One of the major concerns when you travel abroad is if it’s safe to drink tap water. This is one of the most common questions we get from our readers and friends because there are a lot of common misconceptions about it and you’ll hear different things from different people.
So in this article we’re going to talk about water quality in Costa Rica and whether it’s safe for visitors to drink tap water in Costa Rica. Hopefully this will help clear up some confusion so you can be prepared for your trip!
Is it Safe to Drink Tap Water in Costa Rica?
As for me, being Costa Rican, I never had any problems before with the water. However, I have been drinking tap water since I was kid growing up in Heredia. For us locals, it’s not a problem.
For foreigners, it could be a different story. Many of my friends from different countries have drank the tap water and haven’t had any problems. Samantha never grew up drinking tap water in the US so it was weird for her at first, but she has no problem drinking tap water in Heredia. In the cities, the tap water is well maintained. But this does not mean that the quality of the water is the same in every part of the country.
So here are some things to know about drinking the tap water in Costa Rica.
Check Where Your Water is Coming From
The biggest water company in Costa Rica is the AyA and they have a pipe system all over the country. They do a good job continuously checking the quality of the water so if your water provider is the AyA, your water quality should be very good.
There are other smaller companies around the country that provide water service so if you are moving to Costa Rica or renting a place for the period of time, check who your water provider is (ask your property manager or landlord). Most of the companies have high quality standards as well.
The thing you need to be careful about is if your water is coming from a well or a water tank. In some areas, people pump their water from the ground or store water for regular use. We have had a couple of bad experiences in some places where the main source of water was from a water tank and it was not well maintained.
Some hotels in Guanacaste or drier areas in Costa Rica take their water from tanks or wells due to the lack of water during dry season. Hotels will have a sign in your room saying if the water is drinkable or not because many times, the water is coming from their tanks instead of the AyA.
When we lived in Playas del Coco, we used a Brita filter and sometimes boiled the water, never drinking it directly straight from the tap as is. Currently, in Villarreal near Tamarindo, we don’t drink the tap water. This is because the water in this area is “hard” water with more minerals so boiling and using a Brita filter doesn’t work. Unfortunately I got some health issues from drinking the tap water everyday (we’ve been living in this area for 4 years). So we signed up for a bottled water service and they bring us 18 liter bottles of filtered water every few weeks, reusing the bottles.
Mountain areas tend to have better drinking water and we love the tap water in Monteverde. It isn’t “hard water” like in Tamarindo and we always fill out bottles up straight from the sink in Monteverde.
Rural Areas like Golfito, Osa Peninsula, Tortuguero, Sarapiqui
Tap water is generally not safe to drink in these areas as they are rural, remote and not developed. Our hotels in Tortuguero, Sarapiqui, Golfito, Puerto Jimenez and Osa Peninsula had free filtered water stations for guests. We filled our insulated water bottles up with water everyday and drank only that. We still brushed our teeth with tap water but didn’t drink one drop of it.
What You Can Do
If you have a sensitive stomach or are having some tummy issues, you have several options:
- Buy bottled water. We don’t really like purchasing bottle water because of the plastic but it is the most convenient option. For more eco-friendly options, you can…
- Bring a water purifier or filter like SteriPEN. These will filter out the bacteria or prevent them from multiplying. Very useful for hiking or day trips too.
- Water purification tablets are also handy and small to carry. It only takes 30 minutes for them to clean the water and make it drinkable.
- Bring an insulated water bottle, buy a big bottled (6 L or bigger) water and then fill up your water bottles for days you go out.
Touristic locations are for the most part safe. But remember, it also depends on the person as some people are more sensitive. Ask your hotel how the tap water is. It’s better to play it safe than get diarrhea or get sick during your trip!
In Case You Do Get Sick or Tummy Issues
You can find anti-diarrhea pills at any pharmacy or supermarket. Here in Costa Rica, the anti-diarrhea pills are Alka-AD. Andrews (powder you dissolve in water) is also good for stomachaches. You can also find Pepto Bismo but it’s a bit expensive.
If you’re having intense or persistent problems, you can go to any pharmacy and talk to the pharmacist. They can recommend something stronger and you don’t necessarily need to go to the doctor unless you get really bad. In case you do need a doctor, here’s what you need to know about seeing a doctor in Costa Rica as a foreigner.
To Be On the Safe Side
Purchase travel insurance. Hopefully you won’t need it but you never know.
Want to read about more Costa Rica travel tips? Here they are!
The different sunscreens you can find in Costa Rica
How to pack for Costa Rica during rainy season
The best mosquito repellent to stay safe
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Elisa Davidson says
My sister and I will be coming to Costa Rica soon for 5 weeks, and will spend some time in many different places, including La Fortunate and Drake Bay. I have a sensitive stomach (I get ill even traveling in the US). Should I buy a water filter or a water sterilizer?
