them. If you go to remote parts of the country with no roads, no electricity etc and you are 3 hours from civilization the water is probably a problem - bring water on hikes.
ABOUT THOSE ELECTRICAL APPLIANCES:
Yes, if you are a Norte Americano your hair dryers, shavers and rechargable battery devices all work fine in standard 110 volt outlets. Why reinvent the wheel? We do not advise bringing laptops for business (you ARE on vacation) - unless you are an author and need to finish your novel - just be prepared to have it stolen or suffer from the high humidity at the beaches or jungles (make backups). But a Kindle or pad reader is fabulous. You will find wifi connections many place you stay.
Most people flying to Costa Rica arrive at Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO). Some arrive at the only other international airport Liberia - 4 hours from here.
SJO is a nice clean modern airport situated about 20 kilometers from San Jose central. The good news is that the airport designers parked the airport only about 4 kilometers from Pura Vida Hotel and we are not on the flight path either. Airport acccess is good. Easy and convenient but as you exit customs you will be met with a seething mass of wild animals and taxi drivers (ignore them). On arrival in Costa Rica, you have one free International airport pickup with the ORANGE AIRPORT TAXI SERVICE.
IF YOU NEED A TAXI FROM AN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT ARRIVAL - let us know your flight details ahead of your trip. As you exit customs you will pass through glass doors to the open air. TURN LEFT. 20 feet to the left of the exit and look for taxi drivers with "taxis aeropuerto" on their shirts. Ask them for a taxi to Pura Vida Hotel in Tuetal (there is more than one Pura Vida - give them our phone number is 2430-2929 if they are not certain). We pay your taxi fare with the licensed ORANGE airport taxi for international arrivals at Juan Santamaria airport (do not be distracted by unlicensed pirate taxis).
**Editor notes: this info works for 99.95% of our guests . . . we shall be discreetly quiet about the remaining 0.05% who arrive lost and grumpy and need a bottle of our excellent Chilean Sirah to recover their composition. Also, after a grueling flight, should you inadvertently stumble into a pirate taxi in the airport confusion and the driver claims your hotel was burned to the ground and he has a better option for the night, it is most likely not true as nearly nothing burns in the neo-tropics.
The easy part and no worries - most of the flights take off on time and land in the right place (ask us about one that did not - Q: "why did we land in this field?" A: "We need to pick someone up."). Airline luggage mishandling can be a problem (we won't mention AA), but nearly all bags show up the next day (take your toiletries and a spare shirt & undies onboard). You may want to bring your own food (no drinks past security though) - many guests arrive here starving after 2 hours in departure, a 5 hour flight, 1 hour in customs and a bag of pretzels (and they didn't fly from Madrid).
For late arrivals we can prepare a special late meal but you need to tell us in advance as we do not have a real restaurant. Let us know if you have any dietary issues. We have beer/wine/soft drinks waiting for you here.
Breakfast is served from 7:30am to 9:30am. If you need to leave early for a trip to the jungle of for your flight home, we will make you an early breakfast to go - just let us know when you want to leave the night before.
We do not have a public restaurant and dinner is not always available - when it is it is at 7:00pm and invariably late according to ocal custom. We also have a late meal available for those arriving on flights after 7:00pm. Sorry but meals need to be booked in advance.
We have 40 plus restaurants in Alajuela and two good ones we recommend. The excellent Jalapeno's Central and the eclectic C'Vichito y Mas - no reservations required. Both are a short taxi ride from the hotel and rank # 1 and # 2 on TripAdvisor for very good reason.
MESSAGE FOR Jill's daughter: It is easy to get lost in Costa Rica as we have not so great roads and very little signage. The basic idea is to get your traveling out of the way before the afternoon and possible rains (usually from May till November). Anna (your daughter) is probably from England so the rain won't bother her although a rate of 3 inches an hour can be quite a surprise. If you are doing wilderness training then you have one item we recommend for all tourists - a compass. This and a good map won't stop you getting lost here but you will at least KNOW when you are lost. It is now time to flag down a friendly local "Tico" and ask for the next town. Don't ask for long distance directions as it is likely he or she has not been there.
If you get hopelessly lost flag down a red taxi and have them take you to the next town for a couple of bucks. If none of this works then call us at 2430-2929 and we'll be happy to assist! Pay phones are plentiful and cheap or your taxi driver or van driver will ALWAYS have a cell phone they usually do not mind if you borrow.
If you are driving and you are male, it is OK to "ask for directions" - it is far better than driving in circles for an hour and a half while your passengers invent new names descriptive of your navigation skills, parental circumstances and personal life choices.
