Costa Rica has become one of the top countries backpackers, and eco-tourists love to visit.

It’s no surprise that this country’s natural diversity has made it one of the world’s most popular destinations for active adventures like whitewater rafting, hiking, canyoning, caving, and other activities.

Even though Costa Rica is one of the most popular and visited countries in Central America, there are a few things many travelers aren’t aware of but that they should know beforehand to help them understand and be aware of this country’s characteristics and customs.

1.  Street food is the best food and tap water is safe to drink.

One of the first travel tips about Costa Rica you should know about is that street food is the best food in Costa Rica… period!

Costa Rican cuisine is delicious, and some of the best eating spots are little roadside local restaurants and ‘sodas’.  Not only is street food good, but they also tend to be cheaper than restaurants.

Don’t forget to ask to try their typical meals –comida típica– which will certainly be made of black beans and rice, mixed with a combination of some meat.

Tap water is safe to drink in most districts in the country. Although San Jose’s tap water is safe, I don’t recommend it for the high chlorine content.

Costa Rica

2.  The greenest place in the world can also be ridiculously hot.

Costa Rica is considered the “greenest” country in the world, and it ranked first in the Happy Planet Index.

As an initiative to protect this title –as well as their country’s ecosystem– the Costa Rican government plans to turn Costa Rica into the first carbon-neutral country by 2050.

But, even being the greenest place in the world, Costa Rica is not spared from the intense heat. The mid-day sun can be a “killer”, giving you an instant tan and making you sweat even when standing still.

The combination of the intense tropical sun with the heat of many active volcanoes and the humidity; can raise the temperatures to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  Always wear sun protector and stay hydrated.

On the other hand, it’s pretty cool that these days some hotels are taking the initiative to promote environmental awareness to mitigate the current environmental effects.

For example, you can plant a Tonka Bean tree and participate in a turtle release when you stay at certain hotels like Los Sueños.

Both are environmental initiatives to re-instate the indigenous plants and animals to the area, and both go along to make Costa Rica an even greener and environmentally friendly country. Kudos to you guys!

Costa Rica

3.  You need “cojones” to drive in Costa Rica

Costa Ricans are very, um, “creative” when it comes to driving.  They usually pay no attention to traffic laws and drive like they are “kings of the road”.

If you rent a car, you should know there are few or no street signs in most parts of the country, so getting around will be a bit of a challenge.

The highways are clearly marked, but as soon as you get off them, it’s time to ask for directions. There are also no street addresses in many areas.  I wonder, how do they get their mail?!

Always plan for more driving time than the usual. Even though the distance might look short on the map, most roads aren’t in good condition or are rural roads that go up and down the mountain, requiring you to drive with more caution and less speed – especially during the rainy season.

Costa Rica

4.  “White” crimes are common in San Jose

Although violent crimes are not commonly experienced among tourists, be very careful of petty theft like pickpockets, grab-and-run, and scamming.

These do happen very often, especially in San Jose. Never leave your stuff unattended, and when on the bus, always have a grip on your backpack.

If possible, try not to carry your passport. If you can’t leave it in a safe place, try hiding it in a “safe” pocket of your backpack or somewhere in your clothing that you know is difficult to get.

Try to have a copy of the front page and entry stamp of your passport. If police are in the mood, they might consider it as a valid ID.

5.  Pura Vida has many meanings

Pura Vida literally means “pure life”, but Costa Ricans give many meanings to this phrase, like: full of life, purified life, this is living, going great, doing good, or cool.

Costa Ricans love to use it both as a greeting and a farewell, to express satisfaction, to say thank you, or to express acknowledgment of something. They also love when tourists respond with this phrase. It’s a polite gesture.

In a way, this expression reflects the friendliness of Costa Ricans and the leisure lifestyle associated with this country.

So, Pura Vida!

What other interesting fact do you know about Costa Rica? 

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23 Comments

  1. All great points. Especially appreciated the food point. Many people can go to Costa Rica, and since there are so many expats there, they can have at least a food experience that isn’t much different than being at home. However, I didn’t like the meat there, and so I often ate seafood and the local stuff. Head for the sodas. The food is so much cheaper and typically tastes a lot better. You just might not want to eat rice and beans for a while after you return.

