Do’s and Don’ts: How to Not Look Like a Tourist in Costa Rica

Last updated on November 17th, 2023 at 03:44 pm

Embarking on a Costa Rican adventure and eager to immerse yourself fully in its vibrant culture? Whether you are visiting Costa Rica during peak season or not, we’ve crafted a comprehensive guide detailing what to do and what not to do, ensuring you seamlessly blend in during your trip and don’t stand out as a tourist in Costa Rica.

Embracing Pura Vida: Your Guide to Navigating Costa Rica Like a Local

Explore the lush landscapes and rich culture of Costa Rica, immersing yourself wholly into the local “Pura Vida” lifestyle. This evocative phrase, translating to “pure life”, encapsulates the Ticos’ (Costa Ricans) spirit and appreciation for life’s simplicity and beauty. This guide will unfurl the vibrant tapestry of Costa Rican daily life, offering insights on how to navigate your journey with cultural respect and awareness. Learn what to do—and what not to do—to resonate with the local vibe, from savoring traditional “casado” in local sodas to respecting the untouched beauty of hidden rainforests. Engage with the hospitable Ticos genuinely, and discover the enchanting secrets that lie beyond the trodden tourist trails, allowing you to experience Costa Rica in its authentic splendor.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when packing for and exploring Costa Rica:

Learn Basic Spanish

You don’t have to be fluent in Spanish, but it can be helpful to learn a few essential conversational words, like Bienvenido (Welcome), Muchas gracias (Thank you very much), Por favor (Excuse me), and Me llamó (My name is).

Another essential phrase to learn is pure life or pura vida, a common way of saying hello and goodbye. The simple life is the only way of existing in Costa Rica.

Know How to Dress for Costa Rica's Rainy Season

Costa Rica has a tropical climate with a lot of rainy weather, essential to its thriving rainforest. Knowing how to dress based on when you visit can help you avoid standing out.

Make sure you have rainproof clothes and shoes to enjoy the outdoor adventures. Opt for sporty waterproof clothing items with water-wicking properties. A raincoat is a must when participating in experiences during the wet season.

UV-protecting long sleeves can also be helpful since you’re in the Caribbean. Bring an abundance of warm clothes too. Of course, what you wear will also be influenced by the activities you plan. Make sure you bring a pair of comfortable hiking boots. Comfort is a priority, mainly if your travels include hikes to the rainforest or waterfalls.

You can swap out the athletic gear for nights out at fancy restaurants. It’s still best to choose comfortable, lightweight materials. Men can wear light dress shirts paired with business casual shorts. Women will be most comfortable in a cute summer dress with a jacket.

Always Choose Durable Luggage

You’re traveling abroad to a rainforest, so you need durable luggage that holds up well. Avoid packing your belongings in a rolling suitcase since much of the country is steep and sandy, making it more challenging to get around. A durable dry bag can also come in handy when exploring rain or cloud forests.

Plan Ahead and Never Take the Short Cut

Weather can vary significantly between different regions in Costa Rica. Additionally, if you plan to rent a car, you’ll need to know what to expect regarding terrain. You could also rely on public bus transportation to get around the country.

Costa Rica isn’t like most destinations where you can go with the flow. It’s best to book early since many attractions fill up fast.

You might feel like you stand out by using a map, but this is the safest way to get around Costa Rica. The country has an extensive freeway system, but some destinations are further off the road in more remote locations. You’ll likely drive a lot here, and a map is helpful.

Be Prepared for (and Respectful of) Costa Rica's Wildlife

Outdoor adventure is a must when visiting Costa Rica. Whether you’re into scuba diving, boating, fishing, or hiking, the country has many destinations and adventures worth checking out. Of course, there are a few rules to follow when exploring the outdoors.

A visit to Costa Rica allows you to experience exciting wildlife. In the country’s rainforests and national parks, you’ll find sloths, jaguars, macaws, and growler monkeys. Feel free to capture a photograph, but leave the wildlife be. Travel writers have been known to capture attention by getting up close with the wildlife, but this can be incredibly dangerous. And please, while swimming in the ocean, don’t bother sea turtles or their nesting grounds.

Costa Rican locals know how quickly the sun can get to you. Bring lots of water and sunscreen wherever you go. A reusable water bottle ensures you stay hydrated and save money.

