Costa Rica Travel Information
Which airport to fly into, it maters greatly:
Costa Rica has two airports, San Jose (SJO) Juan Santamaria international airport in Alajuela, on the outskirts of Jan Jose and Liberia’s (LIR) Daniel Oduber international airport located just outside Liberia in Northern Costa Rica. San Jose is by far the busiest and somewhat least expensive of the two airports to fly into. It is the most convenient for Lake Arianal and south of Lake Arianal, the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean south of Punta Rinas. Liberia is mainly for accessing the Nicoya Peninsula and Lake Arianal and North of Lake Arianal. Most major US, Canadian and some European airlines fly non stop into both of these two international airports. IF YOU ARE GOING TO NOSARA, LIBERIA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, (LIR) IS BY FAR THE MOST CONVENIENT. If going to Nosara be sure and arrive in Liberia before 15:00 so as to have enough time, two hours, to drive from the Liberia airport to Nosara before it gets dark. Do not attempt to drive to Nosara at night or most other CR destinations for that matter. Private ground transportation can be arranged for night time transport at a very reasonable price. There after you can rent a vehicle in Nosara from National.
US Dollars vs. Costa Rican Colonies: Just as English is the official second language of Costa Rica, the US dollar is second currency to the the Colonies, the official currency of Costa Rica. For those new to the foreign exchange rodeo, it basically works like this. You have a pocket full of apples, the local vendor only accepts Oranges. How many apples do I have to offer in order to buy an orange so as to buy a loaf of bread in this country. This is otherwise called the exchange rate. The exchange rate between the US dollar and the Canadian dollar is usually around 1:1. The exchange rate for US dollars to Costa Rican Colonies as of January 1, 2016 is about 1: 520. (One apple buys 520 oranges) As a general rule whenever you exchange from one currency to another, you loose 5% to the person facilitating the exchange, be it a bank, airport exchange office, casino or any given local merchant. They all have an exchange rate and it may vary. In Costa Rica, like the US, there is no official exchange rate, free market rules. It may pay to shop around regarding the exchange rate. Banks and Casinos usually give the best exchange rates. Airports and hotels are the worst. ATMs can be found more and more. ATMs are in English and Spanish and will give you the local Colonies and debit the USDs from your account at a decent exchange rate for a modest fee. Be careful as the fee is per transaction, regardless of the amount. Do not expect to find ATMs anywhere but inside a bank. Always remember that if there is a fee associated with a currency exchange, it is levied regardless of the amount exchanged. $20, $2000, same fee.
While in Costa Rica the best way to manage your foreign exchange is to follow the following guide lines. First, never exchange currency at the airport exchange counter or a hotel front desk as they are notorious for giving the worst exchange rate. The simple alternative is to simply walk outside and carry on as you normally would. When it comes time to make use of Colonies simply figure out about how many dollars it would be and then round it up, offer over the US equivalent and expect the change back in Colonies. While this may appear to be a great way to get around CR it is generally accepted that the vender did not give you the best exchange rate when calculating your change. You can continue to use this process but it is best to make it temporary. Always have small bills in USDs.
When you get a chance find a bank or a casino and exchange your foreign currency there. You might as well exchange a sizable amount of currency. This will now allow you to purchase goods and services in CR at the prevailing price less any local vender’s personal exchange rate. One thing to note. In most tourist areas some prices for activities are quoted in USD dollars. The same logic here applies but in reverse, You do not want to pay in Colonies only to have the vender convert them to dollars.
Travels check are almost unheard of in todays world. Few take them anymore. ATMs however are another story. Bank ATM machines are much more proprietary than in the US/Canada/Europe, meaning that if your card is accepted by one bank the others probably will not accept it. More than likely that bank chain that accepts your card will have a branch close by. ATM machines are usually located in small rooms inside the bank. Standard protocol is one person in the room with the machine at a time. Simply wait outside for your turn. After inserting your card you will be prompted for English or Spanish and you are off and running. One thing you may find different is the fact that you will be asked what currency you would like, dollars or Colonies. If you choose Colonies, and you probably should, the dollar amount equal to the Colonies will be deducted from your foreign account back home. Warning: when the transaction is complete, immediately, if not sooner, grab your card and quickly remove from the machine. You have about 4 seconds before the machine swallows your card. Happens to Gringos a lot!!!!!!!!!
More info on the currency exchange racket and how to hold your own by consumer reports
Security while in Costa Rica:
I have said this before, and it has caused quite a stir but I will say it again: If petty theft were an Olympic event, the streets of San Jose, Costa Rica would be paved with Olympic gold! Quite bluntly stealing and especially stealing from gringos (foreigners) is almost celebrated and poorly enforced. That said a little common since will cause you to feel as if I am overly pessimistic in my perspective. After all Costa Ricans are very passive people. By US standards, violent crime is almost unheard of. Here are some basic rules we local gringos live by in Costa Rica:
- Never leave anything of any value unattended at anytime. Beach, Auto, Front Porch, day, night.
