5 Things to Know About Costa Rica
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 to have 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 the street food it 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.
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 2021.
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!
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.
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 where 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 back 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?