Perhaps by now, you have already heard the phrase “Pura Vida” being used frequently.  Hopefully you have a good understanding of the meaning of the phrase “Pure Life” Costa Rica-style.  This approach to life in Costa Rica certainly does capture the feeling most locals (Ticos) have about what really matters to them – quality of life itself.  Having some prior knowledge might be helpful though to assist you in your transition to life here.

STAY SAFE

Keep An Eye Out For Pick-Pockets

feeding the pigeons
friendly locals can be lovely

The people of Costa Rica are certainly considered some of the friendliest people you will meet in your travels.  And doesn’t that make your time here even more delightful?  But it is best to be aware that, when dealing with strangers, Ticos are not that physically forward.  So if you find yourself being approached by what appears to be an overly friendly stranger (Tico) who offers to shake your hand, moves to place his arm around you, or gets overly physical – be cautious.  Hopefully they are merely being friendly as a way to ask for a cigarette or even some money.  But it could be that you are being distracted so an accomplice can then grab your valuables while the other has your attention.  Costa Rica is a great place to visit where the majority of locals are genuinely friendly, but best to be cautious if you are approached by someone who is overly friendly.

Never Leave Your Valuables Unattended

Just stopping in for one thing at the supermarket
Just stopping in for one thing at the supermarket

It is important to be watchful of your belongings, and never leave them unattended.  Whether you are in a restaurant, a local market, a public area or public beach, always keep an eye on your belongings.  If you leave something unattended or simply turn your attention elsewhere, there is a good possibility those belongings may be gone when you return or pay attention again.  It is always a good idea to lock your car doors, even if you are only going into the supermarket for one or two quick items.  When you leave your car for any length of time in Costa Rica, always be sure that your personal items are out of sight.  It is amazing how quickly someone can get into and out of your car when you have only stepped into the store for a moment.  If something does go missing, you will need a photocopy of your documents (such as ID, plane tickets, passport, credit cards) easily available for the police report.

Don’t Swim In Unmarked Areas

beach, costa rica
Watch out for the waves

The beaches along the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica are notorious for strong rip currents.  If you don’t have experience with identifying these, then simply Google the tell-tale signs to watch for rip tides.  They are fairly easy to notice once you know what you are watching for.  If you are not a strong swimmer, it is advisable to never go in further than your waist.  It is surprising how quickly a large wave can surprise you, knock you over, and then pull you out to sea.  There are lifeguards stationed at some of the local beaches, and it is important to be aware of their warnings and always swim within the designated area.

MAKE THE MOST OF NATURAL REMEDIES

Fight Off Illness With Fruit

papaya
papaya is king

You may love eating papaya simply because it tastes so delicious, especially compared to the ones you can buy at home.  But papayas in Costa Rica are also nature’s powerhouse with a variety of medicinal benefits.  Include the seeds in your smoothie in the morning as these magical seeds are packed with antibacterial properties that make them effective in fighting off Dengue Fever, E. Coli, Salmonella, and Staphylococcus.  They are also known to be effective in eliminating intestinal parasites, detoxifying the liver, and protecting the kidneys from toxin-induced kidney failure.  So off you go, back to the market to get more of this delicious fruit.

Don’t Let Insects Get You Down

It is positively amazing the sheer quantity of really cool insects you can find in just one day in Costa Rica.  But they can sometimes astonish you too, and you would be amazed how everything creepy, crawly, and pesky will find their way into your rooms.  There are natural ways to get rid of them though.

fire ants
fire ants everywhere

One of the most alarming are the fire ants – for such a tiny little creature, they do pack a really nasty bite that can burn for a long time.  The simple remedy is to 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.  This remedy can also be used on those leaf cutter ants that come through and decimate your lovely garden.

During rainy season in Costa Rica, you will find an increase in the number of mosquitos, and with that, the appearance of Dengue Fever as mosquitos are the carriers.  A great recipe to keep the mosquitos at bay is very simple.  Add some drops of vanilla extract (a sugar-free, pure vanilla extract) to a cup of water into a spray bottle.  It can also be applied using cotton balls and dabbing on your skin.  It is said you can also use this remedy to keep ticks and fleas off dogs.

