Whether this is your first trip to Costa Rica or not we thought we would include useful tips to help you plan your trip and make your vacation a memorable one…in a good way! Just click on the subject you are interested in:
If you love the freedom of visiting at your own pace and driving to remote corners of the countries that you visit, we can rent a car and have it delivered here at Casa Laurin. All you have to do is tell us the type of car you want, whether you drive manual or automatic and the type of insurance you get from your Gold or Platinum credit card. We take care of the rest!
We work only with car rental agencies who are reliable and will not try to bill you for normal wear and tear when you turn the car in.. We like the idea that the quote we give you is the price you will pay. There are plenty of car rental agencies to choose from in Costa Rica – some are a perfect 10 and others tend to cheat on the final price with insurance and other ‘perks’, on the type of vehicle you get and you can add other thoughts that you may have – I am sure that we have not seen the whole realm of tricks so far…
Things to consider when renting:
- where you are going (e.g. Monteverde potholes, rainy season etc);
- how much to spend (2WD is 2/3 the price of 4WD, manual transmissions save a few dollars a day etc);
- can you get a smaller SUV if you pack lightly (you need very little here as long as it is washable e.g. there is NO dressing for dinner);
Things NOT TO DO and all will be well:
- If you want, you can leave your bags piled up in your car while you park and go to the beach or hide your purse or backpack under the driver’s seat for a quick walk on the beach
- If it seems fitting to the occasion, you can wear your best gold or diamond jewelry while walking the streets of a big town
- If you feel the need, you can open your wallet with wads of Dollar Bills in a public place
- You can leave your luggage unattended in a public bus terminal or on the bus
- If you get a flat while driving you can accept help from three friendly teenagers who quickly pop out a blackened window Nissan Sentra instead of driving to the parking area of a business (drug store, shoe shop, restaurant, etc.)
Finally make sure the rental car company will pick up you or your car, or drop you off where you need to be. If all of this seems a bit confusing, email us ahead of your trip. We will email you a quote from a reliable company.
CARS AND 4WD
The guide books seem to insist on 4WD as the preferred type of vehicle. So why would YOU need a 4WD if you have no plans to cross rivers and streams? First, you don’t. If you know where the potholes are like the locals do! Second, you’ll never really need to use the 4WD because most potholes are not that big . . . the biggest problem is hitting a pothole in a small 2WD or maybe clipping the edge of the road and “catching your wheel”. You do not need a 4WD – what you DO NEED is the height and durability of a 4WD so you don’t bottom out when you hit one or two or more of these potholes. Tell us your proposed itinerary and we will tell you what your best option is.
You may have heard of a problem with petty theft in Costa Rica. If you do any of these you just might be ripped off by some sharp and fast characters and have a bummer of a day. This can happen anywhere in the world and it does happen here too.
When traveling keep your car in your sight – leave nothing you want to keep in the car . Get to your destination early and unload your bags at your hotel, THEN go to the beach/the forest/the bar. Leave your jewelry in any other country. There are no dress codes here. All hotels have a SAFE of some kind – ALWAYS keep valuables in the safe. Have a safe trip!
DRIVING AND CAMERAS...BIG FINES!!!
Yes we have some traffic cameras now. As a public service to our guests, here are their locations as of September 2011.
1. Florencia del Castillo highway connecting San José and Cartago. Cameras are close to Terramall shopping center and the speed limit drops from 80 km to 60 km per hour near cameras.
2. General Cañas highway connecting Alajuela to San José. Cameras are located between Hospital México and the Hotel Crowne Plaza Corobicí. Limit drops from 80 km to 60 km/h.
3. General Cañas Highway to Río Segundo, close to the Cervecería Costa Rica in Alajuela, near Intel bridge. Speed limit drops from 80 km to 60 km/h.
4. Florencio del Castillo Highway in La Lima de Cartago. Cameras are located in front of Tomza gas station. Speed limit is 80 km/h.
