Quick Culture Guide to Costa Rica

The small country of Costa Rica, nestled in Central America between Nicaragua and Panama, has many cultural differences to the United States. From transportation to language, the changes are endless. Whether you are taking a quick vacation to the country, or plan on spending a significant amount of time there, take note of these local tips.

Communication/Language

Pura Vida is not a Stereotype: We’ve all heard the saying, and yes, it’s true! Costa Ricans truly do live a laid back, pure life, and the phrase commonly gets tossed around in everyday language. Locals use the phrase as a greeting, goodbye, thanks, or describing your mood. Give yourself extra brownie points by putting the word Mae after it, meaning “bro” or “man.” ¡Pura vida mae!

Everyone Uses WhatsApp: If you plan on being in any contact with the locals, download WhatsApp. This app lets users call and text internationally without using data or international calling. The locals in Costa Rica barely use normal texting, as WhatsApp is cheaper. Even if you’re not traveling to Costa Rica specifically, its a great app to have for any kind of travel.

Always use Usted: If you’re planning on practicing your Spanish while in the country, this one is extremely important. While some Latin American countries use “tu” to refer to “you,” it’s considered incredibly impolite to refer to anyone as “tu” in Costa Rica. Always play it safe and use the formal “usted” form.

Food

Sodas: The small, local restaurants in Costa Rica are called sodas, and here is where you’ll find the best local food for half the price. You can find these lining almost any street in the country. While I don’t recommend eating the food from street vendors, the food from a local soda is perfectly safe for foreigners.

Breakfast: Costa Ricans love their gallo pinto breakfasts. This consists of rice and beans, fried or scrambled eggs, fried plantains, and either toast or a tortilla to put it on. This is a meal I frequently make here in the United States as well!

Lunch/Dinner: Casados, or comida typica, is a traditional meal consisting of a variety of food. Some menus let you choose from pages full of different casados, but a typical one consists of rice, beans, some type of meat, small salad and a fried plantain.

Transportation

Uber is Cheap and Reliable: Transportation around San Jose has two options: Bus or Uber. While the buses give you a local feel, they are also hard to navigate and no bus map exists. If you do want to explore the city, hop on a bus and see where it takes you! You can always get home by catching the bus back the other way (the stop will be located on the other side of the street from where you got off).

But if you can find wifi, Uber is also an option. Drivers are plentiful around the country. Especially if you are a foreigner or traveling at night, it’s often a better option. Their GPS systems can located almost any location, so as long as you know the name of where you want to go, you shouldn’t have any problems.

Other

Toilet Paper Goes in the Trash: This goes for all of Central America. The pipes in these countries are much smaller, so toilet paper gets stuck easier if it’s flushed. This change took me some getting used to, but don’t worry, the trash cans are in each individual stall.

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