- Lock all doors and windows at night
- Make full use of alarm systems and safes, specially when it comes to electronics. Night or day.
- When out to dinner, the beach or anywhere else for that mater be very cautious of someone approaching you and enquiring about where you are staying. Going out to dinner at night is perhaps the most vulnerable part of the day/night. (The smartest thing to do is place all valuables in a bag and take them to dinner with you)
Weather in Nosara, CR:
Nov. - May: ** Very dry almost no rain, limited water rationing, dusty **May- Sep.: Limited afternoon rain three to five days a week. October: Major rains, stick to high ground and by rain we mean it rains from left to right! Not top to bottom!
Costa Rica Uses the US/Canada electrical standard and as such you will not have to bring any electrical adaptors or converters. If it works in the US/Canada it will work in Costa Rica. People arriving from elsewhere (Europe) will need an adaptor to plug into the wall. The voltage is 110-120. In this day and age most gringo grade consumer electronic goods are multi voltage and do not need a converter. You will be hard pressed to find any adaptors in CR. Bring them with you if you need them at all.
Renting a Vehicle in CR:
This one subject attracts half the traffic to this website by way of an article we wrote last year titled ”The Costa Rican Rental Car Survival Guide”. Our estimate is that reading it and heeding the advice will save you on average $250 a week. CLICK HERE For the Costa Rica rental car survival guide
Foreign Cell Phone Usage in CR:
Be real careful when using your cellphone that you brought from home. Data Roaming charges are beyond anything you have ever contemplated. Stories of people getting charged $500-$600 just for turning their cell phone on so as simply access something in their cell phone. If you must have access to you cell phone turn off Data Roaming,BEFORE YOU ARRIVE IN CR. If you are in doubt, simply but your phone on “Flight Mode” until you get home. If you choose to only deactivate the Data Roaming feature you will still see $2 a minute charge for all inbound and outbound calls. Most smart phones are locked and will not work with the local Sim cards in Costa Rica. If however your smartphone is two years or older your carrier may be required by law to unlock it. If that is the case find an ICE office and get a prepaid sim card.
Credit cards are becoming accepted more and more in CR. If you do use them your credit card company may charge you a foreign transaction charge in addition to making something on the exchange rate between the Colonies transaction in CR and the dollar debit on your statement. Gas stations will accept credit cards as will most food stores and restaurants.
Yep, just as the name insinuates you have to pay to leave the country. $29 USD per person. To add insult to injury, they want it is US dollars, not Colonies. In all fairness, just about every country has an exit tax that is built into your airline ticket that you pay but just don’t see. Australia and Mexico have this as well. As of May 2015 several airlines have been charging the passengers the departure tax so there is no need to do so prior to departure. Which airlines do/don't ?????
Driving to Nosara:
San Jose>Nicoya: ( 4-5 hours) New Highway: As of 2010 there is a new highway out of the central valley down to the Pacific Coast. It is easy to access this new highway from most part of San Jose except the international airport! National car rental's airport office has printed out, directions and a map of how to get to the new highway from the airport. You do not stand a chance without the map!
The new highway drops down into the Pacific and turns north. You will pass the double tree resort on your left as well as one of the local prisons. When the roads goes under the overpass it turns hard right 270 degrees and places you on the Pan Am Highway or as it is more often referred, the old road. This is where the directions for both old and new roads come together. (Skip next paragraph if coming down from San Jose on the new road.)
Old Highway / PanAm Highway: If you are driving from San Jose to Nosara, you will take the main Interamerican Highway (Carretera Interamericana) west out of San Jose (past the large international Juan Santamaria airport). This highway travels west and descends down from the central plateau toward the port of Puntarenas where the road turns north.
As you head north on the Pan Am Highway you will be heading toward Liberia. Keep a look out for the signs pointing to the Puente de Amistad (the new bridge over the Tempisque River). This will be a left turn, but the signs are on the right side out on the main Interamerican Highway. There is a Delta service station and makes for a good rest stop as they sell cold drinks and snacks. (In just about all of costa Rica, US dollars are excepted but change is usually returned in Colonies.)
After you cross the new bridge at the river Tempisque, you will be on the Nicoya Peninsula. Keep following the paved highway to the City of Nicoya (large town). When you are almost to Nicoya, you will come to an intersection with a 4-way red/yellow flashing light - there will be signs there that indicate a left turn into the town of Nicoya. Turn left and proceed straight through the middle of town.
Liberia>Nicoya: (1 hour)
Exiting the international airport in Liberia, turn right and follow the signs to Santa Cruz. Approaching Santa Cruz follow the road on as it is now sign posted to Nicoya. Approaching Nicoya there is a huge 4 way stop, bare right and drive straight through town and over the small bridge and continue on to Nosara.