5. Circunvalación between the Zapote circle. Limit is 80 km/h.
6. Four cameras in Alajuela on the road between airport and Mall Internacional. Limit is 80 km/h.
Fines (and this is why you need to watch your speed here):
– Driving in excess of 20 km/h over the posted speed limit but not exceeding 120 km/h: 308,000 colones ($616)
– Driving in excess of 120 km/h but not exceeding 150 km/h: 411,000 colones ($822) and more
ELECTRICITY & COMMUNICATIONS:
North American devices all work fine in our standard 110 volt outlets. Many people are bringing iPods and other electronic communication devices and they now mostly work. MAKE SURE THAT YOUR PROVIDER HAS AN AGREEMENT WITH COSTA RICA. Some providers don’t! Recently there is this lady who is moving to Costa Rica who bought a 2-year contract with one of these – she is stuck with the contract and cannot use her phone here.
You can also buy prepaid SIMS for phones on arrival at SJO airport – check before you leave the airport as they are hard to find in country. Many guests stop at the KOLBI counter in the airport and buy an inexpensive phone with a Costa Rican phone number and 90 minutes for $30; this is a simple way to make a few phone calls compared to international roaming charges. The KOLBI counter is supposed to be open 7 days a week 5am to 10pm…
Europeans often need adaptors to US sockets and should check compatibility (laptops, cellphones) with local 110 volt USA standard electricity.
Most people flying to Costa Rica arrive at Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) which is a nice clean modern airport situated about 20 kilometers from downtown San Jose. The good news is that we are located midway between the airport and San Jose. The downside is that when you will walk out of the airport terminal you will be met by a bunch of taxi drivers (legal or not – please ignore them).
IF YOU NEED AIPORT PICKUP – let us know your flight details ahead of your trip and we will send you an English speaking taxi driver who will take you to Casa Laurin in his comfortable minivan for $25 – even if you travel with your whole family and the dog… We will send you the procedure to meet your driver as you come out of the airport terminal.
FLYING AND LATE ARRIVALS
Most of the flights take off on time and land in the right place. Airline luggage mishandling happens sometimes but nearly all bags show up the next day (take your toiletries and a spare shirt & undies onboard). You may want to bring your own food (no drinks past security though) – many guests arrive here starving after 2 hours in departure, a 5 hour flight, 1 hour in customs and a bag of pretzels…
For late arrivals we can order in for you but you need to tell us in advance as we do not have a restaurant onsite. Let us know if you have any dietary issues. We have beer/wine/soft drinks waiting for you here.
FOOD AND BEVERAGES
Breakfast is served from 8:00 to 10:00 am. If you need to leave early for a trip to the jungle of for your flight home, we will make you an early breakfast to go – just let us know the night before.
We have many restaurants in Escazu and some deliver. Ask us for the list and their specialty. Monday some are closed. If you like to walk a short distance there are options right around the corner. Others are a short taxi ride from the hotel.
It is easy to get lost in Costa Rica as we have not so great roads and very little signage. The basic idea is to get your traveling out of the way before the afternoon and possible rains (usually from May till November). A map and a compass may come in handy. If you do get lost you can ask a friendly local “Tico” for directions to the next town. Don’t ask for long distance directions as it is likely he or she has not been there.
If you get hopelessly lost flag down a red taxi and have them take you to the next town for a couple of bucks. If none of this works then call us at 2289-4198 and we’ll be happy to assist! Pay phones are plentiful and cheap or your taxi driver or van driver will have a cell phone they usually do not mind if you borrow.
The Green Season usually lasts from the beginning of May to sometime in November. Around here it is also called the “invierno”. The reality is that this is maybe the best time to come. Costa Rica is beautiful and green in June, July and August. We actually have a ‘little summer’ when the rains stop for a couple of weeks. When it rains, we don’t have grey skies – mornings are usually bright and sunny and clouds start building up at midday and we would have moderate to heavy rain part of the afternoon. September and October are the Summer months on the Carribean side and our Central Valley Summer starts again in November when the rains stop. December is a happy month due to all the locals getting paid their aguinaldo and having extra money to spend. January then shows up with its beautifully perfect weather in the Central Valley, well that kind of leads into February and the begining of the mango season, and March and April when the mangos are even better and so on . . .