The Green Season lasts from May 1st to November sometime. Around here it is also called the "temporada baja". This time of year is actually reserved by the local residents who spread rumors about the weather and suggest not coming to Costa Rica during that time.
The reality is that this is maybe the best time to come.
Costa Rica is beautiful in June (and we do like July, of course August is our indian summer and quite beautiful, and there is a particular fondness for September as we get a bit of a break, and October is similarly nice (actually that is not true unless you are an amphibian and you will notice we did not mention May for similar reasons), of course not to forget November which is when we prepare the hotel for the high season and the air is filled with anticipation, which leads to the best month of the year December due to all the locals getting paid their aguinaldo and having money to spend for the first time in 11 months, and we'd hate to miss a January here with its beautifully perfect weather in the Central Valley, well that kind of leads into February and the beginning of the mango season, and March where the mangos are even better and so on . . . he droned . . .and on and on and on . . . ). Oh shut up!
If one had to vote for a perfect month, it might be August (though last November was beautif . . . etc etc bla de bla de bla de bla).
OK so in May/June and end of September/October you will need to make sure you have a poncho in your back pack and maybe a small portable umbrella.
As we explained to a guest recently when he asked about precautions to take before coming to Costa Rica specifically regarding Malaria, there is essentially no malaria in Costa Rica. Lets get that common myth out of the way. It is a complete waste of time and money to prepare for that IMHO but some do check with their docs.
However there are periodic cases of mosquito born dengue fever. The government takes reasonable precautions and sprays areas if something comes up. Health care is second only to education when it comes to the protection of Costa Rican children - so this is taken seriously here. All I can add to that statement is none of the gringos we know who live here take specific precautions except spraying of Deet on some evenings (around here we get some mosquitoes between 4:00pm and dusk at 6pm). Guests from Minnesota tell us we don't know what mosquitoes are! If you are going to an area with much standing water such as a mangrove swamp or a rain forest we'd advise using Deet too. The guests we meet don't appear to take any specific precautions either - I don't know of any who have taken specific things for Dengue.
One medical web site says don't drink the water here unless it is "boiled, filtered or disinfected" - for most of Costa Rica this advice is absurd. We test our water here locally and it is perfect - we drink the water daily with no ill effects. Yes salads and veggies rinsed or cooked in tap water are JUST FINE in Costa Rica.
MEDICINES TO BRING: Obviously if you are already on some medication bring a supply. A small first aid kit makes sense. We would always advise anti-diarrheal medicine be carried on any trip to anywhere. Many tropical countries can have a water problem (but see separate note above on WATER). This is usually not a problem in Costa Rica. We also advise bringing a good Deet based mosquito repellant. We can't advise you on your medical practices - if you are concerned see your doctor before leaving. The best we can do is tell you what our experience is traveling here for over 20 years. We take nothing.
We are of course biased, but when it comes to leaving and your last night in Costa Rica. You'd do well to book with someone near the airport, with a nice garden, excellent butterflies and run by Innkeepers who are happy to give you a carryout breakfast at 4:45 am for your 7:15am flight.
Thanks to the various global initiatives and idiots who put wicks in their shoes you are requested to be at the airport 2 1/2 hours ahead of your flight. This is called progress - the average time to get to the gate is about 40 minutes - go figure.
The airport has become efficient and speedy - pay your taxes as you enter the airport (do this first before you go to the airline check in), get in line for some paperwork verification from some smiling Ticas and wizz off to the counter for baggage inspection and your seat assignments. There are some shops and fooderies (can't call them restaurants) inside the airport with overpriced coffee, tasty chocolate covered coffee beans and gifts.
Come on back soon, there is so much MORE to explore.
Some guests arrive and ask "do they take dollars here?" and we respond yes and no. Costa Ricans are proud to be Costa Rican and the many things that being Costa Rican means - currency is a tiny part of what is Costa Rica because, the alternate would mean it is some extension of some global power which it definitely is not.
However, the dollar is welcomed in many places, as are all tourists who tread gently on this beautiful landscape. But you also need some local currency - colones. Grabbing a local cab or a "comida typica" lunch are good reasons to carry colones.
DO NOT change your euros, dollars or drachma INTO colones before you arrive and DO NOT change money at the airport. You will loose 10%, 20% or more on the conversion. There is an official exchange rate which is in effect EVERYWHERE in the country (except the airport). We can change some to get you started on your arrival day - $50 or so in cash will get you going. After that you can exchange cash at banks or drop by the many ATMs for cash anywhere in the country. Also, FYI, cash gets you better deals on things pretty much everywhere. If you are buying something ask if there is a "descuento" for cash ("en efectivo"). Cash discounts can net you 5% to 10% on many purchases.
