Costa Rica: Top Tips

Heading to Costa Rica anytime soon? Or just curious to know what we loved/hated about our trip? Here’s the lowdown!

Where to stay:

La Ruka, Puerto Viejo

$10 per person, per night (8-BED DORM)

6/10A hippy, cool backpacker hostel with great vibes located just outside of town (on the bicycle route towards Cocles/Punta Uva etc). Free hoola hoops, board games, surfboard rentals and bike rentals give it a nice touch but the rooms are basic. Bunkbeds are pretty hard to climb and the tin roof proves quite terrifying in a lightning storm. It wasn’t too humid at night though and the bathroom was pleasant enough. Outdoor kitchen had tons of smelly dogs roaming around while you cooked and we’re definitely deducting a point for lack of free breakfast. As you can tell, a very mixed review but not a completely negative one!

Honorable mentions – Hostel Kinkaju, Rockin’ J’s, Pagalu Hostel

Casa Marbella, Tortuguero

$16 per person, per night (PRIVATE ROOM)

9/10Right on the river front, this hostel was more like a hotel. The rooms were spacious, no bunkbeds just singles/doubles, swan towels (we are easily pleased), amazingly modern bathrooms, free breakfast and a great location in the centre of town. We’re deducting just one point for the fact that it was lacking in character – it had a very ‘sterile-hotel’ vibe. We loved every second though – so nice to be pampered for a few days!

Mayol Lodge, Arenal

$14 per person, per night (PRIVATE ROOM)

3/10Probably our least favourite hostel to date. Toilet didn’t work, shower was awful, ants in the room (and beds), not enough ventilation, unfriendly staff, only one plug socket in the bathroom overpriced tours and laundry prices. The 3 points are for the pool area, the free breakfast and Maria the cook. If you look online it has pretty good reviews and we’ve realised this is because it’s a hotel AND a hostel. The hotel looks a lot swankier and so, perhaps, it’s just the hostel you need to avoid.

Recommended instead – Arenal backpackers resort, Arenal hostel resort

General Information:

• Don’t have high hopes for public transport here. It’s not dangerous or bad quality – it just doesn’t exist in parts/takes 10x longer than it should do. This might be due to the winding roads in Costa Rica but be prepared to take more shuttles than buses. It’s expensive in comparison to the rest of Latin America but works out about the same price as the public transport all added together (Caribe Shuttle is a great company to use if you want comfortable, easy journies).

• Money is bloody confusing here – £1 is about 700 colones, which makes it quite difficult to work out prices. If your maths is anything like ours, you may need a calculator on hand at all times to figure out how much that bottle of water really costs…

Monopoly money

• There’s no ATM charge for foreign cards here so you can go crazy on the cash withdrawals.

• Don’t go to San Jose unless you absolutely have to! I’ve been before and thought it was underwhelming and everyone we spoke to shared the same opinion. For this trip we made sure to avoid it (we didn’t even have to pass through in transit) and spend our precious time elsewhere.

• Do your research on turtle season. There’s not much point heading to Tortuguero if there’s no turtles laying eggs/no eggs hatching so you could detour your trip to a different town instead (Monteverde/Tamarindo are good suggestions of different locations to spend your time)

• Talk to the locals – they want to have conversations with you. You want surf lessons? Bargain with the instructors. You want a souvenir bracelet? Name your price. You want fresh coconut water? Talk to the street vendors. Want to know more about the country’s history? Just ask. Get chatting and discover how friendly the ‘ticos’ are.

• Supermarkets in Costa Rica are notoriously expensive. We cooked noodles one night and it cost us more money than when we sat down for a meal at a local restaurant! Check out prices beforehand to make sure you’re getting the most out of your dolla.

• Vegetarian friends – be sure to specify that you want a veggie meal when booking trips that include lunch. They’ll always make sure to accommodate you but they just need some notice to stock up on something that’s not a ham and cheese sandwich. The good thing is that Costa Rica is extremely veggie and vegan friendly – coconut milk galore, falafel burgers and soya alternatives galore.

• A lot of hostels in Puerto Viejo aren’t on TripAdvisor or Hostelworld and don’t take bookings in advance. It’s usually first come first served, so try to plan transport that arrives earlier rather than later to guarantee yourself a room.

• Renting bikes is a must in Puerto Viejo, Arenal volcano is a must in La Fortuna and night-time turtle watch is a must in Tortuguero.

• Don’t just book the trips that are offered in your accommodation. Go and nose at the prices in town, find out exactly what they include and then make an informed comparison between them. 

Costa Rican words:

Pura Vida – A greeting, a response, a statement… this can mean pretty much anything in Costa Rica and you’ll hear it all the time. Just reply with a ‘Pura Vida’ as well or start up a conversation with those two words and the locals will love you.

Mae – Kind of like ‘mate’ or ‘man’, a word they put on the end of sentences in an informal setting when talking to friends.

Tengo goma – This one seems to be a Central American thing rather than Costa Rican but we’ll include it anyway. Alice and Abbie are used to the word ‘caña’ from their time in Chile and I was familiar with ‘resaca’ in Madrid but here, when you want to tell the world about your hangover, ‘goma’ is the word to use!

If you’d like to know more about the individual destinations that we visited in Costa Rica then click here:

Puerto Viejo 🏄
Tortuguero 🐢
Arenal/La Fortuna 🌋

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