At some point you’re going to want to investigate the local stores in your area to see what’s on offer. You’ll want to get some souvenirs to take home to your family and friends. Shopping in Costa Rica isn’t about high-end retail brands. It’s about local economies and merchants selling their wares. It’s a very traditional way of shopping, especially if you’re outside cities like San Jose.
Get Your Priorities in Order
Little trinkets and other items have passion infused into them. They aren’t soulless products which came off of a factory line somewhere. A lot of effort went into their creation. Don’t bring your jewellery and other expensive items. This is an adventuring holiday. It’s not a European nightclub excursion.
Match the locals and you won’t get taken for a fool. Moreover, in some marketplaces wearing lots of expensive apparel will make you an easy pickpocketing target.
Bartering with Local Merchants
Bartering with the locals is perfectly acceptable here. Feel free to pick up an item and ask what the price is. They’ll give you a price and you can see if they’ll accept anything lower. Some sellers absolutely won’t budge, but other see bartering as standard practice. It’s why these sellers will always issue much bigger initial offerings with the view to entering into negotiations.
Know When to Stop
The important thing is to know when to stop. Pura Vida will only take you so far. You’ll know by instinct when someone absolutely won’t budge. Once this happens, it’s time to accept the price or walk away. Pestering them won’t win you any friends, and it certainly won’t get them to lower the price any more.
Furthermore, your goal isn’t to try to fleece an honest merchant out of a day’s work. Remember, the average daily wage is about $10. You have the money to spend. You’re contributing to the local economy by paying a fair price for something you want to buy.
Watch What You Buy
This whole exercise is pointless if you can’t take the item you’re buying home with you. Costa Rica is a country famous for its fruit and coffee. Any fruit won’t be allowed back home with you due to fears over contaminants. Coffee, on the other hand, may need to be opened and put into a clear bag for it to pass the security checks.
The regulations differ between countries, though. The regulations are much stricter in the US than they are in the UK and other European countries. Check the relevant travel website before buying anything. Most items, such as clothes (of which Costa Rica is a centre for Latin American fashion), will be perfectly fine to take home with you. Ask us if you are unsure.
We started this introduction to the language of Costa Rica with a selection of regular sayings and their meanings. Today, we’re going to continue this rundown of some of the phrases you might encounter on your holidays. We’ve included a selection of the common, the uncommon, and the downright strange.
This applies to debt and it directly translates to tied dog. It basically means you’ve been in debt to someone for quite a while. You’re the dog and you’re tied up because you owe money. You don’t have the freedom to do what you want and you’re under the control of the creditor until you can successfully pay off your debt.
There are a lot of way you can imagine how this would look. The main theme is a loss of control, and since dogs are usually under human control this entered the language.
This is the word for parachute and is normally used to apply to people who turn up to events uninvited. With any luck, you’ll never have this term applied to you. The name appears to come from the simple action of flying in on a parachute. There’s no grand meaning or story surrounding this term.
Mae is similar to the American term ‘dude’. In the US you might hear anyone calling someone ‘dude’, but in Costa Rica it applies to someone who’s between friends. You’re acquainted with them without being friends.
This appears to be one of the areas where western intervention has succeeded. It’s a piece of slang and it’s highly likely a lot of the young Ticos got it from their American counterparts. This isn’t something you’ll hear older Costa Ricans say.
Hasta Aquí me la Presto Dios
This rather long expression means ‘until now God borrow me’. You’ll hear someone say this if they’ve ever found themselves in a life-threatening situation. As a tourist, you’ll encounter this more than you’d expect as you’re likely to hear exciting stories from the lives of people you meet.
This clearly has a rooting in the Catholicism of Costa Rica. Even though there’s complete religious freedom in the county and a lot of people don’t identify themselves with any religion, they continue to use this term.
Buena nota is used to describe someone who has done a good deed or someone who is a good person. You might hear parents say it about their children, or women gossiping in the town. It literally means ‘good grade’. This is obviously similar to something you would say in an educational environment.
Nobody seems to quite know how it entered the mainstream language, though. If you read through our posts on how you should act whilst travelling you’ll hear this in the language of Costa Rica quite regularly.
The Costa Rican Civil War is the defining event of the 20th century for Costa Rica. It’s influenced the country and its consequences reach out to today. We always say you should make every attempt to understand a country. This is why we’re going to talk about the civil war and what you’ll notice when you travel to Costa Rica.