OK so in May/June and September/October you will need to make sure you have a poncho in your back pack and maybe a small portable umbrella. We have big ones that you can borrow for walking in our area.
HEALTH/VACCINATIONS AND MORE
For those who worry about precautions to take before coming to Costa Rica specifically regarding Malaria, there is essentially no malaria in Costa Rica. Lets get that common myth out of the way. However there are periodic cases of mosquito born dengue fever. The government takes reasonable precautions and sprays areas if something comes up. Health care is second only to education when it comes to the protection of Costa Rican children – so this is taken seriously here. All I can add to that statement is none of the gringos we know who live here take specific precautions except spraying of insect repellent on some evenings. Guests from Canada and the USA have told us we don’t know what mosquitoes are! If you are going to an area with much standing water such as a mangrove swamp or a rain forest we would advise using good insect repellent.
MEDICINES TO BRING: Obviously if you are already on some medication bring a supply. A first aid kit makes sense. We would always advise anti-diarrheal medicine be carried on any trip to anywhere. Many tropical countries can have a water problem – this is usually not a problem in Costa Rica. Excessive eating of tropical fruits however (they are soooo good especially when you come from a country where fruits are not ripe or plainly not available) could alter your digestive system – so enjoy them with moderation! We also advise bringing a good Deet based mosquito repellent. We can’t advise you on your medical practices – if you are concerned see your doctor before leaving.
LEAVING AND DEPARTURE TAX:
You are requested to be at the airport 3 hours ahead of your flight. Now most airlines include the departure tax in the purchase price of your ticket. However a few still don’t. Ask Ginette if you are not sure. If you need to buy it, you can do so inside the airport. When you get into the airport there is a counter to the right and you need to buy your exit tax ($29 p.p.) before you get in line at your airline counter. If there are many of you, one can buy the departure tax for the whole family while the others wait in line. That person needs to carry all passports.
There are some shops and fooderies (can’t call them restaurants) inside the airport with overpriced coffee, tasty chocolate covered coffee beans and gifts.
Come on back soon, there is so much MORE to explore.
The US dollar is welcomed in many places, as are all tourists who tread gently on this beautiful landscape. But you also need some local currency – colones. Grabbing a local cab or a “comida typica” lunch are good reasons to carry colones.
DO NOT change your euros or dollars INTO colones before you arrive and DO NOT change money at the airport. You will loose 10%, 20% or more on the conversion. There is an official exchange rate which is in effect EVERYWHERE in the country (except the airport). There is a Walmart around the corner and they exchange at the same rate as banks do. After that you can drop by the many ATMs for cash anywhere in the country. Also, FYI, cash gets you better deals on things pretty much everywhere. If you are buying something ask if there is a “descuento en efectivo”. Cash discounts can net you 5% to 10% on many purchases.
Pack light – everywhere except the Volcanoes, you can wear a light short sleeved shirt and shorts. There is no need to pack stuff to “dress for dinner”. Clothing made of any material that you can wash, hang out overnight and wear the next day is ideal.
You will need two types of shoes – Sandals and hiking shoes. To visit the volcano areas it is better to dress in layers; make sure to bring jeans or warner pants and a jacket because it is windy up there!
Of course don’t forget your sunglasses, suntan lotion…and a good insect repellent if you plan to go in the jungle and remote areas.
Casa Laurin has secure parking inside the garage and on the street. Where you park in Costa Rica is important during the day too – always remove anything of value. Locking or putting stuff in the trunk is not a deterrent.
All foreign citizens entering Costa Rica must have a passport that is valid for at least six months after the date they enter the country.
Citizens of the United States, Canada and many other countries do not need visas to enter Costa Rica. Citizens of countries other than the United States, Canada and the European Economic Community should check with the nearest Costa Rican Embassy or Consulate.
If you do not have a passport that is valid for at least six months after your date of travel, you might not be allowed to board the plane.
