Top 5 Mistakes in Costa Rica Travel Planning

So you’ve booked your dates off work and browsed around the internet looking for a new country to visit after a tough year of lockdowns and misery. You’re ready to get out and explore.

One country in particular has caught your eye. It’s small, tropical, and has a great reputation for safety and sustainability. And it also appears to have handled the COVID-19 crisis much better than many other places. The more you think about it, the more Costa Rica appeals to you for your first post-pandemic vacation.

So where do you start? You don’t speak Spanish and the internet is full of contradicting info. Joining some of the travel-orientated Facebook groups is a good idea, or even some of the expat ones to get ideas from people who live there.

Or you could contact a travel agency and have them help you. A good Costa Rican travel agent can plan your trip from top to bottom, working with you to create a tailor-made itinerary to suit your purposes. There’s a bunch of travel agents online to check out.

You’re feeling a little more adventurous, though. You’d like to plan your own trip, if possible. But you still want some help doing so, at least a few pointers. You’d like some advice from an industry professional on what to do, and more importantly, what not to do when planning your trip to Costa Rica.

Step forward James Dyde. He’s an ex-travel agent who spent over a decade at Costa Rican Vacations planning trips to Costa Rica for people like you. Since hanging up his travel consultant hat, he now writes about Costa Rica and Central American travel instead. He’s even written about exactly how to plan your perfect Costa Rica vacation itinerary.

So what are his tips on what not to do when planning travel to Costa Rica? Here is his opinion on the most common errors folks make when planning their trip to the tropics.

Trying to Do Too Much                                                                  

Cramming in as much fun as possible in a short period might seem like a good idea, but getting the pacing right on a trip might be the secret to great trip design.                                                                       

The golden rule is to figure out how long you have and plan accordingly. Costa Rica isn’t a country to rush around (more on this below). That’s where frustration kicks in, not to mention extraordinary amounts of time stuck in a vehicle.                             

To make the most of a destination in Costa Rica, you should give yourself at least three nights in said destination. You’ll get two full days that way, and you’ll need them.                                                         

So, for a week-long vacation, stick to two places. Ten days, you can go to three places and so on. Feel like you’re missing out this way? You’re not. Missing out is being stuck in never ending traffic. And Costa Rica ain’t going nowhere. You can come back to explore more parts of it.

Not Understanding Travel Distances                                                  

An extension of the previous point but important enough to merit its own discussion.                                                                               Roads in Costa Rica still aren’t quite first world and traffic can be pretty dense at times. You can look at a map and see how short the distances are from destination to destination. Relying on that would be a mistake. With the roads, what would take a couple of hours to drive at home can take all day in Costa Rica.                                      

An understanding of  the travel times between destinations is important if you want to avoid stress and frustration. Oh – and never drive at night!

Assuming Reviews are Gospel                                                         

Seems that online reviews only attract two types: the lovers and the haters. As such, reviews tend to require readers to use discretion to understand the balance between those extremes. In addition to catering to the extremes, reviews are often woefully out of date. Things can change so quickly, that what was completely relevant 90 days ago might not hold true today.                                                       

So take reviews with a pinch of salt. Everyone is different and what someone online hated a few weeks ago might not be what you hate.

This is where honest-to-goodness advice from a travel consultant comes in handy, or even hopping on social media and asking around in real time. But even so… pinch of salt please.

Staying “On Path”                                                                                

There are a LOT of great destinations in Costa Rica. It can be very tempting to go with the tried n’ true, brand name destinations: Manuel Antonio and Arenal, to name two.                                              

But there are so many hidden gems in Costa Rica, it’d be a pity to not test the road less traveled… especially if your travel plans allow a bit more time to allow some wandering. But please remember rule #1 about doing too much.

Liberia or San Jose Airport. Am I using the right one?         

Choosing the right arrival airport/departure is crucial to designing a smart and efficient itinerary. It’s important to know the pros and cons of arriving at each airport and how that decision impacts the logistics of a trip.                       

For example, if you’re a beach babe and want to end your trip lying on the sand or poolside at a resort, Liberia is better. If you’re elsewhere in Costa Rica, San Jose is better. Look at a map, learn where the two airports are located, and wherever you’re ending your trip, use that airport.                                                                   

Keep your arrival/departure times in mind and remember the state of the roads means it can take time to get to the airport. 

These are just five of the basic fundamentals when planning your trip to Costa Rica. But keeping these points in mind will help ensure you have as smooth and as logistically perfect a vacation as possible. 

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