In the 1940s the political scene was dominated by Rafael Angel Calderón, a surgeon who would become president of Costa Rica from 1940 to 1944. He was a powerful man who wanted to hold onto power, but after 1944 he was constitutionally ineligible to run until 1948.
He supported President Teodoro Picado. The Picado Years, as they came to be known, saw very few changes. It was widely thought he was controlled by Calderón and his followers so he could return to power in 1948.
Picado was forced to release the military onto the general public multiple times to maintain order, and this was what finally started the 44-day civil war.
The Civil War Begins
Rebel commander Jose Figueres rose up against the government and aimed to supplant Picado and Calderón after disputed elections in 1948 when opposition leader Otilio Ulate was widely thought to have won.
The forces of Figueres were anti-communists and a combination of centre left and right wing fighters. Their National Liberation Army began exchanging fire with government forces on March 12, 1948. This saw the official start of the war.
The Civil War Ends
The Civil War ended relatively quickly with the rebels working their way up the Pan American Highway and capturing numerous cities along the way. The government was weak and in the face of US-supported rebels with only support from Nicaragua they quickly folded. The Fall of Cartago convinced Picado to surrender before the rebels could lay siege to San Jose.
Contrary to what people think, Picado actually completed his constitutional term whilst on a visit to Nicaragua. His vice president, Mr Santos Leon Herrera was the person who signed the official surrender terms.
Ulate was given power a year and a half after the end of the Civil War. Figueres brought in a new constitution which abolished the military, before removing the provisional governmental junta. Calderón would later return from exile in Mexico, but he would never lead Costa Rica again. Picado, on the other hand, would live out the rest of his live in Nicaragua.
The Scars of War
With 2,000 dead, the figures of the Civil War live long in the memories of Ticos. They show great distaste towards military conflicts and actively seek to live peaceful lives. When you travel to Costa Rica, avoid bringing up any support for any military conflicts. Conflict simply isn’t in the Tico mind-set.
You will only find a single memorial to the Civil War, and even this isn’t particularly grand. It just shows how much Ticos hate the idea of conflict and the military. Pura vida arguably came out of the Costa Rican Civil War, and this philosophy has shown no signs of abating.
Travelling to Costa Rica is your chance of experiencing things you’ll only ever encounter once in your life. The local Ticos do come from another culture and they’re not familiar with many Western customs, either. The differences in Costa Rica can lead to a lot of embarrassing scenarios if you make a mistake. Here are some of the oddities you should aim to avoid.
Milk deserves a whole section to itself because it’s such an important part of life in Costa Rica. They don’t sell them in cartons or bottles like they do in the US. You’ll find your milk in a little plastic bag which you have to cut the edge of with a pair of scissors.
Inexperienced travellers might attempt to tear the top of the bag open. Unlucky tourists who think they know what they’re doing will accidentally squeeze the bag whilst they’re cutting it. It takes a delicate touch to avoid being covered in milk.
Always stock up on perishable items in advance of when you actually need them. Dairy products like milk and eggs are never sold refrigerated. They’re placed in a low-power fridge which keeps them cold. This doesn’t mean they’re refrigerated enough to eat. Buy them and take them to the nearest cool box so they can cool down before you tuck into them.
If you want to surprise that special someone with a prestige bottle of wine, forget about it. Authentic Tico wine is sold in a little plastic box which you have to refrigerate for a few hours first. If you’re staying at a resort, you can still get bottled wine, but it might well be more expensive.
If you can see a traveller desperately trying to work out how to unlock a door, you know they’ve fallen for a classic Tico housing feature. Doors have inward locks. We in the West have outward locks. Remember to change the way you approach it. It’s like how people from the UK have to change the way they drive when they visit the US because they drive on the opposite side of the road.
Marriage in Costa Rica is different from other places in the world. If you see a couple living together you shouldn’t assume they’re living in sin due to a difference in their last names. A woman uses her full maiden name for life, even when she gets married. A man keeps his last name. Any children they have between them automatically take the father’s name.
The older generations of Ticos were much shorter than the Ticos of today. Furniture is therefore built about six to eight inches lower than the furniture found in the US. Ease into a chair carefully or you might find yourself misjudging the distance and falling through it when travelling to Costa Rica!