For tourists there are a few gift shops around Escazu and all around downtown San José. We recommend a place called NAMU in San Jose with authentic indigenous art. Nearby there is a nice little hole in the wall ceramic tile place. Also many of our guests enjoy shopping in Sarchi – the home of Costa Rican wood crafts. You can visit BIESANZ woodwork where they craft really nice wood souvenirs – visit is free and you get to see their gardens at the same time they tell you the process of crafting these wonderful precious wood souvenirs.
MOVING HERE? We tell all our friends who have chosen to live in this wonderful country that ‘we are all here to learn patience’. You are welcome to share your experience with us.
HOUSEWARES? We find good quality items at Yamuni, Cemaco and other local stores. For gringos in need of a Home Depot fix, we have a smaller chain called EPA (walking distance to Casa Laurin) – but still most home fixit stuff is bought at little ferreterias on most town street corners. These little stores are troublesome if you don’t speak Spanish and you need to describe a plumbing fixture to the runner who seeks such things.
FURNITURE? We can now get good quality furniture in a variety of styles. There is also the option of having all your furniture custom made by local carpenters and welders. For kitchen stuff, there is a commercial kitchen supply house in Pavas called TIPS – they have the best selection and anyone can buy there.
APPLIANCES We have a duty free purchasing area at Golfito in the South of the country. It used to be the best way to shop but now that PriceSmart (like Costco) is here in Escazu we have good prices on things like fridges, generators, dog food, rice and bulk stuff like that.
Casa Laurin offers a non-smokers environment – no smoking in the rooms or on the premises. Sorry, but if you want to smoke it would be better to do so before you get here. Perhaps 70% of the tourism we get are north Americans and most of those now demand smoke free places.
There are three kinds of Taxis – orange airport taxis, red taxis with taxi signs on them and Piratas. All CAN cost you more than you want, but often they are cheaper than you expect. We recommend the red taxis – they are local, they know the area, they are relatively cheap. When getting in the taxi. you should ask the driver to set the ‘taximetro’ which will start at 645 colones at the moment. If you go through a toll booth your taxi driver will add the amount of the toll to the amount shown on the meter (the “maria”) once you get to your destination.
With the exception of public restaurants (where you will see the tip and taxes known as “IVI” are included in the prices) you will find tips are NOT an expectation in Costa Rica. If you get good service give a nice tip. If you get bad service give nothing and let the owner or manager know why. Tipping is not a god given right for surly taxi drivers, bad waiters and rude tour guides – fortunately.
The daily wage here is very low and a nice tip, for excellent service will go a long way in a Costa Rican household.
The common ways of getting from place to place in Costa Rica include rentacar, private bus (like Interbus), private van service (with driver), taxi (split 4 ways can be cheaper than the private bus), local bus (can be slow, but very inexpensive) and internal airlines (SANSA or Nature Air). We can arrange most of these for you but you must book ahead. Give us the information and we make it happen!
BEWARE: of some car rental agencies who will give you very low rental rates over the internet and then give you higher quote when you get here…because they did not include insurance charges and other fees in their original ‘internet estimate’. You are then trapped. We can provide a quote WITH NO SURPRISES! Just ask us!
At Casa Laurin we take Travelers Checks in large denominations. BEFORE you fill them out and sign PLEASE SEE Ginette. To avoid problems cashing them yourself or for us to deposit them they need to be countersigned EXACTLY as your original signature when you bought them which should be the same as the signature in your passport. Some hotels and other businesses don’t take them and you may have to take your traveler’s checks to local banks to get them cashed. Tip of the day: Make sure that you bring your passport when you do so and change them to the local currency (colones) rather than $. Most banks will charge a hefty commission to change to $ but NO COMMISSION to exchange your Travelers Checks to colones.
WEATHER, AIR CONDITIONING ETC
Average temperature in the Central Valley varies between a maximum of 24oC to 27oC and a minimum of 14o C to 16o C. Escazú offers a similar temperature year-round. No need for air conditioning here ! Casa Laurin has natural ventilation so it is fresh and comfortable even on very hot days. All our rooms have ceiling fans if you need them. Temperature drops considerably here in the evenings which are cooler and comfortable and provide the best conditions for a good night sleep.