Even after extensive research, there were some things that surprised us in Costa Rica. Here are some of the most important tidbits we picked up both before and during our trip.
Don’t put toilet paper in the toilet
Toilet paper is not flushed in Costa Rica. Instead, used paper is placed in a bin next to the loo. This is a wickedly difficult habit to break.
The drivers are crazy – especially those scooters
Double yellow lines? They’ll pass anyway. Gridlock? Watch out for those scooters zipping between cars and down the emergency lane like a fast bicycle. At least they’ll gently honk at intersections to give pedestrians a heads-up before turning.
Expect any distances to take twice as long to traverse as you’re used to
Even the best highways are the quality of backroads – half under construction and riddled with massive potholes. Expect to stop for tolls. Additionally, they’re almost exclusively a single lane in either direction. Just one slow truck stops up the road for miles (which is why drivers will recklessly pass despite the curves).
To make matters worse, don’t be surprised to come across buses or trucks that simply stop in the middle of the road for no apparent reason. We fortunately didn’t see too much of this, but did happen often enough to warrant a mention.
English is pretty widely spoken – but some Spanish will go a long way
This is a double-edged sword – probably for any language. Some basic understanding of Spanish will allow you to request a bathroom when needed, but pronounce it too well, and they’ll instantly believe you know more than you actually do.
Don’t flaunt wealth
Depending on how you define it, Costa Rica is considered a developmentally Second World country. While they’re a leader in environmental conservation, they are a poorer country. As a result, most windows are barred, razor-wire fences are frequent, and petty crime is a possibility while visiting.
As someone who frequently wanders with camera gear, this was concerning, but we took precautions. I favored my smaller camera and brought out the big only for the dedicated wildlife tours. We also invested in money belts to keep our passports close.
Sunscreen is ridiculously expensive
The demand is high! Expect to spend $25 for a small bottle.. or bring your own like we did. You’ll use a lot while there, though, so stock up!
The bugs are vicious
Mosquitos love me. Needless to say, I don’t love them. I practically bathed in bug spray on a daily basis and it had little impact. Especially in a region with a higher risk of diseases such as Zika, cover where you can, and spray where you can’t (and where you can). Also watch out for horseflies (which also bite) and the host of other big bugs you’re likely to find in a tropical country.
Expect everything to be perpetually wet
The humidity is real. You will sweat. If you’re caught out in an afternoon storm, you’ll quickly get drenched. Your clothes won’t air-dry. Your swimsuit will still be wet the next day. Your hair will be difficult to manage. Your camera lenses and glasses will instantly fog up outside.
Collect those little silica packs that come in pill bottles and new shoes, and tuck them everywhere; they’ll help (if only marginally) keep the moisture at bay.
On the plus side, you won’t need to drink much, as you’ll be breathing your fluids (though expect to drink buckets when you get back to your arid 73% humidity at home).
Time is slower
Everything there is timed in Costa Rica minutes, which are approximately 94% longer than American minutes… which are approximately 21% longer than Japanese minutes.
Enjoy a full day without shoes. Grab a fruity drink at 10am. Stop and pet the beach cats. Walk the pier. Chill with a fresh batido.
Take in all the beautiful scenery around you, and let all your stresses wash away in the rain. Don’t worry about a thing, and embrace the “pure life.”
This is Costa Rica.
Now, these are items that stood out to a couple of Americans. It’s entirely possible many of these points apply to other locations or would come as no surprise to folks hailing from other countries. Do any of these ring true with your own hometown? If you’ve been to Costa Rica, what surprised you there?