Know Before You Go: Costa Rica

I don’t care what they say, January and February are the cruelest months. It’s cold and dark. That’s in addition to it snowing, sleeting or whatever combination of weather misery Mother Nature can conjure up.

As if the weather isn’t bad enough, January especially brings a “back to reality” slap in the face. The holidays are over. The “slow(ish)” days at work are bygone, no exchanging gifts and everyone’s losing, or lost the spirit. To combat this reality, I’ve chosen to reminisce about, and/or plan a trip to, Costa Rica.

People often say a country “has everything” and Costa Rica is no exception. However, it’s one of those rare places that really delivers everything promised. You can lounge on beaches, learn to surf, or geek out on nature (the country features 10 nationally protected areas ranging from volcanoes to rain forests).

Given Costa Rica’s Central America location, the weather in this country is usually perfect (60’s, 70s, 80s). It’s certainly warmer than North American in January/February. In case you are considering a visit to the country, first think about what you want your trip to include in terms of sites and activities.

After a little research, I decided I wanted to see Arenal (the Volcano), Monteverde (the rainforest/cloud forest area), and Manuel Antonio National Park. Basically, I wanted to bask in the glory of nature. I wasn’t confident in my ability to drive around the country on my own so I booked a semi-private trip with Adventure Smith Explorations. (I checked their website while writing this and it doesn’t look like they offer this option any more. It’s unfortunate, because the tour was excellent. Despite this, I recommend the Company for guided trips. The booking process was easy, the trip was as described, our guide and driver in Costa Rica were absolutely fantastic.)

If Costa Rica is on your “bucket list” or “must visit” list, here are three points to keep in mind.

Three Things You Should Know Before You Go

  1. English is not universally spoken, especially outside of major cities like San Jose. Don’t be the jackass that gets annoyed because people speak Spanish. Buy a book of phrases, do Rosetta Stone, whatever but figure out a few key words and you’ll be fine. I managed to get us through two weeks of Costa Rica on three years of High School Spanish. (Yes, Señora Schneck, I should have studied harder. You were right)
  2. The weather changes fast and often. Anyone who’s ever traveled around the San Francisco area knows that you have to dress in layers because there are dozens of microclimates within miles of each other. This is especially true if you are traveling inland, around the rainforest and cloud forest. Even if your agenda only includes a day in this area, don’t be fooled. Do yourself a favor and pack a sweater and a rain jacket, and dry bags. Because “perfect weather” doesn’t always mean sunshine and song birds.
  3. Costa Rica is bug friendly. As anywhere in Central America, there were termites, ants and cockroaches in nearly every hotel we stay at—that’s not a cleanliness thing, that’s a part of life on the equator. While we weren’t staying at the Ritz, neither were we slumming it, or staying in hostels. Costa Ricans seem to have a larger tolerance for bugs than I do. If you don’t like bugs, brace yourself and above all bring mosquito repellant. My personal favorite is Burt’s Bees because it doesn’t stink.
Exploring the Costa Rican rain forest with our guide and driver.


Where do you go to escape winter?

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Author: Judi Kennedy

Wanderlust. A professional aunt, fitness enthusiast, dog owner and avid reader the rest of the time.

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