Here are some tips while traveling through Costa Rica:
- Pedestrians DON’T have the “right of way”. Always make sure the road is clear before stepping off the sidewalk
- The sidewalks are uneven with holes and tiles that are very slippery when wet. Make sure you watch where you walk.
- When you arrive in the different places within CR, ask about how safe it is to walk in the area and if there are areas that you shouldn’t go.
- When taking public buses, try not to put luggage or backpacks in the under storage or overhead bins as thefts do occur. Private bus services like Interbus etc are safer when you have a lot of luggage.
- Make sure taxi’s use the meter. They call it a “Maria” and if they don’t use it, you can be sure that you are paying a premium.
- For Rental Cars see my previous blog about it but here a few tips: avoid driving in the dark because there are very few signs. Remove all your stuff before parking it (not a good idea to leave your camera or GPS on the front seat. Don’t be the lead car, follow someone and you will have less chance of being stopped for a ticket/bribe. If you get a flat, don’t accept help from strangers, it is highly possible they poked your tire so they can “help” you for money or they may keep you occupied while their friend is cleaning out your car. If you have a collision, DON’T move the cars, Call the police and don’t move until both the Police and the insurance guy has said it’s okay to move the cars.
Food and Water
- The typical food is beans, rice and meat. They are not big on good fresh salads (I am not sure why). They don’t put a lot of salt or spices on the food. They usually have a hot sauce or vegetable based “Lizano” salsa on the table so you can “spice” it up.
- Don’t be afraid of the little restaurants (sodas). Usually “Grandma” is cooking it and it is very tasty and good. zI have yet to be sick from the food. It is also cheaper than the bigger restaurants, especially the big chains (Yup they have Applebees, Outback and TGIFridays).
- Chicken is the staple meat. Beef is usually quite chewy here. I think it has to do with their diet and not being aged. Grecia has an awesome steakhouse that serves the most amazing steaks. You can also get fish and pork. Turkey is very hard to find and when you do it is really expensive.
- In most places the water is good to drink. Actually very good to drink and quite possible cleaner and better than bottled water.
- “Watchiemen” these are people usually with florescent vests guiding you in and out of parking stalls. They are not usually paid by the establishment and work on tips. Tip them when you return and are leaving to the tune of 300c – 500c (60cents – $1). Use caution as your stuff in the car is most likely worth more than a dollar and it is not unknown to come back and the watchieman is gone and so are your belongings.
You pay a mandatory 10% gratuity on your bill. Don’t top it up to 15% or 20% if you do, the wait staff doesn’t see it. It goes to the owner of the restaurant. Furthermore, it is ruining the Costa Rican culture. Let me explain. Tipping is not Costa Rican culture. Many local people do not earn enough money to go to restaurants frequently so when they do, many times it is for a special occasion. What is happening now is when they go to a restaurant say for their wedding anniversary or a birthday and there is also a table full of “gringos”, guess which table gets the most service??? The table with the most probability for the big tip. This ticks the locals off and they resent the foreigners. This is a different culture. It does not need us foreigners changing it. We should respect their culture and not try to make it like our own. Think about the “shoe” on the other foot. A CR local goes to North America and eats in a restaurant…. If he doesn’t tip the wait staff will be ticked off. “When in Rome…..Do as the Romans do”.
Grocery Bag Boys
When I first moved here, I went to the grocery store with some friends who live here. When we went to the checkout my friend always gave the bag boy the coins. I started doing the same until one day I was at the checkout that had the mentally challenged kid bagging the groceries. One of the other bag boys pushed him to the ground so he could bag my stuff. I helped the mentally challenged kid up from the ground, Gave him my coins and vowed never to tip ANY bag boy again. Again, remember this is a different culture. It does not need us foreigners changing it. We should respect their culture and not try to make it like our own.
- The healthcare is good here and is very inexpensive. My English speaking Doctor charges ~$30 for a visit and does not rush me out the door.
- Many medications that are prescription meds in North America can be obtained at a Pharmacy without a prescription in Costa Rica. Some are more expensive here but most are cheaper than in North America.
- As for vaccinations it is each to their own but I think many are not necessary. Some Government agencies have bulletins that scare you into getting vaccinations that are not required. Research it a little and make your own decisions.
- Wear sunscreen, Costa Rica is close to the equator and you will burn easily.
Shop in stores with prices listed, check your change, make sure nothing has been added to your bill in both stores and restaurants. Paying via credit card can sometimes cost you as much as 13% more. Cash is king. Avoid poor exchange rates. Carry both currencies. If they ask for Colones, pay in Colones. If they ask for USD, pay in USD.
Stay tuned! I will write more as I think of it. Please note that these are my opinions from my experiences while living in Costa Rica. Others may disagree and that’s cool…..