10 Tips for Going to Paradise Without Having to Die First
Unless you are a hermit, a fleeing criminal, or a distraught ex, you will want some way to stay in touch with your loved ones or the people you will be spending time with in Costa Rica. Emails work, but cell phones are the obvious solution. However, there are a couple of considerations when it comes to cell phones.
Ideally, you have an unblocked cell phone. In fact, if you are an international traveler, when you buy a cell phone you should make sure it is completely, 100% unblocked. If it is, that means it will accept a SIM card from whatever country you are in, and you are all set. When you get to Costa Rica, you can stop at the Kolbi booth in the airport, get a SIM card, and voila: you have a local phone number and a "plan" for your phone. If you don't have an unblocked phone, your next best bet in our opinion is to get WhatsApp on your phone and any other device you have with internet connections. Which is pretty much everything these days, including your toaster. Download WhatsApp and you can exchange phone calls with anyone else who has WhatsApp, free of charge. You can send messages, pictures, cries for help, and videos of yourself making your friends jealous. You can even do video calls so people can see your tan getting darker. If you have it on your computer, it's easier to type in longer messages, and that fully synchs with your phone. Just remember to have your favorite contacts install WhatsApp on their phones too, or you won't be able to call them. BTW: WhatsApp is very popular outside North America--pretty much "everyone" has it in Costa Rica.
2. Money You don't need to carry a lot of cash. There are ATM’s all over the country and they are easily used. Just take a couple of precautions: First, call your bank and let them know that you will be traveling. At a minimum that could save you the problem of them blocking your account until you verify that your card hasn’t been stolen. Second, you might want to raise your withdrawal limit per day to pay for some things in cash, which will be cheaper than using a credit card.
If at all possible avoid changing any money at the airport. They have horrible exchange rates. If you have dollars, just use them until you can get some changed. Almost anybody will take them. However! Check the current exchange rate before you spend dollars on anything much. It has been common for people to just use 500:1 as the exchange rate, but as of this writing the rate is about 560:1, so there’s a 10% difference.
3. Clothing In our area, highs are always in the mid to upper 80’s and lows are always right around 70 (In San Jose, you can knock about 10 degrees off of that estimate). If you are coming from a cold climate, that will feel warm until you adapt. Everyone except bank and government employees dresses casually here. Shorts, tank tops, flip flops fit in anywhere. Runners are common. If you are coming to look at land, you will be in grassy brushy areas sometimes. If you are coming to look at houses, you will want to just kick off your footwear as you enter sometimes. We would feel adequately prepared with a good pair of runners and a good pair of waterproof sandals or flip flops. And then we might never put on the runners (I can’t even remember the last time I had shoes on. Literally many months ago). NOTE: For some water sports like waterfall rapelling, kayaking, rubber rafting or simply wading, you will want the sandals with straps rather than flip flops.
Fabrics should be “tropical”. There are some very nice high tech clothes available now for climates like this—they feel light, they don’t cling, they dry quickly. And they can be pricey. So don’t go replace your whole wardrobe. Just have a couple sets of clothes that you can wash and dry fast, and use them over and over. At least that’s what many of us do down here. You really won’t feel like anyone expects you to dress up in a different outfit every day.
BTW, ladies, do what you want but if you plan any exciting water sports (waterfall rapelling, boogy boarding, surfing, standup paddle boarding) you should consider having a bathing suit top with a strap around your neck or over your shoulders. Strapless ones have this unnerving way of ending up down around your hips if a cascade of water catches them just right.
4. Contact information here and there Before you come, please make sure everyone in your party has contact information for relevant people on both ends of your trip, in a readily accessible place. This isn’t just in case of emergency; we might also be able to help you with questions, interpreting by phone, recommendations, referrals, scheduling changes, etc. Life is exuberantly uncertain at times.
5. Directions to your lodging and any instructions about your lodging. You have probably already discovered that there are no addresses here in Costa Rica. Make sure you have written down the instructions for finding your lodging, preferably both in Spanish and English. Especially if you are renting a house, please please please print off all of the information they send you and bring it in an accessible place. I can't tell you how often someone stops by our office looking for a place whose name they can't remember at an address that doesn't exist.
6. Prescriptions, enough prescription medications, and extra contacts, glasses, etc. We have good pharmacies here, but it’s easier to just not need them.
7. Entertainment—a good book, a travel game…. You’ll be waiting for something somewhere sometime. If chocolate is your entertainment, keep in mind that it will be even more entertaining when it is melting all over everything.
8. Backups of everything on your computer or other digital equipment. Always. Loss of hardware is one thing. Loss of data is miserable for a long time. Sometimes people are victims of petty theft, but it's not petty or pretty if someone gets all of your data and you have no backups.
9. Copies of documents—If you have good clear copies of your documents, and have them saved in the cloud on something like Dropbox, that can be really useful sometimes. Put them where you can access them with any digital advice and a password.
10. Sunscreen, bug repellent… You can get almost anything you need here, for a price. If you are coming for a shorter trip, just bring these things with you and save some money.
Costa Rica is virtually free of noxious, biting bugs for some reason. All restaurants are open air, many houses open completely up unscreened to the outside world, etc. Still, we are all different and some people are insect magnets who manage to get bitten by the only mosquito to ever cross the border from Panama into Costa Rica. For your own comfort, or perhaps just for a feeling of security, keep a bit of repellent handy, especially in the latter part of the afternoons when the no-see-'em gnats are more prevalent in certain areas.
Sunscreen will make your whole life easier. As we used to put it, ever so delicately, make sure you put sunscreen where the sun doesn’t usually shine. We still remember the days of Aunt Rosie, whose sexy new bathing suit exposed places she wished she could sit on, but couldn’t for most of her visit due to her blistered buns. If you want the whole world to enjoy seeing a whole new part of you, make sure you cover it with sunscreen first even if you don’t cover it with anything else. The tropical sun is, after all, tropical.
Final thought: When you go to Paradise, you won't need to take anything with you. When you come to this paradise, all you really need is your passport and an ATM card. Everything else is just small stuff, and someone said we shouldn't sweat the small stuff. So don't. It's a great place to visit.