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Saturday, February 7, 2009

Booking Costa Rica

Costa Rica

We started planning a trip to Costa Rica in early December 2008. We bought a Lonely Planet guide book, got in touch with Gap Adventures and booked flights with American Airlines via expedia. The flights were $790.69 x 2 people plus $58.47 for Direct Flight Economy-Park park-and-fly. In the end we had a great trip, and I'd definitely like to go again, but there's several things I'd do differently. In this blog I give a bit of advice, rant about Gap Adventures, describe our actual trip (and what it cost), and give list some useful info, like the bulletin from the embassy. Before you go, read up on wikipdeia. I found the article to be super interesting, especially how their current democracy came to be.

My Advice

Learn some Spanish. Bring colónes (their money) into the country, and withdraw more from their bank machines. Don't use USD because it'll be harder to know what it's actually costing you. Get a good guide book with details on small towns and lots of maps. Get good road maps or a GPS. Rent a car from adobe and get a cell phone from them. If you get into trouble, they'll help you out. Note that your key chain probably has a RF security device in it, so it has to be next to the drive-shaft or the car won't start. So don't take it off and chuck it in the glove compartment. If you get lost: backtrack. Don't try an alternate route. Book only hotels in advance. At the hotels, someone will speak English. Ask them about local tours and services. Pay for the expensive tours. You'll get smart guides with small groups. Costa Rica is great. Go soon. Go often.

Why Not To Book With Gap Adventures

Gap looks like a great company, and they probably are good at their core business which seems to be low-cost group tours on a well worn route. But they will also book custom self-directed tours for you. For $25, they give you a suggested itinerary which I've copied most of below in case that link dies. We were exclusively in contact with Cindy Kwan from Gap, so maybe it's just her, but in any case I was totally dissatisfied with their service.

Feb 7 Liberia - Tamarindo
Pick up your car at the airport and transfer to your Tamarindo
Overnight at Hotel Pasatiempo

Feb 8 - Tamarindo
Get ready for your 2hr surf lesson today! Spend the rest of your day testing out the waves.
Overnight at Hotel Pasatiempo

Feb 9 Arenal
Transfer to Arenal today and take part in the Arenal Volcano Hike followed by a relaxing soak at the Tabacon Hot Springs. Tonight your dinner is included as well.
Overnight at Arenal Paraiso Hotel

Feb 10 Arenal
After breakfast get ready for the Venado Caves Tour. The rest of your day is at leisure.
Overnight at Arenal Paraiso

Feb 11 Manuel Antonio
Transfer to Manuel Antonio and this small beach town.
Overnight at Tres Banderas Hotel

Feb 11 Manuel Antonio
Spend the day at leisure. There are plenty of watersports or other outdoor activities to take part in.
Overnight at Tres Banderas Hotel

Feb 12 Manuel Antonio
Tour Manuel Antonio National Park today and spend the rest of your day hiking the trails or relaxing and one of the many beaches found in the park.
Overnight at Tres Banderas Hotel

Feb 13 Liberia
No services booked.

Feb 14 Liberia
Tour ends today. Bring your car back to the airport and prepare for your flight home.

Okay, that looks reasonable, if a little sparse on detail. The first one she gave us was much worse. It had us spending our first and last nights at a Best Western. I don't fly half way across the world to sleep at a Best Western. But it was a good starting point. I took her first itinerary and googled around and came up with the following. A friend of mine suggested surfing in Tamarindo, so I modded her original schedule by sending us to Hotel Pasatiempo in Tamarindo for our first night instead of withering at Best Western in Liberia. The ease at which I found bookable online hotels and activities should have tipped me off that booking with Gap was a waste of time, but I had the cognitive dissonance of not wanting to rip-off her itinerary.

The [PRE-BOOK] items below are the things we were considering having her to book for us. Note that I easily found all this detail on the internet. None of it was provided by her. What you see above is all we ever got: "Pick up your car at the airport". What kind of car? I only drive automatic.