Pack light - everywhere except the Volcanoes, you can wear a light short sleeved shirt and shorts. There is no need to pack stuff to "dress for dinner" - almost no such places exist. Particularly good for the neo-tropics are stuff like omni-dry from Columbia or any material like that that you can wash, hang out overnight and wear the next day.
- light rain jacket or big plastic bag
- bug repellant
- sandals/Tevas (works everywhere) and/or very light hiking boot
- a snack for when you get stuck foodless on a plane or a boat
You only need two types of shoes - Tevas (or knock offs) and hiking boots (or hiking shoes). They'll tell you you don't need boots for the jungle tours and that is entirely true if you just love the feel of squishing mud through your toes. For the Volcanoes, bring jeans and a jacket - one of those nice cheap rubberized yellow rain jackets will keep you dry, wind proof and make it easy to find you when you get lost.
If you can pack everything in a soft sided bag you can carry on the plane, American Airlines won't loose your bag, and stuff will fit in a smaller vehicle if you rent a car.
Our guest Nancy Johnson from Nashville writes, "Can you tell us what clothes to bring for the Central Highlands area? One travel guide suggests highs in mid 70's and lows in mid 50's, another says "chilly " at night." Well, Nancy, for the last 5 years we have worn shorts at all times except on top of the volcanoes when you need a rain jacket. Every few hundred feet of elevation makes it a little cooler. Here in Alajuela, we are at 3000 feet and temperatures all year round are between 72 and 85 degrees with pretty low humidity.
The Pura Vida hotel has a secure parking lot within the hotel compound. This, we discovered, is important for your rental car as the local insurance does not cover negligence - such as "leaving your car in the wrong place". We built our parking lot around a small mango grove behind the Katydid Casita. AND, so as not to remove any delicious mango trees, we put in a special roof designed to bounce mangoes harmlessly to the ground. Where you park in Costa Rica is important during the day too - always remove anything of value. Locking or putting stuff in the trunk/boot is not a deterrent. We do believe you CAN have too much security as the driver in this photo proves.
All foreign citizens entering Costa Rica must have a passport that is valid for at least six months after the date they enter the country.
Citizens of the United States, Canada and many other countries do not need visas to enter Costa Rica. Citizens of countries other than the United States, Canada and the European Economic Community should check with the nearest Costa Rican Embassy or Consulate. If you are from another planet check with your embassy and remember to leave your phasers and weaponry behind.
If you do not have a passport that is valid for at least six months after your date of travel, it is highly probable that you will not be allowed to board the plane.
Yes it did happen to one of our guests!
Many people are bringing iPods and Blueberries and they now mostly work. Remember your wall chargers!
You want to avoid costly roaming charges on your smart phones. Turn on airplane mode in the country. First think of using wifi - setup ahead a way to call your loved ones by Skype of Facetime or Whatsapp etc. Here is a great update on the state of US phones/international support etc: How to use your US cell phone (and perhaps others) in Costa Rica.
Alternately you could bring a throw away quad band GSM unlocked cell phone ($25 on ebay). You can buy prepaid SIMS (tiny little chip) for phones on arrival at SJO airport (go to the KILBI desk on arrival ). Check before you leave the airport as they are hard to find in country. The prepaid SIMS are very inexpensive for phone calls compared to international roaming. SIMS include a Costa Rican phone number, the desk at the airport for ICE/Kolbi (the phone company) is supposed to be open 7 days a week 5am to 10pm. SIMS come in $5, $10, $20 values (in local currency of course). If you fail to find a SIM at the airport - go to one of the local phone company outlets such as Claro.
Europeans will need adaptors to US sockets and should check compatibility (laptops, cellphones) with local 110 volt USA standard electricity. Even if your device is dual voltage (which it usually is) European plugs are very hard to find here.
Costa Rica is not a "shopping country" except for the 3 weeks before Christmas when everyone has an extra month of pay to spend on the kids or on major appliances or mattresses. Christmas is a delightful and happy time of year here due to that 13th month of pay known as an "aguinaldo". The rest of the year there is no so called "disposable income" (what loony came up with that phrase?). As Costa Rica is a very "local environment" everyone tends to buy things locally. Since there are not that many stores and nobody has much money this tends to save a great deal of unnecessary expenditures. Also as we have no addresses and no mail, Amazon can't deliver an HDTV anywhere not that we know what HDTV is :-)
For tourists there are a few gift shops but many of them are not very interesting and even less authentic. We recommend a place called NAMU in San Jose with authentic indigenous art. Also many of our guests enjoy shopping in Sarchi - the home of Costa Rican wood crafts. In Escazu there is a nice little hole in the wall ceramic tile place. The hotel lobby of the Pura Vida has a small selection of PEFI ceramics and Borucan wood masks.
