Planning to get a taste of Costa Rica's "Pura Vida?" Here are six things you absolutely must know before you go!
Costa Rican culture is defined by the term “Pura Vida”, meaning “pure life” or “simple life”. The expression refers to the fact Costa Ricans (known as Ticos) take a relaxed, stress free approach to life. The expression is used as a way to say “hello”, "goodbye" and “no worries”. One of the reasons that Costa Rica is often in the list of happiest countries is this live and let live attitude.
Costa Rica is subject to a wet season and a dry season. The dry season stretches from mid-November through April. In May it begins to rain with October being the rainiest month. Even in the rainy season, the days usually start sunny and the rain appears in the late afternoon or evening. Although most of the country is generally warm, higher elevations can drop into the 50s F. Bring a sweater if you intend to visit those areas.
The Costa Rican currency is the Colon. All hotels and restaurants in major cities will accept credit cards and most major tourist areas have ATM’s. Some restaurants and attractions will accept US dollars, but the exchange rate will not be in your favor and the change will be in Colons.
For some reason, when Ticos get behind the wheel, the whole “Pura Vida” thing seems to just disappear. Maybe because they tend to ruin late (Tico time), but when they are driving, they tend to be more excited. Many streets are not well paved and some are challenging. Practicing defensive driving is a good idea. Most roads are not straight lines and slow bus and truck traffic can make the drives easily twice as long as you would be used to doing the same distance. When behind the wheel, remember you are on vacation. Pura Vida!
The national dish is called Gallo Pinto (which means colored Rooster, even though it contains no poultry). It’s a mix of rice, black beans, onions, garlic, and peppers. All blended with a savory sauce. Most of Costa Rican food is mild and hearty. A lot of it relies on fresh fruits and vegetables, which, being locally grown and harvested ripe, are a delight to eat. Costa Rica is well known as a coffee country and you may see plantations as you travel around.
The local coffee is a drunk hot and at all hours of the day, although a few places are beginning to serve “Café Frio”. The other local drink is “Guaro”, a distilled sugar cane spirit similar to white rum. The classic cocktail is a guaro sour which contains herbs like basil and cilantro, lime juice and simple syrup.
The official language of Costa Rica is Spanish. Like many of the Central American nations, local dialects add color and flavor. Hotel staff in major cities will speak some English. Most of all, the Ticos are a friendly people and it is not uncommon for them to stop and try out some of their English on visiting tourists.