Another important thing completely lacking from Gap was any help with transportation: "Transfer to Arenal today". What route? How long will it take? Will I be able to get there in time for whatever we've booked next? I googled around and found some discussion boards (links below), so I was able to roughly estimate travel times.

So anyway, I sent the following to her as a suggested itinerary based on her original itinerary. I wanted to know: Can you book this? What will it cost? What benefit do I get by booking with you instead of booking it myself?

February 7th

3:45am Arrive at Direct Flight Economy-Park (map). Shuttles run 24hrs with max 20 min wait for pickup.

4:15am Arrive at Pearson Airport.

6:15am American Airlines flight 1409 departs from Terminal 3 (food for purchase).

9:40am Arrive in Miami (3hr 25min air time).

11:05am American Airlines flight 2127 departs.

12:55pm Arrive in Liberia (2hr 50min air time).

[PRE-BOOK] Pickup rental car from Budget 100m west of airport.
- Rental for 7th at noon to 14th at noon of a CFAR compact 4x4 automatic, with coverage for supplemental liability, an additional driver, and a GPS. $387.30 USD (+taxes?)
- An extra $132.65 USD (+taxes?) for "super collision damage" coverage.
- Cost of GPS is $69.95 USD (+taxes?)

Drive to Tamarindo (~1hr?) (~total travel time 11.5hrs)

[PRE-BOOK] 2 nights ~3:00pm Check in to Hotel Pasatiempo. 2 nights, standard room, $109.00 x2 (USD+taxes?) (a different hotel would be okay)

February 8th

[PRE-BOOK] Surfing Lessons

February 9th

10:00am Check-out and drive to Arenal (~2.5hrs?)

[PRE-BOOK] 2 nights Arenal Paraiso Hotel "superior" room (unless the "standard" room has a better view), $110.00 x2 (USD+taxes?)

[PRE-BOOK] 3:45pm Volcano Hike (~3.5hrs?) $35 x2 (USD+taxes?)

Hike to the Arenal Volcano along the Silencio path with a professional local bilingual guide. The walk to the Silencio viewpoint takes about 1.5hrs. There you will be able to see lava flows. After this you will head for the Arenal hot water springs for a relaxing hot water spring bath. $35.00ea

10am-10pm Hot Springs (no cost)

[edit: at the time, the arenal paraiso website was much less sucky and provided lots of details on bookable events like the volcano hike and their free hot springs. I turns out that Cindy was talking about completely different hot springs which were admittedly awesome.]

February 10th

[PRE-BOOK] 2:00pm Venado Caves Tour (~3.5hrs?) $45 x2 (USD+taxes?)

February 11th

10:00am Check-out and drive to Manuel Antonio (~6hrs?)

[PRE-BOOK] 2 nights Hotel California "deluxe" room (unless the "standard" room has a better view), $160.00 x2 (USD+taxes?)

February 12th

Tour Manuel Antonio National Park ($3 parking, $7ea entrance, $20ea group guide 2hr tour, not pre-booked)

February 13th

Drive back to Liberia

[PRE-BOOK] Best Western Las Espuelas (or similar), $76.00 (USD+taxes?)

-- Better than this would be to drive back to within a 3hrs drive of Liberia and spend the day/night there. That way we can wake up and drive straight to the airport, and we don't waste the entire day.

could stay at "Canas"
could stop at waterfall in "Bagaces"
could stay at ots.ar.cr or at the ranger station in "Parque Nacional Palo Verde"

February 14th

11:30am Arrive at Liberia Airport and return rental car.

Pay $26 x2 cash (USD?) exit tax.

2:00pm American Airlines flight 2130 departs (food for purchase).

5:40pm Arrive in Miami (2hr 40min air time).

8:05pm American Airlines flight 646 departs.

11:14pm Arrive in Toronto at Terminal 3 (3hr 9min air time).