Please read before driving from Nicoya>Nosara. The road between Nicoya and Nosara is not a problem as long as you slow down. For the first 30 minutes the road is paved but seldom straight. In the small towns along the way there are some very pronounced speed bumps that that seem to come out of nowhere. Hit one at full speed and your front end will jump up in front of you followed by the back end. When you start to come up on dwellings, slow down. That is where they hide these road hazards.
There is a law in Costa Rica that there must be a school with in a certain distance of every school aged child in the country. As a result there are schools out in the middle of nowhere with one teacher and one child, just to comply with this law and there is a school about every 10 Kilometers. Many of these schools span both sides of the highway and when they mean slow down they mean it. 25 KPH max! Get used to it. There are schools all over the place.
It is not advised to drive the Nicoya-Nosara route at night even if you have never driven it before. Many of the locals refrain from driving this route at night. One of the reasons for this are several spots where the road goes from one lane in each direction down to only one lane due to the culverts being washed out. You can see them better in the day time. You will need to remember where they are at night. The only good thing about driving this route at night is there are few if any other cars on the road. The down side to this is that if anything happens while in route…………………..
There is one thing about driving in this type of terrain to be very careful of. Bridges, they are extremely dangerous. When they design a road it typically contours the terrain. Should the route need to cross over a stream or river, the road typically descends, then turns 90 degrees so as to have the bridge cross at a 90 degree angle to the terrain. These bridges are one lane only and the rule of the road is that the first one to the bridge has the right of way. (There are yield signs that say CEDA. One side of the bridge should have one. Never assume anything while driving in Costa Rica.) As you approach the bridge you see no one else, proceed, only to have someone come around the bend into view on the other side and he gets to the bridge before you. Where are you going to go. It is always down hill, sometimes gravel or wet or both and the only way out has a ravine to the left and right of it and a car in the middle. Luckily there are usually signs that look like this )( alerting you to the fact that there is a one lane bridge ahead. Costa Rica is full of them. Be careful. Slow down.
The route to Nosara crosses many rivers and streams and luckily there are no fiords to cross. By that I mean driving through the water to get across, just like in the movies. In the dry season this is a common feat on routes where a bridge does not exist. Be careful as the rainy season approaches as these rivers swell up fast. Most auto insurance coverage will not cover water mishaps. If in doubt wait for a local. Note the relationship between his wheel size and yours and watch him cross. If the water will not touch your car body then you will probably be ok, just follow his exact route across. If the route lacks locals in any abundance you can have your wife wade across and check out the water level as she does. My wife did this once and only once. Should have been there.
Nicoya>Nosara: (1 hour)
Drive straight through the town of Nicoya on the "main road", no turns. Drive slowly, as there are a lot of pedestrians in this bustling town. You will eventually be out of town on the other side. You will continue southward on pavement approximately 30km, some twists and turns, but just stay on the obviously main paved highway. About 30 minutes after leaving Nicoya, you will see a large Gas Station on your left. There is also a hardware store and little "soda" cafe for snacks and drinks. (As of 2011 gas can be purchased at the new Nosara Gas station located just after the 5 corner intersection.)
Right after you leave the gas station, 50 feet, the paved road you have been driving on makes a curve to the left. At the apex of that curve, you will notice a small road turning off to the right, downhill. That is the road to Nosara. IF YOU GET TO SAMARA YOU HAVE GONE WAY TO FAR. Be careful especially this first 500 meters as it is downhill and steep. This road to Nosara is about 25KM long, but it take 45 minutes to drive. There are, once again, some turns and twists, but stay on the road. There are signs that tell you how many kilometers you still have to go as you pass through many small towns and villages. There is a T-intersection at a small village called Barco Quebrada, turn right. (there should be signs there, and the road should be obvious). Note: do not pay much attention to the distance to posted on the signs. It will be obvious to you that they did not put the signs up in any specific order. As a result.........................
The people along the way are very friendly, so if you aren't positive that you are still on the main road to Nosara, just stop and ask someone "Donde es Nosara". Most people will at least be able to point in the right direction. When you get into Nosara things happen fast. The main road is the only artery for getting from one section to the next. The result is a mix of four wheelers, golf carts, bicycles, semi-trucks, delivery trucks, pedestrians and the suffer walking down the middle that has yet to master that last 10% of life. Pedestrians have the right of way, as it should be.
In the dry season with all of this traffic there is a real problem with dust. They have come up with a very innovative plan whereby they spay a mixture of molasses and hot water on the road and it does keep the dust down. Interesting thing however, the whole town smells like pancakes! Welcome to Nosara. This is the expatriate section of Nosara more commonly referred to by the two beaches, Playas Guiones and Pelada. If you want to go to the actual town of Nosara, continue on through some twists and turns, about another 5 km, and you will come to a split in the road bare right, but bare left at the next Y intersection. Soon you will come upon Nosara Centro, the business district, where you will find grocery stores, medical care, city services and shopping in this very Tico town.