If this is your first international trip, I know it can be scary, but this is a great place to try it out.
For starters if you are traveling from the United States, the flights tend to be pretty cheap (considering). I picked my destination based on the flight price. Second when you book, keep in mind the seasons may be opposite of yours. Summer in the U.S. is June-September. In Costa Rica it’s not cold, but wet. That is their rainy season. The good news is sometimes fewer people venture there and the colors are outstanding; the bad news is that depending where you are, it may rain every day.
Once you arrive at the San Jose Airport there are a gauntlet of cabs and drivers. A tourism company advised that the orange cabs are the official airport transportation. Keep in mind there are “real” cabs and gypsy cabs, so always make sure to ask the cost of the ride before you accept it. “How much” in Spanish is: cuánto cuesta.
If you don’t want to take taxis everywhere you can also try a shared shuttle. I chose Interbus from the airport to Arenal/La Fortuna, which is about a 2.5 hour journey.
You can also look at the Gray Line. The shuttle would have been great except we had to switch drivers half-way through and he was delayed in traffic by two hours. Then we got a flat tire. The good news is that the other passengers and I stopped at a mall and had a round of cerveza (beer). The $49 trip was not stressful, but took a really long time because of the delays.
You can always rent a car. I hitched a ride with a traveler who rented a car for a few days. Keep in mind drivers: some of the roads are very rough. They are not paved and filled with potholes. The upside of having a car is you can stop everywhere. For example we found a crocodile crossing! You’ll find it along HWY 34, the Costanera Sur, southeast towards Manuel Antonio, and stopped at a bridge over the Rio Grande de Tarcoles. There must have been a dozen enormous crocodiles waiting for us below!
I did end up taking the bus a little too. The one I was on got pretty warm and didn’t have AC. It takes a bit longer with all of the stops, including a half hour for food and bathroom, but was cheap and got me where I needed to go.
How are you going to pay for everything? I did use the ATM to exchange money for the Costa Rican Colon, but honestly, almost everywhere I went accepted the US Dollar. It’s not a bad idea to have a little of their money, especially for the more rural/less touristy places, but you should be fine if you don’t. When I went a 2 MIL bill was about $4, but check the conversions before you go because they can change.
I LOVED my trip to Costa Rica and know you will too. Feel free to contact me with any questions. You can also follow my blog for more detailed information and videos from some of the cities I visited. Costa Ricans have a saying that means “Pure Life” or so I’ll leave you with that. Enjoy your trip and Pura Vida!