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First time to Costa Rica

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Charleston, SC
posts: 8
First time to Costa Rica

My husband and I are going to Costa Rica for the first time in mid-April. We are planning on having a rental car and driving from the airport in San Jose to Jaco where our hotel is- is that a good idea to have a rental car (we like to do things independently, and have driven in Europe, and my husband has driven in Australia and Africa, so if it's less complicated than that, we would like to have our own transportation.) Also, we would like to plan some white water rafting, zip lining, possibly surfing, and we would like to go to the M.A. National Park and the Arenal volcano... any suggestions where to go through for the first 3 activities, and any other things that shouldn't be missed? Also, do most places take credit cards, or what form of currency would be best??

San Jose, Costa Rica
posts: 43,968
1. Re: First time to Costa Rica

Go ahead and rent the car...make a lot of sense...and you will save money!

Most places will take credit cards,,,


Destination Expert
for Jaco, Bocas Town
posts: 3,869
reviews: 123
2. Re: First time to Costa Rica

How long are you going? You will want to spend some nights in Arenal, it isn't a day trip from JACO. You have a great list but you may want to check out canyoneering in Arenal as well. Driving isn't the main issue I have with renting a car in CR. There are a ton of threads on the pros and cons of renting a car in CR just do a search.

Destination Expert
for Costa Rica
posts: 8,286
reviews: 57
3. Re: First time to Costa Rica

Driving is not complicated. Roads are not so straight like in Australia, and not so rough like in Africa (yet as always depends where you have and will be driving). From Jaco recently another poster wrote that a day trip to Arenal was possible, but he (they) got a driver. It is about 3 1/2 hrs one way, and after all the activities in Arenal, a driver would be tired and in stress navigating narrow and windy roads through mountain part. Driving to MA is much easier, and if having time, you should also do a day trip further south. Hacienda Baru, Dominical and Uvita are places of interest there.

Charleston, SC
posts: 8
4. Re: First time to Costa Rica

I think we have 8 days, 7 nights. If Arenal is too far, difficult to drive to, what other things should we be doing? Do most people speak some English?? Are there a lot of cheap/quick places to grab food. We aren't too concerned about eating fancy meals, just want to get outside and do stuff. Any recommendations for places to do the activities or companies to go through?

Destination Expert
for Costa Rica
posts: 8,286
reviews: 57
5. Re: First time to Costa Rica

There are plenty of tours offered from Manuel Antonio. On your own, best bet is to take the Costanera Sur south, having a wildlife day at Hacienda Baru, a horseback ride to one of the waterfalls (Nauyaca or El Diamante), a relax day at Marina Ballena NP, or even a day tour to Corcovado NP.

In tourist locations, many will understand English. Outside, a couple of Spanish words will give you a friendly response: Buen dia, Una cerveza, por favor, Muy lindo aqui, ...). Enough of roadside and less roadside places to eat. The local restaurant is called soda (Soda Francisco), they serve casado, which is a one plate meal or gallo pinto (rice with beans), salad and meat, being pork, fish or veal.

Edited: 9:08 am, March 01, 2013
Denver, CO
posts: 193
reviews: 58
6. Re: First time to Costa Rica

The soda's as a general rule will not take credit cards. CR has mandatory tax and tip that is included on restaurant bills that is about 25%. If a place does not take credit cards, they don't always charge this. If you want to eat local, let us know and we can give you a list of great places to try. We all have our favorites.

Where are you staying? You may find an advantage to booking everything through one agent. It sort of depends on who you are renting through. I have found Daystar to have really good rates on their trips. Other companies really charge a ton and I would try to book directly with the opperator if possible.

I would do MA on your own. Just drive down there and look for the guys in the bright yellow shirts to tell you where to park. Then hire a guide. We have had great luck with this. I always tell people to try and do MA on a Tues or Wed. The crowds are smaller (they are closed Monday).

For zip lining, I like the one run by Daystar across from the gas station. I find it more thrilling than Vista Los Suenos, but both are good.

Many good surf schools. If you are mid Jaco, I like Tiger Surf School and Jaco Surf School. If you are North then use Chuck's Wow. Many will take you to the South end to surf, but I don't know the better instructors down there. I will tell you this can be a lot of fun and then you can rent a board for about $10 a day after your lesson.

Driving is a great way to go. Zuma Car rental out of Jaco will actually pick you up and drop you off at the airport. It is a great alternative for a first trip. They are also well priced. I think the last time I checked for a week it was just under $300. Getting onto the toll road can be a challenge, but your rental car company should be able to give you good directions. Just be aware that you MUST take the insurance on car rentals in CR. It is required by the government. The only company I would not rent from is Payless. The rates look really low and they end up charging you more than double what they quote. If you are arriving on a Sunday, then definately rent from Zuma. The toll road is often shut down for one way traffic which means you have to go the old way to Jaco. Trust me, you don't want to try and figure that out on your own. Let the Zuma employee drive.

Bring your ATM card and don't expect to use your credit card like in the states. Cash is still king here and trying to cash a travellers check is painful. You could spend half your day in a line.

You will do find with little Spanish. Never have had an issue.

Brasilito, Costa...
posts: 24
7. Re: First time to Costa Rica

You'll find a lot of places will charge you more if you use credit card. You'll be charged using your ATM as well, but getting cash once or twice is going to come out cheaper than using a credit card for everything. Even cheaper, bring dollars with you...just about everywhere you will go will take a buck.

My other concern would be finding white water rafting at this time of year. Ths isn't something I'm confident about, perhaps others have a better grasp

8. Re: First time to Costa Rica

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Jaco, Costa Rica
posts: 1,013
9. Re: First time to Costa Rica

Definitely get a car and putter around on your own. A lot of time "tours' consist of taking you to a place and throwing in a lunch. Much more freedom on your own.

Charleston, SC
posts: 8
10. Re: First time to Costa Rica

Wow, thank you so much for all of your help! This helps tremendously! We are staying at Villa Caletas for 4 nights (This whole trip was based on a random Groupon hotel purchase!). I was actually wrong, and the other hotel is up in Puntarenas... I guess that is where the cruise ships come in? Does anyone know if it would be possible to drive to the Arenal Volcano from there?? Or is it way too complicated for someone on their first trip?? We are coming in on April 11, leaving April 18, so it's a Thursday through and Thursday. I will look into that Zuma car rental for sure, and also remember to bring cash! Thanks, again, everyone!