We all need money to survive in this world. Even Ticos with their Pura Vida philosophy acknowledge a wad of bank notes in your pocket can take you places. Once you’re in Costa Rica, you want to have all your financial affairs taken care of so you can get on with your holiday. Here’s a complete guide to dealing with money in Costa Rica.
Exchanging at the Airport
The first thing you should never do is exchange your money when you touch down at San Jose airport. It’s the worst thing you can do because the rates are so horrific. The rates will leave you out of pocket. Try anywhere, but never use the airport. They can afford to charge such poor exchange rates because they know you’re trapped.
Why Exchange at All?
You don’t even have to exchange US dollars into Costa Rican colones if you don’t want to. The vast majority of stores, in areas where travellers visit, will accept US dollars. You can guarantee yourself a fair deal because the exchange rate between colons and US dollars has remained the same for the last few years.
In short, it’s about 500 colones to one US dollar. The easiest way to make sure you know what you’re paying for something is to hack three zeros off of a standard colon bill and double it. For example, a 5,000 colon bill would equal $10 in US money.
Protect Your Credit Lines
Banks and credit cards make a commitment to protect their customers’ financial details. It’s only right because if they get lax it will let the international fraudsters in. Inform the bank and your credit card companies about your intentions of travelling to Costa Rica.
If you suddenly start withdrawing money from so far away from home they’ll think someone has managed to steal your card details. In the event you get blocked it can be a real hassle to unfreeze your account. The best solution is to not get into this situation in the first place.
Avoid bringing your own mobile phone to Costa Rica. The costs of calling from abroad make it a bad idea. Instead, you can pick up a mobile phone in Costa Rica, with calling card included, for under $50 USD. At the airport, there’s a booth called ICE. This nationalised company will allow you to buy a temporary phone and calling card.
Your money in Costa Rica will go far for calling. The reception is good in most places and you do get good value for money with a Costa Rican phone. We would also recommend a temporary phone for safety reasons. Losing a cheap phone is one thing. Losing an expensive phone is quite another.
Let us know your best tips for saving money in Costa Rica!Photo credit: Speaking Latino / Foter.com / CC BY
San Jose is the seat of government and the most important city in Costa Rica. It’s a city which brings in thousands of tourists each year. Before you make your trip to the Tico capital, let’s take a look at these facts about Costa Rica and the capital city. They’ll help you prepare for your trip and learn about what you can expect from this high-altitude urban sanctuary.
The majority of Ticos live outside the city centre in the suburbs. Yet despite its low population density, more than a million people travel through the city centre each day. This is in a country with just 4.5 million permanent residents, plus any tourists. This makes it commercially the most important part of the country.
The favourite food of San Jose is Gallo Pinto. You’ll see practically every restaurant serving what is now the official national dish of Costa Rica. It’s a mixture of fried rice and black beans. Lots of working Ticos will have little lunchboxes carrying a dish of Gallo Pinto inside. It’s a relatively cheap dish which is readily accessible.
San Jose is technically in the middle of a tropical rainforest. Go outside the city for a few miles and you’ll soon encounter trees, humidity, and all those animals you’d expect to find in Costa Rica’s rainforests.
It actually rains in San Jose for about 170 days each year. The high altitude of the city means it isn’t as hot as you would expect. In the winter time (or the rainy season as they call it) you might even have to put a jacket on (which is a big stretch for anyone in this country).
The City Without an Airport
The San Jose International Airport is where the majority of travellers fly in. Yet so many of them are shocked to find the city of San Jose doesn’t have an airport. The airport is actually 45 minutes away from the city in a town called Alajuela. To save on costs, consider staying in Alajuela instead of staying in San Jose. Accommodation is much cheaper and more welcoming for tourists.
The reason why San Jose lends its name to this airport is simply because the difficult terrain of the city makes it impossible to build a huge international airport here. By building it a short distance away they can retain the benefits of having air travel links without making it seem as if San Jose is in the middle of nowhere.
Latin American Crime
Another of the interesting facts about Costa Rica is San Jose is one of the safest cities in Central America. The government has clamped down hard on crime with huge security budgets and a complete equipment overhaul for the police force. So rest assured, when you visit us at Shaka you’re in for a safe stay.
