Things You Should Never Do While Visiting Costa Rica

The way
The way | © Marcus Grip/Shutterstock
Jenn Parker

A trip to Costa Rica can be the most magical experience of your life, or a living nightmare. What divides these two extremes is your ability to follow these do nots. Fret not though, they are quite simple and some even ride the border of common sense. Keep them in mind when you visit Costa Rica.

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Leave valuables unattended

Unfortunately, one of the most common crimes in Costa Rica is theft. Expect that if you leave valuable items in plain sight and unattended, such as on the beach or in the car, that they will be taken. Passports, electronics, money, and even sunglasses and shoes are easy targets and highly sought after by thieves. There is an easy solution though. Be aware of your belongings at all times, put anything that you don’t immediately need in the safe or a safe place, make copies of your passport and credit cards, spread out your cash in various hiding spots, and always lock your car and accommodations.

Never trust a monkey

Go to the beach at night

Most beaches aren’t well lit and provide criminals with the perfect cover to rob or attack unaware nighttime beach goers. While this doesn’t happen all the time, robberies, rapes, and assaults have taken place on the beaches of Costa Rica at night. It is better that you just avoid dark and secluded parts of the beach, especially when you are alone.

Be extra careful at night

Buy drugs

Drugs are cheap and plentiful in Costa Rica, especially cocaine. And though possessing drugs for immediate personal use has been decriminalised, the drug laws here remain strict, and what constitutes personal use is not easily defined. Break the drug control laws and you could land yourself with a lengthy stint in a Costa Rican prison. Don’t risk it – avoid drugs here altogether. If you feel like getting wild, indulge in the local brews or Cacique Guaro (a sugar-based liquor) instead.

Drugs can be as deadly as a pit viper


If you are first time in Costa Rica, bare in mind that the country has a reputation as being a rather dangerous place to drive. Between the narrow roads, sharp curves, pot holes, unpaved areas, lack of guard rails, bike paths, sidewalks, and road signs, and perilously fast or mindlessly slow drivers, driving here is full of unexpected hazards. Not to mention, the dogs, iguanas, monkeys, sloths, cows, goats, chickens, and other animals that cross without notice or loiter in the middle of the road. Embrace the pura vida way and just take your time getting from point A to point B. You will surely arrive when you are supposed to arrive if you just adhere to the speed limit.

Slow down for the sloths

Swim in front of a surf break

There are swimming beaches and there are surfing beaches, but when the two mix there is a recipe for disaster. It is not unlikely to find a beach where you can surf and swim, but the specific areas for both differ from one another. This is a common sense do not. Do not swim directly in front of where you see a bunch of people surfing. Many of the surf breaks in Costa Rica can pack a powerful punch, host rip currents, and a mixed bag of surfing abilities. Avoid getting hit by an unexperienced surfer or unmanned board or getting sucked out to sea by choosing a swimming spot void of surfers.

Don’t swim here

Take a dip in the river

Crocodiles claim the rivers in all parts and both sides of the country. Bull sharks also love murky river mouths and have been known to swim upstream too. Sometimes raw sewage and other pollutants find their ways into the river systems, as well. It is best to just stick to cooling off in the ocean, swimming pools, or natural springs.

Croc territory

Think you can get a base tan

Costa Rica is very close to the equator and the strength of the sun is much higher here than places further away from this lateral belt. It is imperative that you wear sunscreen every time you go outdoors. Even if you wear SPF50, you will still get sun on your skin and leave Costa Rica more tanned than you came. Opting not to wear sunscreen one day can ruin the rest of your vacation. Make sure you also wear sunscreen that is earth and reef-friendly, as to not harm the environment or your body.


Skip out on mosquito repellent

While the rainy season is usually more mosquito-heavy than the dry, there are mosquitos present all year ’round in Costa Rica. Some mosquitos in Costa Rica carry dengue, chikungunya, and zika. Avoid getting incredibly sick and uncomfortably itchy by just making it part of your daily and nightly routine in Costa Rica to apply repellent. Many restaurants, bars, and hotels even have mosquito repellent available for their guests.

A natural born killer

Fail to hydrate

The heat and sun in Costa Rica zaps the liquid right out of you, especially when you are engaging in any of the amazing outdoor activities that are popular here. Staying hydrated is crucial to staying happy and healthy while on your vacation. It is a great idea to bring a useable water bottle from home or buy one at a store here and keep it filled and with you at all times. A good rule of thumb is to drink two litres of water a day and add an additional half litre for every hour of strenuous activity that you engage in. The consequences of dehydration can put you in the hospital, which is not where you want to be on your vacation.

Hydrate and hike on

Interfere with the wildlife

Costa Rica is blessed with an abundance of wildlife. Unfortunately, human interaction has had a devastating impact on certain animals and ecosystems. For example, one year in Playa Ostional, the famous Olive Ridley sea turtle nesting beach, many mother sea turtles turned around without laying a single egg because people where crowding their space and getting to close to the pregnant mothers to take photos and touch them. Or, in Playa Tamarindo, two crocodile attacks took place in one year because estuary boat tour captains started feeding the crocodiles to draw them in and they started to associate humans with food. Enjoy the wildlife of Costa Rica from a respectful distance; remember this is their home and you are a guest in it.

Look but don’t touch

Leave more than your footprint

You will find that Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. It is rich in wildlife, diverse landscapes, and vibrant ecosystems. Let’s keep it this way. Even better, let’s leave it better than we found it. Tread lightly, take a lot of photographs, and pick up a piece of trash if you see it. Don’t take shells, plants, or animals back with you. Avoid single-use plastics and choose eco-conscious accommodations and activities.

We also have Central American adventures in Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.

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