Holy jeez, do I love Costa Rica. It's funny how life works, isn't it? This past July, I was chatting with a friend and she told me that she was heading solo to Costa Rica to check out a property for an upcoming event. She made a few jokes about wandering the jungles of Costa Rica alone and I thought, "What the hell?" I had a big credit with Delta Vacations and airline miles saved up - so I booked my own trip to join her. With 6 days notice. I am not really a spontaneous person...but the mood strikes me every once in a while.
I fell in love with Costa Rica. So much so, that my friend and I were determined to head back ASAP - which ended up being in December. After my second trip in one year I think I've learned enough about traveling to this wonderful country to share my findings with you!
10 Things You Need For a Trip To Costa Rica
Bring an Expandable Suitcase.
Costa Rica makes amazing coffee, and you'll want to pick some up to take home with you! You may also find that you love their Britt chocolates - no, seriously, I promise you will love them. The pineapple puree and chocolate covered macadamia nuts are my very favorites! As far as coffee goes, skip the airport gift shop and ask your tour guide to take you to a local grocery store, where you'll find two of the local favorites, Mr Sanchez and 1820. Do not bother buying the Britt coffee - no one drinks it and the joke is that it's just for Americans.
Pack a Knapsack With Your Daily Necessities.
What do you normally carry in your purse at home? If you want gum and you find that you're out, you probably run to a gas station and grab some, right? Well, you'll find in most places in the Guanacaste and Arenal Volcano region of Costa Rica that gas stations aren't all that common and convenience stores? No such thing. When you are packing up for each day, bring along a knapsack - something that's easy to carry - and bring the items you think you may need.
A few suggestions: a snack, portable phone charger, gum, pain relievers, Emergen-C for motion sickness (I got violently car sick on a 3 hour drive through the mountains once), sunblock and lip balm.
Bring Wet Wipes.
Especially if you're going to be doing a lot of physical activity, like hiking in the rainforest...
I like these little Handy Candy wipes that some random company sent me in the mail. They smell really good and have aloe and vitamin E, so they didn't dry my skin out!
Bring Your Appetite. And a Fondness for Rice and Beans.
If you hate rice and beans, you should probably stay far, far away from Costa Rica. The country's most served dish, Cosada, consists of white rice, black beans, a small salad (usually cabbage and tomatoes), plantains and a protein. Sometimes you'll find half a deviled egg and a little queso blanco, but you can always count on the rice and beans.
The funny thing about this is that I LOVE rice and beans - duh, I'm part Cuban and I live in Miami. We make white rice and black beans all the time. But when you're served that at every. single. meal. it loses its appeal.
Portions are hearty and most restaurants you go to are just down home local places. There are some very touristy restaurants smattered around the heavy tourist areas, where you'll find completely different cuisine. But when you're out and about during the day? You're going to eat a lot of rice. and beans.
Crap. Now I kind of want some rice and beans.
Bring a Birding Book. Even if you don't like birds.
I swear that I have never really cared about birds. Sure, I love catching a shot of a pelican sitting on a buoy in the Keys, or sharing a photo of a Blue Jay trying to steal our cat food. But I don't actually care about birds.
I went on a small river boat of a friend-of-a-friend in the Cano Negro Reserve while in Costa Rica and that changed. There are SO MANY different species of birds! Birds that I've never heard of - but am now completely obsessed with, like this Tiger Heron.
It is my new spirit animal. It used to be a lady bug, so that's a definite improvement.
I took a million photos of the different birds we saw in Costa Rica, and now I am browsing the internet trying to find out which species they are. I wish that I had brought along a birding book to help identify them. Next time...because we're already planning our next trip for June 2015!
Bring Your Sense of Adventure.
There are a million ways to push your limits and step out of your comfort zone in Costa Rica. Of course this isn't just limited to Costa Rica - it just so happens that is where I started putting my money where my mouth is and embraced the "Just Go For It" motto! There's water sports like snorkeling, fishing and boating in the Guanacaste and coastal areas, and there's an entire world of extreme-adventure type activities in the Arenal Volcano region.
Like waterfall rappelling. Which scared the shit out of me, but I did it anyway.
Bring Cash for Tipping Your Tour Guides.
Seriously, guys, I can not stress this enough. Costa Rica is not exactly a country that is rolling in the dough, and everyone you meet in the tourism industry gives 110% when it comes to customer service and making sure that you have an incredible, awesome time. If you are using a tour company, remember to bring cash to tip not only your tour company, but the guides that work at the actual destination that you are going to. A common misconception is that when you pay a tour company, all tips are included - they are NOT.
PLEASE TIP YOUR TOUR GUIDES.
Even if it's just a $5 bill - ANYTHING.
Bring Sunblock and Bug Repellent.
You guys, you don't even want to know what my arms and legs looked like after spending a few days running around the forest around the Arenal Volcano. Seriously, whose bright idea was it to leave my bug spray in the hotel?
Oh, that's right...mine. While in the rain forest, you don't really need sunscreen or sunblock, as there is literally NO sun during rainy season - but you absolutely must wear sunblock everywhere else in Costa Rica, as that sun is incredibly strong and you'll get burnt before you even have a chance to put your sunglasses on!
Bring Appropriate Clothing for the Region.
If you are going to the mountains to hike, bring sneakers with a great tread or hiking boots. Going waterfall rappelling or white water rafting? Bring water shoes. Going to the beach? Bring your flip flops. Chances are, you're going to get dirty.
Here's the thing about Costa Rica - it's natural, outdoorsy, pure life. No one expects you to wear heels and a sexy sundress while you're out running around in the forest. If you're heading to a nice resort, pack your resort wear, but otherwise, leave bring your comfortable, quick-drying clothes and a pair of sneakers that you aren't totally in love with...I ended up throwing away both my sneakers and water shoes because after three days in the AC, they were still sopping wet!
Bring Your Camera.
There's a reason I upgraded to the Sony Alpha a5100 after my last trip to Costa Rica. The country screams "I am picturesque! Share my scenery with the world!"