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What I Wish I Knew Before Going To Costa Rica

Posted by Emily Cummings on 12/13/18, 12:52 PM

ILP Costa Rica

Want the inside scoop about what living in Costa Rica for a semester abroad is like? We have it! 

ILP has a couple of programs where you can volunteer in Costa Rica that give you a small taste of what this country has to offer: miles of coastline fringed with dense jungles filled with every animal from spider monkeys to rainbow-feathered parrots. Add some towering volcanoes and pack in a lot of adventure, and you have a pretty good idea of what’s waiting for you.


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Life in Costa Rica is a bit different than what you’re used to (as with any country) which is why we’ve talked to a handful of our ILP volunteers who have had first-hand experience with an entire semester’s worth of Costa Rican adventures. Here are their best tips:

  • A Bit About The Culture
  • When It Comes To The Weather
  • Things To Pack 
  • Things NOT To Pack 

A Bit About The Culture + Country 

Things Go Pretty Slowly

The culture here is laid back; don’t expect things to happen on time, including things like bus schedules. Sometimes, buses will say they leave at 8:30 … but will really leave when they are full. Go figure.

You Might Find Your Favorites 

Thanks to the expat community and the tourism of Costa Rica, you’ll stumble on some things you recognize from home. Everything from brands like Dove for your shampoo and conditioner to staples like Oreos, Coke, and peanut butter. However, you’ll want to save a bit more in your budget because everything you recognize from home is imported, and will cost more in Costa Rica than it does at home. Additionally, you could also try some local brands that will cost much less, or pack your favorite brands in your suitcase to bring over with you.

You'll Want To Be Patient 

Remember that point about things taking their sweet time? Same goes with getting around this country. It looks small on a map, but Costa Rica is full of small windy roads that go the round-about-way, meaning it tends to take you a while to get to your amazing vacation spots when you travel across the country, like the world-class national parks or show stopping beaches. You might look up on Google Maps to see how long it will take you to get there, but don't trust that time because things take longer in Costa Rica.

@aubs22 is a volunteer who’s been on a couple of ILP semesters (most recently Costa Rica and Mexico) and mentions that this was one thing she wished she knew about getting around before planning vacations “ just be prepared for traveling to take a long time when you go somewhere”. 

It might take a while, but it's completely worth it. 

ILP Adventure

When It Comes To Weather 

Now, that question really depends on where you are going. When we talked to @destiny_weidow, she mentioned wanting to pack up some leggings, sweats, and a hoodie along with all of your light and breezy tee shirts, skirts, shorts and dressed. 

Up in the foothills of San Jose, you’ll find some cooler temperatures which means packing up a few layers to help you stay warm when you sit out at night and watch the stars and parrots flying overhead.

But near the coast? Totally opposite experience.  @aubs22 mentioned that you’ll want lots of light-weight clothes, and plan to take a shower in the middle of the afternoon to help you cool off. 

Since volunteers typically spend time in the coast and in the foothills between living in Costa Rica and traveling around the country, you’ll want to pack up options for a variety of temperatures. 

No matter where you’ll be in Costa Rica, you’ll want to be prepared for the rain. Costa Rica has a distinctive rainy season but you’ll see some showers year round to help keep those green jungles nice and green. You’ll want to pack up a waterproof jacket and some shoes that can handle the water when you’re trekking through the rain forest.

ILP Costa Rica

Things To Pack 

ILP volunteers will be getting a full packing list before they leave, but here are a few things volunteers wished they had packed or were glad they brought. Maybe someone wants to gift you something on this list for your birthday or Christmas?

  • Adventure sandals like Chacos or Tevas 
  • Clothes that dry quickly because of all the rain and humidity
  • A Go Pro (Or a waterproof phone case) 
  • Books, board games, cards, and things to do in your free time! 
  • A rain jacket to help you stay dry 
  • A dry bag (helpful when you’re hiking in the rain and want to keep your phone, wallet, and camera dry) 
  • More snacks and food from home (beef jerky, gummy candies, Mac & Cheese, granola bars, etc are especially nice to have). 

It's really helpful to be ready for adventure in this country: we've had a handful of volunteers love their Go Pro or at least highly recommend you have a waterproof phone case so you can have awesome pictures of you hunting for waterfalls, dancing in the downpour while you're trekking in the jungle, or hanging out at the many beaches in this country. 

Things NOT To Pack 

  • Much Make up 
  • Blow Dryer 
  • Hair Straightener 

It’s so humid and warm in this country (with a distinctive rainy season) that most volunteers find that make up melts off your face and the humidity makes a straightener pretty useless. Plus, you’ll need to do your part living in Costa Rica to help conserve the resources in that country. That means being mindful of electricity, water, and things like that — just use that as an excuse to brush on some waterproof mascara and run out the door. 

ILP Adventure

Need a bit more info?

Follow @ilpadventure and @ilptakeovers! That first account will give you sneak peek at what all of our volunteers are up to, and tune into the second account where volunteers living in Costa Rica will post stories and a picture of what their semester is like. 

You can also come check that button to get more of the about what a typical day looks like for you, when 
Volunteering in Costa Rica with ILP.

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Topics: Central America, All About ILP + Volunteering Abroad

Exploring The World For Nearly 30 Years

Hi! We are ILP, a non-profit org that has service abroad opportunities for college-age volunteers. We share our tips for making the most of your time traveling and living abroad.

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