    1. Thanks Spencer! The meat to me was fine. I didn’t try the seafood since I don’t like it. Oh yes, the sodas are the places to eat while in Costa Rica. Cheaper food and usually better tasting! Ha, it’s true that after a while you get tripod of the rice and beans.

  2. I’ve never been to Costa Rica, but it’s on the top of my list for when we head that direction. Good to know about the tap water being safe to drink – I’ve been in too many countries where that isn’t the case, and now when I get to a new place I never know if I should be drinking the water or not!

    1. Christy, I think you will like Costa Rica. Yes, the tap water is safe to drink, but of course, it’s always safer to buy bottled water. Still, I was surprised to see how well it tasted and how drinkable it is. 🙂

  3. I know how hot is there.Believe it is like the hell.But it is really green and extremely beautiful.That place can ensure you Pura vida for sure(in non literal meaning).

    1. Paul, you’re right, it can feel like hell when it gets really hot during the summer. Still, it’s hard not to enjoy all the natural beauty. Hey, with those temperatures the first thing that comes to mind is to jump into a river and relax all afternoon there… and there are a lot of rivers to do that! 😉

    1. Yes, water is treated here and is safe to drink. A nice improvement compared to Mexico, where I was before Costa Rica!

  4. I went to Costa Rica on my honeymoon in 2005. What a country! Good points covered in this post, but for me the wildlife was the most imteresting part. Every footstep and you were confronted with a Morpho butterfly, a colourful snake of some other amazing creature. Costa Rica is a must see location.

    Love the blog, regards

    Si

    1. Wow Si, what a great place to go on your honeymoon! You’re right, there should be a point about the wildlife. I was pretty impressed to since I saw a few animals I had never seen before and it was so easy to spot wildlife all around you since most of their natural habitats have been kept untouched.

      Thanks! 🙂

  5. I spent most of my time in Costa Rica just in a small village, but I found the people a lot less to try to scam you than in SE Asia… It’s actually a very relaxing destination after the bustle of Asia

    1. Oh yes, SE Asia is more brutal when it comes to petty theft. In Costa Rica you wont encounter it too much, except in San Jose. Oh, I agree… Costa Rica is very relaxing!

  6. Next time you come to CR, head to the Pacific Coast, on the southern tip of the Peninsula of Nicoya, Santa Teresa is one of the best places to spend your holidays.

    On this side of the country take into account that you have 2 seasons, the Dry season from Nov until May and Green season from May until Nov…the weather is always warm, waves are great almost all year round, either if you are coming to relax or looking for adventure, CR will always give you both.

    Cheers!

  7. Thanks for the tips. I am a little nervous about driving now. I had heard a lot about how different it is but should I be worried with little kids? we are heading there in a couple of weeks.

  8. As a costarrican person born and raised, to answer how we get our mail: we mostly dont! we dont really use it that much, I actually spend 20 years of my life not knowing my postal code, and most of friends still dont know it, Its a small country so most of the time is not that big of an effort to take the package yourself and letters are not widely used. And for those worried about the heat, places like Cartago and the mountains are a lot cooler, some 20-25 Celsius, but there are gorgeous places all over the country and I invite you to visit them all!

  9. My husband and I are travelling to C.R. (Playa Hermosa in Guanacaste) next month and we were planning to rent a car from Liberia airport for the week there. Do you recommend it or should we just take shuttles and taxis?

    1. It really depends on what you’re interested in doing and what kind of mobility you want to have. Playa Hermosa is just 30 minutes from the airport, so a taxi/shuttle shouldn’t be bad. Now, if you want to move around a lot and drive to other places as you wish, then a car would be recommended, but if you’re mostly going to stay in Playa Hermosa, then just take taxis and shuttles.

  10. We will be in Arenal / Fortuna vicinity for a wedding in June. Do you recommend renting a car from LIR airport or in La Fortuna? Will need transport during the day for land excursions and unsure if waiting for shuttles suits us.

    Thank you. Great blog!