Another easy remedy for eliminating mosquitos is used coffee grounds.  Researchers have discovered that caffeine prevents the mosquito larvae from reaching the adult stage.  Simply add 4 spoons of coffee grounds with one cup of water into a spray bottle, and use when needed.  The solution is fresh and usable for 7 days.

 WHAT NOT TO SAY
You’re Not From America

Many visitors from the US refer to themselves as Americans (“Americano” in Spanish), and wonder why they sometimes get a very odd look from the locals.  To Ticos, America refers to North America, Central America, and South America.  For a friendlier response from Ticos, it is a good suggestion to get into the habit of saying you are from the US, and that you are “Estadounidense”.

Think Twice About Calling Yourself An “Expat”

4th of July
American patriot, not an expat

Another faux pas is referring to yourself as an expat, short for expatriate, which roughly translates as ‘living outside your home country’.  This may true for you, but for many it has another connotation.  For many others, referring to yourself as an expat also implies “white people with money”.  And the truth is that there are many different nationalities who are also expatriates living outside their home country here in Costa Rica.  To be more respectful of the non-white expatriates living and working here, and there are more than you may realize, it is wiser to simply remove ‘expat’ from your vocabulary.

TRANSPORTATION TIPS
Make Good Use Of The Bus

local buses
local buses

Did you know that many Ticos don’t even own a car?  Maybe they own a motorcycle if they are lucky.  And the others may use their bicycle, their feet, or their horse to get around – especially those out in the rural areas.  But because of this need for local transportation, the public transport system is well designed.  You can get virtually anywhere in Costa Rica via the bus. Buses are amazingly affordable, and a really great way to practice your Spanish with the other passengers.  It may take longer to get where you are going, but you will have had a true adventure in getting there.

Don’t Assume The Taxi Meter Is Running

Taxis are easy to identify in Costa Rica for they are either red or yellow, and have a yellow symbol on the driver’s door with their license number clearly shown.  But tourists are easy to identify as well.  If you look like a tourist, and trust me, they can always tell, there is a good chance the driver may ‘forget’ to turn on the meter when you start your journey.  Once you arrive at the location, you will have no choice but to pay whatever total they present to you.  To protect yourself from having to cope with this confusion in a foreign language, it is helpful to learn the phrase “ponga la maria, por favor” which means ‘turn on the meter please’.   If you do find yourself in a taxi that has no meter, or the driver claims it is broken, then be sure to negotiate and agree on a price before you even leave the spot.

Directions Are A Headache For Everyone

San Jose, Costa Rica
Streets of San Jose

It was only a few years ago the government made a decision that all houses and streets should be properly signed.  But that is still taking some time to go into effect.  Which means that getting addresses and directions to anywhere is quite a colorful process.  As there are no street names, street signs, or numbers on the buildings, addresses are given more like directions.  For example, “1432 Avenida 3” becomes “dos cuadros oeste de la Supermercado en la case verde,” meaning, “two blocks west of the supermarket is the green house.”  It may require that you ask directions more than once as you travel to your destination, but somehow it does seem to work and you usually do get to where you wanted.

BONUS TIPS:
Don’t Flush The Toilet Paper

Unless you are in a very high-end hotel, housing development, or government office, most of the septic systems simply cannot tolerate toilet paper.  It considered proper etiquette not to flush the paper, but leave it in the garbage can you will find right next to the toilet.  If there is no bin there, then you can safely assume it is safe to flush the toilet.paper though.

Don’t Question The Idea Of Rice And Beans For Breakfast

Gallo Pinto, Costa Rica
the famous breakfast – gallo pinto

If you are brave enough to venture out and try the local sodas (similar to a diner), you will find that almost all meals come with a serving of rice and beans.  And that means almost all meals.  The most popular dish in Costa Rica is ‘gallo pinto’, which is very delicious rice and beans with some spices to add flavor.  Gallo Pinto is most often served as breakfast with eggs, plantains, and some meat if you ask for it.  It actually does make for a delicious and very filling breakfast to start your day.

Hope these tips have been helpful as you adapt into this beautiful country.  If not, then many of these delightful idiosyncrasies make for some really great dinner conversations once you get home.

Dental care in Costa Rica