So, I give her all that, and I point out that neither of us have ever driven a manual transmission and eight days later she replies with that no-details itinerary that I copied above. As far as I can tell, she's simply offering to book you at a hotel, and book some of the hotel-provided tours for you. But since she's only offering major hotels that are bookable over the web, you can easily do it yourself. And that way you can choose from the 10 tours they offer rather than just doing what Cindy supposes you'll prefer. Better yet, don't book the tours in advance, just show up and ask the people at the hotel what kinds of local services are available. There's no shortage of advertisements.

Maybe we just had bad luck. But I was very disappointed with Cindy Kwan. I don't mind paying, but I want to know how much I'm paying and what I'm getting for it. I called her and asked: What is the overhead that Gap charges to do the booking? What additional services do we receive? (i.e. maps). She basically refused to answer these questions, stating that she would get different rates and didn't know what rates I would get if I booked myself (which is kind of ridiculous since I provided them above). But there is the ambiguity of: "get ready for the Venado Caves Tour". Does she mean the $45 tour described on the Arenal Paraiso website? She never confirmed that her vague titles did/didn't match the details I provided. She did say they'd provide maps though (more on that later).

Now about the car. She sends us itinerary #1. I send her the details above and call her to discuss them and make a big deal on the phone about absolutely requiring an automatic. She says sure, no problem, give me a couple of days. Eight days later she replies with itinerary #2. Amanda calls her to confirm that she'll book us an automatic (because it's not specified in the itinerary). She says no, sorry, that'll cost extra (what? wasn't I clear?). She replies with itinerary #3 which is identical except the price has increased.

At this point I've lost all confidence in her, but it's Jan 19th and our flight is Feb 7th. On the 14th we told her to make it an automatic and book it. But on the 20th she sends us an itinerary (the identical one with the increased cost) for approval. What approval? We've already approved it. Book it. I should have backed out then. I could probably have booked the whole thing myself in a couple of hours.

Jan 23rd. Still not booked. Now she tells us that we must provide proof of "travel insurance with emergency evacuation and repatriation up to US $200,000" or pay for hers. Well, we do have travel insurance (from work benefits) but I have no idea if it covers "emergency evacuation and repatriation", so I send her my policy and ask her to confirm that it is acceptable (after all, I might as well get her to do some work for that $500+ that we're paying). No reply.

That's my biggest complaint. No reply. She sends proposals that are always in the same cut-and-paste style, never with the detail I request, and when I ask a question to which she can't provide a cut and paste (albeit insufficient) answer, she just doesn't reply.

Jan 23rd. She's booking stuff now. We get this message:

The Suzuki Jimmy is not available and we can also offer the Tucson for an extra $72 CAD. Also the Hotel California in Manuel Antonio is sold out, the other hotel we use is the Tres Banderas. Let me know if this is ok and to go ahead with the confirmation.

I reply:

Hi Cindy,

Yes the Tucson is fine.
Yes the Tres Banderas is fine.
Please book them.

Once everything is booked, can you send us specific details for our itinerary.
For example:
- checkin at Arenal Paraiso Hotel after Xam/pm + description of room
i.e. superior/standard
- Volcano Hike departs from X at 3:45pm, duration ~3.5hrs
- etc.

All these details were of course on the itinerary I sent her. But I've lost all faith in her ability, so I want a written record of what to expect when we arrive. Is that too much to ask? Yep. She ignores me again.

Jan 26th

Hi Michael and Amanda,
Please send me your flight details as soon as possible so I can your final documents to you.

What the hell?

Hi Cindy.
Our flight details are included in our suggested itinerary.
[dead url here]
Here's a copy.
...

Jan 26th at 3:10pm

Services booked:
Attached are your final documents. Please review them and ensure all details are accurate. You will be met by your representative at the airport and brought to Adobe Car Rental. All of the details regarding your trip, activities, maps, check in's and hotel information will be given to you once you arrive.

Ensure the details are accurate? What details? The final documents are really just the itinerary that we already approved. Very vague. But she has let some detail slip: Adobe Car Rental. I'd suggested Budget in my proposal. Who cares. I check out the site anyway. Big surprise.

Thank you.
Could we possibly see the details regarding our trip, activities, check in's and hotel information before we depart?

One other thing.
Below, you mention "Adobe Car Rental".
http://www.adobecar.com/ describes the "Suzuki Jimmy" and "Tucson" that you mentioned in you Jan21 email as manual transmission.

Please confirm that the car you book for us is automatic transmission.
Thanks.

Her reply

Hi Michael,

The car booked for you is automatic as we have discussed. In fact you have been upgraded to a Mitsubishi Nativa at no extra cost.

I cannot send you the details regarding check ins and hotel info as the operator that we work with in Costa Rica will meet you once you arrive and give you those documents. We don't issue them from here.

Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit. It's obvious to me that she didn't book an automatic. We were billed $2,447.00 on the 21st when we approved her itinerary. Then a separate $72.00 on the 23rd for the upgrade from (manual) "Suzuki Jimmy" to the (manual) "Tucson". Note that I expected a $160 room at Hotel California but received a $70 room at Hotel Las Tres Banderas instead but this didn't reduce our bill. It's obvious to me that she only upgraded us to the Mitsubishi Nativa when I for the 3rd time pointed out that we requested an automatic but she provided a manual. I'm convinced that I spent more time checking up on her shoddy work than I would have spent booking the entire thing myself.

Okay, what about: "The operator that we work with in Costa Rica will meet you once you arrive and give you those documents." Also bullshit. The free airport shuttle from adobe car rental met us at the airport and had a little packet of vouchers to give us. That's it. No detail. No maps. What follows is the entire deliverable from Cindy Kwan (minus the vouchers for Adobe Rent-A-Car and Hotel Pasatiempo which I didn't think to photograph).

Gap Adventures Voucher

Gap Adventures Voucher

Gap Adventures Voucher

Gap Adventures Voucher

Gap Adventures Voucher

Gap Adventures Voucher

So that's my big long angry story about why not to book with Gap Adventures. I've heard good things about them, so maybe it was just Cindy, or maybe they're only good at their pre-packaged group tours, or maybe there more useful in a less internet-enabled, tourist-friendly country than Costa Rica. But next time I go, I'll just book a car and some hotels in advance and leave everything else to chance.

Here's what actually happened to us in Costa Rica

February 7th

3:15am Get in the car and drive to the park-and-fly at 655 Dixon Road. (map).

3:45am Arrive at Direct Flight Economy-Park. [REQUIRES-VOUCHER]

Shuttles run 24hrs with max 20 min wait for pickup.

4:15am Arrive at Pearson Airport.

6:15am American Airlines flight 1409 departs from Terminal 3 (food for purchase).

9:40am Arrive in Miami (3hr 25min air time).

11:05am American Airlines flight 2127 departs.

12:55pm Arrive in Liberia (2hr 50min air time).

We were met at the airport by guy from Adobe Rent-A-Car with a sign with our name on it. He had some English. He drove us to Adobe. This service is free with the rental.

At adobe they gave us our vouchers. We paid an additional $160.89 CDN for extra insurance (i.e. the maximum that they offer), cell phone rental, and coverage for both of us as drivers. Basic insurance was covered by the GAP voucher. They said that they were giving us the cell phone for free. We should have also rented a GPS. They gave us a free map, but it didn't have nearly enough detail to navigate.

2:00pm Pickup rental car Mitsubishi Nativa / Automatic 4WD from Adobe Rent a Car [REQUIRES-VOUCHER]

Drive to Playa Tamarindo (took a little over an hour, paved the whole way)

4:00pm Check in to Hotel Pasatiempo. [REQUIRES-VOUCHER] (booked for 2 nights) (we left Scarborough 13 hours and 45 minutes ago)

This hotel was fantastic. In my opinion, it's the best in town. Very private.