MOVING HERE? we advise stuffing a container with good plumbing and electrical stuff. If you do not use it you can always sell it. Such items are expensive here but over the last couple of years have become more available. A few things like 3-way dimmers do not exist and some products just seem to be being dumped here (such as safes where the keys don't work).
HOUSEWARES? we recommend Cemaco - a local chain with branches around the country - good quality and selection. For gringos in need of a Home Depot fix, we have a smaller chain called EPA (3 stores - Escazu, San Pedro and Heredia - and growing) - but still most home fixit stuff is bought at little ferreterias on most town street corners. These little stores are troublesome if you don\'t speak Spanish and you need to describe a plumbing fixture to the runner who seeks such things.
FURNITURE? we have most stuff made now through a local expert carpenter in our village and a guy with a shop in Sarchi (the woodworking capital). It is also good to be on good terms with a local welder - we have 2 or three we know - one who makes beautiful windows and doors. For kitchen stuff, there is a commercial kitchen supply house in Pavas called TIPS - they have the best selection and anyone can buy there.
APPLIANCES? we have a duty free purchasing area at Golfito in the zona sur - a long way from here. Nobody recommends this anymore as it is too far and the prices are not much diferent to places like Pricesmart in Escazu. All the gringos have a Pricesmart card - good prices on things like fridges, generators (yes, some people need them), dog food, rice and bulk stuff like that. An finally for our guest building a house in Dominical, yes we have a Walmart here - it is in Escazu and is disguised as a Hipermas store so nobody gets upset. It is a vast and sad place. I think there are better options.
Finally when buying things that need fixing like lawnmowers and such, get it from the local store - they need the money more than you and they love fixing things.
There is no smoking in rooms, the restaurant, the Casa or any public areas. Sorry, but if you want to smoke you can go into the garden away from any guests or rooms.
There are three kinds of Taxis - orange airport taxis, red taxis with taxi signs on them and Piratas. All CAN cost you more than you want, but often they are cheaper than you expect. We recommend the red taxis - they are local, they know the area, they are relatively cheap (a ride from the airport if you do not use our free pickup service is about $9). When getting in the taxi. you should ask the driver to tell you how much SHE/HE thinks the ride will be - he will argue for about 1 minute that the ride will be on the meter (the "maria") and then he may put the ride on the meter or he may not. If there is no meter/maria I'd advise you to step out of the taxi. NOTE: Red taxis are harder to find at the airport as the orange taxis have the airport monopoly. You CAN negotiate long distances but Ticos hate to negotiate :-))
With the exception of public restaurants (where you will see the tip and taxes known as "IVI" are included in the prices) you will find tips are NOT an expectation in Costa Rica. If you get good service give a nice tip. If you get bad service give nothing and let the owner or manager know why. Tipping is not a god given right for surly taxi drivers, bad waiters and rude tour guides - fortunately.
"FANCY RESTAURANT TIPS" FOR SARAH:
Sarah writes "Whenever we are going to eat out at someplace like Hotel Grano de Oro or at La Mariposa, Manuel Antionio, how much should we tip our waiter? I know that they include "propina", but how much of that is actually for the waiter? Should the propina be all or is it really the right thing to go above that amt???
Sarah, great waiters/waitresses should get great tips. There is a 10% propina on all public restaurant bills. Most or all of this will go to the wait staff usually. But if you get a real winner double the tip, if you get a looser let the manager know and tip nothing more. The daily wage here is very low and a nice tip, for excellent service will go a long way in a Costa Rican household.
Learn a little more about this wonderful country through its' people. One way to do this is to get lost as often as possible.
Where we answer specific guest questions - this time from Fred & Mary
1) Do we need to bring mosquito netting as some of the guidebooks suggest?
Generally fist time visitors to Costa Rica are surprised at how few biting bugs we have. So lets use other guests as a rule of thumb.
QUESTION: How many have brought their own mosquito nets in the last 4 years.
2) The guidebook mentions an airport departure tax of $29 per person. Since we're leaving on a 9am flight, is there any way we can purchase in advance?
ANSWER: No worries - the airport exit is now usually fast and efficient. Pay your airport exit tax first thing as you enter the airport (it is on the right immediately as you enter the airport) on the day of your departure.
