9 Things to know before Camping in Costa Rica
Are you dreaming of waking up to the sound of the ocean on a picturesque beach in Costa Rica? Then a camping roadtrip adventure might be the right choice for you!
However, before you embark on your trip, here are a number of things you need to know before camping in Costa Rica.
1. There is no camping infrastructure.
If you are used to easily find a campground in every town or village you‘ll be surprised to learn that the same doesn't apply to Costa Rica. The camping infrastructure is surprisingly underdeveloped. Managed campgrounds are a rarity, and sometimes impossible to find. On our first night in Costa Rica, we tried to locate a campground that was listed on Google Maps. Despite searching for it for more than one hour, and asking the locals about its supposed location, we never found it.
During our entire roadtrip through Costa Rica we only stayed on one managed campground. All the other nights were spent wilderness camping. That also means we had little access to proper showers and toilets most of the time.
If you are planning a camping trip in Costa Rica you need to be aware of the limited number of managed campgrounds. We definitely recommend starting to look for a suitable spot in the afternoon so that you don‘t have to search after nightfall. To make your life easier, we have put together this Costa Rica Camping Guide that highlights all the campsites we stayed at.
2. Personal hygiene is a bit more challenging.
As related above, there aren‘t that many managed campgrounds in Costa Rica. Sleeping in the wilderness is thrilling and a great experience, but it usually comes at the cost of limited personal hygiene. Be aware that you won‘t have access to proper shower facilities or even toilets if you are wilderness camping in Costa Rica.
Also, if you can, time your daily business cleverly. For example, use the amenities when you are in a restaurant. That often is preferable to digging a 20cm hole in the ground, especially when it is raining.
3. Watch out for poisonous animals.
Yes, Costa Rica is home to some poisonous animals. But no, you should not be afraid. However, a certain amount of caution is always advisable especially when camping in nature. If you are leaving the tent at night, be very cautious of where you are stepping. Don‘t go into heavily overgrown areas as snakes might sit in a bush. Also, never touch a tree bark as well-camouflaged scorpions and snakes might be sitting there.
4. Bring insect repellent.
All the rainfall in Costa Rica provides the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. And mosquitoes love to feast on unsuspecting travelers. As soon as you sit down in the evening to enjoy the picturesque sunset, be prepared to have a swarm of mosquitos attack you.
There are several ways to not get bitten to pieces:
a. always wear long-sleeved clothes,
b. apply a locally bought insect repellent, ideally containing DEET.
Combining these two usually works in getting rid of the majority of them, although you won‘t be able to escape every single one. That is a fact you have to be prepared for when camping in the tropics.
5. Know some basic Spanish.
The local language in Costa Rica is Spanish. In the larger cities and in touristed areas you can often get away with English. However, as you are planning a camping trip through Costa Rica, we take it you are more interested in the remote areas. Here, a basic knowledge of Spanish is paramount. Many of the locals in the rural areas do not speak English at all, so it is upon you as the visitor to learn their language.
This will come in especially handy when you are in trouble, such as getting stuck with your car, or when you are looking for a campsite. As mentioned above, there aren‘t many campgrounds in Costa Rica, but oftentimes people are more than happy to let you stay on their private land as long as you ask them friendly. Don‘t be afraid to ask, the worst they can say is no.
6. Be prepared for heavy rain.
Costa Rica lies in the tropics, so heavy rainfall is something to look out for. Depending on the time of year, you may encounter more or less rain. During the dry season, rain showers are possible but not as frequent. During the rainy season, heavy precipitation is the norm but if you are lucky it only rains in the afternoon.
In any case, be aware that it can get wet. Really, really wet. Tent camping on the ground is not the best idea in Costa Rica. The chances of you waking up in a puddle are very high. Sometimes it only takes 15mins of heavy rainfall for large waterholes to form and paths getting flooded ankle-deep. Being stuck in a ground tent during the night is far from ideal in such a case. A suitable alternative is sleeping in a waterproof hammock, or even better, a rooftop tent. The rooftop tent allows you to stay far above the ground. This also means that your tent won‘t get wet from the underside and the amount of moisture is less.
7. Beach camping is legal.
Costa Rica has a law, that stipulates that the first 50 meters from the high tide line belong to the people. Luckily, that also includes you. Within those first 50 meters, no new construction can take place and no one can claim that land for themselves. This is great news for everybody eager to camp in Costa Rica.
Whenever you come upon a stretch of beach that is freely accessible, you are legally allowed to set up your tent and stay the night. Be aware that camping directly on the beach is not a great idea. First, you never know how the waves will behave that night, and you don‘t want to be swept away during your sleep. Second, many beaches are important nesting grounds for sea turtles. You surely don‘t want to be responsible for hundreds of little baby turtles being unable to emerge from their nest because you camp on it.
However, if you find a nice spot above the beach, you can camp there. Just keep in mind that some areas in Costa Rica are safer than others, so just because you can do something, doesn‘t mean it's always advisable.
8. Your safety is paramount.
Costa Rica is generally considered a safe travel destination, but that does not mean that there aren‘t some black sheep. As everywhere else around the world, if you are unlucky or behave stupidly, you may fall victim to a crime. On the other hand, if you behave sensibly and check your surroundings you will have a great time.
Before setting up camp for the night, always make sure to check the area. Does it look sketchy in any way? Do you feel safe? Listen to your gut feeling here. If it doesn’t feel right then maybe try to look for another place.
At the same time, you should be aware that the crime rates are higher around some towns, such as Limón on the Caribbean coast in Costa Rica. We would not recommend to camp anywhere within 30kms of the town at all, as the chances of an unpleasant encounter decrease dramatically.
Saying all of that, don‘t be scared to go camping in Costa Rica. With the right precaution and a sense of responsibility, you will have a splendid time.
9. Clean where you can.
Camping next to the sea can be a dreamlike experience. Sipping a coconut while relaxing in a hammock to the sound of the ocean is just as good as it sounds. However, sometimes you may arrive at such a picture-perfect spot only to discover a proper amount of garbage lying around. This could either be left behind by irresponsible previous campers or be flotsam and jetsam from the sea. In either case, we highly encourage you to pick up any garbage at your campsites. Not only does it help prevent unnecessary animal deaths but it also makes your experience and the one of the next campers a lot better.
All in all, camping in Costa Rica is a great way to experience the country. As long as you are aware of the above points you are in a good position to have a memorable camping holiday.