Had dinner at Taco Stop. Run by an American girl. Excellent. Walked on the beach at sunset.

February 8th

Breakfast at some place by the water. Not so great.

Went walking around the outskirts of town. There is a sort-of nature preserve. Saw some monkeys, and lots of birds. Also climbed up a huge hill behind the centre of town. Great view. Lots of land cleared as if they will be putting up condos soon.

12pm 2hr Surf Lesson. [REQUIRES-VOUCHER]

A guy met us at our hotel at noon. We walked down the street to the surf shop and picked up boards and rash-guard. Then down to the beach for some surfing. Was lots of fun.

Have been buying food at the local's grocery store. Great banana bread. Another great sunset on the beach.

Dinner after dark at an Italian place at the end of our street, near the water. Great lady runs the place, but didn't much like my sandwich. Amanda's pizza was excellent though.

February 9th

9:00am Check-out and drive to Arenal Volcano near La Fortuna (got lost, ~6hrs)

Instead of backtracking to Liberia, we took the only other obvious route on our map. It was very slow dirt roads at first, but then was paved for the rest of the way. But we missed a turn off and were lost for hours. Finally arrived at 3pm. Rescheduled Volcano and Hotsprings to next day.

3:00pm Check in to Arenal Paraiso Hotel. [REQUIRES-VOUCHER] (booked for 2 nights)

This place is a resort. It's very beautiful, but very American. Relaxed in the hot springs. Very great. Dinner at the Hotel restaurant. Decent.

February 10th

7:45am Venado Caves Tour [REQUIRES-VOUCHER]

Okay, this is exactly why GAP sucks. This tour was great, but we didn't know that it would be early morning or that we were going to crawl through a muddy cave, get soaking wet and need a complete change of clothes. Happily the guide warned us of all this when he picked us up.

This tour is lots of fun if you like crawling around in dark, dank, humid caves. On our tour there were five people total: us, the guide, and a couple from Lithuania.

3:15pm Volcano Hike [REQUIRES-VOUCHER]

Great tour. Guide picks us up and drives us to the other (active) side of the volcano. We hike through the park (jungle with very wide path) to about 1km from the volcano (actually on top of the rubble from an old eruption). He tells us about the area along the way and we see some interesting birds and termites. Little white clouds of dust roll down the slope as the volcano spits out white hot chunks of rock. This sounds like gunshots. This is what they mean by "you will see lava". Not what I expected, but very much enjoyed it. There were four other tourists on the tour with us, and the guide was excellent.

6:30pm Tabacon Hot Springs [REQUIRES-VOUCHER]

After the volcano, they drove us to a nearby resort: The Tabacon Grand Spa Resort. We played in the springs then had buffet dinner. I cannot begin to express how amazing and decadent these hot springs are. Not sure how I feel about it, but was very amazing. Quite an experience.

February 11th

9:30am Check-out and drive to Manuel Antonio (stopped for lunch so took about 7 hours)

Before we left, stopped for souvenirs at Galeria Aguas Verdes Alajuela. Lunch at a great little place called Rancho Ceci Alajuela where they have as little English as I have Spanish.

4:30pm Check in to Tres Banderas Hotel. [REQUIRES-VOUCHER] (booked for 2 nights)

This place is decent. It's run by a Polish guy. They have an open kitchen and a bar, but the cook and bartender seem very grouchy.

February 12th

7:25am [REQUIRES-VOUCHER]

A bus picked us up and took us to Manuel Antonio National Park. We had a guide and a group of about 12 people. Definitely tour this park with a guide. You walk through the jungle basically on a dirt road. He sets up a scope on a tripod when he spots something (i.e. bat, tree frog) and you get a great view and can take great pictures through the scope with a standard pocket sized camera. Don't bother taking pictures of the monkeys if you seem them on this hike. There will be lots more, much closer near the beach at the end of the hike.