3) On arrival it seems we are to find an orange taxi to take us to PV and we tell them that you will reimburse, is that correct?
ANSWER: Yes - follow the instructions on your confirmation email and your arrival will be easy and free.
4) What time can we check in? We are taking a redeye and after customs etc we'll probably get to the hotel by 1pm.
ANSWER: "You can check in any time you want" to quote Alice's Restaurant - and get into your Casita as long as it is available. If not we have a lovely garden, a public restroom, a living room with books, a free internet station and WiFi or you can drop bags here and spend a couple of hours at our marvellous zoo if you prefer.
5) On our last night we won't get to the hotel till 9pm, can we get something to eat?
ANSWER: Certainly but you need to book ahead and let us know and we'll have our "late meal" ready for your arrival.
Where we answer specific guest questions - this time from Suellen
Yes, we do want to book the Toucan Casita. OK - we'll go for the 4WD.
1). We don't smoke, so I'm glad the room is smoke free.
ANSWER: Many rooms in Costa Rica are now non smoking. Perhaps 70% of the tourism we get are north Americans and most of those now demand smoke free places. Nearly all of the Pura Vida (except the garden away from any buildings) is smoke free.
2). Is there a TV available it would be fun to watch a little Costa Rican TV somewhere.
ANSWER: Yes, the main casa has a social area with TV and an Internet cafe area
3). If we have time, is there a way (taxi?) to go to Alajuela for a while and back?
ANSWER: Taxis are available 24 hours - we call the dispatch and they are here in about 2 minutes.
4). How safe is Alajuela?
ANSWER: Safe? On a scale of 1 to 10 or compared to Baghdad on a Friday evening? We walk there frequently? Generally pretty safe but see notes below about not flashing wads of money & dangling jewelry.
5). Do you know where we can buy Autan insect repellent?
ANSWER: Autan is a DEET based insect repellant - any DEET will work - you rarely if ever need it in the central valley except maybe at dusk for about 1 hour if you are outside. On the coast we always advise using a DEET based repellant.
6). We will most likely take advantage of Nhi's great cooking. What happens if our plane is late?
ANSWER: Dinner and the plane will somehow coincide due to the Costa Rican "First Law of Insignificant Problemitos" which states that all problems shall be small ones. Of course we will hold dinner for your arrival.
The common ways of getting from place to place in Costa Rica include rentacar, private bus (like Interbus), private van service (with driver), taxi (split 4 ways can be cheaper than the private bus), local bus (can be slow, but very inexpensive) and internal airlines (SANSA, near the international airport or Nature Air at Pavas airport).
We can arrange most of these for you - for cars book either a 2WD such as a Toyota Yaris, a small 4WD like a Daihatsu Terrios Bego, a mid size Toyota Rav4 or a large 4WD 4WD such as a Toyota Fortuner or Prado. 10 or 12 passenger Toyota Hiace vans can also be easily rented but you must book ahead as they are limited.
BEWARE: of some car rental companies who lowball their rental rates over the internet and then dings you with higher and unquoted mandatory daily insurance charges. Whatever your experience in other countries, Costa Rica has its own national insurance company and you cannot decline the mandatory basic insurance.
If you are very Type A Personality you may seek a cell phone rental as well as a GPS - we'd advise you not bother - take a break and enjoy the view! We must add that a lot of drivers now have an umbilical connection to GPS thinking and what I just said is heresy - apologies in advance.
We stopped taking traveler's checks as they take us at least 20 days to clear and in some cases have taken 2 months.
Amanda ssks: "I do have one more question. Upon looking at your information page, I see that you have fans in the room but no air conditioning. I am noticing that this is the case in a lot of the rooms in Alajuela. I am worried that we might be uncomfortable, but if you tell me the fans do a great job of cooling the place off, I would trust you. We're planning on being there in mid-April."
"Amanda, the weather here at 3000 feet altitude is always beautiful. OK . . . so what is beautiful? 70 degrees F to 80 F in the daytime and 68 to 78 at night. The "hot season" is Jan to March and temperatures in the daytime can reach 90 (usually 70 to 80) with OK humidity but things drop off quickly as dusk falls around 5:30pm. It is all in the altitude. At 5000 feet it is too cold to eat out at night and at 0 feet (the coastal areas of Costa Rica) it stays very warm and humid in the evenings.
Of course this is "weather" we are talking about and your mileage may vary and who knows what one night may be. Bottom line though is that few places in the Costa Rican central valley use A/C - it is not necessary. Most places at the beach do need and use A/C. Check that out if you are going to a beach location.