1) It’s the Rainforest, expect rain!
Reason to visit: The rains keep the jungles lush, green and teaming with life. The savvy traveler will plan their itinerary around traditional weather patterns, which can vary significantly across the country. I personally love the beginning and end of rain seasons as everything is so lush and beautiful. The wildlife is generally more active, the scenery is gorgeous and the prices are lower.
Reason not to visit: If a little rain has the ability to ruin your day, you should not even consider Costa Rica as a destination. Chances are likely that no matter how carefully you plan, you will encounter at least a little rain.
2) Beautiful Beaches – because they are protected
Reason to visit: Well over 99 percent of the coastal land of Costa Rica is protected by maritime zones. These zones prohibit construction within 200 meters of the high tide mark. One can often walk along jungle lined beaches and spot wildlife such as monkeys, sloths, parrots and toucans in the trees that back them! This holds particularly true on the Central and South Pacific as well as the Caribbean side.
Reason not to visit: There are few beach front hotels due to the maritime restrictions. If you love boardwalks and high rise hotels looming over the beach, you probably will not like most beach destinations in Costa Rica.
3) Pura Vida – Don’t worry, be happy
Reason to visit: Pura vida – what a fun phrase and way of life. While it literally translates to “pure life”, the more practical definition would be don’t worry, it will be alright. Pura vida is a way of life down here. Things run a lot slower and far less stressful than in many other countries. You may have to wait 20 minutes at an ATM to withdraw money – pura vida is the answer. Put a smile on and try to strike up a conversation with a local. They will appreciate your efforts and if nothing else, you’ll both have something to laugh about.
Reason not to visit: Pura vida – your transfer is 5 minutes late. “What could possibly be taking them so long?!?! Don’t they know I am on vacation?!?!” If this is something you might say you may want to consider another destination. Things do run differently here for better or for worse. One thing is certain; you are not going to change it.
4) Prices – It looks like a great deal!
Reason to visit: You have done your homework and looked at the fine print. You know that most “unbelievable deals” are riddled with hidden fees. You have done a little research, sifted through the offers and have realistic expectations on the one you chose. You are ready for Costa Rica and most likely have reserved a vacation package with a reputable travel service so you know what your bottom line is ahead of time and have the confidence that you will not go over budget this time.
Reason not to visit: You believe that the most important factor in planning your vacation is price. If you fall into this category, chances are very likely you will be sorely disappointed with Costa Rica. There are thousands of “unbelievable deals” that really are unbelievable as you almost always end up paying exorbitant hidden fees or you end up with hotels and tours that can only sell at bargain basement prices. Often the worst offenders of these deals are the flight, hotel and rental car packages, which nearly always end up costing 2-3 times the advertised price when all is said and done. Unfortunately, those that fall for these type of “deals” never see the bottom line until it is too late. ALWAYS read the fine print and ask about the things that are not included such as taxes, rental car insurance, breakfast or meals at the hotels, etc..
5) Hotels – the good, the bad and the ugly
Reason to visit: Your idea of a vacation is to see and experience something different. You understand that what is stocked in every Holiday Inn in the United States may be a rare commodity in a country like Costa Rica. You have done your homework, checked locations and amenities and know the hotels you will be visiting are the right choice for you.
Reason not to visit: You might say something along the lines of “the hotel costs $250 a night, so it should have American style 5 star amenities”. If you judge your hotels on price rather than research, you are rolling the dice in Costa Rica. Many hotels are higher priced and with far less amenities than one would assume. Reasons for this can vary from: location, views or grounds, eco-luxury (an example of eco-luxury would be a beautiful treehouse hotel, constructed of precious woods, but without television) or are simply over-priced (yes, there are MANY in this category).
6) The Roads – Buckle up, it’s going to be an adventure
Reason to visit: You know that Costa Rica is a small mountainous country with a population of under 5 million people to support a national road system. Due to this, you understand that the roads are in generally poor condition (at least compared to the United States), but that only adds to the adventure. You have done your research and know how long it will take to drive between destinations. You are looking forward to taking in the beautiful scenery.