Spent the second half of the day body-surfing. Great day. But separated the key from the keychain, so later the car wouldn't start. The keychain contains an RFchip that has to be near the steering column or the car won't start. Good thing we had the cell phone.

Dinner at Ronny's Place (Resturante Mirador Mi Lupuntarenas). Amazing food. And would have an amazing view, but we went after dark.

February 13th

10:00am Check-out and drive to Playa del Coco. (about 7 hours)

Stopped for groceries at the Supermercado in Canas. Also got lost looking for a waterfall in Bagaces.

This was our rebellion from Cindy's bad advice. Instead of spending the night at a Best Western, we had a fabulous time at the Hotel Villas Del Sol in Playa del Coco. We just looked them up in the Lonely Planet book while driving toward Liberia and called with the rental cell phone (unlimited calling in Costa Rica) and booked for that night. (Here a little Spanish is necessary).

The guide book says that Playa del Coco is no great shakes. But I loved it.

February 14th

11:30am Arrive at Liberia and return the rental car at the airport.

Pay $26 x2 USD cash exit tax.

2:00pm American Airlines flight 2130 departs (food for purchase).

5:40pm Arrive in Miami (2hr 40min air time).

8:05pm American Airlines flight 646 departs.

11:14pm Arrive in Toronto at Terminal 3 (3hr 9min air time).

Go to the courtesy phone near the reservations board in Terminal 3 and select "Direct Flight Economy Park" and request a shuttle. Wait at the post they indicate.

Cost (in canadian dollars)

 $790.69 x2 -- Flights Toronto to Liberia and back for 2 people (all taxes and fees included) via Expedia
  $58.47    -- Park-and-Fly via Expedia
~$130.00    -- Travel doctor consultation and hepA shot each ($240 but was partially covered by benefits)
$10.31 $85.72 $13.45 $22.89 $14.43 $31.60 $6.49 $24.44 $9.20 $35.00 $4.72 -- Misc. supplies (like fuel to drive to toronto, sunblock, airport food, magazines)
  $22.59    -- Photo for International Driver's Permit
  $15.00    -- International Driver's Permit (from CAA, should have also got the photo here, cheaper) (note, this permit is not required, I was just being over cautious)
$72.00 $2,447.00 GAP
 $120.26    -- 50,000c cash
 $505.20    -- $400usd cash
 $160.89    -- additional insurance, both drivers covered and cell phone from Adobe Rent-A-Car
 $123.04    -- dinners and drinks at Hotel Arenal Paraiso
  $76.61    -- souvenirs at Galeria Aguas Verdes Alajuela
  $12.11    -- lunch (black egg soup) at Rancho Ceci Alajuela
  $95.84    -- dinner at Ronny's Place (Resturante Mirador Mi Lupuntarenas)
  $70.18    -- breakfast/dinner and drinks at Hotel Las Tres Banderas
  $27.51    -- groceries at the Supermercado in Canas
  $82.54    -- one night at the Hotel Villas Del Sol in Playa del Coco

Total: $5,858.87 = $980/day

Notes (reprinted here from other sources)

Sunrise 5:30am, Sunset 5:30pm         Hotel
                                      Low   $5-$15 USD
Costa Rica uses 120V 60Hz             Mid  $20-$50 USD
Canada uses 110-120V 60Hz             High $55-$80 USD
                                      Deluxe  $80+ USD
 1 CAD =    453 CRC
20 CAD =  9,069 CRC                   Meals
50 CAD = 22,673 CRC                   Low   $3-$10 USD
75 CAD = 34,010 CRC                   Mid  $10-$20 USD
                                      High $20-$25 USD
$0.50 (USD) - loaf of bread           Deluxe  $25+ USD
$0.65 (USD) - litre of petrol
$0.75 (USD) - 1L of bottled water
$0.75 (USD) - small bottle of beer
$0.50 (USD) - cold coconut water
$8.00 (USD) - souvenir t-shirt

While ATMs are widely available, there are no guarantees that your credit or debit cards will actually work in Latin America. Check with your bank. You should be aware that to purchase products or services on a credit card a fee of 5%-10% usually applies. Do not rely on credit or debit cards as your only source of money.