Keep the country and its wildlife clean, safe, and unsullied by being a responsible tourist.

Moderation in Moments: Practicing Selfie Restraint in Costa Rica

In an era where capturing every moment for social media has become second nature, practicing selfie restraint, especially while exploring the ethereal landscapes of Costa Rica, invites a deeper, more mindful connection with your surroundings. Overindulging in selfie-taking not only distances you from the immersive experiences awaiting but may also inadvertently reinforce the tourist stereotype, separating you from genuine interactions with locals. Instead, consider relegating your camera occasionally to absorb the lush rainforests, pristine beaches, and vibrant local scenes through your own eyes, not just the lens.

Create memories that are felt in the heart and mind, intertwined with the lively, pura vida spirit of Costa Rica. After all, the most authentic experiences are often the ones left unphotographed, living vibrantly in our recollections.

Venture Away from the Touristic Destinations

Spending most of your time at touristic destinations means you look like a tourist, miss out on the country’s delicacies, and bypass authentic local life. One of the best ways to immerse yourself in the local customs and culture is to dine at restaurants far from San Jose. 

If you need help finding them, ask for a local’s perspective. Start your morning with a bowl of gallo pinto, a popular rice-based dish in Latin America.

This also means leaving the resort. If you want to immerse yourself in a foreign country, consider renting a villa instead. Luxury vacation rentals allow you to interact with Costa Ricans. Don’t make the mistake of staying near the airport in San Jose. While the city has a lot of culture, you’ll miss out on some of the best by not venturing out.

Montezuma and Santa Teresa on the Southern Nicoya Peninsula are great places to start to get away from overly tourist destinations. A 5-hour drive from San Jose, these towns have unbeatable beaches, a secluded vibe, and local flavor you won’t be able to find in more crowded cities. 

For some more wildlife and natural beauty, Caño Negro Wildlife Center and the Cloud Forest are also must-sees while visiting. 

Shorter day trips include Poas Volcano National Park, La Paz Waterfall Gardens, and Manuel Antonio National Park. 

Basic Rules for Not Standing out As a Tourist

Navigating through a new country can be an exhilarating experience, yet the lurking fear of sticking out as an obvious tourist might dampen the spirits of even the most adventurous traveler. Adhering to a few basic rules can remarkably diminish your ‘tourist’ aura while exploring unfamiliar terrains. Firstly, understanding and respecting local customs is paramount: take the time to research and observe societal norms and etiquettes.

Dressing similarly to locals, not only respects cultural standards but also helps you blend in seamlessly. Further, mastering a few common phrases in the local language can bridge communication gaps and earn respect from locals. Investing time in understanding the public transport system, and displaying confidence in your navigation, also effortlessly merges you into the local scene. With these foundational strategies, travelers can navigate new locales with ease, fostering genuine connections and uncovering the hidden gems that are often reserved for locals.

We created this guide for you with a few helpful tips in hopes that it will encourage you to book a trip to Costa Rica. The basic rules for not standing out as a tourist include the following:


  • Knowing a bit of Spanish
  • Packing the proper outdoor attire
  • Avoiding littering
  • Immersing yourself in the local culture
  • Dress appropriately
  • Keeping your distance from wildlife
  • Checking out small communities
  • Take it easy on selfies


  • Bother wildlife
  • Leave trash lying around
  • Dress flamboyantly
  • Yell or scream loudly – especially around wildlife

Wrapping Up Your Authentic Costa Rican Adventure

After a day soaked in vibrant local experiences, immersing yourself into the ‘Pura Vida’ lifestyle, retreat to a space where luxury and tranquility coalesce — a luxurious vacation rental, nestled delicately between the lush Costa Rican landscapes and the gently lapping ocean waves. Imagine concluding your adventures with an exquisite sunset, sipping on a refreshing local drink, all from the comfort of your lavish accommodation. With your own concierge at your fingertips, curating your journey — from uncovering hidden local treasures to understanding cultural nuances — becomes a hassle-free delight, ensuring your Costa Rican getaway is nothing short of perfect. So book your Costa Rica villa today!

By gracefully blending into the local tapestry, you’re not just observing; you’re participating, respecting, and contributing to the community you visit. So, embark on your adventure with mindfulness and emerge with memories etched into your soul, knowing you’ve experienced Costa Rica in its most authentic, beautiful form.


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