A little local know-how goes a long way in Costa Rica. Here you will find all the essential advice and information you will need during your stay.

Personal Security

Costa Rica is, as a rule, relatively safe, and most of the country's dangers are nature related, such as riptides, earthquakes, and volcanoes. National parks surrounding active volcanos may close depending on volcanc activity.

Petty theft does occur, so be careful of placing cameras and other valuables where you can’t see them, or carrying them loose on your shoulder. Luggage sometimes “goes missing” at stops during long-distance bus journeys. It is best to keep all your valuables in sight at all times. Be wary of pickpockets on public transport and in crowded city centres. San José’s Coca Cola terminal has a reputation for pickpockets and muggings, so be on your guard in this area. Never get in an unlicensed private taxi, known locally as piratas – several tourists have been robbed by the drivers or their accomplices. If you have anything stolen, report the crime within 24 hours to the nearest police station and take your passport with you. If you need to make an insurance claim, get a copy of the denuncia (crime report). Contact your embassy if you have a passport stolen, or in the event of a serious crime or accident.


Costa Rica generally has no unusual or serious health risks, but there is a low risk of malaria in the wet season and in the southern region of the Caribbean. Outbreaks of dengue fever also sometimes occur there. Consult your doctor about taking antimalarial drugs.

Always keep a safe distance from all animals, which can become aggressive if startled or if they feel threatened. Never feed animals, as this disrupts their natural behavior and increases the possibility of you being bitten. If you are bitten, stay calm, move slowly, and seek medical assistance at once. Crocodiles are present in lowland rivers, so do not swim there. Be aware of snakes – look down while walking trails; and never place your hand on or under a surface without looking.

Bring any medicine you know you will need during your stay. It is also wise to bring a small medical kit with you. Additional medical supplies are widely available from local farmacias (pharmacies), even in small villages. If experiencing dyhydration, packets of dissolvable electrolytes are available at farmacias and grocery stores.

Emergency medical care for visitors is given at public clinics and hospitals. You will need to show your medical insurance documents. A nominal fee may be charged for treatment you receive, which you may be able to claim back later. As such, it is important to arrange comprehensive medical insurance.

Smoking, Alcohol, and Drugs

Smoking is banned in most enclosed public spaces, including restaurants. The possession and use of illegal drugs is prohibited and could result in a prison sentence, as Costa Rica has zero tolerance.


By law you must carry passport identification at all times in Costa Rica. A photocopy of your passport photo page should suffice. If you are stopped by the police you may need to present your original passport within 24 hours.

Local Customs

When visiting churches, dress codes apply: cover your torso and upper arm, and ensure shorts and skirts cover your knees. Shoes must be worn.

Topless or nude bathing are offenses and can incur a fine.

LGBT+ Safety

LGBT+ rights in Costa Rica are progressive compared to some of its Central American neighbors, especially in cities. However, smaller towns and rural areas are more traditional in their views, and overt displays of affection may receive a negative response from locals.

Mobile Phones and Wi-Fi

It is worth buying a local SIM card with airtime and a data bundle to allow you to make local calls, send texts and use the internet cheaply. SIM cards can be purchased from shops selling mobile phones for any of the three companies (Claro, Kolbi, and Movistar) that provide mobile phone service in Costa Rica. Wi-Fi is available in virtually all hotels, as well as in many cafés, restaurants and shopping centres, although coverage in more remote areas can be spotty.





Estampillas (stamps) are sold at post offices, and prepaid postcards to anywhere in the world are sold at many souvenir stalls. Letters and postcards sent through Correos de Costa Rica, Costa Rica’s postal service, can take two weeks or longer to arrive. Use DHL for packages.

Correos de Costa Rica


Taxes and Refunds

A sales tax of 13 percent applies on all purchases except food and medicines. A departure tax of $29 applies; check with your airline before paying at the tax counter.

National Parks and Wildlife Refuges

Arranging a wildlife tour is fairly straightforward. The biggest hurdles at the planning stage will be choosing between a self-guided adventure or an organized tour and deciding which national parks and refuges to visit – with the diversity of Costa Ricica’s national parks and wildlife reserves, visitors are spoilt for choice. If you’re opting for the DIY approach, it’s easy to book everything online – the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC) website is very user-friendly; other refuges and reserves are privately run. If your itinerary includes visits to more than one park, it may be worth investing in a Amigos de los Parques Nacionales (Friends of the National Parks) card, which allows entry to up to 12 national parks. Most parks can be visited by car, although many can be reached only with a jeep-taxi, and others are accessible only by hiking or by boat, such as the Terraba-Sierpe International Humid Forest Reserve.

For the less adventurous, there are plenty of reputable tour operators in Costa Rica and elsewhere to offer specialist guidance and to set transport and accommodation arrangements in place. It is best to choose a company that is recognized by the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.

Amigos de los Parques Nacionales (Friends of the National Parks)

Instituto Costarricense de Turismo

Wildlife Spotting

Costa Rica is a year-round destination, but ideal conditions for wildlife viewing vary from region to region. Guanacaste is best visited in the dry season (December to April), when animals gather at water holes. This is also the best time for birding: migrants flock in from colder climates and waterbirds fill the wetlands. Because this is peak season, the most popular parks can be overrun with visitors.

Wet season (May to November) sees high rainfall throughout the country, and the landscape turns green and lush. Many trails become muddy, and accessibility to some areas may be restricted. Wetlands such as Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge flood, granting greater accessibility by boat. The wide availability of water also leads to a higher threat of malaria in risk areas (Booking Accommodation).

Early morning and late afternoon are the best times to see wildlife. Come dusk, many animals such as monkeys bed down, and a variety of noctural creatures emerge, including bats, kinkajous, frogs, and cats. The nighttime exploration of lagoons and wetlands by boat reveals crocodiles and nocturnal birds, such as owls and the boat-billed heron. Bring a field guide and a pair of binoculars. Insect repellent, sunblock, sunglasses, and a flashlight (at night) are also essential.

Self-Guided Tours

Most of the national parks and wildlife reserves can be explored without being accompanied by a local, trained guide. Self-guiding booklets can be purchased when visiting Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park and La Selva Biological Station. Other national parks, such as Parque Nacional Cahuita, have an information hut at the entrance to the park, which leads to well-marked, well-maintained trails

Guided Tours

National parks close before dusk, but lodging is available at Parque Nacional Chirripó; and several private reserves with lodgings offer night tours. Multi-day treks can be arranged by many tour operators specializing in white-water rafting. Nocturnal hikes can also be booked via many tour operators and guides. Generally you will see more wildlife on a guided tour than on a self-guided one.

Need to know Practical Information

At a Glance


Need to know Practical Information

Time Zone

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Central Standard Time (UTC/GMT -6)

There is no Daylight Savings Time

Tap Water

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Water purity is unreliable so, to be safe, drink bottled water.


Need to know Practical Information


Instituto Costarricense de Turismo

Check out Costa Rica’s national tourist board website:

Sistema Nacional de Áreas de Conservación (SINAC)

SINAC oversees conservation efforts nationwide. Their website is

Yo Viajo

Enter any destination into the search bar to see the bus schedule and fare at

This app displays maps, which you need to select before arriving in Costa Rica.

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