Costa Rica: a great paradise in slow motion!

Amanda Urcuyo runs a travel agency in Costa Rica. And her passion to organize tours in Costa Rica is something exceptional. She says: Tourism, it’s what makes me happy! Now we are in slow motion, and Costa Rica is battling, because tourism it’s the motor of the economy in Costa Rica.

“Tourism in Costa Rica has been one of the fastest growing economic sectors of the country and by 1995 became the largest foreign exchange earner. Since 1999, tourism has earned more foreign exchange than bananas, pineapples and coffee exports combined.The tourism boom began in 1987” and this growth has made it possible to develop the infrastructure of tourism in the country.

You won’t be disappointed to visit the country, because Costa Rica is a country with marvelous biodiversity, a paradise that safeguards 5% of the world’s biodiversity, and a unique place where different ecosystems live together creating impressive landscapes and amazing views. Most natural resources are protected by a consolidated National System of Protected Areas (SINAC), which represents 25% of the national territory, and includes biological reserves, national parks, forest reserves, and wildlife refuges.

Amanda Urcuyo  
Manager & Travel Designer: Costa Rica Travelling Tours by Amanda

¡There’s no Costa Rica without Puerto Viejo!

“Cómo no habría de cantarte, mi Puerto Viejo” (How could I not sing to you, my Puerto Viejo) sings that old Spanish song, alluding to all the Caribbean beauty treasured in one of our most beautiful beaches: Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Limón.

Allow me to talk to you about this amazing destiny, and why I think you should definitively make Puerto Viejo a part of your vacation. I know, you must be wanting me to go straight to the point, but talking about Puerto Viejo has no short cuts, you just get very excited and your mouth fulfills of experiences that want to be told.

But ok, let’s do this… briefly.

First of all, you have to be aware about this: your trip to Puerto Viejo begins right on the packing moment. You have to consider you are going to the Atlantic coast, which means there’s going to be sunny, then cloudy, then rainy and then sunny again. But please don’t be scared, it sounds terrible, I know, but you are not going to the Bermudas Triangle, your are going to a paradise and you have to pack and be ready for it. So let’s take a look to this random list I made:

-Mosquitoes? Yes, of course, but you won’t die. Just don’t forget your insect repellent.
-Sandals and sneakers? Yes, please, and a small umbrella too, if you are not “Singing in the rain” style person.
-Books? Yes.
-You say you’d love to dance? No better place than this, to have never ending party nights.
-Never danced Roots or Calypso before? So what are you waiting for?
-Hungry? You’d be delighted trying all the dishes of this emblematic gastronomic afro culture.
-Beach scanning? Hell yeah!

See what I said? Puerto Viejo’s mystic makes you lost the point.

In summary… Pack to the beach, pack to be happy!

I won’t ever forget the first time I stepped in this beautiful and important region of my country, how I was felling constantly blessed by nature while I was touring the coast, riding my bike, surrounded by friends, discovering that particular Caribbean way to live and express life. I won’t ever forget those beaches, their food, music, dance, arts, crafts, and the loving people. That’s why I will always recommend people to visit Puerto Viejo, Limón, because this place connects you with the nature and yourself. It is magical, you’ll see, you won’t ever want to leave, but if you do, you will want to come back.

There’s always a better time to be part of our Afro-American culture, but the best months to be there are between September to November, because there is like a little summer.

Puerto Viejo town has a very complete and detailed touristic experience to offer. Do not hesitate to get in touch with Amanda, she will be pleased to design your Caribbean experience with her travel agency Costa Rica Travelling tours by Amanda.

¡There’s no Costa Rica without Puerto Viejo!

Eric Calderón Rivas

Traveler, Artist, writer and actor

What is the Best Currency to Bring to Costa Rica?

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Costa Rica Currency

The official currency of Costa Rica is the Colón.  When you say it plural, they are called Colones.  They are colorful bills, with many coins circulating as well.  When traveling to Costa Rica, you don’t need to worry about visiting a bank in your country and trying to take out the local currency.

U.S. Dollars are widely accepted throughout the entire country, or you can always go to a bank, hotel, or just make change at the airport.  (Although they don’t always offer great exchange rates, I don’t recommended.)  Debit and credit cards are also widely accepted in the country, but if you travel outside of the Capital, San José you may find that American Express isn’t widely accepted.

We have some good tips for you:

Tip #1:  change out whatever you think you’ll spend during your trip at a bank in Costa Rica.  Use that local currency throughout your trip.

Tip #2:  when you buy things priced in Dollars, pay in Dollars.  When things are priced in the Colón, pay in those.  You’ll save on exchange rates.  Anything from hotels, to taxis, to clothing, try to pay in whatever currency they are advertised in. 

Tip #3: If you bring dollars carry $20 or smaller bills (the bills should not be marked or torn). People lack trust in $50 and $100 bills, namely because there have been counterfeit problems in the past with those bills, and of course, there is a risk for anyone accepting them. Plus, locals won’t always have change the way people may in the U.S.A.

Things to Know About Costa Rican Money

  • The International ISO 4217 code is CRC.
  • The 1,000 colones note is referred to as “un rojo.”  (Due to it’s red color tones.)
  • The 5,000 colones note is called “tucan.”  (Due to the toucan photo, which has been replaced by a monkey.)

In 2012, Costa Rica issued the ¢50,000 bill.  Depending on fluctuations, this bill is around $85 – $100.  This was a major release, which also came with a ¢20,000 bill, because prior to this, the largest denomination was the 10,000, which made carrying large amounts of local currency somewhat of a task unless you had a backpack.

The exchange rate was consistent around ¢500 to $1 for many years but recently devalued to ¢565-¢600.