If your stomach is very sensitive I would stick to bottled water to be honest, especially since in Drake Bay, the tap water is not drinkable down there and even with a water filter it will be safer to get bottled water
What do you know about the water in Jaco? I am moving there in 2 weeks.
When we lived in Jaco, we drank the tap water with a Brita filter and it was fine for us. You can ask your landlord where your water comes from (like if it comes from a well).
Do you know if the water in the Heredia region is hard or soft water?
soft, the GAM has better water treatment than in other regions and you can drink the tap water in Heredia, we always do.
Thank you for the useful information here, greatly appreciated. Can you please recommend a water refill service you mentioned in the Guanacaste region? Thank you! Keep up the great blog!
Juturna is in Guanacaste and they offer water services, or if you have the large 5 gallon bottles, you can exchange it any supermarket
Certain areas of Costa Rica do not have water treatment and actually use recycled tap water for showers and washing hands and toilet. If you drink this water, you will get violently ill. Our whole group was accidentally served this water in the area of Nosara Costa Rica. Because of this, we all were vomiting and had diarrhea for days and weeks. In general, do not drink local tap water ever when traveling, even if they say it’s safe. I’ve traveled many countries, and even in countries where they said the water was safe, travelers still got ill. For example, Mexico is another place where travelers frequently get ill, even though the locals drink the tap water sometimes.
The bacteria and minerals in the water here are different to other countries so that’s why the locals are fine because they are used to the water but travelers aren’t. That’s why I recommend bringing your own water filter if you have a sensitive stomach or are not used to drinking water from other countries. This happens a lot to tourists from the US because the treatment is different. So the water is safe in Costa Rica for the most part but if you are sensitive and not used to it, then it’s recommended not to. And unfortunately Nosara is still kinda rural so the water down there is not great. In general the water in Guanacaste is not as good as San Jose because the city has better water treatment and a lot of the water in Guanacaste comes straight from the ground.
Barbara Clothier says
Would it be an ok idea to bring one of those water bladder backpacks or would it be unnecessary (too much) and too touristy looking? My family likes to hike and we are frugal. We like to hike anywhere, along long beaches for a long time and would rather not stop to buy water or something like that, but I don’t want us to stand out either. Suggestions? Thanks, Barb
Hi Barbara, that would be totally okay! I haven’t seen many tourists with it but that’s because they all buy water bottles (which the plastic is so wasteful). I always recommend bringing an insulated water bottle but the bladder backpacks will work great, especially for hikes and at the beach. Yeison actually has one he uses for biking so I wouldn’t worry about standing out, they are normal here, especially for athletes.
When in CR, I usually boil the tap water for a few minutes and put it in a pitcher in the fridge to cool. I bottle that up and bring to restaurants, or carry my SteriPen.
Gerd Salomon says
Dear ” family”
I am very happy to get so many important and helpfull recommendations from you, a realy competent person, because Citizan from Costa Rica!!!
I am from Germany and have not many experiences about CR , but will next year finish my houseconstruction at the northwest beach of lake arenal and live there all year long!
So I will all time read eagerly each of your letters
Best Regards Salli
Hi Gerd! Thanks for reading our blog and glad you like it! How exciting about your house in Lake Arenal, congrats! 🙂
For the green traveler or the quick two week traveler i would not dink the water. I’ve found as we travel around our stomachs have built up a lining to be able to drink the water. This has taken it’s time. So i guess you could say our bodies have adapted over time.
Steph of Big World Small Pockets says
A useful article, thanks guys. As you say, I drank the water throughout my time in Costa Rica no problems, but I guess upset stomachs can happen. I didn’t like buying plastic water bottles all the time either because of the waste they create. When I was in other Central American countries, like Nicaragua, you could small bags of filtered, safe water, which you could then empty into a recycled bottle. This was cheaper and also better for the environment. Can you buy little bags of filtered water in Costa Rica too or is it only bottles? In Nicaragua, they were found everywhere from small tiendas to street sellers – a great help for budget travellers!
I have never seen the bags in Costa Rica but it would be a good idea as long as it was filtered water (sometimes you never know). One thing you can do to limit the plastic bottle waste it to keep your bottles and bring it back to the store to exchange for new ones. Supermarkets will re-use the bottles and the new ones you get is cheaper.
what kind of bags please?
I’ve seen those plastic bags with water in Colombia and they’re SO bad for the environment, people left them in the beach after partying and the ended up in the sea. Most places don’t recycle them so it’s practically the same as to buying a plastic bottle. If like Sammi said you can reuse the plastic bottle then that’s a good option