If you decide to make the investment in both time, money, and yourself (because going here will change you), here are some helpful tips to help you plan your trip to Costa Rica.
If you’ve read out blogs, Guide to Surfing the World’s Longest Lefts or Why We Love Pavones then you’re probably ready to hop plane to Costa Rica ASAP to surf your brains out.
Getting Cheap Flights
Today, so many airlines fly into San Jose. We use Skyscanner to search for the best airfare. If you aren’t ready to book your trip yet, set up alerts on Skyscanner.
If you can find a cheap way to get to Tijuana, it’s extremely cheap to fly out of there using Volaris. Volaris has extremely cheap fares. Sign up for their email updates so you are alerted when they run specials. Our last trip to CR from Tijuana cost only $134 per person round trip!
Here’s what I like about Volaris:
- I like that I only pay for what I need.
- You get one checked bag and 2 small carry-ons for free.
- Surfboard bags cost $65 each way, which compared to airlines like Hawaiian, is a great price especially because they allow 3 boards in a bag as long as they don’t weigh over 55 lbs. We travel with a coffin bag that holds up to 3 boards- our 7’2″ 6’8″ and 5’6″ boards.
- You can pay an extra ($8USD) to choose your seat on each leg of your flight, but often I don’t and still manage for our family to sit together.
Here’s what I don’t like about Volaris:
They always change my flight! I book so far in advance to get the cheap price but inevitably that means they change it at some point about a month or even a week before. The first time it was only a small change of an hour. But last time, they changed it by four days! I called right away and they made it so it was only a day different and put us up in a hotel for a night, but dealing with the masses of people and inefficiency of Guadalajara airport will make me reconsider using them again. It’s hard, though, because the prices are just so cheap.
Flying out of Mexico (Important)
First of all, the Tijuana airport is very easy to fly in and out of and there’s now a bridge going directly from the terminal to the U.S. border so you cdon’t have to cross the border which often has insane traffic nor even go into the city of Tijuana.
To leave the country of Mexico via plane you have to pay a small tax. Nobody every warns you that you have to pay this tax before boarding the plane so make sure you go directly to immigration and pay the tax if you are on an international flight.
The fee was about 500 pesos or $35 USD per person. This is not the same as the paperwork you are given for Costa Rican immigration nor the agriculture & declarations paperwork. Many airlines now just roll this into their ticket price but be sure to check with your airline.
In order to get into Costa Rica, you must have the paper with a Mexican stamp saying you payed the tax. You will hand over the Departing Mexico paperwork after you pass customs in Costa Rica and before you leave the airport with your bags.
Depending on where you are going in Costa Rica, you can usually get additional flights form San Jose to your destination. For example, we always go to Pavones. When you go to Pavones you can choose to fly into Golfito if your budget allows it. Just remember that sometimes it takes 1-2 hours to get through customs before you go to your connecting flight so plan ahead the booking a follow up flight.
If you need to stay a night in San Jose, last time we stayed at the Hotel Brilla Sol and were happy with it– don’t stay in San Jose it’s far (and dirty) from the airport. Stay in Alajuela. The planes that fly to Golfito are very small propeller planes so if you have a phobia of this, just drive yourself.
Traveling in Costa Rica
Considering if You Need a Car
Depending on where you stay will really determine if you need a car. You kind of need what your accommodation is gong to be before deciding if you need a car. Take note of how close your accommodation is to restaurants and the beach.
If You Don’t Need a Car
If you don’t need a car for where you’re going, you can take a bus to most destinations in Costa Rica.
Taking a bus will save you a lot of money and headache.
If You Need a Car: Getting a Cheap Rental Car + Important Things to Know About Taxes
If you’ve concluded that you do need a car, here’s how we get cheap rental cars:
Again, I use Skyscanner or Expedia to book my car rental. If you go to book and notice that the price is very cheap and wonder if there is a catch… there is:
Costa Rica government requires you to pay for a specific insurance when you rent a car. This will run you about an additional $15-20 a day. The rental cars want you to buy their insurance which will cost an additional amount on top of the rental car price.
However, you can avoid this extra charge if you pay with a Visa or Mastercard that has rental car insurance in Costa Rica.
Most Visa cards cover international car rental insurance but check you credit card ahead of time anyway. If you are covered you will need to have your credit card company send you this in writing and have a copy printed out to give the rental car company.
The company might scare you with talk about higher deductibles and not being able to leave the country until the repairs to the car are done, but my credit card company assured me this was not true. Get all the details from your credit card company and be prepared when you walk in to pay.
Once you have your car rental secured, be ready when you step outside the airport in Costa Rica. The taxi drivers tend to be overwhelming. If you rented a car and don’t see their booth before you step outside, call them to let them know you’ve arrived and where to meet you, that way you don’t look lost (and an easy target) for all the taxis.
Driving in Costa Rica
Driving in Costa Rica especially anywhere near San Jose or Jacob can be hectic, to say the least. People drive fast and rules are loosely enforced.
Drive defensively and be aware. I personally have never had a problem but we have a lot of experience driving in other places in the world like Italy and Bali.
Go questions about traveling to Costa Rica? Let us know in the comments, we’d be happy to answer any questions!
Sunday 6th of October 2019
thanks for this very helpfull blog. We are going to Costa Rica in November and we want to go to the South (Punta Banco, Matapalo). We are thinking about to rent a car. Do you think it's necessary do rent a 4x4 or is a normal car enough?
Thanks for your help.
Greets from Tyrol Matthias
Monday 7th of October 2019
No you don't need it. It's nice so you can drive the dirt road faster but we took a mini van, which was 2wd, and it was fine, just the cars with 4x4 were faster and passed us. They keep paving more and more of the road so there isn't that much that is dirt now. The only exception would be if there was heavy rainfall so maybe check the weather right before you arrive.
Monday 10th of June 2019
Amazing post, many details and very informative.
Planning A Trip To Pavones • Nomads With A Purpose
Tuesday 26th of June 2018
[…] The logistics getting to Costa Rica isn’t simplest travel destinations, especially if you’re on a budget (like we usually are. To figure out you logistics of getting to Costa Rica (on a budget), be sure to go read out post Tips for Planning a Trip to Costa Rica: How to Get Cheap Flight + Rental Cars, and Other Travel Tips… […]