Meeting planners and Destination Management Companies are keeping Costa Rica in the top 10 places for incentive travel for 2018, based on travel needs, hotel options and activities for groups. The same goes for personal vacation time as well. Here are a few tips to know before you pack your passport.
Costa Rica is very “Americanized”
Most Costa Ricans speak proper English, but it helps to brush up on your Spanish, the official language of the island. Though almost everything from street signs to menus are written in English, most Americans typically won’t experience any language or communication difficulties in Costa Rica. As for currency, American dollars are widely accepted. However, you can exchange for the Costa Rican Colón should you desire. There are also recognizable Western restaurants, for example, the Hard Rock Café is located in the middle of Coco Beach, where a lot of locals hang out.
Plan your activities
Costa Rica offers more activities than you can count. From one area of the country, you can ride by helicopter to a volcano or hike to a secluded waterfall or hot spring. Other areas offer ocean fishing or snorkeling. One can experience sunrise paddle boarding, yoga on the beach, take in a round of golf or spend the day at the spa, just to name a few.
Zip-lining is by far the most popular activity in the country for travelers. I would recommend going to Diamante Eco Adventure Park for many reasons. For starters, safety is their number one focus and they have set the standard for quality aerial adventure products and guest experience (other parks sometimes are intimidating as their equipment can be dated and not maintained to its best quality). In addition, it’s the only park with an ocean view and the longest dual line in the country.
The options truly seem endless. It’s best to have an idea of what you want to do before you go, but also make time to simply relax and enjoy the beauty of the country.
Expand your pallet
Be prepared to try new things! Just make sure you choose the right restaurants. The country is full of bright, sweet fruits usually offered with every meal. The meat is very lean and the ceviche is prepared in so many different ways. One of the most popular dishes you’ll find on almost every menu is ‘Patacones’. They can be prepared differently but the main ingredient is fried plantains. I personally recommend enjoying the dish topped with melted cheese and served with salsa, beans or guacamole.
If you plan on indulging in lots of food and drinks, keep in mind, they can be expensive. Like many tourist destinations, the final bill sometimes comes as a bit of a shock. There are so many souvenirs and artisan markets you will want to buy everything, but the prices can be pretty high. As long as you are prepared, it will all be worth it.
If you are a woman like me, you will want to buy “all the things” when you get to Costa Rica, which makes it difficult to get the perfect gift. And depending on how much room you have to take stuff back will depend on where you want to spend your money. So, I put together a small list of the most popular gifts or souvenir items you will want to buy.
Coffee - This used to be the most profitable source of income for the country and Costa Rica still grows some of the best coffee beans in the world.
Choriador - You’ll see these everywhere! It is a simple coffee maker that consists of a wooden stand with a cotton sack holding the coffee grounds. Because it’s such a popular item, they are mostly made to fold up and fit in your luggage.
Chocolate - There are so many different kinds! Sibu is the most popular brand with a wide variety of chocolate in fruit or floral flavors.
Leather purses - Small handmade leather purses are made in all different styles. It’s hard to choose just one.
Handmade jewelry - The local handmade jewelry in Costa Rica is colorful, light and beautifully designed. If they are made from certain jewels, they can be very expensive, but can make for a beautiful and authentic gift or souvenir.
Wooden craft - Local artisans are very talented and use the countries wood to create the most gorgeous crafts; anything from kitchen utensils to decorative wall art.
Salsa Lizano - This is the official taste and condiment of Costa Rica. It’s ALWAYS available and you usually don't even have to ask. It’s also a staple in most homes.
Guaro - This rum is the country’s national liquor. It mixes very well with fruit juices, making for a very delicious drink on the beach.
Taxis and buses can run extremely slow. You may find yourself at some points waiting over an hour for a taxi from a restaurant or hotel. If the flexibility to move about the island on your schedule is important to you, renting a car is your best bet. But if that’s not in your budget, you can often minimize the frustration by scheduling your taxis ahead of time.
What to pack
Costa Rica is extremely humid. The heat can be unbearable during the day for some, depending on what time of the year you visit. Make sure to pack enough light, cool and breathable clothes to stay fresh or change into after getting dirty or wet. A couple of good quality cover-ups will come in very handy. Depending on your activities, pack water shoes or comfortable sneakers that you can dirty up and sandals that you don't mind getting wet or wearing a lot. Pack plenty of sunscreen, bug spray and aloe as it can be expensive at the resorts. Lastly, bring plenty of accessories to keep your hair up. You will be glad you did.
Tico is a term for a native Costa Rican. You will see or hear this word from time to time. Costa Ricans usually use Tico when speaking about themselves and it’s thought of as a term of endearment. Locals are very proud to be called a Tico or Tica for the feminine pronunciation. In my opinion, Ticos are very friendly and welcoming to foreigners.
Respect for Mother Nature
There is so much beauty in Costa Rica. From the moment the sun rises to the hours after it sets, every turn gives another breathtaking or exciting view. The glowing beaches and the dark mountains to the plush green rainforests and jungle, it’s nothing short of spectacular. At the same time, you’re surrounded by wildlife, such as howler monkeys, iguanas, sloths turtles, birds and butterflies. Every experience you have in Costa Rica seems to involve the presence of an animal.
Costa Ricans are very respectful of Mother Nature and proud of their land. They have a deep connection with the earth and take great pride in protecting it. One fourth of the country consists of a national protected park. When visiting, locals hope you experience the same desire to embrace their lifestyle to keep it safe.
Embrace Pura Vida!
This is a term you will hear quite often. In English it translates to ‘Pure Life’ or ‘Simple life.’ The meaning invites you to forget your stresses and embrace the slower pace of Costa Rica. Pura Vida is forgetting about the expectations of life and going with the flow. Are you running late? Pura Vida! Is it going to rain all day and force you to change your plans? Pura Vida! It simply means to choose the path of happiness, regardless of your circumstances.
I hope I have inspired you to plan your escape to Costa Rica or call me to help put together an incentive program for your company. Either way, Pura Vida!