It is customary in Latin America to tip service providers such as waiters, at approximately 10%, depending on the service. Please note that in Costa Rica, a 23% charge is added on to almost every meal (13% tax, 10% tip). Further tipping for wait staff is appropriate in the case of excellent service.

From the Canadian Embassy

Travel Report for Costa Rica
- There is no Official Warning for this country.
- Leave copies of your passport identification page, itinerary and insurance policy with friends or family.
- Visitors should be vigilant at all times when travelling in the country due to high levels of crime.
- Petty crime such as pick pocketing, bag-snatching and theft from vehicles, buses and hotel rooms occurs regularly. Crimes against tourists are particularly common at airports, bus stations, ports, car rental lots, crowded tourist attractions and resort areas.
- Travellers should also be cautious in Tamarindo and Manuel Antonio.
- Beware of "good Samaritans" offering their help to change a flat tire, as they are often the cause of the situation.
- Remain vigilant in a stopped car (e.g. at traffic lights) and always drive with the doors locked and windows closed.
- Travellers should also avoid leaving their drinks or food unattended in bars and places of entertainment.
- Visitors to jungle areas should always be accompanied by an experienced guide.
- Few people outside major hotels, and very few public service providers (e.g. police, lawyers, hospitals) are able to communicate in English or French.
- Tourist Visa: Not required.
- The passport must be valid for at least thirty days from the date of arrival in Costa Rica.
- A tax of US$26 is charged upon departure.
- Canadians arrested or detained have the right to contact the responsible Canadian government office
- It is illegal to photograph official buildings. You should verify with local authorities before taking photos.
- Costa Rica has one of the highest accident rates in the world. Drivers and pedestrians should exercise great caution since traffic laws and speed limits are routinely ignored. Traffic signs are not sufficient. In some areas, potholes, sharp curves, landslides, and narrow or unpaved roads create dangerous road conditions, therefore be careful after dark, especially on rural roads.
- Terms and conditions of car rentals in Costa Rica are unlike most North American contracts. You should carefully review contracts and, in particular, be aware of the mandatory insurance liability coverage. Many driving situations can nullify insurance.
- Traffic enforcement is the responsibility of the Transit Police (222-9330 or 222-9245). Transit Officers often perform roadside inspection of vehicles and request the driver's permit, vehicle registration, and insurance documents. Traffic fines are not supposed to be collected on site. Travellers involved in driving accidents should call 911 to notify authorities of the accident. Do not move the vehicle until advised to do so by the police.
- The currency is the Costa Rican colón (CRC). To avoid complications, carry U.S. dollars (USD) or colónes. Street money changers often pass counterfeit U.S. dollars and local currency. Credit cards are widely accepted. Credit card fraud is a growing problem.
- It is extremely difficult to exchange Canadian currency and traveller's cheques in Costa Rica. Access to cash via ABMs is available in major cities. Only local currency can be withdrawn.
- Credit cards and debit cards should be used with caution due to the potential for fraud and other criminal activity.
- ABMs should be used during business hours inside a bank, supermarket, or large commercial building. Leave copies of your card numbers with a family member in case of emergency.
- An International Driving Permit is recommended. (I got this from the Kanata CAA Travel Store. They take the photo and issue the permit on the spot. ~30min. $15 for permit. $15 for photo.)

Costa Rica - SAN JOSÉ, Embassy of Canada
Address: La Sabana Executive Business Centre, Building No. 5, 3rd Floor, behind the Contraloría General de la República, San José
Postal Address: P.O. Box 351-1007, San José,

Tel.: 506 2242-4400
Emergency toll-free to Ottawa: 0-800-015-1161
Fax: 506 2242-4410
E-Mail: sjcra@international.gc.ca
Internet: http://www.costarica.gc.ca