Checklist for the first-time visit to Costa Rica

COSTA RICA image courtesy of Antonio Lopez from Pixabay | eTurboNews | eTN
image courtesy of Antonio López from Pixabay
Written by Linda Hohnholz

There are many reasons why Costa Rica is the favorite destination of adventurous travelers. This little paradise on earth is full of natural wonders, great food, tropical beaches, archeological sites, and it has a perfect climate.

Costa Rica isn’t a place you can explore in just one trip unless you have the luxury to stay in the country for a few months to discover all the beauty this country offers. However, to realize how excellent Costa Rica is and return to this little paradise, you must plan your first-time visit.

If Costa Rica is next on your travel list, you’ve come to the right place. Today, we will help you make a checklist of what to do, where to go, and what to pay attention to when exploring an exciting and exotic country like Costa Rica. Of course, always pay attention to travel restrictions worldwide. They might differ from the ones you follow in your home country.

Precautions to consider

Every trip you take requires preparation. For instance, you might Google common scams that tourists face in a foreign country. In other cases, you should know what internet connectivity options you will have. Some hotels offer paid Wi-Fi. However, buying a local SIM card might be a better option. It guarantees that you have internet access anywhere, not just at your hotel.

Keep an eye on the signs

Costa Rica is full of beach and park signs intentionally posted to warn tourists about potential danger. So, make sure you’re focused and cautious if you don’t want to have a close meeting with a giant crocodile in the no-swimming zone.

Have cash

Most local shops and street vendors don’t accept debit and credit payments. Make sure you have plenty of cash while in Costa Rica. Of course, you will likely find ATMs that will solve this issue. However, it is better to exchange your money. The chances are you will get better rates and will be prepared beforehand.

Use maps

Before planning your first-time Costa Rica visit, download offline maps if you’re unsure how to use paper maps properly. However, you can easily find available public Wi-Fi networks, but make sure you download VPN apps to protect your online safety while surfing in Costa Rica.

As in all visited tourist destinations, public networks might not be secure, and hackers are patiently waiting to steal tourists’ financial and personal data. A Virtual Private Network encrypts your internet traffic, preventing potential snooping and data interception. Furthermore, it can help you stay in touch with service back home. You can do this by changing your IP address to your home country. All it takes is connecting to a VPN server in your country.

Drive carefully

Traffic laws in Costa Rica are confusing, but you can always follow the standards set by local drivers to stay safe. If you’re renting a car, try to return it in the same condition. Car rental companies in Costa Rica are very rigorous and pay close attention to damages.

The general rule is that drivers in Costa Rica drive on the right side of the road. However, visitors might not be used to the subpar road infrastructure. Experts also recommend avoiding driving during the night. It might make it difficult to spot challenges or other inconveniences on the road.

Places to visit

San José

San José is the capital and the wealthiest urban area in Costa Rica. Start by visiting the National Museum to learn about the rich history of Costa Rica and see a beautiful butterfly sanctuary.

Go to Parque Morazán if you want to listen to street musicians and enjoy artistic festivals.

Make sure to visit Mercado Central to experience the friendliness of Ticos and grab an authentic souvenir.

Poás Volcano

If you’ve never been around volcanos, you’ll be amazed. Poás Volcano is just a 2-hour drive from the capital and on the road full of beautiful landscapes and nature parks. You can organize a day trip to volcanos and visit La Paz waterfall on the way there.

Playa de Doña Ana

A two-hour drive from the volcano is a beautiful beach with black sand and impressive waves. Like any other beach in Costa Rica, Playa de Doña Ana has an entry fee, but you won’t have to worry about parking. You can swim, sunbathe, and prepare a barbecue since the beach has grills available to all visitors.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is a protected national treasure where tourists can hike through the forest and enjoy the rich plant and animal world. After walking, you can rest in the small village outside the forest entrance and meet interesting locals.

Explore great food

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca – Lizard King Café

You can eat your perfectly balanced breakfast in the Lizard King Café and experience the countryside-like atmosphere. The restaurant is mainly made of wood and offers an exciting menu. Prepare your stomach for a filling breakfast and enjoy their burritos, Huevos Rancheros, and special coconut rice Kabobs.

San José – La Criollita

If you want to have a casual but traditional lunch in Costa Rica, visit La Criollita while you’re in San José. This restaurant has a charming atmosphere, and you can explore Costa Rica flavors in one place. Try Orden Maduro Pequena paired with some Huevos Rancheros for a full flavor experience.

Cahuita – Sobre las Olas

After lunch, go for a panoramic ride to Cahuita, and enjoy a Caribbean coast restaurant. This restaurant is located on the edge of the coast with a charming view of the waters. Grab some Lomito De Res a la Caribena and finish your dinner with excellent cold cocktails while experiencing the calmness of the perfectly turquoise Caribbean Sea.


As we mentioned earlier, you can’t explore all of Costa Rica in a single trip, but it’s a beautiful place, and you’ll probably want to come back again. These are the essential things to have on your checklist when visiting the first time, but you can always be creative and find some other locations, activities, and restaurants when you come back for more of that Costa Rican charm.

About the author

Linda Hohnholz

Editor in chief for eTurboNews based in the eTN HQ.

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