Reason not to visit: Driving more than a couple hours would ruin your vacation. Your idea of the perfect vacation is to arrive at the airport, drive 30 minutes to an all-inclusive resort and then do day trips to the attractions. This is a huge red flag as none of the all-inclusive resorts are located less than 3 hours (in each direction of the rainforest, Arenal Volcano, hot springs, the cloud forest, better adventures, etc.). By doing this, you will actually spend much more time driving than if you just visited the destination.
Another scenario: If your idea of a perfect vacation is to drive 30 minutes to an all-inclusive resort and just sit around the pool or lounge by the beach for a week, you may want to reconsider your destination. There are nicer all-inclusive resorts at lower prices in destinations like Cancun or Jamaica (though you probably will not want to leave the hotel grounds for security reasons at these destinations).
7) Late Nights (or not so late)
Reason to visit: You do not mind the fact that Costa Rica generally runs on an earlier schedule than most are accustomed to. Most tours start in the morning and you don’t want to miss a thing.
Reason not to visit: If you are into nightlife such as clubbing or late nights in general, Costa Rica may not be the best destination for you. Most bars at resorts close by 10pm and most public bars close by midnight unless you are staying in places such as Tamarindo, San Jose, Puerto Viejo or Jaco.
8) Critters – cooooool or ewwwwww…
Reason to visit: The idea of finding colorful dart frogs, strange insects, a variety of snakes, or even encountering lizards that can run across water is absolutely intriguing.
Reason not to visit: If this is something you might say; “EEEEK! There are lizards on the wall! I cannot possibly stay here!” You should not even consider Costa Rica as a destination for your vacation. Those lizards are geckos. They eat mosquitoes and they're your best friend in the tropics. Even the most modern steel and glass skyscrapers in downtown San Jose end up with bugs inside and there are no hotels or resorts in Costa Rica that can completely seal out the environment.
9) Safety – But I heard…
Reason to visit: You have done your homework and know that despite a few random incidents, it is true that Costa Rica is one of the safest countries in the world to visit. You have read articles such as the USA Today spotlight on safe travel for women travelers. While it is safe, you are aware that there are problems with petty theft and are planning on taking basic precautions such as using the hotel safe, not leaving items of value unattended on the beach and not walking around San Jose.
Reason not to visit: If you plan to go to areas such as Jaco or San Jose and intend to party all night, you are significantly increasing your odds of becoming a target for crime. If you plan to aimlessly walk around with a $10,000 camera strapped around your neck in any neighborhood, you will also increase your odds of becoming a victim of crime. If you think that just because you spent $500 a night on your hotel room that you can leave anything of value laying around your room, you are just setting yourself up for disappointment. The reality is Costa Rica IS a safe place to visit, but you have to use common sense.
10) Location – It takes how many hours to get there!?!?
Reason to visit: It only takes 2.5 hours to get here from Miami or a little over 5 hours from New York (non-stop of course). That’s nothing; it takes much longer to go to Hawaii. This will actually not be the case for most of you, who will likely end up with a short layover somewhere along the line. The average traveler ends up spending around 7 – 8 hours in the complete duration. Any seasoned traveler will tell you this is a small amount of time in comparison with most other destinations.
Reason not to visit: I don’t have enough money to fly direct and am not willing to spend an hour or two in layover. If that is the case, I would recommend doing a little research into other destinations. Chances are likely you will find better rates and shorter flights to Costa Rica. If not, you can always save for next year ;-).
So there you have it. There are two sides to every story. I suspect that for many of you, this article will confirm that Costa Rica is perfect for you. Others will find that Costa Rica probably is not the best destination for them. If so, we are happy that we were able to shed some light on subjects that are normally only talked about from one point of view.
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