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??

2 Nights in Southern Nicoya Peninsula: Sunrise to Sunset

If you’re short on time, but have heard from friends and fellow travelers that you just have to experience nature in Southern Nicoya, here is a quick itinerary to work it into your vacation and get the best of both sides of the peninsula. In just three days and two nights, you’ll see the sun rise over the Nicoya Gulf and the sun set over the Pacific, with lots of extra in between.

Day 1: Arrive in Montezuma

  • Check-in – Plan to arrive in Montezuma in the early afternoon by bus, shuttle, or boat. This will give you time to check in to your hotel and grab a quick bite to eat before adventuring. A few great hotel options are Hotel Ylang Ylang, located on the beach, or Amor de Mar at the base of the falls. Other great options in town include Luna Llena and Hotel Aurora, or Casa Frangipani above town on the hill (easiest to stay here if you have transportation).
  • Waterfalls – Next, you’ll have time to go to the famous Montezuma Waterfalls. The hike is short, but can be tricky for those not familiar with the area. If you know you’ll want to do this, you can hire a private guide in advance, which is safer and recommended for less experienced hikers. Take some photos and a dip in the cool water, and head back before it starts getting dark.
  • Shop & Dine – Once you clean up, you can walk around town, explore the little the shops, and then have dinner at one of the delicious restaurants. Cocolores is our favorite, but there’s plenty to choose from including some with live entertainment such as Organico.


sunrise_cabuya_BirdLoversMorningDay 2: Sunrise to Sunset

  • Bird Watching or Nature Tour – If you love birds, book a Bird Lover’s Morning tour. It starts early, but it’s a great way to see the sunrise, get in a bird watching tour and have a late breakfast in the town closest to the southern point of the peninsula. If hiking is more your thing, you can watch the sunrise from your hotel or the beach, then take a guided tour to Cabo Blanco nature reserve.
  • Travel to the Pacific Side – After checking out of your hotel, take a shuttle to the Pacific Side of the peninsula via the town of Cobano, or if you’re in your own car you can get there via the town of Cabuya in the dry season.
  • Check-In & Dinner –  You’ll be pretty hungry and tired by this point, so check in to a hotel with a great restaurant. We like Moana Lodge, or Frank’s Place in Mal Pais. Enjoy dinner while you watch the sunset over the waves of the Pacific Ocean.

Mal Pais

Day 3: Explore Mal Pais/Santa Teresa

On your last morning, you’ll have time to explore Mal Pais or Santa Teresa a little before checking out. Schedule an early Stand-Up Paddleboard or surf session the day before, or spend the morning taking a long scenic walk on the beach. After that, you’re ready to checkout and head back to San Jose for departure home, or go on to your next Costa Rica destination.