Knowing a little something about a country’s cultural and social nuances before you travel there could mean the difference between having a fun or a frustrating vacation.
You’d want the same for a visitor in your own country, so why not make cultural awareness just as important as what you pack when planning an international trip. The more information you gather before traveling to a foreign country, the more open you can be to new experiences and the better memories you will take home with you.
Costa Rica is a typical Latin American country with, of course, its own idiosyncrasies. Follow these 10 cultural tips to get the most out of your trip to Costa Rica.
1. Clothing: San José is like any big city, although relatively casual. Shorts are generally not worn in the city areas; stick to long pants (dresses and skirts also work for women). You’ll want dressy casual for the theatre, a concert or a nice restaurant. The high mountain areas (Monteverde, Savegre, Poás Volcano, etc.) can get chilly – pack a light sweater or jacket. Beachwear is, well, what you wear at the beach! Note: Nude or topless (women) sunbathing is not culturally acceptable. For the rainforest and jungle, quick-dry clothing, rain coat or poncho, a sun hat and sturdy comfortable walking/hiking shoes will be your best friends. Leave the fancy jewelry at home.
2. Greetings: When greeting someone for the first time in Costa Rica, a hand shake is acceptable, or more commonly a light “air kiss” to the person’s right cheek (not kissing the cheek!). Costa Ricans generally don’t hug anyone who is not family or a very close friend.
3. Polite pleasantries: When greeting someone for the first time in a commercial/business situation – store, restaurant, hotel front desk, tour company, street vendor, etc. – it is customary in Costa Rica to politely greet the person with “Buenos dias” (Good day) or “Buenos tardes” (Good afternoon) and “Como esta?” (How are you?) before asking for anything.
4. Patience: Costa Ricans tend to be in less of a hurry than most Europeans or North Americans. Be patient if things take longer to be done than in your home country. However, the complete opposite is true of Costa Rican drivers, who are chronically impatient.
5. Roads: The road infrastructure (street conditions, bridges and road signage) in Costa Rica is not very developed, so be patient when traveling within the country. People will always try to help if you stop to ask directions.
6. Try to speak the language: Costa Ricans will wholeheartedly appreciate your efforts if you try to speak a little Spanish. Go for the basics: “Buenos dias, Buenos tardes, Hola, Como esta, Por Favor, Gracias, Adios.”
7. Be curious: Costa Ricans love to talk. Take interest in the people around you and ask questions.
8. Don’t jump to conclusions: You may not always understand certain situations or people’s behaviors for the cultural nuances.
10. Remember, you’re in another country: Do not expect things or people to be like they are at home; the magic of traveling is discovering the world’s differences. Be positive and patient with the unexpected; remember that language and cultural barriers do exist.
Now that you’re culturally aware, book your Costa Rica travel itinerary with Camino Travel. The Costa Rica travel agency has more than 22 years as an incoming tour operator in Costa Rica.
Article by Shannon Farley