Ever since moving to Costa Rica in 2012, I’ve heard my fair share of wrong facts, impressions and ideas. Despite the country’s tourism growing to nearly 2 million visitors in 2017, many come with misconceptions about Costa Rica.
As an advocate for responsible travel, I always recommend researching about the country you’re going to visit. It will greatly enrich your experience and open your eyes to the rest of the world.
So before you come, make sure you read up on these common misconceptions about Costa Rica!
Common Misconceptions about Costa Rica
These are a collection of misunderstood thoughts about Costa Rica we have heard.
Costa Rica is an island
This is the biggest common misconception about Costa Rica. So many people confuse Costa Rica for Puerto Rico and think it’s an island!
I’ve even had many people ask me “How is Costo Rico” or “how island life is.”
Costa Rica is not an island nor is it in South America, it’s a small country in Central America. Nicaragua neighbors the country to the north, Panama neighbors the country to the South.
Costa Rica is owned by the USA
Nope! (Even though it may feel like it in some places).
Since many people mix up Costa Rica with Puerto Rico, they think Costa Rica is a US territory or owned by the US. Costa Rica is not owned by the US, they are their own country with their own president.
They were under Spain’s rule many years ago but gained their independence on September 15, 1821. Costa Rica is a free, democratic independent republic.
Costa Rica is cheap
This is one of the most common misconceptions about Costa Rica. People think that since Costa Rica is in Central America and their neighbors are really cheap, that it is cheap. Unfortunately it is not so. Taxes, insurance, gas and other things are expensive in Costa Rica which drives up the cost of food, hotels, transportation and tours.
You will get malaria in Costa Rica
Actually, the worst disease from mosquitoes you can get in Costa Rica is dengue. Costa Rica has done a great job with malaria as there were only 9 cases in 2017. Even dengue is getting better, as there were 4773 cases in 2017 compared to the 22904 in 2016.
Costa Rica has a lot of shark attacks
You can’t eat the vegetables or fruit in Costa Rica
I was told to not eat any raw veggies or fruit the first time I came to Costa Rica because it all has E.Coli. But you can in fact, eat the fresh produce. Restaurants and supermarkets have fairly high standards and if you buy your own food, always make sure to wash them.
You can also drink the orange juice here. Most of it comes from the supermarket anyways!
You can’t drink the water in Costa Rica
Actually, Costa Rica has fairly high standards for water and most places have drinkable tap water. The cities like San Jose, particularly has good tap water.
It is only in the rural undeveloped areas where drinking tap water is not recommended. You can read more about drinking tap water in Costa Rica in this article.
Costa Rica doesn’t have paved roads
This is only partly true. Costa Rica does have paved roads but mainly just the main roads and highways. There are several highways here and the new InterAmericana highway by Liberia is very nice (it even has 3 lanes!)
But many of the smaller roads through local towns or undeveloped areas are unpaved.
It’s never cold in Costa Rica
There are actually 26 micro-climates in Costa Rica and it is a very mountainous country. Due to all the valleys, some places are around 1500 meters (5000 feet) in elevation and it gets chilly!
Monteverde, San Jose, San Isidro de Perez Zeledon, Vara Blanca and San Vito are some places that are high in elevation. The average temperature is around mid 80s F (28-29 C) and goes down to low 70s F (22 C) during dry season. In rainy season, it can get even colder if its raining so make sure to bring a jacket.
Mexican and Costa Rican culture are the same
A lot of visitors think Mexican and Costa Rican cultures are the same which is absolutely not true. Mexico is actually in North America and the two countries don’t have many similarities.
Mexican Spanish and Costa Rican Spanish are completely different (they don’t say “andale” in Costa Rica) and the food is different. Mexican tacos are nothing like Costa Rican tacos!
All Costa Ricans are farmers
Although 10% of the country’s land is devoted to agriculture and farming, not all Costa Ricans are farmers. In fact, the biggest GDP factor of the country is technology services (around 75%). Agriculture is only 5.5% now.
Many Costa Ricans in San Jose work in services because many big companies like Amazon, Dell and HP have customer service headquarters there. City Costa Ricans generally speak a high degree of English (the literary rate is nearly 98%).
All Costa Ricans speak English
On the other hand, many people assume all Costa Ricans speak English. If you go to touristic places, many Costa Ricans do speak good English because they work in tourism and customer service. But not all of them do!
Costa Rica is a dangerous country
Although crime does happen here, Costa Rica is a relatively safe country. The biggest crime is petty theft and it is very difficult to get a gun in Costa Rica.
Their government is stable and they haven’t had an army since 1954. In fact, it is one of 23 countries in the world that do not have an active army. Instead, they spend their money on healthcare and education.
Costa Rica doesn’t have “first world amenities”
Actually, Costa Rica does. Maybe not all, but most of it. Costa Rica does indeed have malls, electricity, Wi-Fi, highways, movie theaters, cars, iPhones and all the like. They even have Uber and Uber Eats in San Jose.
You can have a little bit of everything in Costa Rica. In San Jose, you have all the city amenities and services and once you get out of the city, you can find completely undeveloped and rural places like Osa Peninsula or Tortuguero.
Most Information about Costa Rica
It’s important to be at least a bit educated on the countries we visit so we don’t go there with only the stereotype in our head. That’s one of the best things about travel – you learn so much about other cultures and the world!