Know Before You Go: Costa Rica & Panama Adventure

Costa Rica & Panama Adventure

Know Before You Go

It's almost time to go abroad! Take a couple minutes to read up on the ins and outs of your trip before you leave. When it comes travel tricks of the trade, we're quite the experts. And with this guide, so are you.

Getting There

Flights/Checking In

Your flight information will slide into your DMs (AKA online account) 30 days before departure. This is usually when you get to choose your seat and have the age-old internal debate: window or aisle? Some airlines will make the selections for you, so be sure to talk with the gate agent at the airport if you have a preference. Like being ahead of the game? You can check in for your flight 24 hours prior to your trip using the confirmation number found in your online account. If you’re more of a “wait ‘til the last minute” kind of person, no worries. You can always check in at the airport upon arrival. In either case, we recommend arriving to the airport 2.5 – 3 hours before departure.

Note: All your ticket information is online (e-ticket), so you will not receive a physical paper ticket before you depart. You’re welcome, trees.

Checking a Bag

Due to airline restrictions, a checked bag is not included in your reservation. This means you are allotted a carry-on (small roller bag, a duffle or backpack) and a personal item like a purse or small bag that can fit beneath your seat. If you plan to check a bag, you'll want to budget $25 each way.

Arrival Day

After getting off the plane—and probably hitting up the airport bathroom—you’ll need to meet up with your Tour Director or EF Ultimate Break representative in the Arrival Hall. (They’ll be the one with the sign that says EF Ultimate Break.) They’ll bring you to your accommodations where you’ll have free time until everyone else arrives.

Travel Documents

For U.S. citizens, no visa is necessary (except of the credit card variety). All you need to bring is your passport. And not to sound like your grandma, but make sure you double check that it’s valid for six months after your expected return date.

For non U.S. citizens, you should contact your embassy to find out what specific documentation is needed.

Adapters/Converters

Costa Rica uses 110-volt, 60-cycle electricity which is the same as the U.S. Plugs are typically the two-pronged flat type so you will not need a converter or adapter unless you’re bringing something with three prongs.

Packing

Pack in layers, bring the essentials, and you’re golden. Like an onion, it’s all about the layers. You will also have the chance to do your own laundry throughout the trip. Keep in mind that you’ll have to carry your luggage from city to city, so the lighter the better:

You should bring the following:

  • Light jacket, windbreaker, or scarf
  • Comfortable and closed-toed walking shoes
  • Longer active pants for walks and hikes
  • Flip flops or water shoes,
  • Beach stuff: Sunscreen, swimsuit, beach towel
  • Motion sickness medicine (if you tend to get carsick)
  • Water bottle to stay hydrated
  • Comfortable clothes for activities outside the city
  • Nicer outfits for the city (sundresses, light pants, basically not athletic wear)
  • Hats and sunglasses
  • Rain jacket/umbrella

Bring a smaller backpack which will be helpful to keep your clothes that get wet and dirty during the day. And your stuff WILL get wet and dirty. Bring extra waterproof zip bags to keep your phone and other valuables dry as you snorkel and splash around. We also recommend bringing a cross-body bag that zips close instead of a backpack. This will help you keep track of your belongings better and will help dissuade pickpockets.

On The Ground

Money

Colones in Costa Rica, Balboas in Panama. Though both countries readily accept USD, we recommend taking out a little bit of local currency before you go. When paying in USD, you most likely will receive the local currency in change. We suggest budgeting $80-$100 per day for your meals, shopping, free time activities, tipping, and any Tour Director-suggested excursions. Change over a little bit of money before you leave and then get the rest from ATMs. The rates at ATMs are usually the best, and you can find machines everywhere. Just be sure to let your bank know ahead of time of your plan to travel overseas and that your credit or debit card has a chip in it.

Currencies used: USD, Balboa, Colon

Note: Before your trip, it’s helpful to look up the exchange rates from USD to local currencies so you can budget accordingly.

Phones & Internet

We recommend you get an international data package from your cell phone provider. This way you can use your phone to share Instaworthy moments, pull up Google maps to navigate a new city, and stay in touch with your Tour Director and fellow travelers during free time. WiFi will be in some hotels, restaurants, and bars, but trust us—you’ll want the international data plan to stay connected.

Tour Director/Local Guides

Your full-time Tour Director, aka local rock star, will be with your group from start to finish. They are either from Central America, or have lived there for many years. From time to time you might also have a local guide to show you around a specific attraction. For both your Tour Director and local guides it is customary to tip for a job well done.

Recommended tipping amounts in USD are:

  • $42-$70 for the Tour Director (given at the end of the trip in local currency)
  • $1 for local guides (given after the tour in local currency)
  • $1-$2 per day for local bus driver (given in local currency)

Useful Phrases and Expressions

Though many people in Costa Rica and Panama speak English, both national languages are Spanish. Here are some basic phrases to brush up on before leaving. Most importantly: how to toast! And no, we don’t mean your bread. Say, “salud” in Panama and “pura vida” in Costa Rica.


