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7 Things Costa Ricans Know That You Should Too

Acclimating to a move to Costa Rica takes time and effort for any expat, even if you’re eager to relocate. However, you can reduce the adjustment period and learning curve significantly by getting feedback from the locals.

Here are a few lessons that you can learn from Costa Rican natives.

1. Remain Reasonably Cautious (But Not Paranoid) About Using Taxis

In the United States, many people are very dependent on taxis, and they are a convenient option in Costa Rica, too. There are over 7,000 taxis throughout the country, which many people rely on to get around cheaply and easily.

However, many people believe that every taxi driver is going to rip them off. This isn’t true, but riders still need to be more careful than they would in the U.S. Taxis aren’t regulated as closely in Costa Rica, so drivers sometimes take advantage of locals and tourists alike.

To protect yourself, do as the locals do when taking a taxi.

Monitor the Meters Carefully

Pay close attention to the meter the second it starts ticking. Remember the meter is measured in Costa Rica Colones, which are worth less than a fifth of a penny. Even a short ride may cost thousands of Colones, so don’t be alarmed if the number rises quickly.

But you should be worried if the meter doesn’t rise steadily. Rigged meters will spike sharply at the end of the trip. If you notice the price suddenly rose sharply, then you need to dispute the charges with the driver. Warn that you will report them if they don’t allow you to pay the correct price. Few drivers want to take the risk of being reported, so you should be able to talk them down.

Download the Taxiando App

Use technology to help get the best price possible. Tico Times wrote about Taxiando, a new smartphone app that can be used to monitor your taxi fare. The Taxiando app was developed by Creativeria, a San Jose app developer. The app was created for Costa Ricans who are weary of getting scammed by rogue taxi drivers. You can download Taxiando on Google Play.

2. Look Out for Dangerous Animals

Costa Rica is home to some of the most beautiful wildlife in the world. However, some of their native animals are also very dangerous. Todd Sarouhan, an expat from California and the founder of Go Visit Costa Rica, wrote an insightful post about some of the most dangerous animals to look for after moving to Costa Rica.

They include:

  • Venomous snakes. Costa Rica is home to several species of venomous snakes. The Fer-de-Lance Snake and Eye-lash Viper Snake are two of the most deadly. You can see pictures of them on Sarouhan’s post. The Coral Snake can also be very dangerous, but usually flees instead of biting. You can encounter venomous snakes in both wooded and grassy areas, so always be on your guard.

  • In the United States, crocodiles thrive in Southern Florida, and you may encounter their sister alligator species in Georgia. However, crocodiles are more prevalent in Costa Rica, and can be found near the Tarcoles River. These crocodiles used to be more timid, but have become more aggressive over the last few years and more accustomed to tourists. Some attribute the growing crocodile problem to antics from entertainers such as Jason Vargas, who feeds the carnivorous reptiles on the beaches.

  • Great cats. Pumas and jaguars both live in Costa Rica. While they don’t actively hunt humans (unless they’re very hungry), they can still be vicious if you startle them or threaten their young.

  • Most shark species are harmless to humans, but there are several in Costa Rica that will bite if provoked or hungry. Bull, Whitetip Reef, and Tiger Sharks are just some of the most ominous in Costa Rica. Bull and Tiger Sharks often lurk in shallow waters. The Costa Rican government has issued warnings in recent years due to the growing number of hostile sharks, particularly in warmer areas such as Guanacaste. You should always be careful whenever you venture into the water.

Take time to marvel at the beautiful animals that live across Costa Rica, but also respect their territory and potential to bite. Ticos know to stay quiet and tread carefully when encountering deadly creatures, and understand they are more likely to attack when provoked.

3. Avoid Using the Pronoun “Tu”

In most Spanish-speaking countries, you are expected to use the term “tu” when addressing someone you know. However, this doesn’t go over well in Costa Rica, because the “tu” pronoun is considered very rude and too familiar.

If you do make the mistake of using the “tu” pronoun, you’ll find that the majority of people are understanding and patient with foreigners. However, it’s still smart to get into the habit of following the proper norms. Use the word “usted” instead, which is a more polite and formal way to address someone you don’t know.

4. You Don’t Need to Waste Money on Bottled Water

Many people believe that the water in Costa Rica is too dirty to drink. They spend their time there buying a lot of bottled water. At the moment, water costs over $2 a liter.

In reality, buying bottled water is completely unnecessary in most parts of Costa Rica. Most of the water is perfectly safe to drink. Much of it comes from local rivers, streams, and mountain springs, and is clean and ready to drink.

However, while the tap water is generally safe, expats and tourists find it harsh on their stomachs until they get used to it. If you have ulcers or other stomach problems, then it may be best to drink bottled water instead. Also, keep in mind that it often takes a little while for your stomach enzymes to adjust after moving to a new place, so don’t be surprised if you have an upset stomach for a week or two after relocating.

5. The Liquors Are Different, But Amazing

Costa Rica sells many popular North American drinks. For example, Budweiser and Miller are imported and available for reasonable prices. There are also plenty of Guinness beers. You’ll also find some delicious native drinks that you should try.

To start, the chili guaros are one of the most famous drinks in the country. They are very spicy drinks made with citrus fruits, tabasco, and salt and pepper. You can generally buy chili guaro shots for 500 colones each (approximately $1).

There are also a number of fantastic rums and other hard liquor drinks from Costa Rica, Columbia, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. These drinks include Centenario (the national rum of Costa Rica) and Aguardiente Antioqueño (a Colombian drink that doesn’t leave a major hangover).

It’s always a good idea to get recommendations from the locals before trying alcohol. They can give great tips on what to try, but keep in mind that they likely also have a taste for spicier drinks.

6. Know the Local Slang

Every country has its own slang, and Costa Rica is no exception. Some of their native phrases can be a little complicated to figure out, because they often have multiple meanings. Here are some common slang terms to learn before moving to Costa Rica (courtesy of former expat Meg Yamamoto of the Matador Network):

  • Diay –This word can mean “hey,” “well,” “obviously,” and a variety of other things.

  • Pura vida – You can use this phrase to say both “thank you” and “you’re welcome” (that obviously can be confusing to many Americans). It can also mean “I am doing well,” “goodbye,” and “no thank you.” If in doubt, you can often get away with politely saying “pura vida.”

  • Salado – The literal translation of this word is “salted.” In casual settings, it’s usually an unsympathetic way of telling someone “too bad.”

  • Tuanis – Nobody really knows where this word originated. It usually means “cool” or “that’s nice.”

  • Hablar paja – This phrase usually means “talking bull.” Like the equivalent phrase in the United States, it’s an informal way of calling someone out for making ridiculous or erroneous statements. It’s obviously a phrase that you might want to avoid near younger audiences.

It can take a while to wrap your head around these terms. Make sure you understand them in their proper context to avoid unwittingly offending anyone.

7. The Culture is Very Different in Rural Parts of the Country

There can be vast cultural differences between the Central Valley region and the more rural parts of Costa Rica (such as the Caribbean Coast). San Jose and other Central Valley cities tend to be more Americanized, although people still live slower-paced lifestyles.

However, once you venture away from the large cities, you’ll find people have varying preferences and lifestyles. For example, on the Caribbean Coast and in places like Limón, you’ll find a lot of people love reggae music.

When in Doubt, Learn from the Locals

When in Costa Rica, live like the Costa Ricans do. This may sound like sage advice, but it can take some time to get right if you don’t know the customs. The good news is that there will be plenty of locals who can help teach you.

What do you think you can learn from locals while living in Costa Rica? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below: