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You can’t claim to be a local expert or a well-seasoned Costa Rica visitor unless you’ve checked off a good majority of these things that make the country such a truly unique place. Whether downing chili shots or seeing the sun set from a catamaran, here’s your definitive check list.
Cows are often free to roam in rural areas or are taken on walks from one pasture to another, which require road crossings. It is not uncommon to be driving in Costa Rica and find yourself stopped and surrounded by adorable big eared Brahman cows. This type of traffic jam is far more common than your typical traffic jam when you are outside of the cities and bigger towns in Costa Rica.
Whether you are driving in a car, riding a bike, or walking, encounters with iguanas, land crabs, birds, monkeys, dogs, and cats are a regular occurrence. Navigating Costa Rica via any mode of transportation requires a keen sense of awareness and patience when you have to share roadways and paths with the local animals.
Most towns have a weekly farmer’s market where local farmers sell their fresh produce, including fresh fish, chicken, pork, beef, cheeses, juices, nuts, and tortillas. This is the most cost-effective way to shop, as the bigger supermarkets aren’t as cheap as you might expect them to be. It is also a great way to support the small family farms and shop and eat like a Costa Rican.
There is a surprising diversity of exotic fruit grown in Costa Rica. Some are probably ones you have never seen or heard of before. Oftentimes seasonal fruit is sold at fruit stands on the side of the road by the farmers or harvesters themselves. Mangoes and momon chinos in particular are two seasonal fruits that locals get really excited about.
Sodas are small family owned restaurants in Costa Rica that serve up traditional homemade dishes. This is where you will get the most authentic taste of Costa Rica outside of living with a Costa Rican family. Most towns have more than one soda. While all sodas serve similar dishes, each one is unique. Costa Ricans and local expats typically have a favorite soda for one reason or another.
There is nothing more refreshing and hydrating than drinking icy cold coconut water straight from the coconut on a hot Costa Rican day. Coconuts are called pipas here, and there will typically be someone with a cooler on the beach selling freshly picked and chilled ones for between roughly 500-1000 colones (US$1-2). Your pipa will be sliced open with a machete and served with a straw (be sure to either re-use your straw or to carry your own re-useable one, or avoid using them altogether as they’re incredibly bad for the environment).
Café Britt, Café Rey, and 1820 are all big names in coffee in Costa Rica and can be purchased in most food stores. However, there are dozens of small farm coffee producers who are growing and roasting organic, environmentally friendly and sustainable, and truly delectable coffee. You can discover some of Costa Rica’s finest small farm producers at boutique hotels, little cafés, and specialty shops and markets in Costa Rica. In Tamarindo, Stop Café, La Bodega, and Café Tico all serve and sell some of these amazing roasts.
Guaro is Costa Rica’s national liquor. Chili guaro is a famous shot in Costa Rica that is a blend of guaro, tomato juice, hot sauce, and a few other ingredients (depending on who makes it). It is kind of similar in taste to a bloody Mary. The best chili guaro shots are typically found at truly local establishments.
Most towns have their own annual fiesta. This is where you will find Costa Rica’s version of bull fighting, carnival rides, traditional Costa Rica food and traditional fiesta food, dances, and celebratory drinking. Costa Ricans take great pride in their individual town’s fiesta.
Catamaran sunset cruises are a popular activity for both locals and tourists alike. Most of the more popular beach towns have at least one catamaran sailboat tour operator. While this is a family-friendly activity, it is also a popular activity for groups celebrating birthdays, engagements, weddings, and other milestones. The boat typically sets sail around 1pm and includes an open bar. For those who live in towns like Tamarindo, it is likely that they have celebrated their own or someone else’s birthday on a sunset cruise.
Costa Rica has two seasons, rainy and dry. Especially on the Pacific coast and more especially in the northwest region, it might be upwards of six months between the last and first rain. Months without rain lead to dust, dehydrated animals, water shortages, and fire threats. The first rain of the season is one of the most joyous times of the year and it is not uncommon to see locals walk out into the rain when it happens.
“Pura vida” is a phrase that you will most definitely hear more than once while in Costa Rica. It is often used as a greeting or salutation, but it is really a way of life philosophy that embraces living simply and peacefully, and just going with the flow. Life in Costa Rica isn’t always easy, but when you embrace the pura vida attitude, you will find that you will become more tolerant, patient, and easy going.