Planning Your Trip to Costa Rica: 5 Tips to Reduce Your Planning Stress

JC's JourneysOctober is almost over, can you believe it?! It’s getting cooler up north and you’re probably starting to plan your trip to warmer weather in Costa Rica. But let’s face it, vacation planning can be stressful if you’re going to another country, especially if it’s your first visit. Here are 5 tips to help you make your way to the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica with less headache and more excitement!

#1 Reserve Transfers Early – If you’re traveling during the holiday season (November, December, January), you’ll thank yourself for not waiting until the last minute to reserve your airport transfer. As with anywhere, these months can get very busy in Costa Rica and specifically the Nicoya Peninsula. If you’re flying from San Jose to the peninsula (Tambor), be sure to reserve flights like… now! They will go fast! If you’re arranging a shuttle they can also fill up quickly during this time, so don’t hesitate. Even if you’re being adventurous and planning to take buses all the way to Montezuma, keep in mind, they may be pretty full depending on the day and time that you travel so don’t be afraid to treat yourself to a pre-arranged shuttle transfer to prevent the stress of figuring out how you’ll get there when you’re already at the airport.

#2 Decide on Tours – Most tours can be arranged somewhat last minute, but to make your life easier and enjoy a more relaxing vacation, try to research tour options before you arrive. Since you probably have limited time, pick a few must-do tours first, then contact a tour guide or operator before your trip to lock in a date for your tour. This may be more difficult with large group tours as departure often depends on the number of people who book. But if you’re P5520728planning on private tours or small group tours, you’ll want to reserve those early. Weather is not typically an issue with tours during peak season, but to keep options open, you may want to decide on primary and secondary tour options in case one doesn’t work out on the day you planned so you’re not left laying around the beach twiddling your thumbs for the third day in a  row on your 5-day vacation.

#3 Pack Light, But Well – It’s easier to move around and a lot less stressful if you pack with having to carry your bag in mind. Take essentials like cash (for when ATM doesn’t work) a few basic over-the-counter medications, and of course appropriate clothing and footwear, but try to keep it to a carry-on size suitcase or backpack. Small planes have strict luggage requirements anyway, and most shuttles from the airport to the Nicoya Peninsula still require you to carry your luggage onto the ferry to cross over. So again, to ease the frustration and scramble to move heavy luggage around, make it easy on yourself and check this blog for more packing tips.

#4 Check Your Calendar – Think about it, if you’re planning to travel Christmas week… how many other people do you think are probably trying to do the same? The ferry to Nicoya peninsula can become very crowded during holidays, and periodically schedules change as well. Check not only your calendar but calendars for local holidays and make sure there are no planned changes to transportation. Also, try to avoid the couple days around major holidays for transfers to airports for obvious reasons. Mark the days on your calendar so that when you’re traveling and carefree, you won’t forget what day it is! Also be sure to note closure dates for national parks so you don’t travel to them on those days.beach_puravida

#5 Mentally Prepare – Remember that it’s a vacation! If you take a little time to do some planning in advance, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy the experience while you’re in Costa Rica. Remind yourself that although traveling during the holidays can be challenging with crowds, airport lines, and customs forms, you’re here to relax and be away from the office, cold weather, and typical holiday shopping pressure. Doesn’t that make it all worthwhile??

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So… How do I get to Montezuma?

Coordinating travel isn’t always easy, but we know you’ve got things to do and planes to catch and a tight schedule for all of it. So we’ve collected a few bits of useful information regarding transportation into and out of the area to shave a few minutes off your online research and planning time.

Flying

Nature Air now has direct flights to and from San Jose Juan Santamaria International Airport to Tambor Airport. Tambor is just 45 min. north of Montezuma, an easy bus, taxi or shuttle ride from there can get you to your hotel. Keep in mind, these are small planes, so book early to ensure a cheaper price and secure a seat before they’re all taken. Also, make sure your domestic flight leaves you plenty of time to go through security and check in for your international flight on the way out.

Ground

There are plenty of shuttle services to get you to Montezuma from key connection points. Shuttles will cost a little more but can get you here faster, in more comfortable style and drop you off directly at your hotel. Most have baggage restrictions and will charge an extra fee for surfboards so specify any special needs when making reservations. Larger, more reputable shuttle services are easily booked online, others are best arranged by phone or by your hotel.

map_get_to_montezuma

Click map for larger view

Public buses are a cheaper option, don’t require reservations, and connect with ferry schedules but can sometimes be crowded and take much longer to get you to your destination. Schedules tend to change unannounced and vary substantially, so if you’ve got some place to be at a specific time, better opt for a shuttle or a taxi. Also, to take the bus from the ferry in Paquera to Montezuma, you’ll need to be on the 5pm ferry coming over as that’s the last connecting bus of the day.  Loose bus schedules for the area are posted here, or can be found in the printed version of Zoom magazine available at most hotels. Asking a local is usually your best bet for confirming the actual time of the next bus.

Ferry

The Naviera Tambor connects the pacific coast of Costa Rica to the Nicoya Peninsula via Puntarenas and Paquera (the peninsula side) transporting both passengers and vehicles. The schedule and ticket fares can be found here. Tickets can be purchased at the dock the day of departure, but be sure to check schedules a couple days in advance of your travels as times do change occasionally for maintenance purposes. For an added bonus, take the 5pm ferry and get some great photos of the sunset as you cruise along.

Happy travel planning!