  • Hello = Hola
  • Goodbye = Adios
  • Please = Por favor
  • Thank you = Gracias
  • Pardon me = Disculpeme
  • Yes = Si
  • No = No
  • Cheers = Salud or Pura Vida

Transportation

You’re traveling through Costa Rica and Panama, and since teleportation hasn’t been invented yet, it takes time to get to each destination. You will be traveling via whitewater raft, private boat, and possibly a zip line, but the majority of travel will be done via private motor coach. Use this time to catch up on sleep, organize and find the perfect filter for your photos, read, chat it up with friends, or invent a new bus game.

Note: If you suffer from motion sickness, we recommend bringing medication.

Tour Tempo

Since there’s so much to see and do, we’ve created itineraries that make the most of your time in each city. Your days will be jam-packed with awesome, unforgettable adventures. And if the pace feels fast, take advantage of downtimes during free time and bus rides (AKA prime nap time).

Note: There will be a lot of walking and exploring. We recommend bringing granola bars for longer adventure filled days.

Local Food

Ceviche, fried plantains, hojaldras (delicious fried bread), and geisha coffee. During this trip you’ll have the chance to sample a variety of local dishes. Vegetarians shouldn’t have a problem finding something to eat, however, if you are concerned about your dietary restrictions please talk to your Tour Consultant ahead of time. When it comes to water, we recommend being about that bottled water life.

Foods to try: San cocho, carimanola, tamales, chifrijo, casado, local coffee, pozol corn soup, and chili guaros shots.

Accommodations

When in Central America, you’ll live like they do. That means you’ll be staying in hotels and boutique hostels that are smaller than American rooms, and they won’t typically have air conditioning. In standard rooming, you’ll have up to five other travelers of the same gender. Roommates are assigned by your Tour Director and announced at the first accommodation. If there’s an issue, talk to your Tour Director—that’s what they’re there for!

Note: You’re going to be in Costa Rica. That means insects and other small animals are more prevalent. Fear not. They’re more scared of you than you of them.

Keep In Mind

Weather

Hot and humid with a chance of rain (you are in the rainforest after all). To get the most recent weather information, you should add the cities you’ll be visiting to your weather app. Please remember: the sun will be stronger so close to the equator.

Bug Spray & Sun Screen

So important, they get their own section. These items will come in handy during your trip, so pack lots of them ahead of time. If you aren’t checking a bag, bring wipes instead. Be sure to come prepared with.


  • Bug spray—At least 15 Deet
  • Sunscreen—At least 40 SPF

Culture

Pura Vida! In Costa Rica, the national expression is “pura vida” which translates into “pure life.” It’s also how they toast! At restaurants, you must ask for your bill instead of having it brought to you. Also, don’t try to split the bill. Either pay in cash, or have one person pay by card and Venmo them. This goes for Panama as well.

Safety

Here are some important “Rules of the Road” to think about while you’re traveling. We want you to have fun during your vacation, and most of all we want you to be safe—so here are some helpful tips to #playsafe while you’re abroad & especially when you’re out at night.


  • Take care of your personal belongings. Keep your bag/purse in front of you and your phone zipped inside when you’re not using it. Leave your laptop at home, store valuables at the hotel in locked luggage or the safe deposit box, and refrain from carrying large sums of money or wearing valuable jewelry.
  • Don’t be a party of one. Stay in groups and watch out for each other, especially at night—no one gets left behind!
  • Before you go out, grab a business card at each hotel so that you always have the address handy for getting back later.
  • At the end of a night out, use transportation options you trust like a licensed taxi or rideshare app such as Uber (where available.) Have cash on hand—splitting a taxi with your fellow travelers is a good way to save money too.
  • Be smart about alcohol consumption. You know the drill: Watch your drinks and don’t accept drinks from people you don’t know. Don’t leave the bar alone with someone you just met. Pace yourself and know your limits. Take care of each other out there!
  • You’re going to have a blast—day & night—on this trip, and we’re here for you around the clock if you ever need anything. Save our 24/7 number in your phone now: +1–617–619–1411.

Miscellaneous

If you’re bringing a waterproof camera or GoPro, make sure to bring proper straps and accessories. We have had people lose them while ziplining, and it’s a sad day for all. When it comes to free time, think about what your interests are and research what you want to do before your trip. That way you can maximize the time in each city you visit and check a lot of things off your list. Before leaving, speak to your primary physician about any recommended vaccinations/medications you may need.

You’re traveling throughout Costa Rica and Panama! (You know, in case you forgot.) Now is the time to be brave—try new foods, make new friends, and go outside your comfort zone.


Bon voyage!

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