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Random Travel Tips
I just thought I'd share with you some random travel tips that were on my mind today. Best to be prepared!
1. The water here is safe to drink! Exceptions may be in certain remote or beach areas. Best to check with someone in the area you'll be traveling to. Bottled water is not expensive. Better to be safe than sorry.
2. Some people go and get a bunch of inoculations before visiting. They were told to do this by their travel agents or weary friends. A tetanus shot or booster is of course always a good idea. The chance of catching something here is not high. But best to read the documentation on the US Centers for Disease Control website and US State Department site. Then see your doctor.
3. The sun here is can be nasty. We are only ten degrees North of the Equator, so bring sunscreen and use it. You can burn to a crisp in 30 minutes if you run around unprotected. The UV factor here is at least double that of Florida or Arizona. A wonderful vacation can be made not so wonderful if you are in pain and red as a lobster!
4. If you rent a car here, remember there are few or no street signs here. There are also no street addresses. The larger highways are marked, but as soon as you leave them, you're on your own. Costa Ricans are creative drivers and often pay little or no attention to traffic laws. Be very careful!
If you have an accident here, you must remain at the site without moving the vehicles until both the police and the insurance agent show up. If you don't, you're guilty and you may have no insurance.
Many traffic laws are different here, like handling traffic circles (rotundas). Lanes often end without notice. Many bridges are narrow and one way (alternating). The potholes here are deep and dangerous. Manhole covers are optional (not really, but it may take months to get a new cover). Occasionally, trees grow in the streets. Good idea! Do NOT drive at night until you thoroughly know what you are doing.
5. Credit Cards. Use your credit card as much as possible for purchases as you will always get the correct exchange rate.
Use your ATM card if you need cash funds in colones. Don't do a cash advance thing unless you wanna pay silly interest rates. Now saying that... I have traveled extensively and I believe Costa Rica is about the ONLY country that does not extort money when you exchange foreign currencies. There are exceptions, but in general, you will be treated fairly.
Finally, and VERY important, tell your bank you are going to Costa Rica. Tell your credit card companies too. Many will block your credit cards, especially for cash withdrawals. Also, set a daily withdrawal limit that fits your needs. See #14 below.
6. Be very careful of petty theft like pickpockets, grab and run... etc. You are very unlikely to be the subject of a violent crime, but you are always at risk for the small stuff. Don't carry your passport. Have a copy made of your front page and the entry stamp. The police here are cordial to tourists and unless you act like a jerk, all will accept that as valid ID.
7. You can eat the food here. It is quite good and some of the best spots are the little roadside restaurants and 'sodas.' There is often some little old abuelita (grandmother) working in the kitchen and she likely makes a truly excellent meal.
8. While you can't legally drive drunk, you can legally drink and drive in Costa Rica. Now... go back re-read #4 above and give this some thought.
9. While you do not usually need to worry about malaria or typhoid, you do need to worry about Dengue Fever. This is especially true if you visit the tropical areas, rainforests or beaches. However, it also affects the Central Valley.
Dengue comes in two varieties. The first causes flu-like symptoms and though you are uncomfortable, you are not dead. The second is NASTY and extremely painful and makes you wish you WERE dead... which you can be without treatment.
The good news is that this is easily avoidable. Bring bug repellent or buy some here. Use it especially during the daytime hours (dengue is spread by a mosquito that ONLY bites in the daytime!). We have never had a guest, friend, volunteer, tourist of ours infected with Dengue as we are careful to remind them to use their bug repellent.
11. Distances here are weird. Folks (read men) always look at a map and say things like, "We can drive that in an hour, honey!" No you can't. There are mountains, traffic, bad roads...you name it. The general rule I use is that you will average 25-30 MPH. So if you see a place that is 100KM away (about 66 miles), plan on two hours PLUS to get there.
12. "Oh, they accept dollars everywhere in Costa Rica."
No, they do NOT. Hotels and big restaurants take credit cards, and many will accept dollars, but there are MANY places especially outside the Central Valley where nothing is accepted except the colon. This includes some fine restaurants. And here is a hint...some of the best stuff you can buy at great prices are in the more remote areas. And they will happily accept colones, but will not take credit cards or dollars. The good news is that Costa Rica is full of ATM's where you can use your bank card to get some colones at the proper exchange rate.
13. When you leave Costa Rica, you will need an exit visa. This costs $26.00 per person. You get them inside the airports, at certain local banks and at the immigration buildings at the frontiers (if you are driving or taking a bus). At the airport location, you can pay with a Visa card, dollars or colones.
14. When renting a car here, huge deposits get pre authorized on your credit card. This could freeze your funds and cause you trouble if you have a low spending limit. Organize your credit and cash needs before you come. Read #5 above.
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