Your Guide to the Weird Lingo of Costa Rica Part 1
The language of Costa Rica is Spanish, but practically everyone can speak some English. There are some sayings which might leave you scratching your head. Whilst some sayings have obvious meanings, others have simply been passed down and even those saying them have no clue where they came from or what they were originally supposed to mean.
We take a look at some of the common (and uncommon) sayings around this country so you don’t find yourself confused and befuddled.
Con luz is what a Tico might use to describe a pregnant woman. It means she’s ‘with light’. This has a very obvious rooting in the Catholic faith. At one point, Spain ruled over Costa Rica. It was part of its vast global empire. They brought Catholicism and it remains prominent today.
More and more Ticos are becoming indifferent towards religion, but they still say this. Children are revered and every young person matters here.
This is the one you’ll hear the most. It’s the national motto of Costa Rica. It means ‘pure life’ and it harkens back to this country’s stance on the military and violence in general. They’re a peaceful people who don’t believe in war, which is they don’t have a regular standing army. It’s used as a greeting and a way to say goodbye.
Back in the UK it might be equivalent to ‘chill out’ or ‘relax’. Ticos tend to say it with a big smile on their faces.
Detras del Palo
Now it’s time for one of the stranger sayings in the language of Costa Rica. Detras del palo means ‘behind the tree’. It’s commonly used in conversation when you have no idea what happened. The first image which springs to mind is someone slipped out of a party or a gathering to go to the bathroom behind a tree or in some bushes. They’ve now missed out on what happened.
Another similar expression is mianda fuera del tarro, or ‘taking a pea out of the can’. It seems to mean the same thing, but we can’t even begin to wonder where they got this one from.
Que pega means ‘what a stick’. It’s used to describe someone who’s annoying or boring. In English it’s the equivalent of ‘stick in the mud’. Ticos are very relaxed and know the value of taking some time to relax on the beach or in their homes. Que pega is the exact opposite. It implies someone can’t relax or fit in with the group.
If they’re using this to describe you, it’s time to change your tune.
If you want to mock that kiss-ass colleague at work, you can say lava huevos, or ‘wash the eggs’. It basically means someone is always sucking up to the boss and doing whatever they ask as a means to curry favour. We’ll let you work out which part of the human anatomy ‘eggs’ might be referring to!
Do you know any more Tico sayings? Pop over and let us know on Facebook!
Costa Rican weather is more chaotic than anything you’ll find in the US. When it rains in Costa Rica it really rains. It’s not a shower it’s a deluge. What makes this country stand out is the fact you can visit anytime of the year, in rain or shine, and still have a great experience. The animals don’t leave and neither do the tour operators. They’re here all year round.
The Four Seasons
We’re used to the four seasons in the West. We know spring is where the flowers come out and autumn is where the leaves fall off the trees. Costa Rica really only has two seasons. It has summer and winter.
Often, the weather of Costa Rica is the defining factor of the two seasons. They refer to the seasons as the dry season and the rainy season instead. The environmental changes simply aren’t distinct enough to have any more seasonal segregation.
May to November
May to November is the low season, the green season, or the rainy season. Take your pick of the names. This would be equivalent to spring. It’s where the trees really start to flesh themselves out with new greenery and the herbivores come out to play. It shouldn’t stop you from visiting, though.
On the Caribbean Slopes, you should avoid it unless you want to take the risk of an unpaved road turning into a muddy slope. Most areas are fine if you don’t travel during heavy rain. The low season will yield better deals on your travel and allow you to see a completely new side of this exotic country.
December to April
Normally, this is where we Westerners would hide in our homes and cower from Old Man Winter. Not so in Costa Rica. This is where the temperatures really start to heat up. The flowers and the trees are in full bloom and Ticoland turns into a country of colour. The weather of Costa Rica is marvellous at this time of year.
Tourists looking to get away from the winter should visit during this period. There are more tourists, though, but at the same time you have a wider choice of tours and holiday packages.
If it’s too hot, head for the Northern Zone where there are higher altitudes. It can help to balance out the intense humidity rates.
It’s called the rainforest for a reason. If you visit the rainforest in June you’re going to get wet. If you visit the rainforest in January you’re going to get wet. In short, bring along a poncho because the rainforest doesn’t adhere to the normal seasons and weather patterns.