Traveling is all about creating new experiences, but sometimes there’s a learning curve when visiting a new place. This post actually started as a guide for travelers staying at our condo in Playa Flamingo. Below is our list of 9 things NOT to do in Costa Rica. Some of these recommendations are cultural, and some are just common sense.
Don’t swim in rivers
Crocodiles claim the rivers of Costa Rica. Yea.. seriously. Don’t swim in or near any river mouths to avoid contact with our sharp-toothed friends. River rafting tours take place further upstream with strong currents, so no need to worry. Our favorite rafting company is Amigos Del Rio in Manuel Antonio. Check them out if you’re around that area! Don’t miss our favorite hotels in Manuel Antonio.
Don’t touch or feed the wildlife
Look but don’t touch is a good motto for animals anywhere other than a petting zoo. Let them be, and don’t try to bribe any animals with food to get that selfie. Eating human food can be terrible for their health and they will become dependent on feeding by humans. The white-faced capuchin monkeys in the Manuel Antonio National Park have been overfed by people and are now aggressive when food is around.
Don’t forget to apply sunscreen
All the time. That’s how often you should be applying sunscreen when you’re at the beach. Grab a long sleeve rash guard for those extended swimming sessions to help prevent burning. We always try to use reef-safe sunscreen like this Sunbum SPF 50 that doesn’t pollute the ocean with damaging chemicals. Sunscreen and mosquito repellent can be purchased at local markets, but it’s usually much more expensive than bringing some with you. Check out our Costa Rica Packing list for recommendations on our favorite gear.
Don’t swim in the ocean at night
I really love to swim in the ocean at night. There’s something scary and unique about it, but Costa Rica is one place I still avoid the temptation. Many beaches along the coast have mild to moderate rip currents and you can be swept out quickly. It can be scary during the day and much worse at night when no one is around to help.
Don’t speed on the highways
Driving on the Costa Rican highways feels a bit like driving in Hawaii. Outside of San Jose, there’s usually one lane each way and you’re often stuck behind a semi-truck until it’s safe to pass. Most speed limits max out at around 50 MPH (80 KPH), but you’ll often see locals and tourists alike drive much faster than that. Follow the speed limits to avoid getting an expensive ticket and pass only when it’s safe. Many locals, especially motorcycles, pass in very dangerous situations and a collision will end your trip pretty quickly. For more driving tips, check out our guide to renting a car in Costa Rica.
Don’t assume it’s Mexico
Unless it’s a Mexican inspired restaurant, you won’t see nachos and burritos on the menu. Authentic Costa Rican food is Casado and contains a plate of seasoned beans and rice, a protein, greens, and often fried plantains. You can get margaritas everywhere but we recommend you try a cocktail with the local sugar spirit, Guaro.
Don’t get frustrated if things move slowly
It’s called Tico Time and things are just slower in Costa Rica. Unlike in the United States, where we seem to get the check before the food arrives, you’ll most often have to ask for the check when ending your meal. This isn’t bad service. The goal is to sit and enjoy your food, your drinks, and your company. The meal ends when you want it to.
Don’t overtip at restaurants
In Costa Rica, a 10% gratuity is automatically added to every check. While you don’t have to tip anything else, it’s very much appreciated to leave a little more if you’ve had excellent service.
Don’t order a glass of red wine at a beach bar.
This one is kind of an inside joke between me and Anna. We’ve yet to find a good glass of red wine at a beach bar from a bottle that’s already been opened. I think that so few people order red wine at the beach, open bottles sit there for weeks or months at a time until someone like us makes the mistake of ordering some. We’ve had some great bottles, just not wine by the glass.