Culture, Conduct & Customs in Costa Rica

This is known as the greenest country in the world and one of the friendliest places on the earth… and they are not wrong.  In Costa Rica there is a saying which sums up their way of life…  Pura Vida – or pure life!  Live your life to the fullest – what a great national mentality and philosophy. It is also a place which is so full of life that its biodiversity has recently been celebrated by the announcement that all of the zoos in the country are to be closed down. It is certainly true that there is no need to see these animals in a zoo when there are so many of them in the wild!

If you are coming to the country for any reason other than the wildlife and natural beauty, re-think the purpose of your trip to include the huge number of treasures the Costa Rican rainforest has to offer.

Whilst the official language here is Spanish, you can get around pretty well with English.

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Some things to point out:

Climate… Across the year you can expect average highs of 28 degrees Celsius and lows of around 17, with the hottest months being March to June and coldest being September to December. Whilst December to March sees an average rainfall of around 10mm you can expect as much as 350mm in September and in the 200’s in the 4 months before this.

Crime… Violent crime against tourists in Costa Rica is relatively low with most crimes being petty theft, as is expected in just about every place where you find large volumes of tourists. It is always advisable to not flash your cash and be mindful of how much you drink – don’t make yourself vulnerable.

Dress… Costa Rica is a very laid back and fairly liberal country. Especially in coastal areas you can dress in a very casual way and in coastal towns such as Jaco it is not uncommon to see people in their bathing attire. In more central town and cities it might be advisable to still cover up a little however – although shorts and t-shirt for both sexes is certainly acceptable. Tattoos are not overly frowned upon when on display, even for women.

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In the mountainous regions such as in the cloud forests of Monteverde, even though this is a very hot country it is advisable to bring something with long legs and sleeves as it can get quite cold in the evenings.

a2Drinking… Whilst the legal drinking age in Costa Rica is 18, underage drinking seems to be quite a big problem. Drinking seems to be very much part of the culture over there and there are some very good local beers, but also as a country with such a beautiful climate and scenery – in hotels in particular the cocktail seems to reign supreme – they are always fresh, delicious and very strong.

Drugs… Drugs are illegal in Costa Rica, however on the coast in particular as you can imagine with such a big surfer scene, there is no shortage of people offering to sell you cannabis in particular. We were even offered some in San Jose while walking right past the police, so it’s something which they don’t seem to be too shy about. However as with everywhere it’s not worth risking your holiday or a good portion of your life because of drugs – especially when there is so much to see, and there is a ready supply of alcohol if you wish to alter your state of mind somewhat!

Health… There are no health requirements going in to Costa Rica however it is important to make sure that you are up to date with routine vaccinations such as MMR, diphtheria, tetanus and polio. Also it is highly recommended (especially if seeking a more remote location) to see you doctor about malaria medication. Furthermore if doing a wildlife holiday you should seriously consider rabies vaccination. There is no yellow fever in this country however as such if you are travelling from or have transited through (for more than 12 hours) a country with a yellow fever risk you do require a yellow fever vaccination certificate for anyone aged over 9 months.

Money… Whilst the official currency in Costa Rica is the colon, US dollars are also very widely accepted (almost everywhere in fact – however in remote areas it is best to have the local currency, and you will often get a better price in colones too).

Public signs of affection… Even though it is a very liberal country keep public signs of affection to a minimum. It is ok to hold hands and have a cuddle or a quick peck in public – but as with pretty much everywhere no one wants to see you in the streets eating face! Equally while Costa Ricans are quite open about accepting gay couples in their country, it is still something many of them (especially older generations) don’t necessarily want to see.

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Sex… As with just about everywhere sex in public is not allowed so keep it in your room, and if you are travelling as a young couple with other people or are wishing to fool around with the locals, remember that the age of consent in Costa Rica is 18. Prostitution in the country is legal however prostitutes need to be working on their own, with pimping and brothels being illegal – as such you will often find them around the local bars. Sexual health is not closely controlled over there, and keep in mind the age of consent as under age prostitutes forced in to the profession are very common.

Smoking… Costa Rica has one of the strictest smoking bans in the world with no enclosed smoking areas allowed and no smoking allowed in even open recreational areas (including parks and even hotel grounds). If you stay in a hotel you must leave the property to smoke – which can be difficult in many of the rainforest lodges. It is also not a cheap past-time there with very high tax rates on cigarettes.

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Tipping… Tipping is something which I always do as it does show that extra bit of personal appreciation, however while it is accepted in Costa Rica it is not always a necessity. In many restaurants check your bill before tipping as a service charge may already be included – however if not it is customary to tip around 10% for everything from taxi drivers, to wait staff and bar tenders. The same can also be applied to tour guides, although often people will pay 15% – however this can be a little high when considering how much some full day tours may set you back!

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A lot of people enjoy going abroad without any real plans about what they will do whilst out there – however I am very much of the school of thought which says plan as much as you can and leave yourself some time for exploring (however make sure you always give yourself a chance to explore).

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