Accommodation-wise, there's quite the range of options, from $15-$20 dollar hostels on up to fancier resorts that will run you hundreds per night. Similarly, eating out can be very cheap (the local restaurant are called "sodas," and sell very reasonably priced local yums, typically rice and beans-based dishes). I budgeted $100 a day for hotel and food, and was able to get by pretty comfortably on that. A clean and tidy, no-frills cabina or hotel room in Tamarindo will start at around $50, and a hearty dinner at a soda (with beer) will run you $10 or so.
The country is generally very safe, but you should of course keep your wits about you and not attempt any silly risks. I never once felt unsafe and I was traveling around on my own, to some pretty far out areas. That doesn't mean there aren't hidden dangers, of course, but that is true no matter where you are. Be smart and you'll be fine.
Renting an SUV is a great way to get to some of the more remote surf spots. Other drivers are generally courteous and respectful (I only heard a car use their horn once in ten days, and that was my fault), and although the roads are very unpredictable I never felt driving here was particularly dangerous. Everyone has a different threshold, of course, but if you're confident enough to drive in a major metropolis, you'll be okay in Costa Rica. Do drive defensively though; always assume there's a hazard around the next corner, and be conscious that the roads are smaller than the ones back home. And I would not recommend driving at night.
My Daihatsu SUV cost me $700 for a 10-day rental, with full insurance. This was the single most expensive element of my trip, but the freedom it allowed was fantastic. And I know I sound like a broken record, but if you do rent a car, you absolutely have to get that full insurance. You just have to.
Finally, my top five tips for a Costa Rican surfing trip:
1. Plan ahead, but not too much..
It's great to have a plan, but conditions change pretty quickly. Be prepared to adapt based on weather/mood/new info. Talk to people about what's good right now: the dudes you met in the bar last night may hold the key to today's secret break.
2. Try and speak some Spanish. No matter how bad your Spanish (mine is criminal), attempts are always and without exception appreciated. Even if the conversation ends up finishing as a weird combination of english and mime, the locals will love your making the effort. Worst case scenario: you'll give them a laugh, and that always breaks the ice.
3. Watch for petty crime. Although violent crime is rare in Costa Rica, petty crime (theft in particular), is not. Don't leave valuables (or indeed anything) in your car or on the beach. It is not uncommon for cars to be broken into at surf spots, so play it safe and don't give any openings.
4. Respect the local surfers. Hopefully this goes without saying, but it's good to reiterate: be extra, extra nice to the locals in the lineup. Be patient and respectful. Wait your turn, let others go in front of you. There's very little localism in Costa Rica (especially compared to somewhere like SoCal), and for it to stay that way we all need to be extra nice.
5. Chill, Winston. Costa Rica is a calm, relaxed and very peaceful country. If you're coming from a big city like New York, as I was, it can take a little time to adjust to the slower pace of life here. It will take a few minutes for your server to take your order, for example, or you may miss a light because the dude in the car in front of you is chatting to his friend. It's okay. Just relax into it.
Oh, and Pura Vida!
Go back and read the first four posts in this series right here.
[Photos: Kai MacMahon]