Planning an independent visit to a foreign country requires hours of preparations. How to get there? How safe it is? How to move around? Where to stay? After searching dozens of websites and planning all details of our trip, we hope that we are well prepared. Then after the trip is completed and it is time to reconcile, were we right? Would we do anything differently? See how my mother and son trip to Costa Rica compared to my expectations.

We always hope that what we find at our destination will meet our expectations which we created based on research and sometimes on imagination. Once there, we get to see how the reality measures up to he image we created before arrival. This is how my predictions compared to what I actually found in Costa Rica during my mother and son visit.

Getting There

No surprises here. Flying to Costa Rica was easy. There are many flight from multiple locations across the USA to country’s capital San Jose. In our case, it took about 5 hours to get there from Philadelphia.

Arriving in San Jose on the other hand was challenging. It took a long time to get through immigration and it was hot! The airport seems to be too small for the number of visitors.

Beautiful vistas in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica - photo by Yvonne Jasinski Credit Card TravelingMom

Beautiful vistas in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica – photo by Yvonne Jasinski Credit Card TravelingMom

Currency 

Colon is an official currency of Costa Rica. One US dollar is about 500 colones. I was aware that American dollar could also be used in Costa Rica, but I did not realize how widely it was accepted. In my opinion, there is no need to bother with a currency exchange.

Credit cards

How pleasantly surprised I was that credit cards are accepted almost everywhere even by taxi drivers. If you want to stick to using your cards, make sure to arrange for your tours through your hotel. Still, carry some cash just in case.

Transportation within Costa Rica

I prefer to have my own car while traveling, but was discouraged to rent one in Costa Rica after reading how bad the roads were.

Van services

Instead, we uses one of popular in Costa Rica van services that pick you up from your hotel and take your to your next one. It worked well but since it serves multiple travelers along the way, it takes a long time to arrive at your destination. Vans are air conditioned and in good shape.

We used this service twice: San Jose to La Fortuna and La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio. My son did not like the idea of not having a car so he was watching the roads carefully just to prove to me that renting one was a better solution. At the end, I had to agree with him. I see roads in worse conditions in Pennsylvania every day on my way to work.

Car rental
Nature tour in Manuel Antonio National Park

Nature tour in Manuel Antonio National Park – photo by Yvonne Jasinski Credit Card Traveling Mom

Renting a car in Costa Rica is much cheaper and more convenient than using a van service (on average $50 per persons one way) if you want to move around. On our last leg of the trip from Manuel Antonio to San Jose, I gave up and we rented a car. Roads were very good and the ride was smooth.

Public Buses

We did not use any but they look modern and I heard they are cheap. Definitely a good mean of transportation for those on a tight budget.

Lodging

Right on! Places we stayed delivered exactly what they promised.  You will find a great variety of lodging in Costa Rica to fit every budget.

(Check out Hotel El Faro Beach in Manuel Antonio. The views are outstanding and the price is right!)

Tours

I thought they would be like what I encountered in Zakynthos, Greece last summer – practically only a mean of transportation and then you are on your own. It turned out quite opposite. All tours we took were very well narrated,  guides were knowledgeable and went out of their way to show off their country. They spoke very good English.

Scenery

Arenal Volcano Costa Rica

Arenal Volcano Costa Rica – photo by Yvonne Jasinski Credit Card Traveling Mom

It was as breathtaking as I imagined. Gorgeous sandy beaches, beautiful volcanoes, and the rainforest delivered one of a kind combination that Costa Rica is famous for.

Wildlife  

Mongrove Tour - Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

Mangrove Tour – Manuel Antonio Costa Rica , photo by Yvonne Jasinski Credit Card TravelingMom

It is there and lots of it but you need to be proactive to find it. Take a tour, go for a hike, and most importantly have your eyes open! Monkeys and slots do visit hotels on occasion but they will not pose for a picture!

Mosquitoes – especially important now with Zika virus spreading

Nice surprise! Not saying that this is the case everywhere in Costa Rica but in places we visited they were not an issue. And I should know because they like me! I did no see or hear them even in the forest. I asked our guides why. Their  answer  – a large number of bats! Mosquitoes are their food.

Food

I did not do any research on food but for some reason I thought it would be spicy. It was not. Chicken and rice seem to be a base of Costa Rican dinner and come with variety of sauces made of local fruit – delicate and tasty!

Architecture

That was the biggest disappointment of the trip. I expected charming little towns with a traditional architecture but did not see anything of this sort.

People of Costa Rica

Beyond expectations! They went out their way to help us in variety of situations. We experienced nothing but warm welcome from great people of Costa Rica.

Special thanks to Gema Cantillano from Anywhere Costa Rica for her assistance during our trip and after! We only booked our van transportation with them but received a lot of help beyond that.

Zip-line tour in La Fortuna, Costa Rica , photo by Yvonne Jasinski Credit Card TravelingMom

Zip-line tour in La Fortuna, Costa Rica, photo by Yvonne Jasinski Credit Card Traveling Mom

Learn why to visit Costa Rica

Watch our trip to Costa Rica