Here is a chart of exchange from Colones to Dollars, this are approximate according to the exchange rate :

Canadian Dollars, Pounds and Euros

Canadian dollars, Pounds and Euros are not accepted by merchants in Costa Rica.  To exchange these currencies requires a visit to a major bank branch (smaller banks may not provide the service), a passport and patience.

In general the best strategy for security, convenience and minimizing commissions and fees is to 1) pay with a zero international fee credit card when possible and 2) withdraw Colones and dollars from a ATMs (cash machines) using a zero fee card to pay in cash when necessary.

Amanda Urcuyo

Do you need a Tour Guide in Costa Rica?

Well, this depends mostly on your budget and your personal needs. But if you’re looking to experience Costa Rica, particularly the nature and wildlife, then something you should strongly consider are guided group tours or private guides, because these normally includes the transportation, entrances and some type of meal depending of the duration of the tours.

Even though you may think that you can spot a monkey or see a sloth on your own, Costa Rica, is not a zoo and for someone who really wants to see the wildlife or learn about the flora and fauna, hiring a naturalist guide in Costa Rica is worth the extra money.

Guides are always an amazing asset in your trip, if you are an avid animal and nature lover. The guides have definitively eagle eyes, that the average people don’t. They can see little animals from the distance that we will never see.

You can contact us to organize your tours

What to know about booking guided tours?

If you want to book a guide in Costa Rica there are a few things you need to know:

If you are into activities like hiking in national parks/wildlife reserves or hanging bridges, a guide is not required.

These activities are more relaxed, and you can enjoy them at your own pace without the need of guide. These activities don’t require any specific skill, just start walking and stay on the trail. This is very important so you won’t get lost in the forest and jungles of Costa Rica. Having a guide is optional, and they can give you better appreciation and a more fulfilling experience.

– If you are interested into more adventurous activities, a guide is always included and required.

Activities like white water rafting, kayaking, zip lining, canyoning, horseback riding, boat tours and ATV tours, are require to do with a trained guide, which is mandatory by law. So whenever you sign up for any of these activities, they will automatically come with a guide. You need to have someone with expertise and proper training, to avoid something to go wrong or to know what to do in case something doesn’t go as planned.

Who should and shouldn’t hire a guide?

If you are a bird watcher

The guides are useful if you are a bird watcher, and wants to look for a specific bird. We recommend to hire a guide, because some of them know a lot about ornithology. Some of this guides even know to mimic the birdsong, they even know where the birds live and the best time of day to see them, so you have the best chances of seeing them. And lets not forget the trained and experienced EYE. You probably won’t see as many animals without a guide.

If you are hiking Corcovado National Park

The Corcovado National Park is a primary forest which has not been manipulated by humans, this means it’s very dense and you can get lost easily. Its required by law to go with a guide, otherwise you are not allowed to enter the National Park.

If you want to do a different hike of that National Park, you must go with a guide: Leona to Sirena, El Tigre, San Pedrillo or Sirena Stations. The last two are boat access only and all visitors require a permit to go in the park.

If you’re a wildlife photographer and not too familiar with Costa Rica:

Hiring a guide is the best option to be able to take pictures of animals in Costa Rica, because they can hear, see and call several animals. Additionally, guides can take you to the less visited trails, so there won’t be as many people scaring animals away, and you can focus merely on photographing. Also you will be on your own schedule and pace so you can stop at anytime and any place you want.

Night walks:

Do you want to experience the forest at night? The safest and most recommended is a guided night walk. Guides knows the trails and what animals to look for, and makes sure everyone is safe. As a tourist you won’t be familiar with the trails and may get lost, besides it can be scary for some to be in the jungle at night. The forest changes completely at night and the experience is incredible, but trust me, it is better not to wander in the forest by yourself!

Is hiring a guide more expensive?

If you don’t have a car, getting into a group tour is your best option, because many of the tours includes transportation, entrances, guides and some sort of meal. They are a bit more expensive, but this includes everything and you don’t have to worry about the driving.

You can also hire your private guide, but of course will be more expensive than a group tour.

It’s important to find a reputable guide with their ICT certification from Instituto Costarricense de Turismo. That means they have done the proper training and courses and have passed the test to be a certified guide. Unfortunately, there are some not certified people who pretend to be guides and will charge people a lot of money and not provide a correct, legal or safe experience.

How Much is a Guide?

Even though most tours come with a guide like I mentioned earlier, you can also hire a private guide if you already rented a car. Prices vary, might be around $50 to $90 for 2 hours and 2 people depending of the type of tour. Make sure to ask the guide before and decide on a price.

My recommendation as a travel designer at Costa Rica Travelling Tours by Amanda, is to go with a guide to the different places, because of their expertise about the history, nature and wildlife of Costa Rica. But from my own personal experience I know there are some places that you can go by your own, and more if you have rented a car or you have a big family.

Here are some places to go by yourself if you don’t want to incur in these expenses: Hanging bridges, Waterfall La Fortuna, Volcano Poás or Volcano Irazú, Waterfall La Paz, Reserva Santa Elena, Reserva Nubosa Monteverde, Bosque Eterno de los Niños, Manuel Antonio National Park, Carara National Park, Volcano Arenal National Park, Rincón de la Vieja National Park. This places offer guided tours, but you can do it by your self if you don’t need a 100% detailed wildlife visit and if you want to save some money.

It’s a good idea to distribute your budget and time to see if it’s worth hiring a guide in Costa Rica for the activities you want to do.

Let us know about your experiences in Costa Rica, it would be awesome to hear about them.

Amanda Urcuyo

Travel designer