It doesn’t take long to fall in love and feel right at home in Costa Rica. There’s something special about this country that keeps ’em coming back time and time again to indulge in the Pura Vida. While it doesn’t take long to get in the swing of things here, having a bit of prior knowledge will help you adjust faster so you can get well on your way to enjoying all that this incredible country has to offer.
Pro Tips For Costa Rica: 12 Things You Should Know
1. Keep An Eye Out For Pick-Pocketers
Costa Ricans (Ticos) are arguably some of the friendliest people in the world, and can even be physically affectionate–a great part of Costa Rican culture. However, when dealing with strangers, Tico’s will be kind in offering directions and advice, but they will not touch. Therefore, if you are approached on the street by an overly friendly stranger (Tico) who wants to shake your hand, puts his arm around you, or gets physical: be cautious! Best case scenario is that you are getting hit up for a cigarette or some money. Worst case scenario is that you are being distracted so an accomplice can snatch your valuables. Be aware – but don’t be paranoid. Costa Rica is a great place where the vast majority of people you meet will be some of the friendliest in the world!
2. Never Leave Your Valuables Unattended
While it’s rare that you would ever be pick-pocketed or confronted directly, it’s quite common to find valuables missing if left unattended. One of the best tips for Costa Rica is to always be mindful of your belongings. Whether you’re in a restaurant, market, public area, or on the beach, if you leave something laying around unattended, it will most likely be gone when you return. That being said, it’s a good idea to always lock your car doors and keep personal items out of sight. If something does go missing, you’ll want to have a photocopy of your documents (ID, plane tickets, passports, credit cards) readily available to help in the process of reporting your lost items.
3. Don’t Swim In Unmarked Areas
Many areas of Costa Rica are infamous for strong rip currents. When you’re at the beach, make sure to pay attention for signs noting where it’s safe to swim. You will find lifeguards in the more frequented beach spots.
Make The Most Of Natural Remedies
4. Fight Off Illness With Fruit
When In Costa Rica, do as the Costa Ricans! In a country as bountiful as Costa Rica, it only makes sense to utilize the overabundance of Earth’s best medicines to your advantage. Grab a fresh papaya from your local farmer’s market and throw the seeds into your blender with your breakfast smoothie favorites. Papaya seeds are a powerhouse for your health. These magical little beads are packed with antibacterial properties that make them effective in fighting off Dengue Fever, E. Coli, Salmonella, Staphylococcus; and just in case that wasn’t enough, they are known to eliminate intestinal parasites, detoxify the liver, and protect the kidneys from toxin-induced kidney failure.
5. Don’t Let Insects Get You Down
Welcome to the jungle: where everything creepy, crawly, and pesky will somehow find its way into your house. Don’t be too discouraged! There are plenty of natural ways to rid your home of the most bothersome of these little creatures.
Trying to get rid of fire ants? Simply pour 2 cups of club soda directly into the center of the fire ant mound. The carbon dioxide in the water is heavier than the air, causing displaced oxygen to suffocate the queen and her minions. The whole colony will be dead in two days. Treat each mound individually. One liter of club soda will kill 2 to 3 mounds.
What Not To Say
6. You’re Not From America
Remember, “America” refers to North America, Central America, and South America. If you say you’re from America, Costa Rican locals (called Ticos) will either give you an odd look and dismiss the conversation, or worse, take offense. It’s a good idea to get in the habit of saying you’re from the United States, instead of America; and that you’re “Estadounidense,” instead of “Americano.”
7. Think Twice About Calling Yourself An “Expat”
The term ‘expat’ is short for expatriate, and literally means, ‘one living outside their home country.’ While it may seem harmless enough to refer to yourself as an expat, the term has developed to have a connotation of “white people with money.” Out of respect and appreciation of the non-white expats living and working in Costa Rica, it’s wise to nix this term from your vocabulary.
8. Make Good Use Of The Bus
The fact that the majority of Tico’s don’t own a car has caused the Costa Rican public transportation system to thrive. You can get virtually anywhere in the country via bus. It’s the most affordable, convenient way to travel internally.
9. Don’t Assume The Taxi Meter Is Running
Ah, yes, the age old battle between passenger and taxi driver. Unfortunately, you don’t get a break from this worldwide epidemic in Costa Rica. If you look like a tourist, chances are the driver may ‘forget’ to put the meter on. If you’re not a Spanish speaker, you’ll learn the phrase, “Ponga la maria, por favor” pretty quickly.
If you end up developing a relationship with a “pirata,” a taxi driver who isn’t actually supposed to be a taxi driver, there will be no meter for you to go off of. Make sure to negotiate a price before getting in the car.
10. Directions Are A Headache For Everyone
You can kiss simple, organized addresses goodbye the moment you step foot in Costa Rica. Just like time, location is more of a general concept than a definite measurement. For example, instead of hearing “1432 Avenida 3,” you’ll probably hear, “Dos cuadros oeste de la Super More en la case verde,” meaning, “two blocks west of the supermarket is the green house.” Don’t be afraid to ask multiple times for directions along the way. Somehow this system just works, and one way or another, you usually end up finding what you need
11. Don’t Flush The TP
The eco-friendly nation of Costa Rica doesn’t exactly have the strongest septic system. Don’t flush the toilet paper, especially when you’re in local establishments, as it will not be processed properly through the system. There is usually a trash bin next to the toilet for all your paper products.
12. Don’t Question The Idea Of Rice And Beans For Breakfast
When in Costa Rica, you eat rice and beans pretty much throughout the day, so why not start at breakfast? Gallo Pinto, Costa Rica’s traditional breakfast dish, consists of a steaming heap of rice and beans usually served with a freshly fried or scrambled egg, a couple of plantains, and a dollop of fresh salsa. Try this deliciously filling breakfast entree once and you’ll never doubt the idea of rice and beans for breakfast again.
Now that you’ve had your Costa Rica crash course, sit back, relax, and just enjoy the ride. After all, many of the best Costa Rican idiosyncrasies result in really great dinner conversations filled with shared stories and lots of laughter. Give it some time, and you may even find that you’ve turned Tico yourself!
Have you traveled to Costa Rica before? Do you live in the country now? Share your Pro Tips in the comments below!